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)

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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.


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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.

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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.