Harvard Business Review



For most of American history, the rhythms of everyday life served to facilitate intellectual cross-fertilization. From colonial villages to frontier towns, and from urban tenements to first-ring suburbs, American life was long centered uniquely on what Tocqueville and others termed “townships.” Yes, distinctions like race and ethnicity divided society, but while Europeans defined themselves by social class, Americans were much more focused on the neighbors who lived and worked nearby.

This article beautifully explains the negative impact social engineering, human nature, and the decline of civic institutions has had on innovation.  In the past citizens were deeply involved in civic meetings, church, and community events.  They focused less on finding personal satisfaction through family and friends.  The author cites research that suggests the reverse is now true and it is undermining our collective ability to innovate.  (Nota bene, the image used above is clearly of a European town square.  I could find no equivalent for an American city.)

Using his hometown of Buffalo as an example, he implies that the effort to become a hub for life sciences (e.g., biotechnology and pharmaceuticals) has not yet fulfilled expectations.  The reader is to infer that this could be explained by a lack of professional diversity, as is noted in the quote above.

Very few, if any, of us will ever influence a community the size of Buffalo.  However, we all affect our work community.  When compiling work teams, look for contributors from non-obvious or seemingly unrelated departments.  Create opportunities for employees to interact informally.  The author notes that “many firms allow researchers to spend a portion of their time exploring topics beyond the projects at hand.”  If the past is precedent, innovation will follow.

I’ll close this post with another example from the author.

Detroit, for example, didn’t become the global motor-vehicle mecca by design. Rather, random interactions among engine designers, ship builders, and carriage manufacturers at the turn of the twentieth century created a mashup of ideas on the shores of the Detroit River, and from that intellectual ferment emerged the mass production of automobiles.


There are two video clips in this post about Burberry.  In the first the CEO talks about how the company encourages use of social media by their employees.  In the second she talks about the intangible qualities she looks for in an employee and the culture she strives for in Burberry stores.

Total running time of both clips is about 10 minutes.

Back in January Harvard Business Review posted an interview of Carol Dweck.  It lasts about 15 minutes.  Below are some teasers excerpts from the transcript (available by following the link).

CAROL DWECK: So what message should a manager or leader give to new recruits that would put them into more of a growth mindset?

First, I think the message from the top is really important, that we value passion, dedication, growth, and learning, not genius.

You have to listen to get two, three, and four.

CAROL DWECK: So the companies now that are thriving are the ones that give this message (1-4 from above). And also, my research has shown, contrary to popular opinion, you don’t praise talent. You don’t praise ability. You praise process.

This is an interesting point.  An organization that invests in assembling a great team may not succeed if it does not nurture an environment where the team can succeed.  If everyone is doing their job in their own way the team is likely to struggle.  Dr. Dweck addresses this later in the interview.

And this is a time of tremendous change where, like it or not, you’re going to have periods of confusion. Like it or not, you’re going to turn into a novice over and over again. And we need to be comfortable with struggle, not just effort, but struggle, confusion.

This struggle is due to external factors.  We all know the marketplace is constantly changing.  Often the ability to adapt to this change is what determines an organization’s success.  Don’t compound the confusion by allowing internal confusion.

According to Dr. Dweck successful organizations recognize and reward employees who stretch themselves and take reasonable risks regardless of the outcome.  I would add that successful organizations recognize team members who see an opportunity, pursue it, and succeed.  When it doesn’t succeed, take time to learn why.  This is part of the process.

Multitasking may help us check off more things on our to-do lists. But it also makes us more prone to making mistakes, more likely to miss important information and cues, and less likely to retain information in working memory, which impairs problem solving and creativity.

This post from Harvard Business Review has three tips for improving your focus.

  1. Tame your frenzy.
  2. Apply the brakes.
  3. Shift Sets.

We all have times when we are stretched thin by circumstances.  This should be the exception not the norm.  If you are having trouble focusing or managing your time I encourage you to read the post and develop a plan for putting them into practice.  If you are wondering where you will find the time to develop a plan, make it a priority and follow the tips in the article linked above.

ISPI publishes a weekly digest of news and information for performance improvement consultants.  Last week they published their top stories for 2011.  Over the next few days I will feature my thoughts on those I feel are particularly noteworthy.
Click here for my first entry.

One of the ironies of being an expert is that you often lose touch with what it is like to be a novice.

In October Harvard Business Review posted an article titled “The Best Approach to Training.”  With a title like that its bound to get a lot of hits.   While the article has value, its title is a little misleading.  Rather than focus on the latter I will focus on its virtues.
NOTE: I quote liberally from this article.  I am not trying to take credit for the author’s work.  Sometimes it is difficult to maintain a flow and quote the author fully.  This is more obvious in some places that others.

The setup: “Experts often are unable to articulate the many “obvious” (to them) things they do when carrying out a procedure or solving a problem.”  When tasked with training a new employee an expert tends to gloss over important information or steps because it has become second nature to them.  This actually makes the “trainee” more dependent on the expert/trainer, the exact opposite of what they set out to do.   As a result, the organization is not getting maximum productivity of either employee.

The diagnosis: According to the author, the common approach is to adopt an academically developed and tested technique to improve training and instruction that likely involves a resource-intensive task analysis.  This makes sense if you are documenting the minimum qualifications for a job, establishing performance criteria, and creating a training program. However, if you are simply training a new employee I believe you can accomplish more by getting him or her into the flow of the organization first.  After a short period of assimilation you can shift focus to mastering the individual tasks of their job.

The solution: “The best way to identify what experts do is to have them solve the problems or carry out the tasks in question and to require the expert to justify the steps he is taking as he takes them.”  This approach takes a macro-level view and enables the expert to consider the work holistically.  As a result, the resulting training bears a greater resemblance to the reality of day-to-day responsibilities.

An example:  The author asked experienced college physics instructors to create a set of problems — representing a part of the course — that a student in introductory physics should be able to solve if he or she “understood” that part of the course.

He then asked them to solve the problems and narrate their steps.  While they were talking he was “furiously” capturing their thoughts. In his words, “the instructors [often] had to stop and scratch their heads as they tried to provide a justification for their steps. The justifications in this case were rooted in laws of physics, but the relevant features or implications of the laws were things that the instructors had internalized or automated and they struggled to make them explicit to me.

The resulting solutions were of course quite lengthy and verbose, but they ultimately provide the raw material for guiding the construction of better worked examples and lecture materials for learners. I use the notes to then solve new problems with the expert available to help me when I don’t know what to do. Each time I reach an “impasse” I revise the notes. Ultimately, I reach a point where I can solve all problems the expert gives me.”

My thoughts: I have used this method and found it to be useful.  In fact, my most successful projects occur when I can think like the expert.  No one will confuse me for being an expert, but going through this process enables me to apply my skills to the subject matter and create relevant learning opportunities.  The challenge is coming up with the problems in a work setting.  In the end I don’t think this is approach is less cumbersome or resource intensive but the outcome is better.

I am clearing out some stuff I have been wanting to write about but don’t have time.  I commend it to you without comment.

Michael Hyatt provides practical advice for busy people

Cole NeSmith writes about the conflict of creativity and safety

Chief Learning Officer has articles on peer to peer knowledge sharing and embedded learning

ASTD has an article on the future of social learning

Seth Godin writes about two types of learning

Harvard Business Review has a series of posts on leadership lessons from the military.  I have long admired the approach our military takes in developing its personnel.  The practice of using every operation as a chance to learn and improve would serve every organization well to emulate.  I also believe organizations that develop leadership capabilities at all levels are better positioned for success.

I encourage you to go to the site linked above and the posts.  Not all of the entries will translate to your context but I think you will find them thought provoking.