The 3 Student Entrepreneur Personas

The 3 Student Entrepreneur Personas

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

Healthcare professional schools, healthcare innovation and entrepreneurship education, and training programs are growing. However, one question is should they be required or elective?

The medical student persona has changed in the past several years. Seeing around corners is always hard. However, to go to where the puck will be is a useful step when planning strategy and tactics to meet the needs of customers segments. Here are some ways to help build your parabolic mirror view of what’s next.

If you have a product or service and are planning not just for the now, but the next and new, then painting a picture of your customer archetype or persona is a key tool.

Do you know who your dream customer is?

There are three steps for understanding your dream customer:

  1. Consider the big issues they are facing – look wider and investigate global issues, such as hunger, environmental sustainability or education.
  2. Identify the industry trends that are affecting them – technology, big data, cyber security, etc.
  3. Describe your customer avatar/archetype/persona now – make a collage including their goals and values, demographics, their pain points and challenges.

Here are the various sickcare innovation and entrepreneurship student segments.

That said, the argument for mandatory is that all students should be exposed to core concepts, like design thinking, much like rotating through core clinical rotations, if nothing else, to get exposure to potential career choices. It might even make them better doctors and possibly help with burnout.

The argument for elective is that all students won’t have the same interests and it would be a waste of time and resources leading the laggards to water knowing you can’t make them drink.

One way to sort potential students is to understand the entrepreneurship education customer segments and their 3 core personas.

The Convinced and Confident know entrepreneurship should be part of their career pathway. In fact, many of them have had entrepreneurial life experiences prior to medical school.

The Curious but Clueless don’t know what they don’t know but are willing to learn more. Many have never held a job in their life. Some might be willing, but unable to develop an entrepreneurial mindset. Others discover their innerpreneur, and move on.

The Could Care Less are unwilling and unable to give it a try. Their attitude is , “I went to medical school to take care of patients, not take care of business”. What they don’t realize is that if you don’t take care of business, you have no business taking care of patients.

Here is what I learned teaching sickcare innovation and entrepreneurship to 1st year medical students.

Here is what I learned teaching sickcare innovation and entrepreneurship to a cohort of xMBA/HA students.

If you are part of creating or teaching these programs, you will eventually have to sort the wheat from the chaff. If you are a leaderpreneur, your job will depend on doing so.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in education, Entrepreneurship | Tagged , | Leave a comment

First Principles Are the Building Blocks of True Knowledge

First Principles Are the Building Blocks of True Knowledge

GUEST POST from Farnham Street

First-principles thinking is one of the best ways to reverse-engineer complicated problems and unleash creative possibility. Sometimes called “reasoning from first principles,” the idea is to break down complicated problems into basic elements and then reassemble them from the ground up. It’s one of the best ways to learn to think for yourself, unlock your creative potential, and move from linear to non-linear results.

This approach was used by the philosopher Aristotle and is used now by Elon Musk and Charlie Munger. It allows them to cut through the fog of shoddy reasoning and inadequate analogies to see opportunities that others miss.

“I don’t know what’s the matter with people: they don’t learn by understanding; they learn by some other way—by rote or something. Their knowledge is so fragile!” — Richard Feynman

The Basics

A first principle is a foundational proposition or assumption that stands alone. We cannot deduce first principles from any other proposition or assumption.

Aristotle, writing[1] on first principles, said:

In every systematic inquiry (methodos) where there are first principles, or causes, or elements, knowledge and science result from acquiring knowledge of these; for we think we know something just in case we acquire knowledge of the primary causes, the primary first principles, all the way to the elements.

Later he connected the idea to knowledge, defining first principles as “the first basis from which a thing is known.”[2]

The search for first principles is not unique to philosophy. All great thinkers do it.

Reasoning by first principles removes the impurity of assumptions and conventions. What remains is the essentials. It’s one of the best mental models you can use to improve your thinking because the essentials allow you to see where reasoning by analogy might lead you astray.

The Coach and the Play Stealer

My friend Mike Lombardi (a former NFL executive) and I were having dinner in L.A. one night, and he said, “Not everyone that’s a coach is really a coach. Some of them are just play stealers.”

Every play we see in the NFL was at some point created by someone who thought, “What would happen if the players did this?” and went out and tested the idea. Since then, thousands, if not millions, of plays have been created. That’s part of what coaches do. They assess what’s physically possible, along with the weaknesses of the other teams and the capabilities of their own players, and create plays that are designed to give their teams an advantage.

The coach reasons from first principles. The rules of football are the first principles: they govern what you can and can’t do. Everything is possible as long as it’s not against the rules.

The play stealer works off what’s already been done. Sure, maybe he adds a tweak here or there, but by and large he’s just copying something that someone else created.

While both the coach and the play stealer start from something that already exists, they generally have different results. These two people look the same to most of us on the sidelines or watching the game on the TV. Indeed, they look the same most of the time, but when something goes wrong, the difference shows. Both the coach and the play stealer call successful plays and unsuccessful plays. Only the coach, however, can determine why a play was successful or unsuccessful and figure out how to adjust it. The coach, unlike the play stealer, understands what the play was designed to accomplish and where it went wrong, so he can easily course-correct. The play stealer has no idea what’s going on. He doesn’t understand the difference between something that didn’t work and something that played into the other team’s strengths.

Musk would identify the play stealer as the person who reasons by analogy, and the coach as someone who reasons by first principles. When you run a team, you want a coach in charge and not a play stealer. (If you’re a sports fan, you need only look at the difference between the Cleveland Browns and the New England Patriots.)

We’re all somewhere on the spectrum between coach and play stealer. We reason by first principles, by analogy, or a blend of the two.

Another way to think about this distinction comes from another friend, Tim Urban. He says[3] it’s like the difference between the cook and the chef. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there is an important nuance. The chef is a trailblazer, the person who invents recipes. He knows the raw ingredients and how to combine them. The cook, who reasons by analogy, uses a recipe. He creates something, perhaps with slight variations, that’s already been created.

The difference between reasoning by first principles and reasoning by analogy is like the difference between being a chef and being a cook. If the cook lost the recipe, he’d be screwed. The chef, on the other hand, understands the flavor profiles and combinations at such a fundamental level that he doesn’t even use a recipe. He has real knowledge as opposed to know-how.

Authority

So much of what we believe is based on some authority figure telling us that something is true. As children, we learn to stop questioning when we’re told “Because I said so.” (More on this later.) As adults, we learn to stop questioning when people say “Because that’s how it works.” The implicit message is “understanding be damned — shut up and stop bothering me.” It’s not intentional or personal. OK, sometimes it’s personal, but most of the time, it’s not.

If you outright reject dogma, you often become a problem: a student who is always pestering the teacher. A kid who is always asking questions and never allowing you to cook dinner in peace. An employee who is always slowing things down by asking why.

When you can’t change your mind, though, you die. Sears was once thought indestructible before Wal-Mart took over. Sears failed to see the world change. Adapting to change is an incredibly hard thing to do when it comes into conflict with the very thing that caused so much success. As Upton Sinclair aptly pointed out, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.” Wal-Mart failed to see the world change and is now under assault from Amazon.

If we never learn to take something apart, test the assumptions, and reconstruct it, we end up trapped in what other people tell us — trapped in the way things have always been done. When the environment changes, we just continue as if things were the same.

First-principles reasoning cuts through dogma and removes the blinders. We can see the world as it is and see what is possible.

When it comes down to it, everything that is not a law of nature is just a shared belief. Money is a shared belief. So is a border. So are bitcoins. The list goes on.

Some of us are naturally skeptical of what we’re told. Maybe it doesn’t match up to our experiences. Maybe it’s something that used to be true but isn’t true anymore. And maybe we just think very differently about something.

“To understand is to know what to do.” — Wittgenstein

Techniques for Establishing First Principles

There are many ways to establish first principles. Let’s take a look at a few of them.

Socratic Questioning

Socratic questioning can be used to establish first principles through stringent analysis. This a disciplined questioning process, used to establish truths, reveal underlying assumptions, and separate knowledge from ignorance. The key distinction between Socratic questioning and normal discussions is that the former seeks to draw out first principles in a systematic manner. Socratic questioning generally follows this process:

  1. Clarifying your thinking and explaining the origins of your ideas (Why do I think this? What exactly do I think?)
  2. Challenging assumptions (How do I know this is true? What if I thought the opposite?)
  3. Looking for evidence (How can I back this up? What are the sources?)
  4. Considering alternative perspectives (What might others think? How do I know I am correct?)
  5. Examining consequences and implications (What if I am wrong? What are the consequences if I am?)
  6. Questioning the original questions (Why did I think that? Was I correct? What conclusions can I draw from the reasoning process?)

This process stops you from relying on your gut and limits strong emotional responses. This process helps you build something that lasts.

“Because I Said So” or “The Five Whys”

Children instinctively think in first principles. Just like us, they want to understand what’s happening in the world. To do so, they intuitively break through the fog with a game some parents have come to hate.

“Why?”

“Why?”

“Why?”

Here’s an example that has played out numerous times at my house:

“It’s time to brush our teeth and get ready for bed.”

“Why?”

“Because we need to take care of our bodies, and that means we need sleep.”

“Why do we need sleep?”

“Because we’d die if we never slept.”

“Why would that make us die?”

“I don’t know; let’s go look it up.”

Kids are just trying to understand why adults are saying something or why they want them to do something.

The first time your kid plays this game, it’s cute, but for most teachers and parents, it eventually becomes annoying. Then the answer becomes what my mom used to tell me: “Because I said so!” (Love you, Mom.)

Of course, I’m not always that patient with the kids. For example, I get testy when we’re late for school, or we’ve been travelling for 12 hours, or I’m trying to fit too much into the time we have. Still, I try never to say “Because I said so.”

People hate the “because I said so” response for two reasons, both of which play out in the corporate world as well. The first reason we hate the game is that we feel like it slows us down. We know what we want to accomplish, and that response creates unnecessary drag. The second reason we hate this game is that after one or two questions, we are often lost. We actually don’t know why. Confronted with our own ignorance, we resort to self-defense.

I remember being in meetings and asking people why we were doing something this way or why they thought something was true. At first, there was a mild tolerance for this approach. After three “whys,” though, you often find yourself on the other end of some version of “we can take this offline.”

Can you imagine how that would play out with Elon Musk? Richard Feynman? Charlie Munger? Musk would build a billion-dollar business to prove you wrong, Feynman would think you’re an idiot, and Munger would profit based on your inability to think through a problem.

“Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.” — Carl Sagan

Examples of First Principles in Action

So we can better understand how first-principles reasoning works, let’s look at four examples.

Elon Musk and SpaceX

Perhaps no one embodies first-principles thinking more than Elon Musk. He is one of the most audacious entrepreneurs the world has ever seen. My kids (grades 3 and 2) refer to him as a real-life Tony Stark, thereby conveniently providing a good time for me to remind them that by fourth grade, Musk was reading the Encyclopedia Britannica and not Pokemon.

What’s most interesting about Musk is not what he thinks but how he thinks:

I think people’s thinking process is too bound by convention or analogy to prior experiences. It’s rare that people try to think of something on a first principles basis. They’ll say, “We’ll do that because it’s always been done that way.” Or they’ll not do it because “Well, nobody’s ever done that, so it must not be good. But that’s just a ridiculous way to think. You have to build up the reasoning from the ground up—“from the first principles” is the phrase that’s used in physics. You look at the fundamentals and construct your reasoning from that, and then you see if you have a conclusion that works or doesn’t work, and it may or may not be different from what people have done in the past.[4]

His approach to understanding reality is to start with what is true — not with his intuition. The problem is that we don’t know as much as we think we do, so our intuition isn’t very good. We trick ourselves into thinking we know what’s possible and what’s not. The way Musk thinks is much different.

Musk starts out with something he wants to achieve, like building a rocket. Then he starts with the first principles of the problem. Running through how Musk would think, Larry Page said in an interview, “What are the physics of it? How much time will it take? How much will it cost? How much cheaper can I make it? There’s this level of engineering and physics that you need to make judgments about what’s possible and interesting. Elon is unusual in that he knows that, and he also knows business and organization and leadership and governmental issues.”[5]

Rockets are absurdly expensive, which is a problem because Musk wants to send people to Mars. And to send people to Mars, you need cheaper rockets. So he asked himself, “What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, plus some titanium, copper, and carbon fiber. And … what is the value of those materials on the commodity market? It turned out that the materials cost of a rocket was around two percent of the typical price.”[6]

Why, then, is it so expensive to get a rocket into space? Musk, a notorious self-learner with degrees in both economics and physics, literally taught himself rocket science. He figured that the only reason getting a rocket into space is so expensive is that people are stuck in a mindset that doesn’t hold up to first principles. With that, Musk decided to create SpaceX and see if he could build rockets himself from the ground up.

In an interview with Kevin Rose, Musk summarized his approach:

I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy. So the normal way we conduct our lives is, we reason by analogy. We are doing this because it’s like something else that was done, or it is like what other people are doing… with slight iterations on a theme. And it’s … mentally easier to reason by analogy rather than from first principles. First principles is kind of a physics way of looking at the world, and what that really means is, you … boil things down to the most fundamental truths and say, “okay, what are we sure is true?” … and then reason up from there. That takes a lot more mental energy.[7]

Musk then gave an example of how Space X uses first principles to innovate at low prices:

Somebody could say — and in fact people do — that battery packs are really expensive and that’s just the way they will always be because that’s the way they have been in the past. … Well, no, that’s pretty dumb… Because if you applied that reasoning to anything new, then you wouldn’t be able to ever get to that new thing…. you can’t say, … “oh, nobody wants a car because horses are great, and we’re used to them and they can eat grass and there’s lots of grass all over the place and … there’s no gasoline that people can buy….”

He then gives a fascinating example about battery packs:

… they would say, “historically, it costs $600 per kilowatt-hour. And so it’s not going to be much better than that in the future. … So the first principles would be, … what are the material constituents of the batteries? What is the spot market value of the material constituents? … It’s got cobalt, nickel, aluminum, carbon, and some polymers for separation, and a steel can. So break that down on a material basis; if we bought that on a London Metal Exchange, what would each of these things cost? Oh, jeez, it’s … $80 per kilowatt-hour. So, clearly, you just need to think of clever ways to take those materials and combine them into the shape of a battery cell, and you can have batteries that are much, much cheaper than anyone realizes.

BuzzFeed

After studying the psychology of virality, Jonah Peretti founded BuzzFeed in 2006. The site quickly grew to be one of the most popular on the internet, with hundreds of employees and substantial revenue.

Peretti figured out early on the first principle of a successful website: wide distribution. Rather than publishing articles people should read, BuzzFeed focuses on publishing those that people want to read. This means aiming to garner maximum social shares to put distribution in the hands of readers.

Peretti recognized the first principles of online popularity and used them to take a new approach to journalism. He also ignored SEO, saying, “Instead of making content robots like, it was more satisfying to make content humans want to share.”[8] Unfortunately for us, we share a lot of cat videos.

A common aphorism in the field of viral marketing is, “content might be king, but distribution is queen, and she wears the pants” (or “and she has the dragons”; pick your metaphor). BuzzFeed’s distribution-based approach is based on obsessive measurement, using A/B testing and analytics.

Jon Steinberg, president of BuzzFeed, explains the first principles of virality:

Keep it short. Ensure [that] the story has a human aspect. Give people the chance to engage. And let them react. People mustn’t feel awkward sharing it. It must feel authentic. Images and lists work. The headline must be persuasive and direct.

Derek Sivers and CD Baby

When Sivers founded his company CD Baby, he reduced the concept down to first principles. Sivers asked, What does a successful business need? His answer was happy customers.

Instead of focusing on garnering investors or having large offices, fancy systems, or huge numbers of staff, Sivers focused on making each of his customers happy. An example of this is his famous order confirmation email, part of which reads:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow. A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box money can buy.

By ignoring unnecessary details that cause many businesses to expend large amounts of money and time, Sivers was able to rapidly grow the company to $4 million in monthly revenue. In Anything You Want, Sivers wrote:

Having no funding was a huge advantage for me.
A year after I started CD Baby, the dot-com boom happened. Anyone with a little hot air and a vague plan was given millions of dollars by investors. It was ridiculous. …
Even years later, the desks were just planks of wood on cinder blocks from the hardware store. I made the office computers myself from parts. My well-funded friends would spend $100,000 to buy something I made myself for $1,000. They did it saying, “We need the very best,” but it didn’t improve anything for their customers. …
It’s counterintuitive, but the way to grow your business is to focus entirely on your existing customers. Just thrill them, and they’ll tell everyone.

To survive as a business, you need to treat your customers well. And yet so few of us master this principle.

Employing First Principles in Your Daily Life

Most of us have no problem thinking about what we want to achieve in life, at least when we’re young. We’re full of big dreams, big ideas, and boundless energy. The problem is that we let others tell us what’s possible, not only when it comes to our dreams but also when it comes to how we go after them. And when we let other people tell us what’s possible or what the best way to do something is, we outsource our thinking to someone else.

The real power of first-principles thinking is moving away from incremental improvement and into possibility. Letting others think for us means that we’re using their analogies, their conventions, and their possibilities. It means we’ve inherited a world that conforms to what they think. This is incremental thinking.

When we take what already exists and improve on it, we are in the shadow of others. It’s only when we step back, ask ourselves what’s possible, and cut through the flawed analogies that we see what is possible. Analogies are beneficial; they make complex problems easier to communicate and increase understanding. Using them, however, is not without a cost. They limit our beliefs about what’s possible and allow people to argue without ever exposing our (faulty) thinking. Analogies move us to see the problem in the same way that someone else sees the problem.

The gulf between what people currently see because their thinking is framed by someone else and what is physically possible is filled by the people who use first principles to think through problems.

First-principles thinking clears the clutter of what we’ve told ourselves and allows us to rebuild from the ground up. Sure, it’s a lot of work, but that’s why so few people are willing to do it. It’s also why the rewards for filling the chasm between possible and incremental improvement tend to be non-linear.

Let’s take a look at a few of the limiting beliefs that we tell ourselves.

“I don’t have a good memory.” [10]
People have far better memories than they think they do. Saying you don’t have a good memory is just a convenient excuse to let you forget. Taking a first-principles approach means asking how much information we can physically store in our minds. The answer is “a lot more than you think.” Now that we know it’s possible to put more into our brains, we can reframe the problem into finding the most optimal way to store information in our brains.

“There is too much information out there.”
A lot of professional investors read Farnam Street. When I meet these people and ask how they consume information, they usually fall into one of two categories. The differences between the two apply to all of us. The first type of investor says there is too much information to consume. They spend their days reading every press release, article, and blogger commenting on a position they hold. They wonder what they are missing. The second type of investor realizes that reading everything is unsustainable and stressful and makes them prone to overvaluing information they’ve spent a great amount of time consuming. These investors, instead, seek to understand the variables that will affect their investments. While there might be hundreds, there are usually three to five variables that will really move the needle. The investors don’t have to read everything; they just pay attention to these variables.

“All the good ideas are taken.”
A common way that people limit what’s possible is to tell themselves that all the good ideas are taken. Yet, people have been saying this for hundreds of years — literally — and companies keep starting and competing with different ideas, variations, and strategies.

“We need to move first.”
I’ve heard this in boardrooms for years. The answer isn’t as black and white as this statement. The iPhone wasn’t first, it was better. Microsoft wasn’t the first to sell operating systems; it just had a better business model. There is a lot of evidence showing that first movers in business are more likely to fail than latecomers. Yet this myth about the need to move first continues to exist.

Sometimes the early bird gets the worm and sometimes the first mouse gets killed. You have to break each situation down into its component parts and see what’s possible. That is the work of first-principles thinking.

“I can’t do that; it’s never been done before.”
People like Elon Musk are constantly doing things that have never been done before. This type of thinking is analogous to looking back at history and building, say, floodwalls, based on the worst flood that has happened before. A better bet is to look at what could happen and plan for that.

“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.” — Harrington Emerson

Conclusion

The thoughts of others imprison us if we’re not thinking for ourselves.

Reasoning from first principles allows us to step outside of history and conventional wisdom and see what is possible. When you really understand the principles at work, you can decide if the existing methods make sense. Often they don’t.

Reasoning by first principles is useful when you are (1) doing something for the first time, (2) dealing with complexity, and (3) trying to understand a situation that you’re having problems with. In all of these areas, your thinking gets better when you stop making assumptions and you stop letting others frame the problem for you.

Analogies can’t replace understanding. While it’s easier on your brain to reason by analogy, you’re more likely to come up with better answers when you reason by first principles. This is what makes it one of the best sources of creative thinking. Thinking in first principles allows you to adapt to a changing environment, deal with reality, and seize opportunities that others can’t see.

Many people mistakenly believe that creativity is something that only some of us are born with, and either we have it or we don’t. Fortunately, there seems to be ample evidence that this isn’t true.[11] We’re all born rather creative, but during our formative years, it can be beaten out of us by busy parents and teachers. As adults, we rely on convention and what we’re told because that’s easier than breaking things down into first principles and thinking for ourselves. Thinking through first principles is a way of taking off the blinders. Most things suddenly seem more possible.

“I think most people can learn a lot more than they think they can,” says Musk. “They sell themselves short without trying. One bit of advice: it is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e., the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.”

This article originally appeared on Farnham Street

End Notes

[1] Aristotle, Physics 184a10–21

[2] Aristotle, Metaphysics 1013a14-15

[3] https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/11/the-cook-and-the-chef-musks-secret-sauce.html

[4] Elon Musk, quoted by Tim Urban in “The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce,” Wait But Why https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/11/the-cook-and-the-chef-musks-secret-sauce.html

[5] Vance, Ashlee. Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future (p. 354)

[6] https://www.wired.com/2012/10/ff-elon-musk-qa/all/

[7] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-s_3b5fRd8

[8] David Rowan, “How BuzzFeed mastered social sharing to become a media giant for a new era,” Wired.com. 2 January 2014. https://www.wired.co.uk/article/buzzfeed

[9] What does Elon Musk mean when he said “I think it’s important to reason from first principles rather than by analogy?”

[10] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-estimate-boosts-the-human-brain-s-memory-capacity-10-fold/

[11] Breakpoint and Beyond: Mastering the Future Today, George Land

[12] I am Elon Musk, CEO/CTO of a rocket company, AMA!

Image credits: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Innovation | Leave a comment

An Innovation Action Plan for the New CTO

Finding and Growing Innovation Islands Inside a Large Company

An Innovation Action Plan for the New CTO

GUEST POST from Steve Blank

How does a newly hired Chief Technology Officer (CTO) find and grow the islands of innovation inside a large company?

How not to waste your first six months as a new CTO thinking you’re making progress when the status quo is working to keep you at bay?

I just had coffee with Anthony, a friend who was just hired as the Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a large company (30,000+ people.) He previously cofounded several enterprise software startups, and his previous job was building a new innovation organization from scratch inside another large company. But this is the first time he was the CTO of a company this size.

Good News and Bad

His good news was that his new company provides essential services and regardless of how much they stumbled they were going to be in business for a long time. But the bad news was that the company wasn’t keeping up with new technologies and new competitors who were moving faster. And the fact that they were an essential service made the internal cultural obstacles for change and innovation that much harder.

We both laughed when he shared that the senior execs told him that all the existing processes and policies were working just fine. It was clear that at least two of the four divisions didn’t really want him there. Some groups think he’s going to muck with their empires. Some of the groups are dysfunctional. Some are, as he said, “world-class people and organizations for a world that no longer exists.”

So, the question we were pondering was, how do you quickly infiltrate a large, complex company of that size? How do you put wins on the board and get a coalition working? Perhaps by getting people to agree to common problems and strategies? And/or finding the existing organizational islands of innovation that were already delivering and help them scale?

The Journey Begins

In his first week the exec staff had pointed him to the existing corporate incubator. Anthony had long come to the same conclusion I had, that highly visible corporate incubators do a good job of shaping culture and getting great press, but most often their biggest products were demos that never get deployed to the field. Anthony concluded that the incubator in his new company was no exception. Successful organizations recognize that innovation isn’t a single activity (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment.

In addition, he was already discovering that almost every division and function was building groups for innovation, incubation and technology scouting. Yet no one had a single road map for who was doing what across the enterprise. And more importantly it wasn’t clear which, if any, of those groups were actually continuously delivering products and services at high speed. His first job was to build a map of all those activities.

Innovation Heroes are Not Repeatable or Scalable

Over coffee Anthony offered that in a company this size he knew he would find “innovation heroes” – the individuals others in the company point to who single-handedly fought the system and got a new product, project or service delivered (see article here.) But if that was all his company had, his work was going to be much tougher than he thought, as innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization.

Anthony believed one of his roles as CTO was to:

  • Map and evaluate all the innovation, incubation and technology scouting activities
  • Help the company understand they need innovation and execution to occur simultaneously. (This is the concept of an ambidextrous organization (see this HBR article).)
  • Educate the company that innovation and execution have different processes, people, and culture. They need each other – and need to respect and depend on each other
  • Create an innovation pipeline – from problem to deployment – and get it adopted at scale

Anthony was hoping that somewhere three, four or five levels down the organization were the real centers of innovation, where existing departments/groups – not individuals – were already accelerating mission/delivering innovative products/services at high speed. His challenge was to find these islands of innovation and who was running them and understand if/how they:

  • Leveraged existing company competencies and assets
  • Understand if/how they co-opted/bypassed existing processes and procedures
  • Had a continuous customer discovery to create products that customers need and want
  • Figured out how to deliver with speed and urgency
  • And if they somehow had made this a repeatable process

If these groups existed, his job as CTO was to take their learning and:

  • Figure out what barriers the innovation groups were running into and help build innovation processes in parallel to those for execution
  • Use their work to create a common language and tools for innovation around rapid acceleration of existing mission and delivery
  • Make permanent delivering products and services at speed with a written innovation doctrine and policy
  • Instrument the process with metrics and diagnostics

Get Out of the Office

So, with another cup of coffee the question we were trying to answer was, how does a newly hired CTO find the real islands of innovation in a company his size?

A first place to start was with the innovation heroes/rebels. They often know where all the innovation bodies were buried. But Anthony’s insight was he needed to get out of his 8th floor office and spend time where his company’s products and services were being developed and delivered.

It was likely that most innovative groups were not simply talking about innovation, but were the ones who rapidly delivering innovative solutions to customer’s needs.

One Last Thing

As we were finishing my coffee Anthony said, “I’m going to let a few of the execs know I’m not out for turf because I only intend to be here for a few years.” I almost spit out the rest of my coffee. I asked how many years the division C-level staff has been at the company. “Some of them for decades” he replied. I pointed out that in a large organization saying you’re just “visiting” will set you up for failure, as the executives who have made the company their career will simply wait you out.

As he left, he looked at a bit more concerned than we started. “Looks like I have my work cut out for me.”

Lessons Learned

  1. Large companies often have divisions and functions with innovation, incubation and technology scouting all operating independently with no common language or tools
  2. Innovation heroics as the sole source of deployment of new capabilities are a sign of a dysfunctional organization
  3. Innovation isn’t a single activity (incubators, accelerators, hackathons); it is a strategically organized end-to-end process from idea to deployment
  4. Somewhere three, four or five levels down the organization are the real centers of innovation – accelerating mission/delivering innovative products/services at high speed
  5. The CTO’s job is to:
    • create a common process, language and tools for innovation
    • make them permanent with a written innovation doctrine and policy

  6. And don’t ever tell anyone you’re a “short timer”

This article originally appeared in Fast Company

Image credit: Unsplash

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Digital Transformation, Leadership, Management, Technology | Tagged | Leave a comment

Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

Closing the Virtual and Cultural Gap

Managing Cross-Cultural Remote Teams

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

Learning to connect a culturally diverse virtual workforce is an essential part of managing cross cultural remote teams. Faced with the challenge of virtual team building, remote team managers also have to unite their virtual teams across any cultural differences, time zones, and other unique elements.

Recent studies show that 62% of virtual teams are comprised of workers from three or more cultures. Surprisingly, only 15% of team leaders have successfully led cross cultural remote teams. Such statistics show the dire need for improving cross cultural remote teams management.

In the following article, we’ll discuss managing cross cultural remote teams as we cover topics such as:

  • What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?
  • The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work
  • Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams
  • Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams
  • Improving Cross Cultural Leadership Skills

What Are Cross Cultural Remote Teams?

With the rise of remote work, it comes as no surprise that cross culture remote teams are the reality of today’s working world. Cross culture remote teams are teams made up of the global talent pool. Whether a company pulls freelancers from various parts of the world or hires remote team members within the same country, effectively working together requires a strategic approach to managing such a diverse group of workers.

Remote work experts suggest that culture is defined as the social expectations, customs, and achievements unique to a nation or region. One’s idea of culture frames the way they approach work, life events, and communication. While distributed teams composed of members from various cultures are an effective way to diversify the workforce, the difference in cultures and time zones can lead to collaborative and communication challenges.

The Challenges of Cross Culture Remote Work

Managing cross cultural remote teams come with unique benefits and challenges. Being able to fill your team with the world’s greatest minds is an incredibly powerful way to shore up your company’s talent pool. However, each team member will have their practices, preferences, and ideas of company culture, and as a result, may have trouble gelling with the rest of the team.

Moreover, team managers will experience the challenges of building a team in the virtual world. Without the face-to-face interaction of a shared workplace, cross-culture remote teams are more vulnerable to conflict and communication problems.

Remote team leaders face unique challenges such as:

1. Work Style

When managing cross cultural remote teams, be sure to address the individual work style of your team members. When working with team members from different cultures, it’s essential to acknowledge each person’s work style. This is especially true for team members that are of vastly different cultures. For example, certain work cultures prioritize individual opinions while others expect to follow a leader’s course of action.

2. Information Gaps

In the virtual world, information gaps are a huge threat when managing cross cultural remote teams. Any information gaps can negatively affect processes and data flows. All team members need access to the most appropriate resources to successfully collaborate.

3. Motivation Factors

Team leaders should do their best to analyze how each person’s culture may affect their motivations to better manage their team. Motivation factors for cross culture remote teams are vastly different than that of a traditional company. For example, while some team members may be motivated by a range of tangible benefits like bonuses, others focus on intangible benefits like encouragement and job satisfaction.

4. Influences

When managing cross cultural remote teams. Managers face the challenges of certain factions attempting to influence the rest of the group. If part of the team has the same cultural identity, they may use that to dominate a conversation or outcome, leading to conflict and contentious work environments.

Closing the Virtual Gap for Culturally Diverse Teams

Navigating virtual cross-cultural teams starts with first addressing virtual team building. While your team’s cultural background may play a role in the unique challenges you face, everything comes back to your ability to work together as a team. Level the playing field with an effective strategy to close the gaps and facilitate stronger personal relationships among team members.

By making an effort to strengthen connections between your team members, you’ll be able to bridge initial gaps created by remote work. Moreover, team members that share a common bond will be able to better navigate any cross-cultural challenges that may arise. Consider using intentionally designed games and activities like icebreakers to help strengthen connections between team members.

Essential Skills for Managing Cross Cultural Remote Teams

In the virtual world, company culture is constantly changing. To effectively run a diverse group of remote workers, team leaders must be open to learning the most appropriate skills to bring the best out of their team.

Lead your remote team to success by honing skills such as:

1. Adaptability

Cross cultural management hinges upon the leader’s ability to understand each team member’s work style and make the necessary adjustments. While you shouldn’t completely abandon your leadership style, you will need to integrate other behaviors, worldviews, commonalities, and perspectives to find more relatable ways to manage your team.

2. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is a key skill for leaders of cross-culture teams. Conflicts can arise quickly in a virtual workspace, so it’s important for you to regularly monitor and manage your own biases as you exercise patience and grace in your communications. Make an effort to frequently challenge your perspective and take a step back in your interactions with team members. This will help you navigate complex cultural challenges as you take note of where your perspective and behavior may require adjustment.

3. Articulation

When working with a virtual team from different cultural backgrounds, clear communication is essential. By prioritizing articulation and careful and deliberate conversation, team leaders will be better able to ensure that every member of their team understands what they’re saying. Similarly, if other team members tend to speak too quickly, don’t hesitate to ask them to repeat themselves or speak at a slower pace.

4. Writing Proficiency

In virtual meetings, calls, or voice notes, words can easily get lost in translation. Team leaders should develop the habit of communicating in writing to make sure all their team members have access to a document they can refer to at a later point in time.

Improving Cross-Cultural Leadership Skills

Remote work opens a world of possibilities in the way of team leadership. As your team expands to include a more culturally-diverse group, your leadership skills should improve as well. At Voltage Control, we offer facilitation courses, remote collaboration resources, and team-building workshops to help you navigate the pitfalls of managing remote teams and connecting culturally diverse groups.

Work with our team of expert facilitators to learn more about managing cross cultural remote teams. With the help of workshops and resources, you’ll learn to expertly lead a virtual session, unite a distributed team, and appreciate and highlight the cultural differences that make your team a well-oiled virtual machine. Contact us to learn more about our custom programs for leadership development, master facilitation certification, and change management.

Article originally posted at VoltageControl.com

Image Credit: Pexels

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in collaboration, culture, Leadership | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

Can You Ever Be a Truly Independent Thinker?

GUEST POST from Tom Stafford, University of Sheffield

‘It’s important to me that I make my own decisions, but I often wonder how much they are actually influenced by cultural and societal norms, by advertising, the media and those around me. We all feel the need to fit in, but does this prevent us from making decisions for ourselves? In short, can I ever be a truly free thinker?’ Richard, Yorkshire.

There’s good news and bad news on this one. In his poem Invictus, William Ernest Henley wrote: “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.”

While being the lone “captain of your soul” is a reassuring idea, the truth is rather more nuanced. The reality is that we are social beings driven by a profound need to fit in – and as a consequence, we are all hugely influenced by cultural norms.

But to get to the specifics of your question, advertising, at least, may not influence you as much as you imagine. Both advertisers and the critics of advertising like us to think that ads can make us dance any way they want, especially now everything is digital and personalised ad targeting is possible in a way it never was before.


This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


In reality, there is no precise science of advertising. Most new products fail, despite the advertising they receive. And even when sales go up, nobody is exactly sure of the role advertising played. As the marketing pioneer John Wanamaker said:

Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.

You’d expect advertisers to exaggerate the effectiveness of advertising, and scholars of advertising have typically made more modest claims. Even these, though, may be overestimates. Recent studies have claimed that both online and offline, the methods commonly used to study advertising effectiveness vastly exaggerate the power of advertising to change our beliefs and behaviour.

This has led some to claim that not just half, but perhaps nearly all advertising money is wasted, at least online.

When the ads don’t work…
Shutterstock

There are similar results outside of commerce. One review of field experiments in political campaigning argued “the best estimate of the effects of campaign contact and advertising on Americans’ candidates choices in general elections is zero”. Zero!

In other words, although we like to blame the media for how people vote, it is surprisingly hard to find solid evidence of when and how people are swayed by the media. One professor of political science, Kenneth Newton, went so far as to claim “It’s Not the Media, Stupid”.

But although advertising is a weak force, and although hard evidence on how the media influences specific choices is elusive, every one of us is undoubtedly influenced by the culture in which we live.

Followers of fashion

Fashions exist both for superficial things, such as buying clothes and opting for a particular hairstyle, but also for more profound behaviour like murder and even suicide. Indeed, we all borrow so much from those we grow up around, and those around us now, that it seems impossible to put a clear line between our individual selves and the selves society forges for us.

Two examples: I don’t have any facial tattoos, and I don’t want any. If I wanted a facial tattoo my family would think I’d gone mad. But if I was born in some cultures, where these tattoos were common and conveyed high status, such as traditional Māori culture, people would think I was unusual if I didn’t want facial tattoos.

Similarly, if I had been born a Viking, I can assume that my highest ambition would have been to die in battle, axe or sword in hand. In their belief system, after all, that was surest way to Valhalla and a glorious afterlife. Instead, I am a liberal academic whose highest ambition is to die peacefully in bed, a long way away from any bloodshed. Promises of Valhalla have no influence over me.

Vikings had different beliefs to most modern liberal academics.
Shutterstock

Ultimately, I’d argue that all of our desires are patterned by the culture we happen to be born in.

But it gets worse. Even if we could somehow free ourselves from cultural expectations, other forces impinge on our thoughts. Your genes can affect your personality and so they must also, indirectly, have a knock-on effect on your beliefs.

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, famously talked about the influence of parents and upbringing on behaviour, and he probably wasn’t 100% wrong. Even just psychologically, how can you ever think freely, separate from the twin influences of prior experience and other people?

From this perspective, all of our behaviours and our desires are profoundly influenced by outside forces. But does this mean they aren’t also our own?

The answer to this dilemma, I think, is not to free yourself from outside influences. This is impossible. Instead, you should see yourself and your ideas as the intersection of all the forces that come to play on you.

Some of these are shared – like our culture – and some are unique to you – your unique experience, your unique history and biology. Being a free thinker, from this perspective, means working out exactly what makes sense to you, from where you are now.

You can’t – and shouldn’t – ignore outside influences, but the good news is that these influences are not some kind of overwhelming force. All the evidence is compatible with the view that each of us, choice by choice, belief by belief, can make reasonable decisions for ourselves, not unshackled from the influences of others and the past, but free to chart our own unique paths forward into the future.

After all, the captain of a ship doesn’t sail while ignoring the wind – sometimes they go with it, sometimes against it, but they always account for it. Similarly, we think and make our choices in the context of all our circumstances, not by ignoring them.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credits: Pixabay, Shutterstock (via theconversation)

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Creativity, Innovation, Psychology | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Selling To Generation Z

This is What They Want

Selling to Generation Z

GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

Gen-Z is not your typical generation. By the way, neither was the Millennial generation … or Gen-X, etc. Each new generation has interesting differences, desires, likes and dislikes. Each generation poses its own problems and opportunities, depending on how you view the challenge. A recent report created by Gongos (part of InSites Consulting) shared some interesting information relevant to companies that do business with Gen-Z.

Gongos surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. consumers and compared Gen-Z to older generations. Gen-Z’s were born between 1997 and 2011, and their habits, views and behaviors are quite different than the older Gen-X and Baby Boomers. The oldest Gen-Z’s are about 24 years old, and they are quickly becoming an important consumer group that will change the way brands market and sell. Here are some of the findings, followed by my commentary and additional stats and facts.

Gen-Z Wants Brands to Challenge Social Issues – Forty-three percent of Gen-Z appreciates brands that take a stand, especially in the areas of sustainability, inclusiveness and racial transparency. And they put their money where their mouth is:

  • 69% will pay more if employees and suppliers are treated fairly.
  • 66% will pay more if the brand tries to have a positive impact on society.
  • 61% will pay more if the brands use inclusive practices.
  • 60% will pay more for a business that practices sustainability.

Gen-Z Loves Personalization – For all of the marketers reading this article, note that Gen-Z will pay for personalization—not always with money, but instead with their personal data. They aren’t nearly as protective of their personal data as Gen-X and Baby Boomers. Gen-Z pays more attention to brands that create a personalized experience or allow them to create a custom product. Consider the shoe manufacturer that lets its customers design their own shoes. Or the cosmetic company that allows its customers to create their own formulas. Offer them a personalized experience, and they will go out of their way to do business with you. More stats to consider:

  • 50% pay attention to brands that offer personalization and co-creation.
  • 52% look for brands that understand them.
  • 51% allow brands to create products that reflect their identity.

Gen-Z Fights Injustice Through “Click-Tivism” – Social media has made it easy for anyone to have a megaphone that is heard by the world. Older generations (Boomers) might protest with sit-ins and picket signs. The younger generation has embraced social media as the place to call attention to what is important to them. “Gen-Z is clicking for change.”

  • 29% follow social media accounts on social justice.
  • 26% use social media to voice their opinions.
  • 15% participate in online protests.

Gen-Z Fights for Social Inequality – Gen-Z is, according to the study, the most ethnically diverse generation in history. Diversity and inclusion are not just hot topics in the HR department, but some of the hottest topics for this younger generation.

  • 59% consider racial and ethnic diversity as beneficial for society.
  • 48% consider racism a top global issue.
  • 49% recognize that gender identity can change over time.
  • 48% know someone who prefers to be addressed with gender-neutral pronouns (they, them, their, etc.)

Gen-Z Engages in Metaverse Activities – Many people still don’t understand the metaverse, which is blending the physical and digital worlds we live in. According to the study, “No generation will embrace and shape the metaverse more than Gen-Z.” Eighty-three percent of Gen-Z engages in metaverse activities. They hang out with friends in virtual worlds and spend money on virtual merchandise. They also are looking for brands that are “seamlessly integrating the online and offline worlds.” If you do not understand the opportunities the metaverse is offering Gen-Z (and other generations), you might find yourself playing catch-up with a competitor who does. Some metaverse findings:

  • 48% participate in online gaming.
  • 29% created an avatar to use on the metaverse.
  • 20% have paid for digital products.

There are approximately 65 million Gen-Z’s in the U.S., which accounts for almost 20% of the U.S. population. These are your up-and-coming consumers and financial decision-makers. They have expectations that are quite different than older generations. While many of today’s Gen-Z’s are still very young (as young as 11 years old), don’t think they aren’t making a major impact on companies’ current and future plans. The customer experience will have to change to reflect the values of Gen-Z. Their opinions and habits are going to cross over to older generations, especially with their parents, who support this young generation’s ideals. Are you ready for a new generation’s expectations? If not, it’s not too late to start to change.

This article originally appeared on Forbes

Image Credit: Shep Hyken

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Customer Experience, marketing | Tagged , | Leave a comment

We Must Break Free of the Engineering Mindset

We Must Break Free of the Engineering Mindset

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

In 2014, when Silicon Valley was still largely seen as purely a force for good, George Packer wrote in The New Yorker how tech entrepreneurs tended to see politics through the lens of an engineering mindset. Their first instinct was to treat every problem as if it could be reduced down to discrete variables and solved like an equation.

Despite its romantic illusions, the digital zeitgeist merely echoed more than a century of failed attempts to generalize engineering approaches, such as scientific management, financial engineering, six sigma and shareholder value. All showed initial promise and then disappointed, in some cases catastrophically.

Proponents of the engineering mindset tend to blame its failures on poor execution. Surely, logic would suggest that as long as a set of principles are internally consistent, they should be externally relevant. Yet the problem is that reality is not simple and clear-cut, but complex and nonlinear, which is why we need be ready to adapt to the unexpected and nonsensical.

The Rise of the Engineering Mindset

In the 1920s, a group of intellectuals in Berlin and Vienna, much like many of the Silicon Valley digerati today, became enamored with the engineering mindset. By this time electricity and internal combustion had begun to reshape the world and Einstein’s theory of relativity, confirmed in 1919, had reshaped our conception of the universe. It seemed that there was nothing that scientific precision couldn’t achieve.

Yet human affairs were just as messy as always. Just a decade before Europe had blundered its way into the most horrible war in history. Social scientists still seemed no more advanced than voodoo doctors and philosophers were still making essentially the same arguments the ancient Greeks used two thousand years before.

It seemed obvious to them that human endeavors could be built on a more logical basis and saw a savior in Ludwig Wittgenstein and his Tractatus, which described a world made up of “atomic facts” that could be combined to create “states of affairs.” He concluded, famously, that “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must remain silent,” meaning that whatever could not be proved logically must be disregarded.

The intellectuals branded their movement logical positivism and based it on the principle of verificationism. Only verifiable propositions would be taken as meaningful. All other statements would be treated as silly talk and gobbledygook. Essentially, if it didn’t fit in an algorithm, it didn’t exist.

A Foundational Crisis

Unfortunately, and again much like Silicon Valley denizens of today, the exuberant confidence of the logical positivists belied serious trouble underfoot. In fact, while the intellectuals in Berlin and Vienna were trying to put social sciences on a more logical footing, logic itself was undergoing a foundational crisis.

At the root of the crisis was a strange paradox, which can be illustrated by the sentence, “The barber shaves every man who does not shave himself.” Notice the problem? If the barber shaves every man who doesn’t shave himself, then who shaves the Barber? If he shaves himself, he violates the statement and if he does not shave himself, he also violates it.

It seems a bit silly, but the Barber’s Paradox is actually a simplified version of Russell’s Paradox involving sets that are members of themselves, which had baffled mathematicians and logicians for decades. Clearly, for a logical system to be valid and verifiable, statements need to be provably true or false. 2+2 for example, needs to always equal four. Yet the paradox exposed a hole that no one seemed able to close.

Eventually, the situation came to a head when David Hilbert, one of the most prominent logical positivists, proposed a program that rested on three pillars. First, mathematics needed to be shown to be complete in that it worked for all statements. Second, mathematics needed to be shown to be consistent, no contradictions or paradoxes allowed. Finally, all statements need to be computable, meaning they yielded a clear answer.

The hope was that the foundational crisis would be resolved, the hole at the center of logic could be closed and the logical positivists could move along with their project.

The System Crashes

Hilbert and his colleagues received and answer faster than most had expected. In 1931, just 11 years after Hilbert proposed his foundational problems, 25-year-old Kurt Gödel published his incompleteness theorems. It wasn’t the answer anyone was expecting. Gödel showed that any logical system could be either complete or consistent, but not both,

Put more simply, Gödel proved that every logical system will always crash. It’s only a matter of time. Logic would remain broken forever and the positivists hopes were dashed. Obviously, you can’t engineer a society based on a logical system that itself is hopelessly flawed. For better or for worse, the world would remain a messy place.

Yet the implications of the downfall of logic turned out to be far different, and far more strange, than anyone had expected. In 1937, building on Gödel’s proof, Alan Turing published his own paper on Hilbert’s computability problem. Much like the Austrian, he found that all problems are not computable, but with a silver lining. As part of his proof, he included a description of a simple machine that could compute every computable number.

Ironically, Turing’s machine would usher in a new era of digital computing. These machines, constructed on the basis that they would all eventually crash, have proven to be incredibly useful, as long as we accept them for what they are — flawed machines. As it turns out, to solve big, important problems, we often need to discard up our illusions first.

We Need to Think Less Like Engineers and More Like Gardeners

The 20th century ushered in a new era of science. We conquered infectious diseases, explored space and unlocked the genetic code. So, it was not at all unreasonable to want to build on that success by applying an engineering mindset to other fields of human endeavor. However, at this point, it should be clear that the approach is far past the point of saving.

It would be nice if the general well-being could be reduced to a single metric like GDP or the success of an enterprise could be fully encapsulated in a stock price. Yet today we live, as Danny Hillis has put it, in an age of the entanglement, where even a limited set of variables can lead to the emergence of a new and unexpected order.

We need to take a more biological view in which we think less like engineers and more like gardeners that grow and nurture ecosystems. The logical positivists had no idea what they were growing, but somehow what emerged from the soil they tilled turned out to be far more wondrous—not to mention exponentially more useful—than what they had originally intended.

As I wrote at the beginning of this crazy year, the time has come to rediscover our humanity. We are, in so many ways, at a crossroads. Technology will not save us. Markets will not save us. We simply need to make better choices.

— Article courtesy of the Digital Tonto blog
— Image credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Change | Tagged , | Leave a comment

17 Reasons Not to Be a Physician Entrepreneur

17 Reasons Not to Be a Physician Entrepreneur

GUEST POST from Arlen Meyers, M.D.

Judging by the headlines on their LinkedIn profile and their presence on social media, more and more MD/DOs are innovators, coaches, entrepreneurs and non-clinical consultants. Many are starting or working with biomedical and clinical startups, including a group of medical school graduates, who don’t do a residency or starting their own company.. But:

  • They are not trained to do so
  • Entrepreneurship in the US has been in a downward spiral in the US for the past 40 years.
  • Most startups will fail
  • Most startups don’t have money to pay people
  • There is an innovation bubble.
  • Job security is low
  • You have to deal with people who have entrepreneurial psychopathologies are simply untrustworthy.
  • Students loan burdens are rising
  • Many are not in it for the long run
  • There are unrealistic expectations on both the consultant/employee and employer side.
  • Most MD/MBA programs should be terminated
  • Innovation theater is pervasive.

What is physician entrepreneurship? Entrepreneurship is the pursuit of opportunity under volatile, uncertain, complex and ambibuous conditions (VUCA).. The goal of physician entrepreneurs, is to create user defined value through the deployment of innovation using a VAST business model to accomplish the quintuple aim. There are many ways to do that other than creating a company.

Here are some reasons why you should think twice about being a physician entrepreneur:

  1. You are not ready to innovate
  2. You do not have the courage to innovate
  3. You do not have the mindset to innovate
  4. You think that your clinical mindset and your medical degree and training is enough to succeed
  5. You are not in a financial position to take the risk
  6. You are doing it to get away from someone of some job instead of towards something that is a better fit
  7. You do not have a career transition strategy
  8. You or your family are not willing to pay the price of successive failure
  9. You are unwilling to come down off the mountain
  10. It’s not personal
  11. You are not ready to quit your day job
  12. If you decide to create a company, or work for one, making money for the company is not that important to you.
  13. You don’t have the knowledge, skills, abilities and competencies to add value to a business
  14. You don’t have entrepreneurial DNA
  15. You don’t have a big enough network or know how to manage it as part of building your personal brand
  16. You don’t know how to sell things
  17. You are a problem solver, not a problem seeker.

Think twice about telling someone to take your white coat and shove it. You will save yourself and lots of other people heartburn and other people’s time, effort and money.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, Healthcare | Tagged | Leave a comment

How will humans change in the next 10,000 years?

Future evolution: from looks to brains and personality

GUEST POST from Nicholas R. Longrich, University of Bath

READER QUESTION: If humans don’t die out in a climate apocalypse or asteroid impact in the next 10,000 years, are we likely to evolve further into a more advanced species than what we are at the moment? Harry Bonas, 57, Nigeria

Humanity is the unlikely result of 4 billion years of evolution.

From self-replicating molecules in Archean seas, to eyeless fish in the Cambrian deep, to mammals scurrying from dinosaurs in the dark, and then, finally, improbably, ourselves – evolution shaped us.

Organisms reproduced imperfectly. Mistakes made when copying genes sometimes made them better fit to their environments, so those genes tended to get passed on. More reproduction followed, and more mistakes, the process repeating over billions of generations. Finally, Homo sapiens appeared. But we aren’t the end of that story. Evolution won’t stop with us, and we might even be evolving faster than ever.


This article is part of Life’s Big Questions

The Conversation’s new series, co-published with BBC Future, seeks to answer our readers’ nagging questions about life, love, death and the universe. We work with professional researchers who have dedicated their lives to uncovering new perspectives on the questions that shape our lives.


It’s hard to predict the future. The world will probably change in ways we can’t imagine. But we can make educated guesses. Paradoxically, the best way to predict the future is probably looking back at the past, and assuming past trends will continue going forward. This suggests some surprising things about our future.

We will likely live longer and become taller, as well as more lightly built. We’ll probably be less aggressive and more agreeable, but have smaller brains. A bit like a golden retriever, we’ll be friendly and jolly, but maybe not that interesting. At least, that’s one possible future. But to understand why I think that’s likely, we need to look at biology.

The end of natural selection?

Some scientists have argued that civilisation’s rise ended natural selection. It’s true that selective pressures that dominated in the past – predators, famine, plague, warfare – have mostly disappeared.

Starvation and famine were largely ended by high-yield crops, fertilisers and family planning. Violence and war are less common than ever, despite modern militaries with nuclear weapons, or maybe because of them. The lions, wolves and sabertoothed cats that hunted us in the dark are endangered or extinct. Plagues that killed millions – smallpox, Black Death, cholera – were tamed by vaccines, antibiotics, clean water.

But evolution didn’t stop; other things just drive it now. Evolution isn’t so much about survival of the fittest as reproduction of the fittest. Even if nature is less likely to murder us, we still need to find partners and raise children, so sexual selection now plays a bigger role in our evolution.

And if nature doesn’t control our evolution anymore, the unnatural environment we’ve created – culture, technology, cities – produces new selective pressures very unlike those we faced in the ice age. We’re poorly adapted to this modern world; it follows that we’ll have to adapt.

And that process has already started. As our diets changed to include grains and dairy, we evolved genes to help us digest starch and milk. When dense cities created conditions for disease to spread, mutations for disease resistance spread too. And for some reason, our brains have got smaller. Unnatural environments create unnatural selection.

To predict where this goes, we’ll look at our prehistory, studying trends over the past 6 million years of evolution. Some trends will continue, especially those that emerged in the past 10,000 years, after agriculture and civilisation were invented.

We’re also facing new selective pressures, such as reduced mortality. Studying the past doesn’t help here, but we can see how other species responded to similar pressures. Evolution in domestic animals may be especially relevant – arguably we’re becoming a kind of domesticated ape, but curiously, one domesticated by ourselves.

I’ll use this approach to make some predictions, if not always with high confidence. That is, I’ll speculate.

Lifespan

Humans will almost certainly evolve to live longer – much longer. Life cycles evolve in response to mortality rates, how likely predators and other threats are to kill you. When mortality rates are high, animals must reproduce young, or might not reproduce at all. There’s also no advantage to evolving mutations that prevent ageing or cancer – you won’t live long enough to use them.

When mortality rates are low, the opposite is true. It’s better to take your time reaching sexual maturity. It’s also useful to have adaptations that extend lifespan, and fertility, giving you more time to reproduce. That’s why animals with few predators – animals that live on islands or in the deep ocean, or are simply big – evolve longer lifespans. Greenland sharks, Galapagos tortoises and bowhead whales mature late, and can live for centuries.

Even before civilisation, people were unique among apes in having low mortality and long lives. Hunter-gatherers armed with spears and bows could defend against predators; food sharing prevented starvation. So we evolved delayed sexual maturity, and long lifespans – up to 70 years.

Still, child mortality was high – approaching 50% or more by age 15. Average life expectancy was just 35 years. Even after the rise of civilisation, child mortality stayed high until the 19th century, while life expectancy went down – to 30 years – due to plagues and famines.

Then, in the past two centuries, better nutrition, medicine and hygiene reduced youth mortality to under 1% in most developed nations. Life expectancy soared to 70 years worldwide , and 80 in developed countries. These increases are due to improved health, not evolution – but they set the stage for evolution to extend our lifespan.

Now, there’s little need to reproduce early. If anything, the years of training needed to be a doctor, CEO, or carpenter incentivise putting it off. And since our life expectancy has doubled, adaptations to prolong lifespan and child-bearing years are now advantageous. Given that more and more people live to 100 or even 110 yearsthe record being 122 years – there’s reason to think our genes could evolve until the average person routinely lives 100 years or even more.

Size, and strength

Animals often evolve larger size over time; it’s a trend seen in tyrannosaurs, whales, horses and primates – including hominins.

Early hominins like Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis were small, four to five feet (120cm-150cm) tall. Later hominins – Homo erectus, Neanderthals, Homo sapiens – grew taller. We’ve continued to gain height in historic times, partly driven by improved nutrition, but genes seem to be evolving too.

Why we got big is unclear. In part, mortality may drive size evolution; growth takes time, so longer lives mean more time to grow. But human females also prefer tall males. So both lower mortality and sexual preferences will likely cause humans to get taller. Today, the tallest people in the world are in Europe, led by the Netherlands. Here, men average 183cm (6ft); women 170cm (5ft 6in). Someday, most people might be that tall, or taller.

As we’ve grown taller, we’ve become more gracile. Over the past 2 million years, our skeletons became more lightly built as we relied less on brute force, and more on tools and weapons. As farming forced us to settle down, our lives became more sedentary, so our bone density decreased. As we spend more time behind desks, keyboards and steering wheels, these trends will likely continue.

Humans have also reduced our muscles compared to other apes, especially in our upper bodies. That will probably continue. Our ancestors had to slaughter antelopes and dig roots; later they tilled and reaped in the fields. Modern jobs increasingly require working with people, words and code – they take brains, not muscle. Even for manual laborers – farmers, fisherman, lumberjacks – machinery such as tractors, hydraulics and chainsaws now shoulder a lot of the work. As physical strength becomes less necessary, our muscles will keep shrinking.

Our jaws and teeth also got smaller. Early, plant-eating hominins had huge molars and mandibles for grinding fibrous vegetables. As we shifted to meat, then started cooking food, jaws and teeth shrank. Modern processed food – chicken nuggets, Big Macs, cookie dough ice cream – needs even less chewing, so jaws will keep shrinking, and we’ll likely lose our wisdom teeth.

Beauty

After people left Africa 100,000 years ago, humanity’s far-flung tribes became isolated by deserts, oceans, mountains, glaciers and sheer distance. In various parts of the world, different selective pressures – different climates, lifestyles and beauty standards – caused our appearance to evolve in different ways. Tribes evolved distinctive skin colour, eyes, hair and facial features.

With civilisation’s rise and new technologies, these populations were linked again. Wars of conquest, empire building, colonisation and trade – including trade of other humans – all shifted populations, which interbred. Today, road, rail and aircraft link us too. Bushmen would walk 40 miles to find a partner; we’ll go 4,000 miles. We’re increasingly one, worldwide population – freely mixing. That will create a world of hybrids – light brown skinned, dark-haired, Afro-Euro-Australo-Americo-Asians, their skin colour and facial features tending toward a global average.

Sexual selection will further accelerate the evolution of our appearance. With most forms of natural selection no longer operating, mate choice will play a larger role. Humans might become more attractive, but more uniform in appearance. Globalised media may also create more uniform standards of beauty, pushing all humans towards a single ideal. Sex differences, however, could be exaggerated if the ideal is masculine-looking men and feminine-looking women.

Intelligence and personality

Last, our brains and minds, our most distinctively human feature, will evolve, perhaps dramatically. Over the past 6 million years, hominin brain size roughly tripled, suggesting selection for big brains driven by tool use, complex societies and language. It might seem inevitable that this trend will continue, but it probably won’t.

Instead, our brains are getting smaller. In Europe, brain size peaked 10,000—20,000 years ago, just before we invented farming. Then, brains got smaller. Modern humans have brains smaller than our ancient predecessors, or even medieval people. It’s unclear why.

It could be that fat and protein were scarce once we shifted to farming, making it more costly to grow and maintain large brains. Brains are also energetically expensive – they burn around 20% of our daily calories. In agricultural societies with frequent famine, a big brain might be a liability.

Maybe hunter-gatherer life was demanding in ways farming isn’t. In civilisation, you don’t need to outwit lions and antelopes, or memorise every fruit tree and watering hole within 1,000 square miles. Making and using bows and spears also requires fine motor control, coordination, the ability to track animals and trajectories — maybe the parts of our brains used for those things got smaller when we stopped hunting.

Or maybe living in a large society of specialists demands less brainpower than living in a tribe of generalists. Stone-age people mastered many skills – hunting, tracking, foraging for plants, making herbal medicines and poisons, crafting tools, waging war, making music and magic. Modern humans perform fewer, more specialised roles as part of vast social networks, exploiting division of labour. In a civilisation, we specialise on a trade, then rely on others for everything else.

That being said, brain size isn’t everything: elephants and orcas have bigger brains than us, and Einstein’s brain was smaller than average. Neanderthals had brains comparable to ours, but more of the brain was devoted to sight and control of the body, suggesting less capacity for things like language and tool use. So how much the loss of brain mass affects overall intelligence is unclear. Maybe we lost certain abilities, while enhancing others that are more relevant to modern life. It’s possible that we’ve maintained processing power by having fewer, smaller neurons. Still, I worry about what that missing 10% of my grey matter did.

Curiously, domestic animals also evolved smaller brains. Sheep lost 24% of their brain mass after domestication; for cows, it’s 26%; dogs, 30%. This raises an unsettling possibility. Maybe being more willing to passively go with the flow (perhaps even thinking less), like a domesticated animal, has been bred into us, like it was for them.

Our personalities must be evolving too. Hunter-gatherers’ lives required aggression. They hunted large mammals, killed over partners and warred with neighbouring tribes. We get meat from a store, and turn to police and courts to settle disputes. If war hasn’t disappeared, it now accounts for fewer deaths, relative to population, than at any time in history. Aggression, now a maladaptive trait, could be bred out.

Changing social patterns will also change personalities. Humans live in much larger groups than other apes, forming tribes of around 1,000 in hunter-gatherers. But in today’s world people living in vast cities of millions. In the past, our relationships were necessarily few, and often lifelong. Now we inhabit seas of people, moving often for work, and in the process forming thousands of relationships, many fleeting and, increasingly, virtual. This world will push us to become more outgoing, open and tolerant. Yet navigating such vast social networks may also require we become more willing to adapt ourselves to them – to be more conformist.

Not everyone is psychologically well-adapted to this existence. Our instincts, desires and fears are largely those of stone-age ancestors, who found meaning in hunting and foraging for their families, warring with their neighbours and praying to ancestor-spirits in the dark. Modern society meets our material needs well, but is less able to meet the psychological needs of our primitive caveman brains.

Perhaps because of this, increasing numbers of people suffer from psychological issues such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. Many turn to alcohol and other substances to cope. Selection against vulnerability to these conditions might improve our mental health, and make us happier as a species. But that could come at a price. Many great geniuses had their demons; leaders like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill fought with depression, as did scientists such as Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin, and artists like Herman Melville and Emily Dickinson. Some, like Virginia Woolf, Vincent Van Gogh and Kurt Cobain, took their own lives. Others – Billy Holliday, Jimi Hendrix and Jack Kerouac – were destroyed by substance abuse.

A disturbing thought is that troubled minds will be removed from the gene pool – but potentially at the cost of eliminating the sort of spark that created visionary leaders, great writers, artists and musicians. Future humans might be better adjusted – but less fun to party with and less likely to launch a scientific revolution — stable, happy and boring.

New species?

There were once nine human species, now it’s just us. But could new human species evolve? For that to happen, we’d need isolated populations subject to distinct selective pressures. Distance no longer isolates us, but reproductive isolation could theoretically be achieved by selective mating. If people were culturally segregated – marrying based on religion, class, caste, or even politics – distinct populations, even species, might evolve.

In The Time Machine, sci-fi novelist H.G. Wells saw a future where class created distinct species. Upper classes evolved into the beautiful but useless Eloi, and the working classes become the ugly, subterranean Morlocks – who revolted and enslaved the Eloi.

In the past, religion and lifestyle have sometimes produced genetically distinct groups, as seen in for example Jewish and Gypsy populations. Today, politics also divides us – could it divide us genetically? Liberals now move to be near other liberals, and conservatives to be near conservatives; many on the left won’t date Trump supporters and vice versa.

Could this create two species, with instinctively different views? Probably not. Still, to the extent culture divides us, it could drive evolution in different ways, in different people. If cultures become more diverse, this could maintain and increase human genetic diversity.

Strange New Possibilities

So far, I’ve mostly taken a historical perspective, looking back. But in some ways, the future might be radically unlike the past. Evolution itself has evolved.

One of the more extreme possibilities is directed evolution, where we actively control our species’ evolution. We already breed ourselves when we choose partners with appearances and personalities we like. For thousands of years, hunter-gatherers arranged marriages, seeking good hunters for their daughters. Even where children chose partners, men were generally expected to seek approval of the bride’s parents. Similar traditions survive elsewhere today. In other words, we breed our own children.

And going forward, we’ll do this with far more knowledge of what we’re doing, and more control over the genes of our progeny. We can already screen ourselves and embryos for genetic diseases. We could potentially choose embryos for desirable genes, as we do with crops. Direct editing of the DNA of a human embryo has been proven to be possible — but seems morally abhorrent, effectively turning children into subjects of medical experimentation. And yet, if such technologies were proven safe, I could imagine a future where you’d be a bad parent not to give your children the best genes possible.

Computers also provide an entirely new selective pressure. As more and more matches are made on smartphones, we are delegating decisions about what the next generation looks like to computer algorithms, who recommend our potential matches. Digital code now helps choose what genetic code passed on to future generations, just like it shapes what you stream or buy online. This might sound like dark science fiction, but it’s already happening. Our genes are being curated by computer, just like our playlists. It’s hard to know where this leads, but I wonder if it’s entirely wise to turn over the future of our species to iPhones, the internet and the companies behind them.

Discussions of human evolution are usually backward looking, as if the greatest triumphs and challenges were in the distant past. But as technology and culture enter a period of accelerating change, our genes will too. Arguably, the most interesting parts of evolution aren’t life’s origins, dinosaurs, or Neanderthals, but what’s happening right now, our present – and our future.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image Credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Psychology, Technology | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Leading a Culture of Innovation from Any Seat

3 Ways to Leverage Human-Centered Design at Your Organization

Leading a Culture of Innovation from Any Seat

GUEST POST from Patricia Salamone

In a world where business challenges are increasingly complex, identifying your objective and framing your problem correctly is an integral way to demonstrate leadership and ensure teams don’t inadvertently solve the wrong problem. This is where a Human-Centered Design (HCD) mindset comes in—providing a groundbreaking way to define and ensure teams are focused on the right objective.

First, consider the challenge and objectives.

Not all business challenges need to be completely reimagined. Before jumping back to the drawing board, ask yourself, is there an obvious answer? Is there a clear approach to finding a solution? Can the team define what isn’t right? If you can’t say yes to these questions, then your business can benefit from the application of HCD principles. While teams understand they need to align and reframe challenges, having the proper tools in place is where many teams can fall short.

Move past traditional methods and be inspired to see challenges by taking a step back to reframe the problem:

  • Align the team. Often, internal teams will have differing viewpoints on a business problem. Rather than seeing this as a barrier, cross-functional alignment can open the door for creativity and new ideas.
  • Keep the focus on the issue. It’s often tempting to jump from “we have a problem” to, “here’s what we should do.” Instead, keep digging deeper. For every apparent problem definition, ask, “why does that matter?” multiple times, enabling yourself to get to the root cause and ensure you’re focusing on the “problem” rather than a “symptom of the problem.”
  • Use different words to reframe. Next time your team states a problem, challenge everyone to restate it using different words. Each iteration can reveal new facets of the problem, bringing clarity to the challenge at hand.
  • Zoom out. Rather than using a microscope to see details that aren’t immediately visible, approach the problem from a broader, more abstract perspective. Look at the customer’s “job to be done,” rather than what they may say their challenge is. This enables a more holistic and pragmatic view.

By making problem-reframing a habit, you are opening your organization up to greater flexibility and new pathways for innovation. This method also has the added benefit of clarifying gaps in knowledge and revealing where additional customer insight is needed.

Make empathy a daily habit.

A core principle of HCD is that empathy must permeate every aspect of traditional research initiatives. Simply seeking customer feedback to develop strategies often leads to insular thinking. While a research project-driven mindset is very much the norm, empathy in an HCD context is much more than that, it must permeate every aspect of the work.

Similar to reframing challenges, it is imperative to listen and learn from customer stories and perspectives. Here are some ways to establish daily habits and build stronger relationships with your customers.

  • Advocate for the customer’s voice in team meetings. Always begin by asking questions like, “how would our customers feel about this?”
  • Socialize existing wisdom within an HCD team on a weekly basis. This could look like emails containing important insights or bringing in a small group of clients together for “speed dating” with stakeholders to gain a human understanding of your customers’ experiences, wishes, and pain points.
  • Obtain real-time feedback. Online research communities can enable on-demand responses to explore fuzzy, front-end ideas, rapidly iterate on new product concepts, or gather deep insights into how your customers use a product post-launch.

Apply an agile mindset.

One of the hallmarks of HCD is agility. But being agile isn’t just about being “fast,” it’s about delivering value as efficiently as possible. In practice, an agile mindset means thinking differently about how your work gets done and the ways in which a team can break through functional silos.

Not sure where to begin? Here are some tactics to get you started:

  • Break up the work of the team into two-week sprints. Define what can be done in those two weeks and create measurable goals to work toward them (even if those outcomes are only intermediate steps toward a bigger goal).
  • Commit to short and frequent stand-ups with your team to share commitments and highlight possible hurdles to accomplishing the goals of the current sprint.
  • Portion out deliverables. Rather than focusing on your next big presentation as your deliverable, think about how you can break your work down and deliver portions of that content to your stakeholders sooner in a more informal way.

While the above suggestions are purely jumping-off points, they serve as solid examples of practical ways you can begin to transition from understanding HCD as a concept to it becoming an enabler of rethinking both your own work, as well as becoming a catalyst to higher-performing teams.

At the end of the day, embracing the principles of HCD is a long-term journey. These proven steps will help you lead and inspire teams to begin developing new habits that quickly demonstrate the strong potential HCD has in creating a new way to see innovation through the eyes of your customers.

Image credit: Pixabay

Subscribe to Human-Centered Change & Innovation WeeklySign up here to get Human-Centered Change & Innovation Weekly delivered to your inbox every week.

Posted in Design, Leadership, Management | Tagged , , | 6 Comments