Why Humans Fail to Plan for the Future

Why Humans Fail to Plan for the Future

GUEST POST from Greg Satell

I was recently reading Michiu Kaku’s wonderful book, The Future of Humanity, about colonizing space and was amazed how detailed some of the plans are. Plans for a Mars colony, for example, are already fairly advanced. In other cases, scientists are actively thinking about technologies that won’t be viable for a century or more.

Yet while we seem to be so good at planning for life in outer space, we are much less capable of thinking responsibly about the future here on earth, especially in the United States. Our federal government deficit recently rose to 4.6% of GDP, which is obviously unsustainable in an economy that’s growing at a meager 2.3%.

That’s just one data point, but everywhere you look we seem to be unable to plan for the future. Consumer debt in the US recently hit levels exceeding those before the crash in 2008. Our infrastructure is falling apart. Air quality is getting worse. The list goes on. We need to start thinking more seriously about the future, but don’t seem to be able. Why is that?

It’s Biology, Stupid

The simplest and most obvious explanation for why we fail to plan for the future is basic human biology. We have pleasure centers in our brains that release a hormone called dopamine, which gives us a feeling of well-being. So, it shouldn’t be surprising that we seek to maximize our dopamine fix in the present and neglect the future.

Yuval Noah Harari made this argument in his book Homo Deus, in which he argued that “organisms are algorithms.” Much like a vending machine is programed to respond to buttons, Harari argues, humans and other animals are programed by genetics and evolution to respond to “sensations, emotions and thoughts.” When those particular buttons are pushed, we respond much like a vending machine does.

He gives various data points for this point of view. For example, he describes psychological experiments in which, by monitoring brainwaves, researchers are able to predict actions, such as whether a person will flip a switch, even before he or she is aware of it. He also points out that certain chemicals, such as Ritalin and Prozac, can modify behavior.

Yet this somehow doesn’t feel persuasive. Adults in even primitive societies are expected to overcome basic urges. Citizens of Ancient Rome were taxed to pay for roads that led to distant lands and took decades to build. Medieval communities built churches that stood for centuries. Why would we somehow lose our ability to think long-term in just the past generation or so?

The Profit Motive

Another explanation of why we neglect the future is the profit motive. Pressed by demanding shareholders to deliver quarterly profits, corporate executives focus on showing short-term profits instead of investing for the future. The result is increased returns to fund managers, but a hollowing out of corporate competitiveness.

A recent article in Harvard Business Review would appear to bear this out. When a team of researchers looked into the health of the innovation ecosystem in the US, they found that corporate America has largely checked out. They also observed that storied corporate research labs, such as Bell Labs and Xerox PARC have diminished over time.

Yet take a closer look and the argument doesn’t hold up. In fact, the data from the National Science Foundation shows that corporate research has increased from roughly 40% of total investment in the 1950s and 60s to more than 60% today. At the same time, while some firms have closed research facilities, others, such as Microsoft, IBM and Google have either opened new ones or greatly expanded previous efforts. Overall R&D spending has risen over time.

Take a look at how Google innovates and you’ll be able to see the source for some the dissonance. 50 years ago, the only real option for corporate investment in research was a corporate lab. Today, however, there are many other avenues, including partnerships with academic researchers, internal venture capital operations, incubators, accelerators and more.

The Free Rider Problem

A third reason we may fail to invest in the future is the free rider problem. In this view, the problem is not that we don’t plan for the future, but that we don’t want to spend money on others who are undeserving. For example, why should we pay higher taxes to educate kids from outside our communities? Or to infrastructure projects that are wasteful and corrupt?

This type of welfare queen argument can be quite powerful. Although actual welfare fraud has been shown to be incredibly rare, there are many who believe that the public sector is inherently wasteful and money would be more productively invested elsewhere. This belief doesn’t only apply to low-income people, but also to “elites” such as scientists.

Essentially, this is a form of kinship selection. We are more willing to invest in the future of people who we see as similar to ourselves, because that is a form of self-survival. However, when we find ourselves asked to invest in the future of those we see as different from ourselves, whether that difference is of race, social class or even profession, we balk.

Yet here again, a closer look and the facts don’t quite fit with the narrative. Charitable giving, for example, has risen almost every year since 1977. So, it’s strange that we’re increasingly generous in giving to those who are in need, but stingy when it comes to things like infrastructure and education.

A New Age of Superstition

What’s especially strange about our inability to plan for the future is that it’s relatively new. In fact, after World War II, we invested heavily in the future. We created new avenues for scientific investment at agencies like the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, rebuilt Europe with the Marshall Plan and educated an entire generation with the GI Bill.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that our willingness to plan for and invest in the future began to wane, mostly due to two ideas that warped decision making. The first, called the Laffer Curve, argued that by lowering taxes we can increase revenue and that tax cuts, essentially, pay for themselves. The second, shareholder value, argued that whatever was best for shareholders is also best for society.

Both ideas have been partially or thoroughly debunked. Over the past 40 years, lower tax rates have consistently led to lower revenues and higher deficits. The Business Roundtable, an influential group of almost 200 CEOs of America’s largest companies, recently denounced the concept of shareholder value. Yet strangely, many still use both to support anti-future decisions.

We seem to be living in a new era of superstition, where mere belief is enough to inspire action. So projects which easily capture the imagination, such as colonizing Mars, are able to garner fairly widespread support, while investing in basic things like infrastructure, debt reduction or the environment are neglected.

The problem, in other words, seems to be mostly in the realm of a collective narrative. We are more than capable of enduring privation today to benefit tomorrow, just as businesses routinely take less profits today to invest in tomorrow. We are even capable of giving altruistically to others in need. All we need is a story to believe in.

There is, however, the possibility that it is not the future we really have a problem with, but each other and that our lack of a common story arises from a lack of shared values which leads to major differences in how we view the same facts. In any case, the future suffers.

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

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Hyper-Innovation

A Change Management Strategy for Better, Faster Ideas

Hyper-Innovation

GUEST POST from Douglas Ferguson

The nature of innovation is that it is a hyper-fluid force that is never fully predictable. A well-curated change management strategy helps to harness the power of innovative change.

Innovation plays a significant role in driving positive change, as 51% of organizations attribute their success to innovative initiatives, all of whom also experienced an 11% increase in revenue.

In this article, we trace the pathway to innovative change in the following topics:

  • The Plan for Change
  • Designing Strategies for Change
  • An Agile Approach to Transformation
  • Getting Curious About Change

The Plan for Change

In charting a course to bigger and better ideas, a clear change management strategy helps to identify a direct path forward. Creating a thoughtful change management strategy allows you to plan several steps ahead and steer change in your favor.

The most intentional change management strategies focus on proactive change. The following are key elements in creating a proactive path for change:

1. Prepare to Plan

Preparing to create a change management strategy is essentially planning to plan. As you consider the best approach to creating change, take time to map out each step of your strategy. While it may seem more effective to just dive in, remember that intentionality is the name of the game in lasting change.

2. Cultivate Transparency

Many changes are unexpected and unwanted. For this reason, many organizations make the mistake of keeping changes quiet from the rest of the team. However, this type of secrecy can sabotage your organizational transformation.

Make it a point to cultivate a sense of transparency at every level of your organization. By including all parties in your plans for change, you’ll get a head start on driving innovation. When team members feel included in major decisions like a big change, they are more likely to accept and support it going forward.

3. Encourage High Tolerance

Tolerance for change is a muscle that should be exercised. Challenge your team members to fight their resistance to change by sharing the benefits of change. Explaining “what’s in it for me” gives team members a reason to root for change while increasing their tolerance for the unknown.

4. Monitor and Measure 

Just as true change is a long-term endeavor, creating a change management strategy isn’t just a one-time event. Successful strategies for change will never be static, making monitoring and measuring key performance indicators a perpetual part of the change management process.

Design a fluid change management strategy by teaching your team to measure success, monitor potential problems, and resolve issues as efficiently as possible. This way, your strategy for change will evolve according to your needs.

Designing Strategies for Change

A design thinking change management strategy places team members at the heart of a change. This people-first approach to purposeful change lets team leaders curate a strategy with the greatest benefits for all parties involved. At Voltage Control, we explore design thinking as a change management practice to inspire the most innovative ideas, allowing team members to shape new initiatives together.

Apply design thinking to your change management strategy in the following ways:

1. Find the ‘What’ of Change

Design thinking facilitates purposeful change. Shape your change management strategy by determining the “what” of your change to inform your path to the most viable and innovative solutions.

2. Center Empathy

Successful changes tap into our emotions. Design thinking cuts to the heart of a change by prioritizing empathy from the very beginning. Harness empathy in your next change by considering your team members’ mindsets and perspectives before implementing change. Continue to research how all participants will be impacted by a change as you incorporate empathy into your change strategy.

3. Use Divergent Thinking

Employ divergent thinking in your change management strategy. Through a design-centered approach, shape a plan for change that encourages collaborative thinking, integrated innovation, and holistic decision-making.

4. Practice Constant Experimentation

Experimentation is the beating heart of design thinking. Make the strategizing process more tangible by testing new ideas and running experiments to see what works. By testing an idea on a small scale, you’ll be able to make the necessary changes to help shape your initiative for real change.

An Agile Approach to Transformation

An agile approach to change management zeroes in on a faster, more urgent need for transformation. Agile principles offer a valid framework for transformation. Agile is tailor-made for systemic problem-solving, allowing team members to find the most groundbreaking solutions to the most persistent problem.

According to Carie Davis, a corporate innovation specialist, inventing new methods for problem-solving is the key to driving innovative change. Regardless of how powerful an initial initiative is, lasting change won’t take hold until it truly transforms an organization. For this reason, Davis suggests that businesses initiate long-term shifts by starting small and by making little changes at the core of the company. These smaller changes are a key part of Agile change management strategy and are instrumental in catalyzing lasting transformation.

Consider applying agile methodology to your change strategy in the following ways:

1. Go Lean

  • Focus on a change strategy that provides increased value and positive change. Going lean allows for rapid transformation by limiting factors that waste resources, energy, and time.

2. Practice Continuous Improvement

  • Agile champions continuous improvement through small changes over time. These small changes lead to the most significant shifts.

3. Encourage Employee Authorship

  • Innovative change doesn’t happen with a top-down approach. Create an agile-informed change management strategy by bringing your employees into the decision-making process. This way, all team members can determine the most pressing areas for improvement and make meaningful contributions as they work together to co-create the next change.
  • 4. Practice Reflective Improvement 

  • In shaping a change management strategy to grow with your organization, practicing reflective improvement guarantees consistent long-term change. Regularly evaluate your organization’s performance and initiatives as you continue to shape your change management strategy into a better, leaner plan.
  • Getting Curious About Change

    In designing the most innovative change management strategy, don’t forget to consider a sense of curiosity. Thrive through change and drive innovation by cultivating a curious desire to be better than ever.

    Research shows that curiosity allows us to welcome new experiences with less defensiveness and aggressiveness. By responding to the unknown in uniquely positive and inquisitive ways, your teams can dream up the most imaginative solutions on their path to lasting change.

    In addition to helping teams accept change, facilitating a sense of curiosity is an essential component in designing an innovative workplace. In creating a culture of curiosity, you’ll encourage team members to become change agents themselves. With a desire to learn more, be more, and do more, you’ll be able to reframe the potential pitfalls of change and the fears that come with it as an opportunity to get better and better.

    Innovation and change are infinitely interconnected. Harness the power of both by designing a change management strategy that continues to transform your organization in the best ways possible. Explore our offerings to learn more about taking change management to the next level.

    Image credit: Pixabay

    Article first seen at VoltageControl.com 

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    3 Things for the New Year

    3 Things for the New Year

    GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

    Next year will be different, but we don’t know how it will be different. All we know is that it will be different.

    Some things will be the same and some will be different. The trouble is that we won’t know which is which until we do. We can speculate on how it will be different, but the Universe doesn’t care about our speculation.

    Sure, it can be helpful to think about how things may go, but as long as we hold on to the may-ness of our speculations. And we don’t know when we’ll know.

    We’ll know when we know, but no sooner. Even when the Operating Plan declares the hardest of hard dates, the Universe sets the learning schedule on its own terms, and it doesn’t care about our arbitrary timelines.

    What to do?

    Step 1: Try Three New Things

    Choose things that are interesting and try them. Try to try them in parallel as they may interact and inform each other. Before you start, define what success looks like and what you’ll do if they’re successful and if they’re not.

    Defining the follow-on actions will help you keep the scope small. For things that work out, you’ll struggle to allocate resources for the next stages, so start small. And if things don’t work out, you’ll want to say that the projects consumed little resources and learned a lot.

    Keep things small. And if that doesn’t work, keep them smaller.

    Step 2: Rinse and Repeat

    I wish you a happy and safe New Year.

    And thanks for reading.

    Image credit: Pexels

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    Today’s Customer Wants to Go Fast

    Today's Customer Wants to Go Fast

    GUEST POST from Shep Hyken

    Customers don’t want to wait. Specifically, they don’t want you to waste their time. If you do make them wait, you risk losing them. Making your customers wait sends the message that you don’t respect them or their time.

    Jay Baer, a customer experience and marketing expert, proves this in his latest study, The Time to Win, which measures the impact of speed and responsiveness on customer experience and loyalty.

    Just how important is speed? Consider these findings from Baer’s report:

    • Two-thirds of customers say speed is as important as price.
    • More than half of the customers surveyed hired the first business to respond to their requests, even if it was more expensive.
    • Half of all customers will not wait more than three minutes in a store.

    I had a chance to interview Baer on Amazing Business Radio, where he shared some important insights that should be considered. Here are six of my favorites, followed by my commentary:

    • Speed is the most important component of customer experience and the only one that never pauses or goes backward – Calling it the most important component of the customer experience is bold, but consider a key finding from the report: 50% of customers are less likely to spend money with a business that takes longer to respond than they expect. Baer says, “Customers’ expectations for speed and responsiveness escalate every year without fail.”
    • Everyone has the same amount of time, 1,440 minutes a day, and there is nothing we can do to get more – Time is the same for everyone. Nobody gets more than anyone else. It has nothing to do with being rich, poor, young or old. And once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Starting with that premise, business leaders should ask themselves, “What can we do to make sure we’re not to blame for wasting our customers’ time?”
    • Age makes a difference – In our interview, I was surprised when Baer shared the generations that were most and least patient. I would have thought Baby Boomers (the older generation) would have been more patient, but I was wrong. Gen-Z is the most patient generation. Boomers are the least patient. The point is to know your customers. Who do you cater to? Understand the demographics and improve your response time accordingly.
    • The first company that responds to a customer has an incredible advantage – If your company is the first to respond, you could win the customer’s business, regardless of price. Specifically, 53% of consumers hired the first business that responded to them. Customers want to make decisions and move on. If you give them what they want, they can skip the hassle and time of comparing all the competition.
    • Fast response impacts your bottom line – Just as customer service and convenience make price less relevant, so does quick response or fast service. The research found that customers would pay an average of 19% more for “always immediate service,” which includes no waiting in line, not waiting on hold, etc. In other words, customers put a premium on speed. It’s about convenience. Furthermore, 27% of customers are more likely to spend money when the brand responds faster than expected.
    • Right now is not really right now – As customers’ expectations and their need for speed increase, the concept of “right now” can seem daunting. According to Baer, the concept of “right now” is the optimal amount of elapsed time in every customer interaction throughout the entire customer journey. If that sounds technical, here’s a simpler way of putting it: “Right now” is simply slightly faster than the customer expected.

    With only 1,440 minutes available each day, customers want to devote as few minutes as possible to waiting, as Baer’s research proves. This is so important that people will pay more for it. The security lines in airports are perfect examples of this. If you’ve taken a flight in a major U.S. airport, you’ll notice three lines to get through security. The TSA security line is for most passengers. This is free. Then there is TSA PreCheck. For a small investment of $78 (which covers you for five years), you can get pre-qualified to use a shorter line where you don’t have to take your computer out of your bag, take off your shoes, and more. And for a bit more money, you can sign up for CLEAR, which allows you to jump to the front of the TSA lines.

    Baer’s research makes an important point. If you want a competitive edge in business, respect your customer’s time. Don’t make them wait. Respond quickly to their questions, requests, and problems. Find ways to incorporate speed into your customer experience and you’ll reap the benefits of returning customers who spend more and say, “I’ll be back!”

    This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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    The Downside of Likemindedness

    The Downside of Likemindedness

    GUEST POST from Rachel Audige

    You know that extra buzz of care you feel for people like you? That might be you caught up in like-mindedness bias. We have a tendency to seek out people like us and ideas like our own. That may be just fine but let’s not kid ourselves that it fosters new thinking!

    It’s hard not to enjoy kindred spirits. There is something very comforting about spending time with people who share similar values and desires, but I tire of meetings and work situations where people speak of the pleasure of being with folk like them:

    “It is so good to be amongst like-minded people,” I heard in a local business meeting that I attend to be challenged.

    “An event for the like-minded,” is supposed to attract us to an innovation event.

    “Feeling like meeting like-minded women over lunch?” says an invitation I receive in my inbox.

    We welcome people, but the sub-text is that they need to ‘be like us’. “There is nothing wrong with you as long as you look like, think like, act like, lead like, advance like, decide like, keep time like, create like, socialize like and consume like us,” writes Nancy Kline in More Time To Think.

    It is a bias at large in the workplace and, indeed, in most other places. We just seem to want to self-replicate.

    More pervasively, even social media algorithms nourish this thinking and feedback to us only the ideas and world views that we have ‘liked’. The result is that our own narrow views are played back to us in a mind-narrowing echo chamber. This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

    This is not an innovative ecosystem, it’s more like an echo- system where our own thoughts and ideas are reflected back at us.

    I believe this obsession with like-mindedness stems from a range of factors including:

    ▶ A fear of being different. Our desire to fit in and belong is usually greater than our willingness to stand out.

    ▶ A false idea of mateship that tells us we can only be ‘mates’ if we get on. We see this a lot in countries like Australia and New Zealand.

    ▶ Avoidance of conflict. In organizations where we are not encouraged to challenge the leadership or each other, some will choose to behave as though they agree to avoid any negative consequences.

    ▶ Fear of rejection. This is the people-pleasing side where people show agreement whether they agree or not.

    ▶ Need for Approval. This is very apparent in many large corporations and can lead to a passive/defensive culture in an organization. It may be amplified by the fact that for many the HiPPO (the bias where we defer to the Highest Paid Person’s Opinion) is offshore and there is a sense that we need to walk the corporate line.

    ▶ And lastly, what Nancy Kline would see as an untrue limiting assumption, that someone else’s divergent thinking ‘does not count’; a sense that we are—or our thinking is—superior.

    “When we all think alike, there is little danger of innovation” — Edward Abbey

    I don’t believe that like-mindedness is conducive to innovative thinking or the best decision making. I have sat on a board where the CEO and Chair were so close they did not call each other out on important matters. I have also been in a team where the Head of Sales and Head of Marketing were being told they should agree of things when I was convinced that each of them was likely to be more effective if they represented their divergent take on the customer, strategy and long-term versus short-term priorities.

    A CREATIVE CULL

    The like-mindedness bias not only impoverishes thinking but excludes those who are ‘un-like’ us in a variety of ways. Some expressions of this like-mindedness bias and its consequences that I have witnessed with regards to creative thinking are:

    ▶ Groups that place too much value on similarity and getting on. As a result, they are less likely to bring divergent thinking into the room. They may then consciously — or unthinkingly — not invite those who we believe are not ‘like them’. I have seen this lead to ideas that are less rich and less inclusive of a diverse range of views where I had to speak up for the absent (needless to say, I also had blinkers and would have left people out).

    ▶ Countless idea generation sessions where we have not consciously asked the question: who does this idea exclude? We tend to be very good at looking for benefits and challenges but many workshops have fallen into the trap of the mythical notion of ‘one size fits all’. This could exclude any number of people.

    ▶ I recall a meeting where a panel was seeking creative ideas around addressing the disproportionately low number of women positions of power in Australian businesses. Incredibly, only two men were in a room of over 100 women. This was unlikely to bring the most creative ideas or engage those that needed to be part of the conversation.

    ▶ Conversely, I have run a roundtable explicitly for people living with disability and upset a person who was hard of hearing and was seated at the back of the room, unable to lipread. Albeit unintentional, we need to watch out for ‘micro-aggressors’; those (seemingly) little things that remind people that the world wasn’t built for them. We talk a lot about ‘scalability’ in innovation. But how can we see something as truly scalable if we are leaving out about 15% of the population?

    Most of us have been in a meeting — creative or otherwise — where the unwritten rule involves sacrificing more challenging, disruptive ideas for consensus and groupthink. In a creative session, if my goal is to get on with another person, I am unlikely to improve on their ideas. I am also unlikely to contradict them. This leads to a lowest common denominator effect whereby we settle on what is agreeable to all.

    If we are not pushing each other for better, we are likely to stop at safe, possibly ‘vanilla’ concepts. This erodes our creative edge and our point of difference. Nancy Kline clearly sees the danger: “We worship at the altar of homogeneity. Actually, we sacrifice there… Homogeneity sounds so nice. Same, comfortable, familiar, predictable. But it is ruthless. And it infects even our conception of how to slay it.”

    The most helpful way of exploring the many negatives of the like-mindedness bias and its impact on innovation is to highlight the value of its opposite…

    DIVERSITY | DIVERGENT THINKING | INCLUSION and UNIVERSAL DESIGN

    One of the most powerful measures to keep most biases in check is to invite diversity, divergent thinking and actively foster inclusion.

    Mid-Covid-19 discussions in Australia, I was delighted to hear Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy’s response to a question about whether he agreed with the different stakeholders involved in making wellbeing decisions. He replied that it was preferable for them not to agree and that their decisions would be better for it.

    Diversity is manifesting an understanding that each individual is unique and recognising individual differences. These differences may be in ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, age, physical abilities, religious beliefs, political beliefs or other ideologies. As Kline states: “The mind works best in the presence of reality. Reality is Diverse.”

    ‘Diversity’ has been part of the business vernacular for years now. Diversity is the mix. What matters is how we make this mix work once we combine different backgrounds, vocabularies, paradigms and processes. That’s inclusion. Not getting this right can whitewash creativity and, potentially, undermine the inclusiveness of any creative output.

    Dr Jennifer Whelan, founder of Psynapse, offers a simple illustration of why diversity is preferable. Whelan describes two rooms. In the first room, you see people just like you; people who share the same language, skin colour, gender and even background. You can relax, these are ‘your kind of people’. You can build rapport, make assumptions, enjoy high levels of certainty. It feels efficient.

    But there are risks to this, warns Whelan: “Too much agreement means we don’t consider alternative solutions, or discuss a broader range of ideas. We are at risk of groupthink and biases because we don’t have a fresh set of eyes on how we’re thinking. We don’t feel challenged so we go with the easier option and stick with tried and tested solutions. While some of the routine things we do at work might not suffer, when it comes to some of the more challenging things, this room acts as an echo chamber.”

    In the second, you open the door to a room full of people who are both different to you and to each other. In this room, you’ll have to bring your A-game. You’ll need to listen more attentively and be better prepared.

    “This second room doesn’t feel as comfortable as the first room. You have to work a lot harder and the outcome might not be as predictable,” says Whelan. However, this room has many potential upsides. This is likely to be a space which is more conducive to creativity. A place where more varied ideas are aired, less shortcuts are made and people are more likely to notice what might otherwise be overlooked.

    Room one is more comfortable but it is less well equipped for creative thinking and is more prone to biases, errors and assumptions.

    “Getting more comfortable in room two, the diverse room, is the goal of inclusion and, without inclusion, room two can risk higher levels of conflict. Different perspectives and ideas aren’t explored without an open, curious mind, so the team’s diversity can go to waste,” says Whelan.

    So, what can we do to counter the like-mindedness bias to disinvest in sameness and think more inclusively and creatively and ‘make the mix work’ in our innovation?

    My experience of corporate innovation workshops and idea generation sessions is that we focus on desirability, feasibility and viability but forget to ask the question: Who am I excluding?

    It strikes me that we need to overlay—or better, underpin— all our creative thinking and work on new product and service design, process enhancement by this consideration and constantly strive to iron out the kinks to make whatever we are creating as inclusive as possible.

    We also need to include universal design principles in our idea generation criteria: is it equitable? Flexible? Simple and intuitive? Is information perceptible? Is there a tolerance for error? Does it require low physical effort? Is the size and space adequate for approach and use? Who might this idea exclude? If we want to dial up our creative outputs, we need more divergent inputs. We need to actively seek out or create places where we will encounter different-minded people; divergent thinking and diverse group identities.

    As Brené Brown says: “Daring leaders fight for the inclusion of all people, opinions and perspectives because that makes us all better and stronger.

    “That means having the courage to acknowledge our own privilege and staying open to learning about our biases and blind spots.”

    NOTHING KEEPS BIAS IN CHECK LIKE INCLUSIVE DIVERSITY

    Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings…where each and every person can enter through the front door.

    I work on a simple premise that innovation should be geared towards making our lives better. When this view is shared, diversity really needs to be front and centre of any initiative. Online and off, we need to follow the thinking of the likes of Todd Rose, co- founder and president of non-profit Project Variability, who challenges the ‘myth of the average’ and recommends that we ‘design to the edges’ and optimise our processes, structures, systems, products and communication for the full range of human characteristics, traits, abilities and interests.

    I have always found that my ideas can be improved and sharpened by people who think differently. As long as I listen to those voices with respect and interest — and genuinely contemplate the ideas of others.

    I am convinced that we think better and are more likely to look at things from more angles with different perspectives in the room. This is why the best idea generation happens with multidisciplinary, cross-functional, cross-ability groups.

    I’m not scared of a ‘clashing’ of ideas and debate. It keeps me sharp and it keeps me grounded. It keeps complacency at bay. It leads to more meaningful outcomes. I am conscious that my comfort with conflict may be another person’s discomfort.

    Even when I’m overly partial to an idea, I try to think inclusively and not defensively, I try to make a point of inviting diverse voices to pipe up. Being challenged is a necessary part of the creative process. We need to embrace the discomfort.

    Whatever we are creating, we shouldn’t be considering difference after the fact. Literally — and metaphorically — we need to come up with ideas, systems, processes, designs, websites, buildings… where each and every person can enter through the front door.

    If you are interested in overcoming biases to enhance your innovation effectiveness, check out: “UNBLINKERED: The quirky biases that get in the way of creative thinking…and how to bust them” at www.rachelaudige.com

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    Ten Ways to Make Time for Innovation

    Ten Ways to Make Time for Innovation

    GUEST POST from Nick Jain

    Although the average American works 8.8 hours per day, most employees deliver peak productivity just 3 to 4 hours a day. Knowing this, you and your team can experiment with different time management strategies to maximize your peak hours. This will elevate ideation and the quality of work completed on your latest projects.

    There is no one-size-fits-all solution to time management, so each team member must identify what works best for them. A mix of the tips below will help.

    1. Know Your Most Productive Times of Day

    In addition to delivering peak performance in just 3 to 4 hours per day, you also have a time of day that you are the most productive. For some people this is first thing in the morning, for others it’s mid-day, and for some, it’s late in the day.

    So, schedule your most pressing tasks, most creative tasks, or most challenging tasks during this time.

    2. Create a Daily To-Do List

    Even if it’s not an everyday occurrence, unexpected obligations will arise. So, knowing that you will deliver your essential to-do list items within a maximum of 4 hours—schedule your time accordingly.

    This is easier said than done, as your to-do list may be lengthy, which takes us to the next time management tip.

    3. Know Your Priorities

    Once you create your to-do list, prioritize the items on the list. Utilizing the Franklin Covey A, B, C system may be helpful. Or utilize another planner system.

    Assign a letter next to each task to indicate its level of priority:

    • A = Must be done—Critical
    • B = Should be done—Important
    • C = Could be done—low value
    • D = Waste—No value—delegate

    At the end of each day, assess whether you have completed all of your “A-list” items. Don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t, as the objective is to learn what you can realistically achieve during your high-productivity times.

    4. Delegate

    The “D” above is delegate and most leaders could be doing a much better job of delegating. If it can be done by someone else, let it go. Or delegate portions of a project. For example, gathering research and data.

    Who do you delegate to? Ideally, someone who excels at the task you are taking off your plate. Also, consider delegating to external experts. When everyone does what they do best, everyone is more fulfilled—and the outcomes are elevated.

    5. Time Block Instead of Multitasking

    While it might sound like multitasking allows you to get more done, it actually leads to decision fatigue. Decision fatigue is one of the reasons peak performance fades. It’s the concept that you only have a limited number of high-quality decisions you can make each day. If you continue trying to innovate or make major decisions after your peak-time, the decisions may not be as sound or as creative. Over time, decision fatigue leads to exhaustion, overwhelm, stress, and anxiety.

    Time blocking is the concept of optimizing your peak-time by focusing solely on one task without interruptions of any kind. This means no phone calls, emails, or smartphone use—just hyperfocus on the task at hand. Further optimize this time by limiting it to 3 to 4 hours and blocking your time at your most productive time per day.

    6. Unplug Throughout the Day

    Unplugging while you time block eliminates distractions. Unplugging is challenging, as the average American checks their phone 96 times per day, which is once every 10 minutes. In terms of time, this results in an average of almost 5.5 hours of smartphone use per day. Yes, much of this is for work, but it’s for personal use too.

    In addition to unplugging during your peak-time and while time blocking, unplug at other strategic times during the day.

    For example:

    1. During team and client meetings.
    2. During one-on-one conversations.
    3. At dinner with family and friends.
    4. An hour or so before bed.
    5. The first hour or so of the day.
    6. For blocks of time over the weekend.

    Also, consider turning off all work-related notifications on the weekends or using an app to manage personal and professional contacts during your time off.

    7. Task Batch

    Task batching is the process of completing similar tasks at the same time, including both peak-time and off-peak time tasks. For example, many highly productive people only respond to emails 3 or 4 times per day, instead of as every email comes in. This might be first thing in the morning, at lunch, and at the end of the day.

    Or a marketing professional may create all of their social media content for the next 7 days in one setting, instead of creating one post every day.

    Task batching can also get you in the zone.

    8. Think on It

    There are always deadlines and decisions that can’t wait, but not every decision should be made in the moment. When you can, give it a day or two, particularly if it’s something that requires creativity. Then, schedule brainstorming solo or with your team during your peak productivity time.

    9. Take Your Breaks

    More time doesn’t always equal more productivity. While you may be able to push through to get more done, pushing through isn’t sustainable. Even a 10- or 15-minute break provides the following benefits:

    1. Value alignment
    2. Increased productivity
    3. Improved mental health
    4. Improved well-being
    5. Increased job satisfaction
    6. Restored focus and attention
    7. Minimized decision fatigue
    8. Increased creativity
    9. And more

    For your break to be effective, you must unplug from work and ideally leave your desk. It’s even better if you take a walk, do something active, or have a social non-work-related lunch.

    10. Utilize a Time-Management Rule

    In addition to taking your daily lunch break and a 10-minute break or two, consider these scientifically proven time management strategies:

    • 30/30/30 rule — this is the concept of spending 30% of your workday working, 30% teaching and developing your team, and 30% in self-development.
    • 52/17 rule — this is the concept of working for 52-minutes, followed by a 17-minute break. Set a timer, even if it’s closer to 60/20 instead of 52/17.

    Last but not least, don’t schedule every minute of your day. When you can, pre-schedule at least a few open blocks of time each week. This time can be dedicated to projects that unexpectedly take more time than designated—or to innovations that arise along the way!

    Image Credit: Unsplash

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    Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

    Will CHATgpt make us more or less innovative?

    GUEST POST from Pete Foley

    The rapid emergence of increasingly sophisticated ‘AI ‘ programs such as CHATgpt will profoundly impact our world in many ways. That will inevitably include Innovation, especially the front end. But will it ultimately help or hurt us? Better access to information should be a huge benefit, and my intuition was to dive in and take full advantage. I still think it has enormous upside, but I also think it needs to be treated with care. At this point at least, it’s still a tool, not an oracle. It’s an excellent source for tapping existing information, but it’s (not yet) a source of new ideas. As with any tool, those who understand deeply how it works, its benefits and its limitations, will get the most from it. And those who use it wrongly could end up doing more harm than good. So below I’ve mapped out a few pros and cons that I see. It’s new, and like everybody else, I’m on a learning curve, so would welcome any and all thoughts on these pros and cons:

    What is Innovation?

    First a bit of a sidebar. To understand how to use a tool, I at least need to have a reasonably clear of what goals I want it to help me achieve. Obviously ‘what is innovation’ is a somewhat debatable topic, but my working model is that the front end of innovation typically involves taking existing knowledge or technology, and combining it in new, useful ways, or in new contexts, to create something that is new, useful and ideally understandable and accessible. This requires deep knowledge, curiosity and the ability to reframe problems to find new uses of existing assets. A recent illustrative example is Oculus Rift, an innovation that helped to make virtual reality accessible by combining fairly mundane components including a mobile phone screen and a tracking sensor and ski glasses into something new. But innovation comes in many forms, and can also involve serendipity and keen observation, as in Alexander Fleming’s original discovery of penicillin. But even this requires deep domain knowledge to spot the opportunity and reframing undesirable mold into a (very) useful pharmaceutical. So, my start-point is which parts of this can CHATgpt help with?

    Another sidebar is that innovation is of course far more than simply discovery or a Eureka moment. Turning an idea into a viable product or service usually requires considerable work, with the development of penicillin being a case in point. I’ve no doubt that CHATgpt and its inevitable ‘progeny’ will be of considerable help in that part of the process too.   But for starters I’ve focused on what it brings to the discovery phase, and the generation of big, game changing ideas.

    First the Pros:

    1. Staying Current: We all have to strike a balance between keeping up with developments in our own fields, and trying to come up with new ideas. The sheer volume of new information, especially in developing fields, means that keeping pace with even our own area of expertise has become challenging. But spend too much time just keeping up, and we become followers, not innovators, so we have to carve out time to also stretch existing knowledge. But if we don’t get the balance right, and fail to stay current, we risk get leapfrogged by those who more diligently track the latest discoveries. Simultaneous invention has been pervasive at least since the development of calculus, as one discovery often signposts and lays the path for the next. So fail to stay on top of our field, and we potentially miss a relatively easy step to the next big idea. CHATgpt can become an extremely efficient tool for tracking advances without getting buried in them.

    2. Pushing Outside of our Comfort Zone: Breakthrough innovation almost by definition requires us to step beyond the boundaries of our existing knowledge. Whether we are Dyson stealing filtration technology from a sawmill for his unique ‘filterless’ vacuum cleaner, physicians combining stem cell innovation with tech to create rejection resistant artificial organs, or the Oculus tech mentioned above, innovation almost always requires tapping resources from outside of the established field. If we don’t do this, then we not only tend towards incremental ideas, but also tend to stay in lock step with other experts in our field. This becomes increasingly the case as an area matures, low hanging fruit is exhausted, and domain knowledge becomes somewhat commoditized. CHATgpt simply allows us to explore beyond our field far more efficiently than we’ve ever been able to before. And as it or related tech evolves, it will inevitably enable ever more sophisticated search. From my experience it already enables some degree of analogous search if you are thoughtful about how to frame questions, thus allowing us to more effectively expand searches for existing solutions to problems that lie beyond the obvious. That is potentially really exciting.

    Some Possible Cons:

    1. Going Down the Rabbit Hole: CHATgpt is crack cocaine for the curious. Mea culpa, this has probably been the most time consuming blog I’ve ever written. Answers inevitably lead to more questions, and it’s almost impossible to resist playing well beyond the specific goals I initially have. It’s fascinating, it’s fun, you learn a lot of stuff you didn’t know, but I at least struggle with discipline and focus when using it. Hopefully that will wear off, and I will find a balance that uses it efficiently.

    2. The Illusion of Understanding: This is a bit more subtle, but a topic inevitably enhances our understanding of it. The act of asking questions is as much a part of learning as reading answers, and often requires deep mechanistic understanding. CHATgpa helps us probe faster, and its explanations may help us to understand concepts more quickly. But it also risks the illusion of understanding. When the heavy loading of searching is shifted away from us, we get quick answers, but may also miss out on the deeper mechanistic understanding we’d have gleaned if we’d been forced to work a bit harder. And that deeper understanding can be critical when we are trying to integrate superficially different domains as part of the innovation process. For example, knowing that we can use a patient’s stem cells to minimize rejection of an artificial organ is quite different from understanding how the immune system differentiates between its own and other stem cells. The risk is that sophisticated search engines will do more heavy lifting, allow us to move faster, but also result in a more superficial understanding, which reduces our ability to spot roadblocks early, or solve problems as we move to the back end of innovation, and reduce an idea to practice.

    3. Eureka Moment: That’s the ‘conscious’ watch out, but there is also an unconscious one. It’s no secret that quite often our biggest ideas come when we are not actually trying. Archimedes had his Eureka moment in the bath, and many of my better ideas come when I least expect them, perhaps in the shower, when I first wake up, or am out having dinner. The neuroscience of creativity helps explain this, in that the restructuring of problems that leads to new insight and the integration of ideas works mostly unconsciously, and when we are not consciously focused on a problem. It’s analogous to the ‘tip of the tongue’ effect, where the harder we try to remember something, the harder it gets, but then comes to us later when we are not trying. But the key for the Eureka moment is that we need sufficiently deep knowledge for those integrations to occur. If CHATgpt increases the illusion of understanding, we could see less of those Eureka moments, and the ‘obvious in hindsight ideas’ they create.

    Conclusion

    I think that ultimately innovation will be accelerated by CHATgpt and what follows, perhaps quite dramatically. But I also think that we as innovators need to try and peel back the layers and understand as much as we can about these tools, as there is potential for us to trip up. We need to constantly reinvent the way we interact with them, leverage them as sophisticated innovation tools, but avoid them becoming oracles. We also need to ensure that we, and future generations use them to extend our thinking skill set, but not become a proxy for it. The calculator has in some ways made us all mathematical geniuses, but in other ways has reduced large swathes of the population’s ability to do basic math. We need to be careful that CHATgpt doesn’t do the same for our need for cognition, and deep mechanistic and/or critical thinking.

    Image credit: Pixabay

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    Five Questions All Leaders Should Always Be Asking

    Five Questions All Leaders Should Always Be Asking

    GUEST POST from David Burkus

    Leaders don’t need to have all the answers.

    That sounds counterintuitive. There is a lot of pressure on leaders to have the right answers and to solve problems that team members can’t solve on their own. In fact, most leaders were promoted into a leadership role because they had many more of the right answers than others in the organization. And the further up the hierarchy you go, the bigger the problems and bigger the expectations for answers.

    But the more complex work gets, and the more complex problems get, the harder it is to know all the answers. So, it’s okay if you don’t know all the answers. But leaders should always be seeking out answers. To lead well, there’s a few answers leaders should always be working to find.

    Which means there’s a few questions leaders should always be asking. In this article, we’ll outline the top five of those questions.

    1. What are our real priorities?

    The first question leaders should always be asking is “what are our real priorities?” Teams are tasked with all sorts of projects and objectives. And the reward for getting those projects done well is often…more projects. Doing new tasks well results in people asking you to do more work. And when new tasks come up, many teams succumb to the tyranny of the urgent and focus their attention on the newest tasks assigned. But that can often mean diverting focus from what are actually the most important tasks. In addition, when circumstances change or when new problems arise, it can change what tasks matter most. So, leaders need to be asking—and re-asking—what the real priorities are often and then making that answer clear to their team. That way the team stays committed to what matters—and not just what’s new.

    2. Where are our potential roadblocks?

    The second question leaders should always be asking is “where are our potential roadblocks?” Once you know what the real priorities are, ask what could derail your team from achieving those roadblocks. The concept of leader as roadblock remover is a simple one rooted in trust. Great leaders trust that, once their people know what they need to do, those same people will also know best how to do it. That means a leader’s job isn’t telling them how to work better, it’s finding the barriers that are keeping people from doing their best work and removing them. If you’ve built trust and rapport with your team, they’ll likely just tell you. But the nature of your role as a leader also means you can anticipate some barriers based on what else you see happening in the organization or your environment. But roadblocks can pop up unexpectedly, so don’t just ask once. Keep asking.

    3. What am I not hearing?

    The third question leaders should always be asking is “what am I not hearing.” There’s a reason the warning “don’t shoot the messenger” became a cliché. It’s because many leaders shoot the messenger. And even if they don’t, many team members fear of being shot keeps them from sharing openly. (I hope it’s clear we’re using “shoot” as a metaphor here…we do not endorse firearms as a management tactic.) That means there’s likely certain bits of information that team members know that you’re completely unaware of. That can undermine your decision-making and your leadership. And reversing that trends starts by asking regularly what you may not be hearing or by extension who you’re not hearing from. Then take the time to amplify those unheard voices and signal your consideration for what they shared. That not only keeps you more informed in the short term but also makes it less likely you’re not hearing important information in the long term.

    4. Who isn’t being challenged?

    The fourth question leaders should always be asking is “who isn’t being challenged?” People tend to be most motivated and engaged in a task when the demands of the job match their skills and capacity. Too much of a challenge can lead to stress and burnout. But too little of a challenge can lead to boredom and…burnout. And while members of your team may have entered their role in the sweet spot between demands and ability, many of them have likely grown and improved their skills…which means they might be falling out of the sweet spot and being less challenged. Great leaders are proactive not only in creating new growth opportunities for their people, but also new challenges or new projects to keep them in the sweet spot of engagement.

    5. How is our motivation?

    The fifth question leaders should always be asking is “how is our motivation?” The attitudes and emotions of a team and its members can change quickly, and so can their collective level of motivation. So, leaders need to be monitoring motivation levels constantly and finding ways to keep motivation inside the ideal range. Especially for teams on the front-lines and in the middle of the organization, the flowery speeches and mission statements that come from senior leadership are not enough to keep motivation high all the time. When the day-to-day tasks get demanding, it’s hard to even remember how one person’s work makes a difference. But this is where team leaders are most important. It’s up to the team leader to make that connection and be constantly reminding the team why their work matters.

    In the end, people want to do work that matters and that challenges them to grow. And that’s what makes these five questions so important. Because the answers to these questions, even though they change over time, provide leaders with the knowledge they need to help their team know their work matters and help their team find new challenges. And that helps their team do their best work ever.

    Image credit: Pexels

    Originally published at https://davidburkus.com on January 9, 2023.

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    Hard Facts Are a Hard Thing

    Hard Facts Are a Hard Thing

    GUEST POST from Greg Satell

    In 1977, Ken Olsen, the founder and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation, reportedly said, “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” It was an amazingly foolish thing to say and, ever since, observers have pointed to Olsen’s comment to show how supposed experts can be wildly wrong.

    The problem is that Olsen was misquoted. In fact, his company was actually in the business of selling personal computers and he had one in his own home. This happens more often than you would think. Other famous quotes, such IBM CEO Thomas Watson predicting that there would be a global market for only five computers, are similarly false.

    There is great fun in bashing experts, which is why so many inaccurate quotes get repeated so often. If the experts are always getting it wrong, then we are liberated from the constraints of expertise and the burden of evidence. That’s the hard thing about hard facts. They can be so elusive that it’s easy to believe doubt their existence. Yet they do exist and they matter.

    The Search for Absolute Truth

    In the early 20th century, science and technology emerged as a rising force in western society. The new wonders of electricity, automobiles and telecommunication were quickly shaping how people lived, worked and thought. Empirical verification, rather than theoretical musing, became the standard by which ideas were measured.

    It was against this backdrop that Moritz Schlick formed the Vienna Circle, which became the center of the logical positivist movement and aimed to bring a more scientific approach to human thought. Throughout the 20’s and 30’s, the movement spread and became a symbol of the new technological age.

    At the core of logical positivism was Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theory of atomic facts, the idea the world could be reduced to a set of statements that could be verified as being true or false—no opinions or speculation allowed. Those statements, in turn, would be governed by a set of logical algorithms which would determine the validity of any argument.

    It was, to the great thinkers of the day, both a grand vision and an exciting challenge. If all facts could be absolutely verified, then we could confirm ideas with absolute certainty. Unfortunately, the effort would fail so miserably that Wittgenstein himself would eventually disown it. Instead of building a world of verifiable objective reality, we would be plunged into uncertainty.

    The Fall of Logic and the Rise of Uncertainty

    Ironically, while the logical positivist movement was gaining steam, two seemingly obscure developments threatened to undermine it. The first was a hole at the center of logic called Russell’s Paradox, which suggested that some statements could be both true and false. The second was quantum mechanics, a strange new science in which even physical objects could defy measurement.

    Yet the battle for absolute facts would not go down without a fight. David Hilbert, the most revered mathematician of the time, created a program to resolve Russell’s Paradox. Albert Einstein, for his part, argued passionately against the probabilistic quantum universe, declaring that “God does not play dice with the universe.”

    Alas, it was all for naught. Kurt Gödel would prove that every logical system is flawed with contradictions. Alan Turing would show that all numbers are not computable. The Einstein-Bohr debates would be resolved in Bohr’s favor, destroying Einstein’s vision of an objective physical reality and leaving us with an uncertain universe.

    These developments weren’t all bad. In fact, they were what made modern computing possible. However, they left us with an uncomfortable uncertainty. Facts could no longer be absolutely verifiable, but would stand until they could be falsified. We could, after thorough testing, become highly confident in our facts, but never completely sure.

    Science, Truth and Falsifiability

    In Richard Feynman’s 1974 commencement speech at Cal-Tech, he recounted going to a new-age resort where people were learning reflexology. A man was sitting in a hot tub rubbing a woman’s big toe and asking the instructor, “Is this the pituitary?” Unable to contain himself, the great physicist blurted out, “You’re a hell of a long way from the pituitary, man.”

    His point was that it’s relatively easy to make something appear “scientific” by, for example, having people wear white coats or present charts and tables, but that doesn’t make it real science. True science is testable and falsifiable. You can’t merely state what you believe to be true, but must give others a means to test it and prove you wrong.

    This is important because it’s very easy for things to look like the truth, but actually be false. That’s why we need to be careful, especially when we believe something to be true. The burden is even greater when it is something that “everybody knows.” That’s when we need to redouble our efforts, dig in and make sure we verify our facts.

    “We’ve learned from experience that the truth will out,” Feynman said. “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself—and you are the easiest person to fool.” Truth doesn’t reveal itself so easily, but it’s out there and we can find it if we are willing to make the effort.

    The Lie of a Post-Truth World

    Writing a non-fiction book can be a grueling process. You not only need to gather hundreds of pages of facts and mold them into a coherent story that interests the reader, but also to verify that those facts are true. For both of my books, Mapping Innovation and Cascades, I spent countless hours consulting sources and sending out fact checks.

    Still, I lived in fear knowing that whatever I put on the page would permanently be there for anyone to discredit. In fact, I would later find two minor inaccuracies in my first book (ironically, both had been checked with primary sources). These were not, to be sure, material errors, but they wounded me. I’m sure, in time, others will be uncovered as well.

    Yet I don’t believe that those errors diminish the validity of the greater project. In fact, I think that those imperfections serve to underline the larger truth that the search for knowledge is always a journey, elusive and just out of reach. We can struggle for a lifetime to grasp even a small part of it, but to shake free even a few seemingly insignificant nuggets can be a gift.

    Yet all too often people value belief more than facts. That’s why they repeat things that aren’t factual, because they believe they point to some deeper truth that defy facts in evidence. Yet that is not truth. It is just a way of fooling yourself and, if you’re persuasive, fooling others as well. Still, as Feynman pointed out long ago, “We’ve learned from experience that the truth will out.”

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

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    What Do You Like to Do?

    What Do You Like to Do?

    GUEST POST from Mike Shipulski

    I like to help people turn complex situations into several important learning objectives.

    I like to help people turn important learning objectives into tight project plans.

    I like to help people distill project plans into a single-page spreadsheet of who does what and when.

    I like to help people start with problem definition.

    I like to help people stick with problem definition until the problems solve themselves.

    I like to help people structure tight project plans based on resource constraints.

    I like to help people create objective measures of success to monitor the projects as they go.

    I like to help people believe they can do the almost impossible.

    I like to help people stand three inches taller after they pull off the unimaginable.

    I like to help people stop good projects so they can start amazing ones.

    If you want to do more of what you like and less of what you don’t, stop a bad project to start a good one.

    So, what do you like to do?

    Image credit: Pexels

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