Nonlinear Thinking

June 19, 2017

Examples of some nonlinear relationships (from HBR article below)

From an article in the Harvard Business Review:

“In recent years a number of professions, including ecologists, physiologists, and physicians, have begun to routinely factor nonlinear relationships into their decision making. But nonlinearity is just as prevalent in the business world as anywhere else. It’s time that management professionals joined these other disciplines in developing greater awareness of the pitfalls of linear thinking in a nonlinear world. This will increase their ability to choose wisely—and to help the people around them make good decisions too.”

The article discusses some simple examples that might crop up in a marketing scenario.

Whilst knowing the relationship between quantities, even qualitatively, may be difficult to determine in practice, simply being aware that nonlinearity may be important could be enlightening and suggest alternative ways forward.

The Secret To Success Is Talking

May 24, 2017

From the Sunday Times (subscription required, so here’s an extract, published 7 May):

Becoming a billionaire could be really quite simple: make sure you receive no more than six work-related emails a day.

That, according to Sir James Dyson, whose family fortune has reached £7.8bn this year, is the secret to his success…

For Dyson it began 30 years ago, when he founded his vacuum cleaner company and banned staff from writing memos. He told them to talk to each other instead.

Even today he gives recruits old-fashioned exercise books and urges staff to use them in meetings instead of laptops.

He has built dozens of cafes at his work places “so people can have face-to-face communication. We’re creating things, working out how to sell them. You can’t do that on your own. You have to talk.”…

Perhaps it is a lesson for us all. If you log on and are faced with a screen of 300 emails, just remember: that is why you’re not a billionaire.

I knew someone in middle management who had a reputation for not replying to any email unless it was from someone of ‘significance’ (= on the Board of Directors and similar). Her view was that if it was really important someone would make contact with her, face-to-face or by phone, and they would sort things out that way. Oddly, she got away with this as everyone assumed she wouldn’t answer emails and so was only contacted when she was really needed and the matter was important! A natural filtering system. The rest of us had 300 emails a day to plough through. It would be interesting to know how many of these were actually of any real consequence (my guess is very few).

For another way to cull emails, see here.

Clarify Your Uncertainty and Talk

May 9, 2017

Sage advice from the writer Tim Kreider:

The more time you spend immersed in the shitstream of TV/internet/social media the stupider and more boring and just like everyone else you will be. Hang out in real life having good conversations with brilliant and hilarious people, so you can steal their ideas and all the clever things they say. Spend a lot of time alone so you can think up some original thoughts of your own.

Spotted here.

I’ve noticed, in connection with an idea I’ve been developing, that chatting to friends about it for 30 mins (attempting to explain it in a couple of clear sentences, handling the immediate objections, taking on board some incredibly useful suggestions) far outweighs researching it on Google (and getting endlessly distracted) for 2-3 hours! It’s amazing how helpful people can be (if you let them).

This is well-visualised below (you’re tapping into what and who they know, see here):

Inspiring Questions

April 7, 2017

I started my career as a research physicist and later moved into the commercial R&D sector. However I still keep in touch with various friends who stayed in academia. Now and again I’m tempted to take a look at research papers from people I knew just to get a feel for things (there is an excellent preprint service available: ).

Most research papers start with some motivation for the problem, the approach taken (with lots of details) and the results obtained plus a (usually brief) discussion of remaining issues. However looking at one paper I was surprised to find that a whole page was devoted to the open questions that the work lead to plus initial ideas on how to progress each one (and sometimes why an obvious approach had failed).

So the investigative work lead to results plus a string of further interesting questions (that anyone could pick up on if they were interested) and this was an aspect that was emphasised. I won’t give the reference as the work is very technical, the main point is the notion that progressing one question leads to concrete progress (‘answers’) plus a set of further incisive questions.

This may seem rather logical and obvious except that, at least in my experience, this is rarely the way things are presented (either written or through a talk). It seems to me that this observation is not restricted to technical areas but more or less anything that involves some investigative research and thinking.

Often the impression is given that a major issue has been ‘solved’ by a certain approach whereas the truth is more likely that a certain degree of clarification has been made and a number of really interesting follow-on questions tumble out (which should be exciting/inspiring!).

To take advantage of this, it would be natural to invoke an interactive conversation. So, instead of slides plus a general and typically short Q&A session, there would be an overview of the approach (with a few clarifying questions) plus a highly interactive and dynamic conversation with the aim of pushing things on or at least deepening the collective understanding. Although this may not be suitable for all topics it should work for some.

It’s obvious why this doesn’t happen as it shows vulnerability, there are loose ends and truly interactive group conversations are still relatively rare and unfamiliar. However, at the same time the issue of ‘death by Powerpoint’ is still prevalent and acknowledged to be seriously lacking.

Maybe the germ of something new here, or perhaps some sort of hybrid as a less-threatening compromise approach?

On the general issue of thinking about and running good conversational events, take a look at David Gurteen’s very interesting site here (work in progress).

Selling The Future

April 5, 2017

From Seth Godin:

When we buy a stake in the future, what we’re actually buying is how it makes us feel today.

We move up all the imagined benefits and costs of something in the future and experience them now. That’s why it’s hard to stick to a diet (because celery tastes bad today, and we can’t easily experience feeling healthy in ten years). That’s why we make such dumb financial decisions (because it’s so tempting to believe magical stories about tomorrow).

If you want people to be smarter or more active or more generous about their future, you’ll need to figure out how to make the transaction about how it feels right now.

Hard Work or Magic?

March 16, 2017

I came across this interesting quote:

“I suggest that the only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have got ourselves. I suggest, furthermore, that when you feel that you could almost have written the book yourself—that’s the moment when it’s influencing you. You are not influenced when you say, ‘How marvelous! What a revelation! How monumental! Oh!’ You are being extended. You are being influenced when you say ‘I might have written that myself if I had not been so busy.’” – E. M. Forster, “A Book That Influenced Me,” from Two Cheers for Democracy

It reminded me of a quote from the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Hans Bethe on the famous physicist Richard Feynman:

“There are two types of genius. Ordinary geniuses do great things, but they leave you room to believe that you could do the same if only you worked hard enough. Then there are magicians, and you can have no idea how they do it. Feynman was a magician.” — Hans Bethe

I’ve written on Feynman a number of times previously, see here.


Everyone Gets The Future Wrong

February 13, 2017

Official trailer for Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World (Werner Herzog)

From a review of the movie on Ars Technica:

“No one ever gets the future right,” cosmologist Lawrence Krauss tells Herzog. We never got our flying cars and Moonbases—we got the World Wide Web instead. The future is daunting because it’s something we haven’t thought of yet. It’s not going to be a utopian interplanetary society of jetpacks, but it’s not going to be The Hunger Games either. Even someone who says “we’re all going to hell in a handbasket!” is trying to put the future into a tidy little box. So it says a lot that Herzog, a filmmaker who once threatened his leading man with a rifle and ate his own shoe on a bet, can’t make up his mind where we’re headed.