Here is a brief excerpt from an interview of Steve Hamm, co-author of Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing, published by Columbia University Press. He discusses cognitive computing and how it is changing the work and research being done at IBM and elsewhere. To read the complete interview, obtain information about CUP and its wealth of resources, and sign up for free email alerts about new and imminent publications, please click here.
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What is the era of cognitive computing?
John Kelly and other leaders at IBM believe that we’re on the cusp of a new era in computing. Scientists at IBM and elsewhere are creating machines that sense, learn, reason and interact with people in new ways. These machines will help people overcome our mental biases and penetrate complexity so we can make better decisions.
You can think of a cognitive system as a truly intelligent assistant that helps individuals live and work more successfully, and that helps organizations become more efficient and effective. The implications are huge for individuals, businesses and society as a whole. With these technologies, we will be able to make the world work better and more sustainably.
Is IBM Watson a cognitive computer?
Scientists in IBM Research see Watson as a transitional technology. Using machine learning, natural language processing and statistical techniques, they were able to achieve an amazing feat: to beat two past grand-champions at the TV quiz show Jeopardy!Watson represents a major first step toward the era of cognitive systems—and, in fact, the Watson technology of today is much improved over the technology that was showcased on Jeopardy!
However, scientists at IBM and elsewhere are working on advances in a wide range of technology fields, including learning systems, information management, and hardware systems design, which will ultimately produce computers that are very different from today’s machines. They will operate more like the human brain works, though they will be by no means a replacement for human intelligence. They’ll be extremely powerful yet also extremely power efficient.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
According to Steve, “I’m a communications strategist and writer for IBM, where I have worked since 2009. At IBM, I co-authored the company’s centennial book, Making the World Work Better. I write a mix of essays, white papers and blog postings for the Smarter Planet blog (http://asmarterplanet.com) Previously, I was a journalist for 30 years, the last 12 at BusinessWeek, where I wrote about innovation, globalization, and leadership. Before that, I worked for PC Week, The San Jose Mercury News, The New Haven Register, and other newspapers. I published two other books, Bangalore Tiger, about the rise of the Indian tech industry, and The Race for Perfect, about innovation in mobile computing. I grew up in a coal mining town in Western Pennsylvania.”
Here is an excerpt from a blog post by Tim Ferriss who explains that increasing reading speed is a process of controlling fine motor movement—period. To read the complete article, please click here.
Photo: Dustin Diaz
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How much more could you get done if you completed all of your required reading in 1/3 or 1/5 the time?
This post is a condensed overview of principles I taught to undergraduates at Princeton University in 1998 at a seminar called the “PX Project”. The below was written several years ago, so it’s worded like Ivy-Leaguer pompous-ass prose, but the results are substantial. In fact, while on an airplane in China two weeks ago, I helped Glenn McElhose increase his reading speed 34% in less than 5 minutes.
I have never seen the method fail. Here’s how it works…
The PX Project
The PX Project, a single 3-hour cognitive experiment, produced an average increase in reading speed of 386%.
It was tested with speakers of five languages, and even dyslexics were conditioned to read technical material at more than 3,000 words-per-minute (wpm), or 10 pages per minute. One page every 6 seconds. By comparison, the average reading speed in the US is 200-300 wpm (1/2 to 1 page per minute), with the top 1% of the population reading over 400 wpm…
If you understand several basic principles of the human visual system, you can eliminate inefficiencies and increase speed while improving retention.
To perform the exercises in this post and see the results, you will need: a book of 200+ pages that can lay flat when open, a pen, and a timer (a stop watch with alarm or kitchen timer is ideal). You should complete the 20 minutes of exercises in one session.
First, several definitions and distinctions specific to the reading process:
A) Synopsis: You must minimize the number and duration of fixations per line to increase speed.
You do not read in a straight line, but rather in a sequence of saccadic movements (jumps). Each of these saccades ends with a fixation, or a temporary snapshot of the text within your focus area (approx. the size of a quarter at 8 inches from reading surface). Each fixation will last ¼ to ½ seconds in the untrained subject. To demonstrate this, close one eye, place a fingertip on top of that eyelid, and then slowly scan a straight horizontal line with your other eye-you will feel distinct and separate movements and periods of fixation.
B) Synopsis: You must eliminate regression and back-skipping to increase speed.
The untrained subject engages in regression (conscious rereading) and back-skipping (subconscious rereading via misplacement of fixation) for up to 30% of total reading time.
C) Synopsis: You must use conditioning drills to increase horizontal peripheral vision span and the number of words registered per fixation.
Untrained subjects use central focus but not horizontal peripheral vision span during reading, foregoing up to 50% of their words per fixation (the number of words that can be perceived and “read” in each fixation).
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Timothy Ferriss, called “The Superman of Silicon Valley” by Wired magazine and nominated by Fast Company as one of the “Most Innovative Business People of 2007,” is the author of The 4-Hour Body and the #1 New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and BusinessWeek best seller The 4-Hour Workweek, which has been sold in 35 languages. He is a guest lecturer at Princeton University and faculty at Singularity University at NASA Ames Research Center. His blog is one of the most popular in the world (according to Alexa, Technorati). You can check it out by clicking by clicking here.
Here is a brief excerpt from Pat Lencioni‘s latest Point of View. To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.
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This is going to be a difficult POV to write, because making a case for the power of simplicity is no easy task. And yet, more than ever, I’m convinced that simplicity is the scarcest commodity among leaders, and probably the most important. Here are some good quotes that attest to this on a theoretical level.
Leonardo da Vinci said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.” Albert Einstein believed that “most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in language comprehensible to everyone.”
And yet, in my consulting to organizations of all kinds, from high tech companies to churches to banks, I find that there is a natural tendency among managing leaders to add unnecessary complexity to situations, problems, descriptions and solutions. As a result, plans do not come to fruition, employees get confused, customers become disappointed and leaders are left discouraged.
So why do leaders do this? Why would they complicate their worlds and create problems for themselves and their organizations?
First, I have to believe that they don’t know that they’re doing it. Based on my experience, executives generally don’t like to make their own lives more difficult. But since that is exactly what they’re doing, there must be a powerful underlying cause. I’m guessing it has to do with pride, and usually the intellectual kind.
Think about it this way. When someone acquires a great deal of knowledge through education, either formally at a university or by reading voraciously about a given subject, it is natural that they’ll want to employ that knowledge. In fact, they’ll probably want to use it even if it’s not required, or for that matter, helpful. Otherwise, they’ll have to admit that all the time, effort and money they put into learning may have been something of a waste.
An example from outside the world of business might be helpful here. Consider a dietician who studies nutrition and exercise physiology for a number of years in school. People hire her to help them lose weight and get fit. Few people in her situation will be satisfied simply telling her clients to eat smaller portions, exercise every day, and avoid one or two particularly harmful foods. While that would be a more understandable, reliable and actionable solution than a complex combination of vitamins, supplements, pilates classes and underwater yoga, the latter seems to be a more common prescription if the magazine covers I see at the grocery store are any indication.
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To read the complete article, please click here.
Patrick Lencioni is founder and president of The Table Group, Inc., a specialized management-consulting firm focused on organizational health. He has been described by The One-Minute Manager’s Ken Blanchard as “fast defining the next generation of leadership thinkers.” His passion for organizations and teams is reflected in his writing, speaking, and consulting. Lencioni is the author of nine best-selling books with nearly three million copies sold. After several years in print, his book The Five Dysfunctions of a Team continues to be a fixture on national best-seller lists. The Three Signs of a Miserable Job, became an instant best-seller in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and BusinessWeek. His later works include Getting Naked (2008) and The Advantage (2012).
The Wall Street Journal has named Lencioni one of the most in-demand business speakers. And he has been a keynote speaker on the same ticket with George Bush Sr., Jack Welch, Rudy Guiliani, and General Colin Powell. Pat’s work has been featured in numerous publications such as BusinessWeek, Fast Company, INC Magazine, USA Today, Fortune, Drucker Foundation’ Leader to Leader, and Harvard Business Review.
As a consultant and speaker, he has worked with thousands of senior executives in organizations ranging from Fortune 500 corporations and professional sports teams to universities and nonprofits, including Southwest Airlines, Barnes & Noble, General Mills, Newell Rubbermaid, SAP, Washington Mutual, and the US Military Academy at West Point, Bain & Company, Oracle Corporation, Sybase, Make-A-Wish Foundation of America from 2000-2003. Pat lives in the Bay Area with his wife Laura and four boys.
As George Anders explains in the Introduction to his brilliant book, The Rare Find, he spent two and a half years conducting research to determine the answer to this question: “How and where to find great talent?” He focused on expert talent spotters in three broad sets: the public performance worlds (e.g. sports, arts, and entertainment), high stakes aspects of business (especially finance and the information economy), and “heroic professionals” of public service (e.g. teaching, government, and medicine). “It’s easy to see how they operated, but it took a while to understand why. What he learned is shared in this book. For example, with people as with organizations, “the gap between good and great turns out to be huge,” perhaps as much as a 500% difference. The financial implications are vast and substantial.
Of special interest to me is what Anders learned about what he characterizes as “the jagged résumé” (i.e. people whose background to date appears to teeter on the edge between success and failure), “talent that whispers” (i.e. the proverbial “diamonds in the rough”), and “talent that shouts” (i.e. spectacular but brash candidates “that can make or destroy a program”). As I reflect back over NBA and NFL drafts during the past 12-15 years, I can easily recall dozens of examples of players who exemplify one of these three.
Anders spent a great deal of time examining how talent is evaluated in several less publicized organizations. He spoke with hundreds of people who are constantly alert for the talent needed now or soon. However different these expert talent evaluators may be in most respects, there are three basic principles on which all agree:
1. Widen your view of talent: Compromise on experience but never on character, seek out “talent that whispers,” on the fringes of talent ask “What can go right?” and take tiny chances so that you can take more of them.
2. Find inspirations that are hidden in plain sight: Draw out the “hidden truths” of each job, be willing to use your own career as a template, rely on auditions to see how and why people achieve as they do, and master the art of aggressive listening.
3. Simplify your search for talent: Be alert to other invisible virtues, insist on the right talent (i.e. don’t lose track of what is needed), challenge your best candidates to push themselves even harder, and “become a citadel of achievement” (i.e. embrace extraordinary effort as a way of life).
By nature, greatness creates a legacy that endures long after specific achievements have occurred. As George Anders makes crystal clear throughout his lively as well as informative narrative, “People with great reputations for attracting and developing talent regard the search for brilliance as their calling. They see themselves as discoverers, protectors, and builders of an entire discipline.” Yes, they possess skills and capacities (especially enlightened intuition) that enable them to spot exceptional talent – albeit under-developed talent — before everyone else does. The “rare find” is their objective as well as evidence of their own exceptional talent but they do not ignore or underestimate the significance of the word “rare.”
I highly recommend The Rare Find: Spotting Exceptional Talent Before Everyone Else, published by Portfolio/Penguin Group (2011)
George Anders is a New York Times-bestselling author and a journalist with three decades of experience writing for national publications. He started his career at The Wall Street Journal, where he became a top feature writer specializing in in-depth profiles. He was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 1997 for national reporting. He also has served as West Coast bureau chief for Fast Company magazine and as a founding member of the Bloomberg View board of editors. His work has appeared in leading publications worldwide, including The New York Times, BusinessWeek, The Guardian and the Harvard Business Review. In January 2012, he joined Forbes as a contributing writer
Brian Klapper is the President and Founding Partner of The Klapper Institute. He is an internationally recognized expert in operational and cultural corporate transformation. Brian has worked with global companies in a variety of sectors including: financial services, consumer products, manufacturing, food service, utilities, retail, and healthcare. While Brian’s experience spans all elements of the value chain, as well as all customer touch points, his work primarily focuses on helping his clients create a culture of Execution Excellence. Prior to founding The Klapper Institute, Brian was a Partner in the Financial Services practice of Oliver Wyman/Mercer Management Consulting (formerly Strategic Planning Associates). His clients have included: Bank of America, Avon Products, The Hartford Insurance Group, Bassett Furniture, Sun Life Financial, and Northeast Utilities.
Brian a recognized thought leader, speaker and writer. He co-authored a chapter in Redesigning Healthcare Delivery, “Applying Performance Engineering to Medical Care”, which has become an industry standard, is a regular contributor to Chief Learning Officer Magazine and has contributed to the Harvard Business Review.com. Brian has been profiled in several publications including: The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, Fortune, BusinessWeek, and The New York Times. Brian holds an MBA from The Wharton Graduate School of Business and a bachelor’s degree from Cornell University.
His latest book, The Q Loop: The Art & Science of Lasting Corporate Change, was published by Bibliomotion (May 2013)
Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.
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Morris: Years ago, was there a turning point (if not an epiphany) that set you on the career course you continue to follow? Please explain.
Klapper: The year was 1997. The meeting was the culmination of 365 days of work—15 hours a day, six days a week. I had recently become a partner in the Financial Services practice of Mercer Management Consulting (now Oliver Wyman) and was given the honor of working for the firm’s largest client on the largest project in the history of the firm. Our task: “Tell us how to reinvent our company and rethink how we can shape our industry to win in the 21st century.” As a strategy consultant, it was as good as it gets—a blank slate, tremendous resources, and time.
We had over 30 consultants performing thousand pages of analysis, dozens of financial models, and hundreds of client interviews. As we finished our work, we presented to the CEO. Following the presentation, the CEO declared, “Congratulations to the team. This may be the most insightful, brilliant work I have ever seen.”
At that point, he took the deck, threw it against the wall of the conference room, and angrily declared, “I can barely understand half of the stuff in here! How are the 100,000 people in my firm supposed to understand it? What do I do with this?”
One of my partners replied that there was an entire chapter devoted to the Gantt charts, which outlined roles and responsibilities, time lines, activities.
The CEO replied, “I don’t care about all that! What are we supposed to do with this?!”
Two days later I resigned.
I was professionally raised to believe that strategy consulting was the peak of the profession. Implementation was better left to those that did not make it as a strategist. Boy, was I wrong. Following that meeting, I resolved to get out of the “grand ideas” business and get dirty in the trenches where the real work is done to help organizations implement. What I came to realize is that, actually, very few companies are effective at really getting things done. So I resolved to work with companies to fix that. Quite simply, I wanted to help companies get stuff done.
Morris: Most change initiatives either fail or fall far short of original (perhaps unrealistic) expectations. More often than not, resistance is cultural in nature, the result of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”
Here’s my question: How best to avoid or overcome such resistance?
Klapper: Below are several methods I use with executives to help them overcome organizational resistance.
o Articulate a vision and develop a thorough plan that is easily understood. To do so, leadership must be fully immersed in the details of the plan and not delegate this step.
o Ensure alignment through one-on-one meetings, group discussions, a thorough data review, and fact-based analysis of the issues. To quote one of my clients, “Far too many of our key decisions are made in a data-free environment.”
o Establish for itself and all members of the organization appropriate expectations of what will happen, how all employees will fit in, and what can be achieved as a result of the change initiative.
o Create a genuine desire for change among the employees by rousing organizational energy, including collective motivation, enthusiasm, and intense commitment (more on this topic in upcoming chapters).
o Establish that the very top leaders, including the CEO, have passion for the change and also the ability to carry it out.
o Address both the behavioral and emotional components of change. Far too many change efforts focus solely on the tactical and operational aspects and neglect the human component.
o Get in the trenches to help and to role-model the desired mindset and behaviors.
o Build a culture of innovative thinking that promotes the freedom to experiment and ignore red tape.
o Trigger a sense of optimism around the change initiative. Change is often viewed as negative, yet most participants in the programs I help to orchestrate find it thrilling. According to one, the experience was “the most fun I have had in 20 years working for the company.”
o Expect and plan for resistance by identifying where in the organization the resistance might come from and how the resistance might manifest itself.
Morris: Now please shift your attention to The Q-Loop. When and why did you decide to write it?
Klapper: I wrote The Q-Loop in 2012. Bookstore shelves are crowded with business books discussing change. On Amazon alone, there are more than eight thousand books on corporate change. So why do I think the world needs another book on the topic? Simple, really. Because a remarkable one-third of all change efforts fail to deliver their intended results, and because the phrase I hear more than any other from business leaders (despite having good people, great technology, and a sound strategy) is: “It’s so hard to get anything done around here!”
Although some existing books on change are filled with interesting stories and rich concepts, they are just not specific enough for readers to use in their day-to-day jobs to truly effect change. This book, on the other hand, offers interactive content, meaningful examples of real problems and real solutions, actionable steps and suggestions, samples of what does and doesn’t work, fresh insights, a new approach, and practical guidance for all types of organizations.
Most approaches to change rely on the same basic tenets, which are incredibly intuitive but virtually impossible to deliver. The list usually goes like this: develop a vision, build a strategy, communicate the vision, establish a sense of urgency, generate buy-in.
It all makes perfect sense. After all, a leader would never have gotten the job without a clear vision. There’s a tremendous amount of public data available to help develop a thoughtful strategy. Many effective communication models exist. And creating urgency is…. Well, it’s this last one that’s the problem. And solving
it is a true art.
The single greatest challenge that prevents leaders from getting things done is their inability to generate buy-in for the change across the organization. There are thousands of books on leadership and even more on change management. So what makes this book different? The Q-Loop is a field guide, taken not from abstract, academic research but from the results of real-world lessons I’ve learned working with my many clients in the trenches for more than twenty years. Although most of my work has focused on Fortune 1000 companies, I have successfully applied these lessons to organizations that have anywhere from 160 to 160,000 employees—in the private sector, for government organizations, and within not-for-profit organizations throughout the world.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Brian cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:
The Klapper Institute blog
Brian’s Amazon page
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Paddy Miller and Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, and sign up for a subscription to HBR email alerts, please click here.
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You have an idea for a daring, innovative project that could have a significant impact on your business. However, you suspect that your idea will meet with internal resistance: The innovation would upend the status quo, and chances are good that other parts of the organization will try to stop it. What’s your next step?
The conventional answer is simple: Get a mandate from the top. As many innovation experts rightly point out, only the most incremental ideas pass through the corporate-approvals gantlet unscathed. The more unusual your idea, the greater the risk that it will fall victim to turf wars, myopic incentive systems, or simple resistance to change. For this reason, innovators are often counseled to go straight to the top, secure backing, and build a corporate sense of urgency around their ideas.
The “top first” strategy, however, carries its own risks. CEOs of large organizations are constantly barraged with proposals for new, untested projects, and typically, the ideas get a five-minute perusal followed by a “no.” And even if your idea does win support from the C-suite, early exposure is a double-edged sword: It buys you legitimacy and resources, but it also thrusts you squarely into the corporate spotlight—and that can be a dangerous place for young, unproven ideas. Our experience working with innovative managers has revealed an alternative approach: innovating under the radar.
Consider the story of pfizerWorks. Jordan Cohen, then a human resources manager in Pfizer’s New York office, created the productivity initiative to allow employees to outsource “grunt work” and other routine parts of their jobs, giving them more time to focus on important tasks and allowing Pfizer to make better use of its highly skilled (and highly paid) employees. PfizerWorks, launched in 2008, quickly became an acknowledged success story, and Cohen was featured in BusinessWeek, Fast Company, and other publications. In a 2011 internal survey, the users of pfizerWorks rated it as the company’s most popular service offering, even though they had to pay for it out of their own budgets.
But Cohen didn’t bring his idea to fruition by going straight to the top. To the contrary, he stayed under the radar for more than a year, developing the service, accumulating evidence, and gaining allies. When he finally pitched it to Pfizer’s top executives, he was able to show them much more than an idea: He presented existing users who were passionate about the project, outlined a proven business case, and pointed to the backing of several senior managers. Pfizer’s decision to support the project came quickly, and Cohen received not just a budget for it but a new job as the head of pfizerWorks.
Innovating under the radar carries its own set of challenges, to be sure, but going into stealth mode can often yield better results than trying to get the CEO on board from day one. In our experience, stealth innovation involves four critical challenges. First, you need to marshal allies who can help you operate off the grid and make sure that you don’t lose perspective as you do so. Second, you need to build proof of concept so that when you’re ready to make your case to the higher-ups, you have hard evidence to support you. Third, you must obtain access to funds and other resources to keep your project afloat. And finally, you need a good cover story so that you can work on the project without attracting unwanted attention or scrutiny. If you address these challenges effectively, you can sidestep corporate obstacles and give your idea the best possible chance for success.
Why Early Exposure Can Kill
The conventional overt approach to innovation is more risky than it may seem. Consider a company we’ll call RedTec Media, whose European division came up with an idea for a potentially game-changing consumer product aimed at the luxury market. Excited about the idea’s potential, the European team presented it to leaders at corporate headquarters. The response was much less enthusiastic than the team had expected. While the executives didn’t kill the idea outright, they questioned the project’s technical feasibility and expressed strong doubts about whether there was a market for it.
The European team members, recognizing that their enthusiasm was not contagious, set out to make a better case for the idea. So over the next few months, they built a working prototype and tested it with consumers, with great success. They also asked key retailers whether they thought the product would sell. The response was overwhelming; several of them asked, “Can I get this now?” Even better, the price the retailers suggested was higher than the team had hoped.
The team members made sure that their testing was rigorous and reliable, and carefully documented their findings. Consumers’ reactions, for instance, were not only recorded on paper but also filmed and compiled in a short video that demonstrated their support for the product.
But none of the new evidence seemed to change the minds of the top managers. After a long silence, the team received the news that headquarters had decided to kill the project. “To be fair, there were legitimate reasons to oppose the project,” one team member told us. “But we also got the feeling that the leadership made an early judgment call based on their gut feelings about the first presentation, and then pretty much stuck by that call irrespective of all the evidence we sent them subsequently.”
The phenomenon is not unusual. As research by the behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and others has demonstrated, people suffer from what is called confirmation bias: Once you’ve made a decision, however uninformed, you tend to look for more evidence supporting it, and ignore or discredit evidence that points in other directions. This effect is exacerbated if the judgment call is made in public or in front of colleagues or a boss. That’s because in corporate life, as elsewhere, it’s often considered preferable to be wrong than to be a flip-flopper. Just look at any political campaign and see what happens to candidates who change their stance on an issue, no matter how legitimate the reasons. As an innovator, you often get only one shot at pitching an idea to people at the top—and their default reaction is frequently “no.” You don’t want to waste your shot too early in the process, before you’ve built sufficient evidence for your idea.
A premature judgment call is just one of the dangers that come with early exposure. Ideas can be held hostage in political power plays; they can be forced Procrustes-style to follow corporate procedures that prevent rapid iteration; they can be appropriated and distorted by other stakeholders with legitimate but differing goals; and perhaps most frequently, they can face crushing pressure for short-term results that either kills them or warps them beyond recognition. In The Little Black Book of Innovation, Scott Anthony shares Clayton Christensen’s concept of the “ticking clock,” a deadline for creating results that all innovators face. “You never know quite how fast the clock is ticking,” Anthony writes, “or when the alarm is set, but you can be darn sure that at some point, it will ring….If that moment comes and all you have is potential, you’d better start polishing your résumé.”
This is where stealth innovation comes into the picture. While aiming to deliver some quick wins is excellent advice, and if at all possible, you should follow it, the nature of your idea may be such that doing so is simply not possible. By starting your project in stealth mode, you can postpone the moment that the clock starts ticking for your idea. Let’s now look in detail at the four challenges of stealth innovation and how to overcome them.
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Paddy Miller is a professor at IESE Business School. Thomas Wedell-Wedellsborg is a partner at the Innovation Architects. They are the co-authors of Innovation as Usual: How to Help Your People Bring Great Ideas to Life (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013), from which this article is adapted.
Here is a brief excerpt from an interview of Chip Heath co-conducted by Lenny T. Mendonca and Matt Miller. It was featured in The McKinsey Quarterly, published by McKinsey & Company. To read the complete interview, check out a wealth of free online resources, and learn more about the firm, please click here.
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The key to effective communication: make it simple, make it concrete, and make it surprising.
The ability to craft and deliver messages that influence employees, markets, and other stakeholders may seem like a mysterious talent that some people have and some don’t. Jack Welch, for example, created ideas that inspired hundreds of thousands of GE employees. But many other leaders are frustrated to find that key messages sent one day are forgotten the next—or that stakeholders don’t know how to interpret them.
Why do some ideas succeed while others fail? Chip Heath, professor of organizational behavior in Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, has spent the past decade seeking answers to that question. His research has ranged from the problem of what makes beliefs—urban legends, for instance—survive in the social marketplace of competing ideas to experiments that show how winning ideas emerge in populations, businesses, and other organizations. Earlier this year Heath published his findings in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, written with his brother, Dan, who founded a business that specializes in this very subject.
In July 2007 Chip Heath spoke with Lenny Mendonca, a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office; Matt Miller, an adviser to McKinsey; and Parth Tewari, who was then a Sloan fellow at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, about the key principles for making an idea “stick” and how executives can use them to communicate more successfully. The conversation took place at Stanford.
The Quarterly: Let’s start by defining success. What is a sticky idea?
Chip Heath: A sticky idea is one that people understand when they hear it, that they remember later on, and that changes something about the way they think or act. That is a high standard. Think back to the last presentation you saw. How much do you remember? How did it change the decisions you make day to day?
Leaders will spend weeks or months coming up with the right idea but then spend only a few hours thinking about how to convey that message to everybody else. That’s a tragedy. It’s worth spending time making sure that the lightbulb that has gone on inside your head also goes on inside the heads of your employees or customers
The Quarterly: Give us an example of a sticky idea.
Chip Heath: John F. Kennedy, in 1961, proposed to put an American on the moon in a decade. That idea stuck. It motivated thousands of people across dozens of organizations, public and private. It was an unexpected idea: it got people’s attention because it was so surprising—the moon is a long way up. It appealed to our emotions: we were in the Cold War and the Russians had launched the Sputnik space satellite four years earlier. It was concrete: everybody could picture what success would look like in the same way. How many goals in your organization are pictured in exactly the same way by everyone involved?
My father worked for IBM during that period. He did some of the programming on the original Gemini space missions. And he didn’t think of himself as working for IBM—he thought of himself as helping to put an American on the moon. An accountant who lived down the street from us, who worked for a defense contractor, also thought of himself as helping to put an American on the moon. When you inspire the accountants you know you’re onto something.
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To read the complete interview, please click here.
Chip Heath is a Professor of Organizational Behavior in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University. His research examines why certain ideas – ranging from urban legends to folk medical cures, from Chicken Soup for the Soul stories to business strategy myths – survive and prosper in the social marketplace of ideas. His research has appeared in a variety of academic journals, and popular accounts of his research have appeared in Scientific American, the Financial Times, the Washington Post,BusinessWeek, Psychology Today, and Vanity Fair. He lives in Los Gatos, California. He has co-authored two books with his brother Dan: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die and Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard.
Lenny Mendonca is a director in McKinsey’s San Francisco office, and Matt Miller is an adviser to McKinsey. The co-authors wish to acknowledge the contributions of Parth Tewari, who helped initiate and shape this interview. Tewari recently left Stanford to become the India director of TechnoServe (a nonprofit organization that helps create business solutions to fight poverty), where he is using these ideas to shape his communications.