!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: June 2006

Friday, June 30, 2006

Who You Gonna Call?

Where should an organization look for leadership talent?

A recent study by Korn/Ferry International1, an executive search firm, indicates that turning to people with military experience is apt to pay off. In their summary of the study's results, Korn/Ferry report:
Companies led by CEOs with military experience have outperformed the S&P 500 Index over the past three, five and 10-year periods by as much as 20 percentage points ...

[The study] also found that CEOs with military experience tend to last longer in the job. CEOs with military experience have an average tenure of 7.2 years, while CEOs without military experience have an average tenure of 4.6 years.

The study found that the 59 companies on the S&P 500 headed by CEOs with military experience provided an average annual shareholder return of 21.3% over the three-year period ending September 2005, versus 11.0% for the S&P 500 Index during the same time. For a five-year period, the ex-military CEOs provided a 9.5% return while the Index provided a -10.7% return, and for a ten-year period, the ex-military CEOs provided a 12.2% return versus a 9.4% return for the S&P 500 Index.

Featuring both a quantitative analysis of companies in the S&P 500 led by CEOs with backgrounds in the U.S. military, as well as qualitative in-depth interviews from four ex-military CEOs – Clayton Jones of Rockwell Collins; Michael Morris of American Electric Power; Michael Jordan of Electronic Data Systems; and Steven Loranger of ITT Industries – the study suggests that deft management of stressful situations during real-world military operations may well enhance performance in a corporate environment.
From their four interviews, Korn/Ferry conclude that "leadership skills learned in military training enhance success in corporate life" (although it is always necessary to acknowledge that correlation can't prove causality). Furthermore, officers in the military are able to get hands-on experience in leadership earlier in their careers than is generally possible for people in civilian organizations.

The six leadership traits that Korn/Ferry's interviewees identified as most important were:
  • Learning how to work as part of a team — Steven Loranger of ITT "cites the US Navy 'Plan of the Day' as an effective method for keeping team members informed and engaged. 'The plan of the day was the absolute bible.'"

  • Organizational skills, such as planning and effective use of resources — As Michael Jordan of EDS noted, "The essence of being an officer is to figure out how to deploy forces and resources to get something done. From a management standpoint, that is one of the really great lessons."

  • Good commuinication skills — Michael Morris of American Electric Power reports that he learned "the willingness to listen and formulate an opinion that incorporates as many people's ideas as possible."

  • Defining a goal and motivating others to follow it — Steven Loranger comments, "Something you learn in the military that is fundamental in business is a sense of mission. You got very, very focused on your objectives. It was clear what the objective was and what constituted success and failure."

  • A highly developed sense of ethics — "Steven Loranger says that the military teaches honesty, integrity and 'doing the right thing.'"

  • The ability to remain calm under pressure — Clayton Jones of Rockwell Collins "credits the Air Force's Red Flag exercises, which simulate combat experiences, with teaching him flexibility in strategy and tactics, as well as the importance of being able to use only the tools at one's disposal to carry out a mission."
The interviewees emphasized that their experience as officers in the military exposed them to the practical how-to's of cultivating the above traits.

Korn/Ferry sum up by comparing MBA and military training:
Both the military and graduate schools of management provide somewhat similar training, such as their emphasis on case studies or analytical tools. [But as] EDS's Michael Jordan puts it, "The MBA gives you tools and familiarity, but it doesn't put you in a real-world situation."

A junior military officer (JMO) can enter a company and run a department "the way an MBA has no clue how to do," he says. An advantage of the JMO is that he understands organization and discipline and has experience with planning, organizing and following up in a methodical and thorough manner, according to Jordan. "An MBA teaches you the analytical side, but not the people management side. That comes with experience."
A caveat: After about 10 years as a military officer, further experience in the miliary does not seem to add significantly to leadership smarts, probably because after a decade or so, the political aspects of the military begin to loom larger. Also, there are certain skills that typically are not developed in depth in the military, such as marketing, sales, finance, entrepreneurship, and managing multiple objectives.

You can read the full Korn/Ferry report, "Military Experience & CEO's: Is There A Link?" here (pdf).

1 The report of the Korn/Ferry study was written and edited by staff of the Economist Intelligence Unit — Tim Duffy and Dan Armstrong, respectively.



Thursday, June 29, 2006


It seems only fitting that a product at the same exalted level of versatility as duct tape should be produced by a company whose CEO is a model of on-the-job open-mindedness.

I'm referring to Garry O. Ridge, who has been the President and CEO of WD-40 Company of San Diego since 1997. In a May 23 article in the Wall Street Journal, Ridge explains his philosophy of taking advantage at every turn of what he calls "learning moments":
A learning moment is a positive or negative outcome of any situation. But what it really is, is a culture where people are applauded and rewarded for sharing what works and what doesn't work. It's a freedom culture. It is one that takes away fear.

I ran a 12-month program where every month I had people email me and share their learning moments. They would all get prizes and in the end we sent one of our employees on a fully paid trip around the world. The first month there were a few emails. Then as they saw they weren't being punished for this ... more came. I have a sign on my door that says Intellectual Collision Zone. I have another sign on my door that says Blame-Free Zone.
Ridge has set up an entire Learning Moment website to share the benefits of his experience in helping employees learn and succeed. His leadership model, with the learning moment's spot in the cycle marked, is illustrated below and detailed here.

The Learning Moment website also offers a Changing Behavior Model, a summary of principles of leading change, and a list of recommended books.

For more on Garry Ridge's ideas concerning employee training and development, there is an overview here.



Wednesday, June 28, 2006

21st-Century Journalism IV: Data on the Importance of Trust

In March and April of this year, Reuters, the BBC and The Media Center conducted a 10-country poll exploring trust in media. (The countries polled were Brazil, Egypt, Germany, India, Indonesia, Nigeria, South Korea, Russia, the UK, and the US.)

The lead item in the report of the poll results:
... in a world of committed news junkies, trust in the news provider is a key issue. ... almost three in ten [28%] people have abandoned a media source over the past year due to a lack of trust in its content.
One has to hope that the big media companies are paying attention. For any serious news provider — I'm thinking of newspapers, news magazines, radio, TV networks, local TV stations, and Internet news sites — the message seems clear. Pandering to some readers' taste for sensationalism, attitude, and pro forma balance on issues, regardless of the weight of evidence, is not an effective long-term strategy for retaining readers who care about accuracy and genuine fairness.

By the way, interest in news is quite high. Overall, 72% of respondents said they follow the news closely every day. Among those 18-24 years old, the figure was 67%. And 77% of respondents said they prefer to check several sources of news, rather than depending on a single source.



Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Who's a Player?

A woman I've worked with for over ten years used to be a training specialist at a large media company. A constant issue she faced was one she shared with many other managers in human resources, namely how to make sure she was regularly included in discussions of company goals and strategies.

In my colleague's case, her ability to participate constructively was stymied by a boss who never managed to establish credibility as a player. Upper management appreciated his ability to do things like follow legal regs when firing people, but his lack of strategic smarts was all too apparent.

My colleague came to mind today when I checked out a sidebar in the June issue of Network Computing magazine titled "How to be a Player". The sidebar is addressed to Network Computing's audience of IT managers. However, the advice author Andrew Conry-Murray offers applies with minimal translation to any department, including HR and Training.

Conry-Murray makes five recommendations:

Find tools to maximize your time — "When you're always putting out fires, you don't have time to think strategically." To free up time for strategic planning and business intiatives, you should delegate, automate (and, perhaps, outsource) any tasks whose quality will not suffer as a result.

Advocate for your department — Outreach to decision-makers is key. Arm yourself with ideas for how training can contribute more profoundly to meeting company goals. Be sure you have a persuasive business case in support of each idea you promote. What does "outreach" mean? A director of technology at a Florida law firm with offices in seven cities reports that "I travel around and talk to managing partners, knock on doors. I have staff do that as well."

Demonstrate cost savings — We're not talking "penny wise, pound foolish" here. If your company is underinvesting in training, and you are already spending every budgeted dollar wisely, don't devalue your contribution by trying to justify your existence in terms of cost-cutting. On the other hand, if there are steps you can take to reduce costs without sacrificing the effectiveness of training activities — e.g., perhaps making greater use of video technology to cut down on travel expenses — by all means include commentary on these steps in your discussions with company management.

Demonstrate competitive advantage — For just about any company except the surprisingly small number who are already doing a stellar job of designing and implementing strategically aligned learning programs, there is significant scope for using improved training and development to support growth. In fact, it is my experience that the top competitors in any established industry are sophisticated learning organizations.

Anticipate needs — By making sure you're in the loop as top management explores strategic moves, you position yourself to timely identify related training and performance support needs. Providing sound recommendations on how to meet those needs, and then delivering effective programs to address the needs, is among the most reliable ways to ensure that the company earns a high ROI on its investment in training.


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Monday, June 26, 2006

Professionalism in Sales

Ever on the lookout for good news, I was struck by a headline reading “Death of a Pushy Salesman” in the July 3 issue of Business Week.

The article opens with a tale of woe. A salesman caught in the aftermath of the burst tech bubble finds that customers have no time for him. He’s talking a lot, and not listening well.

But our stalwart salesperson reforms. He accepts that he’s going to be dealing with a longer sales cycle. He gives the customer more airtime and listens to what the customer is saying, without interrupting compulsively with snippets of his sales pitch.

The salesperson in question is one of 1,100 who works for Altera, a chip manufacturer, that has invested $11 million since 2002 in revamped sales training — four weeks’ worth for each salesperson in his or her first year.

The emphasis is on building relationships with customers by being empathetic to their situations, feelings, and motives, as opposed to trying to win favor by swamping them with explanations of technical features beloved of engineers, but seldom with obvious relevance to a particular company’s business needs.

Here’s the best practice crib sheet:

Set the stage — Use assessments, such as 360º reviews, to help salespeople gain insight into themselves from which they can intuit insights into others. Form sales teams that have a diversity of personal styles to help employees develop skills for interacting well with different types of customers.

Let the customer speak first — The only way to direct a sales pitch in a relevant direction is to know what the customer cares about and needs. Listening to what the customer says and noting problems and issues the customer is facing are prerequisites for knowing what to talk about when it comes time to offer your own company’s help.

Accommodate the customer’s style — Some customers are “just the facts” types. Others are “let’s get to know each other” types. Others are “let me tell you what I need you to do” types. The list goes on. The point is that the salesperson needs to keep the conversation comfortable, and that requires being sensitive to how the customer likes to talk and relate.

Maintain your customer relationships — By definition, having a solid customer relationship means taking concrete actions to stay in tune with the customer’s situation and preferences. For instance, matching sales team members with peers at the customer is a powerful way of enabling regular productive contact.

Ongoing reinforcement of professional sales skills and continuing professional development are essential. I.e., everybody needs continuing training and development activities. Development planning is the best mechanism for ensuring continuing growth in knowledge and skill.


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Sunday, June 25, 2006

Business Acumen III: Business Case How-to

One of the most productive things you can do to help employees contribute innovative ideas is to teach them how to draw up a business case.

I am not talking here about an exhaustive presentation of a detailed technical justification for a proposed initiative. Rather, I'm suggesting that enabling any employee to write out the argument in favor of an idea they believe is good will make a real difference in how efficiently ideas can be shared and evaluated.

At a high level, the parts of a business case are:
Executive summary
Business opportunity
Financial analysis
Sensitiviy analysis
Project description (how the project will be carried out if approved)
Implementation plan
Summary of recommendations
A sample business case following this format can be seen here.

A junior employee would not be expected to pull together unassisted all of the information required for the complete business plan outlined above. The employee would sketch out key sections — e.g., Business opportunity and Benefits — and then work with colleagues to complete the business plan if the idea is deemed promising enough for further investigation.



Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hancock Shaker Village

After years of having Hancock Shaker Village on my list of sights to visit, I finally got there today with a cousin and his wife. We ended up spending the entire afternoon, visiting most of the 20 buildings, which contain artifacts recalling the busy communal life of the Shakers who occupied the site until 1960.

Although the utopian nature of the Shaker religion worked against its long-term vitality (celibacy being a particular stumbling block), the industrious lifestyle based on high-quality work in farming, textiles, metalworking, and woodworking continues to be an inspiration to the likes of me.

The best-known building of Hancock Shaker Village is the 1826 Round Barn.

The intelligence of the Round Barn's design is explained at the Village's website:
The Round Stone Barn offers ground-level access on all three levels. Wagons entered on the upper level to deposit hay into the central haymow on the main floor below. This allowed the Shaker Brethren to utilize the force of gravity rather than fight against it, as is the case in a more traditional barn when tossing hay up into a loft. The Brethren would drive the empty wagons around the circular barn floor and exit the same door they came in, eliminating the time-consuming and potentially dangerous activity of backing wagons out of a barn.

The cows were stabled on the main floor for milking, facing inward toward the haymow for ease of feeding. Manure was shoveled through trapdoors to the cellar and stored until needed as fertilizer in the fields and gardens.
A contemporary account describes the high value the Shakers placed on work:
Every man among the brethren has a trade, some of them have two, even three or four trades. No one may be an idler, not even under the pretence of study, thought and contemplation. Everyone must take his part in family business; it may be farming, building, gardening, smith work, painting, everyone must follow his occupation, however high his calling or rank in the church ... The Shakers believe in variety of labor, for variety of occupation is a source of pleasure, and pleasure is the portion meted out by an indulgent Father to his saints.
The Shakers also insisted on scrupulous honesty: "The honesty of the Shakers is proverbial, and everything they make is sure to be as represented," as an 1885 visitor put it.

The Shakers called their village the City of Peace.



Friday, June 23, 2006

Respect, Redux

In an earlier post, I talked about the fundamental importance of maintaining an attitude of respect in the workplace. Now I have come upon some related data in the June 2006 issue of Training magazine that suggest attention to this issue at senior levels is especially needed.

Sirota Survey Intelligence asked over 370,000 employees this question:
How would you rate management on treating employees with respect and dignity — that is, as responsible adults?

The results (VG/G is Very Good/Good; P/VP is Poor/Very Poor):

                   VG/G   P/VP
Senior management   88%     4%
Middle management   85%     5%
Supervisors         78%     9%
Non-management      69%    14%
Hourly workers      62%    19%

The gap in perceptions between the upper ranks and the folks down in trenches is striking, as is the evident need for improvement. A good starting point would be to heed Sirota's suggestions for making respect in the workplace a reality:
  • Recongnize employees for their accomplishments and provide them with the freedom to use their judgment.

  • Solicit, listen to, and act on work-related ideas from employees, such as input on how to get the work done.

  • Encourage innovtion and ideas on new and better ways of doing things.

  • Provide employees with helpful feedback and coaching on how to perform more effectively.

  • Value people as individuals and give them a sense of being included.

  • Appreciate diverse perspectives, ideas, and work styles.

  • Encourage full expression of ideas without fear of negative consequences; and listen to, and fairly handle, employees' complaints.
There is nothing astonishing in the above recommendations. As is often the case, what's needed is consistent execution of what people know (or should know) is appropriate.



Thursday, June 22, 2006


Never underestimate the power of winning hearts along with minds. Likability1 is a real asset when you're trying to persuade someone to do something, whether it's buying your brand of painkiller, or supporting a project you believe your company should pursue, or whatever.

Of course, evidence and logic are also important for reaching sound decisions. Still, since likability plays such a strong role, it behooves one to cultivate the traits that contribute to likability, notably empathy, humor, and authenticity.

If you decide that enhancing your likability is an improvement opportunity for you, a good approach is to encourage people you trust to coach you. It's hard to know how you're coming across to others (even if you're good at reading body english, a lot of people are just as good at maintaining a neutral demeanor), so you need feedback.

1 Tim Sanders, author of The Likeability Factor, defines likability as "an ability to create positive attitudes in other people through the delivery of emotional and physical benefits."



Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The Market Approach to Decision-Making

One of the most interesting innovations in decision-making that I've encountered uses market dynamics to make forecasts about the uncertain future. You can find a good introduction to this technique in a June 19 Wall Street Journal article by Michael Totty.

Economists have been testing what they call decision markets or prediction markets for some years now. The researchers report good results from these markets' ability to tap the collective wisdom of people to make predictions about the future, even if the "wisdom" of any single individual participant is weakly informed.

The Iowa Electronic Markets is the example I'm most familiar with. Operated by faculty at the Iowa business school, "[t]hese markets are small-scale, real-money futures markets where contract payoffs depend on economic and political events such as elections." In the case of elections, the market predictions have consistently been more accurate than predictions based on polls.

The WSJ article reports on software you can buy to set up your own internal decision market. Your employees can "bet on future events, such as forecasting sales or betting on the most promising new product." Totty describes how GE's computational-intelligence lab used such software to evaluate project ideas:
With the market, anyone could float "stock" in a proposed project; lab members began with a fixed amount of money, and then could buy shares in their favorite. The price of projects,which began at $50, rose and fell based on demand, with prices capped at $99. At the end of three weeks, the project with the highest price was declared the winner, and the winning team received financing to develop its idea.
Totty also explains why this market approach tends to generate beter predictions than alternate methods:
[C]onsider the usual alternatives companies have for aggregating this sort of knowledge: committee meetings, polling, reports or focus groups. Meetings are often dominated by the person with the best arguments or most forceful personality, not necessarily with the best information. Sales quotas, budgets or other factors can distort or deter the accurate sharing of information.

In contrast, in decision markets, prices reflect all the information players have — data, opinions or intuitions — about the likelihood of some future event. While each player may have very little information, collectively they have a great deal. By rewarding winners, markets give players the incentive not only to share the information they have (by placing bets on the favored outcomes) but to make an extra effort to gather more data.

The markets also empower participants in ways that meetings or surveys can't. That's because companies can set it up so that a broad array of workers take part in the markets. "Guys on the shop floor think this is terrific because they get to talk to the CEO," says Justin Wolfers, a Wharton School assistant professor of business and public policy who has studied decision markets. "CEOs like it because they get to talk to the guys on the shop floor."
You can read more about the software mentioned in Totty's article at the Consensus Point, NewsFutures, and Inkling websites.



Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Techniques to Elicit Critical Thinking

A few days ago, I came upon a useful article that offers some tested techniques for eliciting critical thinking.

The author, David Perkins, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is particularly concerned with how people can learn to think. He notes that "research by our group and others shows that people are often simply oblivious to situations that invite thinking."

To help people recognize opportunities to "put their thinking caps on," Perkins offers these suggestions for helping people see what good thinking actually looks like:

Use the language of thinking — For example, in problem-solving encourage people to come up with a "hypothesis" about why the problem exists. Other words that refer to thinking: reason, evidence, possibility, imagination, perspective.

Model thoughtfulness — For example, refrain from insisting on instant answers. Acknowledge your own uncertainty. Take a moment to talk about "What if" or "What if not" or "How else could this be done?" or "What's the other side of this case?"

Use "thinking routines" — Thinking routines are simple patterns of thinking. One such routine Perkins describes uses two key questions: "What's going on here?" and "What do you see that makes you say so?" In answering these questions, a person provides a suggested interpretation (hypothesis) and then supplies supporting reasons. For example, one might explore market trends using this pair of questions.

It is very important for an organization that is serious about accomplishing worthwhile goals and remaining vital, to cultivate a culture of thinking. This is a matter of nurturing attitudes that value curiosity, inquiry and playing with ideas, and consistently using practices that embody effective thinking processes.



Monday, June 19, 2006

Portland, Oregon

I've spent the weekend in Portland, Oregon, helping a friend celebrate receiving her Ph.D. in regional planning at Portland State University. There has been a bunch of ten of us, so I've had a quick refresher on how decisions get made in groups ...

Not too well when all ten were involved and no one felt comfortable taking the lead. And that was over and above the difficulty arising from different tastes in pastimes. Happily, when I was with a smaller group of four, with everybody interested in actually doing, rather than in going back and forth over what to do, the process went much faster.

As for Portland itself, judging from encounters with people over a long weekend, it's full of helpful, friendly people; it has good public transportation; and it is experiencing a good deal of restoration of various intown neighborhoods. If you'd like more information on the city, you can go to the municipal website, www.portlandonline,com.



Sunday, June 18, 2006

Motivation to Practice, Practice, Practice

In the previous post in this series, I talked about Anders Ericsson's research indicating that "the development of expert performance will be primarily limited by the quality of the training environment and individuals' engagement in deliberate practice."

A direct implication of Ericsson's research is that motivation to master a skill, if it leads a person to practice in focused fashion (i.e., with clear goals, immediate feedback, and conscious attention to technique) can be more important than innate talent in achieving mastery of skills like golfing, piloting an aircraft, teaming with others to assemble a car, etc.

Now, prompted by a June 15 article in the New York Times, I find myself wanting to look at just where the motivation to practice, practice, practice might come from. Do genes explain a significant part in determining how motivated you are to devote energy to a particular activity?

The latest research on genes that influence personality and behavioral traits suggests that the answer is yes. The Times article focuses on issues like novelty seeking, taste for risk, obesity, addiction, and attention deficit disorder, all of which, except for obesity, can have a direct bearing on an individual's performance in the business world. (Obesity can be a relevant factor in a limited number of occupations, such as professional ballet.)

There are certainly no definitive answers concerning how genetic background limits individual personality and behavioral traits, and there probably won't be any time soon. And certainly no researchers are saying that genes absolutely determine such traits, since there is extensive evidence that genetic predispositions interact with environmental influences.

For the moment, I am left to conclude that what I call "critical caring" — motivation to tackle a job whole-heartedly and work steadily at getting better — may very well have a strong genetic component. Still, what ultimately matters, regardless of how large a role genes play, is whatever the person in question has matched what they are highly motivated to do to their choice of occupation.



Saturday, June 17, 2006

21st-Century Journalism III: Substance and Relevance

Tribune Co. has been in the news the last few days, its management under attack by the Chandler family. The Chandlers became 12% Tribune owners in 2000, when Times Mirror Co., of which the Chandlers were controlling owners, was acquired by Tribune.

Prominent among the Chandlers' complaints are expected cuts in Tribune newsrooms, which have already been slimmed down. For me, after years of facilitating a newspaper management simulation in which participants, playing the role of publisher, often take a knife to the newsroom (along with other departments), I find it refreshing that some newspaper investors detect a death spiral risk inherent in ...
... depleting the resources that produce ...

... what the circulation department is striving to sell to large numbers of households ...

... so that the advertising department can charge handsomely for ads.
It may be wishful thinking, but I believe I've noticed — both at the simulated newspapers I observe, and at at least some of the real-world newspapers I read and read about — greater appreciation of the need to offer substance to loyal readers, not to mention maintaining traditional virtues of accuracy, fairness, and enterprise.

Forward-thinking newspapers are combining reanimation of core values with research-based initiatives to become consistently reader-focused. Much as some editors may believe that they, in their wisdom, should unilaterally determine what goes into the paper each day, the fact is that their readers have plenty of alternatives for passing the time, so meeting readers' needs is the only viable approach for the long haul.

Fortunately, clear-eyed training is available to help newsroom personnel strengthen and update skills. IMHO it's a far, far better thing to learn how to keep readers using the paper (physical or online), than to acquiesce to shrinking your newspaper through buyouts — which let experience, institutional memory and deep knowledge of the local community walk out the door — and/or layoffs.

I will be very interested to see what happens at Tribune Co.



Friday, June 16, 2006

Leadership: Four Fundamental Questions

Always on the lookout for fundamentals underlying particular concepts and processes, I couldn't help but notice an article in the July-August 2005 issue of the Harvard Business Review promising to explain how one enters "the fundamental state of leadership." It's a leaden phrase, but I was intrigued enough by the "fundamental" part to check out the summary of the article at the back of the magazine.

So, what is the "fundamental state of leadership"? According to author Robert E. Quinn, a professor at the University of Michigan business school, it's leadership in the truest sense:
... the frame of mind we tend to adopt when facing a significant challenge: a promotion opportunity, the risk of professional failure, a serious illness, a divorce, the death of a loved one, or any other major life jolt. Crisis calls, and we rise to the occasion.
Quinn argues that there's no need to wait for a dire situation to show you can rise to the occasion. On the contrary, by ensuring that you can answer the following four questions affirmatively, you can exercise exemplary leadership whenever you decide to focus your energy on doing so. The four questions are:
Am I results centered? Do I venture beyond familiar territory to pursue ambitious new outcomes, rather than staying persistently in my comfort zone?

Am I internally directed? Do I behave according to my own values, rather than avoiding conflict by letting others pressure me into doing something I don't really believe is best?

Am I other focused? Do I put the interests of the organization first, or do I play the narcissist, putting my own interests first?

Am I externally open? Do I learn from my environment and recognize when there's a need for change? Or, do I block out external stimuli in order to stay on task and avoid risk?
Quinn acknowledges that maintaining an exemplary level of leadership 24/7 is too exhausting to be realistic. Instead, he advocates consciously rising to the "fundamental state of leadership" consistently enough to continuously improve your own capabilities and to be a respected model for others. The end result is a high-performance culture — an organizational asset that is any true business leader's best accomplishment and legacy.



Thursday, June 15, 2006

New Standards of Hospital Care

As successful experiments go, the 100,000 Lives Campaign, an effort to reduce fatal errors in hospitals, is particularly encouraging.

Spearheaded by the non-profit Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), the campaign aims for rapid improvements in patient care at hospitals. At this week's 2nd Annual International Summit on Redesigning Hospital Care, Donald Berwick, a professor of health policy and management at Harvard, and President and CEO of IHI, described the goal-surpassing results achieved in the 18 months since the IHI project began in December 2004.

He also described how the results have been achieved. The 3,100 participating hospitals established new standards of care by implementing some or all of an initial group of six evidence-based and life-saving interventions, namely:1
  • Activate a Rapid Response Team at the first sign that a patient's condition is worsening and may lead to a more serious medical emergency.

  • Prevent heart attack deaths by delivering evidence-based care, such as appropriate adminstration of aspirin and beta-blockers to prevent further heart muscle damage.

  • Prevent medication errors by ensuring that accurate and continually updated lists of patients' medications are reviewed and reconciled during their hospital stay, particularly at transition points.

  • Prevent central line infections by following five scientifically grounded steps, e.g., proper hand washing and cleaning the patient's skin with an antiseptic called chlorhexidine. (A central line is a special IV line placed in a large vein that goes to the heart.)

  • Prevent surgery patients from developing infections by following a series of steps, including the timely administration of antibiotics.

  • Prevent patients on ventilators from developing pneumonia by following four scientifically grounded steps, e.g., raising the head of the patient's bed between 30 and 45 degrees.
Much of the data used in identifying the best interventions are obtained by voluntary pooling of mortality information, even though, in many cases, the hospitals contributing data are competitors. Berwick comments that he has "never before witnessed such widespread collaboration and commitment on the part of health care leaders and front line staff to move the system giant steps forward."

From the training perspective, the mechanisms for spreading knowledge and lessons learned are of particular note. In addition to hospitals' own internal training, there are a number of external learning resources:
  • IHI provides a raft of what anybody in the training business would recognize as performance support materials, including How-to Guides and checklists and an FAQ that gives particular attention to overcoming obstacles.

  • On the state and regional level, IHI has organized more than 50 healthcare organizations, such as state hospital associations and quality improvement organizations, to act as field offices. These organizations coordinate technical assistance, support peer-to-peer learning via phone and e-mail, and host local campaign events.

  • Almost 100 hospitals that have demonstrated success with specific interventions are "mentor hospitals," sharing their expertise.
As noted in an earlier post, the medical field is especially rich in models of how to use careful data analysis to guide decision-making. The 100,000 Lives Campaign is a powerful example of how the knowledge needed for innovation is acquired, and then turned into effective action, producing ever more valuable outcomes.

To paraphrase Thomas Edison, successful innovation requires hard-slogging. What's inspiring about the 100,000 Lives Campaign is its demonstration that, with concerted effort, we may very well be able to accelerate our slogging and arrive more quickly at rewarding results.

June 29 update: Carl Bialik uses his Wall Street Journal column to point out statistical problems with the IHI report. For example, there would be upward bias in the estimated number of lives saved if reporting was more complete from hospitals with positive results than from hospitals with negative (or neutral) results.
1 From IHI's June 14, 2006 press release, available as a pdf file here.


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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Good Lectures

The lecture approach to teaching has come under suspicion in recent years, and deservedly so. So often the teacher is speaking while the learners are in a parallel universe, day-dreaming, instant messaging, checking e-mail, even sleeping. Results are subpar, to put it mildly.

On the other hand, today's condemnation of the lecture method is too sweeping. To make this point, I'll first give the floor to Thomas M. Rollins, former chief counsel of the United States Senate Committee on Labor and Human Resources and founder of The Teaching Company. Then I'll say a quick word about my own experience with two of his company's lecture courses.

In explaining how The Teaching Company began, Rollins recalls "an unforgettable experience that opened his eyes to the extraordinary power of a great lecturer captured on tape." As reported at The Teaching Company website:
Rollins was facing an important exam in the Federal Rules of Evidence but was not well prepared. He managed to obtain videotapes of 10 one-hour lectures by a noted authority on the subject, Professor Irving Younger.

“I dreaded what seemed certain to be boring,” Rollins says. “I thought that few subjects could be as dull as the Federal Rules of Evidence. But I had no other way out.”

Rollins planted himself in front of the TV and played all 10 hours nearly non-stop. The lectures, he says, “were outrageously insightful, funny, and thorough.” Watching Professor Younger's lectures was one of Rollins's best experiences as a student.

Rollins made an “A” in the course. And he never forgot the unique power of recorded lectures by a great teacher.
I bought The Teaching Company's course on the history of the English language several years ago. It sat around the house for quite awhile before I finally started listening to the 18 hour-long tapes last summer when I had to make a series of trips between Northampton and Boston.

I was delighted with what I learned as I drove back and forth on the Mass Pike. Seth Lerer, the Stanford professor delivering the lectures, had done a fine job of organizing material that went a long way to satisfying my curiosity about the story of English, a subject that has always fascinated me.

After debating for awhile whether I should indulge myself by buying the 24 hour-and-a-half tapes in the Teaching Company course on "How to Listen to and Understand Great Music", I decided to go ahead, and after another stretch of days out on the Pike, I'm at Lecture 14.

I'm learning plenty from the prof, music historian Robert Greenberg. I'm geting better at recognizing different composers' work, while also picking up the essentials of how western music has changed over the centuries. After years of being frustrated by how readily I confuse composers, I'm finally making progress on remembering who wrote what, and I'm able to pick out details in compositions that previously flowed by, unnoticed by yours truly.

So, as salespeople listening to training tapes in their cars have always known, lectures have a valuable role to play in helping people acquire knowledge and skills. The key is to choose lecturers who hold listeners' attention and to consider the pros and cons of alternate methodologies before making your final decision concerning whether the lecture method is suitable for achieving the desired results in a particular situation and with a particular audience (i.e., do take learning styles into account).



Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The Truth about Brainstorming

In another example of how investigating conventional wisdom can pay off with fresh insight into how to get better results from employee efforts, today's Wall Street Journal reports on research concerning how best to handle brainstorming.1

A key issue: dogmatic belief in the proposition that "there is no such thing as a bad idea." Not only are some ideas bad, as common sense suggests, but, in group brainstorming, they can crowd out good ideas.

Two other problems that can surface in group brainstorming, especially without proper prior preparation:
  • Self-consciousness — The people in attendance may be inhibited by fear of seeming foolish, of getting in trouble with the boss, etc.

  • Not-in-the-moodness — People may not be in the right frame of mind for producing out-of-the-box ideas.
As Jared Sandberg, the author of the Journal article explains, "[Great brainstorming sessions] require the planning of a state dinner, plenty of rules, and suspension of ego, ingratiation and political railroading."

That was certainly a lesson I learned when I helped a professional development director at a global healthcare company prepare for a couple of high-level planning meetings intended to elicit fresh ideas that were also sound. Meticulous, detailed planning was the name of the game.

Sandberg cites the work of Paul B. Paulus, a professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Arlington. Paulus compared the quantity and quality of ideas produced by:
  • Four people working together

  • Four people working separately
By Paulus' measurements, group brainstorming was about half as productive as individual brainstorming. Since sharing ideas as a group is often important, at a minimum, for team cohesion, Paulus recommends certain steps that can help optimize the outcome:
  • Introduce an element of competition.

  • Exchange ideas on paper or via some sort of electronic messaging. Of course, ideas generated can't just be exchanged. They must also be given careful scrutiny to assess their pros and cons. This part of the process requires especially careful planning to maximize on-point discussion and to avoid groupthink.

    A related suggestion comes from David Perkins of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He recommends having participants first work individually on brainstorming ideas, and then reassemble as a group to discuss them. This approach minimizes the possibility that a genuinely bad idea tossed into the pot will create a "box" around other participants' thinking. (Perkins also suggests that it is best, after the brainstorming session, to have people work individually on developing the details of ideas chosen for further exploration and implementation.)2
Another issue in group brainstorming is who handles the facilitation. In the case of the healthcare company I worked with, they elected to use their own personnel. Due to their long tradition of having earnest annual discussions of how to live up to their corporate values, they were skilled at internal facilitation. For other companies, internal political dynamics may make outside facilitators essential for obtaining frank input.

Perkins also argues for ensuring that "developmenal leaders" are sprinkled throughout the organization.
These are individuals, often in the middle of an organization rather than at the top, often without much authority in the political sense, who show through their conduct what it is to think and work well with others, and who guide and coach others informally in patterns of collaboration.
Perkins adds that developmental leaders can themselves be developed through appropriate skills training.
1 To learn more about the origins of brainstorming, you can read about Alex Osborn, who introduced the process, here.

2 To learn more about David Perkins' views on "organizational intelligence" (how well people put their heads together in a group), you can have a look at his book, King Arthur's Round Table, published by Wiley in 2002.


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Monday, June 12, 2006

"We hated each other, but we loved the Cubs"

The June 12 issue of Fortune has a package of articles on teamwork. Once you get past the intro, written in annoying wannabe hip style, the information in this group is articles is well worth reading.

My single favorite line is from one of the sidebars, which is about the brilliant teamwork of Chicago Cubs shortstop Joe Tinker and second baseman Johnny Evers in the early days of the 20th century, when the team was winning pennants (four) and World Series (two). Evers is quoted as saying:
"Tinker and myself hated each other, but we loved the Cubs."
I was reminded of a story I heard from a newspaper editor. He recounted how a pair of reporters on related beats needed to work together. Unfortunately, they disliked each other and were refusing to cooperate, instead holing up in different areas of the newsroom, and doing their best to ignore each other.

The editor decided to act. He had a wall in the newsroom removed (the reporters in question were on either side of the wall), and called the two men into his office. He told them they would henceforth be occupying adjoining desks, and they were going to collaborate. He left it to them to figure out a modus vivendi.

According to the editor, the reporters started functioning as a credible team in short order. In part, admittedly, the turnaround was due to the reporters' understanding that continued recalcitrance would put their jobs at risk. But, in the editor's view, the major factor was the dynamic of an open-space newsroom, in which getting stories assigned, written, copy-edited, and laid out under constant deadline pressure, makes cooperation inherently appealing.

The moral of the story: When people believe in the organization's mission, have a boss who lays down behavior norms, lack time for indulging their inner diva, and are visible to co-workers, they will generally pitch in to get the job done.



Sunday, June 11, 2006


At breakfast this morning I sat next to a woman who had spent part of her time during the last year "shadowing" the volunteer who has been responsible for annual alumnae giving at my alma mater over the past three years. The goal was to learn the ropes of the fund-raising job. (Another common use of job shadowing is to expose students trying to decide on a career direction to the realities of a particular occupation.)

This alum told me about how satisfying development work for the college is, but also how challenging it has been to make sure she is picking up as much as possible of her mentor's expertise, especially the tacit knowledge her mentor applies to the job.

The International Public Management Association for Human Resources offers some tips (PowerPoint file) for getting optimal results from job shadowing:

  • Share a little history of the job

  • Talk about the roles and responsibilities -- This is absolutely crucial for helping the learner fit into the overall activities of the organization.

  • Describe the personal attributes that match the job -- In the case of the alum I was speaking with, she had already been identified as a good fit for the job of fund-raising, but in many cases, how well the learner fits the job requirements can only be determined by providing some firsthand exposure.

  • Discuss educational requirements, the career ladder for the job and related positions -- Again, in the case of the woman I was talking to, this part of job shadowing was not relevant, but it certainly applies in settings in which fit to the job is still being assessed.

  • Describe your experience, likes, dislikes
Of course, making job shadowing pay off is not entirely the responsibility of the mentor. The learner needs to ask questions to cue the mentor concerning elements of the job that need additional explanation, and, when feasible, to pitch in with the work to gain some hands-on experience.



Saturday, June 10, 2006

Touting English

Regardless of how one feels about calls for English to be declared the national language of the United States, I would hope we can all agree that favoring plain English, as opposed to buzzwords and convoluted mystifying syntax, is a worthy choice.

Recently, Paul Bennett, creative director of IDEO (which stands at #15 on the Boston Consulting Group's list of the World's 25 Most Innovative Companies), published a column at Business Week Online that makes the case for marketers to shed pretentious invented words (à la "marketecture," "contenterprise," and "brandology") and return to communicating in words that come out of good old vocabulary that normal people use.

Bennett suggests, "everyone knows that getting a brand right and marketing it cleverly is really hard. So maybe we don't all need to make it sound more complicated simply to justify what we do." He goes on to say:
The hardest thing that marketers and brand managers have to do right now is simplify. Marketing and branding need to get back to first principles — people, feelings, stories, and things. Tangible things. Not weird words.
It's Bennett's prescription for recovery that really caught my ear:
So try this. Buy a train ticket home for the weekend. Not your current house, but home-home, to your parents. Now sit them down at the kitchen table and, in 50 words or less, tell them what you do for a living, what product you make or sell (or if you're a consultant, what process or deliverable you sell), and what's good about it. Don't use weird words or anything with lots of syllables. Don't quit until they understand you. I told my mother once that I worked in Conceptual Marketing and I swear she thought I had joined a cult.

Remember what you said. Now go back to work, and apply this principle to your job. Simple stories, truths well told, no made-up nomenclature and gilded lilies. It's more clever to be simple, don't forget that.
I would add that those training and coaching people in the business world need to make it clear that reworking any communication that is turgid, into something lucid and listener- or reader-friendly is a high priority.


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Friday, June 09, 2006

Using Google Safely

It's college reunion time, and at my college the activities offered to returning alums include a selection of faculty lectures. I went to two yesterday, one about an obscure Italian guitarist of the seventeenth century, now less obscure due to the efforts of the music historian who reported to the eight of us in attendance on her research into the man's life.

Much better attended by an order of magnitude was a lecture by a member of the computer science faculty titled, "How Google Works and Why You Should Care." The professor's argument was that Google and other search engines are in a constant battle to stay ahead of spam artists who contrive to get their websites to the top of listed search results by gaming the algorithms used to determine page rank.

Aside from appreciating the chance to get some deeper insight into the way search engines work, I was taken with the professor's conclusion that education today must not only ground everyone in the 3 R's, but also teach critical thinking, something I've written about in an earlier post. You need to be able to answer such questions as:
  • How do you know "fact" X? What sources have you used? How reliable are they? More generally, How do we know what we know?

  • Why do you trust or distrust a particular source? For instance, does a particular site in a list of Google search results have actual experts producing the content? As the professor emphasized more than once, anybody can post content on the web, including, for instance, eager-beaver teen-agers and malicious fraudsters.

  • Do you have a "trust network," a group of people you interact with (in some cases, only through Internet contact) who have earned your trust, so that you can turn to them for reliable answers to questions?
Without a firm grasp of the principles of critical thinking and a habit of applying them, we leave ourselves open to being swayed by what amounts to propaganda, rather than actually getting the information we're looking for when we use Internet search engines.



Thursday, June 08, 2006

Office Politics

"Just politics."

That's one of the milder ways of responding to the seemingly incongruous way decisions are often reached in a business envronment. Politics is also the explanation often offered for more or less dysfunctional group dynamics employees find themselves coping with day-to-day.

Consider a dispassionate definition of "politics":
the process by which a community's decisions are made, rules for group behavior are established, competition for positions of leadership is regulated, and the disruptive effects of disputes are minimized
It is evident that politics are simply a part of life whenever people and groups with different interests are interacting. The goal of an organization is not to eliminate politics, which is impossible, but to take steps to promote and maintain constructive interaction, as opposed to dysfunction.

Effective participants in office politics are able to mobilize the different interests and perspectives that must be balanced in order to acomplish work. Political activity in the office is detrimental only when it's a source of intrigue and high drama rather than of maturely negotiated agreements on what to do.

Helping employees hone their ability to handle the challenges of office politics should be a consideration in a whole array of training activities at a company. It's true that you can — and many organizations do — offer training specifically in how to be politically savvy, while also being ethical and professional. And certain individuals may be good candidates for such training.

But I would argue that for the population of employees as a whole, the smart approach is to ensure that all training, both formal and on-the-job, includes as-needed guidance on exercising the communication and negotiation skills that lead, through what are in essence political processes, to sound decisions and constructive solutions to problems.

Unfortunately, there are toxic work situations in which well-meaning employees, not to put too fine a point on it, are being abused. In such situations, management intervention, not employee training, is indicated.


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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

21st-Century Journalism II: Concentrating on Quality

Warren Buffett's recent comments on the long-term prospects for the newspaper industry have been widely reported:
Newspapers face the prospect of seeing their earnings erode indefinitely. It’s unlikely that at most papers, circulation or ad pages will be larger in five years than they are now. That’s even true in cities that are growing.

But most owners don’t yet see this protracted decline for what it is. ... Certain newspaper executives are going out and investing on other newspapers. I don’t see it. It’s hard to make money buying a business that’s in permanent decline. If anything, the decline is accelerating. Newspaper readers are heading into the cemetery, while newspaper non-readers are just getting out of college. The old virtuous circle, where big readership draws a lot of ads, which in turn draw more readers, has broken down.
What has been interesting to me is to see the response to Buffett in certain knowledgeable quarters, such as Advertising Age. We're talking here about players who have business reasons to aim to be clear-eyed in their assessment of trends in the media. The Advertising Age article reports:
"Broadcast media always had the advantage, because they could communicate instantaneously to a national marketplace," said David Teitler, DotConnect's president and a newspaper-network fantasist since the mid-1990s, when he worked on the problem at the National Newspaper Network, the industry trade group. "Yet people trust newspapers. That's newspapers' killer app. Everyone from Procter to GM wants to get local, because that's where the sales take place."
In my view, a crucial word in Teitler's statement is "trust." After a period of feeling obliged to pander to readers and prospective readers in a desperate effort to at least maintain circulation, the smartest newspapers are recognizing that pandering devalues their content's strongest feature, namely the confidence readers have in its accuracy and astuteness. In this regard, the blogosphere has been a godsend because its fact-checking zeal has concentrated minds at the traditional media.



Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Is/Is Not Analysis

When I first encountered Is/Is Not analysis some years ago, it struck me immediately as a particularly useful tool in various situations in which careful analysis is needed. For instance, if you're trying to answer the question, "What business are we in?" creating a two column Is/Is Not worksheet, and then listing — in benefit terms — what you do offer customers, and what you do not, can help bring your business's scope into clear focus.

Most often, Is/Is Not analysis is used in problem-solving. The purpose is to sharpen the definition of the issue that needs to be resolved. Those working the problem answer these questions:
  • Who is/is not affected?

  • What are/are not symptoms of the problem?

  • When is the problem observed/not observed?

  • Where does the problem occur/not occur?

  • What does/does not make a difference in how quickly and efficiently we accomplish our objectives?
By answering these questions, you decide the scope of what you will examine and analyze, and what is not important or relevant enough to be a focus of attention at this time. You can see a simple example here.

The value of Is/Is Not analysis for problem solving is that it helps insure both that the right problem is investigated, and that the root causes of the problem are identified.



Monday, June 05, 2006

Identifying and Using Your Currencies

Since deft use of currencies is fundamental to effective negotiation, knowing how to identify and use currencies is also fundamental.

Currencies are benefits that the other party believes and values. To identify your currencies in a particular negotiation, ask yourself:

What are the reasons this particular person (or organization) would be favorable toward my offering?

For example, if you are trying to come to terms with a local store on a contract for a year's worth of advertising in your newspaper, your currencies would include the households receiving the paper who would consider shopping at the store, positioning of ads, and knowledge of the local market, including the store's competitors.

To get the most from your currencies, you need to build belief and value.
  • Belief — You need to convince the other party that your currencies are for real. In the newspaper example, that means convincing the customer that your circulation data are accurate, that you'll follow through on ad positioning commitments, that the information you're sharing about the local market is up-to-date, etc. Obviously, earning the other person's trust is vital.

  • Value — Present each currency in a way that makes it abundantly clear what the currency means to this particular person. I.e., explain in detail why the currency is valuable to the person; don't explain just part of the currency. For example, in discussing a newspaper's readership, it's important to explain vividly, citing credible evidence, how interested readers are in both the news and the ads, how readers actually use ads in the paper to plan their shopping, how they tear out and save ads that interest them, etc.
If and when the other party believes that there is value in the benefit you are discussing, you have established a currency. There should be no chance that the person is left wondering, "So what?"

The classic guide to effective negotiation is Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In, by Roger Fisher and William Ury.



Sunday, June 04, 2006


My favorite technique for going from the germ of an idea, to an array of creative offshoots, is S.C.A.M.P.E.R.

To build from your starting point:

Substitute — What else? Who else? What rules, policies can be changed? Other process? Other procedure? Other material? Other place? Other approach?

Combine — What ideas, people, units, materials can be combined? What can be blended, mixed, integrated, packaged?

Adapt — What else is like this? What else does this suggest? Is there a parallel elsewhere? What/Whom could I copy? What different contexts could I put this in? What ideas outside my field could I incorporate?

Magnify — What can be enlarged? extended? broadened? exaggerated? multiplied? added? duplicated? made stronger? made longer? What can we carry to an extreme?

Put to other uses — What else can this be used for? Are there new ways to use this? Can this be put to use in other markets? Can this be put to use for different people?

Eliminate or minimize — Can this be made smaller? less important? What can be omitted? streamlined? reduced? condensed? divided? What's not necessary? marginal?

Rearrange/Reverse — Can we rearrange the order? the components? the people? Is there another pattern? layout? timeframe? What can be reversed? transposed? What are the opposites? What's the negative of this? What if we consider this backwards?



Saturday, June 03, 2006

Learning from "Mistakes"

Several weeks ago, I posted about ways of examining bits of conventional wisdom to determine their validity. An article in the June issue of the Harvard Business Review offers another valuable technique.

In "The Wisdom of Deliberate Mistakes," Paul Schoemaker and Robert Gunther explain how learning can by accelerated by taking actions that violate accepted practice, or that violate a working hypothesis not yet definitively proved or disproved. Schoemaker and Gunther illustrate this principle with a simple example:

Suppose you are asked to determine the underlying pattern in the sequence 2, 4, 6. To gather data to help you uncover the underlying pattern, you can propose other sets of three numbers to a person who knows the correct answer, and ask if the proposed sets fit the pattern.

The first working hypothesis you come up with for the 2, 4, 6 sequence is likely to be "ascending adjacent even integers."

So the question now is: How to test this hypothesis?

Schoemaker and Gunther find that the favorite approach in their training groups is to suggest sequences that fit the working hypothesis, e.g.,
4, 6, 8
10, 12, 14
120, 122, 124
In fact, all three of these sequences do fit the underlying pattern, and Schoemaker and Gunther report that their training groups tend to conclude with great confidence after getting three Yes's to their proposed sequences that the "ascending adjacent even integers" hypothesis is correct.

Unfortunately, this conclusion is wrong.

In order to arrive relatively quickly at the correct answer, you need to take a different tack. Namely, you need to propose sequences that violate your working hypothesis and see whether, by any chance, any of these "mistakes" turn out to fit the underlying pattern you're seeking. For example, to see whether the pattern actually requires adjacent even integers, you could propose:
4, 6, 11
If you're told, "Yes, 4, 6, 11 fits the pattern," you know it's time for a new hypothesis. Maybe you decide to see whether the pattern is "positive integers either ascending or descending." You could propose:
5, 2, 1
If the answer comes back, "No, 5, 2, 1 does not fit the pattern," you can see whether maybe the key feature is that the integers are ascending, without regard to whether they are positive or negative. To test this possibility, you could propose:
-10, 0, 546
If the answer you get is, "Yes, -10, 0, 546 fits the pattern," you can proceed to check several more sequences, some of which ascend, some of which descend, some of which go up and then down, and some of which go down and then up.

In this particular example, you will be able to conclude in due course that the pattern is indeed simply "any trio of ascending integers."

Schoemaker and Gunther wrap up their example by observing:
Whenver you have few data points [in the example, it's just three], the chances are low that you'll be correct in your first guess about how they fit together. The fastest way to find the pattern is to try many disconfirming tests. How many decisions in your own business are based on limited data? Are you testing only confirming hypotheses, or are you also making deliberate mistakes?
Aside from the minor quibble that I think it's clearer to put "mistakes" in quotation marks, since disconfirming tests are more quasi-mistakes than actual mistakes, I recommend Schoemaker and Gunther's technique as a highly useful way of scrutinizing conventional wisdom.



Friday, June 02, 2006


As discussed in my earlier post on Web 2.0 tools, tagging content is one of the tools people are using to enhance the usefulness of internet and intranet content. I was reminded of the value of intelligent tagging to categorize information when I read a report in yesterday's Washington Post.

The report dealt with the Department of Homeland Security's allocations of 2006 anti-terror funding to states and localities. Here's the passage that particularly caught my eye:
A DHS risk assessment sheet for New York said the home of the Statue of Liberty and other landmarks had zero "national monuments and icons." The assessment also tallied only four banking and finance institutions worth more than $8 billion. Republican Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's office says there are at least 20.

Maybe the secretary will come meet us at the Empire State Building so we can show him the many national icons in New York," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-New York).

[Tracy A.] Henke [assistant secretary for grants and training at DHS] said the Statue of Liberty was included in the state risk rating but was not counted in the city rankings at all, in part because the statue is federal property. She also said other landmarks, such as the Brooklyn Bridge or Empire State Building, were counted in other categories, such as bridges or tall buildings.
It seems to me that the DHS could have saved itself considerable grief by attaching multiple "tags" (jurisdiction, landmark, tall building, etc.) to vulnerable assets like the Statue of Liberty, rather than trying to assign every item to a single category. Doing so would have made their explanation of their risk assessment much easier for people to understand. (Each item would still be counted only once in calculating a metro area's overall risk score.)

Wired magazine summarizes tips for smart tagging here.



Thursday, June 01, 2006

Bias and Decision-Making

Much as we may want, and consciously try, to shed prejudices that we know are wrong, research shows that at an unconscious level, common biases persist. The specific biases vary from person to person, as does the strength of bias.

The good news is that one's conscious efforts can, in fact, counter the potential impact of unconsious bias on one's behavior and decisions. "To the extent that we can influence what we learn and believe, we can influence less conscious states of mind," explains Mahzarin Banaji, one of the lead researchers for Project Implicit, which draws on work done at the University of Washington, University of Virginia, Harvard, and Yale.

You can get a sense of your own areas of unconscious bias by taking one or more of the "Implicit Association Tests" (IAT) at the Harvard's Project Implicit site. Some of the areas tested are perceptions of gender/career, age, ethnicity, weight, sexual orientation, the disabled, religion, and race. If you take a test, your confidentiality is protected.1

Keep in mind, as Banaji explains, the tests "are a research and educational tool to raise awareness. They should not be used otherwise. We hope that the test results will leave each person to decide for him or herself what they wish to do with this new knowledge that reveals they are sometimes less than they aspire to be." For further information about the IAT, what it measures and how, you can read through the Project Implicit FAQ.

From a trainer's perspective, the key is to ensure that employees are provided with experiences that reinforce rational and respectful responses to other people. From a manager's point of view, the key is to insist on unprejudiced behavior in the workplace.
1 The Project Implicit site assures visitors that "Data exchanged with this site are protected by SSL encryption, and no personally identifying information is collected. IP addresses are routinely recorded, but are completely confidential."


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