Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happiness Runs.

Just spent a pretty miserable few days fighting the Adenovirus – and losing!!  Doctor believes I picked it up on the Sydney – Dallas flight nine days ago.  It’s highly contagious and commonly referred to as ‘The Killer Cold’ – more information than I needed.  Characterised by violent coughing fits, phlegm on the lungs, raw throat, incessant sneezing, blocked ears and in my case, viral conjunctivitis in both eyes (my first and hopefully last experience of this little gem – think grit under your eyelids, pink or red replacing white and baby blue (!!) and seeping gunk jamming your eyelids tight).  Lovely.  No sleep, no energy, no focus, no fun.

Two things helped though.

A nursing Sister friend, Gill Belchetz told me “You will get better”.  A simple but powerful thought.  And two year old Cameron cheered me up no end.  I asked him – after a classic two year old boy’s penchant for wayward destruction – are you a good boy or a naughty boy?  He looked me straight into my (pink) eye, grinned and said “A Happy Boy”.  Lest we forget.

It’s great to be celebrating Christmas with friends and family – and recovery is under way.

Happiness Runs.


Skills to Cultivate

Image source: bewellbarroncounty.org

Make a New Year’s resolution to hone a skill that will help you at work and in life. Here’s a basket of self-improvement directions.
  1. Storytelling. One of the most effective ways of connecting with people. There is an art to it: plot, character, timing. Embroider and polish your best encounters.
  2. Mindfulness. Clear your head and focus on one thing at a time.
  3. Emotional thinking. Make the big decisions with your heart, the small ones with your head. The electromagnetic frequency of the heart is ten thousand times stronger than that of the brain. The brain takes its orders from the heart.
  4. Negotiating. I’ve learnt a lot about this from my children. There are times to be tough, and times to be tender. Figuring out which to do when is often the challenge!
  5. Delegating. Something my children have learnt from me. They all knew RASCI from a young age.
  6. Showing appreciation. Finding the right words can take a few goes but it’s always beneficial to show gratitude.
  7. Active listening. Your eyes have as much to do with this as your ears. The subtext, what’s not being said, always reveals a greater truth.
  8. Learning from your failures. A genius is someone who makes the same mistake once. We’re defined by the way we learn from our failures.
  9. Making lists. Hands-up everyone who puts things on a list just for the pleasure of crossing it off?! Be a compulsive to-doer. It keeps you going continuously forward.
  10. Have fun. It’s harder than it sounds! Slipping into business-as-usual mode is easy. Leisure needs to be planned, scheduled, sought out – and best done with other people.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Apropos Remarks

Image source: cdn.theatlantic.com

I often quote people on this blog. I’ve pulled together eleven inspirational favourites here.
  1. “Fail fast, learn fast, fix fast.” – Tom Peters, exuberant business author and speaker.
  2. “If you do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” – Mark Twain, American author and humourist.
  3. “Enthusiasm is the mother of effort, and without it nothing great was ever achieved.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, American essayist, lecturer and poet.
  4. “Making money is art and working is art and good business is the best art.” – Andy Warhol, American artist.
  5. “A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.” – John Barrymore, American actor.
  6. "Curiosity is the cure for boredom. There is no cure for curiosity." – Dorothy Parker, American poet, short story writer, critic and satirist.
  7. “Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play it safers, the creatures of the common place, the slaves of the ordinary.” – Cecil Beaton, English photographer
  8. “I want to stay as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all kinds of things you can’t see from the center.” – Kurt Vonnegut, American writer.
  9. “There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.” – Malcolm X, African-American Muslim minister and a human rights activist.
  10. “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein, German-born theoretical physicist and philosopher of science.
  11. “Start with the answer and work back.” – one of my personal favourites from my colleague Bob Seelert, Chairman, partner and mentor.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

3D Spark

Image source: sparkventures.co.nz

One of the smartest people I worked with during my time on the board of New Zealand Telecom – now Spark – was Rod Snodgrass. Now CEO of Spark Ventures, Rod recently wrote a think piece for Accenture about the three D’s – digital, disruption and design – in relation to telecommunications. I’ve covered it in a condensed format here.

By way of background, Spark Ventures is an internal incubator and accelerator for Spark. Rod is mandated to deliver ‘long term health’ for Spark – creating new businesses and revenues through being bold, agile and different. This tenacity in approach is reflected in Rod’s comments below.

On how digital comes into play: “In order to make magic happen, we will charter a new way of doing things for the Spark group, build deeper partnerships, and grow future talent… We are increasingly design-driven and have a very strong digital focus.”

On whether digital is helping telcos stay relevant: “If you want to survive in this world you must remain relevant to consumers… Unless you remain relevant, are mobile-centered, are using cloud and apps, digital and design, you’re going to be irrelevant and one step removed from the end-user where the value is moving away from. Being removed from the end consumer is not a good place to be.”

On his advice for leaders who are trying to drive change: “If you want to change, you have to be willing to embrace disruption and rethink your mental and business models. I see disruption as a positive word if you apply it in the right ways in the right places… I also think failure is part of the learning process, so fail fast and fail cheap and learn from it… Ultimately, you need to have a vision for driving an outcome for the consumer and a recognition of what you are good at versus the rest of the pack. What’s your competitive advantage or right to play?”

On what makes Spark’s digital initiatives different from those at other telcos: “We’re able to move a lot faster to embrace digital, disruption and design – the three D’s. We are open to partnering and have invested in third party companies to support our strategies and ventures… I think where we’re also different is that we’re very open and embracing of change with a culture of curiosity and trying things. If they work we adopt them, if they don’t we simply move on.”

On his vision for the unit: “Ultimately I would like Spark to be seen as the most innovative corporation in New Zealand and as the most innovative communications company in the world. To do this we have to deliver our mission and create awesome connected digital experiences for consumers. And to do that we must develop the new ways of working, build partnerships and foster and grow talent.”

On what’s driving his passion for the role: I love change and this role allows me to pursue that in a business context. It’s incredibly important for the company to do this… to change and to move to digital and become more customer-centric and indeed relevant… It’s also important to have some fun. You spend a huge chunk of your life at work so you better enjoy it. Have some fun and celebrate your successes.

On what inspired him to work in this area: “I’m a huge believer in the internet, as I saw it as a thing that was going to change the world. A lot of people think that what can be done with the internet and technology has already been done, but I think it’s only really just starting… I’m a very curious person and I think things can always be better. So why not have a go at making it so?”

In the Penal Colony: This Way Out (part 3 of 3)

Image source: prospect.org

Last week I wrote about the launch of the Marshall Project, a new not-for-profit, non-partisan journalism outlet that aims to jumpstart the conversation around our nation’s criminal justice system. In this third and final post in a series about the failings of America’s “prison-industrial system,” I’d like to shine a light on other, laudatory efforts being made to help make prison sentencing reform a reality. They include:
  • Education: A New Yorker article this September profiling Bard College President Leon Botstein underscored the vital role education has to play in keeping convicts from returning to prison. The Bard Prison Initiative (B.P.I.) is considered by many to be the signature success of an academic institution known for taking big, creative chances. Founded in 1999 by a Bard undergraduate, B.P.I. has helped to establish college-in-prison programs in institutions across the country including Wesleyan and Groucher. The program is as far as imaginable from the stereotype of prison education—remedial coursework, education test prep, and vocational training. Instead, B.P.I. offers students the same high-caliber liberal arts education that Bard undergraduates receive. The article quotes Anibal Cortes, a B.P.I. graduate who earned his degree in 2008: “If you put that kind of humanistic education into the inherently dehumanizing space of prison, you can restore a person’s individual agency.”

  • Jobs: If education is one effective way to reduce recidivism, solid job training is another. According to an article in The American Prospect, about half of Americans serving time in prison have full time jobs. Although these laborers aren’t included in standard labor surveys and lack the protections and benefits most workers expect—disability, worker’s comp, Social Security withholdings, overtime pay—most inmates want to work. Meaningful work gives inmates a sense of purpose, a break from the drudgery of prison life, a trusted place to be for part of the day, and helps them save in commissary accounts. Indeed, numerous studies have shown what common sense dictates: prisoners who gain strong professional skills and earn a good wage while working behind bars are far less likely to be locked up again. One amazing example of this sort of thing is a program in California that transforms felons into highly skilled deep sea divers. The Marine Technology Training Center is a commercial diving school located on the prison grounds at the California Institution for Men in Chino, San Francisco. The skills the program participants learn enable them to make lucrative, six-figure salaries as commercial divers, underwater welders, and heavy construction riggers upon their release. The program is tough—inmates are required to spend four times as long training as civilian divers—but the rehabilitation figures are remarkable. While the state’s recidivism rate for the incarcerated landing behind bars again within three years of release is 63.7%, the dive program’s rate is less than 15 percent.

  • Scientific Testing: DNA and biological evidence has revolutionized how criminal cases are prosecuted, and how wrongful convictions might be overturned. Founded in 1992 by Barry C. Scheck and Peter J. Neufeld, the Innocence Project is a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating the wrongfully incarcerated through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice. Affiliated with the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University in New York City, the Innocence Project explains on its website: “DNA testing has opened a window into wrongful convictions so that we may study the causes and propose remedies that may minimize the chances that more innocent people are convicted.” Since 1989, 321 people in 38 states have been exonerated through post-conviction DNA testing.
Education, jobs, scientific testing, and good journalism are just some of the ways we can begin to alleviate the strain the prison-industrial complex places on society. And positive signs of reform don’t end with the initiatives described above: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder recently proposed widespread changes to mandatory sentencing guidelines for drug offenses; the decriminalization of marijuana has moved from a fringe movement into the mainstream; and for the first time in a generation, the national prison population is beginning to decline.

These recent strides, coupled with a growing awareness of the system’s egregious failings, make this the right moment to press for a national conversation about our criminal justice system. Together, we might find a way out of our national penal colony.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Cleese On Life

Image source: musictimes.com

Monty Python’s influence on British popular culture is inarguable. Ask anyone who has lived through the heyday of the 70s about the sharp and witty band of comedians and you’ll get a quip straight out of one of their infamous sketches. John Cleese was hilarious. He’s every bit the British comedy icon today as he was then - self-deprecating, funny and insightful.

Cleese is touring the US promoting his recently published memoir, So Anyway… and I caught an interview he gave with Jeff Slate of Quartz where he speaks of the art of reinventing oneself. Cleese shares that his spirited approach to life has mainly been around developing successful working methods through outside inspiration, having the support of a ‘venerable patron’ Sir David Frost, and his determination to succeed through relentless trial and error.

Whenever you hear about someone having a new ‘lease of life’, you immediately think that the person has received a shot of energy and is more active than they were before. In Cleese’s case, one specific example was when, before he was 35, he heard a remark by the famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist Carl Jung that made him reflect on his life, and specifically on the law of diminishing returns.

“The more that you do of the same thing – if you’re doing the same things at 70 that you did at 40 – then you may have missed the point,” says Cleese. “I think that there are some people who love what they’re doing so much that they just go on doing it forever, and that’s fine. But I think for many of us it’s important to try new things. Of course, we’re loathe to do so, because when you try something new, you’re not very good at it, and you feel a bit embarrassed. But that’s okay!”

Cleese’s approach is similarly appealing to me. It’s simply that it’s all about feeling relaxed and enjoying yourself. Cleese has adapted over the years as a result of different personal realizations, one being that you can control what you do, but you can’t control how people respond to it. So it’s best to relax and be yourself. Nothing funny about that.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Competency and Charisma

Image source: bitient.com

The ‘Red Bull’ of management thinkers, Tom Peters, said that leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders. And he’s right. There is no point having inspirational performance and flare if you can’t be effective and reliable. Leadership is entering a new age, and a recent article in the Financial Times by Herminia Ibarra from INSEAD makes an astute observation that the time has come for leaders to roll their sleeves up.

Leadership theories have focused on different things over time. At the start of the 20th century, personal traits of successful leaders were most important. The ‘60s saw a move towards situational leadership and a focus on context: ‘command and control’ for large manufacturing companies and ‘collegial collaboration’ for small, knowledge organisations. The focus turned back to the individual in the ‘90s as organizations became more complex. It was then that a clear distinction between manager (leading on process and procedure) and leader (leading on change) was established.

Today’s environment requires leaders to be inspiring and mobilising, while strategizing and architecting processes and procedures. The details (and getting into them) are no longer just the domain of a ‘boring’ manager role. In fact, boring simply doesn’t apply – efficient systems and robust controls carry value that inspirational messaging and charisma simply can’t.

Leaders who simply ‘talk the talk’ create followers, while true leaders create more leaders by leading by example. Sometimes that might mean providing vision and inspiration in a traditional way, but more often than not it means getting involved and showing how things should be done.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Speaking of Looking

Image source: metmuseum.org

We live in a visual age. I wrote a post last year about how aesthetics rule, and that humans are visual thinkers first and foremost: we remember 80% of what we see compared with just 20% of what we read. And, thanks in large part to democratization of design, visual literacy has never been higher. When you hear casual moviegoers waxing rhapsodic about those extended long-takes in Birdman, TV viewers geeking out over a six-minute Steadicam shot in HBO’s True Detective, or consumers getting giggly over the look of the new iPhone, you know that visual literacy is our new, true lingua franca.

It is for these reasons that a recently opened art exhibition in New York City is cause for celebration. In October the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened to the public “Cubism: The Leonard A. Lauder Collection.” I am fortunate to know Leonard Lauder, chairman emeritus of Estée Lauder. This show across seven galleries featuring 81 works collected by Leonard over three decades, explodes the synapses. The New York Times called this exhibition “a transformative gift” and “a sterling act of philanthropy.” It focuses exclusively on a quartet of artists—Pablo Picasso, George Braque, Juan Gris, and Fernand Leger—who all worked in Paris during the first part of the 20th century. Through the early work of these “four horsemen of the Cubist apocalypse” the Leonard Lauder Collection charts the genesis of a watershed movement in modernism that forever changed the way we look at things. (In broad strokes: if impressionism proposes that color and light—rather than line—is the defining element of an object’s form, Cubism tacks the other way, breaking objects up into various planes to suggest how they exist in time.)

Leonard’s gift represents a watershed moment for the nation’s largest art museum, which had for the most part steered clear of modern art, ceding that space to the equally magnificent but very different Museum of Modern Art. Until the 1990s, the Met held no Cubist of proto-Cubist paintings by any of these four artists. The unveiling of the collection also signals high-water marks in the history of arts philanthropy and the generosity of New York’s society set. In the pages of The Economist, gallery owner William Acquavella called the group of Cubist drawings, paintings, and sculptures, “without doubt the most important collection any private person has put together in many, many years.”

It took Leonard, a lifelong New Yorker, over 30 years to build this unparalleled collection. In a short video on the Met’s website, he explains how he’d been bitten early by the collector’s bug: starting at six with his treasured picture postcards of Miami Beach Art Deco hotels, then World War II posters, then Toulouse-Lautrec prints. “I liked the idea of the concept of looking in depth at a moment in history,” he explains about the appeal of Cubism. “It’s a thrill to put together a harmonious collection, because now I have something I can share.”

From the birth of perspective to Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expression, Pop Art, and Minimalism, each fresh wave of artistic thinking has taught us more about how to look, and how to digest visual content. The Met’s Leonard A. Lauder Collection helps fill an important gap in the narrative about how our visual thinking has progressed. See it. It’s an infinitely better experience than the new eight-story billboard in Times Square.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

In the Penal Colony: The Marshall Project (part two of three)

Image source: themarshallproject.org

In a post last week I described America’s prison-industrial complex and provided some unsettling facts about the explosive growth of our nation’s incarcerated populations. In this post, I’d like to turn our attention to some phenomenal work being done by a newly launched journalism outlet to help make the criminal justice system and prison sentencing reform a reality.

Launched in November by former Wall Street Journal reporter and hedge fund manager Neil Barsky, and led by former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, The Marshall Project is a not-for-profit non-partisan news organization that exists to spur “a national conversation about criminal justice.” The website promises to be a digital hub for news and debate about our legal and corrections systems. Rather than advocacy driven, Keller envisions the “single-issue site with a million story possibilities” as being a home for “journalism with a sense of purpose.” Keller recently told PBS anchor Jack Ford: “The idea is to try to restore some of the aggressive accountability coverage of the criminal justice system that’s been lost as the American media downsizes in a lot of really important ways.”

In his launch letter, Barsky writes how the inspiration for the project came from his reading two powerful books: Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow and Gilbert King’s Devil in the Grove. The first aimed to demonstrate how mass incarceration “represents the third phase of African-American oppression in the United States, after slavery and Jim Crow.” Considering Alexander’s thesis, Barsky writes: “Intent can be difficult to prove; impact is irrefutable.” King’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book, meanwhile, is the true-life account of the 1949 case of four African-American males falsely accused of rape in Lake County, FL. Future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall bravely but futilely fought in Florida’s courts to spare the young men’s lives and it is in his honor that the news organization is named.

In a major coup, the Marshall Project sought and found the best journalists in the business. Keller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning 30-year veteran of The New York Times, who stresses in a letter from the editor that while the Marshall Project is non-partisan and non-ideological, the organization has an indelible sense of mission. “We want to move the discussion of our institutions of justice—law enforcement, courts, prisons, probation—to a more central place in our national dialogue.”

In an interview with VOX describing his decision to leave the Times to join the startup, Keller suggests how all-encompassing a subject like America’s criminal justice system really is: “. . . not just the very obvious—law enforcement, the courts, the corrections system—but immigration, drug policy, how we treat juveniles. It gets into the realm of education; race, obviously; inequality, obviously. It’s a subject that gives you tremendous license to write about the society we live in.”

The arrival of the Marshall Project comes at the right time. From the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO this August, to “political odd couple” Rand Paul and Cory Booker teaming up to support sentencing reform, it seems that the public is ready to open a dialogue about America’s criminal justice system. In my next post on the topic, I’ll talk about additional strides that are happening in education and employment that seek to keep people from getting ensnared in our nation’s penal colony.

Next week, in part three, I will look at other laudatory efforts being made in three areas to help make prison sentencing reform a reality: education, jobs, and scientific testing.

Head here to learn more about The Marshall Project and the important work they’re doing.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

“The New Watching”

Image source: conseltek.com

Is YouTube the new television?” asked Jonathan Ford the FT’s chief writer in a recent article. Well, sometimes certain questions answer themselves just by being asked. In just shy of a decade, Ford suggests that YouTube — which accounts for more than half of all online viewing and digital advertising worldwide — “has steadily morphed into something akin to a TV network.”

Indeed, when small screen stars are being minted on social media — where they serve as their own writers, actors, show runners, crews, and broadcasters — the rules of broadcasting have changed. All of which impacts our viewing habits. The article quotes Peter Bazalgette, chairman of Arts Council England, explaining that the first “on-demand generation” has new expectations about how they receive content: “They want to watch whenever they choose to do so and on whatever device they prefer.”

Meantime, a story in New York Magazine’s “Vulture” describes how global information and measurement giant Nielsen will soon start measuring viewership for streaming services Netflix and Amazon Prime. Nielsen’s new metrics, however, don’t yet work on mobile devices including iPads and cell phones — which means that we’re still a long way away from “hard viewership figures” for critically acclaimed shows like Transparent, House of Cards, and Orange is the New Black.

What does the rise of YouTube and streaming services coupled with fuzzy math around viewership figures—what I’d like to call “the new watching” — mean for our industry? If, as communications theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested back in 1964, “the medium is the message,” (that is, the medium that carries content influences how messages are perceived), then the new watching has profound implications for advertising and brands. When you no longer have the Big Three networks delivering 50% shares for All in the Family or 60 Minutes — when people can skip ads altogether watching VOD — it is no longer good enough for commercials merely to sell products and services.

We’ve known this truth for a long time, but living in a 24/7, fractured media environment has made it especially real: the best way for advertising to be relevant, the only real chance the work has to enter the cultural conversation, is for the work to feel and act more like content. Think of the Cheerios “Gracie” spot or Duracell’s Derrick Coleman “Trust Your Power” from Saatchi New York or; or gorgeous, long-form work for Johnnie Walker (BBH) and British Airways (Ogilvy NY). These stellar examples feel more like TV sitcoms, viral social media phenomena, and Scorsese-worthy cinema than traditional shilling.

This kind of work plays well in the new watching landscape because it suggests that people — not companies — are the true owners of the really great brands. Each of those examples works because they’re being generous with brands, encouraging consumers to play with and repurpose the brands on YouTube and other social media platforms. And each works because they recognize that brands are no longer competing with other brands — they are competing against everything else that’s going on in the culture that’s screaming for people’s time and attention.

YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, VOD, and more have rewritten the rules of broadcasting and, by extension, advertising. It is no longer enough for an ad to interrupt Archie Bunker if it hopes to capture America’s attention. To be part of the new watching—to become part of the culture — the work needs to be as interesting, entertaining, and useful as the culture from which it springs.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Storytelling Comforts

Image source: abduzeedo.com

A great deal of our lifetime revolves around stories. We tell, listen to, write, read, act out and watch them. Sometimes we tell the same stories over and over again (author Christopher Booker argues there are seven basic plots that recur throughout every kind of story).

I often quote futurist Rolf Jensen: “The highest paid person this century will be the storyteller”. If you think about the esteem we give to storytellers – authors, writers, actors, directors – it’s easy to understand why. But there are other reasons why stories are so important to us.

A recent article by Cody C. Delistraty in The Atlantic talked about storytelling from a psychological standpoint. One of the reasons for our penchant for stories is that they give us a sense of control over the world. They allow us to apply a narrative to things that might otherwise have been without one, providing a meaning, applying a pattern or solving a problem. They make things interesting.

Stories also help us connect with our emotions and help us understand and empathize with others. They tap into things we care about – or should care about. This is where the evolutionary importance of stories comes into the picture. If I told you a story about how to survive, you’d be more likely to put that story into practice and actually survive, rather than if I had just given you the facts. That’s a pretty hefty value-add right there.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sister Marie

Here’s a lift-me-up to start the week, courtesy of Milano Reyna, Saatchi & Saatchi’s joyful Global Chief HR-Talent Officer. His son Christoph goes to Holy Spirit School in Pequannock Township, NJ, where the first nun Sr. Marie Antonelli is also the President of the school, CFO, COO and Chief Talent Officer, plus spokesperson for good will and all the matters that go with it. Sister Marie has this school rocking with joy, which you can see on this video tracked to Pharrell William’s “Happy.” Writes Milano, “Just as we need Joy at Work, our youth needs Joy at School.  These young and inspired kids are pre-loaded with creativity, passion and optimism ...  and talent.   Another 10 years, and they'll be in the workforce. That's why I'm Happy too!”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Cracking Up

Image source: media1.onsugar.com

Most of us feel better when we laugh. Crack a joke and you’ll find that a difficult or awkward situation suddenly feels a bit lighter and easier. But there’s a lot about laughter you may not know. Neuroscientist and part time stand-up comic Professor Sophie Scott reveals some of these things in an article on the BBC. Below is my take on her list of 10.
  • Animals laugh as they play. Lots of mammals, including rats, chimps and dogs all laugh when they’re playing – they’re not laughing at jokes. This suggests human laughter has evolved from the vocalization of play.
  • Laughter isn’t about jokes. We’re 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re with other people. We’re laughing as a way to communicate, and to show we like and understand that person. Our laughter is a positive reaction to their comments and statements, not necessarily their jokes.
  • Your brain can recognize fake laughter. Lab research from brain scans shows that we try and comprehend someone’s deliberate laugh – to find out why they are doing so.
  • Laughter is contagious. When you see someone else laughing, your facial muscles start to prepare themselves to join in.
  • Expectation fuels laughter. When you expect someone to be funny they often are. If you heard the same joke by a person on the street or a famous comedian, you’d most likely laugh at the comedian.
  • Laughter makes you healthier. While laughing doesn’t quite make you fitter – it would probably take about three hours of solid laughter to burn off a packet of chips – it can alleviate stress and lift your mood.
  • Laughter helps you stay together. Laughing together helps relationships last. It makes you feel closer.
  • Laughter requires timing. In conversation, laughter usually occurs when you finish a sentence. This even applies to conversations in sign language, where people could laugh at any time.
  • Laughter is attractive. One study found both men and women valued a sense of humour in a prospective partner more frequently than intelligence, education or profession.
  • Unstoppable laughter. When people are trying desperately not to laugh, that’s often when laughter becomes incontrollable. Newsreader bloopers are evidence of this.
Classic British humor is the one thing that can usually get me laughing. And in a typically British fashion, I’d also recommend laughing at yourself from time to time.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where Do You Spend For Innovation?

Image source: strategyand.pwc.com

What drives innovation success? That’s the question asked by Strategy &'s annual Global Innovation 1000. Started in 2005, the study looks at the relationship between R&D spend and overall financial performance, and has so far found “no statistically significant relationship between the two”.

The top ten innovators (Apple, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Samsung, Tesla, 3M, GE, Microsoft, IBM, Procter & Gamble) outperformed the top ten R&D spenders in market capitalization growth, revenue growth and EBITDA as a percentage of revenues. Therefore if spending more money on developing products and services does not make a company innovative, what does? 

According to results of the 2014 study, here are 3 things:
  1. Business capabilities, organization and processes. Innovative companies are organizing their business around specific innovation capabilities and prioritizing these as part of a defined list instead of trying to be innovative about everything.
  2. Customers’ wants and needs. The consumer is boss. They’re telling companies what products and services should look like and in some cases they’re even prompting the creation of new products.
  3. Tightly aligned innovation and business strategies. The R&D portfolio of an innovation company reflects business priorities, and vice versa. This reinforces a culture that supports innovation – the business side knows what it’s going to get, and the R&D side knows what it should be working on.
I’ll end with a quote from the late Steve Jobs, who said, “Innovation has nothing to do with how many R&D dollars you have. When Apple came up with the Mac, IBM was spending at least 100 times more on R&D. It’s not about money. It’s about the people you have, how you’re led, and how much you get it.”

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Leading the Life You Want

I’ve been a fan of Bruce Springsteen since the beginning. I’m also a firm believer in work-life integration. The two collide in a new book, Leading the Life You Want by Stewart Friedman, the founding director of the Wharton Leadership Program and Wharton's Work/Life Integration Project. It seems The Boss has much to teach people about work-life balance, and Friedman’s book provides the vehicle – and the theory – behind it.

Using the word ‘balance’ implies competition between the different realms of our lives and suggests that we will inevitably face trade-offs. Who wants that? We have to stop thinking Either/Or, and start thinking And/And. Drive your work and your life. Integrate them because you want to be the best at everything – the best friend, the best partner, the best parent, the best business person.

Friedman couches this notion in terms of finding harmony between four domains: work, home, community and the private self. No sacrifices required. He uses examples of successful people (former Bain & Company CEO and Bridgespan co-founder Tom Tierney, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, non-profit leader and US Navy SEAL Eric Greitens, US First Lady Michelle Obama, soccer champion-turned-broadcaster Julie Foudy and Bruce Springsteen) to show how they integrate different parts of their life to their advantage.

Friedman writes about how these people exemplify a set of skills as a means to find harmony: be real, be whole and be innovative. In order, being authentic by knowing what is important to you, your values and your vision; acknowledging the different parts of your life and how they affect each other; and learning new things and experimenting with new ways of getting things done.

Bruce Springsteen makes a comment that two of the best days of his life were the day he picked up the guitar and the day he learned to put it down. Friedman notes that Springsteen was very fortunate to find his voice and identity in that guitar, and later in life when he became a father, he made a deliberate and important choice to change and make room for other things in his life.

People are reaping the benefits work-life integration everywhere. Instead of thinking about how all the different parts of your life are banging up against each other, think about how they complement each other. The half-glass-full approach is rich with opportunities.

Monday, December 1, 2014

In the Penal Colony (Part 1)

Image source: wikipedia.org

I’ve written from time to time about a societal failing that results significantly from a lack of education, poor parenting, unemployment, poverty and institutional racism. This is the “prison-industrial system”. In Franz Kafka’s short story, “In the Penal Colony,” an unnamed narrator observes a process that’s a kind of dark parody of justice. In that classic tale, a machine fatally inscribes on the bodies of unwittingly accused prisoners the very laws that they have allegedly broken. Sadly, America’s penitentiary system has in recent generations taken a turn toward the Kafkaesque. Consider some very sobering statistics:
  • The U.S. has a higher incarceration rate than any other country, with nearly one-quarter of the entire world’s incarcerated population held in American prisons.
  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), nearly 1% (more than 2,250,000) of American adults were incarcerated in U.S. federal and state prisons and county jails in 2001.
  • In addition, over 4,800,000 adults in 2011 were on probation or parole—meaning nearly seven million Americans total were under correctional supervision. That’s nearly 3% of U.S. adults.
  • Non-Hispanic blacks accounted for just under 40% of the total prison population in 2009—a wildly disproportionate figure considering that African-Americans comprise just 13.6% of the U.S. population according to census figures.
  • While violent crime rates have remained relatively consistent or declined over the past three decades, the number of American prisoners has more than quadrupled since 1980.
What’s going on here? The explosion in U.S. prison populations finds root causes in such systemic issues as institutionalized racism and links between illiteracy and incarceration. Most of it, however, has to do with policy changes including mandatory minimum sentencing and “three strikes” laws. America held less than a half-million prisoners in 1971 when President Nixon declared a national War on Drugs. 1973’s Rockefeller Drug Laws—which established strict mandatory sentences for the sale or possession of illegal narcotics—and the 1984 Sentencing Reform Act—which increased federal penalties for cultivation, possession, or transfer of marijuana—are key inflection points in the story of the explosive expansion of the U.S. inmate population. These and other drug enforcement-related policies have led to the number of incarcerated drug offenders increasing twelvefold since 1980.

Don’t get me wrong: there are plenty of bad guys out there who have fallen prey to the dark sides of human nature. And local, state, and federal law enforcement officers and penitentiary workers do difficult, dangerous, and vitally important work. That said, prison sentencing reform—similar to racism and poverty—has for too long been a third rail of American politics: an elephant in the room that is hardly ever spoken about. (Just ask yourself, how many candidates debated these issues during the recent mid-term elections?)

I’ve got some personal skin in the game. I grew up in the north of England when prospects were pretty desolate and with a few wrong turns I could have gone down a very different path. Fortunately, I had strong role models—including a local police officer and a teacher—who helped put me on the straight-and-not-so-narrow road to realizing my potential. So it perplexes me why the land of the free and home of the brave should also boast the largest number of prisoners on earth.

Fortunately, there’s some good news about our criminal justice system and prison sentencing reform. Next week I’ll write about some tremendous work that is now being done to address what’s been called America’s greatest social crisis in modern history, including a ground-breaking initiative led by former New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, the Marshall Project, a non-for-profit, non-partisan news organization that exists to spur “a national conversation about criminal justice.”