We view time linearly, as a sequence, and we are often so wrapped into anticipating what's next and what others are doing that we overlook what is now, what is with us.
Business has become more about sustaining momentum through appropriate structures and processes that build on each other than a collection of temporary wins. Long term viability is the objective. We want vision, mission, and values to align, and we want to take responsibility for their effects downstream.
Which means we should operate by focusing less on getting the strategy noun assumptions right and more on coordinating resources to ensure sufficient capital, assets, and treasure are there to sustain a healthy enterprise.
This is why keeping an eye on the big picture matters — it helps us evaluate the intended and unintended consequences of decisions as we take into account time dependent information and turn knowledge into data. Viability also means how we do social, how we do content, whether we use conversation as a tool or we're just one-way promotions... in sum, how we respond to things after Day 1.
In his annual letter to shareholder, Amazon's Jeff Bezos provides real business examples. It's worth reading actively the whole document (emphasis mine):
“Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?”
That’s a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I’ve been reminding people that it’s Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.
“Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1.”
To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.
I’m interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?
Such a question can’t have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don’t know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here’s a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high-velocity decision making.
Sometimes, companies that focus too much on optimizing and not enough (or at all) on coordinating resources to build something new, optimize their way into a cliff. Things seem to work out just fine for a while. Then some things stop working altogether. But since there were no resources for making new bets, well... and that covers the second highlight — there's no silver bullet, shiny object, one thing. The point is coordinating of sufficient capital, assets, and treasure. They're all different forms of energy.
Where does an organization focus its energy? Here's what Amazon does:
True Customer Obsession
There are many ways to center a business. You can be competitor focused, you can be product focused, you can be technology focused, you can be business model focused, and there are more. But in my view, obsessive customer focus is by far the most protective of Day 1 vitality.
Why? There are many advantages to a customer-centric approach, but here’s the big one: customers are always beautifully, wonderfully dissatisfied, even when they report being happy and business is great. Even when they don’t yet know it, customers want something better, and your desire to delight customers will drive you to invent on their behalf. No customer ever asked Amazon to create the Prime membership program, but it sure turns out they wanted it, and I could give you many such examples.
Staying in Day 1 requires you to experiment patiently, accept failures, plant seeds, protect saplings, and double down when you see customer delight. A customer-obsessed culture best creates the conditions where all of that can happen.
Creating the conditions through lighting many fires is also how we build influence — we show up day in, day out with a point of view, Amazon's is customer obsession, and keep an eye on the long view. We first need to have a clear, unique, and compelling idea of how we see things —a view from somewhere.
It helps us make decisions:
As companies get larger and more complex, there’s a tendency to manage to proxies. This comes in many shapes and sizes, and it’s dangerous, subtle, and very Day 2.
A common example is process as proxy. Good process serves you so you can serve customers. But if you’re not watchful, the process can become the thing. This can happen very easily in large organizations. The process becomes the proxy for the result you want. You stop looking at outcomes and just make sure you’re doing the process right. Gulp. It’s not that rare to hear a junior leader defend a bad outcome with something like, “Well, we followed the process.” A more experienced leader will use it as an opportunity to investigate and improve the process. The process is not the thing. It’s always worth asking, do we own the process or does the process own us? In a Day 2 company, you might find it’s the second.
Another example: market research and customer surveys can become proxies for customers – something that’s especially dangerous when you’re inventing and designing products. “Fifty-five percent of beta testers report being satisfied with this feature. That is up from 47% in the first survey.” That’s hard to interpret and could unintentionally mislead.
Good inventors and designers deeply understand their customer. They spend tremendous energy developing that intuition. They study and understand many anecdotes rather than only the averages you’ll find on surveys. They live with the design.
I’m not against beta testing or surveys. But you, the product or service owner, must understand the customer, have a vision, and love the offering. Then, beta testing and research can help you find your blind spots. A remarkable customer experience starts with heart, intuition, curiosity, play, guts, taste. You won’t find any of it in a survey.
This is where businesses show their true colors, their interpretation of what vision/mission looks like in practice — it's a slow shift, but its results are cumulative. Over reliance on tools and proxies like the Net Promoter Score and software applications vs. observing and verifying what clients and customers actually do, or as we see often in the news, applying rules rigidly, without taking into consideration circumstances.
Good judgement and fair treatment go hand in hand. Trends are leading indicators that there is a shift. Sometimes that shift is cultural and we could see it coming, like the need for businesses to return to being more focused on customers (marketers say customer-centric), sometimes it's dictated by new entrants or unpredictable events.
We want to keep an eye on the emergence of market patterns meaningful to the business:
Embrace External Trends
The outside world can push you into Day 2 if you won’t or can’t embrace powerful trends quickly. If you fight them, you’re probably fighting the future. Embrace them and you have a tailwind.
These big trends are not that hard to spot (they get talked and written about a lot), but they can be strangely hard for large organizations to embrace. We’re in the middle of an obvious one right now: machine learning and artificial intelligence.
Over the past decades computers have broadly automated tasks that programmers could describe with clear rules and algorithms. Modern machine learning techniques now allow us to do the same for tasks where describing the precise rules is much harder.
At Amazon, we’ve been engaged in the practical application of machine learning for many years now. Some of this work is highly visible: our autonomous Prime Air delivery drones; the Amazon Go convenience store that uses machine vision to eliminate checkout lines; and Alexa, our cloud-based AI assistant. (We still struggle to keep Echo in stock, despite our best efforts. A high-quality problem, but a problem. We’re working on it.)
But much of what we do with machine learning happens beneath the surface. Machine learning drives our algorithms for demand forecasting, product search ranking, product and deals recommendations, merchandising placements, fraud detection, translations, and much more. Though less visible, much of the impact of machine learning will be of this type – quietly but meaningfully improving core operations.
Inside AWS, we’re excited to lower the costs and barriers to machine learning and AI so organizations of all sizes can take advantage of these advanced techniques.
Using our pre-packaged versions of popular deep learning frameworks running on P2 compute instances (optimized for this workload), customers are already developing powerful systems ranging everywhere from early disease detection to increasing crop yields. And we’ve also made Amazon’s higher level services available in a convenient form. Amazon Lex (what’s inside Alexa), Amazon Polly, and Amazon Rekognition remove the heavy lifting from natural language understanding, speech generation, and image analysis. They can be accessed with simple API calls – no machine learning expertise required. Watch this space. Much more to come.
Organizations that aren't curious about discovering the facts mistake applications of new technology developments and end up on the shiny object bandwagon. Trends are powerful when they're the fuel that feeds business operations — we can do better, serve our customers better by using xyz technology and tool.
When we master the simple, sustainable actions that accelerate momentum and growth there's a silver lining — we may end up creating opportunity through new products and services as Amazon did by understanding how AI and machine learning can improve core operations.
If the example is Apple, how design fosters creativity and ease of use through simplicity.
It's time for many organizations to have a broader vision of marketing that focuses on the big picture business vs. just communication or promotion. The problem is that so many organizations prune their ranks and staff to stunt long term growth. It starts with a decision:
High-Velocity Decision Making
Day 2 companies make high-quality decisions, but they make high-quality decisions slowly. To keep the energy and dynamism of Day 1, you have to somehow make high-quality, high-velocity decisions. Easy for start-ups and very challenging for large organizations. The senior team at Amazon is determined to keep our decision-making velocity high. Speed matters in business – plus a high-velocity decision making environment is more fun too. We don’t know all the answers, but here are some thoughts.
First, never use a one-size-fits-all decision-making process. Many decisions are reversible, two-way doors. Those decisions can use a light-weight process. For those, so what if you’re wrong? I wrote about this in more detail in last year’s letter.
Second, most decisions should probably be made with somewhere around 70% of the information you wish you had. If you wait for 90%, in most cases, you’re probably being slow. Plus, either way, you need to be good at quickly recognizing and correcting bad decisions. If you’re good at course correcting, being wrong may be less costly than you think, whereas being slow is going to be expensive for sure.
Third, use the phrase “disagree and commit.” This phrase will save a lot of time. If you have conviction on a particular direction even though there’s no consensus, it’s helpful to say, “Look, I know we disagree on this but will you gamble with me on it? Disagree and commit?” By the time you’re at this point, no one can know the answer for sure, and you’ll probably get a quick yes.
This isn’t one way. If you’re the boss, you should do this too. I disagree and commit all the time. We recently greenlit a particular Amazon Studios original. I told the team my view: debatable whether it would be interesting enough, complicated to produce, the business terms aren’t that good, and we have lots of other opportunities. They had a completely different opinion and wanted to go ahead. I wrote back right away with “I disagree and commit and hope it becomes the most watched thing we’ve ever made.” Consider how much slower this decision cycle would have been if the team had actually had to convince me rather than simply get my commitment.
Note what this example is not: it’s not me thinking to myself “well, these guys are wrong and missing the point, but this isn’t worth me chasing.” It’s a genuine disagreement of opinion, a candid expression of my view, a chance for the team to weigh my view, and a quick, sincere commitment to go their way. And given that this team has already brought home 11 Emmys, 6 Golden Globes, and 3 Oscars, I’m just glad they let me in the room at all!
Fourth, recognize true misalignment issues early and escalate them immediately. Sometimes teams have different objectives and fundamentally different views. They are not aligned. No amount of discussion, no number of meetings will resolve that deep misalignment. Without escalation, the default dispute resolution mechanism for this scenario is exhaustion. Whoever has more stamina carries the decision.
I’ve seen many examples of sincere misalignment at Amazon over the years. When we decided to invite third party sellers to compete directly against us on our own product detail pages – that was a big one. Many smart, well-intentioned Amazonians were simply not at all aligned with the direction. The big decision set up hundreds of smaller decisions, many of which needed to be escalated to the senior team.
“You’ve worn me down” is an awful decision-making process. It’s slow and de-energizing. Go for quick escalation instead – it’s better.
So, have you settled only for decision quality, or are you mindful of decision velocity too? Are the world’s trends tailwinds for you? Are you falling prey to proxies, or do they serve you? And most important of all, are you delighting customers? We can have the scope and capabilities of a large company and the spirit and heart of a small one. But we have to choose it.
A huge thank you to each and every customer for allowing us to serve you, to our shareowners for your support, and to Amazonians everywhere for your hard work, your ingenuity, and your passion.
As always, I attach a copy of our original 1997 letter. It remains Day 1.
Everything has accelerated because we're connected in more that one way, the deeply human connections we have are now more visible. Economies of scale have increased the amount of just in time sourcing from anywhere that is convenient. Which means decisions cannot be slow.
But here's the thing, as Bezos says, they can be reversed. We can get over the ego trip of not wanting to go back on something we said, can't we? Steve Jobs was quick at reversing course when proven wrong and moving on. When we're smart about the bets we take and how we do it, we can be nimble.
We're big enough to be able to disagree and yet support decisions. True leaders model this behavior, otherwise they're just people with power. Flagging problems early is the hallmark of a proactive business professional — especially when it comes to misalignment issues, especially at a time when so many organizations are staffed by specialists, each with a specific view of the business. This stuff festers, get rid of it. It's why people leave.
The letter addresses the question of why Amazon is successful. It's worth reflecting on its content.
We get more done in a short conversation than in dozens of email/online exchanges. When we're face-to-face with someone, it becomes apparent quickly what their energy feels like, if they have presence, how they relate in the environment — do they respond or react? What's their level of engagement? How's their ability to listen? Is the exchange leading us to a new place?
To be effective with conversation, we want to do meticulous research, network our thoughts and ideas prior to meeting with someone. Preparation is a sign of respect and professionalism... if we require it of the other party, we meet the opportunity with care on our side.
Take meetings, they should be pragmatic opportunities to seek a particular outcome, not just vague attempts at “getting everyone on the same page.” It's much more effective when everyone is vested in the outcome to achieve greater results.
In Moments of Impact Christ Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon say there are three specific actions that work to move a project, program, and organization or team forward:
We do know conversation is a powerful tool, but we're sorely out of practice on how to use it successfully to negotiate on our behalf and get better results. It's not a waste of time when we design better meetings, more fruitful interviews, and more resilient businesses.
The most convincing argument we can have is the one we make for ourselves. Rather than trying to convince and convert others, we want to create the opportunity for them to discover the real issue for themselves. We do that through arranging powerful learning experiences.
Using some examples from recent news — experience what service feels like on the other end of corporate policy, as a customer, and see what it looks like for everyone who witnesses. Shifting the context from the comfortable seats at the office to the real life situation and the personal repercussions is a good way of breaking out from a frame of reference and look at a problem in new ways.
To turn commitment into confidence, it's what we do and not just what we say that matters:
“We are committed to providing a level of service to our customers that makes us a leader in the airline industry. We understand that to do this, we need to have a product we are proud of and employees who like coming to work every day.”
We can intellectualize presentations and promises, but unless we test them in real world, we won't know how it could go. The recent United incident is an example of how rules and a focus on a one-dimensional view of value can lead us astray.
Working sessions that re-create experiences teach us much more than regular meetings. Inertia in organizations is a powerful force, but real life testing can help us disrupt it and get outside our comfort zone.
Decision-making is a complex process that needs to take into account data and experience, reason and emotion. This is where the mind is fundamentally different from the brain itself — we make up our mind based on our whole selves.
In Descartes' Error neuroscientist Anthonio Damasio tells the story of a patient, Elliott, who survived a brain tumor through surgery, but whose life turned into chaos despite his tests for IQ, language ability, memory, personality disorders, formal reasoning, more judgement, and spatial orientation being within norm. His life fell apart because of a string of poor decisions.
“He had failed to honor commitments to his family and colleagues, trusted people he shouldn't have, and made choices that appeared random.” Elliott's emotions had been flattened by the surgery. Says Damasio:
Elliott's loss of the ability to feel emotions had so impaired judgement that he could no longer make sound decisions.
Decisions are not just intellectual exercises, they involve the body as well. When we buy things, expensive things like a house, a car, and yes these days even an airline ticket, we look for reasons to rationalize the emotional appeal of our choices with data. Smart organizations address this need.
So we want to make room for emotion in our design of strategic conversations, get cognitive empathy involved. The trade-off is not between head and heart, but evaluating experiences based on a combination of the two. The value metric is the degree to which we involve the whole person.
Typical outcomes of these kinds of conversations include insights on where we spend our energy, which is precious, the timing of our actions, which may be off, and basing our game plan on principles rather than rules, which serve us address consequences better in an uncertain world.
A working session is different from a meeting because topics and activities follow an experiential sequence. It's useful to follow a narrative arc. Ertel and Solomon cite German playwright Gustav Freytag's construct — we have an introduction, then rising action that takes us to a turning point from which we have cascading action and a resolution.
Deejays use playlists to explore moods and paces, great speakers follow general principles to build their argument. All these frameworks focus on the experience from the audience point of view — the pace, sequence, and its building blocks. This is how conversation should flow as well.
The narrative arc we construct needs to be based on understanding an issue from the point of views of the specific group of people facing it. When we discuss a human challenge, we want to enroll the group of people who are affected to understand the implications of our decisions from differing points of view.
Here's why it's important to have a narrative arc:
it's hard — if not impossible — for a strategic conversation to generate insight and impact unless there are emotionally challenging moments.
The group needs to “feel the burn of real tension.” The resulting experience becomes memorable and triggers a desire to act. When members of an organization feel personally vested in the meaning they create by behaving in a certain way, that's when the strategic part of conversation comes to life to serve its purpose. Behavior creates attitudes, and not the other way around.
But again, we should not assume either/or, we need both — “strategy as thought” and “strategy as experienced,” we need to know and feel.
Conversation is a powerful technology to negotiate meaning, make sense of issues/opportunities, ask better questions, and assess energy, which is a better measure of value. The over reliance on writing and online/email exchanges has many out of practice, especially with learning how to listen. Which is different than monitoring and the reason why so many organizations and brands are still conversationally tone deaf.
“Our brains were built for walking,” says John Medina in Brain Rules — at the tune of 12 miles per day. Numerous studies have demonstrated that exercise is good for the body... and for the brain. The prefrontal cortex and medial temporal cortex control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who exercise.
Though a great deal of our evolutionary history remains shrouded in controversy, the one fact that every paleoanthropologist on the planet accepts can be summarized in two words: we moved. A lot.
As soon as our Homo erectus ancestors evolved, about 2 million years ago, they started moving out of town. Our direct ancestors, Homo sapiens, rapidly did the same thing.
Because bountiful rainforests began to shrink, collapsing the local food supply, our ancestors were forced to scamper up and dine out. Instead of moving up, down, and across complex arboreal environments, which required a lot of dexterity, we began walking back and forth across arid savannahs, which required a lot of stamina.
Homo sapiens started in Africa and then took a victory lap around the rest of the world. The speed of the migration is uncertain; the number changes as we find new physical evidence of habitation and as we're better able to isolate and characterize ancient DNA.
Anthropologists can say that our ancestors moved fast and they moved far. Males may have walked and run 10 to 30 kilometers a day, says anthropologist Richard Wragham. The estimate for females is half that. Up to 12 miles.
12 miles is the distance scientists estimate we moved in a day, every day. The terrain was unpredictable, people needed to steer clear of dangers, be ready for any kind of encounter, and navigate their way out of rough spots without a GPS.
Moving helped stay alert and fit, given our physical evolutionary disadvantages — no fangs, little body hair, and so on. What we did have was our brain and the cognitive skills that came with it, which developed on the go, literally.
Scientists have conducted extensive research on the positive effects of exercise on aging populations. Movement gets blood to our brain, which brings glucose for energy and oxygen to absorb the toxic electrons left over from the process, and stimulates the protein that keeps neutrons connecting. This is what keeps people active in their later years.
Medina refers to a conversation between renown architect Frank Lloyd Wright and journalist Mike Wallace:
Wallace: “When I walk into St. Patrick's Cathedral... here in New York City, I'm enveloped in a feeling of reverence.”
Wright: “Sure it isn't an inferiority complex?”
Wallace: “Just because the building is big and I'm small, you mean?”
Wallace: “I think not.”
Wright: “I hope not.”
Wallace: “You feel nothing when you go into St. Patrick's?”
Wright: “Regret... because it isn't the thing that really represents the spirit of independence and the sovereignty of the individual which I feel should be represented in our edifices devoted to culture.”
This is a deep observation that takes the conversation to a new place rather than just going along with the common comment. In a separate occasion, Wright said, “the truth is more important than the facts.” And so is an agile mind filled with curiosity and imagination.
The difference in the aging process of someone like Wright who stay active in his later years and someone who conducts a more sedentary life is stark. Scientists found that an active lifestyle enhances aging — people who move more, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Movement elevates cognitive performance — improving the ability to reason quickly, think abstractly, and improvise building off knowledge to solve problems. Four months of exercise can help sedentary people get back online, so to speak. Walking several times a week is sufficient, a strengthening regimen expands those benefits.
We do some of our best thinking with our whole bodies, not just the head. Steve Jobs was a fan of walking meetings, and so is Mark Zuckerberg, and it's easy to see why they would be comfortable with talking while walking side by side with someone. That is the body position men prefer when in conversation based on how their brains process information.
I've been experimenting with walking meetings for a while and I find them reinvigorating. Going outside gets us out of the same old environment, and if we plan well by going to a park or a walking trail, we come into contact with nature, which gets our creative juices going and has a calming effect on us. Walking is also an equalizer, people side by side tend to have a better focus on issues rather than at the other person.
We should get out more, move around, experience being side by side with others, and let our imagination soar.
Albert Einstein made extensive use of analogy to understand concepts and thought experiments to imagine difficult concepts. His writing was the product of creative thinking — the thought experiments and testing the physicist conducted give a useful framework of the scientific approach to reasoning.
Between 1936-1938, Einstein worked with Polish physicist Leopold Infeld at Princeton University. It was there that the two scientists co-formulated the equation describing star movements and co-wrote The Evolution of Physics. In it, they explain why certain theories came into being and their meaning to modern physics.
Modern physics is a way of looking at problems, they say, testing them and resolving them through scientific theory. Each time scientific theory solves a problem, it creates a new set of problems that furthers scientific inquiry. Which is why the mechanical view of physics gives way to field theory that in turn gives way to relativity, which leads us to quantum mechanics.
At each step of the intellectual journey, we need to discard some ideas to make room for the new theory, and at the same time we explain and understand others more fully. In the preface, Einstein and Infeld say:
The book is a simple chat between you and us. You may find it boring or interesting, dull or exciting, but our aim will be accomplished if these pages give you some idea of the eternal struggle of the inventive human mind for a fuller understanding of the laws governing physical phenomena.
The intention was to sketch a broad outline of the history of physics, “to find a connection between the world of idea and the world of phenomena.” We can attempt to solve the great mystery that is nature, but in the end, we realize that much is still remaining unsolved, if it ever will be.
Knowing reality is a more complex challenge than meets the eye. They say:
In nearly every detective novel since the admirable stories of Conan Doyle there comes a time when the investigator has collected all the facts he needs for at least some phase of his problem. These facts often seem quite strange, incoherent, and wholly unrelated.
The great detective, however, realizes that no further investigation is needed at the moment, and that only pure thinking will lead to a correlation of the facts collected. So he plays his violin, or lounges in his armchair enjoying a pipe, when suddenly, by Jove, he has it! Not only does he have an explanation for the clues at hand but he knows that certain other events must have happened. Since he now knows exactly where to look for it, he may go out, if he likes, to collect further confirmation for his theory.
It is a familiar fact to readers of detective fiction that a false clue muddles the story and postpones the solution.
Intuitive conclusions based on immediate observation are not always to be trusted, for they sometimes lead to the wrong clues. But where does intuition go wrong?
In a good mystery story the most obvious clues often lead to the wrong suspects… the most obvious intuitive explanation is often the wrong one.
Galileo's discovery of scientific reasoning “was one of the most important achievements in the history of human thought, and marks the real beginning of physics.” It was then that we learned that believing intuitive conclusions from observation wasn't a sound approach.
A comparison of the Aristotelian intuition and Galileo's new clue help us see the difference with clarity:
Comparing the two methods of approaching the problem, we can say: the intuitive idea is the greater the action, the greater the velocity. Thus the velocity shows whether or not external forces are acting on a body.
The new clue found by Galileo is : if a body is neither pushed, pulled, nor acted on in any other way, or, more briefly, if no external forces act on a body, it moves uniformly, that is, always with the same velocity along a straight line. Thus, the velocity does not show whether or not external forces are acting on a body.
Galileo's conclusion, the correct one, was formulated a generation later by Newton as the law of inertia.
Inertia impacts our work in organizations, so it's a useful concept to learn to apply to to real world problems. Thinking about a potential experiment under ideal conditions helps us understand the problem more fully — we never have uniform motion in reality because we can't eliminate the influence of external factors.
Galileo replaced a faulty thought habit with a new one, which prompts a new question — how do we see the effect of external forces on an object if it's not velocity? The answer is our intervention, our pushing and pulling. Which then leads us to the concepts of “force” in relationship to “change” as applied to “velocity.” Which in turn leads us to Newton's gravity principle.
This is a simple illustration of how one thought experiment leads to formulating a theory to understand the underlying phenomena and keep exploring how one concept leads to another using questions. In the process of knowing new things, we deepen our understanding and we move into the realm of science:
Science must create its own language, its own concepts, for its own use. Scientific concepts often begin with those used in ordinary language for the affairs of everyday life, but they develop quite differently. They are transformed and lose the ambiguity associated with them in ordinary language, gaining in rigorousness so that they may be applied to scientific thought.
Our imagination helps us move away from old ideas and stay open to new ones:
Our interest here lies in the first stages of development, in following initial clues, in showing how new… concepts are born in the painful struggle with old ideas. We are concerned only with pioneer work in science, which consists of finding new and unexpected paths of development; with the adventures in scientific thought which create an ever-changing picture of the universe. The initial and fundamental steps are always of a revolutionary character.
Scientific imagination finds old concepts too confining, and replaces them by new ones. The continued development along any line already initiated is more in the nature of evolution, until the next turning point is reached when a still newer field must be conquered. In order to understand, however, what reasons and what difficulties force a change in important concepts, we must know not only the initial clues, but also the conclusions which can be drawn.
Most of the fundamental ideas of science are essentially simple, and may, as a rule, be expressed in a language comprehensible to everyone. To follow up these ideas demands the knowledge of a highly refined technique of investigation.
We search for new ideas when the old ones have run out of juice, out of necessity. This is still how we face change in business, we consider new ways when we're forced, when the velocity of change has an impact on the things we care about — mostly profitability.
Yet we forget that for the effects to become obvious, the forces have been in motion for a while and often fail to assess past decisions and their cumulative effect.
Nearly every great advance in science arises from a crisis in the old theory, through an endeavor to find a way out of the difficulties created. We must examine old ideas, old theories, although they belong to the past, for this is the only way to understand the importance of the new ones and the extent of their validity.
In the first pages of our book we compared the role of an investigator to that of a detective who, after gathering the requisite facts, finds the right solution by pure thinking. In one essential this comparison must be regarded as highly superficial. Both in life and in detective novels the crime is given. The detective must look for letters, fingerprints, bullets, guns, but at least he knows that a murder has been committed. This is not so for a scientist….
For the detective the crime is given, the problem formulated: who killed Cock Robin? The scientist must, at least in part, commit his own crime, as well as carry out the investigation. Moreover, his task is not to explain just one case, but all phenomena which have happened or may still happen.
Even when forced, we drag out feet and make half-hearted attempts to bolt new ideas onto old ones that may not hold them. But the bigger problem is that we're in love with quick fixes and answers rather than appreciating the power of better questions.
Yet we may choose to be conservative and seek a solution [to a result that shakes our belief] within the frame of old ideas. Difficulties of this kind, sudden and unexpected obstacles in the triumphant development of a theory, arise frequently in science. Sometimes a simple generalization of the old ideas seems, at least temporarily, to be a good way out…
Very often, however, it is impossible to patch up an old theory, and the difficulties result in its downfall and the rise of a new one.
The formulation of a problem is often more essential than its solution, which may be merely a matter of mathematical or experimental skill. To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.
A new idea helps us gain a broader view of the terrain upon which we draw our maps. The point is that embarking on the discovery trains us to master how to deal with obstacles:
Creating a new theory is not like destroying an old barn and erecting a sky scraper in its place. It is rather like climbing a mountain, gaining new and wider views, discovering new connections between our starting point and its rich environment. But the point from which we started still exists and can be seen, although it appears smaller and forms a tiny part of our broad view gained by the mastery of the obstacles on our way up.
The value of science is that it helps us create knowledge we can use to understand the nature of reality, even as reality itself continues to be a moving target. This is important creative work.
Science forces us to create new ideas, new theories. Their aim is to break down the wall of contradictions which frequently blocks the way of scientific progress. All the essential ideas in science were born in a dramatic conflict between reality and our attempts at understanding. Here again is a problem for the solution of which new principles are needed.
The association of solved problems with those unsolved may throw new light on our difficulties by suggesting new ideas. It is easy to find a superficial analogy which really expresses nothing. But to discover some essential common features, hidden beneath a surface of external differences, to form, on this basis, a new successful theory, is important creative work.
The Evolution of Physics is a wonderful primer for seeing the bigger picture. It's a simple reminder of the usefulness of thinking to thought, as physicist David Bohm would say. See also why when we work on tree ideas, we make history.
[image: Einstein with Infeld]
Stuart Brand is the creator and editor of the Whole Earth Catalog. As the co-founder and President of the Long Foundation, he contributed several titles from his private library to a new project by the Foundation — a Manual for Civilization collection. The Interval, that has since received funding and opened its doors in San Francisco, June 2014.
The Long Now foundation is an organization that was established to “provide a counterpoint to today's accelerating culture and help make long-term thinking more common.”
The idea with The Interval was to create a space that would welcome people interested in learning through books and participating in some sort of scenium, a collaborative space for dialogue and mutual influence. It was Brian Eno who popularized the term scenium. The Long Foundation asked a number of prominent readers to suggest books that assemble knowledge essential for us to maintain, extend and (if needed) recreate what humans have achieved thus far.
Here are Stewart Brand’s recommendations:
It was the late Umberto Eco who said, “We like lists because we don't want to die.”
“The list is the origin of culture. It’s part of the history of art and literature. What does culture want? To make infinity comprehensible.
It also wants to create order — not always, but often. And how, as a human being, does one face infinity?
How does one attempt to grasp the incomprehensible? Through lists, through catalogs, through collections in museums and through encyclopedias and dictionaries.
There is an allure to enumerating how many women Don Giovanni slept with: It was 2,063, at least according to Mozart’s librettist, Lorenzo da Ponte.
We also have completely practical lists — the shopping list, the will, the menu — that are also cultural achievements in their own right.”
Brand's book, The Clock of the Long Now, focused on answering a key question, “How do we make long-term thinking automatic and common instead of difficult and rare?” Thus, how do we make the taking of long-term responsibility inevitable? By building a Clock of the mind, an instrument for thinking about time in a different way. How Buildings Learn is an exploration of how buildings adapt best when constantly refined and reshaped by their occupants, and that architects can mature from being artists of space to becoming artists of time. The book inspired a 6-part TV series for the BBC.
[image by Robert Stone]
“If you're going to make a mistake, make it loud so everyone else sounds wrong.”
He was a pioneer, considered the father of violin jazz. He played with guitarist Eddie Lang in the 1920s and 1930s. Venuti worked with some of the most known musicians and jazz figures of that period — including, Benny Goodman, the Dorsey Brothers, Bing Crosby, Bix Beiderbecke, Jack Teagarden, the Boswell Sisters, Adrian Rollini, and Frank Signorelli.
When Lang dies in 1933, Venuti's career seemed to wane. The musician was relatively unknown through the 1950s. Then after playing in the 1960s in Desert Inn Hotel in Las Vegas he was rediscovered and he started doing a series of recordings with other musicians in the 1970s.
Innovation that helped redefine a style with some success early on, a lot of work and dedication in the middle, and a new wind in his sails on his third age. Commitment creates confidence. Venuti was defined a virtuoso artist with an impressive playing style, and he was interesting in more than one way, including a wicked sense of humor.
A very private person, Venuti's life story was punctuated by an interesting note — when he died in 1978 nobody was sure of his age. Son of immigrants from Italy he was either born on a ship from Lecco or in Philadelphia, where he began studying the violin.
The point of this story, of Venuti's quote up top, is that commitment comes first. There's tremendous power in making commitments during negotiations, because we do what we say, take care to draw a line, so we have clarity, and open the door for win/win by asking the other party to do their part.
If we look for fair, our word begins to appreciate in value, which is one way to build a good reputation. Many of us would rather do business with people we can trust. It's another way of saying that when we commit to making promises we intend to keep, we grow our confidence that we'll be able to make better promises in the future.
One application of this principle is when we're building a new brand. To go from unknown to respected, we want to pick a niche or problem we solve, commit to it, and then create value. Innovation may get us noticed, but it's consistency over the long haul that delivers. Think compound effects of building competence and coming through.
Another way of talking about commitment is saying we have a growth mindset. A concept popularized by psychologist Carol Dweck, the growth mindset is not just about effort, it's about learning to learn, being a lifelong learner who seeks to improve how we solve problems. The second application is about motivation.
Businesses and people who are motivated by challenges, finding opportunity, building a team, mentoring others or being player-coaches, who seek improvement over genius, are highly determined to succeed over being spot on all the time end up attracting from a more diverse pool of candidates.
According to Paradigm and Textio#, jobs with a high density of fixed mindset language fill 11 times more slowly. Another way of saying that is that companies can find suitable candidates 1.5 times faster. If we go with the time is money metaphor, well then. Love learning quintuples the impact.
Language does matter — musically, in written form, verbally, and even non verbally. Another way of looking at motivation with language is by observing the terms people use when they talk about work. The tells are based on the words and syntax they use in specific contexts and body language.
Proactive people tend to talk about getting the job done, they start things... early in their career they may act too quickly, or jump in head first. Direct language, short,active sentences that convey confidence are some indications we're dealing with a go-getter. Physically, we observe electric presence. An extremely proactive person is impatient and forceful.
Reactive people tend to analyze and wait until conditions are right. Use of passive verb construction, verbs made into nouns, or terms like thinking about, analyzing, waiting, speaking about things being out of their control, and overuse of conditionals like could, might are tells. Willingness to sit for long periods of time is also an indication.
But as there is no average person (really), people who are mostly proactive and mostly reactive are outliers — the majority are a bit of both, with experience they can balance each based on context. There's a lot more to language applied to marketing. One application might look at criteria important to customers and what kind of questions we should ask to elicit that information or observe it in language patterns.
Commitment creates confidence or builds it. We start on the path by being curious. Innovators like Venuti (which is like saying the Latin veni in plural, those who came) pick up something out of curiosity, then develop a skill through commitment and deliberate practice as their build their confidence.
Organizations that hire people with a growth mindset have established a culture that focuses on improving and learning new things rather than being fixed onto “this is the way we do things here.” Stories are more powerful than data alone, they attract and keep people accordingly.
We're often persuaded to go with certain options because we become emotionally attached to an idea, which is where the power of branding comes in. Many of s are familiar with the famous cola blind tasting experiment where both the direct exposure to the drink and the indirect one, the brand, contributed to the mental experience of taste.
When we make decisions about things that matter — like buying a house, or picking investment options — we'd love to think we coolly weigh our options to understand what's at stake. But that's often not the case. Our unconscious assumptions and biases have a stronger hold on us than we know.
“As a result, many of our most basic assumptions about ourselves, and society, are false,” says Leonard Mlodinov in Subliminal. The influence of our unconscious mind impacts our collective decision-making as well. Mlodinov uses the financial world as an example. He says:
Since money is very important to us, each individual should be motivated to make financial decisions based exclusively on conscious and rational deliberation. That's why the foundations of classical economic theory are build on the idea that people do just that — that they behave rationally, in accordance with the guiding principle of self-interest.
While no one has figured out how to devise a general economic theory that takes into account the fact that “rationally” is not how people act, plenty of economic studies have demonstrated the societal implications of our collective deviation from the cold calculations of the conscious mind.
Doing our due diligence before picking a stock should come before gravitating toward one whose name is easy to pronounce. But rather than looking at business environment and company's financials as Warren Buffett would recommend, the ease of pronunciation ends up affecting decisions. That's because:
The ease with which a person can process information (such as the name of a stock) does exert an unconscious effect on people's assessment of that information.
Research on IPOs data bears this — the stocks with the ticker symbols that are easier to pronounce initially fare better, which might prompt some to choose such a name. This effect wears off over time as people get used to the symbol and the company's reputation and track record, or how it's done in the recent past, come into play.
Mlodinov mentions the influence of other extraneous factors, like sunshine, as having a positive influence over our actions. The city weather impacts human trading on Wall Street, as well. More studies conducted in casinos demonstrated that people are more generous with tips when they're winning.
But we should also be conscious of how our minds seek patterns, thus look for connections in data where none exist. Which is why researchers repeated the weather and trading study in cities other than New York and found that the positive correlation to sunshine stood.
The clincher, however predictable the correlation, is that individual buying and selling based on the observation would not work (as we could not reach a large enough sample of trades.) Something to keep in mind as our weather patterns become increasingly more uncertain and more trading is algorithmic.
We're aware only of our conscious influences, and so have only partial information. As a result, our view of ourselves and our motivations, and of society is like a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing. We fill in blanks and make guesses, but the truth about us is far more complex and subtle than that which can be understood as the straightforward calculations of conscious and rational minds.
We perceive, we remember our experience, we make judgements, we act — and in all these endeavors we are influenced by factors we aren't aware of.
Our brain processes information in two parallel tiers, one conscious and one unconscious. Often we also mistake a frame problem for an information problem. Instead of asking relevant questions about a situation or issue, our brain fills in using information stored in our mental database, says Duncan Watts in Everything is Obvious* once you know the answer.
The “filling in” process is instant and so effortless that we are rarely aware it is happening at all. We don't know that something is missing because it doesn't reach out attention threshold. There's a system we can use to figure out why people behave the way they do. To understand why we do what we do, we must look at incentives, for starters.
When someone gifts something, it creates a future obligation psychologically, for example. While on the surface this would make no sense, “It is just rational according to a different set of premises we were unfamiliar with before,” says Watts.
To understand behavior we need to figure out the underlying incentives, motivations, opportunities, and perceptions. At least this is how we think we think, rationally. But understanding when it comes to human behavior is complex. Says Watts:
Rationalizing human behavior is precisely an exercise in simulating, in our mind's eye, what it would be like to be the person whose behavior we are trying to understand. Only when we can imagine this simulated version of ourselves responding in the manner of the individual in question do we really feel that we have understood the behavior in question.
And yet... our mental simulations have a tendency to ignore certain types of factors that turn out to be important.
The reason is that when we think about how we think, we instinctively emphasize consciously accessible costs and benefits such as those associated with motivations, preferences, and beliefs — the kinds of factors that predominate in social scientists' models of rationality.
Defaults, by contrast, are a part of the environment in which the decision makes operates, and so affect behavior in a way that is largely invisible to the conscious mind, and therefore largely absent from our commonsense explanations of behavior.
Common sense is not that common, after all. This is why priming a person with positive associations and reducing uncertainty help motivate action. In Pre-Suasion social psychologist Robert Cialdini calls “openers” the anchors or primers we use, because they have the dual function of starting the process and clearing the way for the persuasive part.
Our social connections are also strong motivating factors. The environment where we have existing relationships triggers a universal principle of identity to influence us.
All the evidence from psychology and behavioral research taken together point to how many factors that influence our decisions and affect our behaviors are outside our conscious mind — even as we may rationalize after the fact. There's more going on than meets the eye — we have framing, anchoring, priming, availability, loss aversion, and overconfidence issues.
“What would I eliminate if I had a magic wand? Overconfidence,” says Daniel Kahneman. The author of the best seller Thinking Fast and Slow and winner of the Nobel prize in economics:
... is downbeat about the capacity of his brand of psychology to effect change in the world. I imagine he would simply argue he’s a realist about human nature. And, indeed, studies showing that “skilled” analysts are hopeless at predicting the price of shares have yet to translate into mass sackings or even reduced bonuses on Wall Street or in the City. The same goes for evidence that the influence of a high-quality CEO on the performance of a company is barely greater than chance.
That may well be, but until then, there's a simple way to investigate whether it's our unconscious driving us, or we're making a conscious effort to understand things, and that is by asking questions — saying, “Can I fix it?” is better than stating “I will Fix it!” for our overconfidence.
Good listening skills create an advantage in life — we learn so much more when we understand the feelings and concerns that come across when someone is talking. Just like when we read a good book, we want to make sure we're still and attuned to the actual words, rather than skimming and jumping around without paying attention.
Great negotiators increase the amount of information they have about the interests expressed by the other side by listening. A better understanding of someone's interests creates clarity about what's important and gives us a chance to increase our power.
We make trade-offs in business every day often without thinking about options or making interests explicit — even our own. Reaching a forced compromise when working on a contract, for example a scope of work, or preparing to ask for a raise, even when planning the family vacation, is not as powerful as achieving agreement on the best possible results.
When we focus on interests rather than positions, or assumptions, we have the opportunity to invent new outcomes. Interests are not necessarily monetary — they could be driven by love for the work, or lifestyle choices — it's a good idea to keep an open mind, rather than assuming everyone is motivated by the same reasons, even in business.
Roger Fisher and William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Process talk about power triggers in Getting to Yes. They say there's power in inventing elegant options where the interests of both parties dovetail each other. A good best alternative option to an agreement (BATNA) empowers us to walk away to a more attractive solution for us when things take a turn for the worst:
In addition to improving your overall BATNA (what you will do if the negotiations fail to reach an agreement), you should also prepare your “micro-BATNA” — if no agreement is reached at this meeting, what is the best outcome? It helps to draft in advance a good exit line to use if a meeting is inconclusive.
Efforts to improve one's own alternatives and to lower the other side's estimate of theirs are critical ways to enhance our negotiating power.
To be clear, the goal for removing an incentive that weakens our best alternative is to create a fair outcome, not exploit the other party. Negotiations that consider the interests of both parties are more powerful. Fairness enhances our reputation. But that is only part of the deal. The other part is commitment — when we make a promise, we hold ourselves to it.
The commitments we make enhance our power in three ways:
1. we can commit to what we will do, which is within our control — this is the one offer we're willing to accept, even as we don't exclude others. A concrete offer is our best chance for success.
Say for example that a project is going longer than anticipated based on scope. We could offer to add scope at an incremental cost. To reach agreement, it's enough to say “yes” to that offer. But we're also open to capping what we consider a deliverable to hit a certain time frame if the other party is not open to tapping additional budgets. It's a good idea to provide our BATNA as well to clarify the consequences of a “no,” in whichever form it comes (sometimes it's a studied “not yes.”)
2.with extreme care, we can also be explicit about what we will not do — this comes at a potential relationship cost.
In an ideal world, the alternative option we offer is fair, it takes into account the interests of both parties. For the example above it would mean delivering the most complete project possible, given the circumstances, resources and delta between promises made/kept. When we talk about what we will not do, we're in a “take it or leave it mode.” This commitment is a last resort kind of power — we make it after we've explored other options, as in the example above, and when we have no choice. A project have a starting and end date. Overruns may imperil other projects and we're called to make trade-offs, for example our energy trying to do too many things at once has a cost.
3. and we can clarify the commitments we'd like the other party to make — this is where we take into account the promises made.
We want to be clear about what will satisfy their part of the deal. It's an if/then kind of scenario. If we do what is on offer, for example the most complete project possible within a certain time frame (we can choose to be generous), then the other party will commit to wrapping it up and honoring an end date as final.
Each source of power should fit with the others. Fisher and Ury say:
if a negotiator has a strong BATNA, he or she may confront the other side with it, threatening to walk away unless the last offer is accepted. This is likely to detract from the persuasive power of the negotiator's argument about why the offer is fair. If you're going to communicate your BATNA, it would be better to do so in ways that respect the relationship, leave open the possibility of two-way communication, underscore the legitimacy of your last offer, suggest how your offer meets the other side's interests, and so forth.
The total impact of such negotiation power as you have will be greater if each element is used in ways that reinforce the others.
The commitments we make have more power when we're fair and reasonable, even as we're firm in keeping them. It's easier to be effective when we believe in what we're saying and doing because they're rooted in our values and personal culture. What we say and do speak about us as a person.
Getting to “yes” is a process that involves a wise agreement that is efficient and improves the relationships of both parties. Getting to Yes is a useful primer on how to think about negotiation and what to do when things go smoothly and when we hit a few bumps.
We call an activity, concept, catchphrase or piece of media which spreads, often as mimicry, from person to person online an Internet meme. Many have been circulating in social networks over the last several years, chances are you've seen at least two.
Because clever marketers have been using them to create interest in products, as with The New Old Spice Guy. We wouldn't have heard about the 2006 action thriller Snakes on a Plane had it not been for memes. Yet buzz doesn't necessarily translate into box office success.
Another example is the successful Dumb Ways to Die, an Australian public service announcement campaign by Metro Trains in Melbourne to promote railway safety. Its message was potentially life-saving — according to Metro Trains, the campaign contributed to a more than 30 percent reduction in “near-miss” accidents. A bigger win than all the awards it got.
The origin of the word “meme” comes from biology. It was first coined by British entomologist and evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene. Dawkins coins the term from a Greek word 'mimeme,' which means something imitated, to define the unit of culture we transmit to each other:
I think that a new kind of replicator has recently emerged on this very planet. It is staring us in the face. It is still in its infancy, still drifting clumsily about in its primeval soup, but already it is achieving evolutionary change at a rate that leaves the old gene panting far behind. The new soup is the soup of human culture.
We need a name for the new replicator, a noun that conveys the idea of a unit of cultural transmission, or a unit of imitation. ‘Mimeme’ comes from a suitable Greek root, but I want a monosyllable that sounds a bit like ‘gene’. I hope my classicist friends will forgive me if I abbreviate mimeme to meme. If it is any consolation, it could alternatively be thought of as being related to ‘memory’, or to the French word meme. It should be pronounced to rhyme with ‘cream’.
Examples of memes are tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.
Just as genes propagate themselves in the gene pool by leaping from body to body via sperms or eggs, so memes propagate themselves in the meme pool by leaping from brain to brain via a process which, in the broad sense, can be called imitation.
If a scientist hears, or reads about, a good idea, he passes it on to his colleagues and students. He mentions it in his articles and his lectures. If the idea catches on, it can be said to propagate itself, spreading from brain to brain.
As my colleague N. K. Humphrey neatly summed up an earlier draft of this chapter:
‘… memes should be regarded as living structures, not just metaphorically but technically. When you plant a fertile meme in my mind you literally parasitize my brain, turning it into a vehicle for the meme’s propagation in just the way that a virus may parasitize the genetic mechanism of a host cell.’
They're a form of cultural transmission, a way to share ideas with each other to have fun like with LOL cats and have something to signal as FTW, which means for the win. Memes as packaged units of content are ideal for our social need to connect with each other — artifacts perfect to spread gossip and rumors.