Saying No Effectively

October 30, 2014

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I’ve written a number of times (see below) on the importance of saying ’no’ to certain business situations even if they sound quite enticing. It’s obviously easier written about than actually done so it was interesting to read how some very successful people handle this.

On his blog, Dan Martell, a Canadian entrepreneur, gives some principles:

I do have some “non-negotiables” for my replies:

  • I never lie
  • I always respond (as long as it doesn’t look like mass spam)
  • I always give a yes or a no

together with some sample responses, including:

Take a meeting

Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, scheduling a meeting is tough, lets start with an email. How can I help?

Attend an event

Thanks for the opportunity, but I’m already committed that day. Appreciate the invite.

Read a long email

Thanks for reaching out, but unfortunately I won’t be able to process your full email. How can I help?

Involvement in a new project

Thanks for thinking of me, but unfortunately I’m over committed with Clarity (his company) + a growing family. I’m going to have to pass this time.

I keep a fairly detailed journal on what I do every day (initially I was curious where all my time was going…). However, in spite of blogging about it, I’ve realised that I don’t particularly write about things that I decide not to do or to follow up.

This is a bit more than having vague ideas and noting them down for further thought but rather definite decisions that are made (some will, with hindsight, be mistakes of course!).

In the examples above, it’s illuminating that whilst the answer is ‘no’ a hand is held out to do something smaller and more manageable (‘how can I help?’).

The skill then becomes to keep involvement at this practical level and for this not to be misinterpreted as the first step in agreeing something more time-consuming.

Related:

Saying No To New Ideas

The Power Of Yes And No Journals (I obviously didn’t decide to implement this on a regular basis!)

Never Say No Immediately


New Ways To Fund Science

October 22, 2014

Sean Carroll is a research physicist at the California Institute of Technology specialising in general relativity and cosmology. He’s written a number of well-received popular books on the subject (eg The Particle at the End of the Universeand is certainly media savvy.

In an interesting development, he’s currently trying to raise private funding for interdisciplinary research projects in his areas of expertise.

From Benefunder:

Your contributions will support Dr. Carroll’s research as he investigates fundamental challenges in theoretical physics. Funding will allow him to bring together researchers to tackle interdisciplinary questions that are not funded by traditional funding sources, and pioneer new and risky approaches to big questions. All contributions are useful – a few thousand dollars would support graduate students, while hundreds of thousands could fund postdoctoral researchers at a crucial stage in their career.

It’ll be interesting to see if this type of approach takes off as it may lead to viable new ways of carrying out leading edge scientific research.

Again, from Benefunder:

Benefunder is a marketplace that allows donors to find, fund, and follow researchers and other university initiatives in a simple, efficient way.

Benefunder partners with top universities to gain access to top researchers and initiatives across all disciplines to ensure that your donations go to the intended use. Researchers create and manage their profiles on our site, which must be approved internally prior to getting published. This way you always get the most up to date information regarding their work and can rest assured knowing that all our causes are in fact vetted.

See also Ten Things About Time You May Not Know.


Cultivating Collaborative Conversations

October 20, 2014

I sometimes visit Bill Gates’ blog, GatesNotes, to see what books he’s reading as well as for his occasional and interesting reviews eg here. The leading header on the blog a while ago was an interview he had with a Teacher of the Year (Washington State, 2014).

Although education is not a primary interest of mine, I watched the video above and quickly became fascinated.

From the blog post:

Katie had an insight that really struck me: She said we’ve known for a long time that most students won’t learn if you just stick them in a classroom and make them listen to a lecture. They have to put the learning to use and make it relevant to their own lives. And yet most teachers still get their professional development at seminars and conferences, where they sit listening to lectures. “We would never do that with kids,” Katie said, “but we still do it with teachers.”

This extract relates to quite a few posts on this blog on different ways of sharing knowledge (see knowledge management category on the rhs).

The main points from the short video above are:

  • Time – the school principal is heroic enough to give the teachers time to learn through mutual collaboration (as opposed to cramming yet another task into an already busy schedule; in other words, something else is given a lesser priority!). I can imagine that just doing this one thing sends out a very powerful message. The example given is that the in the monthly 45 minute staff meeting, 30 minutes is spent on discussing ‘instruction’ (how can we all teach better?).
  • Large group collaboration – this is for generating the big picture and is typically not hands-on.
  • Small group collaboration – this is for applying the big picture insights to specific areas, say physics or French and is hands-on.
  • Visits – a group of teachers go around the school to see how well the ideas are working out, taking the whole working environment into account (for example the use of graphics on the walls might be very effective and this approach could be used elsewhere).

An example discussion question is: How do we develop strategies for better student dialogue, how do we help kids have more constructive conversations in class?

This question sounded pretty impressive to me!

I have no experience of teaching in high school although I have taught at various universities during my time in academia. However, in common with many other lecturers, I had no formal training for this, let alone (planned) collaborative discussions about good methods that worked.

I was curious if any of this could be transferred to a business setting, even in an approximate way.

For example, replace the above school discussion question by: How do we develop strategies for better business dialogue, how do we help people have more constructive conversations in their work environments, leading to better understanding, motivation and results?

The first thing that came to mind was a partial overlap with the idea of ‘knowledge cafes’ that are already being successfully used in various organisations eg see here. Typically they start with a question for a whole group which is then discussed in detail via small groups. The full group then gets together again to see what personal insights or actions the discussions may have lead to.

The school approach above could be thought of as a type of ‘cafe’ which roles on month after month and where the questions are collaboratively developed. Importantly it also includes the facility of seeing how insights are realised in particular settings through visits e.g. to working offices. In a business setting, such a ‘cafe’ (based on collaborative conversations) would become an integral way of working rather than a separate activity.


Making Your Own Road

October 9, 2014

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Castle Mountain in the Canadian Rockies

A great way of procrastinating is looking for and trying out different (screen) wallpapers. As a consequence of this I have loads of them. I was wondering the other day why some appeal to me more than others. One theme I like is ‘roads’ although admittedly this doesn’t immediately sound very exhilarating.

An example is given above. In some ways it makes me think of a target/goal (lofty, in the distance, although seemingly achievable) and a path to get there. It also makes me feel that the target is drawing me towards it (but maybe that’s just me).

Of course, the real world is rarely so neat, and last weekend I came across the stunning image below which reminded me of the fact that you often have to make your own road and a clear target may be nowhere in sight!

Go Your Own Road by Erik Johansson.

Go Your Own Road, 2008, by Erik Johansson

A bit more on following the ‘indirect path’ in life and work can be found here (examples) and here (the theory).

PS If you feel like a diversion, some outstanding (free) wallpapers, such as the one at the top, can be found at InterfaceLIFT. A wide variety of resolutions and screen sizes are readily available…enjoy!

Photo credits: top and bottom.


Speaking To Oneself

September 25, 2014

“Most conversations are simply monologues delivered in the presence of witnesses.” – Margaret Millar

Thinking about it, so are some emails!

See also here (on the quality of feedback in conversations).

Originally spotted as a ‘quote tweet’ from David Gurteen.


Potential For Greatness

September 23, 2014

In the light of the recent launch of the iPhone 6 and the Apple Watch, a prior article on the importance of innovative design came to mind. It was a review of a new smartphone coming out of China (I’m looking for a new one so I’m considering options, including those that might possibly appear in the future):

This review was not supposed to go this way. When we decided to order the Mi4, we wanted to learn more about Android in China, but we also expected it to be kind of a laugh. It’s easy to look at the pictures and dismiss the Mi4 as a cheap iPhone knockoff, but it is so much better than that.

Everything here is top notch: The best specs, fantastic build quality, a beautiful screen, a dirt cheap price, and software that, while different, works both aesthetically and functionally. If only the company came up with its own hardware design. If Xiaomi ever does apply itself with some original designs, look out world, because this company will be going places.

The review ends with:

Watching a company with a potential for greatness hamstring itself because it just can’t get over its Apple envy. Xiaomi would do great in the West, except that the derivative design would possibly get it sued out of existence.

The challenge then is to out-design rather than out-manufacture Apple and not be too intimidated by their daunting reputation and achievements in this area, an interesting psychological position to be in.

By coincidence, there was an article in Fast Company yesterday complaining about a lack of innovation in Apple design! Here’s an extract:

I miss the chunky playful plastic designs of the past, especially the Pixar-lamp-like iMac G4. I miss the toy-like references to plastic Swatch watches (the clamshell iBook) and the Memphis Group of the 1980s (the original iMac). That was idiosyncratic, ballsy design; that was a design aesthetic that some would loathe. It was design that a shamelessly style-free megacorporation like Samsung could never really copy in the hopes of being considered “good design.” Samsung, or HTC, or LG, or Motorola, they can all copy modern Apple. It’s easy. Make it thin, use a single block of aluminum, use glass. Presto: now you have design. Bullshit. Innovative design isn’t just about adhering to rules set out by someone else.

There are companies who are actually trying. In addition to the aforementioned Lumia phones, the Jawbone Jambox managed to combine industrial materials (hard rubber, metal grilles) with repeated patterns and bold colors to give them a sense of play, and even Apple’s own Mac Pro is weird and thoughtful enough to grab my attention: never before has a computer shaped like a garbage can seemed like such a good idea.

So maybe there really is an opening in a very standardised marketplace for someone brave enough to take it?

More generally, and at a more mundane level, it’s interesting that when you’re setting up a venture, are you in reality trying to emulate an existing and successful business (with a slight variation) or aiming for something that goes beyond that, even if it’s in ways that you yourself don’t yet fully understand? See also previous post below.

 


The Perfect Mix: Age And Creativity

September 12, 2014

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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.


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