It’s Time to Start Writing Stuff Again

It has been a long time since I wrote anything longer than 140 characters out here on the Internet. But I think it is time to start again. The last time I wrote anything on this site was two moves ago (Miami Beach to Seattle and now down to Silicon Valley) and one job ago (I’m now at Singularity University). But I’m committed to be back. I get a chance to see some of the most amazing technologies and collaborate with some of the most interesting people I’ve ever met on a day to day basis at SU and I’ve missed the opportunity to have an outlet for the things I hear and think about. I’ve got some cleaning up to do on the site (time to get rid of the picture of palm trees), but there is no reason not to start now. Let’s see where this goes.

Reading Minds: The Most Interesting Thing About Facebook’s Psychology Experiment

Much of the angst about the news of Facebook’s psychology experiment on 600,000 users has focused on the fact that people’s emotions were purposefully manipulated.  While this is, indeed, pretty shocking news (I wonder how many arguments between couples were caused by Facebook putting both parties in crappy moods), the more interesting thing to me is that Facebook can tell the emotional state of people who are posting on their site just by analyzing their posts.

Startup Citizenme provides a service that will take your social postings and provide a personality analysis on many factors, including openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism. While I’m sure that any good therapist could review postings and have a point of view to share as well, the fact that his is happening in a very passive way is a little more uncomfortable. I don’t think too many people sign up to be psychoanalyzed or to have their feelings manipulated when they are using Facebook, or any other social media platform for that matter. But that is the brave new world in which we live.

There are plenty of ways to see the benefit of this kind of innovation. Maybe Citizenme will morph into a dating app that connects you to people with similar levels of neuroticism. Maybe there is a new service that will show you positive posts when your own become to negative like an online anti-depressant (did Facebook show posts with kittens to users in Miami after LeBron left?).

But no matter what Citizenme or Facebook intends to do with this knowledge, the fact that our mental states can be evaluated by our posts is something that we should all be aware of. It could become the most targeted of marketing strategies. It is not hard to imagine that Facebook would charge a higher advertising rate to only reach people who were happy. Or sad. Or whatever state of mind makes them most susceptible to buying a specific product. Or it could become a way to manipulate the emotions of an entire group of people, either for good or evil, with the press of a button (like Facebook already did).

Whatever happens, we probably won’t know about it until after it has happened. So for now, get out there and start posting. Its the only way to be part of the experiment, for now.

Ideas Need a Story to Survive

One of the biggest challenges that good ideas have is making the jump out of the original inventor’s head into the mind of the first person she shares it with. Explaining your idea in all of its richness and glory so that others will understand it is not an easy task, and a lot of good ideas will never successfully make the jump.

The next time you have a good idea that you want to share, try sharing it as a story. In the excellent book, The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall, we learn that people are programmed to be suckers for stories. We get sucked into stories of all kinds every day: sitcoms, movies, novels, commercials, even lunchtime gossip about who said what to whom in a meeting that morning.

In his book, Gotschall presents a simple formula for story: Character + Predicament + Attempted Extrication. For those of us who watch Mad Men, we know this formula is how Don Draper is always making his pitch for a new ad campaign to a client. But this is not how most of us think about pitching the ideas we have every day to our colleagues at work.

Your story about a character + predicament might be about a customer facing a challenge in their day, a factory facing a bottleneck, a company facing a changing market. They all need an “attempted extrication”, and that is your idea.

A story is not a guarantee that your idea is the right idea, but it will increase the likelihood that others will understand it and accept it well enough get a conversation started. Once that jump has happened, there is no telling what you will make happen.

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

How does your business kill innovation?

If there is one common thread that weaves together my experience in the field of innovation, it is hearing on a weekly basis, how frustrated people are about how their organizations kill innovation.

Innovation murder doesn’t happen on purpose. Typically the perpetrators believe they are helping innovation, not hindering it. They are innocent in spirit, if not in action.

The two most common methods I see are:
1) Starvation, which happens when good ideas are put on hold until the organization is ready for them, (read: never); and
2) Strangulation, which occurs when good ideas are subjected to greater and greater levels of scrutiny that gradually squeezes all of the life out. Strangulation is often referred to by a more friendly name like “Stage Gate” or the “Innovation Funnel”.

No one has to be an innovation murderer, but it often requires an “innovation world” mindset of courage, belief and determination to break the cycle. Those aren’t always the qualities that an organization rewards in the short term, but they are required for those who want to create change.

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.


Optimal Decision-Making and Doing More with Less Time

This week, I read an eye-opening article about the mathematical challenge known as “The Marriage Problem.” In this challenge, a person, let’s call it a man, is faced with a conundrum of deciding which person, let’s call it a woman, to marry. The man has a list of a finite number of women, and after he has met each one he must to decide whether to propose marriage to her or not. If he gets to the end of the list, he must marry the last woman no matter whether she was the best option or not.

If faced with this challenge, what do you do? According to mathematicians, the best way to decide is to count the number of women on the list and date the first 36.8% without proposing to any of them. From that point forward, as soon as the man meets a woman who is a better match than any in the first group of 36.8%, he should immediately propose (well, maybe after a sufficient number of dates to not appear too desperate). This formula comes from the mathematical constant “e”, which is the base of the natural logarithm and was discovered in the study of compound interest. When following this rule, it does not guarantee an optimal outcome, but research has shown that the optimal selection will be make 1/e, or 36.8%, of the time.

While we might not all be fond of choosing our mates this way, there is a real lesson for business in this story. It is fairly typical to find, at any hour of the day, a “brainstorming” meeting taking place in some corporate office. The team often spends the whole hour coming up with ideas, and at the end they are left with a long list of ideas, but no clear idea of where to go next. The team members resign themselves to scheduling another meeting and then they file out, grumbling about what a waste of time that was.

But, ideas are like a strong marriage; they are worked on and developed. Let me give you this alternative to try out the next time you are trying to come up with a new idea. Instead of spending the whole hour thinking up ideas, apply the lesson of “The Marriage Problem”, with a twist. Start the hour thinking about alternative ideas, but after a little more than 20 minutes, go back and pick the best idea you’ve seen so far. Then, spend the rest of the hour developing that idea into a solution, looking at the plusses, solving for concerns and completing it with next steps. I can all but guarantee that after 20 minutes there is at least one good idea that the team has identified, but typically they get overlooked because the team is waiting for the perfect idea to emerge. Don’t fall into the “perfect idea” trap.

By following the development method, you’ll not only walk out of the room with a good solution in hand, but also with a team that has a bounce in its step because it got something accomplished in the time they spent together. Trade in the griping about another wasted hour, for a meeting where they will marvel at their success.  This kind of feeling can be contagious!

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

“If we’d had more time, we could’ve done a better job.”

When a team has not created a solution they are satisfied with, blaming the time constraint they were forced to work within is the easy way out, rather than blaming themselves for not making the most of the time they had together.

More time can make us lazy, less rigorous, less focused.  If our approach to solving a problem equates to stumbling around in the dark until we trip over a solution, then sure, more time is going to be a benefit.  We all have time constraints we work within and in reality it is the lack of a shared problem-solving methodology that makes many meetings look like an NBA game. Not much happens until the last two minutes. Somebody wins. Somebody loses.

Communication is often the same way. Doubling the time a speaker has will result in a doubling of the words used, but it will rarely double the message.  It often reduces the message as it becomes less crisp, less clear.

Let’s be rigorous in our actions and see what happens. Think about what we want to say and what we want to do and create a plan (ahead of time) to get the job done.  To paraphrase Seth Godin, start with the intent to finish.

We might be surprised what we are capable of doing, in a short amount of time!

This post originally appeared on the Synecticsworld website.

How Google Glass and LensCrafters Will Finally Solve Our Collaboration Problem

Last month, Google and Luxotica announced a new partnership that will likely put Google Glass in every mall in America over the next few years. While we all know Google, not everyone knows that Luxotica is a massive eyewear empire which counts Ray-Ban, Oakley, Ralph Lauren, Oliver Peoples and many more amongst the brands it designs, develops and ultimately sells at one of the many LensCrafters, Sunglass Huts or other locations that it owns. In other words, if you wear glasses, you are likely wearing Luxotica.

While this announcement was no doubt very exciting for Google and Luxotica, it should also be very exciting for the rest of us. It clearly points to an approaching widespread availability of Glass, ideally at a more consumer-friendly price point. And that could mean a world where we all are wearing Glass, or similar products, in the not so distant future.

While this idea might strike fear into the hearts of many who fear technology’s continuing creep into our daily lives, it also presents us with myriad new opportunities for interacting with the world around us. One such example is Emotient, a facial recognition company that is developing emotion recognition capabilities into a Glass app. According to the company’s website, “It detects and tracks primary expressions of emotion, overall positive and negative emotions and blended composites of multiple emotions,” including anger, disgust, contempt, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. While the big payoff for the company appears to be in equipping retail store associates to read our reactions to promotions and items we see in the store, just imagine if we all had the ability to read the emotions of everyone we are talking to in real time.

At first blush, that seems scary beyond comprehension. My initial reaction was, “No sane person would want everyone around them to know they are thinking at any moment!” However, think about all of the misunderstandings that such knowledge would clear up instantly. Our research has shown that there is a disconnect between the intentions of a speaker and the effect a communication has on a listener about 50% of the time. Eliminating, or reducing, these misunderstands holds huge potential for helping us to improve our relationships.

In the future, instead of me saying something that unknowingly upsets a friend or colleague, a version of the software that Emotient is creating could very quickly pop up a warning to say, “Detecting anger on Sally’s face. Did you mean for her to get upset?” I’d have an opportunity to clarify what I meant to say instead of leaving Sally wondering when I had turned into a complete jerk. Because It is very easy for an undercurrent of resentment to build up between two people who have repeated misunderstandings, a Glass app such as this could hold real potential for improving relationships of all kinds, whether couples, friends or even work colleagues. And healthy relationships are the real foundation of respect and collaboration.

The connection between healthy relationships and collaboration is the problem that every collaboration software provider has failed to understand over the years. Giving people a fancy collaboration website / iPhone app / video conferencing platform doesn’t make us more collaborative, it just makes us more connected. True collaboration is built upon mutual understanding and respect, and the commitment to work together towards a shared goal. It would be ironic if the answer for reaching a new level of collaboration has been, quite literally, sitting on top of our noses this whole time.

This post first appeared on Synecticsworld’s website.