!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: July 2009

Friday, July 31, 2009

Stephen Downes on Networking Finesse

Since networking is not my strong suit, I was particularly pleased to come upon a post on Stephen Downes' blog offering advice that encourages people like me to do some rearranging of how we spend our time.

In brief, Downes "Seven Habits of Highly Connected People" are:
  1. Respond to other people's points of view. Downes comes down a bit too strong when he says "Posting, after all, isn't about airing your own views." Often, that's exactly what posting is about, but all the same, one should also take time to offer thoughtful responses to views that other people post.

  2. Fit yourself into the flow of the conversation. "When connecting online, it is more important to find the places to which you can add value rather than pursue a particular goal or objective."

  3. Connection comes first. Again, Downes comes on stronger than I would. He believes that connecting with people online is of such importance that doing things like reading books and magazines is a suspect use of time. I would never go that far. All the same, I acknowledge that making time for interacting with others is a high priority, not something you barely squeeze in among other, noninteractive activities.

  4. Share. "The way to function in a connected world is to share without thinking about what you will get in return. ... In a connected world, you want to be needed and wanted. This will, over time, cause resources to be sent to you, not as a reward for some piece of work, but because people will want to send you stuff to help you to be even more valuable to them."

  5. Read the manual. "Almost everything a person could need to know has been recorded somewhere online ... Taking the time and effort to look at this work is not merely respectful, it demonstrates a certain degree of competence and self-reliance. ... [W]hen you do ask for help, you can state what you've read and tried, and why it didn't work. This saves people from giving you advice you don't need, and helps them focus on what's unique about your problem."

  6. Cooperate. "To cooperate, it is necessary to know the protocols. These are not rules — anybody can break them. But they establish the basis for communication."

  7. Be yourself. "The only way to enable people to understand you is to allow them to sympathize with you, to get to know you, to feel empathy for you."
If you'd like to compare Downes' Seven Habits to Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, a quick summary of Covey's Habits is here.



Thursday, July 30, 2009

Strategies for Getting People Engaged with eLearning

About a year ago Allison Rossett, a professor of educational technology at San Diego State University, and Antonia Chan, an instructional designer at Qualcomm Inc., wrote a white paper (pdf) addressing the question of how to get employees to participate actively in eLearning — both as learners and as contributors.

In their paper, Rossett and Chan offer a dozen strategies "to make online experiences compelling and increase the odds that employees and students will give [eLearning] approaches a chance."

As you read through the strategies, you will see that most are more or less obvious. As with many lists of best practices, the point is not that you would never think of these items on your own. Rather, this particular set has been selected from a larger pool of possibilities to constitute a checklist of essentials.
  1. The eLearning must be perceived as useful by participants.

  2. If value is not obvious, a vivid case must be made. "Use testimonials. Point to data from the needs assessment. Show a problem or case that reminds participants about why they should care."

  3. The program must provide opportunities for success, not failure or uncertainty.

  4. Make it real. "Make certain that the programs match the audience in topic and level."

  5. Because the new deLearning relies on involvement and generosity [in interacting with other participants and in contributing content], reveal what that participation might look like. "Create examples that demonstrate a day or a week in the life of someone who is fully onboard." Include information on who is available to help learners.

  6. Make it active and thought-provoking. For example, well-designed simulations foster high levels of engagement.

  7. Make it human. "Showcase people, emotions, and successes. ... Provide places where suppliers and buyers can go to share and review experiences. ... Include lessons learned — in the words of those who have learned them."

  8. Guide and track participants. "A guidance system structures and constrains choices. It helps people know their options, see where they are now, judge how they have fared, and figure out what to do next."

  9. Situate eLearning within a blend. I.e., combine eLearning with additional resources, such as performance support, blogs and forums, communities of practice, online assessment, lunch chats with peers, perhaps some classroom time, and a tracking system. Provide alerts so users know about "new updates, features, and key content."

  10. Make relationships, collaboration, and teaming a part of the effort. Tools like blogs, wikis, discussion forums, and collaborative workspaces help.

  11. Make the program dramatic, compelling, valued, and authentic.

  12. Measure and continuously improve.
If you are interested in trends in eLearning, you can review ASTD's most recent findings here.


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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The President of the New York Fed on Lessons Learned from the Financial Crisis

On June 26, William C. Dudley, the President and CEO of the New York Fed, spoke at the annual Bank for International Settlements conference in Basel, Switzerland. His topic was lessons learned from the financial crisis we've experienced over the past two years.

Since Dudley's remarks, as posted at the New York Fed website, are clearly organized, and only about 4½ pages in length, I'll simply recommend that you read through them. To whet your appetite, here, slightly edited, are the summary recommendations with which Dudley concludes:
  1. Do a better job understanding interconnectedness. This means changing how we oversee and supervise financial intermediaries.

  2. Change the system so that it is more self-dampening.

  3. Improve incentives.

  4. Increase transparency.

  5. Develop additional policy instruments. For example, we might give a systemic risk regulator the authority to establish overall leverage limits, or collateral and collateral haircut requirements, across the system. This would give the financial authorities the ability to limit leverage and more directly influence risk premia, and this might prove useful in limiting the size of future asset bubbles.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

John Baldoni on How to Explain Well

It seems that John Baldoni is a man after my own heart. In a June 22 blog post, he argues that
Explanation is a key attribute of leadership communications. Leaders know to inject their communications with verve and enthusiasm as a means of persuasion, but they also need to include an explanation for the excitement. What does it mean and why are we doing it are critical questions that every leader must answer with straightforward explanations.
Not only does Baldoni recommend taking a straightforward tack, the approach I myself consider most appropriate when making an argument or launching an initiative, but he goes on to suggest the Is/Is Not way of clarifying what one is saying, also an approach I endorse for its effectiveness is helping people grasp what they need to understand in order to coordinate their efforts with others.

Finally, Baldoni points out that you, in the role of leader, need to tell people what action you expect them to take so that they are contributing to advancing the new initiative, solving the problem the organization is facing, or otherwise addressing the issue you have been discussing.


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Monday, July 27, 2009

Back in Boston

For me, "The Hub" means . . .

. . . the Boston bus station, from which buses back to Northampton depart.




Sunday, July 26, 2009

Back in Helsinki

My home away from home . . .

Hostel Academica, on Hietaniemenkatu in the center of Helsinki. My room has a kitchenette, and there is a grocery across the street, so I find the accommodations quite convenient.




Saturday, July 25, 2009


Today's destination . . .

Musk Ox near Kangerlussuaq

(The Epoch Times)

Those of us who elected to skip the "Musk Ox Safari" had nothing to do for most of the morning besides chat and read on the ship while waiting for the bus that would take us to the Kangerlussuaq airport for the flight back to Helsinki.

I had a long conversation in the café with Per Langgård, a Danish linguist living in Finland who advises Greenland's government on language policy. Langgård played a lead role in development of the spell checker for Greenlandic that was released in 2006.



Friday, July 24, 2009


Today's destination . . .

2006 POST Greenland stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of Sisimiut

The stamp shows Sisimiut's Whale Jaw Gate and Blue Church beneath Mt. Kællingehatten (Crone's Hood), the symbol of Sisimiut.

Artist: Miki Jacobsen

(Top of the World of Stamps)

I went on a hike to see more Viking ruins — as at Narsaq, much deteriorated — and in the process got a further look at the thick grass that grows in meadows during the summer. I also visited the Blue Bethel Church featured on the stamp shown above. One corner of the church has required additional support recently because of settling of the building's foundation due to permafrost melting.



Thursday, July 23, 2009


Today's destination . . .

The Ilulissat Icefjord, as seen from space
(click to enlarge)


The herd of icebergs in the fjord is certainly a sight to see. I elected to go on a 3 km hike that provided several scenic overlooks. The Ilulissat Icefjord was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2004.



Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Evighedsfjord (Kangerdlugssuatslaq)

Today's destination . . .

Tâterât Glacier, at head of Evighedsfjord
(click to enlarge)

(Peter Jennings)

We sailed as far up the fjord as we could, stopping only at the point where the chart stopped providing depth soundings.



Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Nuuk, Capital of Greenland

Today's destination . . .

Aqqusinerssuaq, Nuuk's main street
(click to enlarge)

(Karsten Bidstrup)

For me the highlight of our time in Nuuk was my visit to the Greenland National Museum and Archives, where you can view well-organized artifacts from all eras of Greenlandic history that are accompanied by sophisticated explanations in Greenlandic and English.



Monday, July 20, 2009


Today's destination . . .

(click to enlarge)

(John Rasmussen)

I went on a van excursion that got us to some vestigial Viking ruins outside of town. What was particularly striking for me was the lushness of the meadow in which the ruins were located. The buildings of a modern sheep farm, whose herd numbers 2,000, were just a few hundred yards away.



Sunday, July 19, 2009

Prins Christian Sund and Qaqortoq

Today's destinations . . .

Prins Christian Sund from the Weather Station



(Greenland Sagalands)

We went as far as the entrance to Prins Christian Sund, but didn't venture in because of heavy ice. We later heard that a larger ship was more bold, did sail in, and then was stuck for a day, meaning they missed their stop in Qaqortoq.

The Kristina Regina, on the other hand, arrived a bit early at Qaqortoq, leaving ample time to buy postcards and stamps and have a look around. I decided none of the seal fur products (coats, hats, small leathers, doodads) appealed to me, so I gave them a pass. I also skipped the visit to the factory in which the goods are produced. Instead, I took a long walk to a scenic point overlooking the town and the ocean.



Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lindenow Fjord

Today's destination . . .

Ice at Peers Cove and Lindenow Fjord
(Ole Bendixen, 1925)

(Arktisk Institut, Copenhagen)

Unfortunately, there was too much ice in the fjord to allow us to visit, so we just continued steaming south toward Prins Christian Sund, tomorrow morning's destination.



Friday, July 17, 2009

A Day at Sea

Statue of sailors at the Reykjavik harbor

Neither Out Far Nor In Deep

The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be —
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

                              — Robert Frost



Thursday, July 16, 2009

In Reykjavik

I haven't actually seen an Icelandic horse moving with the tölt gait that is unique to the breed, but I hope to have an in-person look eventually.

Icelandic horse performing the tölt

You can watch a 19-second video of a horse moving at an accelerating tölt here.



Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Arrival in Reykjavik

We boarded the Kristina Regina at about 7:30 pm. Some of the passengers will go on an escorted tour of Reykjavik tomorrow. Since I've been in Reykjavik several times previously, I plan to wander around the city independently.

The itinerary for my Greenland cruise
(Kristina Cruises)



Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Helsinki

I have about 24 hours in Helsinki before I join some 200 fellow passengers on a Kristina Cruises charter flight to Reykjavik, which is where we board m/s Kristina Regina.

Poster from the 1940 Olympic Games,
which were cancelled due to World War II

(Harvey Abrams – Books)



Monday, July 13, 2009

Managing Virtual Teams

In the surprisingly fluffy Summer 2009 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review — they seem to have been sucked into the camp that swears by abridgement and abbreviation (the curse of Twitter) — an article I found appealingly substantive addresses the question of how to manage virtual teams.

Authors Frank Siebdrat (Boston Consulting Group, Munich), Martin Hoegl (pdf) (Otto Beisheim School of Management1), and Holger Ernst (Otto Beisheim School of Management) start by discussing the benefits and liabilities of using teams in which members are geographically dispersed.

As summarized in their first exhibit, the benefits (somewhat edited) are:
  • Heterogeneous knowledge resources

  • Utilization of cost advantages

  • Access to diverse skills and experience

  • Knowledge about diverse markets

  • Ability to have people working more or less around the clock because they are in different time zones
The liabilities (somewhat edited) are:
  • Language differences

  • Cultural differences

  • Difficulties in establishing common ground

  • Fewer face-to-face interactions

  • Greater difficulty in achieving good teamwork
The key finding Siebdrat, Hoegl, and Ernst (SHE) report, from their research into the workings of twenty-eight software development teams in Brazil, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, and the US, is that the balance of benefits vs. liabilities tends to favor dispersed teams under certain important conditions.

These conditions are that a team's task-related ("hard") and socio-emotional ("soft") processes be well-managed. SHE report:
  • "[T]hose processes that are directly task-related are the most critical for the performance of dispersed teams. Specifically, virtual teams that had processes that increased the levels of mutual support, member effort, work coordination, balance of member contributions and task-related communications consistently outperformed other teams with lower levels. ... Moreover, dispersed teams that had high levels of task-related processes were notably able to outperform colocated teams with similar levels of those same processes despite the physical separation of their members."

    On the other hand, "dispersion carries significant risks: Those teams with poor task-related processes suffered heavily with increased dispersion."

  • With respect to socio-emotional processes, "organizations must ... ensure that team members commit to the overall group goals, identify with the team and actively support a team spirit." The quality of these processes, in and of themselves, does not differentiate performance of dispersed and colocated teams. However, SHE suggest that building robust socio-emotional processes supports achieving high quality of task-related processes. For example, with good team cohesion, it is probably the case that knowledge is transferred more completely, and conflicts within a team are more readily resolved.
SHE describe five dos and don'ts of managing dispersed teams:
  • Don't underestimate the significance of small distances. E.g., team members located on different floors of the same building actually tend to be less effective and efficient than teams whose members are on the same floor and than teams more widely dispersed. Only teams with members on different continents perform worse on average.

  • Emphasize teamwork skills. This means recruiting people who are inclined to play well with others, and providing training to help team members strengthen their teamwork skills.

  • Promote self-leadership across the team. This is necessary because of the difficulty a designated leader is likely to have in intervening effectively when members of a dispersed team are experiencing conflict or other difficulty. "For a virtual team to succeed, members generally need to be aware of the difficulties of dispersed collaboration and find effective ways to overcome those obstacles on their own." Training can help.

  • Provide for face-to-face meetings. For instance, a project kickoff meeting in which team members are all assembled in one place can make a real difference in how quickly they begin to function effectively.

  • Foster a global culture, a mindset "in which people see themselves as part of an international network. ... [M]anagers and team members need to recognize and frame their company as such, communicating the international nature of the organization's operations and markets."

    SHE cite practices of companies like Nestlé, General Electric, IBM and SAP, such as sending staff on assignments in foreign countries. SHE also suggest providing inter-cultural training. The intended outcome of such measures is "development of diversity-friendly attitudes and the ability to work in different contexts, which in turn help employees cope with the challenges of distance when working on virtual teams."
I'll close by noting that this research, while quite interesting and suggestive, needs replication in order for an organization to draw on its findings and recommendations with full confidence.

1 WHU stands for "Wissenschaftliche Hochschule für Unternehmensführung” — Scholarly/Scientific University for Business Management.


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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Charles Darwin vs. Adam Smith

Robert Frank, a professor of economics and management at Cornell, has a thought-provoking column in today's New York Times. (An earlier version appeared in The Guardian in May.)

Frank contrasts Adam Smith's views of the dynamics of competition with those of Charles Darwin:
Smith’s basic idea was that business owners seeking to lure customers away from rivals have powerful incentives to introduce improved product designs and cost-saving innovations. These moves bolster innovators’ profits in the short term. But rivals respond by adopting the same innovations, and the resulting competition gradually drives down prices and profits. In the end, Smith argued, consumers reap all the gains.

The central theme of Darwin’s narrative was that competition favors traits and behavior according to how they affect the success of individuals, not species or other groups. As in Smith’s account, traits that enhance individual fitness sometimes promote group interests. ...

In other cases, however, traits that help individuals are harmful to larger groups. For instance, a mutation for larger antlers served the reproductive interests of an individual male elk, because it helped him prevail in battles with other males for access to mates. But as this mutation spread, it started an arms race that made life more hazardous for male elk over all. The antlers of male elk can now span five feet or more. And despite their utility in battle, they often become a fatal handicap when predators pursue males into dense woods.

In Darwin’s framework, then, Adam Smith’s invisible hand survives as an interesting special case. Competition, to be sure, sometimes guides individual behavior in ways that benefit society as a whole. But not always.

Individual and group interests are almost always in conflict when rewards to individuals depend on relative performance, as in the antlers arms race. In the marketplace, such reward structures are the rule, not the exception. The income of investment managers, for example, depends mainly on the amount of money they manage, which in turn depends largely on their funds’ relative performance. ...

In cases like these, relative incentive structures undermine the invisible hand. To make their funds more attractive to investors, money managers create complex securities that impose serious, if often well-camouflaged, risks on society. But when all managers take such steps, they are mutually offsetting. No one benefits, yet the risk of financial crises rises sharply.
The solution, Frank argues, is regulation "to reconcile conflicts between individual and collective interests."

Frank, one of several economists who contribute to the Times's weekly "Economic View" column, has received heightened, well-deserved public attention since publication of The Economic Naturalist in Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas in 2007. The book is based on Frank's experience giving beginning economics students plenty of deliberate practice in apply fundamental economic concepts, such as opportunity cost and cost-benefit analysis.

The video below lets you watch the engaging talk about The Economic Naturalist, that Frank gave to Google employees in July 2007.


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Saturday, July 11, 2009

Browser Compatibility Best Practices

The learning aids at developer.com are generally more technical than trainers need for their work, but there is one particular item I've benefited from because it addresses questions I've had concerning how to develop the Streamline Training & Development website in a way that ensures compatibility with all major browsers.

Jeff Ryan, an enterprise architect, has written a tutorial about six printed pages long that explains how the creation and widespread adoption of Web standards has simplified the process of developing a website that will render correctly for visitors using different browsers.

The key portions of Ryan's article for me, and I suspect for other people who are not hardcore software developers, are the sections on best practices and pitfalls.

Ryan describes eight best practices:
  • Use Firefx as the primary browser for development because Firefox adheres closely to W3C standards.

  • In development, periodically test the application in Internet Explorer and other supported browsers. This testing should encompass different versions of the browsers.

  • Use Internet Explorer as the primary browser for quality assurance. This will help catch errors that slipped through the testing done during the development phase.

  • Specify a DOCTYPE to explicitly declare the structure of the webpage. Ryan recommends specifying strict use of HTML or XHTML. "The strict DOCTYPE keeps you honest in adhering to standard and valid markup document structure."

  • Utilize global CSS to separate document structure from presentation and to abstract browser presentation differences.

  • Use third-party libraries in lieu of custom JavaScript code for cross browser support.

  • Utilize Firebug and web developer plug-ins. "It is very easy to inspect and manipulate the structure, presentation and behavior elements of your web page at run time using these tools."

  • Develop a browser compatibility knowledge base. For an individual such as myself, who is doing light-duty web development, this means keeping track of lessons learned in any convenient way that allows easy retrieval and review.
There are three pitfalls that Ryan highlights:
  • Using browser-specific plug-ins (e.g., ActiveX controls). Doing this is obviously asking for compatibility problems.

  • Using code forks. This is an old-fashioned, time-consuming way of catering for multiple browsers that produces hard-to-maintain code.

  • Not considering the implications of any CSS hacks you use. CSS hacks, which take advantage of browser departures from adherence to standards, may be adopted to work around browser compatibility issues. "However, care must be used to ensure they do not create maintainability issues, nor impede behavior in future browser versions."
For me, the bottom line in seeking to understand best practice in achieving browser compatibility for my website is: I end up with pages that my visitors find user-friendly, that have been produced as efficiently as possible, and that can be maintained efficiently.



Friday, July 10, 2009

Coping with Belief Bias

As a follow-on to yesterday's post, and to a post from about three years ago, I'd like to mention the suggestions Mario Moussa and Richard Shell offer for handling situations in which you find yourself trying to get a fair hearing from someone who presents a strong "contrary beliefs" barrier.

In a 2007 interview published by the Conference Board, Moussa observes,
Some people are simply not persuadable because their outlook on a topic falls on an extreme end of an ideology. This is the case with things like abortion. So we suggest trying to find a different belief [perhaps deeper] or point of view around which you can come together. Never go head to head against a core belief that someone holds deeply. It's very rare for people to change such beliefs.
Moussa offers some additional "workarounds" in a 2007 presentation (pdf) he prepared for the Wharton Strategic Persuasion Workshop:
  • Persistence

  • Shift audiences

  • Fly under the radar

  • Aim to advance "one small step"
In the talk (video) Shell gave at Google in February 2008, he recommends reframing the contentious issue in a way that plays down conflict with the other person's firm core beliefs, a suggestion that corresponds to Moussa's recommendation to look for a different point of view that can serve as common ground.

A further point Shell offers is that you can sometimes actually leverage the other person's beliefs in a way that helps the person see their way clear to cooperating with you.


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Thursday, July 09, 2009

Richard Shell on Persuasiveness

The most recent discussion of Richard Shell's views on persuasion that I've come upon is an interview by MoneyWatch.com's Editor in Chief Eric Schurenberg published on July 7. Shell, a professor law and business ethics at the Wharton School, co-authored The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas (2007) with Mario Moussa, a management consultant and co-director of Wharton's Essentials of Management program.1

Schurenberg asks Shell to talk about several central points made in the book, which "is directed specifically at how to be effective at persuading people within a complex organization."

First and foremost is the importance of discerning the other person's point of view and then using that knowledge to shape your approach to persuading the individual that something you're proposing is a good idea. (This principle applies to groups of people as well. You need to be able to determine the general perspective of your audience so that you can design what you say in a way that maximizes the audience's receptiveness.)

A related proposition is that you can't force the other person to change his/her mind. What you can do is remove barriers to the other person's actually hearing what you are trying to get across.

Schurenberg proceeds to step into the other person's shoes and asks about how to resist persuasion. Shell argues,
The best antidote to persuasion is a skeptical attitude. People who get persuaded [to do things they regret] tend to get caught up in ideas that appeal to their self-interest or hold out the promise of a simple solution to a big problem. The best antidote to that is critical thinking.
For a more detailed summary of the The Art of Woo, you can read the article Knowledge@Wharton published at the time the book came out. Key points include the four-step process Shell and Moussa recommend for selling an idea internally:
  1. Polish your idea, and survey the social networks that will get you to decision makers.

  2. Address the barriers to having what you say actually heard. Shell and Moussa call out five barriers as the most common:

    • Contrary beliefs

    • Conflicting interests

    • Negative relationships

    • Lack of credibility

    • Use of a persuasion channel that is a poor fit to the audience and situation (see below)

  3. "Pitch the idea in a compelling way." I.e., the person doing the persuading needs "to figure out exactly what problem their idea addresses, how their idea will solve it and why their idea is better than both the status quo and available alternatives."

  4. Secure both individual and organizational commitments — a largely political process.
Shell and Moussa provde a pair of tools in appendices to The Art of Woo that can help you with self-assessment of your persuasion style and of the channels you tend to use in your efforts to persuade — either because the channels are organizationally expected or because of personal inclination.

The five persuasion styles Shell and Moussa measure in the Persuasion Styles Assessment are laid out in the graphic below.

(click to enlarge)
Source: Mario Moussa (pdf)

Shell emphasizes, "Whatever your style is, it can be effective. It all depends on the fit with the person across the table and the circumstances."

The Six Channels Survey is intended to help Woo readers "understand both how these six channels work and when they should adjust their pitch ... to appeal to different kinds of audiences."2 The six channels are:
  • Authority — emphasis on using formal position or rules.

  • Rationality — emphasis on using reasons.

  • Vision — emphasis on organizational goals, purposes, and aspirations.

  • Relationship — emphasis on liking, similarity, and reciprocity.

  • Interests/Incentives — emphasis on using trades and compromises.

  • Politics — emphasis on managing perceptions and building consensus.
If you have an hour to spare, you can get the basic Shell presentation on influence, persuasion (influence with a goal or point of view), and negotiation (a special case of persuasion in which at least one party believes there is a conflict of interest) by watching a video of the talk Shell gave to Google employees in February of last year. (The talk begins at 3:09.)

1 Shell published an earlier book on negotiation— Bargaining for Advantage : Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People (Penguin, 2006) — that has been quite well-received. The book has gone into a second edition; the first edition, published in 1999, has been translated into 14+ languages.

2 Shell and Moussa have adapted their six persuasion channels from schemas defined by previous researchers, notably, David Kipnis and Stuart Schmidt (see, "Profile of Organizational Influence Strategies," University Associates, San Diego, 1985), and Gary Yukl and Cecilia Falbe (see "Influence Tactics and Objectives in Upward, Downward and Lateral Influence Attempts," Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 75, 1990, pp. 132-140).


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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Discovery-Driven Planning II

A s a follow-on to an earlier post dealing with discovery-driven planning, an approach to developing and executing initiatives involving new markets, products, or services, here is a video in which the developers of the technique, Ian MacMillan of the Wharton School and Rita Gunther McGrath of Columbia Business School, discuss application of the technique in a period in which growth in the economy as a whole is decelerating, or even turning negative.

An edited transcript of the interview is here.

You can find more detail in the book MacMillan and McGrath published in March of this year, Discovery-Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity.


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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

A Study of Google's Prediction Markets

In January of this year, Bo Cowgill (Google, Inc.), Justin Wolfers (Wharton School), and Eric Zitzewitz (Dartmouth College) published the results of their research (pdf) concerning how prediction markets at Google function, both in terms of the accuracy of the predictions generated and in terms of what they tell us about how information moves around the company.

With respect to the accuracy of predictions generated, the question can be rephrased as "How efficient are Google's prediction markets? How reliably do the prices in the markets reflect the actual probabilities of the events the markets are assessing? (An example of an event would be "Gmail having between X and Y users" at the end of the current quarter.)

Cowgill, Wolfers, and Zitzewitz (CWZ) found that the efficiency of Google's prediction markets is somewhat reduced by four biases:
  • Optimism — Participants tended to overestimate the likelihood of outcomes favorable to Google. This was the most pronouced bias CWZ found, and it was particularly strong on and following days when Google stock appreciated.

    Note that this bias "exists entirely in the two categories of contracts where outcomes are most directly under the control of Google employees: company news (e.g., office openings) and performance (e.g., project completion and product quality). Markets on demand and external news with implications for Google are not optimistically biased."

  • Aversion to betting on extreme outcomes — Participants tended to underprice extreme incomes.

  • Attraction to favorites and aversion to longshots — Participants tended to slightly overprice outcomes with short odds, and to slightly underprice outcomes with long odds.

  • Aversion to short selling — CWZ found that returns from purchasing securities (as opposed to selling securities) were negative and statistically significant on average.

    CWZ comment, "As further evidence of short aversion, in order book snapshots collected each time an order was placed, we found 1,747 instances where the bid prices of the securities in a particular market added to more than 1, implying an arbitrage opportunity (from buying a bundle of securities for $1 and then selling the components). In [contrast], we found only 495 instances where the ask prices added to less than 1 (implying an arbitrage opportunity of buying the components of a bundle for less than $1 and then exchanging the bundle)."
In their discussion of these four biases in prices, CWZ note that they were
partly driven by the trading of newly hired employees; Google employees with longer tenure and more experience trading in the markets were better calibrated. Perhaps as a result, the pricing biases in Google’s markets declined over our sample period [second quarter of 2005 to third quarter of 2007], suggesting that corporate prediction markets may perform better as collective experience increases.
With respect to the question of how Google as an organization processes information (more precisely, "information and beliefs about prediction market topics"), CWZ report several findings concerning correlations in trading behavior:
  • Close geographic proximity matters. Market participants "who share an office or whose offices are located within a few feet on the same floor" appear to make correlated trades.

  • Organizational proximity matters. "[T]he single best explanator [of participants' displaying correlated trading] is being within one or two steps on the organization chart (i.e., sharing a manager, being someone’s manager, or being someone’s manager’s manager)."

  • Work history matters. Participants with a history of reviewing each other's code or overlapping on a project also tended to display correlated trading patterns.

  • Social connections — measured in terms of a self-reported professional relationship, self-reported friendship, and the number of overlapping email lists — don't seem to play much of a role in explaining correlated trading.

  • Demographic factors do not seem to play a role in explaining correlated trading.
CWZ close with a caveat:
[O]ur results ... tell us about information flows about prediction market subjects, many of which are ancillary to employees’ main jobs. This may explain why physical proximity matters more than work relationships — if prediction market topics are lower-priority subjects on which to exchange information, then information exchange may require the opportunities for low-opportunity-cost communication created by physical proximity. Of course, introspection suggests that genuinely creative ideas often arise from such low-opportunity-cost communication. Google’s frequent office moves and emphasis on product innovation may provide an ideal testing ground in which to better understand the creative process.


Monday, July 06, 2009

How People Really Make Decisions

An earlier post discussed the work of Nobelist Daniel Kahneman, one of the fathers of behavioral economics, a burgeoning area of research.

Behavioral economics departs from certain fundamental assumptions of neoclassical economics, notably the assumptions that
  • People invariably make rational decisions.

  • Markets are self-regulating.
In an article in the July-August 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review, Dan Ariely, a professor of behavioral economics at Duke University, highlights findings from his research of particular significance for business managers.1

In his article, Ariely is looking to help managers "defend against foolishness and waste" that result from irrational behavior. He focuses on two behavior patterns that he has studied experimentally:
  • Cheating — People on teams tend to engage in mutually reinforced departures from ethical behavior. Managers need to counter this tendency by reminding teams of the organization's ethical requirements, a practice that has been shown to significantly reduce cheating.

  • Revenge — "If someone who works for you upsets a customer — even in ways unrelated to the job — you will very likely pay the price. Even the smallest transgression on the part of an employee can ignite the instinct for strong revenge against the employer, regardless of who is at fault."

    Experiments show that apologizing can significantly dampen the impulse to wreak revenge (assuming the transgression is not repeated to such a degree that the customer decides the apology is insincere). Companies can also monitor sites like Twitter to pick up complaints and respond to them promptly.
Ariely recommends that organizations invest in behavioral experimentation because doing so "can radically improve decision making and lessen risk." He offers several examples, such as running a pricing test for a new product.

Ariely explains that "the goal [of such a test] is not simply to find out the optimal price but also discover how people arrive at a decision to buy at that price." He goes on to caution that a company should "consider also how the introductory price could influence the perception of value for a long time." Think iPhone pricing, which started at $600 and has since come down dramatically.
1 For an extended treatment of Ariely's work, you can see his 2008 book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.


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Sunday, July 05, 2009

Ways of Looking for and Developing Innovations

On June 22, the Wall Street Journal published an article by John Bessant (Imperial College Business School, London), Kathrin Möslein (School of Business and Economics, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, Germany), and Bettina von Stamm (Innovation Leadership Forum, England) outlining nine ways organizations can go about developing ideas for innovative products and services.

The nine approaches Bessant, Möslein, and von Stamm describe are:
  • Building scenarios — "imagine detailed opportunities and threats" for your organization.

  • Soliciting ideas on the WebInnoCentive.com is an example of "a site where people and companies look for help in solving scientific and business challenges." Another is BMW's "Virtual Innovation Agency" site, bmwgroup.com/via.

  • Enlisting lead users — Lead users "tend to be people working in or using products in a specific market who are frustrated by the tools, goods or services currently available and yearn for something better." Bessant, Möslein, and von Stamm cite the example of surgeons offering ideas for altering products so that they better fit the surgeons' needs. Another example is the BBC's site for lead users, Backstage.bbc.co.uk.

  • Doing a "deep dive" — This is the ethnographic approach that I've seen getting increasing attention. It involves "market research that uses detailed, firsthand observation to learn more about consumers' needs or wants."

  • Experimenting — Bessant, Möslein, and von Stamm call this "probe and learn." Your organization undertakes "actively experimenting with new ideas in a new context." The new context is a segment of a market where you are not currently active or strong. The intended outcome of your experiments is insight concerning what this segment finds valuable now, or is likely to find valuable in the foreseeable future.

  • Getting ideas from employees — "For example, the duties of procurement, sales or finance groups can be expanded to include learning about trends they encounter that ordinarily might be considered not of primary interest to the company."

  • Catering to internal entrepreneurs — Some companies, such as 3M and Google, "reserve blocks of time for scientists or engineers [or other employees] to explore their own ideas." Bessant, Möslein, and von Stamm add, "It helps to have an established pathway to make sure the best new ideas get taken forward."

  • Getting departments talking to each other — An approach many companies find effective is setting up communities of practice.

  • Promoting diversity — One approach is to "seek innovation partners with whom [you] wouldn't normally work." Another very important approach is to recruit employees with different life experiences and perspectives.
A complementary issue is how an organization builds its capacity for innovation, a subject you can read about in this post.



Saturday, July 04, 2009

Independence Day 2009

Writing the Declaration of Independence
Jean Leon Gerome Ferris (c. 1932)

"... depicts Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams meeting at Jefferson's lodgings, on the corner of Seventh and High (Market) streets in Philadelphia, to review a draft of the Declaration of Independence."

(Library of Congress)



Friday, July 03, 2009

Three Internal Branding Lessons

On June 22, Morgan Daloisio published a straightforward article at brandchannel.com that extracts lessons for internal branding from the experiences of Virgin Media and Red Hat.

The basic goal is to have your employees effectively represent your brand to your customers. The three lessons Daloisio discusses (somewhat edited here) are:
  • Practice what you preach. "Employees only change their behavior when they see tangible evidence that the brand is infused into the way the business is run." Give priority to "areas of the business with the most power to influence employee behavior," namely, recruiting, training, performance management and incentives, and modeling of appropriate behavior by managers and executives.

  • Ensure brand managers and HR personnel are tight partners. For example, Red Hat formed "a permanent group called 'People + Brand,' which merged brand, design and HR under one executive ..."

  • Take care to create internal communications that engage employees with your brand. Specifically:

    • "View every communication with your employees as an opportunity — embed your brand values in everything employees read and hear."

    • "Find unique and different ways to deliver your brand message to employees."

    • "Be honest, straightforward and timely when communicating with employees. That’s the only way to build trust and belief in the brand and in the company as a whole."
For another perspective on how to handle internal branding, you can see this earlier post on how Loews Hotels Corp structured the training portion of a large-scale branding initiative.



Thursday, July 02, 2009

Sloan Course: "Communication for Managers"

The MIT OpenCourseWare site recently added materials for a Sloan School of Management course in Communication for Managers, taught by Neal Hartman during the Fall 2008 semester.

Though the materials are not complete — lecture notes for nine of the fourteen class meetings are missing — there are a number of items that anyone interested in this particular skill area will find helpful, even if only as a refresher.

I'd suggest starting with the notes for the course wrap-up (pdf), which provide an overview of the principles Hartman emphasizes in the course:
  • Four types of leadership:

    • Visioning.

    • Relating.

    • Inventing.

    • Sensemaking.

  • How to do a situation analysis as the basis for devising a communication strategy:

    • Define your purpose.

    • Analyze your audience.

    • Assess your credibility.

    • Analyze the cultural context.

  • Factors to consider in deciding on your communication strategy:

    • Managerial style — distinguished in terms of writer/speaker control and the degree of audience involvement.

    • Structure of the communication — direct statement of your main points or recommendation, followed by rationale vs. indirect approach that begins with subsidiary points or with arguments that set the stage for your recommendation.

    • Content.

    • Communication channel.

  • Robert Cialdini's six principles of persuasion:

    • Liking — People are inclined to say yes to requests of a person they know and like.

    • Reciprocity — People repay in kind.

    • Social proof — People follow the lead of others who are similar to them.

    • Consistency — In response to personal and interpersonal pressure, people tend to follow through on their clear commitments.

    • Authority — People defer to experts.

    • Scarcity — Opportunities seem more valuable when their availability is limited.

  • The Minto Pyramid (see graphic below, which you can click to enlarge) is a good device for organizing your ideas when you are recommending a change of some sort.

  • Principles of effective design of visual aids:

    • Consistency in formatting.

    • Appropriate titles.

    • Purposeful use of color and special effects.

    • Clear and uncluttered layout.

  • Principles of effective document design:

    • Use of subheads to show structure.

    • Use of lists to highlight important and conceptually parallel information.

    • Use of white space to highlight material and to create transitions through indenting, columns, and lines.

    • In-text highlighting of key words and phrases.

    • Use of tables and graphs to make evidence more legible.

  • Principles of effective cover letters for resumes.

  • Importance of awareness of values and perceptions that differentiate cultures around the world.

  • Developing your ability to listen actively.
Hartman provides several tools to assist you in preparing your written and oral communications, notably a Strategy Checklist (pdf), a Communication Planner (pdf), and a Presentation Planner (pdf).


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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

How to Correct an Incorrect Memory

I was happy to find advice in the July-August issue of Scientific American Mind concerning how to get your brain to forget something you've learned incorrectly, and to substitute in your memory the correct information.

Gordon Bower, a professor of psychology at Stanford, explains that what's involved is memory monitoring — the process of identifying, correcting and averting memory errors.

The key to replacing incorrect information in your memory is "consistent (even silent) correction." Bower explains that it's best to consciously "rehearse" the correct information at spaced intervals (i.e., cramming is not particularly effective).

Bower also suggests, "Building on the correct information can help you learn new associations to it: add something to change how you retrieve the item from your memory." For example:
  • If you're having trouble calling a man's second wife by her own name rather than by the name of his first wife, "You might replace your question 'Name of John’s wife?' with 'Name of John’s second wife?'"

  • To cement correct spellings of words like "weird" and "niece," you can "use an elaboration that contains the accurate information, such as 'We are weird' or 'My niece is nice."

  • If you're having trouble remembering that 7 x 9 is 63, not 65 or some other incorrect amount, "convert 7 x 9 into 7 x (10 – 1) = 70 – 7 = 63. As you practice the elaborated association, the simpler direct association (7 x 9 = 63) eventually replaces the earlier one, which weakens without rehearsals.
Finally, Bower cautions, "Labeling and rehearsing the wrong association (for example, saying to yourself, '7 x 9 is not 63'), ... are distinctly counterproductive."