First Friday Book Synopsis

"…like CliffNotes on steroids…"

Dan Pontefract : Part 2 of an interview by Bob Morris

PontefractDan Pontefract is the author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. He also holds the role of Head of Learning & Collaboration at TELUS where he is responsible for the overarching leadership development, learning and collaboration strategy for the company where he introduced the TELUS Leadership Philosophy and the Learning 2.0 framework alongside a litany of social collaboration technologies. Between 2010 and 2013, Dan has been acknowledged with several awards from CLO, CUBIC, Skillsoft and Brandon Hall. In 2013, his team became an 8-time winner of the prestigious ASTD BEST award.

His career is interwoven with both corporate and academic experience, coupled with an MBA, B.Ed and multiple industry certifications and accreditations. Dan is also a renowned speaker and has been invited to deliver over 50 external keynotes and presentations since 2009. In 2012 he appeared on the covers of T+D magazine and Chief Learning Officer magazine.

When he’s not cycling, he’s goofing around with Denise, Claire, Cole and Cate. Visit their blogs; they’d love to hear from you. He is currently in the midst of writing his second book, scheduled to release in 2014.

Here is an excerpt from Part 2 of my interview of him. To read all of that interview, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

* * *

Morris: When and why did you decide to write Flat Army?

Pontefract: On January 1, 2012, I sent an email out to 20 people in my network who I thought could help me with my ‘New Year’s Resolution’, which of course was to write and publish a book in 2012. A friend of mine in Boston hooked me up with Wiley, and the rest as they say is history. The decision to write was easy; corporate hierarchy for the sake of hierarchy and command and control leadership styles as the de facto way in which to lead is as prevalent as hydrogen and oxygen molecules in water. Not to sound righteous, but I wanted to put my thoughts out there in the public domain for others to learn from.

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

Pontefract: The book was supposed to be 70,000 words and it turned out to be 90,000. I could have written a 150,000 word book in all honesty, so my revelation was the problems in our organizations today are wicked, wretched and omnipresent. The first three chapters of Flat Army are a setup for the five models that I surface. The first three chapters outline what’s wrong so in essence, I could have simply written a book about what’s wrong at about 150,000 words in length and never have gotten to a solution. That was a head-snapping revelation for certain.

Morris: To what extent (if any) does the book in final form differ significantly from what you originally envisioned?

Pontefract: Great question. Originally, I had thought the thesis should be told as a story. I wrote three chapters (roughly 20,000 words) under the working title of The Coffee Shop Leader, where the main character (Dean) walks into a coffee shop one day and builds a relationship with the owner, a barista and four other passerby’s. From there, they discuss, debate and debunk current practices of management and leadership today, and they then cook up an answer to the world’s problems. At the suggestion of Wiley (the publisher) we decided to scrap that plan and write it as you see it today.

Morris: As I indicate in my review for various Amazon websites, there are dozens of passages throughout your narrative that caught my eye. For those who have not as yet read the book, please explain what you view as the key take-away in several. First, “The Organization vs. Life Itself” (Pages 18-20)

Pontefract: If the C-Suite is looking for ROI, leaders need not prove it by return on investment, but by return on intelligence, by return on innovation and by return on ideas. This turns itself into an open culture of leadership, and a more engaged workforce.

Morris: “The Connected Leader Chasm” and “Falling into the Chasm” (50-54)

Pontefract: Leaders are Harmful, Hurtful, Hopeful, or Harmonious. Most of the time, leaders don’t know they are in the harmful or hurtful quadrants. Which is to say they are a closed leader and their team is closed. As they shift to (or are already at) the hopeful or harmonious quadrants they and their teams are becoming more open … which is a fundamental ingredient to creating an engaged organization.

Morris: “The Connected Leader Attributes” (61-66)

Pontefract: Aside from where I currently hang my hat, I think there are two great examples to study (as an organization) that demonstrate the Connected Leader Attributes in totality; IBM and Zappos. IBM, on one hand, was a mercurial, monolithic giant that had lost its way with its customers and its employees until Lou Gerstner came into the fold and for the better part of the past 20 years IBM has redeveloped its culture and its business principles to define for all of us how an organization can revector mid-stream to accomplish good things. Lou embodied all of the fifteen Connected Leader Attributes. On the other hand is Zappos who fundamentally believe ‘culture is their single most important and competitive advantage’ and (under tony Hsieh’s leadership) have achieved great things solely based on this business principle. I do say ‘business principle’ when I refer to culture (and to Zappos) because that’s my entire point; without a strong operating culture there will never be strong business principles. Their business principle is in fact the Connected Leader Attributes.

Morris: “The Participative Leader Framework” (63-69)

Pontefract: If one employs CARE (Continuous, Authentic, Reciprocal and Educating) in both their personal and professional networks, all the while equally consuming and contributing ideas, content, knowledge and feedback, a leader is therefore being ‘participative’.

Morris: “Trusting” (74-77)

Pontefract: Whether a bouquet or a brickbat, whether a high or a low, whether a peak or a valley, whether a success or a mistake, the leader must create an environment that ensures all members of the team (direct or indirect) feel safe not just to do their jobs, but also to break free of them.

Morris: “Empathizing” (79-82)

Pontefract: During the Christmas Truce of 1914, German and Allied forces stopped shooting at each other on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. They did so (I believe out of empathy) knowing they each missed their families and despite ‘orders’ to continue fighting, they dropped their guns and actually played football in no man’s land, exchanged cigarettes and rations too. It’s the true spirit of empathy that needs to be found in our organizations today.

Morris: “Cooperating” (101-105)

Pontefract: Cooperating literally means “to work with”. Anything less than being cooperative is a failure in the Flat Army model.

Morris: “The Untutored Eye” (132-134)

Pontefract: Stan Brakhage penned a piece in the journal Film Culture entitled “Metaphors on Vision.” It’s a classic and in particular the first three stanzas. I think the behavior of participation is a lot like this. We need to see differently. We therefore require a new lens, an untutored eye if you will. If we took Brakhage’s thinking to the element of participation we would break free of accepted and tolerated levels of crappy leadership.

Morris: “Hierarchy Is Not Anarchy” (158-160)

Pontefract: Organizations can’t be run as though they were yard sales or high school dances. There needs to be stability, credibility and direction. Heterarchy, however, is closer to what we might want to investigate as a definition of Flat Army. Or perhaps it’s the term “Directed Heteroarchy”. Let’s allow relationships to form and permit ideas to permeate, but let’s not lose sight of the fact we need to produce results.

Morris: What are the core principles and values of the “Flat Army Philosophy”? (263-266)

Pontefract: The principle thesis underpinning a Flat Army culture is if your people are engaged – if they feel connected to the leader and organization, and if they are working within a collaborative, connected and learning-first environment – employees will be happier, more innovative, productive and thus more likely to not only recommend the organization to others, but to stay at said organization and to go above and beyond the call of duty.

A Flat Army is made up of 5 key frameworks:

o The Connected Leader – 15 key leadership attributes that make up a Flat Army leader

o Participative Leader Framework – a participation ethos of leaders to demonstrate CARE (continuous, authentic, reciprocal and educating) with direct professional networks

o Collaborative Leader Action Model (CLAM) – a 6 stage daily habit that encourages leaders to connect, consider, communicate, create, confirm and congratulate on actions, initiatives and projects

o Pervasive Learning – learning is part formal, informal and social and both the leader and the organization need to employ this new mindset in order to feel engaged, connected and collaborative

o Collaboration Technologies – to hide in an office with an executive assistant is asinine in today’s 2.0 world. Using 15 key social collaborative technologies in the Flat Army model will help drive employee engagement, participation, collaboration and learning

* * *

To read all of Part 2, please click here.

To read Part 1, please click here.

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

Flat Army page

His Amazon page

TELUS blog link

Please support Wikipedia

Claire’s website

Cole’s website

Cate’s website

Saturday, September 28, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dan Pontefract: Part 1 of an interview by Bob Morris

PontefractDan Pontefract is the author of Flat Army: Creating a Connected and Engaged Organization. He also holds the role of Head of Learning & Collaboration at TELUS where he is responsible for the overarching leadership development, learning and collaboration strategy for the company where he introduced the TELUS Leadership Philosophy and the Learning 2.0 framework alongside a litany of social collaboration technologies. Between 2010 and 2013, Dan has been acknowledged with several awards from CLO, CUBIC, Skillsoft and Brandon Hall. In 2013, his team became an 8-time winner of the prestigious ASTD BEST award.

His career is interwoven with both corporate and academic experience, coupled with an MBA, B.Ed and multiple industry certifications and accreditations. Dan is also a renowned speaker and has been invited to deliver over 50 external keynotes and presentations since 2009. In 2012 he appeared on the covers of T+D Magazine and Chief Learning Officer Magazine.

When he’s not cycling, he’s goofing around with Denise, Claire, Cole and Cate. Visit their blogs; they’d love to hear from you. He is currently in the midst of writing his second book, scheduled for release in 2014.

Here is an excerpt from Part 1 of my interview of him. To read all of that interview, please click here.

* * *

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

Pontefract: Terry Fox is my hero and a Canadian icon. After losing his leg due to an amputation as a result of cancer, Terry decided to run across Canada to raise money for research when I was only 9 years old and he only in his early 20’s. Imagine running a marathon a day on one good leg and one prosthetic leg all in an effort to help others. He succumbed to a second bout of cancer and died cutting his dream short roughly half-way across Canada, but his resiliency, leadership and desire to give back and end cancer not only gave me hope, it drove me to give back, to learn as much as I can and to believe I can accomplish anything if I put my mind to it.

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

Pontefract: My network. I learned how to learn in my Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees but it’s been my network that has had the greatest impact on my professional development. I’ve always been a believer in ‘storing my knowledge in my network’ and that has only proved its weight in gold with the proliferation of social collaborative tools that allow me to reach out and learn from countless others. As Michelangelo once said, “I am still learning.”

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.

Pontefract: I originally wanted to be a doctor, and then a physiotherapist because (in the footsteps of Terry Fox) I wanted to help and give back. I realized I could be more effective and potentially more influential if I shifted course and entered the education field. With three years as a high school teacher, and then five years leading a post-secondary education initiative, I then turned my attention to corporate organizations in 2002 to see if I could help there. I will eventually sort out a way to help many more, so stay tuned.

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

Pontefract: Credentials are a necessary evil in today’s world unless you are a programming whiz kid like Gates or Zuckerberg. I have a B.Ed, an MBA, a diploma in Educational Technology as well as an array of information technology certificates and credentials. Without the credentials, I don’t get the job in high school nor the job in higher education. From there, I don’t get recruited into roles within the corporate sector. It’s still somewhat premature to say we can achieve career greatness (or at a minimum success) if we don’t have formal credentials and thus formal education.

Morris: What do you know now about the business world that you wish you knew when you when to work full-time for the first time? Why?

Pontefract: There is no formal course in the art (and science) of corporate politics. One really has to go through the hazing and initiation of corporate politics to appreciate how lethal it can be at times in addition to how much one can learn going through the various trials and tribulations. I wasn’t prepared for backroom politics as I much prefer an open, collaborative, honest and to-the-point mindset. It still continues to this day, which is disappointing in itself.

Morris: Of all the films that you have seen, which – in your opinion – best dramatizes important business principles? Please explain.

Pontefract: Chariots of Fire. There is so much going on in this film from the hierarchy of academic administration, to the willingness to listen, empathy, re-vectoring as well as coaching, mentoring, being communicative and collaborative as well as learning from mistakes. The film is layered with symbolism and in my opinion both replicates what is happening in today’s disengaged workforces (through hierarchy, command, etc.) as well as what can go right through the aforementioned attributes and many more.

Morris: From which non-business book have you learned the most valuable lessons about business? Please explain.

Pontefract: Denise and I have three young children and as we’re both educators, books are an important part of the child rearing diet. There is a book called The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein that epitomizes our home and my hope for all organizations. A young boy meets his new best friend, “The Giving Tree,” where they spend hours together. As the boy grows older into his teens, adulthood and late adulthood he keeps visiting the tree only to ask for help. The Giving Tree obliges each and every time to assist his friend. By the end of the boy’s life The Giving Tree is now merely a stump, but the boy is now near death and can’t do much more than sit. So, what does our Giving Tree do? He offers the boy a seat on the stump. The moral of the story of course is we all have something to give no matter the situation or times.

* * *

To read the complete Part 1 interview, please click here.

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

Flat Army page

His Amazon page

TELUS blog

Please support Wikipedia

Claire’s website

Cole’s website

Cate’s website

Saturday, September 7, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Our Artful Brain

Our Artful Brain
Reproduction of Altamira cave paintings in Munich’s Deutsches Museum (Mattias Kabel)

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Priscilla Long in which she explains what it takes to take in, say, a Picasso. It was published by The American Scholar, the venerable but lively quarterly magazine of public affairs, literature, science, history, and culture published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society since 1932. In recent years the magazine has won four National Magazine Awards, the industry’s highest honor, and many of its essays and articles have been selected for the yearly Best American anthologies.

“Inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s famous speech, The American Scholar, delivered to the Phi Beta Kappa Society at Harvard College in 1837, the magazine aspires to Emerson’s ideals of independent thinking, self-knowledge, and a commitment to the affairs of the world as well as to books, history, and science.”

To check out all the other resources and obtain subscription information, please click here.

* * *

What is it about our species that we make art and view art and love art? I’m thinking of the ancient cave paintings in France and Spain, begun 40,800 years ago—the age of the oldest red-painted dot to be accurately dated. (It’s found in a cave called El Castillo in the Spanish province of Cantabria.) The high cave-art era occurred between 17,000 and 12,000 years ago. How modern they seem, those lyrical representations of bison, horse, mammoth, ibex, deer, and auroch (pronounced OUR-rock, an ancestor of the dairy cow). They were made by drawing curved lines in charcoal and adding shadows and highlights in mineral-derived colors such as red ochre to convey movement and three-dimensionality.

How we see—how the brain perceives what the eyes take in—is entangled with how we see art, how we make art. This is one thread in the book The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain by neuroscientist Eric R. Kandel. If I were going to be washed up on a desert island with my choice of 10 books, along with, I would hope, a good supply of espresso, this thick and handsome volume—a tapestry of art history, psychology, creativity studies, and brain science—would be one of them.

How do we see? Light waves hit the sheet of neurons, the retina, that lines the inside rear wall of the eye. These neurons, called retinal ganglion cells, fire and send their electrical pulses along the optical nerve, “a biological cable,” in Kandel’s words, “composed of more than a million axons.” The electrical pulses reach the lateral geniculate nucleus—a part of the thalamus, our brain’s receiver and central relay station of sensory information.

The lateral geniculate nucleus sends sends the electrical pulse to the primary visual cortex, located at the back of the brain. These millions of neurons are stimulated by whatever they are sensitive to, such as motion or color or edges. Neurons sensitive to edges respond to a line at one, and only one, angle or orientation. Kandel writes, “If a black line or edge is rotated on an axis before our eyes, slowly changing the angle of each edge, different neurons will fire in response to different angles.” Next the primary visual cortex projects its electrical pulses forward. Farther forward, other parts of the brain take these separate ever-arriving bits of data and construct the image.

So the brain is an artist, creating images out of separate visual components. Maybe our ability to read a curve drawn on a flat surface as a three-dimensional figure is related to our reception of visual data from the world as edges—lines and curves. Maybe when artists draw they are doing with their hand what the brain is doing with its electrical pulses.

* * *

To read the complete article, please click here.

Priscilla Long is the author of The Writer’s Portable Mentor: A Guide to Art, Craft, and the Writing Life and Where the Sun Never Shines: A History of America’s Bloody Coal Industry. Her essay “Genome Tome,” which appeared in our Summer 2005 issue, won the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

This Explains Everything: A book review by Bob Morris

This ExplainsThis Explains Everything: Deep, Beautiful, and Elegant Theories of How the World Works
John Brockman, Editor
Harper Perennial (2013)

How and why “deep, beautiful, and elegant theories of how the world works” can nourish and enlighten our lives

Many of those who purchase and then begin to read this book will learn, for the first time, about, a website offering an abundance of resources. John Brockman is the Editor of This Will Make You Smarter (2012) and This Explains Everything (2013). He is also the Editor and Publisher of Edge. As he explains, its purpose is to “arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

He goes on to suggest, “Edge is a Conversation: Edge is different from the Algonquin Roundtable or Bloomsbury Group, but it offers the same quality of intellectual adventure. Closer resemblances are the early seventeenth-century Invisible College, a precursor to the Royal Society. Its members consisted of scientists such as Robert Boyle, John Wallis, and Robert Hooke. The Society’s common theme was to acquire knowledge through experimental investigation. Another inspiration is The Lunar Society of Birmingham, an informal club of the leading cultural figures of the new industrial age — James Watt, Erasmus Darwin, Josiah Wedgewood, Joseph Priestly, and Benjamin Franklin.”

Last year, those involved with Edge were asked to respond to a question also proposed by Steven Pinker: ‘What scientific concept would improve everyone’s cognitive toolkit?” Here’s The Edge Question 2012: “WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE DEEP, ELEGANT, OR BEAUTIFUL EXPLANATION?”

There were more than 200 online responses that were then reviewed before Brockman produced an edited selection. “In the spirit of Edge, the contributions presented here [in This Explains Everything] embrace scientific thinking in the broadest sense: as the most reliable way of gaining knowledge about anything — including such fields of inquiry as philosophy, mathematics, economics, history, language, and human behavior.” Brockman then adds, “The common thread is that a simple and nonobvious idea is proposed as the explanation for a diverse and complicated set of phenomena.”

Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which a few merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples. In that spirit, I now offer a few brief excerpts from contributions to The Edge Question 2012:

o Matt Ridley after realizing that DNA is a code: “Never has a mystery seemed more baffling in the morning and an explanation more obvious in the afternoon.” (Page 4)

o Richard Dawkins: “Natural selection is an averaging computer, detecting redundancies – repeat patterns – in successive worlds (successive through millions of generations) in which the species has survived (averaged over all members of the sexually reproducing species.” (8)

o Aubrey de Grey: “Reflective equilibrium gets my vote for the most elegant and beautiful explanation, because of its immense breadth of applicability and also its lack of dependence on other controversial positions. Most important, it rises above the question of cognitivism, the debate over whether there is anything such as objective morality.” (15+16)

o Joel Gold: “The dark matter of the mind, the unconscious, has the greatest psychic gravity. Ignore the dark matter of the universe and anomalies appear. Ignore the dark matter of the mind and our irrationality is inexplicable.” (23)

o Paul Steinhardt: “More recently, colleagues and I have found evidence that quasi crystals may have been among the first minerals to have formed in the solar system…Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned: While elegance and simplicity are often useful criteria for judging theories, they can sometimes mislead us into thinking we are right when we are actually infinitely wrong.” (33)

o Keith Devlin: “And why is self-organization so beautiful to my aesthetic self? Because if complex adaptive systems don’t require a blueprint, they don’t require a Blueprint Maker. If they require lightning bolts, they don’t require some hurtling lightning bolts.” (98)

o Howard Gardner on the importance of individuals: “In a planet occupied now by nearly 7 billion inhabitants, I am amazed by the difference one human being can make. Think of classical music without Mozart or Stravinsky; of painting without Caravaggio, Picasso, or Pollock; of drama without Shakespeare or Beckett.” (137)

o Christine Finn: “I admire this explanation of cultural relativity [‘dirt is a matter of place’], by the anthropologist Mary Douglas, for its clean lines and tidiness. I like its beautiful simplicity, the way it illuminates dark corners of misreading, how it highlights the counterconventional. Poking about in the dirt is exciting, and irreverent. It’s about taking what is out if bounds and making it relevant. Douglas’s explanation of ‘dirt’ makes us question the very boundaries we’re pushing.” (168)

o Lisa Randall: “The beauty of science – in the long run –is its lack of subjectivity. So answering the question ‘What is your favorite, deep, or beautiful explanation’ can be disturbing to a scientist, since the only objective words in the question are ‘what,’ ‘is,’ ‘or,’ and in an ideal world) ‘explanation.” (212)

o Michael I. Norton: “Randomized experiments are by no means a perfect tool for explanation. Some important questions simply do not lend themselves to randomized experiments, and the method in the wrong hands can cause harm…But their increasingly widespread application speaks to their flexibility in informing us how things work and why they work that way.” (333)

These are but a few of hundreds of observations that caught my eye. I realize that no brief commentary such as mine can possibly do full justice to the scope of material that is provided in this volume but I hope that I have at least suggested why I think so highly of it. I also highly recommend the aforementioned This Will Make You Smarter and, especially, checking out the ever-increasing wealth of resources at Thank you, John Brockman, for the thought leadership you and your Edge colleagues continue to provide. Bravo!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Alan M. Webber: An interview by Bob Morris

Alan M. Webber

Alan M. Webber is an award-winning, nationally-recognized editor, author, and columnist. In 1995, he launched Fast Company magazine, a fresh, dynamic entry in the business magazine category. Headquartered in Boston, MA, the magazine became the fastest growing, most successful business magazine in history. Fast Company won two national magazine awards—one for general excellence, one for design—and Webber was named Adweek’s “Editor of the Year ” in 1999, along with co-founding editor William Taylor. Most recently, he wrote Rules of Thumb: 52 Truths for Winning at Business Without Losing Your Self. He has also been active at local, state, and national political levels, serving as policy advisor for the mayor of Portland, Oregon, writing speeches for several governors, and working as special assistant to the United States Secretary of Transportation.

Morris: Before discussing Rules of Thumb, a few general questions. First, when and why did you decide to pursue a career in journalism?

Webber: I’ve always been interested in reporting, writing, and the purposes that good journalism can serve. When I was in high school, I was editor of the high school newspaper, and we wrote editorials calling for our school (a private all-boy’s–and at the time all-white–prep school) to integrate, to accept black students. In college I became the chairman of our college newspaper. This was during the Vietnam War, and we used the newspaper to cover student attitudes to that war, but also to explore the issues on campus that went more deeply into the purposes of a liberal arts education. So I’ve always seen journalism and activism as closely linked.

Morris: Since then, what do you think have been the most significant changes i magazine publication that includes both HBR and Fast Company?

Webber: The world of publishing, in general, has been changing dramatically for the last decade or more. It’s not just the web–although the web has served to disrupt the traditional business model of publishing. It’s also reading habits of different generations, attitudes toward the media and other large institutions, and the overall pace of change that people have to contend with in their daily lives. Obviously, HBR enjoys a privileged position in the magazine world, by virtue of its relationship with the Harvard Business School. The issue there is less one of economic survival, and more of relevance and impact with a business community that will always respect the HBR brand. But will the HBR brand be in touch with and in synch with the changing concerns and composition of the business community? Fast Company, because of its unique DNA as a business magazine devoted to the them of change and innovation, should be relevant forever! But it has to face the changing economic demands of publishing.

At the moment, I’m happy to say, both magazines seem to be meeting their respective challenges head-on.

Morris: Back to HBR, for a moment. What are your fondest memories of that association?

Webber: It’s always the people. When I took over as managing editor under Ted Levitt, we went about the work of re-inventing HBR. Ted was a brilliant marketer, mentor, and writer, so he provided the leadership and the vision to guide us. Then we recruited an almost entirely new team of people to re-invigorate HBR, to re-design the look and feel of the publication, to re-engineer the architecture, the structure of each issue, to bring in new ideas for presenting business thinking to the audience. For quite a few years, we had a terrific team that was excited about creating a new conversation about the direction that business was headed in. In many respects, I think those days helped foster an innovative culture at HBR and re-connected the publication with the larger business audience that was eager to be part of a fresh dialog about how business was changing, how the world was changing, and how the pieces fit together.

Morris: Please explain the process by which you and Bill Taylor co-founded Fast Company in November, 1995.

Webber: Bill and I met at HBR; I was the managing editor and he was the most talented, brilliant, energetic editor on the staff. We began exploring the idea for a new business magazine some time after I got back from a 3-month trip to Japan in 1989-90, where I was exposed to a set of powerful forces that were transforming the world of work. Some of the things I saw could be integrated into HBR, but because of the institutional limits of HBR, some were simply outside the legitimate boundaries of the publication at that time. So in the early 1990s Bill and I started talking informally about what a new magazine could be like. Bill left HBR first, and then when I left around 1993, we got serious about what a new magazine would be like: what it would look like, how it would perform as an editorial product, what we could create that would be exciting and useful, and speak to the dramatic changes going on in business: globalization, technology, the new opportunities for individuals to make a difference in work and through their work. We raised about $550,000 from a fantastic group of first round investors, and in 1993 we put out a “beta” issue. From the feedback we got from that issue, we wrote up a second-round business plan and then showed our work to different publishing companies, looking for a business partner with whom to launch Fast Company for real. Finally we were fortunate to make a deal with Mort Zuckerman and Fred Drasner, who owned U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic Monthly at that time. The Atlantic was in Boston, where Bill and both lived, so to launch Fast Company we borrowed office space from The Atlantic and ad sales and business staff from U.S. News, making our launch very economical. We hired a small, dedicated staff to put together our first issues, and the first “real” issue of Fast Company came out in 1995. The rest, as they say, is history!

*     *     *

To read the complete interview, please click here.

Alan Webber invites you to check out these websites:

Saturday, April 30, 2011 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Michael Schrage on how to “plagiarize your way to productivity and profit”

Michael Schrage

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Michael Schrage for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

*     *     *
Was it Picasso or T.S. Eliot who declared, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal”? [click here]

Who cares? It’s a great quote and even better innovation heuristic [click here].

Productive plagiarism in the Internet era isn’t for the faint of heart. Technology’s accelerating power to textually, and contextually, track “who wrote what when” has digitally updated the aphorism to “Good artists borrow, great artists steal…and get caught.”

The New York Times recently posted a hilarious piece exploring the cat-and-mouse countermeasure competition between college students and faculty in calling out cheaters. The Facebook generation’s ability to sneakily transform any mobile device into a grade-enhancing weapon of class deception is truly remarkable. American undergraduates may not be able to parse sentences or calculate percents but let no one discount their proven talent at making iPods their partners in academic crime.

Watching embattled educational empires strike back, however, is enlightening. Frustrated faculty and tech-savvy teaching assistants can be as ruthlessly innovative as their incorrigible charges. Good for them. My favorite precision-guided weapon in their arsenal is iParadigm’s Turnitin plagiarism detection service. With over 13.5 billion web pages indexed, Turnitin has become the term- paper gold-standard for faculties fed up with students who believe cut-and-paste/drag-and-drop manipulation of Wikipedia and JSTOR articles constitutes real writing and research. Turnitin’s effectiveness has successfully made plagiarism so onerous, so challenging and so risky that — surprise! — “smart” cheaters now calculate they might as well do their own work. Talk about an educational revolution…

So much for Tom Lehrer’s paean to the powers of plagiarism [click here]. Indeed, Turnitin’s corporate parent takes Lehrer’s lyrical interpretation of “research” quite seriously. The Oakland, CA firm has expanded beyond the ivory towered groves of academe into businesses where the line between “boilerplate” and “borrowing” has grown vanishingly small. The firm’s offering, iThenticate, sniffs out content copying malfeasance in publishing, government, law firms, finance and other text-intensive industries. Apparently, it’s catching on. Call it IP for IP — Innovative Protection for Intellectual Property.

There’s another spin that can be put on the software and systems for plagiarism detection and intellectual property protection. Right now, the dominant effort is to deter, or catch, a thief. I think smart organizations — organizations that care about information sharing, knowledge management, and creative collaboration — should see all this as infrastructure for creating new cultures of attribution. These technologies should be more than high-tech tools to track cheaters; they should be mechanisms for showing how organizations share ideas.

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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.

Michael Schrage, a research fellow at MIT Sloan School’s Center for Digital Business, is the author of Serious Play and the forthcoming Getting Beyond Ideas.

Friday, July 16, 2010 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Paul Johnson: Master Chef of the Intellectual Feast

CreatorsBorn in 1928 in Manchester, England, Johnson is an English Roman Catholic journalist, historian, speechwriter, and author. He was educated at the Jesuit independent school Stonyhurst College, and at Magdalen College, Oxford. He has more than more than 40 books in print that include:

Creators (2006)
George Washington: The Founding Father (2005)
Intellectuals (2003)
Napoleon (2002)
The Renaissance: A Short History (2002)

I have just re-read Creators in which Johnson examines 17 exemplars of what he characterizes as “creative courage”: Chaucer, Dürer, Shakespeare, Bach, Turner and Hokusai, Austen, Pugin and Viollet-le-Duc, Hugo, Twain, Tiffany, Eliot, Balenciaga and Dior, and in then Picasso and Disney. The range of his interests correctly suggests the scope and depth of his erudition. Here are two brief excerpts:

Creative courage “is of many different kinds. What are we to think of the quiet, withdrawn, silent, uncomplaining courage of Emily Dickinson? She continued to write her poetry, and eventually amassed a significant oeuvre, with little or no encouragement, no guidance, and no public response, for only six short poems were published in her lifetime and these against her will. She worked essentially in isolation and solitude, a brave woman confronting the fears and agonies of creation without (or hindrance either, as perhaps she would have said).” Johnson also briefly discusses Mozart, Dickens, Caravaggio, Beethoven, Marie Cassatt, Toulouse-Lautrec, Robert Louis Stevenson, David Hume, Trollope, V.S. Pritchett, and J.B. Priestly…all of whom encountered and overcame “daunting challenges.”

“The popularity of the creative arts, and the influence they exert, will depend ultimately in their quality and allure, on the delight and excitement they generate, and on demotic choices. Picasso set his faith against nature, and burrowed within himself. Disney worked with nature, stylizing it, anthropomorphizing it, and surrealizing it, but ultimately reinforcing it. That is why his ideas form so many powerful palimpsests in the visual vocabulary of the world in the early twenty-first century, and will continue to shine through, while the ideas of Picasso, powerful thought they were for much of the twentieth century, will gradually fade and seem outmoded, as representational art returns in favor. In the end nature is the strongest force of all.”

I highly recommend Creators as well as Howard Gardner’s Creating Minds in which he examines the lives and achievements of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Gandhi.

Thursday, November 5, 2009 Posted by | Bob's blog entries | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment



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