16 December 2010

Leave governments away from the Green negotiations and treaties

Copenhagen, Cancun, Rio, etc are all very nice places to visit and to have a conference about climate change, reducing emissions and going green, but doesn't it sound just like a huge waste of time (and greenhouse emissions by all these planes flying to these conferences) when they never get to a binding agreement to be followed?

Some might argue that it doesn’t, because there is some forward movement and by discussing it, governments start to think about it. This is completely right, but on the other hand, I still find that if we rely on governments (which are protectionists of their own economy by design) we will discuss until we are wearing bathing suits inside a boiling swimming pool until we reach a binding decision.

And for you not to call me an half-assed problem oriented guy, here is my solution: get the biggest companies in the world (that are in one way or another already committed to get green) together and sign binding agreements about reducing emission, not buying from suppliers that don’t follow a certain standard, sharing green technology, etc. This would be a huge PR for those companies who opt in (gaining the consumer good will, thus the money on their wallets) and it could have a domino effect: once the big ones are in, the 2nd bigger ones have to adhere to compete, then the medium companies and finally the smaller enterprises.

Naive plan?

13 December 2010

Gamefying business decisions - now we are talking!

The need to predict the future, as exciting as it sounds, crops up in corporate life in terribly mundane ways. Case in point: large videogame companies need to know where to put their marketing dollars many months before they complete their games. Inevitably, some games will be stinkers, hardly worth the investment of an ad campaign. But how do you know which ones?
Here's how one very large videogame company used to guess the answer: its marketing people would predict the score their games in progress would garner on the website Metacritic, which aggregates game reviews. But why would the marketing people know more than the game's developers?
Three years ago, a startup called Crowdcast suggested a different tactic. Why not take hundreds of your lowliest employees, the ones in the trenches who are actually making and testing these games, and ask them what they think the Metacritic scores will be? Better yet, why not give them each $10,000 in play money and ask them to bet on the outcome? Let them accumulate a pot of pretend wealth if they're right. Turn game marketing prediction into, well, a game.
To the executives' delight, the employees' Metacritic predictions turned out to be 32 percent more accurate. More disturbingly, their accuracy was inversely proportional to their place in the hierarchy. The closer you got to the C-suites, the less of a clue you had—and the lower your pretend wealth in Crowdcast's game.
That embarrassing factoid might explain why this particular videogame company, like many Crowdcast customers, wants such stories to remain anonymous. "It's kind of experimental," explains Mat Fogarty, Crowdcast's sardonic British CEO, "and it may undermine the credibility of their awesome management."
Indeed, anonymity and uncomfortable revelations in the boardroom are Crowdcast's stock-in-trade. The San Francisco startup already boasts clients and partners as diverse as Hallmark, Hershey's, and Harvard Business School. It is built on the back of years of research into how internal prediction markets work. In such a market, managers ask employees questions about the future of their product and let them bet on the answers, without knowing who bet what. The results can be scarily accurate.
In September, Crowdcast ran a prediction market for a large American car company, one that normally runs its designs for new autos through a car clinic—a lengthy and expensive kind of focus group of buyers. Crowdcast's project involved asking engineers and factory supervisors what they thought the outcome of the car clinic would be.
Forty questions were in front of these ground-floor experts at any given time during the market. For example: What percentage of buyers will list this car's dashboard as its most important feature? The trial market was so accurate that the car company will be trying another in January. The auto giant now has a new way to cut costs: use these predictions markets instead of expensive car clinics at least a third of the time.
Crowdcast calls the space it's in "social business intelligence" rather than crowdsourcing. "Within your organization, there are people who know true future outcomes and metrics," says Leslie Fine, Crowdcast's chief scientist. "When is your product going to ship? How well will it do? Normally, crowdsourcing asks for creative content. We're asking for quantitative opinions."
Put that way, it sounds a lot more respectable than "get your employees to play a kind of fantasy football with sales and shipping dates." But make no mistake—that's actually what Crowdcast does. That used to be a hard sell, Fogarty admits: "It seemed weird to be talking about playing games at work and using Monopoly money." 

From MIT's Technology Review.

08 December 2010

Gamefication: it’s time to use in complex gadgets

Not all gadgets are magically intuitive like the Nintendo Wii or an iPhone. Some tend to be rather complex, like for example the DSLR cameras (for the ones not versed into photographer’s jargon: those digital cameras, semi- or professional, with lenses that can be removed and changed and have more regulation possibilities). Today they are made to operate quite automatically (just like a point and shoot – or “normal” digital camera), but if you get a camera like this, HOPEFULLY you want to do more than pointing and shooting.

The thing is: those DSLR cameras are complicated. The interface is not so intuitive. I just got one of these cameras and I spend the night juggling with menus and buttons until I managed to know the basics of operation. And I am not a complete amateur: I used SLRs before and I understand the basics about focus, aperture, shutter speed and such. It took me “only” 3 hours to know the very BASICS, and only because I knew what I was looking for. If you don’t know where to start (most people who never handled a SLR camera), I imagine this would be so frustrating you would actually just use it as a point and shoot camera.

Finally the point of this post: if you use tutorial level game mechanics, you could solve this with a simple CD or website. Imagine you open this camera website and it teaches you step by step how to mount the lenses on the camera and insert the batteries (then it obviously give you some % completion status bar progress). Then it teaches you how to take a point and shoot picture (congrats, you qualified to upload your pictures and participate in this months amateus photo contest). Then how to regulate the shutter to create frozen or movement images (Congrats, you get 10 points to vote in others people’s pictures). Then how to wide or narrow the field of depth. Then timer. Then manual focusing. Then using or not flash. Etc etc etc until you get to the really advanced stuff. Imagine also if you could share your tutorial level first pictures and vote for the best ones of the month and then get some gift! Or even just a badge of honor as good photographer.

Please, gamefy my experience so I can have fun while learning something complicated. Just like a game, teach me the basics and then challenge me bit by bit until I am fairly confident in handling it. When companies which should in theory be full of nerds will use game mechanics instead of 300 page manuals?

07 December 2010

Rework - book review

Rework is a smart book with an uncommon business logic, very little jargon and a lot of personal experience from the founders of 37 Signals. They challenge everything, from the need of being big (they don’t want to be) to doing more than the competition to win market (they preach their products do LESS, so the niche market who wants simpler stuff will choose them).

The book is well written, smart and interesting, but, sincerely, doesn’t quite pack a punch. Lots of good advices and personal sharing is nice, but in the end, it seems it lacks “substance”. Maybe the book is too superficial, I am not quite sure. Probably I am just comparing it with my favorite last books (which were very in depth and useful for me to take action, while this one is interesting, but I don’t see it as so useful).

Or maybe it is just that I am naturally more aligned with a “strange” way of working, like the belief that meetings should only involve the people necessary and should be as short as possible. 

My final comment: for the buzz it received, I was expecting more.

Or am I wrong? Anybody out there that used Rework to fundamentally change the way you/your business work?

03 December 2010

Why Groupon sucks (for businesses)

For the ones out of Earth (or at least out of the net), Groupon is a website that offers local deals for a limited amount of time if a minimum number of people buy it. Example: a burguer restaurant offering 60% of if 100 people buy the discount. There are loads of websites just like Groupon, but this was the first (or the first to become really popular, I am not sure).

While this is cool for customers, it sucks for (most) businesses.

It sucks because if you need to cut prices to get customers, your value proposition is probably not great. There is always someone who can make things cheaper. This leads to the race to the bottom, as very well explained by Seth Godin - a spiral of death.

For most business, the effect of Groupon is: 1 - lots of people come, 2 - you get less profit this time because you sell cheaper than normally, and 3 - they never come back (unless there is a new Groupon offer).

There are only 2 business types that can benefit from Groupon:

Walmart like giants that have enough buck to back their business model of selling cheap stuff to loads of people. (But anyway, if you are a Walmart like giant you don’t need Groupon).

The 2nd type is if your product/service is so awesome (yet maybe unknown/untried) that people would come back to buy more (subscription based definitely is a plus). World of Warcraft, the addictive subscription based online game, is this kind of business (and they used promotions much before Groupon anyway). This businesses of the 2nd type are just like drugs: you give a good deal today, so the customer will pay more later for the same product.

For all the rest of businesses (including you, cheap and unremarkable burger restaurant), Groupon is just a waste of profit masked as a nice cash inflow.

Update: a quote from an article in HBR:
In my study sample of 150 businesses that ran Groupon promotions between June 2009 and August 2010, 42% said they would not run a Groupon promotion again. Their main reasons were that a significant proportion of Groupon redeemers are extremely price sensitive, barely spending beyond a discounted product's face value. Not surprisingly, repeat-purchase rates at full price were also low — just 13% — for these businesses.

17 November 2010

"Retail Is War Without Blood": What Foot Locker's CEO Learned in the Army

Ken Hicks, the CEO of Foot Locker, formerly the president and chief merchandising officer of J.C. Penney's, graduated from the United States Military Academy and spent six years in the army just after the Vietnam War. HBR talked to Ken about how his time as a young officer prepared him for a career as a retail executive.

Tell me about a couple of things you learned from your military experience that have made you a more effective CEO.
When I took over my artillery battery, at age 25, I could shoot a cannon better than any of my section chiefs. And I had six guns. The only problem is, I could only shoot one gun at a time. I realized that what I had to do was train my section chiefs to be better cannoneers than I was. Because shooting 18% of the battery isn't going to be effective. And my job really wasn't to shoot a cannon, it was to develop an entire artillery battery.

So I learned that you're very dependent on your people to be their best. You train and develop and motivate them. People think in the army that you tell somebody to do something and they do it, and that's far from the truth. They actually have more options and pressures that can be very intense. Think about it — if somebody in Afghanistan screws up, they get sent back home. If they don't, they stay in combat.

To be a successful leader, you have to understand what skills are required and be competent at them, and you also have to have confidence. Sometimes people mistake confidence for leadership, or competence for leadership, but it takes both of them together.

Do you see any connections between how the military and the retail industry operate?
In retail and the military, you're very dependent on the people at the front or the selling floor. You realize how important the sale associate is. It's the same thing in the army; you're very dependent on your privates and specialists, and so you talk with them and learn from them. Six or eight months after I'd left J.C. Penney's, I was in a Penney's store looking at some merchandise, and an associate recognized me and came running across the floor to say hello. She remembered me because I'd treated her with respect and listened to her. That's what you have to do to inspire people. The people on the selling floor, just like the cannoneers, the gunners, and the infantry, are the ones who make everything happen.

How do you stay connected to frontline employees, besides going out and talking to them?
Recognition. I send out a little note card every month to the employees who perform best, thanking them for doing a good job. If you think about the military, people are willing to give their life in defense of the country and their friends, and what do they get for it? They get a ribbon on their chest. Everybody thinks recognition needs to be a big bonus or a promotion. It really doesn't. What you learn in the military is people do their work because they trust and respect you and they want you to be able to recognize them for that. I send out these cards and the next thing you know, they frame them and put them on the wall in their stores or their cubicles because it's important to them.

What else has made you successful as a senior leader?
Learning and studying each situation. When I was in the Army I had the opportunity to have lunch a couple of times with Omar Bradley. Here's a guy from history who led troops across Europe and commanded the war in Korea, and people would always ask him, who is the greatest general you served with? And he would say the greatest field commander was Patton. That's because Patton did his homework, he studied the map, and he knew where the enemy was going to be and where they needed to go. It's the same in business. You have to study the numbers and constantly try to understand where the opportunities are and how you can go after them.

I've got on my wall in my conference room the principles of war. And each of the principles of war apply in business. For example, mass: don't spread your troops out, don't spread your resources too thin. Unity of command: know who's in charge, who has responsibility and who doesn't. Security: don't be surprised, study the competition, know what's happening. I worked with a retailer who said, "Retail is war without blood." You study and spend a lot of time understanding the competition's situation. You learn not to overreact.

How do you communicate a clear mission?

You have to constantly reinforce it, so people always know why you're doing what you're doing: we're going after this because of that. Then people know why they're there and what they need to focus on and what they should do. You can empower them. One of the differences between our army and the Soviet army was that our tanks all had radios; every tank could communicate with every other tank. You could see the difference that made in mock battles. In the Russian army, the tank commander had a radio, and the platoon leaders, and all the other tanks just followed the leader and did whatever the leader wanted. If something happened to the leader's tank or they were lost, they didn't know what to do.

I assign a lot of projects to people and say, here's what we want to accomplish. You're the lead; you have responsibility. You bring the resources to bear, and let's accomplish it.

You're in a pretty volatile industry. How have you adjusted the way that you go about planning to take into account the rapid nature of change?
Constant communication and watchfulness. When I was in the army I was in a cavalry regiment, and one of the cavalry's jobs is to go out and scout. I send people out to our competitors' stores all the time. We look at the competition, the press, any venue we can think of where we will see new ideas and new things.

by This post is part of an HBR Spotlight examining leadership lessons from the military.

12 November 2010

4 ways to make people believe you

Credibility takes a life-time to build and a moment to lose - it is hard to believe the auditing skills of an Enron auditor. Credibility is also domain specific - you might trust your mom in several areas, but if she is not a surgeon, you probably wouldn’t trust her to perform a brain surgery on you (you probably wouldn’t trust your mom on dressing advice also). But, besides those extreme examples, there are ways to make your communication more credible. How to make people believe you?

1- The Sinatra test

“If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere else”, goes the song from Sinatra (thus the “Sinatra test”).  What this means if that if you can do something (like succeed in New York), this means that we can believe you will do well anywhere else. If you are an engineer hired by Google, probably you would be also by other tech companies. If your blender can blend an iPad, probably it can blend any food you manage to put in it. If you catered in the White House, probably you qualify for catering anywhere. So if you have examples that might look like a Sinatra test, use it.

I know most catering companies never did or will cater in the White House, but think on your turf: did you cater on the local town hall or for a local star rich entrepreneur ? So probably you can do great anywhere in the city.

2 - Add details, even when they are irrelevant

University of Michigan researchers ran a simulated trial where 2 groups of jurors were asked to assess the fitness of a mother to keep her 7 year-old son in her care. Each group heard the same carefully balanced arguments for and against the mother. One group however was given some vivid detail for the supporting arguments. As an example, one favorable argument was that the mother ensured her son washed and brushed his teeth before bed-time. In the vivid detail version they added "He uses a Star Wars toothbrush that looks like Darth Vader". The additional details were purposely irrelevant to the argument.

The impact? 6 out of 10 of the jurors hearing the vivid version of the favorable arguments judged the mother to be suitable, while only  4 out of 10 of the jurors who heard the vivid version of the unfavorable arguments judged the mother to be suitable. The irrelevant vivid details had a big impact! The explanation is that what you can picture vividly in your mind will look like closer to the truth.

3 - Give out the testing credentials

NBA rookies have a lot of young horny girls around them. If you are a young NBA rookie, it’s quite easy to get carried away and screw every single lady that compliments your size. To try to avoid rookies to get AIDS and get rustled by ladies who want to get pregnant and get their money every rookie attend an “intro to the league” seminar. There, the league could tell the NBA rookies that they should protect themselves because of AIDS and pregnancy, but that wouldn’t work (the common sense is also obvious, they probably would know this already – but knowing doesn’t lead to action). So instead they planted some very “dressed to kill” ladies at the conference hotel bar without the rookies knowing they were planted by the league. They made plans to meet with the ladies after the conference and so on. The next morning, all the ladies entered the conference room and announced: we all have AIDS. Boom, the rookies got it, they were this close to having sex with someone that had AIDS, they should better protect themselves. By allowing people to test something themselves, it makes it much more credible.

Another example is the “will it blend?” videos. You can see the blender doing its work and blending iPhones, iPads and whatever people put in there. This is already very credible because you can see it, but it is completely credible because you can test yourself. Get the freaking blender and put stuff there and see if it blends or not. The same way you can test other blenders and see if they are up for the test or not. It is very credible to test it yourself.

An old use of test credentials? Enter a clothes store, get what you want and try it on, look on the mirror, check for yourself if it is good or not. What would you believe more, your own judgment after you put the pants on in front of the mirror or that pushy sales clerk that, before you even try, is already saying that will look amazing on you?

4 - Make statistics accessible

Lots of people go for the “I will show you the data” approach to gain credibility. It doesn’t work so straightforward because, well, we are human beings. But statistics are great if used correctly: that being, making the statistics tangible to people.

If I tell you US and Russia have 28,000 nuclear warheads, well, it looks like a huge number, but how huge? We cannot picture it because it’s too big (and remember the example above of the Darth Vader toothbrush: if you can’t picture, it is less credible). The nonprofit Beyond War would arrange "house parties" in which a group of friends and neighbors would assemble to hear about the dangers of nuclear weapons. The organizer from Beyond War always brought a steel bucket and BBs (those small metal balls used as ammunition in air guns). He would drop one in - it would make a distinct sound - and say it was the power of the bomb at Hiroshima. He then described the devastation of this bomb. Then he'd drop 10 BBs into the bucket: This is the fire power of one U.S. or Soviet nuclear submarine. Then he had attendees close their eyes: He poured 5,000 BBs into the bucket saying it was today's arsenal of nuclear weapons. The point here is that in any statistic it doesn’t matter the exact number (who cares if it is 5, 10 or 50 thousand? It is too big number to picture), but the relationship used to make this number concrete to the audience.

Stephen Covey has a great example that emphasizes teamwork in his writings. He once tried to give the dry statistics: Only 37% of employees had a clear idea of their mission, only one in five was enthused etc. He got more impact when he mapped this onto a soccer team: "If a soccer team had this same statistics as those, only 4 out of 11 would know where their goal was ... etc."

This and much more appears on Made to Stick, an outstanding book about building messages that stick to people’s brains.

10 November 2010

We all want to be young

A great movie made by Box 1824 (a Brazilian research center on youth consumer and behaviour trends) on what is to be young. If you are somehow involved in communication, advertising, marketing or even lead young people, that is a must see.

We All Want to Be Young (leg) from box1824 on Vimeo.

09 November 2010

Gamefication 101 with Gabe Zichermann

It's not about games, but about using game-like mechanics to make things better (one old example of gamification is the "collect 10 coffee stamps, get one free" or similar). From Foursquare to Farmville and from Nike to the Navy, game mechanics like points, badges, levels, challenges, rewards and leaderboards are being used in ever greater numbers. But what does this mean for "traditional" marketing & UI/UX and how do you leverage this trend in your engagement strategy? Moreover, how do we measure success, and why will every company have a Chief Engagement Officer in the next few years? Find out more in this in-depth discussion with Gamification Expert, Gabe Zichermann - author of "Game-Based Marketing" and the Gamification.co blog, and Chair of the Gamification Summit.

08 November 2010

7 ways games reward the brain (TED Talk)

Smart TED Talk that looks like is about videogames, but it is in fact about our brains and what are the most important game mechanics (such as leveling up and probability of reward) that could be applied to the real world in business, government, education, to fight global warming, etc.

Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain.

What would happen if you used game mechanics outside of games, such as in education and the business world? Can you imagine a game based workplace?

05 November 2010

Decision making paralysis in AIESEC Norway

This post will only make sense if you read the post about decision making paralysis.

When I was president of AIESEC Norway (…) we were not doing so good in our main types of sales: bring exchange students to work in companies and send Norwegian students to work abroad. Then we kind of intuitively narrowed the options for students to go on exchange – instead of promoting that they could go literally anywhere, at any point in time and to do all kinds of different jobs (which is true from the AIESEC product point of view), we started promoting around 5 specific countries, with a specific timeframe for the exchange and more or less set job (better defined, but not amazingly clear).

The result was that much more people made de decision and our numbers grew. Still there were a whole bunch of people that decided not to go on exchange, even after being accepted in the program. If I am not mistaken the number was quite high, like at least half of them, usually when they needed to pay and really decide  to go on exchange in definitive.

On the corporate sales we never managed to solve the problem, but I heard that today they are doing much better than before. Their approach? As I understand, they are specifying better the product (not anymore “any type of student, with any background, any time…” you get the picture). Now they are segmenting type of exchange (market expansion, IT, volunteer work, etc) and time (summer, winter…)

Both approaches clearly are tapping into the problems seen on the decision making paralysis post. And I think that both can be even better tailored to overcome even better the decision making paralysis. For example, giving even less choice to students in terms of job description and length of exchange (2 things that are more or less still very adaptable and susceptible to decision making paralysis due to too many good options).

04 November 2010

Changing Education Paradigms - AKA Sir Ken Robinson animated

Brilliant speech and brillent execution with cool stop-motion animations. It touches how schools serve only the industrial revolution model, how ADHD is not an epidemics, how scientists proved that most (98%) of kids are genius in being creative and how the same kids lose their edge after the educational system and much more cool stuff. Watch and learn:

03 November 2010

Could companies charge job applicants?

“If you click the ‘apply to this position’ button, your credit card will be charged $50,00”.

I never saw this, but I was wondering if companies that have an attractive brand could in fact charge job applicants as a way to reducing irrelevant applications, reducing the number for brands that get so many applications it becomes too resource demanding to sort all applications and, of course, help recruitment become a revenue stream, not only a cost center.

I am not talking about Average John Co., but to well known brands, like Google, Microsoft, Accenture, McKinsey and so on. I understand that looks too crazy, but also saying that the Earth was round was completely insane.

Would that make any sense to a company to do? Would it affect the employer brand? Could it have any positive effect?

02 November 2010

Linchpins are Sticky

If you are a frequent reader of this blog, you know I loved 2 books recently: Linchpin and Made to Stick. But even though they deal with different stuff, they have a common overall theme: being remarkable. Linchpin is about being remarkable and Made to Stick is about making ideas remarkable. Both deal with being remarkable in different ways, but a common trait of both is the “unexpected” as worth remembering. Break people’s guessing machine and the situation/story/person sticks to their minds.

I talked to hundreds of people in call centers, 99,9% of them were terrible, making me just to kill myself: the idiot waiting music, the robotic voice, the script that doesn’t fit with my question… last month I called the corporate travel booker of American Express, I was having some troubles to login, since it was my first time using it. The person that got my call was not only sounding genuinely human, she helped to solve my problem AND translated a document from Norwegian to English so I could understand better myself. An remarkable linchpin I will never forget – it broke my guessing machine by being human and by taking the extra mile of translating a small reference guide so I could learn.

Making ideas stick follow the same principle, one of the ways to make ideas stick is the unexpected. So there is no surprise when Made to Stick is full of linchpin stories, like :

A flight attendant that cracked jokes on the obligatory safety announcements, something like “If I could have your attention for a few moments, we sure would love to point out these safety features. If you haven’t been in an automobile since 1965, the proper way to fasten your seat belt is to slide the flat end into the buckle. To unfasten, lift it up on the buckle to release it. And as the song goes, there might be 50 ways to leave your lover, but there are only six ways to leave this aircraft: 2 forward exit doors, 2 over-the-wing removable windows, and 2 aft exit doors. The locations of each exit is clearly marked with signs over-head, as well as red and white disco lights along the floor of the aisle. Made ya look!”

Or an army cook that runs a mess hall in Iraq that, with the same supplies as any other US army kitchen, made military people drive hundreds of kilometers (even through zones considered dangerous) to eat his food. Suddenly the person responsible for the deserts starts saying that her cakes are “sexy” (how unexpected is “sexy” and “army food” in the same phrase?) If you talk to the cook who manages the whole stuff, he doesn’t say his role is to cook, no, he is in charge of the morale.

Key take-away: if you break people’s guessing machines, break the pattern, do something unexpected, they will remember you and/or your idea. The only thing you have to take care is to make unexpected for the sake of being unexpected. People will remember you if you are presenting a business idea and suddenly you take off your clothes, but while that does help you get remembered, people will remember the wrong stuff (that crazy guy who took off his clothes), not the business idea. So the unexpectedness has to be connected to the point you are trying to convey.

01 November 2010

Simple messages that stick: use schemas people already know

One of the ways to ensure a message sticks and is comprehended is to explain it with knowledge people already know (schemas). For example: most people don’t know what is an açaí. I can describe it in 2 ways:

1) The fruit, a small, round, black-purple drupe about 1 inch (25 mm) in circumference, is produced in branched panicles of 500 to 900 fruits. The açaí fruit has a single large seed about 0.25–0.40 inches (7–10 mm) in diameter. The exocarp of the ripe fruits is a deep purple color, or green, depending on the kind of açaí and its maturity. The mesocarp is pulpy and thin, with a consistent thickness of 1 mm or less. It surrounds the voluminous and hard endocarp, which contains a seed with a diminutive embryo and abundant endosperm. The seed makes up about 80% of the fruit.


2) Açaí is a fruit that looks like a darker purple grapes and its taste and consistency is more like a berry.

The first description is exactly what the Curse of Knowledge does to people: when you are a specialist in the subject, you want to be accurate. Accurate, yes, understood, no. Isn’t it a too high price to pay?

Using schemas, on the other hand, is not accurate, like the 2nd description, but it is easier to understand. Schemas are what people already know (you know what is “fruit”, “purple grapes” and “berry”, so it is easier to picture.

Have you ever tried to follow a recipe that said something “stir until you get a good consistency”. What the hell is a good consistency? Tell me how many minutes to stir this! Or simply use a schema I already know “stir until the consistency feels like hot mashed potato”.

A famous example of schemas are the high level concept Hollywood pitches: a one phrase that explains the movie. For example, Speed’s high level pitch was “Die Hard on a bus”. Bingo, you get the picture of what the movie will be about, which actors to chose, which director to pick - it is easy to understand because I already know Die Hard, this allows me to make the right decisions.

Another example of schemas are analogies that can be extrapolated. At Disney, for example, they call their employees “cast members”. If they are cast members, not employees, there is a range of assumptions you can make:

- Cast members don’t interview for a job, they audition for a role
- It's not an uniform, it's a costume
- Walking around in the park is being “on stage”
- People visiting Disney are guests, not customers

Just with a simple analogy, Disney make sure that no employee is smoking dressed in a Pluto costume or is just being random at the park, because you wouldn’t be random on stage during a play or you wouldn’t go smoking in your theater costume clothes.

If you want to make messages understood, make it simple: use schemas and analogies that people are comfortable with.

This and much more appears on Made to Stick, an outstanding book about building messages that stick to people’s brains.

29 October 2010

Decision making paralysis - how it happens and how to avoid

In 1954 an economist called L. J. Savage described a principle of human decision making that he called the “sure-thing principle”. He illustrated the sure-thing principle as follows: a businessman is looking to buy a piece of land. There is an election coming soon and he believes that its outcome could be relevant to the attractiveness of the purchase. So to clarify what he is going to do, he thinks through both scenarios: if Republican wins, I will buy the land. If the Democrats win, he also decides to buy the land. Seeing that in both scenarios he would benefit from the purchase, he goes there and buy the land anyway before the elections. Sounds pretty much obvious and few would actually fuss around with that logic – but two psychologists did fuss with it, and what they discovered is that people can take rather irrational decisions when there is uncertainty or too much complexity.

Amos Tversky and Eldar Shafir published a paper proving that the “sure-thing principle” was not always so sure thing. They uncovered situations where the mere existence of uncertainty made people take decisions in a different way – even though the uncertainty was irrelevant to the outcome, like in the businessman land purchase.

Imagine the following situation: you have been studying hard as hell to pass a final exam, which you just completed (a few weeks before the Christmas holidays). You have been studying for weeks for this damn exam, and it is finally over! You have to wait for 2 days to get the exam results back. Meanwhile, you see the opportunity to buy a vacation package to Hawaii at a real bargain price. Here are your three options: a) you can buy it today, b) you can pass it today) or c) you can pay 5 dollars to lock the price for 2 days, which would allow you yo make your decision after you got the grade. What would you do?

You may want to check the result of the exam before (as most of the participants in the research did). Then the 2 psychologists removed the exam uncertainty for other 2 groups of participants: one group was told they passed the exam, the other group was told they failed the exam. The ones told they passed, 57% chose to buy the trip (it is a nice celebration) and the ones who failed, 54% chose to go to the trip (it’s good to recuperate from all the stress). The key take-away: both who passed and failed wanted to go to Hawaii.

Now the twist: the ones, like you, that didn’t know how they did in the exam, 67% of them chose to pay 5 dollars to lock the price and wait for 2 days. Wait a minute, if you pass you go to Hawaii, if you don’t pass you go to Hawaii, but if you don’t know… you wait and see (!?) That’s really not like the “sure-thing principle” should work, eh? It is exactly like if the businessman would have waited to see the results of the election, even though he wanted to buy the land if any of the candidates would win.

This shows that uncertainty, even when irrelevant, can paralyze us in a way to not make a decision.

Another proved decision making paralysis when you have too much choice. In another research, a group of students were faced with 2 choices: a) attend a lecture by an author you admire and who is visiting your university just this afternoon, or b) go to the library to study.

Studying looks like a bad idea, compared to the author, so only 21% of the people actually chose to go to the library. But, would the results differ if you would add a third choice: c) watch a foreign movie that you have been wanting to see? Guess what, with the 3 choices, than 40% of the students decide to… go the library (that’s double the first amount). So, giving the students 2 good alternatives to studying, bizarrely, makes it less likely that they would chose either. So much for rational human beings.

How to avoid decision making paralysis in business (besides, of course, to have less options and no uncertainty)?

Prioritization. I know that is abstract and in theory is easy: you get what is critical and prioritize it over what is nice. But quoting Yogi Berra: “in theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not”. And that is where the business strategy has to be an sticky message, striped to its CORE and that enables employees to act upon it. Read “With more freedom to take own decisions, the ground level will follow orders better (?)” on strategy messages that enable employees to act.

But one example about messages that enable people to act: Ryanair, I don’t know anything about their messages, but I imagine that they want simply to be the lowest cost airline ever or something. So imagine they made a survey with their customers that revealed that customers would like a free snack in each flight. Then the top executives look at the survey and they have a decision to make: should we listen to our customers and put the free snack or not? It is quite easy to get lost in the “customer is always right” and bla bla bla, but in the end, will giving a free snack make Ryanair be the lowest cost airline ever? No. So the decision is simple: ignore the customer, no free snack.

Decision making paralysis also appears on Made to Stick , an outstanding book about building messages that stick to people’s brains.

28 October 2010

Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education (Documentary)

Free to Learn is a 70 minute documentary that offers a "fly on the wall" perspective of the daily happenings at The Free School in Albany, New York. Like many of today's radical and democratic schools, The Free School expects children to decide for themselves how to spend their days.

The Free School, however, is unique in that it transcends obstacles that prevent similar schools from reaching a economically and racially diverse range of students and operates in the heart of an inner-city neighborhood.

For over thirty years in perhaps the most radical experiment in American education, this small inner-city alternative school has offered its students complete freedom over their learning. There are no mandatory classes, no grades, tests, or homework, and rules are generally avoided. As a last resort, rules are created democratically by students and teachers, often at the prompting of a student. At a time when our educators are mandated to march forward with no child left behind, the students of the Free School, many of whom would have fallen through the cracks of today's failing public school system, have managed to slip out of education's back door and have run away free.

Free to Learn follows a handful of these children courageously meeting the daily challenges of hope, acceptance, loss, friendship, conflict, and the difficult task of deciding, for themselves, what to do with each day.

Free to Learn: A Radical Experiment in Education from Isaac Graves on Vimeo.
Via: Education Revolution

I would call The Free School a linchpin school, a place where there are no factory workers being raised, where influence is more important then authority and problem solving is the key to get an A+ (as if they had any grading system).

25 October 2010

With more freedom to take own decisions, the ground level will follow orders better (?)

It may sound countersense, but let’s talk about one of the most hierarchical organizations ever: the US military.

The military is (thankfully) not the kind of organization where you want individuals using a lot of their common sense to decide what to do next. Freedom + guns = dangerous. That’s why every order can eventually be traced back to the President of the US. But, on the other hand, a common military saying is “no plan survives the contact with the enemy”, which is quite obvious for anyone who planned anything: things go wrong, unexpected stuff happens, key resources become unavailable. Also you cannot stop an ongoing battle to call your general if the plan doesn’t work – “Eagle 1, here is Loser 6, you said to use the tanks to destroy point A, but, hey, the tanks are destroyed, what do we do? Over.” That wouldn’t work. The military needs to empower the people on the ground to take decisions - and it needs to be the right decisions. So how does the military mix empowerment of the ground level and rigid hierarchy of cascading orders?

The military uses something called Commander’s Intent. It is a crisp, no nonsense and plain talk statement that describes the desired outcome (goal!) of any order/plan. The commander’s intent appears on every page of any briefing. The idea behind the Commander’s Intent is that the plan is a way of accomplishing something, it is not a means in itself. So if the plans go wrong (and they go very often) the people executing the orders can take decisions based on what is the purpose of the operation and change it.

An example of a Commander’s Intent could be: “my intent is to have Third Battalion on Hill 4305, to have the hill cleared of enemy, with only ineffective remnants remaining, so we can protect the flank of Third Brigade as they pass through the lines.” With this, it is quite easy to take decisions: “I am the only one left standing in Third Battalion, should I retreat or try to disable the enemy artillery in Hill 4305? I should disable the artillery, because I need to protect the flank of the Third Brigade.”

The same thing could/should be done in business, NGO and government. If the people on the ground, closer to the factory machines and clients, are empowered to take the right strategic decisions by themselves, then a company’s top level will have much more success in implementing its strategy.

But, to enable people to take decisions on the ground level, they need first to understand very clearly the Commander’s (or CEO’s) Intent. That’s where most organizations fall short. You seen it all: bulky mission statements full of buzz words (“maximize profits while delivering sustainable solutions to stakeholders”), abstract strategies that lack “concreteness” to the people executing the intent (“reach world class customer service”) and all the blab la bla that leaves people guessing or, worse, taking the wrong decisions.

But how to deliver clear messages that empowers the ground level to act correctly? One I talked before, being concrete to avoid the Curse of Knowledge, the others, well, you can read Made to Stick or wait for my good will to keep blogging about this awesome book. 

23 October 2010

The Curse of Knowledge

A research was made where there would be 2 kind of roles: the tappers and the listeners. The tappers job was to tap on the table a common melody of a very known song (like happy birthday). The listeners would have to listen (duh) and name correctly which song was the tapper tapping. How many times do you think the listener guessed the right song? Don’t jump to the next paragraph, really think how many times would someone guess correctly if you tapped “happy birthday” on the table.

Over the course of the experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5 percent of the songs: 3 out of 120. But here's what made the result worthy: before the listeners guessed the name of the song, they asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly. They predicted that the odds were 50 percent.
The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2. Why?

The answer is the Curse of Knowledge. When we know the name of the song, it’s very hard to act as you don’t know it and put yourself in the shoes of the listeners. When you are tapping, it’s almost impossible to not listen the song in your head. It becomes obvious which song it is, because you already know. Try it out, tap “happy birthday” on the table and listen to it, you hear the song while tapping.

The same thing happens in a miming game, how many times were you impressed by how people didn’t get your outstanding Mao Tse-Tung mime? It’s easy because you already know the answer. AIESEC people are the champions of the Curse of Knowledge, when they say to someone that they were MCVP OGX, they don’t realize that this is completely impossible to understand if you were not in the organization. Jargon is the Curse of Knowledge’s best friend.

The result of the Curse of Knowledge is people talking in abstractions, instead of concretely. A CEO suffering from the Curse of Knowledge talks about “increasing shareholder value” or “world class customer service”. The CEO is listening to the song in his head, “world class customer service” does ring a clear bell in his mind – unfortunately, to the people in customer service, that is too abstract, too high level for anyone to ACT upon it.

How to beat the Curse of Knowledge? Easy: being concrete. Use plain talk. If you want your employees to be better at customer service, what do you think would help most: a passionate talk by the CEO about “achieving world class customer service” or a story about a customer service person who gift wrapped a product, even though it was bought in a competitor’s store? Or a shop attendant who ironed a shirt for a client so he could go to a business meeting?

These were all stories (which in general are concrete by nature), but to be concrete you don’t necessarily need stories. Take when I was President of AIESEC Norway (my all time favorite phrase starter): we had a goal/vision/wish/whatever in our team that we wanted “one exchange happening every day” (I removed the “raised, matched or realized” from the phrase, because only AIESEC people would have a clear picture of what it is – the Curse of Knowledge). It is very concrete stuff, one exchange, every day, that is what we consider success. People can act accordingly to get to that. On the opposite “increase our performance” is too vague and abstract.

We had another one of those, it was “don’t finish our year on minus [in the budget]”, which helped us to cut costs wildly and to push to bring more money in every time there was a chance we would finish our term bellow zero. On the other hand, “to have sustainable financial results” doesn’t have the same impact.

The Curse of Knowledge appears on Made to Stick, an outstanding book about building messages that stick to people’s brains.

22 October 2010

Made to Stick: why some ideas survive and others die

"Tell me who your friends are, and I will tell you who you are” is an sticky idea, it survived a long time and it exists in several languages. The book Made to Stick knows why – and it teaches you how to do the same. Made to Stick is for people who need to communicate (which should be all of us who don’t live in a cave while wearing a bathing suit made of bear skin). It is the best book I ever read about communication (I graduated in communication, I had to read my fair share of McLuhan and Walter Benjamin).

For the authors, the brothers Chip and Dan Heath, an idea is like Velcro: which is basically a lot of small hooks that connects to small rings. The more “hooks” and idea has, the more sticky it will be to the “rings” on our brains. And that is the best part of Made to Stick, it’s not about HOW to say (like with firm tone of voice, posture, use maximum 3 phrases in a Powerpoint, look people in the eye, bla bla bla). No, instead it helps us to DESIGN a great sticky message (WHAT to say).

The whole book is made to explain how to make an idea stick. They use a “system” called SUCCESs. Corny as it may sound, the SUCCESs thing is awesome and stands for Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and Stories. Again, they don’t look like much, but the explanation is really outstanding - mostly because they use their own principles to write the book, which means it is filled with juice examples, crisp and plain talk statements without corporate jargon, incredible stories and so on.

Made to Stick is somewhat like the Unleashing the Idea Virus book from Seth Godin, but useful in the day to day life for people that doesn’t need to know anything about communication or marketing. If the Idea Virus is about viral marketing, Made to Stick is about viral communication (even though they never use this term). An example of viral communication/sticky ideas are the urban legends, like the one that a guy wakes up in a bathtub filled with ice and without a kidney (see how sticky this idea is, you already know).

The book explains why the best teachers are the best, how companies can succeed by talking strategy, how the army uses the commander’s intent to overcome the problem that “no plan survives the contact with the enemy”, how sayings are so sticky even across languages, how to make people care, how to generate interest…

“Tell me which books you read and I will tell you how sticky your communication is”.

20 October 2010

When something is wrong, just do it harder (NOT)

When I was President of AIESEC Norway (my all time preferred starter phrase) and we were doing really dangerously bad financially, I pushed the team to go to sales. Every single person, including the ones who had no clue on how to do it and didn't want to learn also. After that, there was a lot more effort on the sales, but, the results kept the same: not good enough. A bunch of amateurs trying harder something that was already not working with the pros didn't work. (Who could guess that?)

When you read it, it sounds so obvious: who is idiot enough to push harder on something that is not working? Who believes that crushing the square shape into the circle hole is the answer? Well, most people, including myself, when the thing that is not working was/is the base for the business. Anyone sees the whole of the music industry pushing harder on something that is not working anymore?

After that we used a bit our heads and then decided to use more efforts into a product we were able to sell, but we needed to sell much more to make it more relevant to the business. Well, we did. And we did a hell of a good job doing it - so much that around 60% of our financial year profit came from it. Doing more of what was working actually helped more (again, who could guess that?)

Next time you solve a problem, check this out: do you need to solve that specific problem (lack of sales) or can you just solve the situation by using a different approach altogether (sell more of the product that is selling and leave untouched the product that is not selling)?

19 October 2010

Bata Management System

Last week I was in Prague to be a panelist in the Forum 2000. It was a very interesting panel with 4 people like me (young, naive and hungry) and other 4 seasoned business men and women on the topic of “what the next generation of leaders want from the market”. We discussed topics like if it is desirable that business tackle global issues (like poverty) and what the next generation value in an employer. The forum deserves a post in itself, but I want to speak about something I learned outside the panel room, more specific in the pub that we went after the panel: the Bata Management System.

Bata (pronounced more or less like “bat’ya”) Management System was basically the way Tomáš Baťa (and his successor, Jan Antonín Baťa) managed the business. Bata is a Czech shoe factory (and retailer) named after the surname of the founder, but the similarities with a Fordian assembly line kind of stop there.

Bata’s first slogan, at the factory gate, was “thinking to the people, labor to the machines”. Bata’s system included whole-system orientation and integration of work (instead of splitting it into small specialized tasks), team and workshop self-management, profit-sharing and autonomy, workers’ participation and co-determination, clearly-defined responsibilities and organizational flexibility. Every employee was a partner, co-worker or associate and all workers were to become owners and capitalists. Salaries were much higher than the industry average (both in Czech and anywhere in the world) and production was always improving. Production and profits were not the ends, but the means towards improving the individual lives of all Bata employees.

An story that shows the craziness of the innovation in Bata is that his office was built inside an elevator (which also had a working bathroom). This way he was everywhere in the factory and at the same time everyone could reach him quite easily. Here there is a picture of the Bata’s elevator/office.

Bata managed to thrive while the world was in a big recession. But I am not talking about the 2008 recession. These guys did all this in the 30’s. Yes, all this “progressive” management almost a 100 years ago (and when Henry Ford was going for the man is a machine approach in the assembly line).

It seems that Bata didn’t need any Forum 2000 to understand what employees (humans!) want from their work. Bata understood that people are superior than machines, all he did was to help foster an environment that didn’t get in the way of their linchpiness. Does generation X and Y changed so much that they want different things? In my opinion, not at all, we are just much more bold to say it aloud and demand to be treated as humans.

11 October 2010

Linchpins any (every) where - including driving a bus

Great TEDx Stockholm video about a bus driver who change people's life. Why? Because he chose to. "I don't drive an airport bus, I give people a better day".

Via a friend called George.

07 October 2010

Corporate communication still didn’t go 2.0

Lots of companies I know communicate like this: from boss to subordinate to subordinate of the subordinate and it goes on, until it reaches the factory and client service personnel. Still companies are surprised when the ground level doesn’t seem to understand the messages from the top, failing to act accordingly.

But is that really surprising? Have you ever played that game when you whisper a phrase into someone’s ear and it goes like this until it’s completed a full cycle? If you did you also know that the phrase passed is never the same and the message is always a bit (or a lot) distorted from the original one, sometimes being something completely different and senseless.
Eventually there is also intranet articles, which most people don’t read so much . But communication is a trick thing, I have a very practical example of how it can go very wrong even in the simplest of messages. This happened where I work: an e-mail was sent by the facility management to all employees in our building. The e-mail was only one line and it couldn’t be more straightforward than it was:

“On Thursday, 7th of October, at 9pm the water will be very hot.”
Then we sat during lunch with 5 people and this e-mail was one of the subjects. Surprisingly, from 5 people, only one had understand all the critical messages: 1) water very hot, 2) Thursday, 9th of October, 3) 9 pm. All the others understood the day the event would happen perfectly, but 2 people thought it was 9am, one thought it was the whole day on and one was uncertain about the time.

Communication is a tricky thing, but business keep insisting that cascading information is a great way of communicating.

In a word where technology is increasingly about connecting people, why not to rely on the power of the social network, instead of the power of the formal network (the hierarchy), to communicate? In a world where more and more the individual has the means to reach and interact with the masses, why do so many companies rely on the “broadcast” communication model that shaped the LAST century? What is most interesting is that on the marketing approach, lots of organizations already understand (or at least accept) this and are moving more and more to social communication and influencers.

Would it take so much to implement the modern market approach in an organization? Yes, is the answer, because the big bosses at the top usually see the consumers as the market’s bosses, while they see themselves as the company’s bosses. While there is not a shift in mindset towards the belief (and push) for the “linchpiness” of every individual, communication will be hierarchical, the chain of command will give orders to people to follow and people will be cogs in the machine: cheap and easily replaceable.

Is there a movement for change? Certainly, just look for example at Philips: they launched its social community in Social Cast to unite tens of thousands of employees across the globe. It’s a bit like Twitter, but only employees have access. So you can share what you are working on, ask questions for the people following you (or to the groups you are in). Imagine this: the most proactive people (linchpins?) would not wait for the sales manager to talk to them, but they would instead follow the sales manager profile. This opens a whole new range for leaders (not bosses) influencing large parts of the organization.
But do companies really want to go through the scary path of leaders not being bosses?

06 October 2010

Sauvé Scholars Program for young leaders around the world

Applications are currently being accepted by the Sauvé Scholars Foundation for the 2011-2012 Sauvé Scholars Program.

The Sauvé Scholars Program invites young leaders across the globe to apply for the scholarships. These young leaders are those who want to change the world. The Scholars are chosen above all on the basis of criteria laid out by the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé: initiative, motivation, vision, imagination, demonstrated communication skills, awareness of international and domestic issues and a strong desire to effect change. Sauvé Scholars are young persons who are 30 years old or less.

During the scholarship period, the scholars are given an opportunity to spend their academic stay at the “internationally-renowned McGill University, in the heart of Montreal, where the student body of about 33,000 includes students from some 160 countries. Through a formal Memorandum of Understanding, Sauvé Scholars enjoy a unique status at McGill: they may audit courses at the undergraduate or post-graduate level (but not for credit) and may participate in the array of university activities and facilities for every taste and interest.

In addition, the Sauvé Scholars enjoy an enriching private program of seminars with eminent journalists, political figures and leaders in business, academia and the arts.

Each Scholar is expected to undertake a new project in his or her chosen field – for example, arts, advocacy, business, communications, government or research – or complete one that is underway. Scholars are also invited to participate in some form of social or civic engagement for the benefit of the Montreal community.”

Only individuals between the age group 23 and 30 years can apply. The deadline to submit applications is 1 November 2010. For more information, visit http://www.sauvescholars.org/

05 October 2010

Dancing Linchpin Stewardesses

You can use a audio or video recording to substitute the robotic stewardess that mumbles all those flight instructions, they are cogs in the machine - easily replaceable. The airline is pretty replaceable also, you just want to get to another place as cheap as you can. And someone can always make it cheaper somehow.

But you can't substitute true humanity, you can't substitute the true smile of that dancing stewardess:

True human connection, gift, art... linchpins win

You can't microwave leaders, but companies are most certainly overcooking them

I read somewhere the phrase "you can't microwave leaders", the context was about companies' leadership development programs - a.k.a. a bunch of trainings and assignments to form company leaders. I agree, you can't microwave leaders, but I want to challenge that it takes "time" to build a leader.

It doesn't take "time" to build leaders. It takes "experience".

How so? Ok, here you go: how many times have you seen senior leaders, people who are in the company for 10, 20, 30 years, that cannot run a meeting? That doesn't know the basics about delegation? Team management? Coaching? I am not sure what you answered, but for sure I have seen more than it would be possible to believe it is by chance. So the only way I can see it is that it happens by design. Fear of change design. Risk aversion design. Control and command design. Lack of feedback design.

How come AIESEC can develop great leaders in 2-5 years and a company can't do it in 10? Is it
just me or there is something fundamentally wrong with that?

The answer is simple: experience. AIESEC has very little fear of failure (or has a lot of hope in individuals, who knows?) and there is a lot of room for trying and taking responsibility. Would you give the CEO role of a organization with 50.000 employees, present in 100 countries, founded in 1948 to someone with around 6 years experience in the organization (which also means 6 years of experience in any sort of job)? Well, AIESEC does, every single year. Yes, it changes it's CEO (and all the other thousands of leadership roles) annually. You learn, you move on - individuals and organization grow.

If you are in a company and you are in charge of the leadership development, all I ask you is to TRY to change this mindset. Don't think about leadership development as time bound, but experience bound. Experience takes time, of course, but time in itself doesn't build leaders. If you don't give your people the experience, they won't develop the skills.

Give people responsibility and freedom, they will surprise you positively around 80% of the time.

02 October 2010

Linchpins see the world as they truly are

In terms of perception, there are 2 extremes of people: the ones who see the world as they truly are and the ones that are so attached to their world view, their reality, that they can’t see anything beyond that, so they fail to adapt to the needed changes around them. A linchpin need to have enough discernment to check reality (don’t confuse with “negativists” that think everything is impossible). Linchpins are indispensable, and discernment is indispensible. How so?

When I was in AIESEC Norway, in my first year, when I was VP Talent Management, no one in our term had enough discernment to understand the situation of the local business units and their volunteer workers. The result was that our super smart strategies were never really prepared to face the cruel reality of the real world. In theory they were great and they would be great in practice if we were dealing with a well oiled and functional organization. We were not. The result was pretty obvious: it failed over and over again, until we were almost bankrupt.

On my 2nd year in AIESEC Norway, this time as president, I was fortunate enough to get a team that had a much better perception of how things really were. In the beginning we struggled again, but when we finally accepted reality, we made the most awesome changes in our own behavior. The result was also obvious: operational growth, getting out of the bankruptcy and building cash reserves, positive balance at the end of the year.

The music industry doesn’t have a linchpin strong enough to understand their business model is going down, so they try to protect their worldview by suing and saying that download is a crime. They are attached to their reality. How come any of the big music shots didn’t invent iTunes (today the biggest music retailer) or Spotify? They had everything: the resources, the industry knowledge, etc. But they were too attached to their reality and didn’t have any discernment to realize the business model was dead.

There are loads of examples of organizations that clearly need linchpins with discernment: Blockbuster didn’t move on to the online rental, now they are filing for bankruptcy; Nokia was the biggest mobile company, it saw the smart phones coming (even developed a touch screen mobile 3 years before the iPhone), but they were too attached to their current cash cow and didn’t see the world evolving, now they are lagging behind and the CEO was thrown out the window. GM lost its edge by losing touch of the reality in the market.

Another example that happened with me: a company was pitching to me an e-learning course. "Quite useful" was my first thought, since I had a deep interest for the subject. After trying it, I couldn't stand the e-learning course for 2 full minutes. I could not skip to the parts I was interested. Only when the narrator would stop speaking, I could pass to the next screen. So if you were not interested in that part or simply wanted to check something else, no, no, you had to wait. I told this feedback (in a very polite way) to the vendor. The answer was more or less that they didn't see it as a problem, but would adapt to customer needs. I asked another colleague, she had the same problem with the not skipping and could not finish the course. He clearly was too much attachment to his own reality (to his own product) and that made it impossible for him to understand customer needs. I predict this will not go well.

Reality is perception, it’s always biased by our own world view, that’s why it is so hard to have discernment, to be a linchpin. That’s also why so many innovations come from people without experience in that industry (like Spotify, Voddler, Hulu, Google ads, Skype…). But failing to see reality means failure in the real world.

01 October 2010

Empathic civilization

Great, great thoughts on how technology (in fact a more connected world because of technology) can expand the perception of who is close to you beyond family, tribe, neighborhood or nationality into a world where everyone is closer, thus more empathic. And this is no theory, it's already happened and this video shows at least one clear example:

30 September 2010

Importance of checking up with your team regularly

Some people have the gift of sensing atmosphere, moods and spotting if something is slightly wrong/different with someone. This post is for all the others that like me can’t do that.

I remember when I was the big boss president, one of the key things I discovered is that there is no such thing as too much leading when you have a team. I am not talking about boosting your ego, talking all the time, giving all the answers or putting your feet down and only accept things your way. That’s really not the point and as a leader you should learn to lean in and out as necessary. It’s more about interacting with your team frequently and constantly – more importantly, in a proactive way.

There is a lot of “reactive” team management to be done, conflicts arise, plans change, budgets get cut, things go to hell  and all that, but I perceive that a key thing for an awesome leader is to proactively manage the team. It’s like a health check up: you can go frequently to the doctor, discover some stuff that can lead to some bad sickness in the future, treat it early and relax, OR ignore going to the doctor, run to the emergency room and take the consequences of a late diagnostic.

Leaders could (should) be proactive in talking with their teams and checking up if there is something that could be improved, how they are doing (work, personal, etc), frustrations, things that they like about working with you, feedback, etc. Of course employees could (should) be more proactively in seeking their managers, but if a managers gives the first step, usually it’s easier for everyone.

How to do it? Anyway you and the individual people in your team feel comfortable. When I was president, some people preferred to have a monthly talk in the café, others preferred a more structured 15m weekly meeting, another responded well for having a meal together… the important part is to make it constant enough that you are always on top of what is going on and not constant enough that it is annoying for the team member.

Sometimes people don’t even expect that you will solve the problem, they just want some empathy, just want to feel they are listened by the leader.

29 September 2010

Linchpin – indispensable reading

Linchpin: Are You Indispensable?
Linchpin – Are You Indispensable? has book format, but in fact is a gift, a piece of art. It has been a long time that a book didn’t spark me so much. I started reading it around 10pm and I couldn’t sleep, even when I forced myself to bed at 1am. The thoughts, the ideas, the possibilities (within myself!) that the book unlocked is just comparable to a good kick out the nest that a mother eagle might give to its baby eagles.

Linchpin is a manifesto of greatness – not to get more money, not to get rewarded, not for any selfish other reason, but just because we can be amazing artists and give gifts that change the world into a better place.
A linchpin is an artist that gives away the gift of her art. But we are not talking about painters (not only at least – a painter can also be a factory worker, following the rules and the regulations, the exact opposite of linchpin).

Linchpins are doing their art everywhere and they are indispensable. It’s art when you call the customer service and that person treats you like a human being, it’s art when you don’t listen to the lizard brain and put that new idea in practice at work, it’s art when someone solves problems that no one even identified, it’s art when a designer shows us how amazing it can be to have something that is more than a phone. Linchpins are the people who are leaders, not managers, not employees, not factory workers – and, first of all, they lead themselves, so they can lead the world to great things. The best part is that anyone can become a linchpin. Some people might not want, but certainly can.

That’s my gift to you. I hope it sparks your curiosity enough for you to buy it, borrow it in the local library (or from me!), download it in iTunes or even – coff coff – go for an illegal way of getting it. Just don’t let the factory crush what you can be. Unleash your potential and become a linchpin – you will be happier as a side effect.

25 September 2010

IDEO: 3 ideas about the future of books

Nihilists always announce the death of stuff when new stuff shows up. The radio was announced dead after the TV, but it just changes. Same thing about books, we won't get rid of them (thanks god!), but they will for sure evolve. How will the book evolve? Check out the amazing 3 ideas from IDEO's video:

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

I liked specially the last one, where we can turn books into interactive fiction. Imagine the appeal a Harry-Potter-like book would have in millions of children if you also would include game elements in it? Imagine the potential of interactive books can have in education (if of course our educational system evolves at all).

23 September 2010

My work at Yara

I am working in Yara for almost 2 months, I can’t pretend I know a lot about the organization, by I can pretend I know enough about my job to actually speak about it. And since Yara doesn’t have a social media policy, here I am, using all the good sense I have today from the top of my 28-years-old-International-Brazilian-self. Let’s start with the beginning:

Yara International ASA is the world’s leading chemical company that converts energy, natural minerals and nitrogen from the air into essential products for farmers (this means fertilizers and crop nutrition stuff) and industrial customers (all sorts of chemicals to be used in other industries). Yara is a Norwegian company that has a global presence and is physically in 50 countries. It started in 1905 as Norsk Hydro, then it got demerged from Norsk Hydro only in 2004. So we are old, but we are also young. Near my desk there is a book saying “Yara. 100 years young.”

I am working at the Human Resources department, more specifically at the Talent Management and Sourcing department, which was created in January this year. Since Yara grow mostly by acquisition, we don’t have global standardized HR processes - that's where the Talent Management and Sourcing department comes in. Our mission is basically to ensure all the company uses top of the class HR processes. So this gives us a lot of room for creativity, interaction with other units and businesses, research of good case practices, buy-in and lobbying, etc. It’s definitely challenging to accomplish our job (especially when you think that the central Talent Management and Sourcing team is only 4 people including me).

I am very happy with this, since one of my biggest fears when I was leaving AIESEC was a job that was not meaningful (as an organization) and challenging (as in my job). Yara gave me both.
But what do I do? Very different things. I was hired to take care of the communication necessary to implement the HR processes globally that we in Talent Management and Sourcing create (with the help of loads of other stakeholders in the business, of course). But I am an AIESEC alumni and I don’t settle until I am going crazy with challenges, so I am now responsible for the whole Talent Management and Sourcing implementation planning (not only the communication part), responsible for designing and delivering the Employment Value Proposition design process, and I am involved here and there in the Competency Framework creation, High Potentials Program, Workforce Diversity, Talent Management Framework, Global Sourcing and Recruitment Process and Innovation Process. It’s really exciting to be part of such a huge change management process, since that’s what I really like the most: change and improve stuff.

Of course not all are roses and good weather (which challenging job is?) and the freedom to do whatever you want that I got used in the last 5 years (both in my company and in AIESEC, specially as head of AIESEC Norway) is really not present. And I understand it is mostly necessary! The company didn’t survive and thrive for over 100 years by allowing people like me (28 years old, 2 months in the company) do whatever they believe is right without supervision. Especially when you are talking about a chemical company, that needs to ensure safety and so on. But that doesn’t stop me from trying :) I am also a bit frustrated with the pace of changes, that sometimes seems a bit slow (when you need to get buy-in of so many stakeholders), but I also believe it’s the right thing to do, since without buy-in, nothing gets done – and when you are leading an organization with 50 people (as last year after the major downsizing we made in AIESEC Norway) and one with 8000, things will always move slower.

One thing that I am very happy with Yara (especially in contrast with AIESEC) is the resources we can use. Example: we can invest in the work (and also salary wise). How many AIESECers have access to top talent management research and good case practices? Consultancy? People who work with HR for 30 years sitting just in front of you? That are definitely hard/impossible to find in AIESEC.

Though one thing I wonder every day: where this path will lead me? I am a bit uncertain about the future. Growing up and all :) But let’s take the first months like this and then on the goal setting and performance management process in December/January I can talk about these things and start outlining my path.