Friday, January 15, 2016

Success is 1% inspiration, and ...

 (Authored August 2015)
Thomas Edison, when describing creativity, is quoted as saying "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration." While that rhymes nicely, I think a more accurate description- one which I came up with for my workshops on creativity and innovation - is that "Success is 1% inspiration and 99% perseverance." Let me explain.
While Edison's version is accurate, in the sense that it takes a lot of effort to see an idea through to completion, in my experience the problem is not that people aren't willing to put in the effort, but that it is hard to maintain motivation when you have had a string of failures.

Most of you who receive these emails know me for workshops and seminars on thinking and making decisions, and some of you are aware of my background in technology. What you may not know is that I continue to do technology design through my company Lightguide Systems Inc.
In the past year, we have been developing two measurement instruments for the sport of curling. The first is relatively simple; its design had some technical challenges, but there was never any doubt that it could work.
The second product has been a different matter. This world first, patent pending device is designed to measure the effectiveness of sweeping. It does this by pushing a curling rock across the ice and measuring the change in friction when someone sweeps in front of the rock. (If you are interested in more details, see "SweepTracker" below.)
There was a lot of uncertainty many points along the line, the first being "can a reasonably sized, battery powered device accelerate a 20 kg rock in a reasonable distance?" There were questions about rotating the rock, measuring friction, and many other aspects.
We went through numerous calculations, prototypes, and modifications in the past 9 months. (And finding curling ice in summer for testing was another challenge!)
There were also numerous times I considered throwing in the towel. At one point I called the patent lawyer and said "put it on hold." But one thing that kept me going was asking the question from the "Think About It!" worksheet: "What do I know for certain?" We know for certain that sweeping has an effect that should be measurable using the device, so I persevered. Near the end of July, up in Gravenhurst, I had the first definitive indication that sweeping changed the measurement. (I called the lawyer and said "go for the patent.") And in the past two weeks over several test sessions in Waterloo (fortuitously with the Ontario Men's under 21 champions) we were able to assess differences with different people sweeping, different brooms, and so on. There is still a lot of refinement to be done, but there is also a lot of interest from Olympic-class coaches, Curling Canada, some of Canada's top curlers, and others.
You may not be designing technology products, but I suspect that you often see creative ways to improve your own work or your workplace. Or you encounter changes in your work. Often when these are pursued it seems like they won't be successful. You, or others, may be tempted to quit. But perseverance can be a magical thing. If the idea or project is sound (and the "Think About It!" worksheet can help assess that) and you know there is a benefit, keep at it.
It turns out that two of Edison's lesser known quotes speak to this situation:

"Many of life's failures are people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up." and "Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try one more time."

And if you're a curler, watch for clinics this season to measure your sweeping!

More information on SweepTracker:
Measuring sweeping effectiveness has been considered from many angles over the years: infrared cameras to measure temperature change and brooms that measure pressure and sweeping speed are two attempts. But up until now, no one has directly measured the change in friction - something that can only be done by measuring the force required to keep the rock moving at a constant speed. SweepTracker is a motorized, battery powered device that cradles the rock and pushes it over the ice while measuring the force. It has a separate motor to keep the rock rotating. As it runs, it provides both audio and visual feedback of the effect of sweeping. Initial plans - as SweepTracker is being refined - is to offer sweeping clinics where teams can bring equipment and try different techniques to find which is their most effective approach. The latest information, and a photo, is posted on

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Catching up on blog posts

I don't know about you, but there are often things I start that then fall by the wayside. Blogging has been one of those; not that I haven't been writing "tips", it's just that they've only been going to my email list (send an email if you'd like to subscribe.)
So a few blog posts will catch up on the best email tips from the past year, starting with my experience from a trip to Japan a little over a year ago:

I just returned from Tokyo  - my first trip to Japan, and I was very impressed for many reasons. Aside from very polite people, they really do think things through. Three simple examples from my hotel: the elevators tell you which one will arrive next several floors before it arrives; the tracks for the curtains overlap in the middle (one curves behind the other); and in the morning as you are walking down the hallway they play pleasant bird sounds.
None of these are earth shattering, but they all make the experience a little bit more pleasant. And none require any significant amount of extra work. Elevators these days are all controlled by one building computer, which knows in advance which elevator it is sending where. The curved curtain tracks allow you to easily close the curtains tight (it gets light there early.) And bird sounds playing - simple.
When I mentioned these examples to my host, he said they were examples of  "kaizen". In North America,  "kaizen" usually is used to refer to continuous improvement in the sense of making things more efficient. But Wikipedia defines is simply as "good change", the idea of thinking things through.
A thought for you - what simple examples of "good change" could your organization implement to provide more value to your customers?

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Friday, May 23, 2014

Being clear about your clients

It is popular these days to imagine everyone having a "client" for their work, whether you work directly with customers or not. The imagery of an "internal client" can be useful in framing questions such as "what is valuable to our client, and what is not?" In associations, the equivalent is "what is valuable to our members?"

But those seemingly straightforward questions have some big assumptions built into them, especially if more than one person is involved in the evaluation: the words "client" and "member."

Both those questions imply that we 1. have a clear picture of "client" or "member" and 2. that our pictures are the same. But since we have different filters, odds are our pictures will be different.

A way to deal with this challenge is provided by personas. Three years ago when I was on the National board of the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers I spearheaded an effort to explicitly identify our "members." Over the years I had seen many discussions about who our target/ideal members were, and what were their characteristics. Usually the discussions eventually devolved into a debate over "veteran speakers" versus "newbies" or similar terms. 

I expect you can imagine all the different interpretations of the phrases "veteran speakers" and "newbies." But by creating a list of important parameters such as years experience, type of speaking, income level, and so on we created typical member personas from likely combinations of the parameters. We wrote descriptions of their "personalities" and even added photos.

The result was an initial set of nine personas which were then whittled down for different applications. The descriptions and photos resulted in true clarity when people talked about existing and prospective members, and were a real hit!

Are you clear who is your client? And even if you are clear, are your colleagues viewing the same client?

If you'd like to learn more about personas, I am presenting on the use of personas on Tuesday May 27 at the Toronto Product Management Association in downtown Toronto. Details are here:

Good Thinking!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

When is free too costly? And when is big too big?

Google's Gmail application was down this morning for what seems to have been one to two hours. A year ago, that wouldn't have been an issue for me. But Lighthouse Nine Group - which I joined nine months ago - uses Gmail for e-mail service. When I searched the Internet to confirm that Gmail was down, I encountered "helpful" comments saying "don't worry, do something else for an hour." Which is fine, except that while I'm not an excessive e-mail checker, I do usually check first thing in the morning - which is when Gmail was inaccessible.

There is no doubt that cloud-based services can be convenient. You don't have to buy and maintain hardware. There are powerful free applications such as Google Docs that make some tasks such as sharing information easier than any alternative.

Cloud-based services also pose some risks. You have to have working Internet access, which is occasionally a problem. The service you are using has to be up and running; as we saw this morning, this is not always guaranteed. Delaying your E-mail response time by an hour may or may not be important. But what if you had stored a critical document that you needed this morning on Google Docs and you couldn't access it?

Aside from the inherent risks of cloud-based services, the use of Google and similar free services holds additional risks:
1. Because these services are free, there is less incentive for the service provider to strive for the highest level of service; losing a customer doesn't have a direct cost
2. Because Google is so big, there is no way for an individual or even an organization to speak directly with someone about the situation
3. There is still the issue - for me at least - of Google scanning my e-mails to create targeted advertising

Prior to joining Lighthouse Nine, I used a local service provider for my Internet and e-mail services. I still maintain those accounts. In the 12+ years I have been with them, it seems to me there might have been one occasion when my e-mail was down. Additionally, if I ever was having a problem or required help with website issues, they were easily reachable and very responsive via e-mail or telephone.

I often talk about scenario planning or scenario exploration in my workshops. This is the principle of looking ahead to identify where uncertainties may have an important impact on your business. It's not about estimating how likely something is to happen, but examining the impact if it did. In the interests of convenience or saving money, where might you be using approaches that are mission-critical but vulnerable to disruption?

I think it's time to have a conversation with my partners about Gmail.

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Friday, May 18, 2012

The psychology behind information overload?

There is often discussion - sometimes initiated by me in a workshop - about information overload and how to deal with it. It seems apparent there are generational differences in how we deal with information; what is less examined is why these differences arise. While younger readers will probably have no idea what I'm about to describe, older readers may remember a time when information was difficult to locate.

The most vivid example for me is time spent as a kid looking through card catalogues in the library. (For those of you who have never done this, there are massive sets of small drawers with index size cards, where you physically search for the title or subject of the book you are looking for.) You would find the card of the book you thought was interesting, then walk over to the shelves, find the book, and open it up to see if there was anything relevant. Of course much of the time there was nothing of interest; sometimes there was; and sometimes this book would lead you to a new thought or another book, which meant walking back to the card catalogue, searching through the drawers again, and then walking out to the shelves. (As well, even if you found the index card for an interesting book, you didn't know if the book was in the library until you walked over to the shelves.)

For me, and I expect for many others, this produced a deep seated psychological belief that information is valuable, difficult to access, and in many cases scarce. Thus any information or information source that might be of value in the future should be cherished. The actions that stem from this belief include trying to keep track of all the information flowing into my life, which is certainly not possible. I am a member of several LinkedIn groups, receive a number of email newsletters, as well as print magazines and newspapers. I have now come to accept that there are times - especially when I am very busy - that I may miss something I would perceive to be of value. I balance this with the hope that I will likely be able to locate it again at some point in the future if it truly is important.

I expect those who have grown up with the Internet don't have these filters about information, and that probably makes them better at dealing with the volume of information.

 If there is a downside to relying on Internet searching for information it is a potential loss of context and history, since corporations, governments, and people can instantly change what they have posted. The past can be overwritten by posting new news, which can then dominate search results. As George Santayana said "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." The natural aging of physical books in a library maintains that historical record, and ensures that history can't be re-written very easily.

 For those of my generation, my advice is to examine your filters about information. Are you operating in the Internet age with a "card catalogue" mental model?

For those of the Internet generation, my advice is to be careful about the source of your information. With the abundance of information, it is sometimes harder to find good quality information, and revision of history becomes easy.

Good Thinking!

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Founder of Davos has interesting comments on capitalism

In what to me is a surprisingly under-reported story, Klaus Schwab (the founder of the annual World Economic Forum conference at Davos) says that capitalism is out of whack.

This comes from a man who embraces free markets and who for 41 years has been bringing world CEOs and political leaders together for elite brainstorming sessions.

Excerpts from the stories referenced at the bottom:

"I'm a deep believer in free markets but free markets have to serve society," he said in Davos, a ski resort tucked away deep in the Swiss Alps. He lamented excesses and "lack of inclusiveness in the capitalist system."

Other quotes: "Capitalism, in its current form, no longer fits the world around us."

"We have failed to learn the lessons from the financial crisis of 2009," he goes on. "A global transformation is urgently needed and it must start with reinstating a global sense of social responsibility."

The official program: "the necessary conceptual models do not exist from which to develop a systemic understanding of the great transformations taking place now and in the future."

As a systems thinker, this to me is encouraging, and the perfect application for System Dynamics modelling.

"Conventional modes of decision-making have become outdated," he announces, arguing that we must now consider the young, the poor, the unemployed. He insists on "the need to integrate new non-state actors who want to have their say ... we need new models where governance processes on all levels integrate these newcomers in the most collaborative way."

We must "seriously address the social impact of globalization," he says. "Growing inequities within and between countries and rising unemployment are no longer sustainable ... We must rethink our traditional notions of economic growth and global competitiveness, not only by focusing on growth rates and market penetration, but also, equally — if not more importantly — by assessing the quality of economic growth."

Again, Scwab is looking at a systems view, including longer term sustainability.

Schwab wonders, "How sustainable is it and at what cost to the environment? How are the gains distributed? What has become of the family and community fabric, as well as of our culture and heritage? The time has come to embrace a much more holistic, inclusive and qualitative approach to economic development."

And in an interesting comment:

"The success of any national and business model for competitiveness in the future will be less based on capital and much more based on talent. I define this transition as moving from capitalism to 'talentism'."

Kudos to Terry Milewski of CBC and Angela Charlton of Associated Press, and their organizations, for reporting on this important perspective from an influential business leader.

The CBC has covered it, and here is a link to the AP interview.

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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My prediction for 2012

You likely know from my book "The Prediction Trap - and how to avoid it" or by hearing me speak that I think predicting the future is a dangerous idea. That's because once a person or organization has made a prediction, it is natural for them to look for information that supports that prediction and filter out information that contradicts the prediction.

Nevertheless, there is a prediction which I will make for 2012 which I think is not only safe, but helpful. That prediction is:

2012 is going to be unlike 2011 (or any other year from the past for that matter.)

I feel safe in making this prediction because the significant driving forces on the horizon all suggest scenarios in the economic, social, and political arenas that we have never seen before. No matter how these driving forces combine, 2012 will surely look different from past years.

I also feel safe in making this prediction because Mark Carney, the the governor of the Bank of Canada, also recently said similar things in a speech to the Empire Club/Canadian Club. (Jeffrey Simpson commented on this speech in the Globe and Mail.) Carney said that "current events mark a rupture" in the world economy and described in a very frank manner the situation around the world and the uncertainties that exist for the world economy.

I also believe that unlike most predictions, the prediction that "2012 will not be like the past" is a helpful one. If you use this prediction as a guiding principle, then both at work and in your personal life you will not get stuck in "The Prediction Trap." You will continuously question your assumptions, that part of your filter that - while maybe accurate from the point of view of the past - may prevent you from seeing changed circumstances.

Change is a challenge for most people, not because they don't "like" change, but because it takes effort to develop a skill, a process, or an opinion. Change means we need to learn new things, and new ways of behaving, and that takes effort.

But change also offers an opportunity for those willing to invest the effort in dealing effectively with change. We have seen bad decisions from governments in Europe, the U.S., and Canada and from businesses as well worldwide. Many of these this bad decisions were based on the hope that the clock could be turned back, that things could be put back to "normal," where normal looks like the past.

I think there is still a lot of this magical thinking going on; ideas such as borrowing one's way out of debt, or expecting an economy to grow while at the same time introducing severe government cutbacks, or hoping consumers will both save more and spend more at the same time. In fact, the overriding magical thinking in many of these decisions is the idea that growth of anything can continue forever.

So 2012 will be different - you can take that to the bank (though they may not want to hear it.) How will you prepare for 2012?


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