Tuesday, December 28, 2010

FastCompany Article: bring free, low-speed Internet to the poor

Ahumanright.org Aims to Buy Commercial Satellite for the World's Poor

A new organization has an audacious goal: buying and reconfiguring a communications satellite to bring free, low-speed Internet to the global south. Click to go to article.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Guest Blog: Creating New Knowledge.

Here is a link to a guest blog where I posted a short article on creating new knowledge:

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

When Richard Feynman was a boy of thirteen he hung around guys who were a bit older. One day one of the older boys, with the cooperation of his girlfriend, was demonstrating how to kiss. After observing the expert’s technique, Feynman finds a girl, they sit on the couch, and begin to practice the art of kissing when excitement fills the room be “Arlene is coming, Arlene is coming!”

Arlene was very pretty, but Feynman was otherwise occupied and not inclined to change what he was doing just because the queen walks into the room. But later it became obvious to Feynman that she had captured his interest and later his heart. She was very popular. Feynman was the skinny, studious kid and had lots of competition from more able bodied boys.

He was very shy at first. But as they became friends and grew close he began to enjoy more of her time and attention. They began to go steady. Later, while Feynman did his undergraduate work at MIT and his graduate work at Princeton he would go home to see Arlene as frequently as he could. During the time he was at Princeton, Arlene became ill. At first the doctors thought she had typhoid fever, then they were certain it was Hodgkin’s disease, but finally she was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the lymphatic gland. In the early 1940, tuberculosis was a fatal disease for most patients. Arlene was going to die.

They married anyway and were very careful with this highly contagious disease. When Feynman was sent to Los Alamos to help in the war effort Arlene came along. Oppenheimer arrange for her to live in the nearest hospital about a hundred miles away in Albuquerque. Feynman went to see her often and she was a prankster. But after a couple of years the disease caught up with them and she slipped away.

Feynman carried this great love for Arlene and the sadness of losing her his whole life. But he treated it as a rich part of being human, and felt fortunate to have lived through such a beautiful love. He managed to be a happy man his whole life.

Richard and Arlene Feynman were on the wrong side of medical science. Had her disease occurred later, antibiotics could have saved her.

The marvelous situation my wife, my children, and I find ourselves in, is that we are on the other side of medical science. Thirteen years ago, my wife was diagnosed with another fatal lung disease affecting the lymphatics for which there was no cure, but because the disease is slow in its progression, a lung transplant provides a new lease on life. Two and a half years later, Linda had deteriorated and was struggling for breath when we got the miraculous call that matching lungs for her rare blood type were available. Today, nearly eleven years later my wife is doing wonderfully.

We are giving thanks this day to everyone who contributed to making this great gift possible, from the scientists, to the doctors and nurses, the donor family, my employer at the time Citigroup, whose insurance program covered the enormous costs involved, to our friend, our neighbors, our families who all came forward and help us during the crisis. Thank you all!!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Empty Space Does Not Exist

I am reading Steven Hawking’s new book (for the semi-ignorant masses like myself) The Grand Design. I am enjoying the book thoroughly. It is the first time I've seen Richard Feynman get the attention he deserves. About halfway through the book Hawking talks about a consequence of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, that there is no such thing as empty space. Empty space cannot be empty because then the both the value of the field, and the rate of change would be exactly zero and that cannot obtain. Although it seems to me that the problem Heisenberg uncertainty principle depends upon is having something to observe. So this argument seems a bit circular. But, there's a much easier way to show that space is not empty.

A little thought experiment would suggest that within the knowable universe, if Einstein was right, it’s pretty easy to decide space is not empty, in fact it is quite full, maybe completely full (whatever that means). Einstein suggested that energy and mass are forms of the same thing. The conservation of energy and the conservation of mass were both wrong, but combined are true.

Imagine you are in orbit around the earth. You look away from the sun. What do you see? Stars! You see billions of stars. In fact, if your eyes were more sensitive, perhaps more sensitive than the Hubble Space Telescope, perhaps you could see a couple hundred billion galaxies, each made up of 200 billion to 400 billion stars. That’s a lot of photons hitting your little eye all the time. Now imagine you move a few inches over to your right. What do you see? The same thing. If fact, wherever you move in space you will still be impacted by billions and billions of photons. Thus, space is not empty. Now, all I need is a photon sail and I'm off.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What Really Drives Financial Success?

In the September 2, 2010 issue of Gallup Management Journal there is an interesting article on the link between employee engagement and financial results. It is entitled:
What Really Drives Financial Success?
Two researchers tackle this chicken-or-egg question: Do engaged employees drive an organization's performance, or does success inspire engagement?
A GMJ Q&A with Jim Harter, Ph.D., and Frank L. Schmidt, Ph.D.

I cannot include a successful link to the body of the Q&A but if you Google "What Really Drives Financial Success?" and click on the first result, it should take you to the first of three pages from the Gallup study. If I try to include that link here it just takes you to a page asking you to log-in or subscribe.

Friday, October 8, 2010

“We already tried that and it didn’t work.”

Two scientists set out to look into the machinery for making proteins, the ribosomes, and to see if they are the same in different living creatures. They designed an experiment to take ribosomes from bacteria, insert messenger RNA from peas, and see if they would grow pea proteins or bacteria proteins. Had the experiment worked, they would have been the first to demonstrate the uniformity of life.

But it didn’t work.

You can easily imagine someone coming along later to attempt to do the same thing getting the response “We already tried that and it didn’t work!” Chris Galvin, the former CEO of Motorola, gave a talk this week at the Business Innovation Conference in which he described how he and his father would deal with this kind of question. If someone came to him with an idea that had already been tried, the Motorola CEO wouldn’t say “we already tried that.” Instead, he would encourage the innovator to pursue the idea and give some guidance where to look first. If the reason the idea didn’t work the first time was valid, the innovator would see the problem fairly soon, report the issue back to Galvin, and then go off to pursue some other idea. If you just shoot someone down with “we already tried that,” then you make it very difficult for that person to move off that idea and onto a new one. You also diminish their level of engagement.

In the case of the ribosomes RNA experiment, eventually someone did come along and show the uniformity of life. The reason the original experiment failed was due to the amateurish contribution of the lab assistant. The bacteria ribosomes he brought to the experiment were some he’d developed in a previous experiment and had stored for some time in a lab refrigerator. While there, they’d become contaminated which caused the experiment to fail. Who was this lab assistant. It was Richard Feynman, the renown physicist and Nobel Laureate.

Just because something has been tried before, doesn’t mean there’s no value in trying again. And just because it was tried by someone who’s incredibly smart, doesn’t mean an error didn’t occur.

Innovators are risk takers

At the recent Business Innovation Conference in Chicago, we did a small sample exercise using Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman's Prospect Theory question. Yes, innovators are risk takers, but they are just like the regular population in one respect. See the PDF

Friday, October 1, 2010

Putting heads together

At MIT, problem-solving teams containing more women demonstrated greater collective intelligence!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Hurd's out, perhaps innovation is back in.

“If you hire honest, smart people, they will likely do a good job for you.1” It seems that somebody forgot to tell that to H.P.’s Board of Directors. They have a poor record when it comes to hiring CEO’s. This past week they showed the door to their latest pickpocket. Mark Hurd managed to pick their pocket for more than just an incredibly generous pay package, but also for about $20,000 in fudged expense report reimbursements. Time magazine online had the following observation: “If a midlevel manager had submitted $20,000 worth of bogus

expenses, he or she would probably be ousted in an instant.

In an interview with the New York Times, Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle reportedly said “The H.P. board just made the worst personnel decision since the idiots on the Apple board fired Steve Jobs many years ago.” According to the Times he went on to say that firing Hurd is against “the best interests of HP’s employees, shareholders, customers, and partners.”

Ellison is probably wrong about that. Again according to the Times, “...in recent internal surveys, nearly two-thirds of H.P. employees said they would leave if they got an offer from another company — a staggering number.” Moreover, Hurd’s cost cutting ended up cutting into the heart of H.P.’s culture by chopping away most of the R&D budget. If you’re employees are not engaged they won’t be spending time in the shower thinking up great innovations for the business. And if there is no money available to push ahead with the few crazy ideas they do produce, then the best ideas (which always sound crazy at first2) will have no way to gain any traction. But innovation is critical for the long term survival of any technology firm. By getting rid of Hurd now, the company can get back on track sooner.

1 Quoted from The Peak Interview.

2 See the discussion on pages 115-120 of Advantage, Business Competition in the New Normal.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Will two people watch different shows on the same TV at the same time?

From the NY Times:


Microsoft has created a prototype for an auto-stereoscopic display that viewers needn’t adjust by hand to find the sweet spot. Instead, an unusual lens paired with cameras in the display keep track of where the viewer is, then steer separate, narrow columns of video to each eye, said Steven Bathiche, director of research for Microsoft’s applied sciences group. In the future, he said, the light-steering technology can be used for 3-D televisions, laptops and mobile phones.

TO build the prototype, the researchers bought a 3-D television that refreshes at 120 hertz rather than the typical 60 hertz of a standard TV, so could provide a refresh rate of 60 hertz for each of the two video beams. At a rate of less than 60 hertz, and the eye perceives flicker.

“We threw out the glasses, took the TV apart and replaced the backlight with our lens, camera controls and L.E.D.’s,” he said. Light from the L.E.D.’s is sent bouncing through a thin, wedge-shaped lens created by Adrian Travis, a member of the group.

“The L.E.D.’s are programmed to send out the light in relation to where the head-tracking cameras say you are,” he said.

The team is now working on a 240-hertz version with four beams of light, so that two people, for example, can watch 3-D shows. They will even be able to watch separate shows on the same television, he said, as the display steers one channel to one viewer and the other to the second. In the future, the same concept can be applied to games, he said, with each person having a private full-screen display."

Full NY Times Article:


Saturday, June 19, 2010

Howie Leadership

Howie Leadership

I gave a talk recently to a room full of soon-to-graduate MBA students. We discussed the choice between behaving as a manager or being a leader.

If you want to improve from acting like a manager to becoming a leader, then here is the instant formula: Every utterance from your mouth is a question containing “how” and “we”. Before you speak a sentence out-loud, say it in your brain first. The reason you want to do this is because a leader listen first, thinks second, and speaks third. Every sentence you utter, first in your brain and then out-loud, will be a question containing the word “how” and either the word “let’s” or the word “we”.

The Howie Leader

The Manager

How can we get back on track?

This was your responsibility, why is it late?

Let’s figure this out, how can we prevent this from happening again?

Why didn’t you bring this problem to me earlier when I could have fixed it?

How can we find out what the customer really wants?

What do you think the customer wants?

How can we make sure that we are on the same page for what needs to be done and in what order?

I don’t care what anyone else said, it’s you’re job to get the priorities right. Do I have to hold your hand through every decision?

How could we anticipate what the competition will do after we launch our new line?

Tell me what you think the competition is likely to do after we launch?

Can you ask a Howie-like question and still behave like a manager? Sure! The clever manager might ask “How can we determine why you’re such an idiot?” But, while he’s being clever, he still just a manager.

Leadership is a choice, make the choice.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Engagement depends on doing useful work.

Daniel Ariely recently spoke with Robert Siegel on NPR about his new book The Upside of Irrationality. In this interview he talks about an experiment in which he asked people to put together Lego robots.

With one group, the experimentors had the subjects build as many robots as they wanted from fresh parts. And they discovered that people who said they enjoyed Legos tended to build more robots.

With the other group instead of providing an endless supply of parts they only had parts to assemble two robots. To supply parts for subsequent robots, the experimenters took apart each finished robot. They did this in front of the subjects as soon as the robot was finished. This second group built fewer robots. And, perhaps most interesting, is that under these conditions the people who reported that they enjoyed Legos, did not build more robots than the people who didn’t share enthusiasm for Legos.

In the book Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal, I point out that one pillar of engagement is the link you create as a leader between the work an employee does and their sense of self worth. “If the work allows people to prove their worth to themselves, you have a winning formula.” By taking apart the finished robots, the experimenters took away this sense of worth, obviously the finished product had no worth, since it was immediately disassembled.

The same thing happens in companies that employ tools like a stage-gate process that “puts discipline around vetting ideas”. A stated purpose of a stage gate process is to kill most ideas, letting only the ‘best’ ideas forward. (Of course, we know that the certainty we have around the ‘best’ ideas or the ‘stupid’ ideas is every company’s Achilles heel.)

But killing an idea has the same effect as disassembling robots. It completely undermines the flow of more ideas. That is why in Advantage I suggest companies employ tools like the Risk-Gate™ process so that you never need to kill an idea. With the Risk-Gate™ process, each idea sorts itself out under the management of its creator. But nobody ever needs to kill an idea. The process allows people, who come up with an idea, to set it aside and go after a new one.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Proof: Higher employee engagement results in better financial performance.

Yesterday I sat down with an executive in transition over coffee and in the course of our conversation he described a study he’d participated in at a former employer -- a national fast-food chain. This well known chain maintains great data on the financial performance of each of its stores across the nation. It also tracks all kinds of other performance indicators having to do with road traffic patterns, demographics surrounding the stores, competition in the immediate area, foot traffic in the stores etc.,. Finally the chain performs regular employee engagement and satisfaction surveys at the individual store level.

But, as with many large organization these data sets were tracked by different departments on different systems -- the finance guys tracked financial performance, the marketing guys tracked demographic data, and HR tracked the engagement data. The systems were independent of one another and the HR piece was mostly held in the systems of the external vendor who executed the surveys. Eventually, some wise guy thought it might be informative to combine the data to see what patterns emerged. Using the marketing information to create grouping of similar businesses they compared financial result to employee engagement. It turned out that within every marketing group the pattern repeated that above average financial results correlated with above average employee engagement results.

Now you could claim the correlation was purely coincidental. Or you could claim that better financial results drove higher employee engagement. Or you could claim that higher employee engagement drove stronger financial results.

To sort out these claim, they went back and looked at historical trends within the marketing segments. It turned out that where employee engagement went up, stronger financial result followed. Those of us who deal with innovation and competitive advantage already know this is true. But it’s nice to know that someone out there has good data proving the case.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Press Release

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Teaching Emotional Intelligence

I received two email announcements related to Human Resources yesterday that sparked this blog post. One post announced that an HR magazine is launching a new feature to recognize outstanding HR Problem Solvers. Whatever the problem and solution are, HR needs to have been the principal driver of the program or initiative.

The second email from an HR association announced a speaker, a Dr. Bakal who claims the good news about Emotional Intelligence is that everyone can learn these skills.

HR has such a poor reputation that one could contemplate that Dr. Bakal might be recognized as a HR Problem Solvers. He has solved the problem that some people lack Emotional Intelligence. They just need training.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), skills help a person to know how to read their own internal cues as well as the social styles of others.

The notion that everyone can learn these skills is nonsense. Moreover a company that invests in training designed to solve this problem is barking up the wrong management tree. The fact is, some people cannot learn these skills. Certainly, people who are Autistic will not learn these skills. But evidence suggests that there is a continuum between neurotypicals and autistics, like there is a continuum of gradient between blue and yellow. At one end are those who naturally possess high EI skills, at the other are those who naturally lack them.

While it is true that at the top of corporate organizations you will likely find people with the ability to understand other people, to work well with others and to influence people, HR would serve the company better by understanding that not every valuable employee needs to be that kind of person. Great leaders know how to maximize other people’s potential. Great corporate leaders also know that the company’s greatest asset, and the thing most necessary to competitive advantage, is diversity of mind. Being able to lead individuals who each think differently is the key corporate leadership asset. Hire CEO’s Presidents, and Division Heads that can do that, and you’ll have a healthy bottom line. (See the book Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal)

The right problem to recognize is that the geek in the engineering department delivers incredible value to the company as a thinker, but won’t see any relevant value to becoming more emotionally intelligent. When it comes to effective use of training dollars, train those in leadership roles to deal with the reality that a healthy company is made up of both high and low EI types, by creatives and methodicals, by artists and administrators, and each has a valuable contribution to make.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


“A leader is decisive, is called on to make many critical choices, and can thrive on power and the attention of that decision-making role. Yet the leader of leaders moves progressively away from that role.

Yes, he or she can be decisive and command as required. Yet that leader’s prime responsibility is not to decide or direct but to create and maintain an evocative situation, stimulating an atmosphere of objective participation, keeping the goal in sight, recognizing valid consensus, inviting unequivocal recommendation and finally vesting increasingly in others the privilege to learn through their own decisions.”

Robert Galvin, CEO of Motorola in its best moments (30+years)

Monday, March 29, 2010



When charcoal is recovered from the refinery kiln, there is always a substantial collection of small bits and pieces of charcoal left over. This material is too small to sell. But charcoal manufacturers did not want to waste it either. By combining existing knowledge to form new knowledge, a solution was found. The existing knowledge was that charcoal is a natural fiber material just like wood. Its fiber creates surfaces so that, within a single gram of charcoal, there is a surface area estimated at 200 – 300 square meters. The other knowledge came from the paper industry, which had discovered that natural starches serve as a good binding agent for natural wood fibers. By mixing a starch and charcoal slurry and forming this mixture into balls and letting them dry out, one could create a lump of charcoal. This is how briquettes of charcoal are made. It allowed the manufacturers of charcoal to recover this waste and sell it as a product.

What Edison was referring to when he spoke of “logical thinking” is synthesis. Synthesis occurs when we combine existing knowledge to create new knowledge. Synthesis includes analysis. Analysis is the act of discovering what existing knowledge we have about a particular object or problem. Synthesis combines this analytic knowledge with other knowledge we possess to form new knowledge.

One could argue that analysis by itself is a source of new knowledge. I would call it discovery, but in this case, it is not worth disagreeing over the point. You may be more comfortable thinking analysis creates new knowledge distinct from discovery. The point of the discussion is innovation and, for this purpose, I am including analysis as part of synthesis, because synthesis is where the solution to a problem is created.

The fact that we all synthesize and we do it often is perhaps the most interesting thing.

The process for making charcoal briquettes was invented by Henry Ford

Sunday, March 28, 2010



Wednesday, March 24, 2010


(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)


Supersynthesizers have the ability and inclination to see the problem from different angles. As a young physicist, Feynman was nominated to the Manhattan project because of his legendary problem-solving/synthesis ability. Oppenheimer did not use the word synthesis, he just knew from stories in the physics community that Feynman had a great mind for problem solving. True to his reputation, Feynman proved his problem-solving skill right from the start. He was first sent to the University of Chicago, where Enrico Fermi led the team building the first nuclear reactor. The scientists there had heard this whiz kid was coming, and on his first day, they presented him with a mathematical problem that had been vexing the team there for more than a month. He looked at it for a few moments and then showed them the solution. It was a great example of seeing the problem from a completely different angle. He showed them that it wasn’t really one problem at all but two. When he laid out the two problems, all the mathematicians in the room could easily see the solution. Often precisely redefining the problem exposes the solution.

For example, take the puzzle below.

Puzzle: This figure is made up of matchsticks laid out to form these five squares. Reposition two (and only two) matches to form four equal squares, each with the same size and shape as the individual original five squares. You may not overlap one match on top of the other.

Most of us would tackle this by first looking for a solution rather than looking for an opportunity to redefine the problem. We would look for a match or two matches that we could remove and eliminate a box. Then, we’d figure out where to use those matches so that we ended up with four boxes. We might do a lot of mental trial and error and with enough persistence, either solve the puzzle or go crazy. If you are interested in doing this on your own, stop reading here and come back when you’re crazy.

(Author note: you can solve this with trial and error, but it is a much more interesting puzzle to solve with synthesis. Start with all the facts you can name by examining the puzzle and figure out what insights you might gain from those facts. In the book, Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal" , I take you through how a good synthesizer might do this.)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Insight -- That flash of inspiration.

I am always on the lookout for problems that do a reasonably good job of demonstrating either the left-brain ‘follow the rules’ thinking, or right-brain flash of insight thinking, or both. People who are great problem solvers are good at both. (In Advantage I talk about people who have this capability in spades - supersynthesizers.)

It is also nice to find a problem where the solution is elusive until the moment you see it, then it is obvious.

The problem below is such a problem. The solution to the problem below requires a flash of insight. I will post the flash of insight tomorrow. If you make a comment, please don’t give

away the flash of insight.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

The Value of Knowledgeable Novices

History and experience suggest that the right novice well placed is sometimes the best way to solve a problem. Novices come at a problem without any of the mental moats the expert is unable to ford.

Theoretical physics is a great example. It has long been the domain of the novice. In this context, a novice isn’t someone who lacks knowledge, but, rather, someone who has not yet embraced a point of view or repeated a behavior frequently enough to have ossified a brain pattern. Einstein was just such a novice when he published his four landmark papers in 1905. Most of his thinking at that time was done independently although not always alone. He verbalized ideas to others but was often just talking to himself. It was serendipitous that, while working at the patent office, he reviewed a patent application dealing with the transmission of electric signals and electrical-mechanical synchronization of time. These became the fodder for his thought experiments, which led to his revolutionary insights into the nature of light and the basic link between space and time. He was a novice in the sense that he’d not adopted a point of view; nevertheless, he was very knowledgeable in his field.

In many fields where synthesis is the key to new knowledge, often it is a novice who delivers the breakthrough. In physics and mathematics, PhDs worry as they approach their thirtieth birthdays that they are rapidly losing the opportunity to come up with something truly revolutionary. The notion is that their brains ossify around the knowledge they have and that limits their ability to see something new. This is true in every human endeavor. We should try to leverage this insight in a business context.

When a business faces a problem, using a novice will bring a fresh perspective. What kind of novice do you want? Preferably you want someone with the capacity to see the big picture and who has good synthesis skills. Perhaps you should use someone with a history of problem solving (as distinct from someone who is just good at project delivery). Find someone with a broad set of curiosities who can easily get sidetracked trying to get to the bottom of something. Find someone with all these characteristics, and you have a good chance at getting a fresh perspective on the problem. Don’t be surprised if the experts closest to the problem think the novice has it all wrong. It took about four years for physicists to stop rejecting Einstein’s ideas expressed in his four 1905 papers.

1 The Novice Supersynthesizer™ is a person who possesses extraordinary problem solving skills but has not absorbed a mindset around the problem at hand.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Peak Interview

Why would a consulting firm like Launchpad Partners that has nothing to do with employment, outplacement, recruitment, retention or HR consulting produce a book like The Peak Interview?

Launchpad Partners consists of a handful of highly seasoned executives who’ve been leaders of innovation throughout their careers. A principal way they help clients is to assist in synthesizing their next competitive advantage. They wanted a strong example of the results of their methodology. While they have lots of examples of this, the trouble with developing a new business model or product or service for a company, is that it usually looks ridiculously obvious in hindsight. This phenomenon of perception undermines real value of what they deliver. Therefore, they wanted something that would give people a better opportunity to evaluate what they’re capable of doing.

The Job Interview is something everyone in their target audience understands. Most executives have been on both sides of the interview. Moreover, the job interview is something millions of people go through every year and each one of them is looking for competitive advantage to win the interview and get the job offer. More than that, there are thousands of employment professionals advising clients on how to win the interview. The reason this is a good demonstration of Launchpad’s process is that you’d think with all these professionals working on this, every stone would have been overturned and nothing new could be found. Launchpad's process demonstrates that substantial new competitive advantage can be found, even in this unlikely scenario.

The book The Peak Interview describes this competitive advantage. Here is its promo:

The Peak Interview

New insights into the job interview process can give you an edge to win the interview and get the job. By the time you get to the job interview, the company has determined you are qualified for the job. But so are all the other interviewees. Your experience, skills, competencies, and abilities will not differentiate you. Your competition is just as qualified as you are. You need an edge.

Great jazz soloists know that when they are playing a solo, they have to hit one or two peaks in the body of the solo and end with a flourish. That's because people evaluate an experience based on its peaks (good or bad) and how the experience ended. The rest of the experience is remembered, but the evaluation of the experience is based on its peaks, and how it ends. This is called the ‘Peak/End rule’.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman is credited with describing this rule. His insight had such a big impact on the study of economics, that he won the 2002 Nobel Prize, despite the fact that he is a psychologist who has never taken so much as a single economics course. When people assess a past experience, they attend to two things above all: how it felt at the peak and whether it improved or worsened at the end. It is important to recognize that everything else isn’t forgotten, it just isn’t used in how we judge the quality of the experience. That means we make decisions, not on a rational basis that fairly evaluates the whole experience, but rather on the peaks and especially on the ending. On this basis we can actually make choices which, on a purely rational basis, don’t make sense.

The Peak Interview emphasizes all the best practices you need to skillfully deliver in the interview, but then shows you how to leverage the Peak/End phenomenon as you prepare for, and produce an outstanding interview. This insight can boost your chances of winning the job.

Saturday, February 27, 2010


(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)


Our brains have the automatic ability to see some solutions with a mental snap. It is the moment of insight that magically seems to pop into our brains. If you are a native English speaker, you may experience that snap with the following. (Apologies to those of you who are less familiar with English.) Compound remote associate problems, or C.R.A.P., are used for fascinating brain research by Mark Jung-Beeman at Northwestern University. He and Edward Bowden have compiled a list of these puzzles based on how quickly people get them. The puzzles involve word association. For example, what word is associated with each of these three words: man/stop/wrist? The answer is watch, as in watchman, stopwatch, and wristwatch. Try these four, each with a different answer:





Chances are, with at least one of these, you experienced a brain snap, where the answer (cheese, chair, ice, boat) just popped into your head. It’s a little weird because it’s as if your brain does something that you really don’t control or understand. That is why we say our mind seems to automatically find the solution. Neuroscientists like Beeman have done very interesting work in trying to understand what is taking place in the brain when we have these brain snaps, or when we take a bit longer to solve a puzzle. You may find with the following puzzles that you feel more like you are in control of the process. Most of us don’t get these easily if at all. If you get even one, you’re doing better than I did.





Here you may have found yourself doing a great deal more searching, going through the catalogue in you mental dictionary of all the words that are associated with each of the words in the four puzzles. You are trying to force the synthesis through this knowledge review. The answers are...(in the book, of course)

Get a copy by clicking: Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

(An excerpt from the new book: “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

Mindset Revisit

Sometime the point of view is so rigid that the person will be incapable of seeing the issue from a different perspective.

Another joke:

A man showed up at a psychiatrist’s office worried.

“Doc,” he said. “I am worried about my family.”

“Why is that? asked the doctor.

“Well, it seems they are having a hard time accepting the tragedy of my death,” the man replied.

“Oh, I am sorry,” responded the doctor. “Are you terminally ill?”

The man frowned at the psychiatrist. “Why? Do I look sick? No, I’m not sick. I’m dead!”

Surprised, the psychiatrist said, “Did you say you’re dead?”

“Yes,” replied the man. “Quite and completely dead!”

Intrigued, the psychiatrist invited the man to sit on his couch.

“So, you’re dead, you say,” inquired the doctor. “How long have you been dead?”

“Well,” replied the man. “I’ve been dead most of my life, so to speak, since I am not really alive.”

“Let me ask you something,” said the psychiatrist, thinking. “Do dead people breathe?”

“No, don’t be stupid. Of course dead people don’t breathe,” replied the dead man.

“Well, I have news for you,” said the doctor triumphantly. “Clearly you’re breathing, so you cannot truly be dead!”

“Oh, No! No!” laughed the man. “I am only pretending to breathe. It’s a habit because not breathing tends to alarm people around me.”

“Ah, I see,” the doctor scratched his chin thoughtfully. “Well, do dead people’s hearts beat?”

“Come on,” answered the patient. “You know the answer to that. Of course dead people’s hearts don’t beat.”

The psychiatrist walked over to his desk and pulled a stethoscope from a drawer, put the earpieces into his ears, and listened to the man’s chest. “I hear a heartbeat,” he said, raising his eyebrows to the dead man.

“Oh, that is just a sound I make. It’s a habit like breathing,” replied the man.

The doctor retuned to his desk, put the stethoscope away, and surreptitiously picked up a pin.

“So, if your heart is not beating then you would have no blood pressure, and you would not bleed?” he asked the patient.

“No! Of course not, dead people don’t bleed,” he said emphatically.

“Are you sure?” asked the doctor.


“If you got a cut, would you bleed?

“Look,” replied the man impatiently. “Don’t be thick about this. You know perfectly well I would not!”

Instantly, the doctor grabbed the man’s finger and pricked it with the pin. Blood oozed out of the hole.

“Ah, ha!” exclaimed the doctor. “You see, you do bleed. You’re alive!”

The man looked at his finger in bewilderment and then looked at the doctor with astonishment.

“Well, what do you know,” he said throwing his hands up. “Dead people do bleed!”

A point of view can create a powerful bias.


Purchase the book: Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal

Monday, February 22, 2010

(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

(An excerpt from “Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal”)

Perhaps one of the most dramatic examples of mindset is what happened before Einstein came up with his theory of relativity. Newtonian physics says that if you are standing still and throw a ball with a certain force X, it will leave your hand at fifty kilometers per hour. Likewise, if you are standing on a train going sixty kilometers per hour, and you throw the ball with the same force X, it will leave your hand at one hundred ten kilometers per hour (fifty + sixty). In 1887, E.W. Morley and A.A. Michelson decided to measure the difference between the velocity of light as it is beamed with the speed of the rotation of the earth pushing it and as it is beamed perpendicular to the rotation of the earth. The idea was that the light beam that has the speed of the earth’s rotation behind it must be going faster than the light beam that does not have that incremental speed behind it. To their surprise, no difference was detected. The scientific community knew there was something was wrong with the way they did their experiment because you cannot violate the laws of physics. It perplexed scientists for years because they couldn’t find the error.

Is this so surprising? One possible explanation is that the earth is not rotating. “WHAT?” just went through your brain didn’t it? The certainty we have about the earth rotating is the same certainty those scientists had about Newtonian physics. They could not have contemplated the alternative.

Recognizing facts is essential to getting the problem right, but point of view can color the evidence and cause us to interpret the evidence in a way that’s consistent with our worldview. It is a phenomenon that has been noticed and written about repeatedly in business and psychology texts. It is often expressed as being too close to the problem and, thus, not able to see it clearly. Einstein said, “What does a fish know about the water it swims in?”

When Albert Einstein looked at the Michelson-Morely velocity of light results, he thought to himself, ’What if the results of the experiment are correct?’ What Einstein did was step back from the problem. If the evidence proved correct, that would mean Newtonian physics was wrong. This heresy opened the universe to a new point of view and changed physics forever.

Purchase a copy: Advantage: Business Competition in the New Normal

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Analysis Can Actually Hide The Problem

Analysis is the act of discovering what existing knowledge we have about a particular object or problem.

Analysis is the process we go through to define a problem. If we are going to err in coming up with the solution that gives us competitive advantage, then the obstacle hides here. Why is that?

Often, when we go through this problem definition process we start with something like “Let’s lay out what we already know.”

Unfortunately, the way the human brain works, when we are very familiar with a topic or product group, or process, or business model, our brains have already gone through a process of efficiency. Our brains determine what is relevant, and what can be ignored. It blocks out the stuff that is not relevant to the enterprise. This gives the brain the best opportunity to focus on what is relevant.

A simple example of this is when you are holding a conversation in a busy coffee shop. You can have this conversation because your brain allows you to ignore: the music playing from the sound system; the activity behind the counter as the baristas make their drinks; a staff member going around cleaning up tables and straightening newspapers; the fire burning in the fireplace; traffic zooming by outside the window, other patron’s conversations near by, and many other stimuli.

Unfortunately it is in the space that the brain is ignoring that the opportunity hides. If you are too close to a problem it is because “what you already know” will not include the subtle changes that make your product, process, business model, etc., less competitive.

It helps if you start with “Let’s lay out what we already believe, recognizing that the truths we hold dear may be missing the mark.” But really, the only way to avoid this frequent and debilitating problem is to bring in a novice brain. The best brain for this is the supersynthesizer brain. You want a supersynthesizer who is broadly knowledgeable but knows little about your problem.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The beatings will stop when productivity declines.

This from the Conference Board press release:

"Americans of all ages and income brackets continue to grow increasingly unhappy at work—a long-term trend that should be a red flag to employers, according to a report released today by The Conference Board.

The report, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households conducted for The Conference Board by TNS, finds only 45 percent of those surveyed say they are satisfied with their jobs, down from 61.1 percent in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted.

“While one in 10 Americans is now unemployed, their working compatriots of all ages and incomes continue to grow increasingly unhappy,” says Lynn Franco, director of the Consumer Research Center of The Conference Board. “Through both economic boom and bust during the past two decades, our job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend.”

Fewer Americans are satisfied with all aspects of their employment, and no age or income group is immune. In fact, the youngest cohort of employees (those currently under age 25) expresses the highest level of dissatisfaction ever recorded by the survey for that age group.

“The downward trend in job satisfaction could spell trouble for the overall engagement of U.S. employees and ultimately employee productivity,” adds Franco."

I am not sure Ms Franco is right about the impact on productivity. In 2009 we saw the largest gain in USA Productivity in the past 25 years. If it's true "...job satisfaction numbers have shown a consistent downward trend..." then there seems to be an inverse correlation between job satisfaction and productivity:

USA Productivity Growth Index 1987 Index=100

It seems that as American workers become unhappier, the also become more productive!
Employers: GET OUT THE WHIPS!!!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Creativity Defined

On Friday morning I attended a presentation by my friend Adam Shames who does a great job getting people to be creative.
As I understood Adam, he defines 'Creativity' as the combination of divergence (creating something new or unexpected) with convergence (something useful). The ideas created by the divergence become acceptable and adopted when they are useful.
For me this was interesting food for thought.

I thought of the creative act of writing music. A new piece of music always involves some degree of new combinations of tones, timing, pitches, instruments, etc.,. This is where the new music diverges from what already exists. Most new music is immediately accepted because composers follow certain rules. This allows the sounds to converge to become music.

Simply throwing together a bunch of notes does not create music. A child randomly banging on a piano is usually just noise. Without that convergence, it isn't creativity. It is just banging. New combinations of notes do not become music until the sounds are accepted. Our brains accept that as music when the sounds meet certain cultural expectations we have about how sounds fit together.

Something is an innovation when it is accepted, not when it is just an idea. Innovation differs from invention in that it must be implemented. It cannot be successfully implemented if it is not accepted.

This event of creativity, when divergence and convergence come together can happen right away. In the case of most music, the notes are written to be within the boundaries of what is currently accepted. A lot of innovations work the same way. The innovation solves a problem in a way that our brains can allow the idea to be accepted quickly.

But not all music is written within existing boundaries. When Stravinsky first had his Rite of Spring performed in Paris, it was not within the boundaries of music. The audience rioted in protest. But over time, we stretched our boundaries of what is music, and, today, the Rite is played as music to modern audiences (such as occurred here in Chicago late last year).

New ideas can also be slow to reach acceptance in just the same way. When Einstein first published his four revolutionary physics papers in 1905 he wasn't heralded as the great genius we all know. His crazy ideas languished and he continued to work in the patent office for four more years before anyone in the physics community could stretch their boundaries to accept his ideas. His ideas did not need to converge as much as the physics world needed to converge around the ideas.

Perhaps that is what distinguishes truly revolutionary ideas. The ideas languish for a long time before they're accepted.