Tuesday, August 31, 2010

How to conduct a personal assessment.

Post 551 - Next month is my birthday month so I'm drawn to think more actively about just where I am at the moment and where I want to go in the next decade or so. Here, I learn from my colleague, Walt Sutton, who shared his wisdom with my Vistage groups on this topic some years ago. Walt noted that many of us are shoe-horned into our lives, and never experience time as something that can be expanded so that it belongs to us. We have formidable to-do lists that would fell an ox. But there’s no white space on the page, no fresh air in the room, no far horizon in view, no new perspective. And when we're in this mode, we’re not only invisible to ourselves, we’re invisible to the world which would love to engage us in a conversation that could take us farther than we'd ever have imagined ourselves going. When did you last take time to have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself? Where are you going in 2011? And why? With whom? And how?

Consider your direction, progress, aspirations, dreams, goals, and everything you can think of about your life. One of the biggest reasons we become achievers is to control our own destiny. However, we tend to restrict our vision to our business lives rather than using it to shape our lives as a whole. Stephen Covey uses the metaphor of climbing the ladder of success - only to discover when you get to the top that the ladder is against the wrong wall. A yearly personal assessment is a way to look at all the buildings, all the ladders, and as much of the surrounding countryside as you can see. The desired outcome is to study and get to know yourself a little bit better and see what that suggests you do in the future.

Answering the following questions is one of the most powerful things you can do to impact the quality of your life. Something that successful and happy people all seem to have in common is that they use personal introspection as a basis for making life decisions and for routinely adjusting their life course. The key here is to think energetically, optimistically, critically, and seriously about what you want from life. Then take your thoughts - however you organize them - and compile a series of commitments to make your dreams come true.

Here are some interesting ways to go about this:

- Write a letter back to yourself assuming you're 99 years old and recount what was really important in your life.

- Imagine a perfect day working, playing and continuing to develop yourself... what would these days look like, and what would you look like doing these things.

- Imagine yourself as your own best friend... what would you advise yourself about your life's direction now and how to make your future choices even more meaningful.

Consider this list:

- What do I want to do in the time I have left?

- What do I want to do in the next five years?

- I have six months to live. What do I want to do in those six months?

Take some time alone, schedule the meeting with yourself, ask the questions, and listen only to yourself. As you answer, look for words that wake you up, that appeal to both your head and your heart. While most of us can see at least a portion of the potential in our lives, the story in our mind often gets in the way. The solution is most often right in front of us and it usually involves changing the story.

Have your life partner do their own retreat and compare notes. Categories to think about are: personal, professional, financial, physical, spiritual (including the contributions you hope to make to this planet), and wild cards (the "crazy" things you want to do before you die). The names of the categories should reflect what you care about in life.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Where are we headed?

Post 550 - Another week, another set of data reflecting where we are now and where we may be headed in the future.

32 percent of U.S. births in 2007 were C-sections, versus 26 percent in 2002, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

When you consider layoffs, downsizing, delayed raises, and reduced hours, more than half of all American workers have suffered losses. Young and Rubicam’s current consumer survey data shows large numbers are now saying money is no longer as important to them. Seventy-six percent say the number of possessions they own doesn't affect how happy they are. And seventy-one percent said, "I make it a point to buy brands from companies whose values are similar to my own." Nearly the same number rejected companies whose values don't match. Kindness and generosity are among the qualities customers increasingly demand most from business. As trust in companies and brands has declined, traditional persuasion tactics no longer work.

It's a mistake to assume that America is composed of big blocs of people who hold wildly differing values. In fact, there’s quite a long list of values held in common across all social and economic groups. Transparency, honesty, kindness, good stewardship, even humor, work in businesses at all times.

A recent San Diego University study anticipates that in only 12 years, Muslims will comprise 25 percent of the European population.

American kids under 18 send and receive roughly 2,800 texts per month, according to Nielsen, or about 93 per day. Assuming 7 hours of sleep per night, on average, that's about 5.5 per hour spent awake, or one every 10 minutes or so. In the next two age brackets, text-message usage falls by more than half each. But it's people ages 18-24 who talk the most on their cellphones, according to Nielsen, averaging 981 minutes per month. These are probably the people most likely to not have landline phones, so this also makes sense. African-Americans use the most voice minutes - more than 1,300 per month, on average, versus 826 for Hispanics, 692 for Asians/Pacific Islanders, and 647 for whites; and they also text the most - 780 per month, versus 767 for Hispanics, 566 for whites, and 384 for Asians/Pacific Islanders.

A recent NAR survey indicates that 35% of realtor business now originates online.

In a Chinese study, the cells of enthusiastic tea drinkers showed about 5 fewer years' worth of wear and tear compared with the cells of people who drank little tea. The enthusiastic tea drinkers averaged three or more cups of green or oolong tea daily, while the group that showed more signs of cell aging averaged less than a cup.

And finally, did you know that one two-stroke gasoline powered leaf blower produces as much pollution as 34 automobiles? That's why the city of Del Mar made it illegal for gardeners to use them. So no more 'blow and go' guys working in Del Mar.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sonnet 69, a poem by Pablo Neruda.

Post 549 - Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) was a Chilean poet and diplomat who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. His original name was Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, but he used the pen name Pablo Neruda for over 20 years before adopting it legally in 1946 in honor of the famous Czech poet, Jan Neruda. He remains the most widely read of the Spanish American poets. From the 1940s on, his works reflected the political struggle of the left and other socialist developments in South America. He also wrote beautiful love poems - his Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924) has sold over a million copies since it first appeared.

Neruda always wrote in green ink as it was the color of "esperanza" (hope) He once said, “The books that help you most are those which make you think that most. The hardest way of learning is that of easy reading; but a great book that comes from a great thinker is a ship of thought, deep freighted with truth and beauty.”

Sonnet 69 by Pablo Neruda.

Maybe nothingness is to be without your presence,
without you moving, slicing the noon
like a blue flower, without you walking
later through the fog and the cobbles,

without the light you carry in your hand,
golden, which maybe others will not see,
which maybe no one knew was growing
like the red beginnings of a rose.

In short, without your presence: without your coming
suddenly, incitingly, to know my life,
gust of a rosebush, wheat of wind:

since then I am because you are,
since then you are, I am, we are,
and through love I will be, you will be, we'll be.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Lessons from my grandfather.

Post 548 - I was thinking this morning about my grandfather on my mother's side, Paddy Sutton. I was very close to him when I was growing up. He was a small farmer and also a blacksmith (as was his brother) and I was remembering how hard he worked with never a complaint. On the farming side, his efforts were always at the mercy of the weather and thus out of his control. So he did his best and always hoped for the best. I don't remember him as a very religious man although he went to mass every Sunday and said the rosary every evening before retiring. (My father went to mass every day and twice on Sundays plus he spent two hours in private prayer and meditation each day of his life - that set the standard for being religious in our house). My grandmother had a stroke in her early forties and lost the use of her left side. So she had to be carried or rolled around everywhere in a wheelchair after that and I'm sure this was a big loss to him. He and my grandmother had seven children before her stroke, one of whom died in the big Spanish flu epidemic around 1918.

But even though he had a hard life, I never remember him complaining about anything. He just worked hard and tried to make the best of whatever came his way. His philosophy was that when things didn't turn out well, you had no one to fall back on but yourself and your family. The time he spent working on the farm was primarily governed by the amount of daylight available and the need to take care of the various animals, all involving tough physical work. This made for very long days in summer when the sun rose early and it didn't get dark until after 10 pm. Of course it was equally short in the winter when it didn't get light until 9 am was dark again by 4 pm. However, the cows had to be milked twice a day, in good weather and in bad. One of my jobs when I visited was to bring in the cows early in the morning so they could be attended to and then herd them back to the field again after they'd been milked. I also helped with the milking which was all done by hand in those days.

My grandfather mostly worked in the fields by himself. I think he enjoyed blacksmithing for the creative and social aspects of it. He always started his day by downing a raw egg in a glass of Paddy's whiskey. I've never tried this myself but it seemed to do him a power of good. He was hardly ever sick, even though he had to be out in both good weather and bad. He said he couldn't afford to be sick and that belief, together with the whiskey, seemed to work for him. Maybe because of my grandmother's condition, I remember him regularly chasing around after whoever was the maid at the time. Screams of delight would ring out from various parts of the house whenever this took place. Whether the maids were actually 'caught' or not I never knew. As a young lad, I just took it all as a sign of high spirits, just another way that grownups let their hair down and had fun.

I slept in my grandfather's bed when I came to stay, in a room over the kitchen which was always warm and cozy. Since I went to bed before he did, I remember being tucked in so tight I could hardly move. I was always asleep by the time he turned in. However, I got up when he got up, usually at 5 am, and he'd sometimes send me out that early to roam the fields and pick fresh button mushrooms which were then cooked in milk for breakfast.

From these early experiences, I learned the comfort of being part of a loving family and the value of independence and hard work. I also learned not to complain when things didn't work out but to roll with the punches and quickly make other plans. And I learned that you can never trust the weather. So the best strategy is to always do your best and stay optimistic.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Are we in for a double dip?

Post 547 - An interesting read in August 12th edition of The Economist: Is fear of renewed recession in America overblown? And is optimism in the resurgence of the European economy justified?

Seldom does the United States look at Europe with economic envy. The past few weeks, however, have been one of those rare phases. Concern about America’s stumbling recovery has been rising, just as anxieties about the euro area’s economy have faded. The dollar is the weakling among rich-world currencies. But Americans should take a little heart: it's too soon to despair about our economy. And Europeans should show a little caution: it's too soon to be sure that theirs is firmly back on its feet.

Some forecasters believe that America’s disappointing GDP growth in the second quarter, 2.4 percent at an annualized rate, could be the start of a slide towards a second recession. One worry is jobs, or the lack of them. American business created only 71,000 in July, too few to match the growth in the population of those of working age and far too few to shorten the queue of the unemployed noticeably. Unemployment is stuck at 9.5 percent, even though corporate America is flush with cash. Companies are still unhelpfully shy of hiring, preferring to squeeze yet more output from fewer people.

Contrast America’s woes with Europe’s renewed hope. Figures published after The Economist went to press were expected to show that the euro area’s economy grew faster than America’s in the second quarter, thanks largely to supercharged Germany. Booming sales to fast-growing emerging markets — notably Brazil, China and India — have brought German industry its strongest quarter in decades. The newly affluent in those countries are rushing to buy Audis and Mercedes, as well as luxury goods from other European countries. German firms that had mothballed factories when global demand for durable goods plummeted have returned to capacity far sooner than they had dared hope. Germany’s unemployment rate, 7.6 percent, is a bit lower than at the start of the financial crisis.

In Europe it is far too early to celebrate recovery on at least two counts. First, Germany apart, the euro area remains weak. Spain, whose economy is barely growing and where the jobless rate is 20 percent, would love to have America’s problems. Second, Germany relies on exports, not spending at home: the home market is one of the few places where sales of Mercedes cars have fallen this year. So its economic fortunes remain closely tied to the rest of the world—including one of its biggest markets, America.

How real are the risks of a double dip recession in the United States? The recovery has lost momentum in part because shops and warehouses are fuller, so that the initial boost to demand from restocking is fading. The housing bust still casts a shadow. Households must save to work off excess debts. Firms fearful of weak consumer spending are cautious about investing. Bank credit is scarce. All this stands in the way of a full-blooded recovery. But a slide into a second recession would require firms to cut back again on stocks, capital spending and jobs. The cash buffer corporate America has built up in case of harder times makes a fresh shock of that kind unlikely.

See the full article at:

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Something things to think about.

Post 546 - Here are some things I found out last week, both good and bad, to think about:

Teenagers aren't necessarily tuning out adults these days; they simply might not be able to hear them. The proportion of teens in the United States with slight hearing loss has increased 30% in the last 15 years, and the number with mild or worse hearing loss has increased 77%, researchers said last Tuesday. One in every five teens now has at least a slight hearing loss, which can affect learning, speech perception, social skills development and self-image; one in every 20 has a more severe loss.

One-third of people in their 20s move to a new residence every year. Forty percent move back home with their parents at least once. They go through an average of seven jobs in their 20s, more job changes than in any other stretch. Two-thirds spend at least some time living with a romantic partner without being married. And marriage occurs later than ever. The median age at first marriage in the early 1970s, when the baby boomers were young, was 21 for women and 23 for men; by 2009 it had climbed to 26 for women and 28 for men, five years in a little more than a generation.

Sociologists traditionally define the “transition to adulthood” as marked by five milestones: completing school, leaving home, becoming financially independent, marrying and having a child. Among 30-year-olds in 2000, according to data from the United States Census Bureau, fewer than half of the women and one-third of the men had done so. A Canadian study reported that a typical 30-year-old in 2001 had completed the same number of milestones as a 25-year-old in the early ’70s.

People can vote at 18, but in some states they don’t age out of foster care until 21. They can join the military at 18, but they can’t drink until 21. They can drive at 16, but they can’t rent a car until 25 without some hefty surcharges. If they are full-time students, the IRS considers them dependents until 24; those without health insurance will soon be able to stay on their parents’ plans even if they’re not in school until age 26 (or up to 30 in some states). Parents have no access to their child’s college records if the child is over 18, but parents’ income is taken into account when the child applies for financial aid up to age 24. We seem unable to agree when someone is old enough to take on adult responsibilities. But we’re pretty sure it’s not simply a matter of age.

A longitudinal study of brain development sponsored by the National Institute of Mental Health, started following nearly 5,000 children at ages 3 to 16 (the average age at enrollment was about 10). The scientists found the children’s brains were not fully mature until at least 25. “In retrospect,” according to Jay Giedd, the director of the study, “the only people who got it right were the car-rental companies.”

It took radio 38 years and television 13 years to reach audiences of 50 million people, while it took the Internet only four years, the iPod three years and Facebook two years to do the same. It's no surprise that fewer than 100 of the companies in the S&P 500 stock index were around when that index started in 1957.

Back in the Ordovician period, the earth spun so fast that days were only 21-hours long. With three fewer hours each day, people arrived at old age sooner. But age is better than extinction. The history of human life on this planet has been punctuated by many extinctions. The great Permian Extinction of 250 million years ago was so catastrophic that life was almost brought to a close. Today, many people feel that a comparable man-made extinction is in reckless progress.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

When you go, a poem by Edwin Morgan.

Post 545 - I was very sad to learn yesterday of the death of Edwin George Morgan OBE at age 90. Morgan was a Scottish poet and translator and was widely recognized as one of the foremost Scottish poets of the 20th century. In 1999, he was made the first Glasgow Poet Laureate. In 2004, he was named as the first Scottish national poet, the Scots Makar.
Morgan was born in Glasgow and entered the University of Glasgow in 1937. After interrupting his studies to serve in World War II as a non-combatant conscientious objector with the Royal Army Medical Corps, he graduated in 1947 and became a lecturer at the University. He worked there until his retirement in 1980.
Up until his death, he was the last survivor of the 'Big Seven' (the others being Hugh MacDiarmid, Robert Garioch, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, George Mackay Brown, and Sorley MacLean).

When you go, by Edwin Morgan.

When you go,
if you go,
And I should want to die,
there's nothing I'd be saved by
more than the time
you fell asleep in my arms
in a trust so gentle
I let the darkening room
drink up the evening, till
rest, or the new rain
lightly roused you awake.
I asked if you heard the rain in your dream
and half dreaming still you only said, I love you.

How to research new products and services.

Post 544 - Finding out what customers want or value when creating new products or improving existing ones isn’t as straightforward as it may see. For example, when asked, nobody thought they wanted the Aeron chair. Henry Ford once said, "If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses." If you ask, most people can only tell you what they 'think' they want. And they can't imagine what they haven't already experienced.

Surprise innovations confound those who believe that customers will use the product only as directed. An Indian company marketed a bicycle with a small engine. The bike didn’t sell very well but in one region, customers kept ordering the engine by itself. Upon learning that farmers were using it to run small irrigation pumps, the company switched businesses and became the leading maker of such pumps.

Innovation is the ability to continually and constantly renew, replenish and enrich our views, philosophies, values and competencies by looking out of bounds, outside the lines and out of the box. Useful knowledge is widely dispersed and expensive to collect. In general, facts are too dry and personal experiences are too situational to decipher, so giving people the tools they need to find their own voice is the highest form of education. You can take an analytical approach (tell me about...), a physical approach (show me ...), and a creative approach (let's play a game ...). The more approaches you use, the more information you’ll get.

For example, try thinking about a product or service as a speedboat with an assortment of attached anchors, each representing something that the customer doesn't like about the current offerings. Then think about changes to the product or the introduction of new ideas and features that will allow the speedboat to break free of each anchor in turn. However, if you worship the voice of the customer in this way, you’re likely to only get incremental suggestions rather than brand new ideas.

Different levels of innovation please different people. Satisfied customers, who already feel well served, accept small, incremental improvements and resent major changes. Potential customers who are satisfied, but not delighted, by a competitors product, are attracted by a distinctive innovation that shows clear advantage but remains reassuringly familiar. Revolutionary changes appeal to potential customers who reject or ignore all the options currently being offered to meet their needs. Innovation that’s too radical won’t be widely accepted. To succeed in business, choose one group of customers and learn what they want. Then use your skills and resources to surpass their future hopes, not just to meet their present expectations.

Bigger companies tend to be rather conservative in this regard as they're focused on squeezing profits out of past investments rather than creating new sources of income. Innovation is frequently blocked by competing departments and functions that have plans of their own. The rule for success when innovating in bureaucracies is to stick your neck out just enough to get a haircut but not enough to risk getting your head chopped off.

Try to discover the things you know, the things you know you don't know, and the things you don't know you don't know. Move items from the category of things you don't know you don't know into the category of things you know you don't know. In the latter, you actually have some knowledge about whatever that subject is. You can then apply other methods to reduce your ignorance about the subject.

"It's only when you drop yesterday's assumptions that you can glimpse tomorrow's patterns and possibilities. To see deeper, unsee first." - Umair Haq

Monday, August 16, 2010

A parable about carrots, eggs and coffee.

Post 543 - I'm not sure where I got this from but after reading this ... you’ll probably never look at carrots, eggs or coffee in the same way again.

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how difficult things were for her. She was tired of fighting and struggling. As soon as one problem was solved, a new one arose. She said she didn’t know how she was going to continue and was ready to give up.

Her mother took her into the kitchen. She filled three pots with water and placed each on high heat. Soon the pots came to a boil. In the first, she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans. She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about 20-minutes, she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, “Tell me, what do you see?” “Carrots, eggs, and coffee,” she replied. Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich flavor.

The daughter then asked, “What does it mean, mother?” Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity ... boiling water … and each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquefied interior, but after sitting in the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

“Which are you?' she asked her daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond?”

"Are you the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do you wilt and become soft and lose your strength?"

"Are you the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Does your shell look the same, but are you bitter and tough on the inside?"

"Or, are you like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you’re like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?"

So, dear reader, are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The world just keeps on changing.

Post 542 - Here's this week's discoveries. The world just keeps on changing doesn't it? I guess that's both the good news and the bad news.....

Amid weak job and housing markets, consumers are saving more and spending less than they have in decades, and industry professionals expect that trend to continue. Consumers saved 6.4 percent of their after-tax income in June, according to a new government report. Before the recession, the rate was 1 to 2 percent for many years. In June, consumer spending and personal incomes were essentially flat compared with May, suggesting that the American economy, as dependent as it is on shoppers opening their wallets and purses, isn’t likely to rebound anytime soon.

The International Labor Organization said about 81 million people ages 15 to 24 were unemployed worldwide at the end of 2009 and the number would probably climb further.

Research shows that spending money for an experience - concert tickets, French lessons, sushi-rolling classes, a hotel room in San Diego - produces longer-lasting satisfaction than spending money on just plain old stuff.

Turnover costs are usually underestimated. For instance, ROI expert Jack Phillips says that the cost of losing entry-level employees ranges between 30 and 50 percent of the employees’ annual salaries. For higher-level employees, the estimates are far greater – between 125 and 200 percent for midlevel managers and between 200 and 400 percent for software engineers. (see Phillips, J. (2005). Investing in your Company’s Human Capital. New York, NY: Amacom.)

Chief Executive magazine’s CEO Confidence Index, the nation’s only monthly CEO Confidence Index, fell one-third (33.2 percent) in July, to 79.8. All five components of the index fell significantly, with the Current Confidence Index showing the largest percentage decrease of 60.4 percent - dropping to 52.0. The Investment Confidence Index fell by 40.8% to 79.0. Fully 24% more CEOs rated investment opportunities as “bad” in July than in June. One CEO lamented, “New ventures and new venture funding are basically non-existent.”

Pew's latest research about American broadband shows that 21% of U.S. adults don't use the Internet. Why not? Almost a third say they're "just not interested." Others find it too expensive, too difficult, or think they're too old. Pew also says 22% of the people who don't use the Internet used it in the past but don't anymore. Only 10% of non-internet users say they'd like to start using in the future, a number that hasn't changed since Pew started asking it in 2002. (Especially older folks.) If only they knew about the joys of FarmVille...

Nearly all age groups are spending less time talking on the phone; boomers in their mid 50s and early 60s are the only ones still yakking. The fall in calls is driven by 18- to 34-year-olds whose average monthly voice minutes have plunged from about 1,200 to 900 in the past two years, according to research by Nielsen. Texting among 18- to 24-year-olds has more than doubled in the same period, from an average of 600 messages a month two years ago to more than 1,400 texts a month today. Not only are people making fewer calls, they’re also having shorter conversations when they call. And land lines are disappearing. Verizon says its hard-wired phone connections have dropped from 50 million in 2005 to 30 million this year.

And finally, research shows that men in areas with too few women have a shorter life expectancy. This seems to back up my late father’s observation that, “You can’t live with ‘em and you can’t live without ‘em.”

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Broad and yellow is the evening light by Anna Akhmatova.

Post 541 - Anna Akhmatova (1889 – 1966) was the pen name of Anna Andreëvna Gorenko, the celebrated Russian poet who bridged Tsarist and Revolutionary Russia. Although she was adored by the public and called "the soul of her time," she suffered greatly under Stalin's disfavor. Born in Odessa, she started writing at the age of 11 inspired by the poetry of Racine and Pushkin. Her father, however, didn't want to see her verses printed under his "respectable" name, so she adopted the surname of her Tatar grandmother as a pseudonym. The growing distaste which the personal and religious elements in her poetry aroused in Soviet officials forced her into long periods of silence before the poetic masterpieces of her later years were published abroad. Between 1921 and 1953, many of those closest to her emigrated or were killed or were imprisoned. In 1965, she was allowed to travel to Sicily and England, where she received the Taormina prize and an honorary doctoral degree from Oxford University. Before her death in Leningrad at the age of 76, Akhmatova was elected to the presidium of the Writers' Union, from which she had earlier been expelled in disgrace. Commenting on her troubled life, she said, "Why complain? Poetry is respected here. They kill you for it."

Broad and yellow is the evening light by Anna Akhmatova.

Broad and yellow is the evening light
Tender the April coolness
You are so many years late,
Nevertheless I am glad you came.

Sit here close to me
And look on joyfully:
Here is a blue composition book
With the poems of my childhood.

Forgive me that I ignored the sun
And that I lived in sorrow
Forgive, forgive that I
Mistook too many others for you.

How to foster innovation.

Post 540 - Peter Drucker once told me, "There are only two profit activities in business: innovation and marketing. Everything else is expense." Drucker said his intellectual model was Walter Bagehot, the famous editor of The Economist. Like Bagehot, Drucker saw the tension between the need for continuity and the need for innovation and change as central to society and civilization. There are only three basic business strategies: Operational excellence (low cost models), Innovation, and Customization. That's it. Everything else is a derivative.

Andrew Hargadon, an expert in technology management, management of innovation, entrepreneurship and new product development at UC Davis Graduate School of Management, calls innovation “a phenomenon of networks connected by 'technology brokers' - people or organizations that link isolated groups and industries to integrate previously unrelated viewpoints and technologies to resolve new problems." This suggests that innovation occurs by bringing together different ways of looking at common and mundane ideas. For example, Gutenberg married two different tools - a coin stamping tool-and-die process, and a winepress - to come up with the printing press. New ideas come from having different perspectives and juxtaposing different theories. However, only innovation that depends on technical platforms or infrastructure that others lack will provide a sustainable source of competitive advantage. Little lasting advantage accrues today solely from developing clever technical applications.

According to Theodore Levitt, "Creativity is thinking up new things. Innovation is doing new things." Texaco provides a useful example. Worried about political obstacles to its overseas exploration plans in the late 1980s, Texaco began turning more of its attention to increasing production in its domestic fields. In 1992, Stephen Hadden, then a 40-year old petroleum engineer, was sent to the declining, 100-year old Kern River oilfield in California to help breathe new life into its operations. A minor miracle resulted: Production increased from 80,000 barrels a day and surpassed 100,000 by 1998. Production per worker surged from 150 barrels a day in 1992 to 250 barrels in 1995, and Texaco raised its estimates of recoverable oil at Kern River by 66 million barrels, good for another ten years of production.

The turnaround began when Hadden assembled a group of 25 engineers, geologists, technicians, field workers, and outside contractors, and put them through a nine-month brainstorming program where they developed proposals about ways to improve operations. He abolished the old lines of authority and replaced them with a team system, thus freeing the field workers from many traditional management restraints. As Hadden remembers, “We simply started a conversation with each other asking why we were where we were.” The brainstorming team met each morning to discuss problems and to develop new ways of dealing with them. As a result, employees were given new powers to act on their own, including freedom to communicate with other departments without management approval.

They also had unrestricted access to a new central computer system that stored data on all aspects of operations, including each well’s history and the location of underground rock formations. Information that previously took weeks to obtain could now be retrieved in minutes. The computer was also linked to Texaco’s research laboratories in Houston. Initially, the new approach resulted in mostly small improvements. But the daily meetings eventually led to innovations that revolutionized how oil was extracted as technicians introduced a new method of injecting lower-pressure, lower-heat steam into much larger sections of the underground layers of rock and sand. As a result, Kern River increased its recovery rate from 50% to 66%, and eventually push this to 80%. Hadden says his operating strategy was, “to stay out of the way and give people the resources they needed to get the job done.”

An OECD study of the Japanese automobile industry estimated that 60% of innovation in Japan came from the place of work, not from the universities or the research departments. To get this level of innovation, you must allow freedom. But to have a network, you have to have a certain amount of control. Also among the prerequisites for innovation, employees should have a sense of security and a sense of possibility.

Writer-director Brad Bird of Pixar says, “Involved people make for better innovation. Passionate involvement can make you happy, sometimes, and miserable at other times. You want people to be involved and engaged. Involved people can be quiet, loud, or anything in-between - what they have in common is a restless, probing nature: ‘I want to get to the problem. There’s something I want to do.’ If you had thermal glasses, you could see heat coming off them.”

Useful knowledge is widely dispersed and expensive to collect. What economist F. A. Hayek called “competition as a discovery procedure” allows companies to find new ideas through decentralized trial and error, through adaptation and improvisation. Without a peripheral view of the data however, it's easy to get blindsided when something new turns up. Trends are easy enough to predict but abrupt innovations are harder to anticipate. There’s an aphorism that any time you jump three orders of magnitude, (say from 10 to 10,000) you have a whole new science.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

One view of how Apple succeeds.

Post 539 - Sachin Agarwal learned a lot about Apple's management style during his days as an engineer. He worked at the company for six years, before leaving to start the simple blogging platform, Posterous. When he left, he made sure to take a few important management lessons with him, and these have helped to make Posterous successful as well. Here are some of Sachin's management lessons:

- Apple is completely run by its engineers. It doesn't have a lot of product management. Most of the project teams are really small, and they’re all driven by the engineers. On top of that, most of the managers are engineers as well, not product people or MBAs. That means that the people overseeing projects understand the technology, what's necessary for the project to succeed, and can really relate to the needs of their team members.

- Because most of the managers have strong engineering backgrounds, there isn't a big division between product managers and 'code monkeys.' There's a lot of respect between the two tiers.

- If employees use a product and find an issue that bothers them, they have the freedom to go and fix it without having to deal with layers of bureaucracy to get approval. All projects are driven by long-term goals, but the best ideas come from the engineers acting on their own initiative.

- Management really challenges people by giving them tasks that are a little beyond their current capabilities. So they learn quickly and many get to manage projects within six months of starting employment. Apple is really good at developing their employees, and giving them the skills they need to rise up within the company.

- Apple requires absolute deadlines, and they never miss them. It doesn’t ship products that aren’t of 'Apple quality,' even if that means cutting something that doesn't make it in time. Especially at a startup, it's easy to keep building and never launch anything. It's better to stick to deadlines and ship, then iterate later.

- Apple doesn’t believe in playing the "feature game" with its products. The company focuses more on its goals for its own products, rather than comparing itself to competitors' and trying to outdo them on the same levels. That mission is deeply ingrained in the culture. Employees aren't focusing on copying what the competition is doing – instead, they're driven to innovate and come up with products that challenge the status quo.

- The people who work at Apple really, really want to be there. That enthusiasm is a key element of the hiring process. Management looks to attract people who are really passionate about the company, its products, and its overall style.

- Apple puts a huge emphasis on work/life balance. Employees are expected to work hard, but the company lets then enjoy their time off on their own. From excellent healthcare to generous office holidays around Christmas and Thanksgiving, people love the type of environment the company provides for its employees.

- Apple keeps winning because it's a giant startup. From its lack of bureaucracy within projects, to its engineer-focused culture, to its emphasis on passionate and loyal employees, the huge company has maintained the corporate culture of its startup days. And that culture is a huge part of what makes it so successful - and, not surprisingly, a good place to work.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The current state of things.

Post 538 - Here's another set of data reported in the past week. Seems like the rich continue to get richer and the poor continue to get poorer. So, what else is new?

Some 16.5 percent of America’s workers are now either unemployed and trying to find a job, involuntarily working part time, or have stopped looking for work altogether. That figure doesn’t include the many Americans who’ve had to settle for jobs for which they are overqualified.

Larry Ellison, founder and CEO of software maker Oracle Corp., topped the list of best-paid executives of public companies during the past decade, receiving $1.84 billion in compensation, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of CEO pay.

One of the most famous sub-categories of specialty lines insurance is body part insurance. Plenty of people have heard the stories of singers like Bruce Springsteen or Celine Dion ensuring their voices (or vocal chords) or actresses like Heidi Klum, Tina Turner and Betty Grable insuring their legs. Sometimes the performer takes the initiative, while in other cases it may be a company doing so - as in the case of Heidi Klum. Braun, now part of Procter & Gamble, took out the policy when Ms. Klum signed on as a celebrity promoter.

Jeanne Louise Calment (21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997) had the longest confirmed human life span in recent history, living 122 years and 164 days (44,724 days total). In 1965, aged 90 years and with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray, on a contingency contract. Raffray, then aged 47 years, agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2,500 francs until she died. Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than $180,000, which was more than double the apartment's value. After Raffray's death from cancer at the age of 77, in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Calment's death.

Today, adults consume more than 3,400 mgs of sodium on average a day, not including salt used in cooking or sprinkled on food from a shaker. This is more than twice the amount recommended for most people, according to a recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Middle-aged men are eating on average about 54% more salt today than in the early 1970s; for women, consumption has jumped 67% in that time.

Sen. John Kerry bought and housed his $7 million yacht in Rhode Island instead of Massachusetts, where he’s the senior senator and champion of higher taxes on the rich, thereby avoiding some $437,500 in state sales tax and an annual excise tax of about $70,000. Howard Metzenbaum, the former Ohio senator and liberal supporter of the death tax, chose to change his official residence to Florida just before he died because Florida doesn’t have an estate tax while Ohio does.

Rich married men who are approaching retirement have the highest self-esteem, according to scientists. Confidence is lowest among young adults but increases with age until it peaks around 60. Then retirement and failing health cause a decline in self-regard, researchers have found. A study published by the American Psychological Association looked at 3617 people aged 25 to 104 between 1986 and 2002 and rated how their self-esteem changed. Women were less confident than men, only catching up in their 80s or 90s. Those with better education, income, health and employment status were also likely to report higher levels of self-esteem, especially as they aged, the study found. "It’s possible that wealth and health are related to feeling more independent and better able to contribute to one's family and society, which in turn bolsters self-esteem," said study leader Ulrich Orth. Participants were asked to rate their agreement with statements such as "I take a positive attitude towards myself." They were asked about their ethnic background, education, income, work status, relationship satisfaction, and whether they had experienced stressful events. People in happy relationships had higher levels of self-esteem, but experienced the same drop in confidence when they passed 60 as those in unhappy relationships.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Blessing the Boats, a poem by Lucille Clifton.

Post 537 - Lucille Clifton (Sayles) was born in 1936, in Depew, New York and moved to Buffalo with her family early on in her life. She won a scholarship to Howard University in Washington D.C. and then transferred to Fredonia State Teachers College. When Clifton was attending Fredonia, she was also experimenting and exploring poetry, drama, and other various things that went on to shape her writing. Also at Fredonia Clifton met her future husband, Fred Clifton, who at the time was a philosophy professor at the University of Buffalo. Clifton had six children with Fred and they were happily married until 1984 when Fred passed away.

Clifton is one of the most accomplished women in the literary world. Owner of Pulitzer Prize nominations for poetry in 1980, 1987, and 1991, the Lannan Literary Award for poetry in 1997, the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize in 1997, the Los Angeles Times Poetry Award in 1997, the Lila Wallace/Reader's Digest Award in 1999, and the National Book Award for Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems, 1988-2000 (2000) also a National Book Award nomination for The Terrible Stories (1996). She’s also been awarded honorary degrees from Colby College, the University of Maryland, Towson State University, Washington College, and Albright College.

Blessing the Boats by Lucille Clifton.

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love you back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

How to test your company’s creative ability.

Post 536 - Last Friday, I had lunch with eight colleagues where we talked about our experiences with innovation and creativity. One of those present was a visiting researcher from Sweden who introduced us to the following test. I thought you might find it useful. Just answer YES or NO to the following ten questions:

1. Are you encouraged to be creative and come up with new ideas at work?

2. Do you and your colleagues take initiatives even if the outcomes are uncertain?

3. Are you allowed to fail in your workplace?

4. Do you experience the atmosphere at your workplace as lively and eventful?

5. Do you feel that there’s room for humor and laughter in your workplace?

6. Does your boss listen to you? Is there a dialogue rather than a monologue at your workplace?

7. Do you have time to think of new ideas?

8. Have you and your colleagues the opportunity to take part in how the company is managed and developed?

9. Do you verbally encourage others in the workplace?

10. Are you encouraged to collaborate with others?

The number of YES answers to the above test are evaluated as follows:

0-3 YES:
Probably you don’t have much room to be creative.

Action: Download Farida’s dissertation summary on www.farida.se and give the dissertation to your management! Do the test again after six months and if the score hasn’t improved - change jobs!

4 – 6 YES;
Not a super-creative company, but has the right conditions to
become one!

Action: Work on the points that you’ve answered NO to and enhance
the areas where you've answered YES.

7-10 YES:
You’re probably in an organization that can perform and deliver
super-creative results.

Action: Spread the word, and recruit more people who don’t have space to be creative in their current companies. Focus on your own creativity so you can get even better results.

Farida’s research shows that when employees are more creative, you get both better economic results and a healthier, happier staff.

For more information, contact:
Dr. Farida Rasulzada
Department of Psychology
Lund University, Sweden
+46 (0) 736 222 121

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What sex can do for your brain.

Post 535 - I have my doubts that you need another reason to have sex, but in case you were searching for one that also happens to provide an excellent side effect, you've come to the right place today. According to LiveScience.com, scientists at Princeton University who study rats found that not only do sexually active rats appear to be "less anxious" than their virginal counterparts, but the activity also helps grow the rats' brains.

It seems that scientists played matchmaker by pairing up adult male rats with "sexually receptive" females, either once a day for two weeks or just once every two-weeks. Those two groups were then compared with male virgins and it turned out that the sexually active groups had more neurons in the hippocampus (an area of the brain tied to memory), while the rats who were the most sexually active had growth in adult brain cells and more connections between the cells.

However, the rats that only saw females once every two weeks had elevated levels of stress hormones, while the rats that had regular access showed no increase in their hormones. Sexually experienced rodents also proved to be less anxious than the virgin rats. As the article notes, the findings suggest that while stress hormones can be detrimental to the brain, these effects can be overridden if the experiences that triggered them were pleasant. And, apparently, if those experiences also happen more regularly.

Bigger brains and less stress? Just the reason you were looking for, right?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Why the world is the way it is today.

Post 534 - Here's another set of strange and wonderful facts and findings that help to explain why the world we live in today is the way it is:

Here are the percentages of each president's cabinet who'd worked in the private business sector prior to their appointment to the cabinet:

T. Roosevelt........ 38%
Wilson .............52%
Hoover ..............42%
F. Roosevelt........50%
GH Bush.............51%
Clinton ..........39%
GW Bush..............55%

More than 57,000 high school students applied for about 4,700 places in the fall 2010 entering class at UCLA. The weighted average high school GPA of those admitted was approximately 4.25. I'm glad I enrolled there thirty-five years ago.

In 2008, there were 53,500 working barbers in the U.S. according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bureau predicts that by 2018, the number will jump 12 percent to 59,700, primarily because of increased population. To be a licensed barber in California, you must complete a 1,500-hour course (involving at least 750 haircuts) at an approved institution, as well as passing the written and practical portions of the state licensing examination.

Global temperatures in the first half of the year were the hottest since records began more than a century ago, according to two of the world's leading climate research centers. Scientists have also released what they described as the "best evidence yet" of rising long-term temperatures. The report is the first to collate 11 different indicators – from air and sea temperatures to melting ice – each one based on between three and seven data sets, dating back to between 1850 and the 1970s.

Researchers from Brigham Young University reviewed 148 studies that tracked the social habits of more than 300,000 people. They found that people who have strong ties to family, friends or co-workers have a 50 percent lower risk of dying over a given period than those with fewer social connections. The researchers concluded that having few friends or weak social ties to the community is just as harmful to health as being an alcoholic or smoking nearly a pack of cigarettes a day. Weak social ties are more harmful than not exercising and twice as risky as being obese, the researchers say.

Japanese women have enjoyed the longest life expectancy in the world for the past quarter of a century, according to government figures. In 2009, they could expect to live, on average, a record 86.4 years – up almost five months from the previous year – followed by women in Hong Kong and France. Experts attribute Japan's extraordinary longevity statistics to a traditional diet of fish, rice and simmered vegetables, easy access to healthcare and a comparatively high standard of living in old age.

There are 309,860,745 people in the U.S. If everyone were lined up in single file, the line would stretch around the Earth almost seven times. That's a lot of people!

In addition, the U.S. Census Bureau statistics tell us that there are at least 151,671 different last names and 5,163 different first names in common use. Some names are more common than others. There are 44,803 people named John Smith, 974 people named James Bond, 102 people named Harry Potter, 436 people named George Bush, and 31 people named Emily Dickinson. However, Johnny Cash (32 people) songs aside there are, statistically speaking, very few boys named Sue.

Wondering about your own name? Check it out at http://howmanyofme.com/

And finally, in all the EU member states, except Ireland, more than eight in ten interviewees felt that people driving under the influence of alcohol constituted a major road safety problem in their country. However, in Ireland, just 62 percent of respondents regarded drink-driving as a major threat to road safety and 31 percent simply regarded it as a minor problem. Go figure - maybe they were a bit under the influence when they were interviewed.