First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Change or Die

Colour abstract art balls  background.My own opinion is that all species (including human beings) must adapt or stagnate and then, in that event, eventually die. This is what Charles Darwin had in mind when observing, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Phil Buckley for Talent Management magazine. He explains why an aggressive change agenda is a positive attribute that implies an environment where candidates can thrive and perform. To read the complete article, check out all the resources, and sign up for a free subscription to the TM and/or Chief Learning Officer magazines published by MedfiaTec, please click here.

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One of my best candidate interviews was with a senior marketer applying for a global innovation role. We discussed how the industry was changing and the changes we were making to capitalize on new opportunities. The candidate was engaged and excited, both by our challenges and his ideas on how he could manage them. He became our lead candidate.

Some leaders and recruiters see large-scale change as a source of candidate concern. They fear candidates will be repelled by the uncertainty, instability and risk that come with transformation. I have found the opposite; an aggressive change agenda is a positive attribute that implies an environment within which candidates could thrive and perform.

A large-scale change agenda provides opportunities for new colleagues to develop leadership capabilities. It also helps them shape the future direction and culture of an organization. Companies going through big changes have more projects to manage, and most provide greater exposure. These projects also offer development opportunities with new tasks, responsibilities and roles.

It is rare when a business doesn’t have a big change to make. Most are faced with a constantly changing operating environment and are in a perpetual state of flux. Economic globalization has intensified the need to adapt and reinvent to stay competitive. Companies need to rethink and change the way they operate or suffer the consequences of poor performance, or worse, irrelevance to customers and consumers.

The ability to lead change has become a new leadership capability. All big changes require significant organizational adjustments — new attitudes, capabilities, processes, systems and relationships — and leaders must be able to demonstrate confidence, comfort with ambiguity and grace under pressure as they lead their people through changes.

* * *

Buckley then offers five specific suggestions as to how to promote an organization’s change agenda as a valuable attribute to candidates. To read the complete article, please click here.

He is the Managing Director at Change with Confidence Incorporated, based in Toronto, and the author of Change with Confidence: Answers to the 50 Biggest Questions that Keep Change Leaders Up at Night, published by Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Imprint (2013).

Friday, July 19, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mario Livio: An interview by Bob Morris

Livio, MarioDr Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI), the institute which conducts the scientific program of the Hubble Space Telescope, and will conduct the scientific program of the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope. He has published more than 400 scientific papers and received awards and recognition for research, for excellence in teaching, and for his books. His interests span a broad range of topics in astrophysics, from cosmology and black holes, to extrasolar planets and the emergence of intelligent life in the universe. Livio’s popular book The Golden Ratio: The Story of PHI, the World’s Most Astonishing Number, won him the “Peano Prize” for 2003, and the “International Pythagoras Prize” for 2004. His latest book, Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe, was released on May 14, 2013, and received rave reviews in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

* * *

Morris: Before discussing Brilliant Blunders, a few general questions. First, who had the greatest impact on your professional development? How so?

Livio: I had a teacher in High School, his name was Imry. While he might have not been the greatest teacher for the entire class, he certainly inspired me to appreciate hard problems in mathematics and physics.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Livio: The fact that I have taken both mathematics and physics as majors, has given me a broader perspective on how to think about problems and how to approach their solutions.

Morris: Here are several of my favorite quotations to which I ask you to respond. First, from Lao-Tzu’s Tao Te Ching:

“Learn from the people
Plan with the people
Begin with what they have
Build on what they know
Of the best leaders
When the task is accomplished
The people will remark
We have done it ourselves.”

Livio: Good quote. I wish all world leaders would take this as advice.

Morris: Next, from Voltaire: “Cherish those who seek the truth but beware of those who find it.”

Livio: Nice. Reminds me of a quote from George Bernard Shaw: “Science becomes dangerous only when it imagines that it has reached its goal.”

Morris: And then, from Oscar Wilde: “Be yourself. Everyone else is taken.”

Livio: Wonderful. No one could have put it better than Wilde. Probably the best advice you can give to a young woman or man.

Morris: From Albert Einstein: “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”

Livio: Absolutely true. Again reminds of a quote from, believe it or not, Wayne Gretzky: ” I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been.”

Morris: In Tom Davenport’s latest book, Judgment Calls, he and co-author Brooke Manville offer “an antidote for the Great Man theory of decision making and organizational performance”: organizational judgment . That is, “the collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader’s direct control.” What do you think?

Livio: In some sense, the same thinking is at the basis of “crowd sourcing.” Most of the time, this is a good idea. However, when “outside the box” thinking is required, this is often difficult to achieve with too large groups, which tend to converge to a mean.

Morris: Here’s a brief excerpt from Paul Schoemaker’s latest book, Brilliant Mistakes: “The key question companies need to address is not ‘Should we make mistakes?’ but rather ‘Which mistakes should we make in order to test our deeply held assumptions?'” Your response?

Livio: He is right. Please note that this is not an advocacy for being sloppy. This is simply a recognition of the fact that innovative thinking
requires taking some calculated risks.

Morris: The greatest leaders throughout history (with rare exceptions) were great storytellers. What do you make of that?

Livio: I have not checked if this is indeed a historical fact, but if it is, I imagine that this reflects their ability to understand what is truly important.

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?

Livio: I am not an expert in this field, but my guess is that people find it very hard to adapt to changes that occur on a time scale that is much shorter than the time it takes them to learn new things. One should strive for an OPTIMAL (rather than MAXIMAL) rate of change.

Morris: Now please shift your attention to Brilliant Blunders. When and why did you decide to write it?

Livio: I started writing it about four years ago. I have realized for a long time that many have a misconception about how science progresses. In most textbooks and popular descriptions, progress appears to be a direct march from A to B. Nothing could be further from the truth. Science progresses in a zigzag path, with many false starts and blind alleys. I wanted to make this clear. I also wanted to emphasize this point that even the greatest luminaries have made some serious blunders — breakthroughs often come from taking risks.

Morris: Were there any head-snapping revelations while writing it? Please explain.

Livio: I did an enormous amount of research, and solved at least two mysteries. One had to do with the discovery of cosmic expansion. There I have clarified the contribution of cosmologist Georges Lemaitre, and have cleared Edwin Hubble form allegations of censorship. I have also shown, I believe quite convincingly, that Einstein probably never used the term “my biggest blunder,” whenever discussing the cosmological constant.

* * *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

To read my review of Brilliant Blunders, please click here.

Mario cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His home page link

His Amazon page link

His Huffington post link

Wikipedia link

Twitter link

Facebook link

A Curious Mind blog

Friday, June 21, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Better Mousetrap: A book review by Bob Morris

Better MousetrapThe Better Mousetrap: Brand Invention in a Media Democracy
Simon Pont
Kogan Page (2012)

“Reality is a collective hunch.” Lily Tomlin

When I noted the subtitle of Simon Pont’s book, “Brand Invention in a Media of Democracy,” I immediately – and incorrectly – assumed that his focus would be on how effective branding can help to create or increase demand for whatever is offered, be it a product, a service, or both. In fact, Pont has much of value to say about brands, branding, marketing, and consumers. However,but the scope and depth of his perspectives include more, much more.

According to Steven Wright, “The early bird may catch the worm but the second mouse gets the cheese.” I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard or read someone observe, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.” To which Pont responds, “So said Ralph Waldo Emerson in toast of the innovative spirit and the rewards that (should) follow. I guess ‘Build it and they will come’ is an abridged riff on the same. That is, assuming ‘it’ is any good. And that’s always the trick.” I agree.

What we have in this volume are Pont’s perspectives on a world in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves. They sit within a wild, weird, and wonderful frame of change. But there is a frame. I don’t believe change is the only constant, but that certain fundamental truths remain rock-solid. Up remains up, down down, gravity prevents us from falling into a big blue sky…and people don’t fundamental change. That’s the frame.”

These are among the passages that were of greatest interest and value to me, listed to indicate the range of subjects that Pont discusses with rigor and eloquence:

o The Brand Organic (Page 10)
o Brands Must Behave, Must Woo (15)
o “Yours Digitally”: Brand Charisma’s Second Coming (48)
o You Are Your Own Mousetrap (78)
o In Strangers We Trust (94)
o The Age of the Accelerated Consumer (97)
o Through a Glass Darkly (122)
o Truth, Lies, and Advertising (147)
o Irrational Reasoning, Magpie Desire and the Watch from Outer Space (156)
o “Digital”: What It s, What It Isn’t (196)
o The Second Fundamental: Avoid Launching Ghost Ships (218)
o The Kids Have Taken Over the Place (233)
o The Fabric of Things (261)

Years ago, one of the screenwriters and Hollywood insiders, William Goldman, observed, “Nobody knows nothing.” Goldman agrees with Socrates; Pont and I agree with them. “It takes a guy as smart as Goldman to so accurately nail it, and while he was talking pointedly of the movie industry, the line applies pretty much across the board…Goldman means that no one knows anything for sure, that foresight is a hunch, that everyone is making it up as best they can, and that life’s winners are those who smile at the truth of it and can cut a wake through a Sargasso of ego, guesswork, bullshit, and chance.”

Pont urges his reader to accept the fact that building a better whatever requires a different mindset than the one she or he had when beginning to read this book. Stated another way, Pont urges his reader to think differently about thinking differently. The title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books suggests that “what got you here won’t get you there.” Presumably Pont agrees with me that, to paraphrase Goldsmith, “what got you here won’t even keep you here,” wherever that may be.

The world we share is indeed one in which technology, society, and media have become “mutable forms, shape-shifting, forever repurposing themselves.” So must we if we are to survive and, perhaps, succeed. Charles Darwin said it best: “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.”

Wednesday, December 5, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Adaptability: A book review by Bob Morris

Adaptability: The Art of Winning in an Age of Uncertainty
Max Mckeown
KoganPage (2012)

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”  Charles Darwin

Max Mckeown presents his material within a three-part framework that focuses on these strategic objectives: How to recognize the need to adapt? (Chapters 1-6), How to understand necessary adaptation? (Chapters 12-17), and How to adapt as necessary? (Chapters 12-17). As Abraham Maslow suggests with his “Hierarchy of Needs” (usually portrayed in the form of a pyramid), man must first survive before giving thought to security; and only when secure can man consider “self-actualization” (i.e. personal fulfillment). Mckeown’s primary objective in this book is to help his reader to understand when, how, and why to adapt “faster and smarter than the [given] situation changes.” He accepts Darwin’s concept of natural selection but asserts, “Adapt or die is not the only choice. In the future, you can try to maintain what you already have, or you can attempt to transcend the constraints of your situation. We’re part of a long chain of adaptive moves. Each move has changed the circumstances of our ancestors, until we arrived.” How to learn how to adapt?

In response to that question, Mckeown provides an abundance of information, insights, and counsel. Here are a few of the dozens of passages in his narrative that caught my eye:

o  Why all failure is failure to adapt
o  How to embrace “unacceptable wisdom”
o  Why stability is a “dangerous illusion”
o  Why learning fast is better than failing fast
o  How to think better together
o  Why hierarchy is “fossil fuel”
o  How to “get your ambition on”

Mckeown is well-aware of the importance of survival to countless individuals as well as to countless organizations and even countries throughout the world. However, his hope — one that I share — is that those who read this book will aspire to accomplishing more, much more than survival.

The key, in my opinion, is first developing and then applying a mindset that recognizes the need for adaptation, understands what adaptation requires, and possesses imagination and (yes) courage sufficient to separate thinking repetition — perpetuating what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom” —  from adaptive iteration. Change may be inevitable but progress is not. The need to adapt is inevitable but being able to do that effectively is not.

I introduced this brief commentary with a statement by Charles Darwin and now conclude it with another: “In the long history of humankind (and animal kind, too) those who learned to collaborate and improvise most effectively have prevailed.”

Thursday, June 28, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Empathetic Marketing: A book review by Bob Morris

Empathetic Marketing: How to Satisfy the 6 Core Emotional Needs of Your Customers
Mark Ingwer
Palgrave Macmillan (2012)

How and why emotions and resulting behaviors are the foundation for satisfying complex psychological needs

I was curious to know when someone would combine insights from several quite different concepts and write a book such as this one. For example, from Robert Greenleaf’s essay, The Servant as Leader, the development of the concept of emotional intelligence (Charles Darwin, E.L. Thorndyke, David Wechsler, and most recently Daniel Goleman), and Howard Gardner’s research on multiple intelligences (notably his book, Frames of Mind). Well, without drawing upon these specific sources, Mark Ingwer has written that book and it is brilliant.

In essence, marketing creates or increases demand for whatever is offered. It could be a smart phone but it could also be a political platform or membership in a professional association or support of a non-profit, tax-exempt organization. Now we have a definitive guide to a unique marketing methodology. That is Ingwer’s singular achievement. As he explains, in order to satisfy “the 6 core emotional needs” of current prospective customers, one must understand those needs and be convinced that it is a privilege to serve them; also, one must possess emotional intelligence as well as highly developed reasoning skills because, as Ingwer explains, “emotions and ruling behaviors are the foundation for satisfying complex psychological needs. Our individual well-being – self-esteem, success, relationships, and happiness – is a result of our meeting emotional needs. An individual’s needs are satisfied when he or she is connected meaningfully to others, and through these connections comes to find his or her own unique value and identity. It is a ceaseless, evolving, lifelong endeavor.”

Ingwer devotes a separate chapter to each of the six “core emotional needs” (i.e. control, self-expression, growth, recognition, belonging, and care) and explains with rigor and clarity how and why needs-based marketing initiatives must accommodate, indeed nourish human emotions as well as deliver a convincing, indeed compelling “message.” Long ago in his poem Song of Myself, Walt Whitman asserted, I am large/I contain multitudes.” Marketers would be well-advised to keep Whitman’s comment in mind. According to Ingwer, “The motivation and emotion behind our quest for needs satisfaction and identify fulfillment all too often are not always consciously available to us.” True, but they are certainly available to empathic marketers such as Steve Jobs who realized long before anyone else did how appealing and personally (as well as functionally) fulfilling various iProducts would be.

Here are some of the most important subjects for which Ingwer provides information, insights, and counsel:

o The frequently hidden (or at least unrecognized) human needs that drive purchase decisions
o What the Needs Continuum is and why it should be coordinated with a psychological perspective
o How best to empathize with consumers’ core needs for control, self-expression, growth, recognition, belonging, and care
o A few core guidelines for how companies can take an empathetic approach to marketing

As indicated earlier, with all due respect to this brilliant book, all of the opportunities that await empathetic marketing initiatives as well as everything that Mark Ingwer recommends to take full advantage of those opportunities mean nothing unless and until an organization has people at all levels and in all areas who are – literally – servant leaders, who possess or are in the process of developing emotional intelligence, and who consider it a privilege to satisfy the core emotional needs of everyone with whom they are associated.

I presume to add a footnote: With only minor modifications, all of the principles that Mark Ingwer introduces would also be appropriate for improving the communication skills — especially persuasion — of those who interact with others within and beyond their workplace.

Saturday, June 2, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Michalko: An interview by Bob Morris

Michael Michalko

Michael Michalko is one of the most highly acclaimed creativity experts in the world and author of the best sellers Thinkertoys (A Handbook of Business Creativity), ThinkPak (A Brainstorming Card Deck), Creative Thinkering (Putting your Imagination to Work), and Cracking Creativity (The Secrets Of Creative Genius).

 As an officer in the United States Army, Michael organized a team of NATO intelligence specialists and international academics in Frankfurt, Germany, to research, collect, and categorize all known inventive-thinking methods. His international team applied those methods to various NATO military, political, and social problems and in doing so it produced a variety of breakthrough ideas and creative solutions to new and old problems.  After leaving the military, Michael facilitated CIA think tanks using his creative thinking techniques. Michael later applied these creative-thinking techniques to problems in the corporate world with outstanding successes.  Michael has provided keynote speeches, workshops, and seminars on fostering creative thinking for clients who range from Fortune 500 corporations, such as DuPont, Kellogg’s, General Electric, Kodak, Microsoft, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, USA, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Gillette, and Hallmark, to associations and governmental agencies.  In addition to his work in the United States, Michael has worked with clients in countries around the world.

Here is an excerpt from my interview of him. To read the complete interview, please click here.

*     *     *

Morris: Before discussing any of your books, a few general questions. First, who has had the greatest influence on your personal growth? How so?

Michalko: My mother was my greatest influence because she taught me by example that your life and happiness are determined by what you choose to or refuse to do.

We do not choose to be born. We do not choose our parents. We do not choose our historical epoch, or the country of our birth, or the immediate circumstances of our upbringing. We do not, most of us, choose to die; nor do we choose the time or conditions of our death. But within all this realm of choicelessness, we do choose how we shall live: with purpose or adrift, with joy or with joylessness, with hope or with despair, with humor or with sadness, with a positive outlook or a negative outlook, with pride or with shame, with inspiration or with defeat and with honor or with dishonor. We decide that what makes us significant or insignificant. We decide to be creative or to be indifferent. No matter how indifferent the universe may be to our choices and decisions, these choices and decisions are ours to make. We decide. We choose. In the end, the meaning of our own life is decided by what we choose to do or what we refuse to do. And as we decide and choose, so are our destinies formed.

Morris: The great impact on your professional development? How so?

Michalko: While in the military I observed that the more an expert one became in an area of military specialization, the less creative and innovative that person became. The paradox is that people who know more, see less; and the people who know less, see more. Consequently, the majority of the generals had a fixed mindset about what is possible and what is not. The creative and innovative solutions to military problem came from the youngest noncoms and officers who still had open minds.

I discovered the same paradox in civilian life. An example of this is when Apple Computer Inc. founder, Steve Jobs, attempted, without success, to get Atari and Hewlett-Packard interested in his and Steve Wozniak’s personal computer. As Steve recounts, “So we went to Atari and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we’ll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we’ll come work for you.’ And their experts laughed and said, ‘No.’ So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, ‘Hey, we don’t need you. You haven’t gotten through college yet.”

It seems that once a person has formed an expectation concerning the subject being observed–this influences future perceptions of the subject.  Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., thought the idea of a personal computer absurd, as he said, “there is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Robert Goddard, the father of modern rocketry, was ridiculed by every scientist for his revolutionary liquid-fueled rockets. Even the New York Times chimed in with an editorial in 1921 by scientists who claimed that Goddard lacked even the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high school science classes. Pierrre Pachet, a renowned physiology professor and expert, declared, “Louis Pasteur’s theory of germs is ridiculous fiction.”

If we experience any strain in imagining a possibility, we quickly conclude it’s impossible. This principle also helps explain why evolutionary change often goes unnoticed by the experts. The greater the commitment of the expert to their established view, the more difficult it is for the expert to do anything more than to continue repeating their established view. It also explains the phenomenon of a beginner who comes up with the breakthrough insight or idea that was overlooked by the experts who worked on the same problem for years.

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.

Michalko: The realization that most educated people have a fixed mindset that encourages robotic thinking and determines a person’s outlook and behavior. Think of the fixed mindset shaped like an upside down funnel. At the wide bottom, there is a wide variety of different experiences. At the top, there is the narrow opening which represents a fixed mindset that superimposes itself on all the experiences. Once people with a fixed mindset have settled on a perspective, they close off all other lines of thought. Whereas, a creative thinker’s mind is shaped like a right side up funnel with the narrow opening over one experience. At the wide top there is a wide variety of different ways to see and think about the one experience. This represents a creative thinker’s growth mindset.

Imagine a mud puddle waking up one morning and thinking, “This is an interesting world.  I find myself in this hole and I find that it fits me perfectly. In fact, it fits me so well, it must have been made to have me in it. Everything is fine and there is no need for me to worry about changing anything.” Yet every day as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up, the puddle gets smaller and smaller. Yet the puddle frantically hangs on to the notion that everything’s going to be all right, because the puddle believes the world is what it is and was meant to have him in it. The moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise.

People with fixed mindsets are like the mud puddle. They were taught by authority figures that their genes, family, education and environment have determined their destiny, and they, like the atom, just are. Many of them were taught that they are not creative. Consequently, they believe they are a certain kind of person and there is not much they can do to change that. They might be able change some small things but the important part of who they are can’t be changed.

It was this realization that encouraged me to research, write and teach the importance of understanding these cognitive mindsets, how they influence us and how we can easily change the dynamics of a mindset and change the way we think and see things.

Morris: To what extent has your formal education been invaluable to what you have accomplished in life thus far?

Michalko: What I learned from observing and listening to academics in college was their curious tendency to assimilate new information into their pre-existing views. Their mental image of the established view interferes with their perception and understanding of new ideas and concepts. In the case of real life, physicists could not see Einstein’s theory of relativity because of their established, accepted view. For years, they tried to incorporate his view into the established view without success.

Experts always try to assimilate new insights, ideas and concepts into their view. What happens in real life is, despite ambiguous stimuli, people form some sort of tentative hypothesis about what they see. The longer they are exposed to this hypothesis, the greater confidence they develop in this initial and perhaps erroneous impression, so the greater the impact this initial hypothesis has on subsequent perceptions.

Suppose an expert has an established theory about the danger of boxes and their effect on human life and the environment. The theory is that boxes might be harmful and the use of boxes should be regulated. Now, suppose that I leave a box on the floor, and my wife trips on it, falling against my son, who is carrying a carton of eggs, which then fall and break. The expert’s approach to an event like this would be that the best way to prevent the breakage of eggs would be to outlaw leaving boxes on the floor. As silly as this example is, it is analogous to what is happening in the world of global warming. If you survey the history of science, it is apparent that most individuals who have created radical innovations did not do so simply because they knew more than others. One of the most important experiences Noble laureate, Richard Feynman, had in his life was reading a copy of James Watson’s typescript of what was to become his famous book, The Double Helix, about his discovery, together with Francis Crick, of the structure of DNA. Feynman had become unproductive and began to believe he had run out of ideas. The discovery Feynman made was that Watson had been involved in making such a fundamental advance in science, and yet he had been completely out of touch with what everybody else in his field was doing.

As told in Watson’s classic memoir, The Double Helix, it was a tale of boundless ambition, impatience with authority and disdain, if not contempt, for received opinion. “A goodly number of scientists,” Watson explained, “are not only narrow-minded and dull but also just stupid.” Feynman wrote one word, in capitals: DISREGARD on his notepad when he read that. This word became his motto. That, he said, was the whole point. That was what he had forgotten, and why he had been making so little progress. The way for thinkers like himself to make a breakthrough was to be ignorant of what everybody else was doing and make their own interpretations and guesses.

So Feynman “stopped trying to keep up with what others were doing and went back to his roots, comparing experiment with theory, making guesses that were all his own.” Thus he became creative again, as he had been when he had just been working things out for himself, before becoming a famous physicist in academia. While this is an important lesson for science, it is a supreme lesson for any discipline where “current knowledge” can be dominated by theories that are simply incoherent.

Make your own interpretations of your experiences to shape your own beliefs and concepts about your world. This is the lesson Feynman called the most important of his life. This is the lesson I learned during my college years.

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Michael cordially invites you to check out the resources at these websites:

His website

Psychology Today Blog: Creative Thinkering



Facebook Fan Page

Monday, April 30, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The four most common forms of really dumb thinking

Opinions vary about which forms are the most common and many of those opinions offer excellent examples of dumb thinking. The opinions I now share are those of several thinkers whom I personally admire. They include Plato, Aristotle, St. Paul, Marcus Aurelius, Isaac Newton, John Stuart Mill, Charles Darwin, William James, Albert Einstein, and Richard Feynman. If you have any complaints, take it up with them.

1. Zero-Sum: Movies or radio, radio or television, bound volumes or electronic reading devices, profitability or community service…you get the idea. With rare exception (e.g. a moral crisis), it is not a matter of either/or; rather, both…but with (perhaps) different proportionality.

2. “They say….”: This involves relying on a source (or sources) that cannot be verified. It is especially common among those who have little (if any) faith in their own opinions and/or launch the opinion of an unidentified source as a trial balloon and/or never express an opinion about anything until after they have obtained a near-unanimous consensus among several sources, such as a shared assumption that  “The earth is definitely flat.”

3. “If you build it, they will come.” That may have been true of a cornfield in Iowa but most of the time, thinking and doing anything within an information vacuum will result in serious errors of judgment. There are countless examples but here are two in retailing: websites that are created at great cost and “go live” online and retail stores located in high-traffic malls (leased, staffed, and stocked at great cost) that fail to attract more than a few dozen visitors each day, if that. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, “Build what people really want even if they don’t know it yet, build it better than anyone else does, and people will buy it.”

4. Doing something the same way again and again, then expecting different results: This is Einstein’s definition of insanity. James O’Toole characterizes it as evidence of “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Charles Duhigg has much of value to say about repetitive thinking and behavior in The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. However, I think more than habit is involved. Denial, for example, and delusion. Perhaps some narcissism. This form of dumb thinking — probably more than any other — helps to explain why most human wounds are self-inflicted.

What to do? One good starting point would be to check out Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management in which Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton propose six specific strategies for producing, evaluating, selling, and applying business knowledge:

o  Stop treating old ideas as if they were brand new.
o  Be suspicious of ”breakthrough” ideas and studies.
o  Celebrate and develop collective brilliance.
o  Emphasize drawbacks as well as virtues.
o  Use success (and failure) stories to illustrate sound practices, but not in place of valid research method.
o   Adopt a neutral stance toward ideologies and theories.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Why Management Ideas Matter

Here is a brief excerpt from a brilliant article by posted by Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer. It is featured at the Thinkers50 website. To read the complete article and check out the wealth of resources, please click here.

*     *     *

Who is the most influential living management thinker?

That is the question that the Thinkers50, the biennial global ranking of management thinkers, seeks to answer. But does the ranking or the ideas it celebrates really matter?

It’s a fair question.  In an age of awards overkill, it is tempting to see the ranking as just another example of hubris in the business world. All the more galling when many businesses are struggling.

But, celebrating the very best new thinking in management matters for three reasons.

First, ideas are important. They have the power to change the world.  Think of Copernicus, Socrates, Aristotle, Newton, Galileo, or Einstein. Think of Charles Darwin, the ultimate disruptive innovator.   Ideas define our humanity. They shape the way we think and see our place in the universe.

Equally, in the business world, too, ideas matter — from Steve Jobs to Tim Berners-Lee; and Google to Facebook — new thinkers and new ideas challenge and redefine how we work and live.  An idea can change an entire industry and ideas, from kaizen to the balanced scorecard, continually transform the way we work and lead our businesses.

Second, management matters. It has become fashionable in some places to mock management. Ask someone in the UK what is wrong with the National Health Service, for example, and you are likely to be told that there are too many managers and management consultants and not enough doctors and nurses.  Managers are the fall guys, the scapegoats for organizational excesses, failures and inefficiencies.

Yet, the reality is that management gets things done. The moment you move beyond one or two people working together then some form of management is required. There is nothing new in this. From Alexander the Great to the modern day, the elements of management – from organizational behavior to supply chain management — have made the difference between success and failure.

Just because management has always been with us, it is easy, too, to dismiss the progress that has been made in the last century. Management is often seen as a poor man’s science. (Not so long ago economics suffered a similar fate.) Critics lampoon the latest management buzzwords, labeling them as pretentious and shallow. In truth, though, management has made big strides.

A hundred years ago, we were in the thrall of scientific management. Had there been a Thinkers50 in the early twentieth century, it would have been dominated by one name — Frederick Winslow Taylor. We have moved on since then. One of the achievements of management in the last 20 years is the recognition that management is a fundamentally human activity. It is as much an art as a science.

It is easy to underestimate the influence of management ideas in that process. Notions such as empowerment, championed in the 1980s, and emotional intelligence in the 1990s seem self-evident now. But we have come a long way from Scientific Management and using a stopwatch to manage performance.  Ideas like Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory laid the foundations for that.

Or consider the influence of Clayton Christensen, who tops the Thinkers50 ranking. Christensen’s influence on the business world has been profound. In The Innovator’s Dilemma, he looked at why companies struggle to deal with radical innovation in their markets. The book introduced the idea of disruptive technologies and disruptive innovation to a generation of managers.

Some ideas make us reappraise what we thought we already knew. Until very recently, for example, most managers were (and many still are) convinced that fear and greed were the two primary levers for motivating people.  But Dan Pink’s recent book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us tackles the perennial subject of motivation, and argues that we need to abandon the ineffectual carrot and stick approach, and the importance of doing something we love for a career.

*     *     *

Des Dearlove and Stuart Crainer ( are the founders and directors of the Thinkers50. They are adjunct professors at IE Business School. Stuart is editor of Business Strategy Review. Des is an associate fellow of Oxford University’s Saïd Business School.

Thursday, April 12, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Watchman’s Rattle: A book review by Bob Morris

The Watchman’s Rattle: Thinking Our Way Out of Extinction
Rebecca D. Costa
Vanguard Press (2010)

How and why we must accept “the title of realists-in-search of-a-solution, not doomsayers….”

Frankly, I did not know quite what to expect as I began to read this book but soon realized that Rebecca Costa combines the defining characteristics of a pragmatic idealist with those of a visionary who possesses what Ernest Hemingway once described as a “built-in- shock-proof crap detector.” The title of this review is limited by format space but Edward O. Wilson’s remarks in the Foreword (on Page xii) continue as follows: “…not doomsayers – who say that because of exponentiation, humanity doesn’t gave a lot of time to figure things out. We have to solve our problems not be continuing to use emotions and responses that suited our primitive ancestors but now put us all in imminent danger. Instead, we need to use knowledge and reason and take an honest look at ourselves as a species.”

That is precisely what Costa does within a framework of inquiry and exploration that consists of 13 chapters. She sets out to assemble a “puzzle” that will, perhaps, suggest a solution to a global “gridlock” of serious problems that threaten human existence. She views her book as an alarm that calls for “citizens to wake from their sleep and quickly join forces against danger.” Her book, she explains, is “the sound of the watchman’s rattle in the dead of night. A summons for help. A plea to change the course of humankind by calling on the greatest weapon of mass destruction ever known: the human brain.”

As for the aforementioned “puzzle,” Costa identifies six pieces:

1859: Publication of Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species
1953: The discovery by James Watson and Francis Crick of the double helix in DNA
1975: Publication of E.O. Wilson’s Sociobiology
1976: Publication of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene
1970s: What Costa characterizes as “the accelerating complexity of the human condition”
2006: Publication of landmark research on how the human brain tackles complex problems

I presume to suggest two other “pieces” that have also had great impact and still possess almost unlimited potentialities: open source intelligence perhaps best exemplified by the Unix operating system (conceived and implemented in 1969 at AT&T’s Bell Laboratories) and the Linux kernel (developed by Linus Torvalds in the early-1990s), and, Tim Berners-Lee’s development (also in the 1990s) of what we now know as the World Wide Web.

In my opinion, Costa achieves several separate but interdependent objectives by the time her watchman’s rattle (the “clarion call”) sounding alarm gives way to a watchman’s torch whose light (“in the dead of night”) reveals “uncommon insights [and a course of action] to cure what ails humanity.” These objectives include:

o Identification and explanation of the major threats to the continuation of human life
o Identification and explanation of the resources needed to overcome those threats
o Provision of a wide variety of third-party perspectives on the key issues to be addressed and resolved
o Explanation of the nature and extent of leadership needed at all levels and in all areas under threat
o Explanation of how and why insight is “an elegant solution to our conundrum: an astonishing problem-solving capability buried deep in the human brain”

No brief commentary such as this can do full justice to the scope and depth of what Rebecca Costa examines in this volume with relentless vigor and uncommon eloquence. I agree with her that the challenges now facing the human race are unprecedented, to be sure, but they can be overcome by global collaboration that was also, until recently, unprecedented. In this context, natural selection is not a peril…it is an opportunity.

Friday, March 9, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Serial Innovators: A book review by Bob Morris

Serial Innovators: Firms That Change the World
Claudio Feser
John Wiley & Sons (2012)

How and why continuous innovation and adaptation can help an organization “live” longer

What we have here is a “hybrid” narrative that develops on two separate but interdependent levels: a fictional account that focuses on Carl Berger (CEO of American Health Devices or AHD) and Claudio Feser’s exposition of a core thesis that continuous innovation and adaptation can help an organization “live” longer. Only a few years ago, these were corporate equivalents of thriving organisms: Bethlehem Steel, British Leyland, Commodore, Digital Equipment Corporation, Enron, General Foods, Lehman Brothers, Pan Am, Polaroid, RCA, Texaco, TWA, Union Carbide, Uniroyal, Westinghouse, and WorldCom. Today? All gone. And keep in mind, this is only a partial list of organizational fatalities. Of the Top 50 in 1960, only 13 are among the Top 50 in 2010. As for the other 37, 23 have either filed for bankruptcy or been acquired.  The remaining 14 are well-known but endangered.

Frankly, I am much less interested in fictional accounts (however well-told in narrative form with setting, characters, plot, conflicts, etc.) than I am in research-driven revelations based on real-world situations. Feser is a highly-skilled storyteller, to be sure, but I now focus on what he has to say about extending corporate longevity. Here are some of the passages that caught my eye in Chapters 1-5:

o  Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky’s pioneering research on three heuristics of judgment (anchoring, availability, and representativeness), Pages 27-29
o  Mental biases (framing, optimism, loss aversion, and status quo) and the rigidities of bounded rationality, Pages 29-32
o The Theory of Self-Efficacy Beliefs (i.e. task-specific self-confidence), Pages 40-45
o  Plasticity, learning, and behavioral change, Pages 61-63
o  Large-scale rewiring of brains, Pages 63-65

And then in Chapter 13:

o  The role of a company’s leaders during its transformation, Pages 161-162
o Two elements of Feser’s concept of developing a leadership legacy: (1) “building an organization that builds human passion, self-confidence, values and capabilities,” and (2) building an organization that “has a positive impact on society…one that – with its mission, values, and scale – continuously invents new products and services that make life healthier, better, safer; an organization that can change the world,” Pages 163-164

As I reviewed the material in the Appendix, “Analysis of the Top 50 U.S. Firms of 1960,” and learned what has since become of them, I was reminded of an observation by Ecclesiastes, “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.” However, as Charles Darwin’s research on what is now referred to as “natural selection” suggests, organisms – be they organizational or natural – either adapt or perish. Moreover, in recent years, adaption has required constant (“serial” and serious) innovation just to survive.

Although a world-class pragmatist, Feser has high-hopes and great expectations, indeed a rock-solid faith, that almost any organization can not only survive but thrive if (HUGE “if”) its leaders focus their thoughts and actions on what really matters, on doing good, on helping others grow. Yes, profitability is highly desirable and must be achieved and then sustained…but while “building institutions that develop passionate, principled, self-confident, learning individuals” who also do good, whose collective and collaborative initiatives “can have an impact on society.”

As for Carl Berger, good news. Everything eventually turned out well. The details of his story are best revealed within the narrative, in context. However, I do want to say I agree with Claudio Feser that Berger provides a compelling example of a young business leader who overcomes major challenges (including cancer), one who reminds us that we really can “live a life that matters, a life in which we can make a difference.”

Monday, February 20, 2012 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


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