Category Archives: creating space

The Strategic Importance of Safety

Consider this story from Digital Tonto

In 2012, Google embarked on an enormous research project. Code-named “Project Aristotle,” the aim was to see what made successful teams tick. They combed through every conceivable aspect of how teams worked together — how they were led, how frequently they met outside of work, the personality types of the team members — no stone was left unturned.

However, despite Google’s nearly unparalleled ability to find patterns in complex data, none of the conventional criteria seemed to predict performance. In fact, what they found mattered most to team performance was psychological safety, or the ability of each team member to be able to give voice to their ideas without fear of reprisal or rebuke.

Innovation Starts with Talk Then Moves to Tinkering

Matt Ridley has an interesting idea. Matt thinks that we have radically underestimated the idea of evolution. You can  hear him talk about this below

His thesis is simple. Ideas evolve from the bottom up, not the top down.They do that via exchanges that combine and re-combine technologies. We are fortunate to live in a time when we benefit more and more from those exchanges. And so we see an acceleration of the evolution of ideas.

This can be translated into a vocabulary of activities. The first activity is conversation about challenges or problems. When we nurture these conversations, we create the opportunity to build focus, which can lead to exchanges of the sort we desire. Where we inhibit these conversations, we see have less opportunities.

As an aside, this is why the current spat over “fake news” and “conspiracy theories” is important. They channel attention into dead ends instead of productive uses.   And when we get consumed over fake issues, we stop talking about real ones.

The second activity is tinkering with technologies. Once we see a need, we can start thinking about what types of technologies address the need, both the strengths and weaknesses. We can start talking about how to combine technologies that solve our problem.

Here is an example of how this works. Elon Musk has managed to nurture a conversation about electric vehicles by creating the Tesla. There is now lots of talk about why EV’s are nice and not so nice. And a main focus is on battery technology.  EV’s are less attractive because they take time to charge and cannot go far enough between charges. Also, the car batteries are way to big and heavy.

Some have been distracted by data that shows that the public does not yet consider the EV to be a substitute for gas powered cars. That may be true, but the conversation now is about batteries, not carburetors.

The talk about batteries leads us to consider two technologies.  Supercapacitors charge very quickly. But they do not retain the charge. Batteries charge slowly and do. Can these technologies be combined? Lo and behold, we see talk of “hybrid capacitors”.

My basic point is that we would not likely see the idea for hybriud supercapacitors emerge so quickly if it were not for Tesla and the conversation about batteries.

Takeaway –  if we can understand how to mange the flow of conversation so that it is issue based, we can acceleratethe speed of innovation.

Donald Trump and Political Rhetoric

Donald Trump has defied the odds and won the race to the US presidency. His victory can be explained in any number of ways. But there is one in particular that interests me.

During the campaign, Trump was proven again and again to be full of hot air. His positions on a variety of issues made no sense at all. Worse still, he insulted people. And for these reasons, many very smart people did not take him seriously as a candidate. A major theme of the Clinton camp was that he is “not fit for the office”. But somehow — despite all of his peccadilloes — Trump connected with core voter groups.  In other words, the connection had to overcome a lot of negatives. It had to be powerful.

Where did that power come from? The answer is that no one else was speaking to the folks who fell for Trump. Trump filled a vacuum. And because there was no alternative, folks held their noses and rewarded him.


Which brings me to a basic point about social dialogue. We are often oblivious to situations where we encounter or create a vacuum. The domineering boss, for example, appears to be powerful. And yet, there is a vacuum around him or her.  That may be no problem if the boss “has all the answers”. But it is a major problem if the firm needs creative solutions from the bottom up. And we are learning that the rate of social learning directly correlates with the rate of learning and sharing from the bottom up.

Dave Meslin talks about this in terms of “barriers to engagement”. His point can be reduced to a basic principle. No one wants to be apathetic. But we become that way when we feel excluded from meaningful dialogue. And once we turn off and tune out, we are easily distracted and manipulated by folks promising to include us. It matters not whether their ideas are retarded. It matters a lot that they offer connection when there was none before.  That becomes a barrier to social learning.

So is a social vacuum a symptom of a broken social dialogue?

Stay tuned.

Trump is a Wake Up Call on Social Dialogue

This US presidential election cycle has been unique in many ways. One of them has been the rhetorical tactics of Donald Trump.

Like it or not, one has to admit that Trump has found an audience. While his comments are often divisive and even devoid of logic, certain voters gravitate to him because of the way he speaks to them.

How does this work? How could it be that voters connect with this type of messaging? The answer may be simpler than it appears on the surface.  From BI

Research has shown that since the 1960s, the length of the average news sound bite has shrunk from more than 40 seconds long to about eight or nine seconds. Much of the extra time is now devoted to punditry and analysis of short clips,

Trump exploits this by using divisive nicknames and very simple calls to action. It matters not whether the message is superficial or even nonsense. It breaks through in the 9 second attention span.

That tells us something about ourselves. If we continue down this road, we may find that social discourse becomes more and more difficult. That is sobering.

If this is the problem, what is the solution? What can we do to provide incentives to develop smarter discourse?

Good question. Stay tuned on that one.

A Negotiated Culture

Culture is a bit, big word. It encompasses everything that affects our belief structure.  We might even say that culture is the link we have to community. It is the conversation that either inspires us to closer connection or  pushes us away.

In this sense, it is a negotiation between me as an individual, and the group as community. We negotiated what standards are consistent with the culture we share. And if that negotiation is engaging, culture can be highly creative. If not, it can be destructive.

So how can we enhance culture to bring out its more creative possibilities? Good question.. As far as I understand this challenge, we need to start with an assumption. That assumption is that we have a vision about how to add value. If we have no vision, we are indifferent to what we do. Any road is fine if we don’t know where we are going.

Ok. Let’s assume that we have this vision. Taking Bruno Aziz’s model, we are concerned with 3 aspects of the negotiation

  • is your vision clear?  Clarity is essential to enable focus (setting aside those things that we are not working on)
  • Can you communicate it? Communication is not just about talk, It is also about roles and decision making
  • Do you act in a manner that is consistent with it?  We live  with our decisions, becoming the people we are talking about. Or we are wasting our time.

Bruno then, is obsessed with clarity, communication and consistency. I would add one more value. All negotiations are about forming a story line. That story is only coherent if it is tracked over time. So that we do not forget what has been done and what has been learned by the collaboration.

This last element — the tracking element — is not well defined in modern life. We do, do do, but we do not remember, remember, remember. As a result, we do not learn, learn, learn.


Hot Spot Elements

Hot spots are places where we see unusually large amounts of innovative activity. Silicon Valley is the classic hot spot, though it is not the only one. Over time, folks have taken to copying what goes into a hot spot. Here are a few of those elements

  • problem solving cultural bias this means developing the expertise to see the world in light of skills and knowledge that unlock opportunity)
    • the university is the classic place where we teach this — or are supposed to do so. To make it so, the university must provide a place where credible expertise is built on a regular basis.
    • people with problem solving skills need to be rewarded
  • places for idea generation (strategic thinking that leads to attempts to try new things and build groups around those trials)
  • support to take idea to product or service (support includes community, finance and attention)
  • expertise on scaling ideas (taking an idea to a larger market is not easy)
  • tracking success and learning from failure
  • story lines that strengthen the culture

Kickstart your Career with Training

One of the more interesting trends these days relates to how “work” is changing. In the old days, the world of work was pretty well fixed. One found a job that started him or her on a career track. And one hoped that with high levels of job performance, the employer would offer the tools to get ahead — including, but not limited to mentoring and training.

Employers still want great workers. But employer needs are changing. They are looking for different things that they used to. More precisely, they are looking for technical knowledge and soft skills. And with a more rapidly changing workplace, employers are less able to guarantee that they can offer you the knowledge and skills that you need to get ahead in your career.

Here is an example. A statement from the CEO of ProtoLabs on who they want to hire.

(we recognize) how important STEM fields are within manufacturing today, and it’s why Proto Labs actively reaches out to college grads who may not be familiar with the current state of manufacturing — a tech-driven industry that is undergoing a digital renaissance

This is a brave new world. And targeted training will play a greater role to upgrade worker skills sets and knowledge bases for workers to fit in. That may be for entry level technical positions. And it may be for ongoing skills development.

Where will you get this? Good question.  Probably not from your school or university. Academics are not that well connected to the above world of work. We are talking about a private intermediary who is networking with employers and offering programming for workers.

I will be searching for the best of these around the globe and bring back reports as I go.

Stay tuned!

Mars as MacGuffin

Right. So NASA found water on mars. Does that mean that we should try to go there? Isn’t it enough to send robots there?

Al Wenger offers an argument for going. The main point is that colonizing mars would start a new storyline. It would help us understand certain aspects about who we are that are hard to understand while we stew in our own juices here on earth.

Whether you agree with Al or not, you should agree that we need strong storylines to see us through the next time periods. If we do not create them, we allow a dangerous vacuum to form. And in that vacuum, others will develop their own stories that may not be constructive. Isn’t that what terrorism is?

Repeat after me “I don’t know”

As Lafley & Martin tell us, strategic thinking starts when we admit that we do not know the answer to a question. Indeed, it is likely that at that given moment and with the limited resources at hand, it is not possible to know the right answer.

And yet, we resist accepting that it is ok not to know. We want to give the answer (the so called “magic bullet”) that solves the problem that stares us in the face.

But learning starts with questions. not with memorized answers. Teachers know that. At least the good ones do.