September 12, 2014
Interesting article by Ben McNeil in Ars Technica on creativity, age profiles and funding systems including:
Although unconventional and risky research can be pursued at any age, it seems to come much easier to younger scientists. That may be because they have more time to allocate to one idea and are less susceptible to the “curse of knowledge”—the cognitive bias that tends to make experience stifle one’s ability to come up with or accept new, unconventional, or creative ideas.
The 30- to 40-year-old period has often been described as “the golden years” for creative discovery, a perfect mix of time, enthusiasm, naivety, and just enough experience to produce optimal creativity.
Whether the age correlation is widely true or not, I like the list of ingredients, especially the inclusion of the word ‘naivety’. It’s probably true that after a certain age, cynicism and a ‘been there/seen it’ attitude all too easily creep in and innocence and naivety make a rapid exit.
However, as mentioned in the quote above, the continual ability to learn and change is also an important factor – not to mention luck of course!
On a related theme, there’s a discussion of ‘lean periods’ in research here.
Picture credit here.
September 5, 2014
“The opposite of talking isn’t listening. The opposite of talking is waiting.” – Fran Lebowitz
Last Tuesday I was at an office based meeting with everyone rapidly exchanging opinions and insights and I found myself doing exactly this – waiting for an opportunity to express my views rather than listening fully to what others had to say! This is partly due to time constraints of course, you don’t have all day to listen and also get your points across.
However, at the end of the meeting, some of us transferred to a local pub and miraculously I found that listening suddenly became a lot easier. Maybe this was due to the fact that the meeting had ‘ended’ and everyone simply relaxed or perhaps everyone had had time to assimilate all the many other viewpoints and personalities and only details remained. Then again, maybe it was just the alcohol and informal atmosphere loosening things up?
Anyway, the combination of formal and informal venues, as noted on other similar occasions eg Knowledge Cafe at Arup, worked very well.
September 2, 2014
I’m a member of a local book club and due to this I come across books I probably wouldn’t read or even hear about otherwise. One such that I liked a lot was The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. It’s written in a simple style but contains lots of humour and insights especially on the sometimes perplexing and conflicting roles of logic and emotions.
The author was formerly an IT specialist (data modeling) and founder of a business and IT consultancy, so quite a career change, although he seems a bit of a natural polymath anyway.
From a review in The Guardian:
As first sentences go, “I may have found a solution to the Wife Problem” has possibilities as an instant classic. But is this a dark murder story or a self-help relationship tome? Well, neither: it’s an endearing romantic comedy, and the narrator, professor of genetics Don Tillman (39, tall, intelligent and employed: “Logically I should be attractive to a wide range of women”), is an undiagnosed Asperger’s type who Simsion uses to explore how a grown autistic man might approach a romantic relationship…
Warm-hearted and perfectly pitched, with profound themes that are worn lightly, this very enjoyable read promises to put Don Tillman on the comic literary map somewhere between Mr Pooter and Adrian Mole. Through his battles to understand and empathise with other humans, Don teaches us to see the funny side of our own often incomprehensible behaviour – and to embrace the differently abled.
By coincidence, it’s also one of Bill Gates’ recommended summer reads:
Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.
For completeness, there’s some additional counterviews here, which emphasise that the real world situation is a lot more complicated.
Anyway, well worth a read.
August 27, 2014
A close relative has recently been diagnosed with dementia and we’re all coming to terms with this unanticipated situation. There are lots of articles on dementia in the papers and TV etc but I guess it was a case of thinking that it wouldn’t happen to any of us. For example, as I’ve now found out (see here)
After the age of 65, the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease doubles approximately every five years. It is estimated that dementia affects one in 14 people over the age of 65 and one in six over the age of 80.
We’ve had some helpful meetings with the social services and have independently done research and reading up on the condition from the internet. As always the information is fragmented, you have to bring bits and pieces together and then relate that to what seems to be happening in practice (medically, financially and legally).
In parallel with this I’ve talked to friends and neighbours who also happened to be in very similar situations or had been through this recently. Sometimes the whole situation seems a bit chaotic, with numerous organisations involved, although, remarkably, very good results (regarding the care of the relative) seem to be coming out.
In this light one of the most useful pieces of information I came across was a simple bit of honesty (see here):
Be prepared to be persistent to get what you want. Health and social care professionals may not always communicate with each other as well as they should, and you may find you have to explain your situation each time you meet a new professional.
I was quite amazed to read this on an official NHS site but the advice was worth it’s weight in gold.
I wonder how many other organisations would be similarly honest?
August 24, 2014
I’m just back from a short holiday in Italy and I always find these breaks are good for seeing things in a new (or least a slightly different) light. Often this results in changing the amount of time I allocate to my different personal (or collaborative) projects. Some in actuality I haven’t even started and others have meandered so an honest review is always handy anyway.
Part of this is figuring out what activities really matter. I recently came across this thought-provoking quote:
“Good strategy works by focusing energy and resources on one or a very few pivotal objectives, whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of favourable outcomes.” – Richard Rumelt
Not just a highly favourable outcome, a cascade of outcomes! This puts things in quite a different light. So, in part, it means saying ‘no’ to things (and being comfortable and disciplined in this) but also to imaginatively think through the possible consequences of a ‘yes’. The use of the word ‘cascade’ emphasises anticipating not just one (major) jump ahead but (loosely) a few more.
The author of the quote is the Professor of Business & Society at UCLA Anderson and he’s written a well reviewed book on this topic: Good Strategy/Bad Strategy. Here are some sample extracts:
Good strategy is rare. Many organizations which claim to have a strategy do not. Instead, they have a set of performance goals. Or, worse, a set of vague aspirations. It is rare because there are strong forces resisting the concentration of action and resources. Good strategy gathers power from its very rareness.
Competitors do not always respond quickly, nor do customers always see the value of an offering. Good strategy anticipates and exploits inertia.
Organizations experience significant entropy—the continual drift towards disorganization. Much of the useful work of managers and consultants is maintenance—the constant battle against entropy. Strategists must battle this never-ending drift towards disarray within their own organization. And they must try to exploit the disarray of their rivals.
August 14, 2014
Positive comments and conversations produce a chemical reaction too. They spur the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that elevates our ability to communicate, collaborate and trust others by activating networks in our prefrontal cortex. But oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so its effects are less dramatic and long-lasting.
This “chemistry of conversations” is why it’s so critical for all of us – especially managers – to be more mindful about our interactions. Behaviors that increase cortisol levels reduce what I call “Conversational Intelligence” or “C-IQ,” or a person’s ability to connect and think innovatively, empathetically, creatively and strategically with others. Behaviors that spark oxytocin, by contrast, raise C-IQ.
More from the HBR article here.
August 6, 2014
Really good set of points to think about from Bob Sutton:
- Sometimes the best management is no management at all — first do no harm!
- Indifference is as important as passion.
- In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.
- Saying smart things and giving smart answers are important. Learning to listen to others and to ask smart questions is more important.
- Learn how to fight as if you are right and listen as if you are wrong: It helps you develop strong opinions that are weakly held.
- You get what you expect from people. This is especially true when it comes to selfish behavior; unvarnished self-interest is a learned social norm, not an unwavering feature of human behavior.
- Getting a little power can turn you into an insensitive self-centered jerk.
- Avoid pompous jerks whenever possible. They not only can make you feel bad about yourself, chances are that you will eventually start acting like them.
- The best test of a person’s character is how he or she treats those with less power.
- The best single question for testing an organization’s character is: What happens when people make mistakes?
- The best people and organizations have the attitude of wisdom: The courage to act on what they know right now and the humility to change course when they find better evidence.
- The quest for management magic and breakthrough ideas is overrated; being a master of the obvious is underrated.
- Err on the side of optimism and positive energy in all things.
- It is good to ask yourself, do I have enough? Do you really need more money, power, prestige, or stuff?
- Jim Maloney is right: Work is an overrated activity.