Attitude, Approach And Business Success

October 30, 2009

In a previous post I commented on some interesting pen-portraits of well-known entrepreneurs and the likely role that ‘scientific luck’ played in their success. This in turn is related to their attitude and approach to life and business – see here.

In this context, it’s interesting to note that Seth Godin rated his key factors for business success as follows:

  1. Attitude
  2. Approach
  3. Goals
  4. Strategy
  5. Tactics
  6. Execution

Which leads the first two, the two we almost never hear about.

Approach determines how you look at the project (or your career). Do you read a lot of books? Ask a lot of questions? Use science and testing or go with your hunches? Are you imperious? A lifehacker? When was the last time you admitted an error and made a dramatic course correction? Most everyone has a style, and if you pick the wrong one, then all the strategy, tactics and execution in the world won’t work nearly as well.

As far as I’m concerned, the most important of all, the top of the hierarchy is attitude. Why are you doing this at all? What’s your bias in dealing with people and problems?

Some more questions:

  • How do you deal with failure?
  • When will you quit?
  • How do you treat competitors?
  • What personality are you looking for in the people you hire?
  • What’s it like to work for you? Why? Is that a deliberate choice?
  • What sort of decisions do you make when no one is looking?

Sure, you can start at the bottom by focusing on execution and credentials. Reading a typical blog (or going to a typical school for 16 years), it seems like that’s what you’re supposed to do. What a waste.

So maybe the two viewpoints are related?

In the broad light of the above:

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin


Patternicity: Finding Patterns in Noise

October 29, 2009

Interesting article from Scientific American on the possible origin of people and animals finding patterns in noise:

Why do people see faces in nature, interpret window stains as human figures, hear voices in random sounds generated by electronic devices or find conspiracies in the daily news? A proximate cause is the priming effect, in which our brain and senses are prepared to interpret stimuli according to an expected model. UFOlogists see a face on Mars. Religionists see the Virgin Mary on the side of a building. Paranormalists hear dead people speaking to them through a radio receiver. Conspiracy theorists think 9/11 was an inside job by the Bush administration. Is there a deeper ultimate cause for why people believe such weird things? There is. I call it “patternicity,” or the tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise.

Such patternicities, then, mean that people believe weird things because of our evolved need to believe nonweird things.

There are doubtless a few speculative business applications too…

Richard Feynman, Microsoft And Wangerooge

October 28, 2009


Microsoft have recently made the Feynman lectures on ‘The Character Of Physical Law’ publicly available and have also added some innovative educational features – see here (and also here):

Even if you’ve little interest in the topics under discussion, it’s well worth spending a few hours in Feynman’s company for the entertainment value. He’s a genuinely funny man able to express his science with a poet’s turn of phrase.

What’s really special though is how Microsoft has presented these lectures. It could simply have posted them on the site and everybody would have been happy – after all, Bill Gates used his own money to track them down, buy the rights and digitise them. Instead though, they’ve been enhanced with some truly wonderful technology.

There’s optional audio commentary from physics professors and experts, text commentary for the hearing impaired, and an ability to add your own notes to specific sections of the lecture. A timeline beneath the video allows you to easily spin to the section you want, but it’s also peppered with additional content, including detailed information on people and theories briefly mentioned by Feynman. There’s definitions of natural laws, written formulas and, in a couple of cases, an explanation of a joke you may not have gotten.

Also superb is that whenever Feynman mentions a constellation or spatial anomaly a link will take you to Microsoft’s Worldwide Telescope so you can go and take a look for yourself. It’s so brilliantly designed and wonderfully implemented it’s quite obviously a labour of love. It’s also precisely how I want to see historical information presented and updated.

One of the last things I did when I finally left academia was to co-organise an international workshop on aspects of quantum field theory. As I’d heard through the grapevine that Feynman had been working in this area (variational methods), I invited him to the meeting which was due to be held on a small island, Wangerooge, in North-West Germany.

To our surprise and delight, he accepted! The Workshop Proceedings were published by World Scientific and Feynman’s contribution (transcribed by myself and a colleague) is included. The meeting was held in September 1987 and he sadly passed away in February the following year.

I plan to post some photos plus some quintessential Feynman stories from the workshop in the future.

Picture credit: PC Pro.

Who Moved My Brain?

October 27, 2009

Merlin Mann Time And AttentionNow and again, the personal process of ‘getting things done’ goes from being (relatively) orderly and flowing to wildly chaotic with corresponding results! When this happens it’s often best to go back to basics to figure out how to get back on track.

There’s a very nice presentation on this by the ever-excellent Merlin Mann: ‘Who Moved My Brain? Revaluing Time And Attention’ .

In summary, he recommends introducing and using five patterns that tend to work in practice:

  1. Identify Leaks
  2. Govern Access
  3. Minimize Notifications
  4. Work In Dashes
  5. Renegotiate

Well worth looking at and thinking hard about, it could make a big, big difference!

Related post here.

More On Stories In Science

October 16, 2009

In a previous post I commented on the role of stories in science.

Storytelling is increasingly important in business (see eg here) so it’s interesting to elaborate on it’s use in technical areas, even including quite complicated ones. This should help in addressing the problem of the curse of knowledge that has important business implications.

On this theme, here’s an extract from a post by Michael Nielsen (some knowledge of physics required):

On the other hand, though, I think the link between success in physics and a good grasp of stories could be extended to many of the best and brightest regardless of research topic. Einstein’s real breakthrough with Special Relativity was a matter of storytelling– people knew before Einstein that Lorentz transformations would solve the problems with Maxwell’s Equations, but thought it was too weird. Einstein showed that not only was it the right solution, but it had to be that way, and he did it by providing stories to make it all make sense (again, see some earlier posts: one, two). Schroedinger’s equation is in some sense a story that makes Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics palatable (the theories are mathematically equivalent, but as I understand it, nobody could make heads or tails of Heisenberg’s stuff). And when you get down to it, what are Feynman diagrams but little stories about what happens to an electron as it moves from point A to point B?

Yes, in some sense, the equations are the main thing. But when you look at the history of physics, you find again and again that the real giants of the field are the people who matched an interpretation to the equations, who came up with stories to explain it all. Any fool with a computer can manipulate equations, but it takes real genius to explain what’s going on in a way that makes it make sense.

I don’t have a good answer to “What’s a photon?”, but at least I can say this: If you feel that interpretations and stories are an important part of physics, you’re in good company.

Dan Dare And Hi-Tech Britain

October 14, 2009

Dan Dare Hi-Tech

A couple of weeks ago I went to the Science Museum in London to take a look at an exhibition on the birth of Hi-Tech Britain (which also highlights the popularity of Dan Dare during that period).

After 1945, though war-weary and broke, Britain found huge pride in wartime advances such as radar, penicillin and the jet engine. Discoveries like these were now tipped to kick-start world-beating industries, bring prosperity and bankroll the emerging welfare state.

In an age before globalisation, products from rockets to radios sprang from local roots. Together they reveal a fascinating ‘lost world’ of British design and invention – a glimpse of a time when the TV in the corner was a Murphy, not a Sony.

During the 1950s, millions of people – children and adults – followed the adventures of Dan Dare, as portrayed in Eagle magazine. Every week Dan Dare ranged across space, battling his arch foe – the power-mad Mekon. Meanwhile, back on Earth, another extraordinary future was unfolding – one which laid the foundation for today’s hi-tech consumer society.

The exhibition is still open, closing on 25th October. It’s worth a quick visit if you happen to be near.

It was interesting to see one of the first flymos there, from 1969. Odd that when I bought a one a few weeks ago it looks practically the same 40 years on!

Goblin Delight

Hmm…. the things you can do with a new vacuum cleaner!

Experience, Judgement And Success

October 13, 2009

From ‘Notes From A Friend’ by Anthony Robbins:

Success is the result of good judgement
Good judgement is the result of experience
Experience is often the result of bad judgement