Changes we notice and changes we choose 


I suspect you are a mobile addict. You don’t have to be obsessed and have the device in arms reach at every moment to qualify. You merely have to rely on its always connected capabilities to keep you “plugged” in to your connections, and by default the world. 

The speed at which mobile technologies have been adopted has been unprecedented, and I am less interested in its occurrence, and more interested in unraveling its meaning and understanding what changes will unfold next. This post invites you to consciously evaluate the range of activities that tether you to this device, and the choices you can make next.

An overwhelming number of people check their device for “messages” within their first waking moments. In the not-too-distant past, messages waited to be picked up in the variety of places where they were left.

A missed caller could leave messages on answering systems, that replaced secretaries who made and pass a note. This task was automated by machines who accurately recorded the caller, and refrained from edits or shorthands. The machines soon became embedded into answering systems with retrieval now possible remotely.  You could call in to learn who had called.

Email, a desktop computer application, was faster than the post office, and quickly displaced the fax machines for sharing documents or lengthier detailed messages.  Cheaper computing, networks expanded Email from an office communications system to personal. Not only was it faster than regular mail, it was significantly cheaper than calling and more convenient. 

Now, all messaging systems are neatly available in your single mobile device, and your messaging interests and practices routine, if not obsessive.

How does this capability to be more on top of your communications make you feel?

Does this combination of access make you feel more effective, responsible, efficient  or something else? Are the experiences and emotions associated with interaction or the anticipation of the interaction? when and why does the experience become distracting or chaotic? 

Workflow

I’m asking this questions, because I have a hypothesis that needs testing. I believe it’s the small stuff we change that leads us astray from our original purpose or focused intent.

Distractions come in many forms and largely occur when our attention wanders. Driving for example, our focus should be on the road, the vehicles and conditions. Instead , we’re typically multitasking while driving, Whether the division of our attention happens by listening to the radio, engaging in conversation with a passenger, or on the phone ,  or just the flow of other thoughts.

Diversion is candy to the brain. It’s how small stuff easily adds up. The sideways glance that misses what’s ahead robs our attention,  scatters our focus, can delay our progress and mar our effectiveness.

Any efficiency we built in to our process are quickly filled by the abundance of new opportunities, the change in process enables.

Here’s the rub, it’s at the moment of learned efficiency that we choose either to keep learning or we move on to a new domain.  In both cases, we have reached a level of effectiveness and masters keep moving up while the rest of us begin a steady ascent of decline.  This has been documented as the learning curve aka the efficiency curve, and it’s that pivot moment that interest me.

My hypothesis is that it’s in those moments of awareness of the pivot point that innovation begins.

Process changes: Innovation, Invention or Improvisation

I invite you to consider the value of anticipation, or the expected emotions that flow in a particular situation. For example, we want a celebration event to end on a happy note.  Likewise we want our decisions to also produce positive outcomes, but that’s the problem, not all of our behaviors result from conscious decisions.  When driven by habit, the small stuff that changes escapes our notice. That’s both good and bad.

For example,  no matter where you live on the planet, the time of sunrise and sunset changes daily and we generally don’t notice or feel those effects. We do experience the differences relatively over long periods of time, such as the longer days of one season vs. shorter days in another.

The same is true over the little changes we make every day in the use of our mobile device. Perhaps you have grown aware that you are using it differently than you did a year ago, but you don’t know exactly why or what you are doing differently.  Of course some of the changes have been controlled by the businesses who are using agile methodologies to constantly release improvements in the look, speed and functions available on the screen.  The more these businesses issue changes, so does your behavior.

So, have you taken the time to reflect and assess your own set of personal habits and processes?  Have you considered the cumulative effect on your employees of these external changes and its effect on their productivity, their effectiveness and your overall efficiency?

I did, and reflect on my processes pretty regularly. It’s the bane of being a consultant, I need to understand and tinker with things in order to keep up to date and provide relevant information to solve client’s business problems.

I always asked lots of questions, the biggest difference in my process happens to be the research process.  In the past, I was a very avid reader of the New York Times and dutifully ventured to my front door half asleep to pick up the paper and begin scanning the headlines.  Later I went to the Wall Street Journal and slowly opted to skip the chore of recycling the old newsprint, and read the headlines on my phone through the convenience of their respective apps, or use my desktop.  The thing is, the biggest change? Neither one of these newspapers remains my #one information source or morning view.  In fact, I stopped reading the New York Times entirely for a while, because as email habits led me to click open the inbox, other publications had more interesting headlines and their content became a more interesting set of sources.

Better still, the minute I opt to share an article with a colleague, I’m no longer in email but a new application that the team chose to use less to keep our inbox clear, but to insure we were finding and able to keep and organize the messages.  Naturally some of our remote global team members would notice I was online and would shout out to me via Google Chat.  Those who were using the proprietary platform we built, would post and the site would automatically trigger an email notification to encourage other members to respond.

I discovered that my own process, work habits and overall effectiveness ebbs and flows with the connected capabilities of the underlying platforms I find myself using.  I’m not suggesting that having one is a good idea, but I also know that it’s valuable to impose some discipline and standards for the teams in which I work.  It’s way too easy to be online, for example this post began as a voice transcription using my phone.  The longer it got, the sooner I had to move to a bigger screen and so I jumped to my desktop to continue.  Inevitably, there was a sync delay. Later, I  had to reconcile the two versions on the two separate devices.

I would welcome thoughts on if and when you personally, or your team revisits your work processes and to what extent efficiency or effectiveness plays a role.  Please share, and if you would be willing to be part of larger research drop me a line.

 

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Goldilocks can help you face your challenges, will you let her?


photo (1)What’s the story? Today’s headlines continue to be filled with a persistent recurring behavior symptomatic of leadership failures.  Most of us are familiar with storybook tales and parables that remind us of particular lessons. No one wants to be The boy who cried wolf. Cinderella teaches us not to give up hope, and I’m sure you have an equally simple take away for the story of Goldilocks, aka the story of the three bears.

Have you considered using simple stories, and in particular the tale of Goldilocks,  to lead differently? 

I’m actually heartened by Mary T. Barra, because I think she gets this lesson. Today’s New York Times report on the ignition switch investigation suggests that unlike her predecessors, she pursued a different approach. This stands in sharp contrast to last week’s New York Times story Business school Disrupted where Jerry Useem offers a glimpse into Harvard Business school‘s decision-making around digital, online education.

How IS it possible that one of the most premier academic institutions in the world–with articulate thought leaders on key business issues related to Strategy, Disruption and Innovation– continue to cling to their old ways, unable to effectively transform themselves?  I’m not interested in their offering per se.  Their decision options resemble those of Fortune 500 business leaders when surveyed.  They find it difficult to pursue a path toward transformation, though failing to try, often cripples their organization’s ability to sustain value and/or their competitive advantage.

I see the decision dilemma as actually two stories. One, the tale of a lizard, or chameleon, and the second the universal tale of Goldilocks.

Steve Jobs sittingSteve Jobs, from what I’ve read, understood how to lead like a chameleon. By association the story of Apple throughout its tumultuous history can easily be interpreted as a lizard’s tale. Academics, however like many cogent, intelligent thought leaders resemble Goldilocks. Their training, the PhD process itself promotes competition, neither intentional antagonism or collaboration. Individual researchers training emphasizes objectivity, perhaps fearlessness, definitely curiosity. Still academics produce results relative to existing thought using an established process.  These predictable outcomes rarely achieve or encourage breakthroughs in understanding.  Occasionally, this process model when most forcefully applied manages to create disruption in existing domains. Leaders in these established environments rely on orderliness, offsite planning and reflective discourse. Failure to challenge their process makes them vulnerable to outside breaches that create havoc at multiple levels within their hallowed institutions and the underlying operating models their continued existence depends. Basic physics teaches that a body at rest stays at rest.  This lesson exemplifies the impact of complacency and comfort, and the necessity to avoid them at ALL costs.

Goldilocks isn’t a morality tale

Adaptation came easily for Steve Jobs , though in many ways he also behaved like a Goldilocks. Constantly moving and sampling new things until he seized on an idea that resonated with his core principles—simplicity , quality and durability, as in built-to-last. His passion for these principles when wrapped around an idea supported peer learning that enabled development of a powerful culture that made his ideas tangible. The Steve Jobs in Walter Isaacson’s book both hungered for new ideas, and was steadfast in his resilience. These qualities resemble chameleons, making it possible to adapt quickly to subtle changes happening in their environment. These thick-skinned qualities made him  tough, capable of weathering transitions and nurturing— both necessary to support transformation and sufficient to support sustainability.   The verdict remains out for Apple itself.

Goldilocks adapts too.  She makes do with what she finds but she herself never undergoes any transition. She changes her environment, it doesn’t change her. Her existence also depends on encounters with normally distributed choices. The variance around the norm makes her choices rational and predictable.  This may explain why her innocence makes us lose sight of the disturbances she leaves behind.

I don’t know what personality profile Goldilocks fits exactly. It’s why I believe today’s popular assessment tools used by many companies in their hiring practices to find cultural fit ultimately don’t matter.  How exactly do profiles help an organization survive? Leaders who worry about identifying Goldilocks may be missing what I find to be the more critical perspective in the story.

What about the story of Goldilocks resonates and endures? (see post two)

Personally, I think on some level, each of us behaves like Goldilocks.  We are often unaware of how our choices create a wake or disturb the system for those who follow. We prefer to limit the number of choices. Fewer options allow us to focus and ultimately find the points of contrast most relevant, or good enough for us now. Once we make the choice, we can keep going,  gain additional experience and be ready for the next opportunity we meet.

Goldilocks always finds a suitable, generally satisfying choice after sampling all of them. What would she do in a complex situation where the choices exceed her ability to sample? The absent inhabitants of her found environment don’t stop her from seizing the opportunity or indulging her curiosity.  Why doesn’t she hesitate or allow uncertainty to get in her way? When the Bears do return, Goldilocks flees and the narrative ends.

Of course, our experiences allow us to imagine the internal voices that often stop us from pursuing what we recognize could create difficulties for others.  A verbal exchange of assumptions often proves surprising and reveals greater diversity in perspective than any of us imagine. These behaviors Leaders need to cultivate and question when presented with Goldilocks canned results.

Ask Mary T. Barra if the risks were worth the time her predecessors saved shutting down alternative thoughts, questions left unspoken and open issues under examined? Does complacency in your process overrule critical thinking and exchange among peers of diverse perspectives? Should PhDs be reviewed only by the experts in their own domain? What are the principles that every report and process should adhere?

The challenge for management and leadership isn’t to isolate Goldilocks, but to encourage and nurture transformations and mindfulness .

The best gift you can give–space to be heard


Collaboration

Collaboration (Photo credit: yuan2003)

I grew up in a big family and the only way to survive was to learn how to collaborate with my siblings and work out a strategy to move mutual interests ahead. That meant, I had to learn to be good listener and less a manipulator. Harder still was something I didn’t understand and only learned later–being right is over-rated.  It’s easier to create a willing partner to my ideas if I allow others opportunity to put their gloss on it too.

I guess I didn’t realize or value my natural collaborative style. It took me by surprise in many work situations that few people were as willing to coöperate. That for all the times I used my strengths and capabilities to enable others whose talents or expertise was in a different domain, I discovered I couldn’t always end-run their barriers.

After a couple of serious catapulting maneuvers that I knew would be career ending, I benched myself. I took myself out of that arena and went to find a new game and new players. Years later, I began to recognize that perhaps there was another way to help people make needed changes and liberate both their own career and the organization?

I revisited some of my graduate studies in natural bias and incongruity of human decision-making in the face of uncertainty, specifically the work of my professor Hillel Einhorn and Robin Hogarth and that of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I was green when it came to internalizing new ideas, some of them were easier to grasp than others and the formulas often eluded my connected comprehension. What did stick was the following:

In complex situations, we may rely too heavily on planning and forecasting and underestimate the importance of random factors in the environment. That reliance can also lead to delusions of control. “

 

It’s akin to finding something familiar and thinking “oh yeah, I got this.” Only to discover that you can’t exactly do it. Random elements aside, its difficult to recognize some subtle elements. Knowing all the steps to a good forehand stroke or golf swing, isn’t the same as actually connecting movements that successfully contact and propel the ball.

The problems and inconsistent behavior presented by unconscious intuition make linkages difficult, and prevent us from fully leveraging learning from parallel experiences. In my case, I found it difficult to extend and apply to interpersonal relationships the lessons and discoveries extrapolating risk I learned statistically modeling people’s financial behavior.

The bridge I sought arrived when a corporate reorganization landed me in outplacement for senior executives and I took the Meyer’s Brigg’s assessment for the first time.  Conveniently, I learned my type –INTP, and shown its rarity in corporate banking and absence among many c-suite executives.  At the time, when I wanted to reconcile my inability to survive a political reorganization, MBTI fueled my rationalization to leave corporate banking.  It was years later than I learned to recognize the confirmation bias at work.

My personal journey of experiential learning continued upon discovering the work of Roger Schank whose work in cognitive psychology emphasizes the importance of story and learning by doing. Story telling represents the synthesis of new learning with past experiences. The newly acquired knowledge can be more easily assimilated and finds outlets that further extend its value and build additional knowledge.  Learning presented whole in a bubble like school without context, doesn’t get the benefit of a road test which denies its connectivity to our perceptions and daily encounters.

But I digress. Collaboration was my topic. Good collaborators succeed because they recognize the distinctions they bring in perspective and perception.  Unexpected encounters or deviations in routine often present a stumble point.  Whether due to lack of confidence, disconnect between knowledge and know how or complete absence of knowledge, its’ risky to reveal our vulnerability.  Naturally, we find it easier to turn to people we know and trust for suggestions, tips, additional insight and information about how to proceed.  Alternatively, situations and circumstances that compel us to do it ourselves,  may arise when  we feel compelled to prove something, test ourselves and maybe distrust assurances others offer.

Which brings us to the challenges in beginning a collaborative venture or willing partnerships. The same stumble points above must be negotiated. Emotions, ever-present in every situation don’t necessarily dissipate because people know each other. Situation or circumstances that defy our comfort zone, know-how or knowledge provide pivotal moments for others to offer help, as long as we free up the emotional and physical space that allows them to voice their thoughts.

It seems obvious but again easier said then done.  The best way to gain the trust, friendship and cooperation of others is to give the one thing everyone wants.

As part of the development team on Collaborating Minds, I met Laurel Tyler a new member on Collaborating Minds.  She reminded me of the following lesson when she shared what makes her effective in working with teams and solving problems.

“People just want to know that they have been heard.”

The simplicity explain my eternal optimism and the approach I’ve found that makes me successful too.  It explains I’m on collaborating minds and helping build that community. If you would like to learn more about this project, drop me a line.

But better, try it. Amaze yourself  and discover how much easier everything gets in return.

May the spirit of the season inspire your listening.

Re-telling our story to see our blindspot

Aside


When we look over the reported numbers in a business, a narrative emerges.  The actions, decisions that made these results possible line up as persuasive evidence of our brilliance or frustration casts aspersions on outside forces beyond our control.

Unless you hold a marketing or sales role, the narrative may not extend to imagine what your customers thinking about your business and what it offers.  We prefer to find immediate causes for the results, and when we come up empty, we start over again.  This is especially true when the results have changed direction.

Scenario A, after struggling for weeks and months, the numbers are starting to go up.  That is revenue, where positive growth in the numbers matter. The cause and effect chain  validates  earlier decisions on investment, strategy, tactics especially efforts in marketing and sales.  All of your decisions, your process and approach are paying off.

Scenario B, after a streak of healthy profits, the numbers are deteriorating.  The supply chain costs are up and revenues are down.  You begin to second guess all of your past decisions, especially the most recent ones that affect your basic cost structure.  But what if you haven’t changed a thing?  What if there’s no cyclical Halloween effect in your business and you are in the middle of five-year contracts on everything?

In both scenarios, the internal self-examination that leads to either accolade or second guessing  doesn’t do justice to your business and its future.  This is part of the deal with metrics that matter, that are meaningful.

We look at numbers and we associate them with behavior we understand.  What we don’t always do is go the extra mile to understanding what the numbers really represent.  Because assumptions behind every reported number dictate what the measure means.

Paul Downs, a cabinet-maker has shared his experience using AdWords in the You’re’ the boss blog.  I can’t find the full story that appeared in yesterdays’ print edition entitled Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign, but I can share the link to his series.  Paul’s business was Scenario B and when he couldn’t find any specific thing different internally he began to complain very loosely about wider conditions and blamed them for impacting is business.  It took him months before he was willing to tackle head on the metrics problem .  I don’t want to steal his thunder but suffice to say, that sometimes you have to be sure that you fully understand how a number gets put together before you determine whether its direction means what you think.

Hopefully the Times will post in the online edition the full story, Mistake in a Pay-per Click Campaign soon.  But in the interim, here’s Paul Downs on Why I manage my own Ad Words campaign, and I’d love to hear what you think.  What might have helped him turn things around sooner? What advice would you share with other business owners or division heads?

ROA- getting the most out of your assets


Interest in Generating Earnings?  why wouldn’t you be?

Return on investment after training and resour...

Image via Wikipedia

Measuring hope

If your business found 2011 challenging, the business press heralding the boom in 4Q sales may restore your faith and hope that 2012 may prove to be a better year.  I know the President remains hopeful, as his re-election may depend on it.

More than an uptick in sales needs to support your growing confidence in a brighter future.  The political, environmental and ongoing commodity pricing volatility that occurred in 2011  challenged the most sophisticated analysts and their understanding of cause and effect relationships. This breakdown  in understanding seems to force the hand of management to reassess their own behaviors, expectations and adapt to the new reality that technology enabled connectivity introduces.

I’m not a finance person but too often the media and an organization’s management focus on revenue drivers in their discussion of a firms’ relative performance.  They overlook the significance in which a  firm’s existing resources or assets contribute to realized earnings –though they don’t miss noticing  when the resources drain earnings.

In every business, management sees merit in measuring investments, competitive business activity and computing ratios to test their own relative performance. Other, more peripheral measures however seem to be contributing to organizations that out do their peers if not lead their industry.   What am I talking about?

I’m proposing broadening the strategic applications of  ROA and ROE, or Return on Assets and Equity respectively, as well as ROI-Return on Investment.

Scale and Efficiency

Technical management consultants for decades leveraged their understanding of growth based on efficiency or the inter-relationship between cost, time and output.Think about it, the more you do the same thing, the faster and better you get. Popularized by the likes of BCG, the experience curve framework demonstrates how a competitive advantage results when this value gain accrues to the firm in time making it more capable of increasing its level of output without having to increase its labor costs.

Many organizations benefit from incorporating this thinking into their decision-making and planning.  Experience curve derive easily from existing data, and thanks to champions like Jack Welch, prediction help can be readily found in subcultures obsessed with perfecting scalable efficiency.  Though powerful this approach is not a sustainable strategy.

In 2011, innovation consistently appeared at the top of many a CEOs wish list. The uncertain economy compromised many intentions and capabilities to invest in organizational transformation to realize this new agenda.  Falling profits, reduced stock prices and investment capital dried up. Where or how could a new initiative find finding?  Even if resources could be identified, the nature of innovation incorporates uncertainty.  Few firms are capable of estimating innovation’s payoffs to plug into a P&L model let alone calculate an acceptable,  timely ROI.

John Seeley Brown, John Hagel at Deloitte and Peter Senge, among others, identifies an alternative that uses technology and its ever-growing connectivity.  (see http://www.businessweek.com/managing/content/apr2009/ca2009043_775383.htm)

Six sigma and the experience curve’s efficiency framework estimations project learning curves to flatten or plateau over time (because production and training costs fall off proportionally as total volume accumulates.) Collaborative environments by contrast naturally welcome increased connectivity and impact the growth rate on the learning curve.  In this latter environment, innovation occurs organically. Correspondingly so will returns on your existing assets with little or no additional investment required.  For too long the focus has been to build process around efficiency of scale.  Don’t get stuck in the  that Dan Pink describes as the mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Appreciating value

Traditionally, returns like savings occur when an underlying investment appreciates in value over time. It can also occur when costs come in lower than expected and create a budget surplus. How often are you measuring appreciating asset values?  If you limit design of your measurements and set corresponding rewards too narrowly, the quality and impact achieved will be equally narrow.

Recently, I sat in on a conference call  while being logged into an interactive collaboration platform called think-tank by Group Systems.  The other participants, primarily  video conferencing system consultants, used ROI to make their financial cases.  The C-Suite teams, always looking for bankable savings, could instantly understand how to self-fund implementing video conferencing using savings they could collect by reduced travel needs.  This approach pressed the comparative price points between the vendors except Group Systems whose presentation surprised me.  They weren’t talking about new installations, but about upping the usage of existing systems, already installed and, sometimes, fully depreciated.  In other words, they sought to convince firms to realize the appreciation in value from their underlying investments and calculate the Return on their existing assets.  For fully depreciated assets, even higher earnings can be realized  merely by changing internal operating behaviors.

In an environment where investment capital is scarcely flowing, the need to understand ROA  and raise its profile among all levels of management offers some interesting opportunities.  The number of desktops with intranet access within your organization offers the best start.  Chances are your IT department has plenty of tools at its disposal that with  support from training , leadership and example from senior management, together could release a sea change in communications, boost productivity, generate measurable return on human capital and offer additional cost benefits.

A lesson in Magnitude

Beyond your IT department who is looking at the volume of internet related activity or even monitoring the communications activities within your organization?  Perhaps your administrator or facilities staff track the usage rates of your conference rooms.  What do either of these volume metrics offer by way of generating insights  to your organization on how work gets done, or the efficiency and effectiveness of internal communications?

The Following statistics are offered as a  perspective frame for  technology enabled changes in communications.

  • There are close to    1.97 billion – Internet users worldwide and 1.88 billion email users (June 2010).
  •  25% of all email accounts are business accounts and
  • Corporate users typically send and receive about 110 messages daily—18% comprising both real spam and “graymail” (i.e. unwanted newsletters, alerts, etc.).  (see  The Radicati Group, Inc  reportas of April 2010)
  • 73 percent of Americans use their mobile handsets for both text messaging and picture taking. (see The Pew center for internet research report).

Note that in the wider world,  people are communicating in greater numbers on platforms other than email.

175 mill

600 mill

1.88 bill

1.97 Bill

Twitter

Facebook

Email users

Internet users

Sep-10

end of 2010

end of 2010

Jun-10

I’m betting that your communications behavior is one sure source of inefficiencies in your organization.  Try studying the electronic trail of decision-making, project management and progress reporting that transpires on redundant email threads and see for yourself.  Alternatively, if your office inbox has any message threads in which you are one of a series of recipients…chances are great that you’ve identified a large source of communications inefficiency, confusion and  redundancy.

Communicate to further learning

How many conference rooms or meetings, principally focus on getting work done vs. updating project or activity status? Cristobal Conde, CEO of Sungard in a New York Times interview articulates not only how to reap the time-saving benefits  micro-blogging offers, but  how deploying Yammer  (an enterprise social network like Twitter) across his organization was a boon to overall performance.  (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/17/business/17corner.html) He gladly swapped the hours on his schedule tied up in meetings to review results for time spent in the field talking directly to customers and clients, or helping teams solve problems.  How did he do it?  Leading by example–using SMS and the open accountability from shared, real-time BI.  Meetings were now always working sessions, never updates on project status.   The phrase Time is money takes on new meaning when considering people’s  time as a valuable asset and as such should waste it with activities or behaviors that fail to offer measurable returns.

Now,  I’m not suggesting a return to the days of time and motion studies to extract every ounce of productivity.  Rather I am suggesting that injecting some new discipline will generate returns and rewards that don’t all directly hit the bottom line.  How much continuous learning is going on in your organization?  I’d love to learn how others are acknowledging or even tracking that learning.  Impersonal  communications  or skipping direct interpersonal engagement deprives people and organizations  alternative perspectives and perceptions–the critical catalysts that lead to innovation.  Unlocking the thoughts and migrating the energy expended on routine note-taking, or email dialogues into a think-tank, such as group systems virtual collaborative platform  guarantees to accelerate results.

I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating informally with several different professionals who all understand the value of experience to differentiate and rank preferences.  One of the  more valuable insights helped me to understand that when we share news, we often intend to increase our knowledge or further our learning.  The more we all know that more likely we are to make use of that knowledge to mutual benefit.

Try focusing on optimizing learning efficiently  and you may surprise yourself with the value add that results.

American Airlines- power to return to the black


American Airlines

Image by millerm217 via Flickr

I’m saddened by the inevitability of American Airline’s (AMR) decision to file bankruptcy. In the last few years, the world has watched one industry leader after another lose its footing leading the pack.  Is the phenomenon  inevitable of the product life cycle curve at work?  My fear is the more we attribute this news as another sign of the structural weakness in the global economy, we may overlook an underlying ailment– withering resilience.

Leaders inspire followers

The recent move by American Airlines’ board signals the loss of faith in the capability of corporate leadership to restructure without the benefits bankruptcy protection affords. The boards’ decision places hope for the company’s future in what Stephen Lubben describes as the ability to restructure with speed.  (see American Won’t Be the Last Airline Bankruptcy).  Bankruptcy laws allow every contract to be opened for renegotiation.  Certainly in competition, speed matters. No one with fiduciary responsibilities should turn a blind eye to mounting losses or the clear discrepancy in the balance sheet between debt and assets plus cash–$.8billion in the case of American Airlines.  A comparison of financial results to forecast, or the simulations of alternative assumptions must have been clear earlier and should have raised questions, or at least challenged the executive team’s belief that the commitments they made would prove viable, right?

I urge readers to review either Sunday’s  New York Times   At American Airlines, a Departing C.E.O.’s Moral Stand – NYTimes.com.  The author, D. Michael Lindsay, and other sources continue to cite  competitive pressures that forced the board to succumb and  points out Gerald Arpey’s values commitment was distinct among a larger sample of CEOs.  His story may be noble, but I fail to see how his leadership echoed these values; and I am reluctant to herald him as a positive exemplar.

“It is not good thinking — either at the corporate level or at the personal level — to believe you can simply walk away from your circumstances.” 

In 2010 he held a similar position:

Gerald R. Arpey

“The path we have taken has created cost challenges for us. But I believe there is something misguided about how we measure success, if success is bankruptcy, giving pension obligations to taxpayers and not paying back creditors. By that measure, we have failed.”  (see Thestreet.com interview Sept 2010).

Arpey’s quotes ring  hollow in the face of his years at the helm. As CEO, he could have led the charge to measure success in an alternative way.  Should we blame the board for the AMR structure , its inherent decisions and commitments? Similarly, decisions that impact the company should rely less on competitors’ values, assumptions and next moves.  Instead the strategy should  show  a keen commitment and understanding of value creation, not ongoing obligations as Arpey argued.  Did Arpey lack audacity, proper advisors and/or the  market intelligence necessary to lay out a plan that would have positioned AMR   uniquely  in the marketplace? Sadly, being the last legacy airline to file bankruptcy, even if he disagreed, suggests a lack of leadership, and specifically a lack of followship.

Sharing Values delivers $Value

Heroes are often industry disrupters.  They buck the trend and prove their firm’s value in the marketplace by brandishing an alternative paradigm.  When the value created extends from shared values, consumers, employees and the firm are mutually engaged in a win- win- win strategy.

In 2008,   Joe Nocera, writing for the New York Times The Sinatra of Southwest Feels the Love  contrasted Aprey to  Ken Kelleher, upon the latter’s  retirement as CEO from Southwest Airlines.  Clearly strategic choices, when rooted in shared principles that link to planning can and do lead to higher performance. Aprey had faith but offered little or no inspiration. Kelleher built Southwest, and in doing so, he created and fostered its culture.  AMR’s Arpey, the most recent CEO  was a product,not a force for change within American Airlines culture.  At the shareholder meeting in 2008, he acknowledged  both necessary and inevitable changes for  the airline industry; yet chose to renew his commitment to shareholders and asked that employees and customers lower their expectations.  In so doing, Wall Street pounded the stock, resulting in a significant loss of value.

Aprey’s  demonstration of  differentiated principles in the face of deteriorating conditions seems to have laid the course for American Airlines subsequent decline.  The labor negotiations for pilots was on both their minds.  Aprey failed to lay a course  or inspire his team to re-invent and ultimately lay the foundation for another, more promising alternative.  By contrast, Kelleher renewed his commitment to his people without guaranteeing anything  to the pilots.

The idea of Shared Values is often confused with value sharing. The former a more universal presumption about a set of beliefs and the latter a calculated measure of utility. In a service industry, delivering value to customers demands a highly evolved understanding of meeting needs and desires. For example, how well does an airline deliver on an individual’s hope to be with family on the holidays?  Can that same airline deliver on another individual’s hope to get to a distant meeting and back for another commitment?  Calculating the costs of delivering value is trivial by comparison, in that the components are concrete, not fuzzy. Southwest was able to gain market share over competitors  focusing on being the low-cost airline provider and inspiring employees to deliver on that shared value.  Every decision made at the corporate level hinges on that principle and the results are clear in their resilience in spite of the hostile economic climate and changing regulatory environment that daily challenges their operating costs

Power in creativity

Mavericks like Richard Branson, another airline mogul and Ken Kelleher place their faith in people to be naturally creative. They consistently live up to simple principles and obligations they make to  employees, create a culture and foster ideals for employees rooted in a higher sense of value that is also shared by customers.  Their sense of economy, scale and flexibility extend to people at every juncture in their process.  Rather than take or assume full control they partner with their customers to share responsibility.  No advance seating, no meals just on time service at a low price. The company takes action, by helping employees focus on the goal that propels their entire business.  In other words they deliver customers safely and reliably from one destination to another and executive management puts  complete faith and trust in all their employees to do what makes sense to best deliver on that simple goal.

By contrast, Aprey did not have that working on his side, the culture at American and  the board’s action focused on their obligations to investors and put the source of their revenue, customers needs and desires second with  employees taking the last position.

Aprey seemed to have a clear understanding of the  principles behind product cycles, and production experience costs showing the predictable relationships between unit costs and cumulative output.  Increasingly it’s not technical prowess, intelligence or even relationships that differentiate successful leaders and resilient companies, but their ability to inspire.  The problems in the airline industry are not unique. The path to restoring profitability has always depended on operating flexibility and financial strength,  and Aprey was right to believe that it  doesn’t have to come at the cost of reneging on earlier commitments.  Decisions to speed up the restructuring by reopening every contract for negotiation suggests leadership who lost their way in the face of unexpected forces or circumstances.  It also is evidence of an inability to inspire, believe and uphold universal shared values.

I’m betting there are plenty of unsung heroes inspiring creativity and bringing about change at speeds that don’t require bankruptcy.  If you know the story, please help me share and build the faith by posting them here.

Finding hidden treasure in plain sight.


Prospecting, mining both are familiars metaphors describing the activities associated with finding and developing  resource rich opportunities.  Rarely  in plain sight for any passerby  to scoop up and gain advantage, prospecting for Gold, other metals or precious gems like diamonds require active and often deep digging capabilities.

Like precious metals or gems, the secret to good business is creating precious assets of intrinsic value. The attributes to value when known for durability and uniqueness, such as a brand, retain  value over time,  predictably generate  cash flow and  become  difficult for competitors to acquire. But the uncertainty of today’s markets and the disruptive threat of new technologies can quickly erode the value of any asset and so growth is essential.  Whether your strategy calls for acquisition or organic growth, either way, the underlying development and prospecting costs need to be contained.

In stories and legends, merely having a treasure map and knowing where to dig doesn’t always lead to happy endings. Technology has certainly helped to mitigate the risks or advance probabilities of success.  Ground and water penetrating radar and detectors   discriminate ferrous and non-ferrous metals pinpoint the site to begin mining and improves the probabilities of a fruitful yield.  The challenges in any mining activity depend not on the power of the technology or in making the dig profitable. Today’s WSJ headline reads Gold hits $1,700.  Absent reliable, hidden treasure maps knowing where to look is an advantage. Returns depend on offsetting the difficulty and risks associated with its extraction and the quality or grade found. Forbes recently summed this up  USAGX’s Denbow: Gold-Mining Companies Face Challenges Finding New Supply.

Prospecting is a perennial challenge for any and every business, and managing the costs is the key to delivering returns.  The current market turmoil has done more than merely  increase investors uncertainty.  for the Risk averse, who have shied away from innovation  or the adventurous  business who has wisely taken pause, I suggest this is a great time to revisit your strategies.  Standing still can prove surprisingly  advantageous if in the process of cleaning house you discover  undervalued or even overlooked assets.  What value does an earlier project, research or failed product launch buried for any number of reasons offer? Lance and Scott Bettencourt of Strategyn write in Harvard Business Review in June 2011 Innovating on the cheap  a series of suggestions on how you can  leverage your existing assets, or rediscover value in surprising places.

Mining existing assets

I suggest a process that may take you a little further.  Consider Google’s Search business and the  underlying value of its algorithms and index.  Maintaining these assets is of critical importance but so too is the value of constant improvement.  Daily, new content and pages added to the internet require Google’s index continuous update.  Including  rich and diverse content such as images, video and sound  files on the internet challenges Google’s index  and algorithm update to accurately rank and deliver the results.  Realized innovations  continuously contribute  to Google’s financial performance and persistent high  market valuation. Even Google however has failures. Research,  experiences of both internal and external users generate additional  assets hidden in plain sight. Actively sharing and reflecting on the meaning of both successes and failures  allow new project teams ready access to key insights that otherwise would be left to lie fallow collecting dust.  If Google continues to draw value  or benefit from their latent assets, can you?

Identifying data or purpose

Frequently, environmental conditions change a variable’s significance.  Strategyn authors talk about unrealized value in products that may have been premature for the market,  experienced formidable technical difficulties or their launch prevented  by high manufacturing costs . Nothing stays constant anymore.  Consumers are always adapting  their preferences to changing circumstances and environmental conditions, and  business are equally forced to adapt.  A variable’s significance in your business model  in one moment may prove insignificant later. Persistently changing conditions is  why its’ important to frequently revisit your tactical plan and forecast models; and occasionally revisit your business model/strategy.

In 1984, Jesse Jackson was the first Black American to run for President.  I was an assistant statistician working for CBS News assigned  to use the exit poll and early returns to create prediction models to track trends in voters behavior. Race became a significant variable , where as before it had not been much of a determinant factor.  To increase accuracy, the forecast model needed to adjust to accommodate and recognize this historic precedent.  Likewise, when I joined Citibank in 1985, the business needed a P &L model for an innovative new offering in four test markets that linked savings and credit products in a relationship.  No one had looked at  interactive product performance before and the experience was a revelation.  The adaptation to existing analysis and risk management tools were instrumental contributors to the explosive growth of Citibank’s  credit card business. The original business proposition  failed to consider that the risk in a bundled loan or relationship,  product was not merely additive but interactive.  Early, controlled testing allowed them to go back to the drawing board armed with new insights and better understanding of the boundaries.

New data is rarely the culprit in a failure; but as things change,  more data enhances interpretation and  provides insights to re-imagine your business.  When you are the largest issuer of credit cards in the world,  accurate risk models  can be built using available billing histories.  In the 1990’s  mountains of itemized purchase or transaction level was left untouched, though its potential value was clear,  there were no clear benefits to justify the monumental costs of analysis. This was a treasure waiting to be mined.  Lacking urgency or absent a competitive threat also minimized the value of uncovering additional insights into consumer’s behavior.

Fast forward just under 25 years and the costs of time and computing resources to sort high volumes of transaction data is trivial and the returns from real-time processing lucrative. Mined transaction data triggers fraud alerts and delivers additional purchase suggestions based on comparison to  individual consumer history and that associated with cohorts, peers or “friends.”  Amazon  demonstrates   mastery in mining  typical  point of sale enhancements and redeems enormous  value from its dual function processing.

Opportunities and technology capable of mining even richer, more complex data eclipses  the significant value accrued from mining transactions.  The potential  value is driving the collection and complex tagging and sorting  of recorded customer service conversations, video capture of consumers shopping or following their daily routine at work or at home or all the places they go  online, key strokes, eye tracking, written comments.  It appears that there are very few domains of human experience and activity that remain a hold out from data capture.  The number of matching and sorting tools, the algorithms and systems also are getting simpler and more widely accessible.  Today, the speed and volume of results Google returns in a general search is far more advanced than credit card billing records I analyzed.  When was the last time you checked out Google’s  specialized search tools or the technology  coming out of their labs?

Returning Power to the People

The  insurmountable challenges are no longer in finding available data, or even privacy. Its ubiquity and increasing open source availability creates an even bigger challenge,  turning the vast amount of real-time data into a durable advantage.  Sunday’s New York Times (August 7, 2011) reported the unusual establishment in Chicago of a team of specialists tasked to help Chicago harness the technology and gamut of rich data the city collects.  Not alone in its efforts, Chicago is  farther ahead of other governments in creating easy interfaces that contribute to the public’s use of  its treasures of recorded and collected data.  Transparency adds more value by increasing the number of analyst reviewing the information, spotting trends or creating applications that simplify the lives of residents.  For example, the free Bus tracker application to let riders and plan their trip better.  It also holds his office more accountable  and increases the opportunity for activism by city residents.

There’s no doubt that power accrues to those who can imaginatively convert  data into both meaningful and doable innovation.

Finding treasures by leveraging connections

Today’s data mining technologies facilitates more than  accountability and activism.  Beyond knowledge of the type and place of available data,  a dedicated commitment to sift and mine the growing mountains of data requires critical analysis and matching skills.  Google does not stand alone in its specialized capabilities, numerous competitors offer diverse and specialized alternative search tools.  Numerous open source tools  make it easy to sort and manipulate any of the open data made available online.  As in prospecting, the tools and ability may narrow the competition and may advance the process. But those systems capable of exploiting and  enhancing anomalies  with supplementary information increase their chances  to uncover intrinsic value and thus create durable advantage .

Innovation results from capabilities to invent but can equally result from abstraction and adaptation.  Most of us at one time or another have come across a person who managed to re-purpose or refashion an object for an alternative use.   For example, the flower bed below.

Between Naps on the Porch eclectic landscape

Don’t merely consider looking at your existing data in its current form, but revisit it with newer analytic capabilities made possible from the numerous open source and proprietary data mining tools rich in functionality.  Consider supplementing your understanding of your assets from the perspective of your final judge, the consumer.  Also consider these sources:

  1. If images are worth a thousand words, spying consumers who refashion or use products for purposes beyond the manufacturer’s original conception can prove inspiring.
  2. Conversations and story are at the core of social media’s power.  The words of mouth, or stories  associated with transmitting and  promoting your business also motivate, inspire and compel employees to higher performance and deliver insights into how your product can be improved.  How often are you  using these to find products  in your inventory or services, that you may over overlooked or underestimated, but  are important to a group of consumers?
  3. Sales Data–Data mining tools can be used to find surprising blips, if you look beyond the blip.  Focus your analysis on the less understood context such as coincident placements or other variables that may not have made it into your database but none the less explain the anomaly.  They may very well be the source of an unrealized opportunity to refashion and reposition products that have trailed in sales.
  4. Last, perhaps you need to apply data mining tools  on your own data collections. The files of failures, tucked into drawers or file cabinets, the product research and or launches that never saw the light of day may call for another look.  After all, consumer preferences are always evolving, but so are your competitors, as well technology that may allow you to overcome previous cost barriers.  For example, oil and gold extraction from very difficult places is now proving economically viable as both these commodities benefit from high market prices.

More reason to harness data mining technologies to jump-start innovation in product marketing, reuse or refashion your assets to generate additional cash flow.

I’d love to hear of your experiences recapturing value in your business by any other routes as well as  suggestions for good tools or tips to improve your data mining or prospecting success.

Is it Too Late for a Web Strategy?


Old spice man

If you don't know this man, then you're missing out on one of the more popular twists in popular culture and marketing of 2010. 

This is the Old Spice campaign's man of mystery.  Intentionally I did not insert the web video, nor am I interested in chasing down the viewer stats, though sales report isn't great.  It's here because the ad reference exemplifes multi-channel linked marketing strategy and came up  in last Friday's monthly Chicago Booth Alumni Club's Discussion around  Strategic Management Practices.

Wearing my research hat, and doubling as a typical consumer, the first place I turned to find the reference was to type the key word phrase "old spice man" into my google search bar located at the top of my web browser. My search was not to purchase, engage in conversation or to gain proximity to someone with product experience –that would need  some different key words.  The campaign as well as my search process shows the evolution of the internet and the effect of its influence in our lives.  The shifting trends exhibited below in this wonderful chart  was the focus by Chris Anderson and Michael Wolff in the provocatively titled September 2010 article in Wired The Web is Dead, long live the Internet

Internet traffic trends 2010

CISCO compiled data using the Cooperative Association for Internet Data Analysis (CAIDA). The chart suggests that Video and Peer to Peer traffic is increasing while the use of the world wide web is declining.  This data is somewhat misleading and the chart's suggestions that mobile apps, and other specialized channel options, will displace the web browser  is not so clear-cut.

Is this graph a credible and reliable translation of the geek speak from  CAIDA?  A more recent  analysis than what appeared in Wired, expresses the following:

" Continuing its growth in traffic, connectivity, and complexity, the current Internet is full of applications with rapidly changing characteristics."

Overall, CAIDA has found that traffic on the internet continues to grow,  which is not adequately represented by the two- dimensional graph CISCO and WIRED depicted. Growth does accurately reflect the transition and growing emergence of traffic off the world wide web and into  alternative internet based transmission paths (e.g. mobile based and other applications that allow real time streaming).  

This same transition mimics strategies used by effective  marketers who link the brand messages and campaigns across  multiple media platforms.  Key words provide the bridge. The more consistent their use across the growing number of media platforms,  the more certain an organization's promotion efforts will  intersect key consumer touch points on or offline.   Ideally, consumers pick up these same key words  and carry them across other natural communication channels, further enhancing the brand's reputation and in theory  increasing sales.

If your business is selling Search Engine Optimization (SEO) this emphasis on key words appears  great for business. It's not however where a capable marketing strategy should invest the majority of its budget.  Not merely because there is some danger to pursuing this strategy (see the The dirty little secrets of search in last week's New York Times); but the greater, more complex objective is reputation management and not key word optimization.  

 Historically, brand owners/creators controlled media messaging and placement.  To successfully sell, you "paid" for the privilege of being placed in front of consumers walking through the yellow pages or by a billboard, listening over radio/TV  or their eyeballs scanning newspaper or specialty publications. Product packaging, placement and promotion  are often  budgeted separately and only occasionally linked for a "special" promotion (e.g. cause marketing or a contest).  The rise of the world wide web, added the category of "owned" media to the marketing mix and budgets had to cover the cost of website development, content writers and traffic analysis, including SEO.  With Social Media, a third area– "earned" warrants increasing budget and management attention to monitor the customer-created channels and chatter of your brand enthusiasts  as well as brand detractors. (see complete description in Branding in the Digital Age by David Edelman). 

 The Edelman article's case study of a TV manufacturer across one touch point within the wider consumer decision journey proves far more  instructive than my earlier reference to the Old Spice ad and its multi-channel focus. 

"A costly disruption of the journey across the category made clear that the company’s new marketing strategy had to deliver an integrated experience from consider to buy and beyond . In fact, because the problem was common to the entire category, addressing it might create competitive advantage."    

Unlike Old Spice, the manufacturer opted to shift the marketing emphasis away from paid media.  Focusing on owned and earned media seems to enhance the effectiveness of their key words and multi-channel linkages, and engage traffic where it mattered most at the buy, and enjoy, advocacy, bond  touch points. This is not a prescription for all brands, but the case is instructive in identifying the disconnects and deficiencies in common web based strategies, or even of marketing extravaganzas disconnected from the ongoing conversations that are circling your business, product and/or brand.

Whether or not you belief in Chris Anderson's prognosis about the death  of the Web or buy into David Edelman's Consumer Decision Journey research, few organizations appear to have fully leveraged these changes.  Increasingly, an ability to execute and efficiently allocate resources to address the demands presented by the growing number of communication channels  will  distinguish successful companies from their competitors.  The changes create more opportunities for strategy to take a more commanding role in managing and driving the combined efforts, either internally or with the help of outside specialty firms.

Additonal Discussion Take Aways

  • Social networks are informative, free sources of intelligence that naturally build out and generate mutual trust and benefits to buyers and sellers. 
  • The role of the marketer is merely to influence and no longer the producer/director of the brand experience.
  • The responsibility for marketing  is changing and increasingly is upending internal role limitations  and requiring participation from unlikely sources e.g. corporate governance, communication standards and guidelines.  Employees share roles with customers and the more acquainted with internal policies, strategies and planning the more they can aide and assist in  wider message consistency. 
  • Authenticity has become ever more important.
  • Fluidity and increasing knowledge of terminology around the digital communications space is a valuable skills set…not just for marketers and IT folks. 
  • As reputation management rises and people do business more and more with the people that they know,  is there anything really being created of value, and are other marketing and sales efforts as necessary?
  • How do these lessons translate or enhance B2B sales? 
  • It's not the web vs. the internet differentiation that matters, as much as recognizing how one innovation(social media)  has brought into focus an array of  deficiencies and gaps within an organization (marketing departments) as well as an industry (e.g. advertising) The challenge is how to best integrate the old with the new. 
  • In the end, the prescription to know your customer before creating your strategy remains the first and foremost lesson. Knowing what your customer wants will always be helpful but successful business requires more.
  • True differentiation in products being marketed remain beneficial but the emphasis should be toward innovation in developing products. 
  • Important to remember the shape of the adoption curves with new technology and Chris Anderson's point that new doesn't replace old. New merely creates more table space to accommodate more preferences.  The challenge is the frequency we change, resort and revisit our marketing activities and resource priorities. 
  • Both  articles confirm the importance of social media and keeping up with changing technologies.  They also call attention to the  the challenges organizations  face in trying to bring them together  to create successful communities around their products and/or brands.

 

Any added thoughts, perspectives or cases are welcome.

Added citations

Edelman makes some of the same points in this article:

Four ways to get more value from digital marketing

By David C. Edelman, McKinsey Quarterly, March 2010

https://www.mckinseyquarterly.com/Four_ways_to_get_more_value_from_digital_marketing_2556

 

Trust Agents, Using the web to build Influence    by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

NOW Revolution, 7 shifts to make your business faster   by Jay Baer and Amber Naslund

Challenging the norm


Often, I find myself baffled by gaps in common understanding. The result has been a divisive congress, general discontent and a bit of general stagnation.  Why do my visceral reactions to events, and the news as it unfolds, differ so dramatically

On the instinctive level  we are very similar.  For example, flight is the adrenaline fueled response to the sense of fear.  But then we don’t all have the same fears do we?  Anyone out there enjoy the smell of fresh skunk?  My guess is that most find the scent unpleasant and I suspect that our degree of discomfort correlates   with the strength of the smell and the strength of  sensitivity to scent  which in turn varies the reaction.  Did your nose wrinkle a little at the sight of these cuties?

Word choices too have a way of triggering mental images or associations.  Speakers and listeners can easily find themselves connecting to very different ideas, as these varying images of ice in water illustrate.

Intuitive leaps, or the manner in which we understand or attach meaning to our observations in the world can quickly diverge. It is easy to understand how one missed connection can lead to dramatically different conclusions. Few people follow the same process when problem solving.  In fact, in business there are hundreds of possible strategic  frameworks.  The  approach chosen, merely extends from our own unique chain of prior experience and  perception of fit within the associated context.  The likelihood that my choice match your solution set depends on the degree of overlap in our experience set. Variation in our choices is healthy all the way around, as long as we are each willing to learn, or accept the possibility of more than one right answer, method or  result.

Communicating and orienting everyone to the same mental model or construct is a particularly telling and ongoing leadership and political challenge.  How do you help your organization or constituents adapt when the situation or circumstances change? How do you help construct and leverage the mental model of how things work, whether they could be made better or differently? Or even how do you help establish a common accepted set of norms?

Last week, graduate students in the communication workshop I co-lead, shared some key findings from their small participant sample research into electricity practice and awareness.  No matter what the age, many people referenced lessons learned from the continuous message or directives received from their parents.  The almost universally assimilated message was that flipping the light switch cost money.  Many of the research participants were able to recall the message, some even pass it on to their children;  but few managed to question the basic premise or get any further research to support the supposition.  In fact, this idea could be found as the basis for many of their other conclusions about electricity conservation and costs.  Little dissonance exists around the relationship between turning on lights and added electricity costs. The shared experience, or valued experience of frugality appear  almost universal.

In contrast, yesterday’s NY Times, page one headline asked “Taking Loaded Gun into Bar? In 4 States, It’s Already Legal. ” The profiled Gun rights advocate, Mr. Ringenberg, expressed that carrying loaded guns protected him from other people’s guns.  Whereas an individual patron in one of the bars felt differently: “It opens the door to trouble.  Its’ giving you the right to be Wyatt Earp.”

Guns in bars?

 

The absence of a universal or shared consciousness about guns baffles me. Similarly baffling are the public opinion poll results attesting that a significant proportion of Americans  believe that our president is a Muslim, or that he is not an American citizen, the latter of which is an impossibility under the constitution.  Perhaps, the answer lies in the nature of our construction of mental models, or the means by which we construct reality.  Wikipedia explains mental models as thought processes that help us interpret the world around us as well as shape our behavior.  Our mental models or the manner in which we conceptualize the task play a large role in how we view ourselves and the world.  Our decision-making chain and the construction of norms, which evolve according to personal psychological dispositions, often impair social efficiency. We don’t realize the full benefits of a fully congenial society, because our individual construction or acceptance of distinctive norms about people and their behaviors  lead to diverse expectations that  need neither objective logic or facts as their basis.  If you are paranoid or easily threatened, I imagine your mental models may foster a resolve to take control and lead you to connect self-preservation with gun advocacy. Or you may simply be a strong believer in individual liberties and thus you connect freedom with gun advocacy. In contrast, a belief that though freedom is a right, there are some boundaries in which society takes on the larger requirements of preservation.  Just as I can’t do everything alone, so too my participation in greater community assures that my basic needs, including protection, are met more broadly.  In the same way that I don’t have to grow my food or hide my money under the mattress. In exchange for my own labors, I can interact and benefit from the services provided by the police, the grocer and  the banker.  My mental model connects freedom to a more complex set of benefits and dissociates the person from the weapon of harm, e.g. a gun.  This doesn’t make us passive, though in the presence of someone with a weapon,  my not having one  may prove a less effective life-preserving strategy. But critical to my life-preserving strategy is the belief that everyone accepts and honors the basic concept ” thou shall not kill,” and it is the collective belief that will keep me safe.  I’d certainly like to learn how to further the formation of common norms in our thinking and allow us to move from conflict to a more cooperative if not coördinated  system of interaction.

Resolving what are increasing complex problems requires close examination of the components or constructs that we hold but may have never questioned. Our challenge is not to let our own knowledge, or mental models, however acquired when left unchallenged can sink us.