How Framestretching adds clarity


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This morning on Twitter @Bedtimemath posted the image above with the caption that read: “A natural distribution spotted in the wild! The wear on a weight machine reveals where people place its pin.

Though we experience life using multiple senses-sound, taste, touch,scent and sight, how much do we actually use to understand our place and actions?  Consider this two dimensional picture, the visual more than likely drives the meaning we make. Did the words add any more meaning to what you understood in looking at the picture?

Last Friday, the strategy discussion I lead monthly talked about visual thinking and I realized how readily my business training reduces most if not all of the perceptions available through my five senses down to only one or two.

At work, we use words or numbers and rarely put both together as well as this tweet and accompanying image.  This visual asks you to interpret the worn out paint or coating and recognize a normal distribution , which is a statistical explanation that adds another dimension to our understanding.

Could you plot a graph with the information you obnormal-sampleserve?  How about wear vs. weight?  That’s only two dimensions, with weight values on the x or horizontal access, and wear shown on the Y or vertical access.  It might look like the two dimensional graph on the right.

Does this representation tell you anything more than  the original image? I assigned numeric values to the different amount of chipped coating. Do you connect the current location of the weight on the machine as  170 across and  estimate as I did 20 up?

Both image and graph show, but don’t tell as much as we assume.

Where’s the context? Do you know the amount of time it took for the paint to chip or relative distance between observations, or usage of the machine itself?  We know nothing about the users of the machine, or its location and yet we do don’t we? The rust itself takes time to form and we can infer that more users choose at least 50 pounds, and the most users 90 pounds.

More than meets the eye

Next time you view a two dimensional graph–ask yourself what’s missing?  Try to voice and articulate the context that you’ve assumed. Yes even if you do it alone, as hearing your thoughts activates different processing.  When you do it in the company of others you will be surprised at the differences in your understanding.

I happened to see that DataScope analytics, a Chicago Based Data science firm had posted a request under data science on Reddit.  They asked “What data skills do you wish non-data people you worked with (e.g. managers, PMs, marketing, HR, etc.) have?  The responses on Reddit were quite fascinating.

Personally, I couldn’t help but notice how the replies typified the  constant challenge and struggle that any information or data presents to everyone.  What does the data mean, what is it’s significance?

The same themes arose in the conversation among business people exploring the challenges of visualizing data, in which we quicly recognized that few people see the appearance of data and instinctively look to explore it, versus others whose interest in data are for the sole purposes of confirming what they know.

The questions and process with which anyone approaches data obviously informs how it gets used and thus represented too.  Too often we use only one or two dimensions as suggested by the graph of the interpretation of the photograph.  I created the variable wear based on my interpretation of frequency approximated by the degree of chipped paint.

In contrast, the two dimensions suggest more than they reveal about how the world works.  Economists, for example, plot  supply and demand curves that look like a large X.  Supply being the first line that descends vertically, and demand the second line that Ascends.  The vertical access is Price and the horizontal access quantity.

What else is  assumed in this representation?  Geography? Time?  what about probability and or frequency?  Accuracy or specific observations as in the photograph are not the point of the representation.  It’s merely to create a general understanding of the relationship between price and quantity from two different perspectives.

The economists are exploring  and not predicting behavior, they are merely seeking ot make sense of the world not necessarily profit from it.

Further explorations that southt to clarify the assumptions led to the evolution of the  behavioral economists and  their additional perspective enahances general  understanding  of people’s beyond the one dimensional buyer or seller role and expanded the representation.  The inclusion of additional dimensions of probability also introduce additional complexity in exchange for greater understanding.

My own training as an analyst has led me to begin with exploration, and interrogate rather than merely to extend or convert  the representations. There’s always ore than meets the eye when it comes to understanding what we see.

 

 

 

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.

 

Columbus didn’t close his learning loop, did you?


Maybe it’s time to rename Columbus day in America Discovery day.  I’m suggestng both for the sake of school children as well as to renew the american explorer spirit.  Why?

Becasuse unlike the time of Columbus, the opportunities for learning and connections are limitless while we continue to shrink rather than  address larger problems that I beleive learning differently would overcome.  I’m not merely suggesting more discovery learning, but a more nimble interactively supported blend of formal and informal, social and personal, guided and spontaneous,

In school I learned that Columbus had a distinct point of view. It’s true he did. But it wasn’t his belief in a round earth that made his views different, it was his calculations. Sure, in school I was taught that in Columbus time, many people believed the world was flat, a story Washington Irving’s embellished history put forward and that later writers supported.

Columbus believed that the globe was smaller and that the distance at the equator was smaller. Traveling by ship across the Atlantic was not a foolhardy proposition, but a short cut to Asia.

It’s harder to teach how a bad calculation could turn out so well.  The atmosphere of entrepreneurship today often extolls the virtues of failure.  Columbus could be taught this way but I would encourage a broader objective—a celebration in the process of discovery.

Process challenges

Texas Tech depicts their discovery process for students encircled by phases of exploration, research , investigation and confirmation.

Columbus took a slightly different path to discovery. He was self-taught and lacked the advantage of formal education which makes his calculation errors easier to imagine.  In spite of the generally held wisdom of the time, Columbus persuaded Spain to finally sponsor his voyage.  How? Perhaps he appealed to King and Queen’s natural curiosity about the world, expressed empathy for their desire for Asian pepper.  Somehow he managed to get them take his bet that the Court’s trusted advisors were the ones who had miscalculated.

Columbus didn’t doubt his convictions, and it’s unlikely that he presented his argument  as a formal hypothesis test. Let’s suppose it was.

Proof of the earth’s size had been known to respected astronomers of the time for centuries. Additional evidence of the folly included documented disaster that had befallen those who attempted to go west, including Columbus whose first boats were destroyed.  The available information made the voyage too daunting. No recorded knowledge of  anything other than the open western sea  separating Asia and Europe and the distance calculations suggested a crossing would take three years at current ship speeds.

I imagine Irving’s historical embellishment originated with evidence of the closed mindedness of  the inner circle around King Ferdinand and Isabella. Few at court were interested in taking seriously the ideas of a self-educated, foreigner.  This circle of knowledge didn’t appreciate the notions of discovery with our 21st century sensibilities.

God, King and country motivated many and the formally trained astronomers’ calculations eliminated any remaining doubt. Faith in the unknown was expressed as faith in higher powers of authority. This was true for Columbus too. Columbus stood by his calculations even if he didn’t frame them as a hypothesis.  Perhaps what persuaded the court to finance another voyage were the size of the opportunities, which were to large to miss were Columbus to be proved right.  A faster route to the riches that lay in Asia proved irresistable, especially if Columbus was daring enough to assume the risks of what many believed certain death. 

Circluar learning

Its not clear that 21st century thinking has any greater tolerance for the unknown,  Faith in God, King and country for many has been unquestioningly placed on technology.   

The sun, the moon both observable circles whose motion throughout history proved inspiring. Euclid took advantage of his observations in relation to his staionery  to establish geometry and the means to calculate distances. Today, GPS signal sensors do it automatically. These logical systems offer one avenue of discovery, and a path to see our way though in situations where solutions are not obvious or remain unknown to us.

Learning and problem solving activities both rely on relative understandings and may be synonomous. Both seek additional information,then  try to use that information and pause to see what happens.

  • Learning includes a reflection step which processes the experience in order to understand and file it for future use.
  • Problem Solving, often keeps going through the cycle of acquiring information, trying to use/apply information only to observe what happens.

The beauty of a formal hypothesis test appears in its record. Tested information also gets documented and proves out the hypothesis not merely giving results.  In reviewing the record we learn what works and can then formulate further questions to test.

The Columbus story could be taught as context to learning about the formation of hypotheses.  The Learning experience could include math and astronomy as a means to translate observable information into testing ideas and math skills. Columbus offers a story of continuing to question accepted views of the world within a framework. The challenges he faced along the journey and its success bears little if any relationship to the thinking and the knowledge circulating among the court advisors. Columbus leaned on what he knew, which he acquired almost exclusively through direct experience.  It’s why he died believing he had reached Asia.

It’s his grit, persistence and process of assimilating knowledge certainly bear celebrating.

Validated Learning

Eric Ries 2011 publication of the Lean Startup celebrates practical discovery.  He describes and outlines how a sure thought, an idea isn’t enough and why knowing doesn’t always give way to sure things.

The court advisors knew the distances better, their calculations were true and yet there was no way to discover the mass of continents that lay between Europe and Asia.  This falls into that category of unknown unknowns and if you are looking to grow, looking for answers sometimes you have to do something a little crazy.

Think about what you know, can you differentiate let alone defend it?  Does your knowledge come from believing, or from  trying and testing experiences that allowed you to discover what works, where and when?

Ries asks an appropriate question.   “How can we learn more quickly what works, and discard what doesn’t?”

The circular process he depicts summs up what so many people believe matters and will produces success.  The circle suggests an inevitability to learning that is synonomous to the inner advisory circle in the Spanish Court.  At the core, there’s an attraction that I’m not sure will keep the learning in motion or provide the feedback naturally that generates new ideas.

Among Columbus lesser known discoveries were the trade winds in the Atlantic. The multiple voyages allowed him to learn some things new but it never helped him to recognize what the advisors in the court learned from his voyage, the existence of additional lands on the globe.

Does the picture above match your own learning or problem solving experience? Formal learning tries to do this and marks its consistency and accountability.  What’s  measured specifies whether you learned the established outcomes.  In other words,beware of circular reasoning at work, another possible lesson to be gained studying the Columbus story as discovery.

Everyday experiences, or self-structured learning turn out to be messier and less consistent. Today information surrounds us. New technologies make it easier than ever to unlock and discover meaning and learn about our environment, interactions and sources of value.

The challenge is to keep the learning loop open revise the the image of learning circle  to inspire more continuos, dynamic possibilities.  Columbus should still be celebrated but let’s be clear its for the sake of further discovery.

Create value by sticking to principles and collaborating


I’ve been reading and writing a lot about creating value.  Value creation is what sustains our spirits as well as insuring us a livelihood. It preserves quality in our relationships as well as justifying our existence.

Does creating “shared value” accomplish the same thing?  creating value

A recent headline in the Financial Times challenged the premise of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer’s ideas on creating shared values caught my attention.  Corporate Shared Value, (CSV) conceptually seeks to align social impact and company success.  A very noble goal, akin to what John Mackey, the CEO of whole foods describes as Conscious Capitalism.  Andrew Crane’s Financial Times article merely wishes the CSV theory found its way into execution and not corporate report window dressing and lip service.

15 years ago, Frederick F. Reichheld  and Thomas Teal working for Bain Capital discovered that too few growth strategies successfully drove profits and explained competitive advantage. Since the traditional profit drivers failed to explain the discrepancy in performance, they turned to study costs.  Their research delved into a firm’s relationship between customer duration and its cash flow  and found the relationship also differentiated advantage. As they had eliminated one metric after another their discovery proved that value starts with building loyalty, growth follows and then profits result. Dual loyalty, they explained isn’t merely the reciprocal relationship between a firm’s leadership and its customers.  The duality extends to employees and includes relationships with investors.The Loyalty Effect: The Hidden Force Behind Growth, Profits, and Lasting Value published in 2001, detailed this research.  For businesses to focus and sustain this value creation process, the authors recognized would require fundamental changes in business practices including new ownership structures.

Porter and Kramer’s CSV theory in part recognizes a similar fundamental shift in business practices.  Their focus seeks to compensate for the historic failure of accounting balance sheets to report and record shared value as an asset.  Is it an output, or is Shared Value part of a  larger social movement?

Mark Cheng, Director of Ashoka UK and Ashoka’s senior advisor on social finance  explains the challenges in this article that appeared in Forbes, How Philanthropists And Investors Can Work Together To Create Social Change. He suggests, that trying to build a social innovation isn’t a company but a social movement and that’s why it requires very different investments.

To change consumer behavior whether you plan to build a new market or a social movement requires organizations to earn people’s loyalty to principles.  Reichhold and Teal explain these learnings as necessary to properly differentiate between creating measurable value and creating profits.  Porter and Kramer hope businesses will value social progress, but this alone won’t re-legitimize a business. A verbal commitment to value can’t create the cost-benefit advantages necessary to sustain the firm.

Social forces of loyalty can and often do bind customers, employees and investors. Indeed they serve as measures of  cash flow and indicate a company’s ability to deliver superior value. The interlocking set of a firm’s operating principles creates both a cause and effect which satisfies, inspires and engages all stakeholders to sustain the firm.

Alternatively, a collective solution and collaborative mindset that aligns around a broader set of principles or values clearly stated presents an opportunity to create shared value. Because the concept of shared value offers people the means to take part with the resources of a firm, these mechanisms also share in, and contribute to, the success of the wider social movement.

Cheng explains that different funders should rightly have different roles.  A social business partnership between a business enterprise and an NGO doesn’t have to compromise or tradeoff its economic goals for the benefit of social good.  Using philanthropic funds to cover start-up costs for the shared venture and utilizing the distribution prowess of the corporate entity is one way to make win-win social impact possible.

Social progress is difficult to achieve by a single player, however a shared operating model based on sound principles can be adopted and replicated to spread the changes more widely.  The goal for the business may be self-interest,  where self-preservation will be a result of its underlying value creation principles and relationships.

Are you getting my meaning?


Sense-making that’s what stories are all about. s
Surprisingly, few of us use this hardwired tool to our advantage. Having recently collaborated with several volunteers to respond to a grantmaker’s overly specified Request for Proposal (RFP), I found myself confronting the multiple meanings and associations around storytelling, from narrative to story sharing.   Was it  Mark Twain who said, ” I apologize for the long letter, if I had time I would have made it shorter?”  Well,  here goes.

It seems that too many of us confuse the message and messengers with meaning makers.  The volume of media outlets and social media sharing channels can overwhelm us and at the end of the day, one of the best contributions the journalism profession provides is the ability to tell a story and tell it well.  Sure the concept of a lead remains valuable as it easily converts into a tweet, or become the teaser to a blog post, right? But it’s the story not the lead that matters and here’s why.

Quantification, numbers, statistics and big data dominate the headlines and yet a powerful  story beats them all.  People are natural story tellers and our brain naturally likes and processes story very efficiently and effectively.  Story parallels the process in our brains that recognizes, sorts and responds to patterns. Our behavior is pattern driven which is another reason stories do more to add meaning than any set of spreadsheets, graphs or even simple analytic notation.

The power of a story

A good story resonates with us, because story literally provides context, perspective and almost always some emotional elements.  Even ambiguous stories are more easily understood than a set of precise numbers. For example, I was quite pleased to read that Janet Yellen the new president of the Federal reserve did something sufficiently unusual to prompt the Wall Street Journal to comment as follows:

While Ms. Yellen’s underlying message on Fed policy was unchanged, her delivery was striking. Central bankers tend to speak in terms of economic theory and statistics, in jargon better understood by investors and other economists than the broader public. Ms. Yellen instead exhibited a personal touch Monday by coloring her comments with experiences of three people who had struggled to gain full-time work.

 

She did what the best of us do when we want to convey a message that will be widely understood. She listened. She sought out specific meaning, rather than relying on her experiences and intuition.  In order to more clearly and precisely understand  what the present economic data the Fed collects really means, she asked people. She called up individuals who met the conditions the data suggested to tell her their story. She invited them to share how are they managing,  their background, work history, skill sets, experiences and feelings.

Her personal interviews provided her a greater grasp and deeper meaning of present economic indicators that “suggest the labor market is operating well short of its potential.”

Telling a story remains the most effective way to deliver consistent clear messages and impart more precise meaning. So she did just that, and it did enliven her message.  She reached out to talk and listen to several people and managed  ” to put a face on the challenges that are out there in the labor market”. Not only did she connect to the people who had stories to tell, she connected their story to help others understand more deeply, personalize the meaning of the economic indicators.

On its face, her inclusion of stories may appear as a politically astute maneuver.  After all, politicians have always found it useful to tell a constituent’s personal story and demonstrate conditions that justify the need or impact of a particular initiative.   Marketers do the same thing, especially when they use vignettes designed to match values people hold deeply and hope they will then transfer those emotions to the pitched product.

The power of narrative

Personally, I think Janet Yellen did something more.  Because she made the phone calls herself and wanted to really understand the reality that produced the numbers.  Isn’t that the first step in problem solving?  We all need to understand the situation more completely and rely on collectible facts to tell us what’s what.  The assumption that  indicators alone convey meaning can be quite dangerous.  On its face the momentary value of the S&P Index or the Dow Jones Industrial Average tell us nothing.  Its only in relationship to their past that we find significance.  Still additional context is necessary to draw meaning.  We try to co- relate measure of activity to news of the day and in this case we often obscure its meaning.  It’s in the qualitative, anecdotal descriptions that often lead us to understand and make new meaning of the measured results.

narratives have guided our work to inspire young people to connect with our community and been a vital tool in driving the significant change – See more at: http://ejewishphilanthropy.com/the-power-of-narrative-to-drive-change/#sthash.mzsnZ7P8.dpuf

Social enterprise and social entrepreneurs have made great use of narrative to help people connect to a community/cause and it also proves vital to driving change.  A personal story has emotional elements that attract and motivate others to go the next level. It can move individuals past understanding and conversation and inspire action. New tactics is a non-profit describes how it’s using narrative as a lever of change.

People and communities use stories to understand the world and our place in it. These stories are embedded with power – the power to explain and justify the status quo as well as the power to make change imaginable and urgent. A narrative analysis of power encourages us to ask: Which stories define cultural norms? Where did these stories come from? Whose stories were ignored or erased to create these norms? And, most urgently, what new stories can we tell to help create the world we desire?

 

The ability to engage

I came to revisit the narrative piece with help  from other astute observers who shared examples made possible by story.  One is Thaler Pekar  who writes for Philan Topic.  She invites organizations, particularly non-profits to try harder to understand not only the problems they are trying to address, but to dive deeper to understand why and what meaning a story they use carries.

It’s impossible to overlook the reality that even if you ask, and even if you listen what story you then tell represents only a partial truth. We fail because there is always the story we are not hearing. Nicola Hughes, a Knight-Mozilla Fellow explains this as unknown knowledge because any number of reasons, rational or cosmic may deny us access. The brain research on this supports what cognitive psychologists like Roger Schank have claimed for a long time.  Stories are a dialogue in sense-making.  We hear a story and have to reconcile it with what we already know.  Sometimes the story like a direct experience will help us expand and extend what we know, and sometimes we shut down.  Consciously we may refuse to accept but emotionally and unconsciously the message may still have an impact.

Janet Yellen wanted to effectively communicate not only the latest economic indicators, but also to signal that she understood and wanted to offer meaning and hope to her audience too.  The emotional elements that stories offer effectively engage us.  Use it to learn not just teach.

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.

Understanding ain’t believing and yes there are economic consequences!


This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

Recently, I came across this academic article differentiating belief and understanding and it triggered an explosion of thoughts.   When I teach, I  often encounter students who fail to grasp the topic and naturally their puzzled looks make me try to explain the idea again, differently.  I  never considered the possibility it wasn’t  my explanation that confused them, but maybe the ideas themselves.

Lost in Space

Our brains are wired to discard irrelevant information and to some degree if the new information doesn’t jive with what we know or believe–the ultimate cognitive dissonance occurs. Or as the Lost in Space robot would say: “That does not compute!”

As a teacher, I found the article unsettling on multiple levels.  First, because I never considered the potential conflict when preparing my lessons.  Second, what I confirmed talking to a High school math teacher in a large public school in Berwyn, IL:  Teaching helps students meet standards not to understand.

Personally, my limited experience as a public school teacher proved deeply challenging. In choosing to help students understand  not merely to pass.  I taught a vastly diverse population of 4th graders in a suburban Chicago classroom.  Student  IQs ranged from 5-95% on the chart, and the socio economic status of their families were equally diverse with many receiving subsidized breakfast and lunch. One student was severely ADHD, had lost his mother and his medication was constantly being adjusted. I had my hands full and could never figure out how to insure that every kid understood.

My own preference for immersive learning as a young student, in which my students allowed us to  play it out and learn by doing made school fun.  An approach, I actively sought to replicate in my teaching.  Returning to study education later in life, I was first dumbfounded to learn that so little was understood about effective teaching methods.  This isn’t really as mysterious a problem as I pose.  One of the oldest professions remains mysterious becasue the  purpose or objectives of education continue to evolve.  Sure there is wide agreement that everyone should have a command of the basics, the three Rs–Reading wRiting and aRithmetic.  How do you measure competency in these subjects?  what methods make it possible for students to gain competency or even mastery? If you have had a child in school, then you are familiar that new methods continue to be introduced.  Similarly, schools are held accountable to new standards and competency measurements.  Yes, the rules for private and charter schools differ from those demanded by the public.
Surprise, understanding information and knowing something are not the same thing. There are somethings you understand but could never articulate and vice versa some things you know but don’t necessarily understand.  For example, we know or learn how to drive without ever understanding how the car we drive actually works.  We may understand what someone else may be feeling without knowing precisely.
The areas where our understanding and knowledge most align come from ideas that involve multi-sensory learning experiences. It’s one thing to watch someone do something or find the results and another to reproduce them.  I can watch Tiger Woods, study his swing, stance and then when I attempt to hit the ball I discover just how much I don’t know.
This post won’t be able to address the issues fully.  I’m wondering where and how we might be able to resolve some of these contradictions and do it to help more people achieve. Sure high scores matter, but don’t we also want higher understanding that makes it possible for more people to solve more problems  when and where ever they encounter them? Teaching for understanding should count, in fact it’s a great book too!  But I’m also making a quick case for multi-sensory learning that allows more of us to connect what we know to things we understand.
Take history.  The recent Steven Spielberg movie on Abraham Lincoln attempted to show us more of the reality of the politics during the Civil War, but it also brought to life the words Americans are frequently taught.  We know about the civil war, we know that it was about slavery and we may know the Gettysburg address too.  But how does knowing that help me understand the world I encounter today?  How does learning history help me?
Imagine  learning history by role play? Being asked to study and recite the lines of Gettysberg address makes it easier for us to recall them and ponder them. Playing out the issues allows us to wire our brain to make our own meaning, personalize the lessons to connect to our pre-existing experiences.  The challenge may be that owning and personalizing the results takes time but it also complicates the  expectation of a singular correct answer or take on history.  Personalized meaning may prove more useful, stickier and authentic but it makes passing a standardized test much more difficult.
In fact, the accumulation of specific representations of  ideas and details are the only measures of learning that society at large respects and values. Today we value a passing grade and top performance measurable on a singular dimension.  Daniel Goleman‘s work on multiple intelligences increased the appreciation of talents beyond traditional accumulation of facts, but don’t celebrate them as equal achievements. High scoring SAT,  ACT and GPA scores open doors to further academic study and elite higher education opportunities.
This little monograph published in 2006 warrants more attention. In part, our system reflects the consequences of  the larger failure by the education system to differentiate student responses based on their belief and understanding versus answering according to the expectation of the testers.  The consequences of teachers teaching students to pass the test  may help some students further their schooling and many of them may gain understanding in the process.  But what about the others , where school material doesn’t match their knowledge of what matters  outside of school?   Teaching without understanding fails them and represents a failure of the investments to realize the returns of a capable society.
But there’s more.  Personally, this piece opened two divergent avenues of thought.  One,  given the growing research into the workings of the human brain how might cognitive processes  guide our behavior in the face of two truths. Two, findings by the economist James Heckmann whose work focuses on the development of human skills, abilities and health capacities for example demonstrate  the different values of those who graduate highschool and those that pass the GRE.

Two truths

T​he concept of holding two truths at once parallels the paradox of knowing what is right and yet believing it wrong​.

The FMRI of psychopaths who suffer from false delusions or paranoia, found their brain processes to differ from the general population. Interestingly, FMRI scans of democrats and republicans show each population to process information differently.  Both research illustrates the power and influence of different beliefs and explain the differences in our thinking and actions.  The reconciliation or rationalization process literally works differently based on early wiring of beliefs.
Carol Dweck, a noted childhood development scholar’s research explores the opportunities that emerge to rewire in adolescence.  Writing a response for the Boston review to research by James Heckmann that emphasized the value of larger emphasis on interventions to foster huma skills ad capacities, she writes:
“The success of the adolescent interventions derives from their laser-like focus on particular non-cognitive factors and the beliefs that underlie them—knowledge stemming from psychological theory.”
I often explain that my life changed when I began graduate work at the University of Chicago​.  I discovered what thinking felt like relative to merely learning.  I experienced integration of knowledge I was accumulating, the adding to and reconciling of my previous understandings with new, deeper understanding  of how things worked.
Many things I believe don’t require me to defend or explain.The best explanation I can muster extends from the recognition by the researchers on the primacy of self-centered meaning making.  My truth, what I know and what I believe begins with discovery.  The child who asks incessantly why seeks to make more sense of what they encounter.  The information they receive forms a foundation that like the sand on the beach slowly gets replaced with each new wave of information.  The emotional issues that cloud our thinking
 I’m sharing this article with the hope that you may have some additional insight into the topic or further my own knowledge surrounding  the significance of reconciling belief and understanding.

 

To win the game, we have to change the game


I can’t imagine the pressure on a CEOs when their organization misses the targets t120918053535-out24-shareholder-value-gallery-horizontalhey set for themselves.  How can they not take the failure personally?  More importantly, how do they turn the fail into opportunity?  Frequently, they publicly declare to the world renewed commitment to their strategy, reassure everyone that  management  knows what it’s doing and asks stakeholders to have a little faith.

A glorious future beats a glorious past.

This past week, Warren Buffet of Berkshire Hathaway released his annual shareholder letter and so did another hedge fund billionaire, Edward Lampert, the Chairman and now Chief executive of Sears Holdings comments.  2012 was tough on both companies.

Buffett reminded shareholders of his long-term management contribution:

“Over the last 48 years (that is, since present management took over), book value has grown from $19 to $114,214, a rate of 19.7% compounded annually.”

Lampert acknowledged his pride in the company associates for their resiliency in 2012 and then expressed the following:

“After reporting poor results for 2011, culminating in a very poor fourth quarter, we declared that we would take significant actions in 2012 to restore confidence in and financial stability to the company, while, at the same time, remaining focused on transforming Sears Holdings and creating long-term value for our shareholders.”

The vast differences between the diverse portfolio holdings of one  make comparisons to a single narrow industry portfolio holding company difficult, but it’s the philosophy of these two successful financiers that caught my attention.  Buffet’s reputation and success remains untarnished as he acknowledges sub par performance, meaning below the returns of the S&P 500.  Likewise, Lampert’s nod from his board to take the CEO reigns indicates their great faith in his judgment.

Both of these leaders inspire others to believe but how much do they expect shareholders to understand?  Rereading both of their letters, a wonderful clarity of mission and dedication to longstanding strategies can’t be missed.

Buffett draws readers attention to three elements that unlock the portfolio’s Intrinsic business value: one qualitative and two quantitative measures–per-share investments and per-share pre-tax earnings from businesses other than insurance and investment.

Lampert talks about creating long-term business value with an interesting description of EBITDA.  He shares an analysis of  value added by closing non-performing stores that reduced investment in non-performing stores but provided upside when the real estate sold.

An initial read shows just how similarly these two financial wizards think.  But who needs inspiration? How will sharing beliefs in these fundamental principles help hold the relative  position?

Which rubber and which road matter

Theory doesn’t always make for good practice and now matter what plans you make, until put into motion it’s impossible to know the results. The best predictors can’t incorporate every possible condition and inevitably some expectations go unrealized.

That’s where belief really counts. Funny, ever wonder why people believe what they believe?  It turns out that believing doesn’t require understanding; but it does color our interpretation.  Make believe, the imaginary is anything but real. Our beliefs and the way we interpret or make meaning of our reality is largely but not exclusively determined by the most recent experience and current context. This is the Halo effect at work which predisposes us to favor what we believe and what we first hear or see.  No experience? Ambiguity gets resolved unconsciously, consistent with context.

The more diverse  and numerous our experiences, the greater the number of differences or nuances in our understanding which results in unpredictable results.

Change the frame or limit the context of shareholder value to  financial expressions like EBITDA will reduce the variance in meaning. Formulas and standard accounting practices assure investors of an equivalence which makes EBITDA meaningful regardless of their depth of understanding, while also increasing the power of their belief in the financial measure to provide great meaning.

But accepting an idea doesn’t mean we believe it. Ever take a test that resulted in a wrong answer?  Perhaps, you asked why your answer was wrong, convinced you had it right.  Maybe your answer didn’t match the expected answer and so the first evaluation was incomplete.  Your answer didn’t make sense to the grader though it was still correct. An equilateral is both a square and a rectangle. Since different experiences lead to different beliefs both generate even greater diversity of understanding.

Big ambiguous ideas like shareholder value may be easy to believe but harder to understand and harder still to set clear, consistent actions into motion.Easy to measure share holder value at a point in time, but CEOs tasked to deliver it going forward need to provide greater clarity, less ambiguous and more specific associations and not risk letting recent experiences or context prove its meaning. What actions does the CEO wish to inspire, what associations does their message need to imply or offer guarantee?

Shares imply ownership and the value suggest material wealth.  For Berkshire Hathaway, a shareholder owns parts of lots of different companies with an assurance based on Buffets statements and reputation that their wealth will grow.  For Sears Holdings? Shareholders own a portion of physical tangible business components that are much harder to guarantee growth.

Align beliefs with understanding

If I yell Fire, everyone reacts almost immediately and reaches the same conclusion–flight.  There’s no visible delay between the declared message and the actions it produces.  The brain wastes no time finding the best match and cues our nervous system and muscles to respond.  No conscious awareness of decision or choice seems at play, move first,  think later. The instantaneous assessment of the environment places Fire in context, and fits a pattern in our memory, and a complete script presents itself making our next moves clear.  We are off following it without questioning its veracity, or applicability. We pay attention to what the script tells us not the ambient information surrounding us, unless of course that information boldly interferes with the expectation found in the script.

Simple question, which scenario came to mind for you?

1. I yell fire when the tinder in the hearth finally catches, and you left the fire pit at the campground to go find matches or more kindling nearby.

2. I’m cooking over a grill and yell Fire when the grease from the chicken has dripped off the foil, landing on the hot coals.

3. I yell fire when I smell something burning and see smoke in great quantities billow around the curtain on the stage in front of us.

I’m betting that your imagination took you to scenario three, the one that represents a scary, fearful situation. Especially since the idea was raised in a wider discussion of shareholder value or returns, a topic that triggers a similar set of automatic reactions depending on the experience or understanding of the listener.

The financial media pundits provide language that makes sense to their readers without appealing to the experience or context of employees or customers.  Our word choices even with the best of intentions don’t guarantee translation of similar expectations and in the case of shareholder value don’t make it easy to make a move without understanding more.

Leaders use of language creates expectations across a diverse set of audiences with vastly different understanding.  To get the people in your organization to produce the necessary EBITDA should the burden of understanding be drilled down to the lowest level of the organization?  Telling them about the challenge or demanding the performance may set the expectation, but leadership needs to do more.  They need to engage in the language and experiences that will trigger the scripts and make it possible for employees to believe their doings and their actions help. I have faith that Lampert is on the task.  It was his words that inspired this post.  His articulation of the convergence of new behaviors made possible by technology supported knowledge, a  complex transformation experience currently shared by many businesses.

Lampert isn’t the only one with an offensive strategy attempting to get out ahead of the curve.  JCPenney, Best Buy and now Barnes & Noble are all experiencing the loss of faith by shareholders that parallels the lost faith of their customers and employees.  As Buffet remarked in his letter, this is not a time for waiting.

“The risks of being out of the game are huge compared to the risks of being in it.”

Lampert’s plans?

“…we will use technology and training to encourage and embrace feedback to improve and make it much more transparent to everyone, thereby increasing accountability at the store and associate level.”

Both of these successful men know what can happen when you yell Fire.  Let’s just hope that the script that gets activated keeps their stakeholders on the same page.  Challenging but not impossible.

 

Just Try It!


 

Hey, Mikey Likes It!

What’s not to like? Try it!

That’s what my mother would say when her children looked suspiciously at unfamiliar food on their plates.  Growing up,the rule was that you had to eat everything on the plate, or at least try it.  Later, my father modified the rule  to you don’t have to like it, but you had to eat it.  It’s how I came to eat asparagus with a glass of milk chaser and how our dog was well fed.

Clearly, not everything that we do,  or feel compelled to do is likeable.  The doing however can and often does prove incredibly satisfying. Likewise, adding knowledge or understanding also makes any activity satisfying. Doing alters what we know. The coordination effort forces us to focus on details we often overlook, or fail to consider relevant and our actions lead us to understand the task differently than our first evaluation. The expression “easier said, than done,” ring a bell?

Experience and experiment, both French words, describe the process of trying, attempting, a trial or the testing of an idea or impulse. The result? We gain new insights and  understanding when we integrate multiple sensory data points at once–as when things we see requires us to coördinate our moves.

I hear and  forget.
I see and I remember.
I Do and I understand.

Confucius wasn’t the only one to understand the power of coordinated multi-sensory input.  Most learning happens informally and when left to chance the results are counterproductive.  Unlearning or replacing what we know with new information requires confrontation; since we find it easy to adapt to a slight change of circumstance when we recognize the common link.  The history of putting wheels on boxes is quite lengthy but it is only very recently that wheels appeared on suitcases, crazy right? Not really. Perceptions often create barriers that are not easily crossed, particularly when formed from a cultural association and not from  direct experience.  Take a second and think about a  restaurant.  Naturally which one, its kind or style that you imagined reflects a choice among numerous variations. What you know about or understand about restaurants as in how to get served, how to dress etc are secondary to the restaurant you imagined; yet they come together as one package of knowledge that determines your behavior.

Experience vs. Source

Information Central

Information Central (Photo credit: pjern)

Try thinking about Africa. Consider how you came to know about it. Africa, per Wikipedia, represents the second-largest and second-most-populous continent in the world with 54 sovereign countries. These facts differ from my intense study in 1969 of the continent in  my sixth grade classroom. I mention it as illustration of the double bind that catches the education system. Like Wikipedia, the material presented to students is as dynamic as the individual contributors to the system but recourse built into the latter may be inappropriately applied.  Should we rate the quality of sources differently than we do a vocation?  Imagine comparing student learning from Wikipedia vs. an educator who has little flexibility in choosing the content requirements used to evaluate their performance. As a student, my sixth grade teacher gave me experiences to collect information from a variety of sources, refashion it to make it meaningful and most importantly encouraged me to keep learning, stay curious and continue to revise what I learned.  We brought the daily headlines into the classroom to share and inspired me to take an ongoing interest in the news.

Gauging Knowledge

045/365 - Comfort Zone

045/365 – Comfort Zone (Photo credit: TheRogue)

Can one gauge that measures knowledge also measure understanding? Who determines sufficiency or the necessary amount? In the US, each grade level has a set of achievement standards at both the Federal level  and state level.

Achievement can be obvious though knowledge and understanding are fluid.  Typically, repeating a fact demonstrates what we know and our ability to recall it without necessarily understanding what the fact means. For example, US middle school students all study the US constitution, and law students do too; but few possess constitutional knowledge comparable to supreme court justices. The justices’ responsibility call for them to understand the constitution at a level of articulation that is actionable.  What I know or believe may not matter or may prove incomplete relative to their ruling.

It’s not just the gauge, but the dynamics of how and what we know changes both externally and internally.  Every one of our senses has equal access to the input in our environment; and yet very little activates our consciousness and not all the input gets tagged to the same experience. In addition the input gets sorted for relevance. Memory reflects the recall coincident of relevant, sensory input associated together. No wonder no two people can recall the same event identically? It’s also why repetition makes us better.

Do anything again and your attention shifts from the first experience memory.  Additional information gets added and tagged for its relevance.  Even if the first time triggered a negative emotion, such as fear, anger or anxiousness, it added more information  to your memory. Emotion does serve as our lookout scout.  It will steer us clear from upsetting circumstances and raise internally doubt or trust issues.

Try it, you'll like it!As this famous Alka Seltzer commercial reminds us, one bad taste makes us unlikely to repeat the experience.  Similarly a new experience when our senses find a near match to an earlier experience, it may get tagged as suspect. Trying something may require us to overcome a prior, related experience. The action taken becomes more meaningful when we attach or identify benefits.  The attachments also impact our willingness to try the same or related experience.

Is open mindedness really possible? Yes,  if you recast open-mindedness as an interest in knowing more and deepening an understanding. Moments of relaxation and comfortable situations make it easier to acquire new information.  In contrast, our natural movements especially those that require no conscious thought, saves us the trouble of processing new information.  The more efficient we become the less we take time to focus on details that differentiate every moment’s passing. Failure to notice, cuts an experience short, underestimates its significance and we move on.

Without notice, there’s no understanding, very little satisfaction and no wonder we feel less accomplished for time spent. Assuming an active focus will engage more of our senses and quickly exhaust us.  It takes energy to reconcile previously held ideas and beliefs to the immediacy of our reality.

Think shopping.  Regardless of what and where you set out to buy something, chances are the expectation may not hold up in the store. More choices or features

It’s why I stop myself from justifying the merits of something and am keen on having people experience for themselves.  Long ago, my movie course instructor warned us to avoid reading reviews before viewing the film.  Sitting and letting the director reveal the story to me does indeed make the film and my experience fresh. If the movie is good, I may need to see it a second time to catch what I missed.  Repeat viewing allows me to deepen my understanding and see things I may have initially missed.

Think about how rarely we get the chance to repeat an experience. Did your appreciation change with repetition?

The socialization we experience of learning in the classroom biases us to expect teachers to know more than students.  understood on movies  I still count by tapping my fingers and don’t hesitate to see if I can fix things myself.  In short, I try first and ask questions later.

Am I old-fashioned?  No, I merely acknowledge that I learn to do better by direct experience.  Thinking is another form of doing and perhaps the limited opportunity to experience some ideas, make them difficult to revise?   Why do I think that everyone should pay their fair share of taxes? What active experience will help me test this idea and see if it works?  Or the idea that bank CEOs are overpaid?

Stay tuned, the idea of adjusting sensibilities continues!

 

Discovery Needs more legs


 

 

As a kid, I remember how much I loved Cracker Jack.  Sure, the caramel flavored popcorn and peanuts were tasty. But the discovery that every box had a prize inside hooked me.

Discovery, the process of realizing something new doesn’t have to happen joyfully. Discovery associates or naturally links in our mind with surprise, so why not celebrate the unexpected emotion, object, or idea too?  Considered as a process, discovery advances our understanding of our environment– its conditions, dimensions, contents and workings.

Discovery is how we learn

Yesterday, the United States celebrated Columbus Day.  I asked my 8-year-old niece what she knew  about Columbus.  She told me he found a new way around the world and “found” America.  Over lunch she and her older 14-year-old brother shared what has become the takeaway on the Columbus story.

Since I was in grade school, the basic story has undergone serious revisions.  Columbus shows how facts change when we acknowledge the legitimacy of other perspectives..  It’s reasonable that the language of the story would change based on your point of view and that additional information might challenge previous assumptions.

In suburban Chicago kids learn about Columbus for the first time in 3rd grade and by middle school they learn Columbus was lost, as in clueless. The facts we know today make it impossible for Columbus to have “discovered” America, particularly when he mistook for Indians the native inhabitants, which further exemplified that Columbus was dumb.

The turnaround of the Columbus story, from a brave, invincible, enterprising captain and discoverer of a new world claimed for Spain, saddens me.  My nephew further explained that  Columbus wasn’t brave, he was headed for jail unless he stepped up to take the voyage .  Really?  This was a new twist on the story, until I realized that my nephew merely turned around the order of the events in the Columbus story.  Columbus did end up in prison toward the end of his life, and may have died there.

Still, were it not for his persistent belief in his calculations that a faster route lay to the west, he wouldn’t have pleaded in royal court after royal court from Italy to Spain for the chance.  It still took courage, leadership once Queen Isabella  granted him three boats and paid for his crew to sail west across the Atlantic, a direction few were willing, and fewer succeeded.

Discovery, tactics to change beliefs

The fuller story of Columbus, the sum of all his activities in life may not suggest heroism, or show signs of a dignified, inspirational, gentleman, warrior or leader.  Kids learn the facts and left to balance them and maybe that’s appropriate.  Discovery is like that, sometimes our first beliefs of people or things shatter with additional perspectives, information, facts and context.

Nike the company, initially revered for its shoes was later vilified when buyers learned the conditions of the factory workers overseas.  Its founders made changes and once again Nike stands tall and stronger than ever. Apple has not yet had the same comeuppance, in part because few people are ready, willing or interested enough to look past the iconic reflections of the brand and its products. Discovery is like that too.

We like what we know and how  it makes us feel.The less I know about Apple, the easier it is for me to feel good.  I can be hipper, cooler with my Apple manufactured technology. Why do I want to know how Apple makes its products? Why does it matter?  Besides, will it suddenly reflect badly on me if I know what Apple does that’s bad and ignore it?

Imagine the SuperPacs using their political campaign tactics to pelt Apple for disregarding their overseas contractors’ working conditions and human rights violations.  Condemning those who profit from another’s misfortune might come back to haunt them.  Circulating this news might be considered shortsighted and run contrary  to the personal Super Pac investor and their interests.  Discovery can be selective.

Discovery and firsts

Children in discoveryDiscovery, doesn’t mean necessarily first. Discovery when nurtured, encouraged and celebrated rewards learning.   Successful businesses uncover markets for their products or services, and yes, I’d prefer business run responsibly but opportunity doesn’t always wait for all perspectives to align.  A responsible discovery process and attitude serves to remind every one of  possible consequences, as in “don’t cut off the hand that feeds you.”

In any first encounter, natural instincts raise our defenses.  In The prisoner’s dilemma model, the consequences of cooperating and not cooperating are very clear.  The dilemma presented reflects an inability to take into consideration what choices others have made before deciding whether to cooperate.  The model demonstrates the complex relationship between the learning and discovery process and our choice of actions. Another model is the Monte Hall problem in which the discovery of more information challenges our ability to win.  Both of these models illustrate that it’s not discovery that presents the problem, but the unsettling feeling of uncertainty that sometimes follows.

The absence of information, may represent a self-imposed limitation. though some problems are more complex and lay outside the bounds of present knowledge. Gaining more knowledge merely invites us to integrate it with what already know, and not dismiss it outright.  Open discovery processes increase possibilities for everyone, and we should begin to help others appreciate and respect discovery more if we want to play with more favorable odds.

Open minds filled with a sense of possibility, make them more accountable for their actions.  Columbus was ultimately accountable to the monarchs that invested in his voyage of discovery.  So the captives he took landed him in prison, impoverished in spite of the riches that resided in the lands he discovered.   None the less, we should do a better job of helping our children understand the value of Discovery and use Columbus day to celebrate and  promote adaptive, innovative thinking.  I hope that’s why Chicago Ideas Week began on Columbus Day, if not I suggest it become a tradition!

Can you think of other examples of the value of open discovery?  Please share them.