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Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Context Marketing and Microtargeting

Political micro targeting is a variant of this theme - though really, it kinda ignores the "context" part.
People focus more on what they want than what they need; nothing special about this, it's just biology.  Our body sends us signals indicating feelings that we have to interpret as Requests For Action; we may want a burger because we're in the mood, but what we need may be iron.  It's the external flavour bits worked into the product that give us a narrower craving, which of course is a result of product design and marketing.
Same with politics.  We may want to hear strictly about what politics has to do with what we feel is directly relevant to us - say, crime and punishment policy.  What we need, though, is to have the proper context - what are the cognitive determinants of criminal behaviour?  How does social development impact that process?
When we have blinders on, someone behind us gets to dictate our direction.  Add context and you get better choices.
Being the one who provides context - who is able to marry both wants and needs - now that's adding value. 
And value sells

Context Marketing Is Newest Social Media Buzz

When you put a noun in front of “marketing,” you get a new trend, #RockHot topic and buzzword. I’ve said that in a blog post or two. It was bound to happen sooner or later – content marketing is being dethroned. Instead of content, insert “consumer.”

Consumer is king and content is queen.

We bloggers and content marketers are the royal subjects to none other than the king. In this case, that’s the consumer, our community, our followers, engagers, lurkers, subscribers, and readers.
It is our inherent duty to deliver relevant and remarkable content our king can use. When a consumer shares and comments on the content you create, then you’ve done your duty. You can remain in the monarchy.
I bet you’ve gotten bored with the “content is king” mantra, too. So, it was no surprise that “context” has become the latest trend on the ‘sphere.

What Is Context Marketing?

I am a HubSpot user; aiming for that digital marketing certificate to put a label on my educational investment this year. When you do inbound marketing, you first must know your buyer persona. Who is most likely to purchase your services or product? What are the demographics around them?
With that knowledge, you begin to feed appropriate content that matters to your prospects. Give them what they need at their doorstep.
• Use RSS feeds to deliver relevant blog posts.
• Build your email marketing list and develop solid content in newsletters.
• Engage at a higher level with even higher level professional content.
• Become the authority for your audience with remarkability.
You’re likely already doing context marketing. Now, you just need to be aware of its cognitive definition.
Give consumers what they need, in the best place at the right time.
Are you already using context marketing?
This article “Context Marketing Is Newest Social Media Buzz” first appeared on Soulati

Loyalty Is Not Blind

"The reason they speak up is because they care about the institution and want to keep it."

Who do you think has been more loyal to Rob Ford - Mark Towhey or David Price?

I had a chat with a friend the other day about innovation and revolution.  She argued that the most powerful drive for change is anger; sometimes, she said, you just need to burn down failed institutions so that room is made for something to replace it.  Like many people these days, she also expressed a great deal of frustration at the myriad failings within our society.  We're not at the point of revolution quite yet, she said, but we could be.

Syria is; the same holds true for Egypt.  Competing interests and groups are duking it out for supremacy, or at least the right to be rid of the other.  The same principle applies to the notion of voting Political Parties out rather than voting them in; at both the federal and provincial (Ontario) level, Opposition Parties are lighting the kindling of controversy, trying to see which argument against will catch fire.  You could say that's what's happening within the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party, too.

Of course, the dominant Party rarely goes down without a fight.  They close ranks, fix bayonets and deploy the drones.  It's a costly process that destroys lives and infrastructure in war and careers and policies when it's politics-as-usual.  Where the system isn't working, though,  it will inevitably fail; the only question is how long the collapse takes and how many casualties pile up along the way.

I disagreed with my friend; I suggested that it wasn't anger against, but commitment to that was the greatest driver of change.  Just as Adrian Verster decided to tackle bike accidents when a loved one was hurt and Alexander Graham Bell was motivated out of the desire to help loved ones who were deaf, it's those who choose to solve problems rather than fight them or walk away that tend to catalyze innovation.

 You have to truly believe in something to put yourself in the line of fire, either externally or internally.  As we'e seeing on numerous political fronts, a lot of backroom folk who never expected to be on display are demonstrating the limits of blind loyalty; when your leader stops leading, you have no choice but to find your own way.

Towing the line isn't loyalty.  Defending every action, whether appropriate or inappropriate isn't loyalty, either.  That's enabling.  Enablers fundamentally don't care about the person or organization they stand behind; they care about what that institution can do for them.

I would argue that David Price, from what little we've learned of him, is an enabler.  Mark Towhey, on the other hand, demonstrated true loyalty to that which Rob Ford is supposed to stand for.

For pointing out a problem and offering a solution, Towhey was punished.  Rob Ford wasn't ready for change.  By trying to enable the misdeeds of Senators and lord knows who else, a growing number of Harper Conservatives threw the substance of what Harper is supposed to stand for under the bus - and are paying for it.  For his part, Harper didn't want to see, didn't want to hear because he didn't want to be responsible.

There are similar stories of other institutions trying to step on "whistleblowers" rather than stamp out their own burning platforms.

A little advice for leaders, then - don't mistake enabling for loyalty and don't assume challenges to the status quo are an indication of stupidity.

It takes a bit of foresight to know the difference.

The Evolution of Work

The first canary in the coal mine that I noticed was Kai Nagata. Frustrated with the inadequacies, inefficiencies and deep-rooted institutional stigmas of TV journalism, Nagata decided he’d had enough; whatever became of his post-CTV career, it would be on his terms and in line with his own ethical sensibilities. Nagata was praised and criticized as brave, brazen, whiny or disturbed.  The institution, after all, is established; he had just made of himself an outsider.  Few saw him as the beginning of a social trend.

Yet there was a trend emerging. Others followed Nagata out the door and into an uncharted realm of moral independence.  Respected media pundits started being  publicly critical about the unspoken taboos tacitly seen as unshakable undercurrents in our society. You could even say biting the hand that feeds is becoming trendy. What’s particularly noteworthy is that, looking to define and capitalize on these emerging trends, more researchers and reporters are digging down into broader social opinions about work, motivation and our overall feelings concerning our lot in life.

So, what are they finding?

Despite a greater number of us Westerners having more of everything than any generation previous, we’re a far from satisfied lot – and a good deal of our malaise is connected with work. You could say the key word there was “generational” and suggest that Gen Y is less dedicated to the traditional work hard, earn more and be happy model – and you’d be right. At the same time, the social world of today doesn’t look the way it did even ten years ago, much less immediately Post-WWII or Turn-of-the-Century when the industrial machine was humming along nicely. The results now being sought by employers, the tools used by employees, the structure of work environments and the length of work days have changed dramatically.

We’re not even defining success the way we used to. In times of yore, success was about profit, position of authority and the ability to download responsibility. Social consequence was barely considered. As an example, there’s a great story about a rather wealthy individual who drew motivation from seeing his father mistreated by employers. Seeing the impact that treatment had on both the father and his family, this guy decided he was going be the one who stepped rather than the one who got stepped on. In the process, he not only became the same kind of employer that abandoned his father; his fixation on success came at the expense of his own family’s emotional health.

Few of us want to be that guy any more – the abrasive ladder-climber whose greatest asset is their ruthlessness. Today, profit and access to stuff are essentially taken for granted; the world seems less dog-eat-dog when everyone’s basic needs are met. The corner office is a nice perk, but it’s personal brand recognition and legacy that we’re interested in now. Blame social media for the expanded demand for validation, but also for the declining importance of position. You don’tneed to be part of the establishment, or part of any establishment to have your voice heard and your opinions matter these days. As a result, you don’t need to accept brow-beating by a micro-managing employer to find social success any more, either.

More than 35% of American employees would fire their bosses, if they could. Kai Nagata did. So did Greg Smith. They were unhappy and took their fates into their own hands, which is exactly what Ryan Eggenberger (see opening quote) is encouraging. Also worth noting, though:

62% of employees would rather improve their workspace than their commute
51% of employees aren’t excited about the prospect of going in to work and my favourite:
Half thought that internal politics (51%) was more critical to advancement than hard work (27%), while only 4% saw creativity as relevant to success.

You can define creativity rather broadly; for my selfish purposes, I’m going to suggest it implies the development of new products, services and processes, i.e. innovation. In our increasingly rapid product evolution cycle, there is a large demand being placed on generating new everything. Equally, the cash crunch of our contracting economy is necessitating more streamlined, efficient processes in all sectors – processes that, dare I say it, breach the unspoken conventions on which work has traditionally been based, such as monetary incentive being the greatest motivator for every kind of work.

So, we have an increasing number of dissatisfied employees who are meh about their boss and the work they do, would like their work environments changed yet still feel money is the prime motivator. These frustrated folk, wrapped up in the pressures of modern work life, aren’t considering innovation as important to their/their company’s success. Then, you have an increasing number of outliers throwing off the shackles of established work and building new careers on a foundation of meaning and ethics, daring to do work differently. Simultaneously, Generation Y is talking about independence, control of their own time and the drive to do the things they believe in. From experience, I can tell you there is a huge reservoir of bold, revolutionary and effective products and services bubbling up from these emerging social entrepreneurs.

The nature of work has changed; it’s only natural that the labour landscape should change with it. This time, though, the would-be labour revolutionaries have inside help.  Smart Human Resource providers are encouraging CEOs to look at labour through a new lens; put the labour first and success will follow.  These HR professionals and forward-thinking executives have a growing number of private-sector service providers to call on in reshaping labour motivation and, as employees have asked for, workspaces themselves

Meanwhile, a growing number of Gen Yers, unable to find work and feeling less than ecstatic about the opportunities they do have are going to strike out on their own.  The successful ones will inevitably gravitate more towards traditional management styles when it’s their own money on the line, but their experience, the demands of their future employees and the realities of motivating innovation will irrevocably change the rules of the game.  This is good news for employees, but it comes with a caveat; the more meaningful work becomes and the more accommodated your labour is, the greater will be the bleed of work life into personal life.  It’s the difference between holding down a job and having a career.

Looking down the road at these expected labour pains, there’s just one piece of advice I can offer; if you’re going to dedicate your life to something, don’t do it just for money – money isn’t enough.  Do it because you believe in it.

Dec 2015: "But here’s what I know: I can’t teach young people how to be ethical, upstanding reporters while working for a man like Michael Schroeder. I can’t take his money. I can’t do his bidding. I have to stand up for what is right even if the cost is so daunting that at this moment it scares the hell out of me."

Do what is right, even at personal cost.  Who else will?

Being poor decreases brain power, study finds (Lori Culbert)

Surprise, surprise - poverty is draining.  It's not that the unemployed or underemployed are dumb - that's like saying asthmatics can't run races.  With the right accommodations, people can overcome challenges.  Often, when they do so, they bring innovative solutions to the table.

But we're not really looking for innovation, are we?  If people aren't 'culture fit" as they are, we don't want them.  That's the big cognitive gap we need to bridge in Canada - we can't get the results we want in terms of strengthening the middle class unless we're all willing to invest in the process.

That takes leadership.

Being poor decreases brain power, study finds

People living in poverty are often blamed for not improving their lives, but the new research argues being poor uses so much mental energy that little brainpower is leftover to make good, life-changing decisions.
If you are worried about how to pay the rent or feed your kids, says UBC psychology professor Jiaying Zhao, then that lowers your cognitive ability to do other mental tasks, such as studying at school or performing well in your job.
“Previous views on poverty blame poverty on the poor themselves because they are not capable, or because of their personal failing, or because of lower education, etc.,” said Zhao, who grew up in a poor household in China.
“We take a very different, almost the opposite view: This is not about the individuals themselves, but the context — you are in poverty, you don’t have enough cognitive resources.”
The findings from the five-year study, which Zhao conducted with three other professors while a graduate student at Princeton University in the United States, are published in the journal Science.
The research paper, Poverty Impedes Cognitive Function, argues governments and society can help poor people improve their financial status by reducing bureaucratic hurdles, such as filling out long forms or deciphering new rules.
The study was broken into two parts which analyzed responses from 400 people with varying finances recruited in a New Jersey mall, as well as the experiences of 464 impoverished farmers in India.
For the first part, the participants had annual salaries ranging from $20,000 to $160,000, with a median of $70,000, to reflect U.S. demographics, Zhao said.
One hundred of those participants were described as having four financial scenarios, such as their cars needed repairs and they could either pay, take out a loan, or ignore the problem. The questions were intended to trigger thoughts of their own personal finances.
Before giving their answers, the participants performed two computer-based psychology tests that measure cognitive functions, such as thinking logically and solving problems.
In the car scenario, half the participants were told the repairs would only cost $150, while the bill for the other half was $1,500. The group with the lower bill performed similarly on the psychological tests regardless of financial backgrounds; but of those with the more expensive bill, the poor performed much worse than the rich.
“In both tasks, the rich were uninfluenced by condition,” the study notes, “whereas the poor performed significantly worse in the hard condition.”
Three other tests with other participants in the lab aimed at weeding out alternative explanations for this finding, such as “math anxiety” causing the poor to achieve lower cognitive scores during the financial stress scenarios.
The outcome — that those in poverty have less mental capacity left for other tasks when they are in a financial crisis — remained consistent, but researchers then wanted to know if the findings would be the same in real life.
Therefore, they conducted a field study involving 464 sugarcane farmers in small villages in Tamil Nadu, India.
The farmers were given two psychological tests in 2010 before the harvest, when they were poor, pawning personal belongings and taking out loans. Then they were interviewed again after the harvest when they had money.
In the post-harvest, when the farmers had fewer financial woes, they answered questions on the tests faster and more accurately.
The study also ruled out other factors that could explain these results — such as before the harvest farmers physically work harder and/or eat less, and after the harvest it was the second time they had taken the test.
“Taken together, the two sets of studies — in the New Jersey mall and the Indian fields — illustrate how challenging financial conditions, endemic to poverty, can result in diminished cognitive capacity,” the study concluded.
But how much is the poor’s brain power diminished by financial concerns?
The study says it is the equivalent of trying to function after losing a full night’s sleep.
It is also the equivalent of a swing in 13 IQ points, which is sizable enough, Zhao said, to move a person with average intelligence up to superior smarts or down to borderline retardation.
Therefore, just as governments tax the poor less, they should also not intellectually strain them when they need help, the study argues. For example, farmers should be sent information about new agricultural practices post-harvest, and those without jobs should not face complicated forms.
“The hurdles you have to go through in order to receive welfare all consume cognitive resources, and these are resources the poor don’t have because they are struggling with other financial issues,” Zhao said.
Eliminating such red tape, the study argues, would not only contribute to economic stability but also increase society’s pool of brain power.
“By giving the poor resources, you are not just making them a little richer but enabling more cognitive resources, and as a result other aspects of their lives will improve,” Zhao said.

Cognitive Poverty and Mapping Solutions

What does the cognitive atrophy caused by poverty have to do with a data geek mapping bicycle accidents in response to an incident in which his girlfriend was injured?
Let's start with the cognition part.  If you have average cognitive capacity and I asked you to do some basic financial math - say, a three-digit multiplication question - you could probably work it out in your head without much difficulty.  If, however, I dropped a hammer on your foot, the pain would make the performance of that mental task somewhat more difficult.
Now, if we expand the challenge a bit and I task you with working out your monthly income, average monthly expenses and what would be realistic in terms of allocating what's left over to savings vs. fun spending, you could probably sit down and put something on paper.  If I break your leg and then have you sit down and do the same task, the results will be less than spectacular.
It's pretty well accepted that pain impedes thought and performance.  But what of psychological discomfort?  Picture you have just heard that your parents died in a car crash and then were asked to perform the multiplication question.  It'd be a bit more of a challenge, wouldn't it?  The same applies to task #2 - if you are living under the constant threat of, say, losing your home (or of knowing where you're going to sleep each night) then task #2 becomes more onerous, too.
When it comes to cognitive tasks, psychological discomfort works the same as physical discomfort - it impedes ability.  It's possible to keep at physical tasks (like building widgets) while suffering from psychological distress - for some people, the distraction might even be beneficial.  The more complex
the task is, though, the harder it is to maintain the focus required to do it correctly because a good part of your cognitive processes are fixated on solving the other issue.
People living in poverty, near poverty or dealing with either precarious employment (not sure for how long they will get a paycheque or where their next job will be) or highly stressful employment (constant fear of being berated or threatened if they don't do exactly what the boss wants even when those demands aren't clearly articulated) have a harder time focusing. 
What they have trouble focusing on will shift depending on where the greatest threat appears to be - if you don't know where you're sleeping at night or where your next meal will come from, that becomes your primary focus - like the body fighting a cold, cognitive energy is drawn from other areas to address the biggest threat.  If you are constantly anxious about your work, you might spend all your energy there, to the detriment of your own wellbeing (skipping lunches, working late into the night, etc.)
It's all well and good to get angry at poor people and tell them to just get over themselves and get a job (as a job leads to income which allows for more living security) - I know a lot of hard-core business minded people who say just that.  In practical terms, though, that's just not feasible - just as I can't realistically expect you to do financial planning if you're in physical agony and in the throes of grief, it's not realistic to tell people to get a job without having the basic comforts (let alone training, experience and sales ability) required to get a job.
Not when employers want the perfect match from day one and aren't willing to invest in training or employee transition strategies.
It's a funny thing, that - every single one of the aggressive, profit-oriented people I know are as functionally fixated on increasing the bottom line in the same way that people without homes are focused on where they're going to sleep at night.  Earning money, pushing their employees to bring in more money becomes the tunnel through which they see the world.  Meanwhile, they frit away tens of thousands of dollars in lost opportunity and lost person hours because they don't take the time to develop internal flow processes or train employees. 
We are constantly told that if you want to accomplish anything in life, you have to have a laser-like focus on where you want to be.  Distractions are to be avoided, time is not to be wasted, so on and so forth.  That's true if you're in a race (which the capitalist economy, in essence, is) and the goal is to finish first.
If you build more widgets more quickly, you get the promotion.  If you sell more cars in a quarter than the other guys, you get the bonus.
The problem is, life is not a race, it's a journey.  There is no smooth track, no level playing field that allows everyone to compete on an even keel.  In fact, there are often puzzles along the way that need a bit of contemplation to overcome.
The average person living in poverty can't navigate their way to economic success without support - because the nature of the terrain works to their disadvantage.  The same principle applies to sole-focus oriented manager or functionally-fixed politicians - they are going to find themselves constantly frustrated by the hurdles they face because in their hurry, they have failed to study the terrain.
That's where the accident map comes in.
Adrian Verster wasn't trying to put more money in his pocket, nor was he worrying about how to keep a roof over his head.  His was not an existential or branding challenge that fostered linear, one-hurdle-at-a-time thinking.  Trying to ensure that something was done about bike accidents and motivated by personal impact, Verster was trying to solve a problem.
Problem-solving is a completely different task than function-filling.  It uses different parts of your brain and facilitates a lot of risk-taking - trying one solution to see if it works and if it doesn't, moving on.  Whereas repetitive job interviews or failed business pitches nurture anxiety (they make the functionally fixed destination of meaningful employment or financial success seem further and further out of reach, forcing even more focus), removing non-viable options encourages confidence; eliminating what doesn't work let's you focus on what could.
The more non-traditional experience you can bring the table, the more likely you are to look at problems from different perspectives and find innovative solutions that those functionally fixed on a problem might have a harder time fathoming.
Whereas the only solution an constantly agitated Rob Ford can think of to solve the bicycle question is to remove them from the road entirely, Vertster took his love of data, devised a way to map out accidents and provide a fresh perspective on the geography of the problem, allowing for solutions to be considered from a broader range of angles.
It's a bit like driving - it can be nerve-wracking trying to navigate your way through traffic, one-way streets and all the signs and signals that go with it; put a map in your hand and it becomes an easier task that can be sorted out in advance, facilitating a smoother and more prepared journey.
Let's go back to the cognitively strained poor people.  They are focused on the immediate need of getting around the corner right in front of them - say, paying the rent this month.  They cannot spare the energy to look around the corner.  The pain of their poverty constrains them from looking ahead.
If you provide that person with a map - say, of existing government services, training opportunities, skills-to-job match and you give them some GPS-like assistance (job counsellors, etc.) and you work on smoothing out the terrain for them (the employment equivalent of paved roads being understanding and accommodative employers) you give them the foresight and comfort they need to confidently navigate the terrain and arrive at the desire destination.
Lots of metaphors, lots of analogies - clearly, I'm just writing to further my carpal tunnel.  If I had anything important to say I could synthesize it into a couple bullet points, right?  Busy people don't have the time to digest details.  Give 'em the sugar, the low hanging fruit, and let 'em move on.
So let me connect the dots for you:
- society does a crap job of accommodating cognition at both ends of the spectrum; this is why we have a shrinking middle class and greater anxiety among the poor and greater frustration among the wealthy
- telling poor people to just "get a job" is like telling wealthy people to just "donate more money to charity"; a short-term focus on keeping roofs over heads or keeping shareholders happy negates the cognitive ability to think laterally, systematically.
- narrowing focus, reducing accommodation and increasing time pressure does exactly the opposite of what we want it to do - we don't become more successful, we become more short-sighted.  That's never a good thing in the long run, as we're clearly seeing.
- solving problems (complex math equations, financial planning, figuring out how to get a job or innovating new products for emerging demands) requires a completely different set of motivation and supports than does race-winning.
- environmental assessments - knowing the landscape - makes planning easier.  It enables you to put the right tools in your box before you set out.
- it isn't enough to motivate people to get jobs or to meaningfully hire with carrots and sticks; you have to design-think your way across the gap, which is a two-way effort.
Or, to make it really simple for you - it pays to think ahead and to live consciously.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

The Brainstorms Are Failing! The Brainstorms Are Failing!

I get to speak with a lot of amazing social entrepreneurs - people with amazing artistic or design talents they hope to build businesses out of or hardcore problem solvers looking for some way to fund the exploration and trial of their solutions.

I also speak with a lot of policy generators, managers, system leads, etc. looking for ways to paint themselves out of corners, best harness new opportunities or make what they are doing now work better.

From time to time, I even get to sit in on conversations/conferences where big leaders are trying to solve world problems.

You know why Canada lags so far behind when it comes to both productivity and innovation?  It's because, complacent, comfortable people that we are, we suck at both.  

There is nothing more painful than watching the "so what?" model of concept criticism discourage innovation and shoot down ideas that, with a bit of guidance, could have great potential.  To me, this is the equivalent of putting every kid in the same class with no accommodations and failing all of those who don't make the grade; it's selection of the fittest, defining "fit" with a very narrow criteria.

We can keep on expecting innovators to be communication experts and marketing gurus and financial whizzes, dismissing or ignoring those who aren't the complete package and whose ideas, while brimming with promise, need a bit of nudging.  But that's what we're doing now.

If we want to start getting ahead of the curve, we need to change our perspective.  To do that, though, we need to accept that our current one is outmoded.  Change and introspection can be scary, but such is the risk of leadership.

It's time for Canada to lead again.

3 Reasons Your Brainstorming Sessions Are Failing

innovation_brainstorming_wordle_creativityYou’ve heard it before, right? “Think outside the box.” “Change the paradigm.” This stuff isn’t new. But it’s been regurgitated so often that it has lost all meaning.
Project managers face an inconvenient truth: brainstorming sessions often lead to nowhere. The ideas that come out of these meetings tend to be obvious, lacking the innovation that businesses need in order to survive.
Why are your brainstorming sessions producing little of value, and what can you do about it?

1. The Fear of Creativity

We all pretend to embrace creativity, and most of us genuinely believe that we want creative ideas, but scientific experiments suggest otherwise. An experiment conducted by the University of Pennsylvania tells us that uncertainty creates fear and outright hatred for creative ideas.
In the experiment, one group of people were told that they would be paid by a random lottery, while the others were given no special instructions. They found that this random payment system made the participants feel uneasy, and uncertain about the future.
More interestingly, while the “normal” participants associated the word “creativity” with words like “sunshine” and “rainbow,” the uncertain participants associated it with words like “vomit” and “hell.”
That’s right. A sense of uncertainty literally makes creativity feel like hell.
In a second experiment, the same team found that people justified this fear of creativity by actually convincing themselves that creative ideas were somehow less creative.
Brainstorming doesn’t work unless your employees are at ease. Thankfully, the experiment also uncovered a simple way to accomplish this: by asking the participants to write an essay about how there is more than one solution to every problem. While asking your employees to write an essay is probably overboard, calling attention to this frame of mind on repeated occasion is going to do a lot for the success of your brainstorming sessions.

2. Linear Thinking

In another psychological experiment, scientists discovered that paradoxical thinking helped people come up with more creative ideas. The experiment was the result of a collaboration between Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
In the experiment, participants were asked to read a series of reviews of a hypothetical toy by expert judges. If the judges said that the toy was creative, that it was cheap, or that it was creative or cheap, their performance on a creativity test was average.
But when they read reviews that the toy was creative and cheap, they got a boost on their creativity scores.
This was the result of paradoxical thinking. We typically think of things as being either creative or cheap. Realizing that a product could be bothwas enough to boost their creative potential.
In a similar experiment by the same team, half the participants were asked to come up with at least three paradoxical statements, while the others were asked to just write three statements. Afterward, they were asked to solve a complex creative problem, called the candle problem. Those who were asked to come up with paradoxical statements were much more likely to solve the problem.
In other words, successful brainstorming requires your team to be willing to mix and match ideas that don’t seem to go together.

3. Face to Face Brainstorming Doesn’t Work

This one’s painful for a lot of project managers to hear, but it’s the truth.
Experiment after experiment demonstrates that people come up with more, higher quality ideas when they brainstorm alone.
This goes against our intuition. If creativity is about mixing and matching ideas, shouldn’t group brainstorming make this easier? One experiment at the University of Texas demonstrates that when people listen to a tape before brainstorming alone, they actually do come up with better ideas. So the perspective of others does seem to play a part, but only before brainstorming.
There is one exception to this rule, though. The same team discovered that if people shared their ideas through a computer interface, their brainstorming sessions were even more successful than when working alone.
The problem is that face-to-face brainstorming creates too many distractions, fear of judgment, and a tendency to focus on a narrow group of similar ideas. These problems are avoided with a computer interface.
This calls attention to the power of computer-based collaboration. Rather than invest in single-person interfaces like Microsoft Project, managers can turn to collaborative alternatives like WorkZone, which allow for distraction-free brainstorming.


Innovation is a crucial component of success in modern business, and understanding it is a necessity for modern project managers. By conquering uncertainty, embracing paradoxes, and tapping into the power of computer-mediated brainstorming, you can outperform your competitors and deliver results.

Great Ideas to Get Hired Faster - stolen!

Some good advice, here...

Steal These Great Ideas to Get Hired Faster

I’ve written before that your job search is really a marketing campaign, designed to identify, qualify and contact prospects (companies you want to work for), meet decision makers (people who can hire you) and sell them (convince them to hire you).
Today I’m going to … write about that topic again. Because there’s an almost limitless number of marketing ideas you can “steal” and adapt to your job search.
Here are four …

1) Write Sales Letters, Not Cover Letters

Why imitate the same dull-as-dishwater cover letters most job seekers send out?
To write a better cover letter, emulate the best sales letters. After all, you’re trying to sell an employer on the idea of hiring you, right?
You can Google “writing sales letters” or visit your library to learn how, but here’s a quick list of the essential elements in every sales letter:
Personalized opening. Example: “Dear Mr. Jackson.” Never, ever write: “Dear Sir or Madam.”
Reader-focused. All good sales letters are written about “you,” the reader, and not, “I,” the author. If you change all instances of “I” to “you” in your cover letter, you’ll instantly make it more interesting and effective.
Prove your claims with specific facts, numbers and dollars. Self-explanatory.
Ask for the sale. Example: “Please call me today to learn how I can save you $42,000 or more as a customer service manager.” Or, say you’ll follow up your cover letter with a phone call — just make sure that you do!

2) Treat Your Voicemails as Radio Spots

Here’s a great marketing idea I got from Internet radio host and producer, Martin Wales. It’s this — think of your voicemail messages as 30-second radio commercials. That means you should script and rehearse every voicemail you leave for employers.
While other job seekers leave rambling, unplanned, unprofessional messages, you’ll give employers one more reason to hire you. How simple is that?
Try to leave tantalizing messages that practically force hiring managers to call you back. Example: “Hi, this is Steve Jones. I just wanted to make sure you received the resume and cover letter I emailed you on Monday for your accounting position. I thought you might want to discuss the part where I saved $27,000 last year for a firm just like yours. If so, please give me a call at 702-555-1212. Thank you!”

3) Networking a Little Better Can Mean a Lot

According to the book, “1001 Ways to Market Your Services,” a study by Stanford University showed that a small increase in the size of your network can greatly increase your odds of reaching the right person.
How much? Just a 10% increase in the number of high-quality contacts can double your results, according to the study.
What does this mean for your job search? If you’ve been networking and not connecting with decision makers who can hire you, try to add just 10% more qualified people to your network. You can do this!

4) “Sell” to Past “Customers”

Most businesses spend most of their marketing efforts attracting new buyers … while neglecting past customers who already know and trust them, and would likely buy again — if only they were asked.
Similarly, most job seekers get so caught up in looking for positions at new employers that they neglect the co-workers and managers who already know and trust them.
Are you committing this same boo-boo? If so, here’s how to fix it and produce more job leads.
Make a list of every co-worker and manager you have ever had, going back to high school. Now, cross off the ones you can’t stand. Then, call or email each of the remaining people to let them know about your job search. If somebody has moved on to a new company, rejoice! You can not only contact them at their new employer, you can also introduce yourself to their replacement at the old employer — turning one contact into two.
You should be able to pick and use at least one of these marketing ideas for your job search, starting today. Why not start now?
Resource: You can learn more about Guerrilla Resumes, which may get you hired in 30 days – or less.

The Problems with Incubators, and How to Solve Them (Sramana Mitra)

The Problems with Incubators, and How to Solve Them

There is a very real knowledge gap in the early stage start-up game, on both sides of the table. First-time entrepreneurs lack the seasoning to captain a steady ship through turbulent waters. Inexperienced friends and family (and, increasingly, crowdsourced investors) lack the ability to gauge the viability of a business, or to mentor naïve entrepreneurs.
This knowledge gap, I have come to believe, is best filled by savvy incubators. However, there are over 7,500 business incubators around the world. Most of them fail.
The first business incubator in the U.S. opened in 1959 and is still operating. In the last couple of years, we have seen a renaissance in the incubator business. Pioneered by YCombinator, Silicon Valley's flagship incubator led by Paul Graham, incubators have come back with a vengeance. YCombinator has seen some significant successes, including Airbnb, Dropbox, and Heroku. It has fueled a bit of an incubator bubble, I must admit. Incubators are now a global phenomenon, and there isn't a major city in the world where an incubator isn't cropping up.
For incubators to live up to their full economic potential, they need to overcome two pitfalls: they need to provide real value, not just office space, and they need to measure success in more than just outside funding.
Adding Real Value
During the dot-com era, every law and accounting firm decided they were going to become incubators. Many of those efforts failed. Charles D'Agostino, executive director of the Louisiana Business & Technology Center at Louisiana State University, offers some analysis: "Incubators do work, but they must be more than a real estate entity offering executive suite services. Effective incubators provide business counseling and management assistance to their client firms. The value-added business services differentiate them from an office suite."
Indeed, as I investigated why incubators fail, I was astounded to find that many incubators assume that cheap real estate, co-working spaces, used furniture, plus a phone and Internet connection equate with business incubation. Jim Flowers, president of the Virginia Business Incubation Association, says, "They mistake cheap floor space for meaningful program content."
Well, it isn't. Neither are discounted legal services, accounting, or other kinds of commodity services.
Two things determine whether a business can get off the ground successfully and sustainably: a validated market opportunity with customers willing to pay for a product or a service; and a product or service that addresses such an opportunity. The only incubators I consider "real" are the ones that help entrepreneurs achieve these two goals.
Adds D'Agostino, "Incubators must evaluate the management capability of the entrepreneurs and assist in finding management for these companies. Especially when the entrepreneur is a technologist lacking business skills, it is critical that the incubator assists the owner in finding managers that have the skills necessary to manage a successful entity and take it to the next level."
My take is that technologists can, actually, be taught these skills. Hiring managers may often be expensive, but high IQ engineers have historically been very good at picking up business skills with the right mentoring. So getting to the next level is well within their capacity, and the role an incubator ought to play is to guide them in that process.
The only "next level" worth getting to for a start-up is a validated business idea that has the endorsement of reference customers, and a product that caters to their needs. The rest — an office, legal documents, QuickBook files — don't build valuation or business value. The benchmark incubators should be measuring themselves against is simply their success in helping clients validate businesses, gain reference customers, and complete at least a minimum viable product.
Success is More Than Funding
Most incubators use funding as a success metric, which is a somewhat flawed criterion. Over 99% of companies should operate as organically grown, self-sustaining businesses — bootstrapped, without external financing. For them the goal is to achieve customer validation, not financing. Yet if the incubator uses financing as its success metric, it will try to force inexperienced entrepreneurs into an unnecessary financing round. And more often than not, they will fail.
YCombinator has mitigated this by partnering with venture capital firms like Sequoia, Andreessen Horowitz, and General Catalyst, such that every single company in their portfolio gets $80k in seed financing as they graduate from the incubation program. But most incubators in the world do not have that luxury. Nor do they have the deal flow deserving of such guaranteed financing.
Of course, where funding is appropriate and relevant, helping entrepreneurs connect with angel investors and venture capitalists is an important service. Equally important is to provide education on what is and isn't fundable.
Will this new generation of incubators perform better than the previous ones?
It remains to be seen.
My primary conclusion is that incubators need to be decoupled from financing. While they need to continue to act as a bridge to capital, predicating their success on getting businesses funded will keep them focused on trying to find the less than 1% of start-ups that are fundable. In other words, coming to the rescue of victory!
The other 99%, then, continue to be ignored.
A scalable incubation model for the other 99% is a requirement for the next rev of capitalism.