How to Tell Fact From Fraud

April 27, 2007

We are constantly bombarded by information from advertisements, books, magazines, TV and the internet.  But how much of this information is true?  From my experience, little of it is accurate.  People (often unknowingly) make claims that are exaggerated or blatant lies. 

How can you separate the accurate from the invalid?  One way is to understand the difference between causality, correlation, and coincidence. I alluded to these in previous entries and want to address them a bit more.

In a previous blog entry, I cited a study that claimed, “Individuals with greater wealth are happier.”  Assuming that this statement is true, it is a correlation.  Wealth and happiness are related.  Some people may think this implies that “Money makes people happier.”  This statement is a causality.  It suggests that money is the cause of why people are happier.  However, this is not true.  According to the study, happier people make more money, yet more money does not make people happier.  Money is correlated to happiness, but is not the cause of happiness.

In my blog entry, “Never Trust an Expert,” I discuss the concept of causality again.  Many experts use anecdotal information to make causality statements. “I followed these 10 steps and got the following results.”  However, without more data, this may just be a coincidence.  If 100 people tried the same 10 steps and each got the same results, then you might be able to claim a correlation.  Although there may be wisdom in anecdotal evidence, never accept it as the truth.

I am fascinated by the phenomenon known as “The Secret.”  The book and video are based on the “Law of Attraction (LOA).” Simple stated, the LOA is the belief that positive thoughts attract positive results and negative thoughts attract negative things.  This implies a causality: If you envision what you want, you will attract it.  However, the LOA is really a correlation (and it may be just a coincidence).  Visualization can help you get what you want, but it may not be the direct cause. The cause may be something else – like taking actions that are subconsciously aligned with your desires.  The difference between causality and correlation is subtle, yet important.  When stated as a causality, the LOA may lead you to believe that sitting in a corner and visualizing your success will manifest success. 

There is a lot of dubious advice out there.  Understanding the difference between causality, correlation, and coincidence can help you make more informed decisions.  Just because tall people’s pants are longer than mine does not mean I should buy longer pants if I want to grow a few inches…

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The Innovation Capabilitity

April 24, 2007

Innovation Capabilities

For innovation to be repeatable, it needs to be treated like any other business capability (e.g., finance, HR, or sales). All capabilities are comprised of five key components:

innovation capability diagramStrategy
A strategy is needed to decide when, where, and how innovation will be used within the organization. It also needs to address “why” innovation is important. Are you looking primarily for a new pipeline of products? Do you want to better serve your customers? Are you looking to create a more nimble, flexible, and adaptable organization? For one company, the innovation mantra was “2 by 10” – to become a $2 billion business by 2010. This made it clear to all employees why innovation is needed and what innovation must deliver.

Measures and Performance
Innovation, as with any capability, needs to be measurable and measured. You will want to measure the value of your innovation pipeline. But who will be measured? What kinds of measures are used? How will you measure less tangible values such as adaptability? How will you relate innovation to overall business outcomes and results?

Process (and infrastructure)
Innovation requires an end-to-end process for targeting, generating, and selecting innovative ideas. Therefore, to help organizations make innovation repeatable and sustainable, we developed the CRACK IT! process.

Your people are your culture. If you want a culture of innovation, your employees must embrace actions, values, beliefs, skills, and language that are consistent with this objective. Everyone, at all levels, must embrace failures while giving up control.

Innovative companies use technology to enable collaboration between employees, customers, and suppliers. Decisions are supported by data. Ideas are captured in idea banks to facilitate the dissemination of innovative thinking. These technologies enable communication at all levels, across all organizations, and across business boundaries.

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Creating Luck in Sales

April 20, 2007

In Goal-Free Living I discuss how to create luck by being less goal-focused. I was recently copied on an email sent to a sales team at a client of mine. Here is how this one sales director interpreted these concepts for his team – with a paraphrase from the book.

During my Asia trip I went through Stephen Shapiro’s book “Goal-free Living” for the second time and again I noted a very interesting statistical comparison he is doing about the fact that some people always seems to be lucky and always tend to be on the right place at the right time.

“If you have 366+1 people in the same room, then you will have a 100% guarantee that two people in the same room will have the same birth date.

But how many people do you need if you want a 50% chance that two people have the same birth date – it is actually only 23 people, statistically.

If you want 90% probability it is only 40 people.

OK! But what about a particular birthday e.g. your own birthday – how many people do you need in a room to have a 50/50 chance that there is another person with your birthday? – You need over 600 people!.

This small thing shows that the odds of a generalized event happening is quit high – and that a particular event happening is quite low.”


If you always do the things in a particular way (in the same way without being open for more generalized and new situations) for you to be “lucky”, you need a lot of things coming together in a particular way – which gives you very small odds.

But if you are open to new ways and are willing to change your approach in a given situation, the odds are much more in your favor.

In sales; always read the situation – think about different ways to do the things – take all possibilities into consideration – do not act in a particular way every time.

This is the reason why I am always asking some of you in the sales team to change approach and be open to new ways of doing the things – and always adjust your approach in a given situation!

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Phrase Concerns as Opportunities

April 18, 2007

One of the most simple, yet most powerful approaches for increasing your creativity potential is to phrase concerns as opportunities. 

When brainstorming, inevitably someone will say, “We don’t have enough time to implement this idea,” or “We don’t have enough money.”  When you say this, you are stating it as fact.  Instead, state this concern as an opportunity.  For example, “How might we get more money?”  Or, “How might we do this for less money?” 

Once you have a new opportunity defined, you can use creativity techniques to find new solutions.

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Leaky Ceiling Leads to Creative Solution

April 17, 2007

Leaky CeilingYesterday, I was at a conference in a posh New York City hotel.  While we were inside, the rain was relentless outside.  As the day progressed, it started to rain inside too.  The ceiling sprouted several leaks.  At first the hotel staff used the standard approach for catching the water - white plastic buckets.  But remember, this is an upscale hotel.  Plastic buckets are not very attractive.  Besides, as the buckets filled up, we would get an annoying “ploink” sound with every raindrop. 

The hotel came up with a clever solution.  They replaced the buckets with live plants.  These are much more attractive, the water nourishes the trees, and the “ploink” sound was muted.

Simple yet creative.

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Never Trust an Expert

April 16, 2007

A couple of nights ago, I gave a presentation to a group of eager individuals who are either launching or advancing their speaking careers. During our 90 minute discussion, I gave dozens of tips and techniques for growing their business.

At the end of the evening, one attendee asked, “What is the MOST important tip?” I thought about this for a minute and replied, “I don’t know.”

Although this answer may seem like a cop out, it is in fact the truth. No one REALLY knows what made them successful. More importantly, they have no idea how others can replicate their success. They may be able to look at a series of events that led to a particular outcome. But most likely the “most important tip” is something completely different than what is seen on the surface.

Last year I attended a “book marketing” conference led by a well known author who has sold millions (and millions) of books. His promise was to provide steps and tools that made him successful so that others can also reap the rewards. Thousands of people have tried his formula over the years and as far as I can tell, none have come even close to his level of success. Those that achieved some level of success did so by riding on the coat-tails of this author, leveraging his name and network.

I am not implying that these experts are misleading or malicious. Not at all. The issue lies in our inability to find the correct correlations between cause and effect. Too many hidden factors play a major role – ones that we might never consider or notice. Most experts use anecdotal evidence to support their conclusions. “It worked for me and a few of my buddies, so it should work for you.” This is faulty reasoning. Maybe the expert’s “10 Steps to Financial Wealth” were not the true causes of their success.

There are many, harder to measure factors that often play a substantial role. Your attitude plays a larger part than you might think. Your Rolodex of contacts can be a huge part of the equation. Being in the right place at the right time has launched many businesses, including Microsoft. Or sometimes plain old dumb luck is the real cause. Fortunately, in the case of luck, people can create their own luck. Studies show that those who are less goal-oriented are luckier than “goalaholics” because they are open to possibilities outside of their narrow goal-focus.

So the next time someone makes a suggestion – or someone tries to sell you their 5 steps to success – be skeptical. Although it may be great advice, it may also be (unintentionally) misinformed counsel. They may not know the REAL cause of their success. Then again, this blog entry is my advice to you – so it too should be taken with a grain of salt.

P.S. Notice this entry is entitled, “Never TRUST an Expert” and not ‘Never LISTEN to an Expert.”

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Kick The Goal Habit

April 15, 2007

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Jim Bright that appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald (Australia) February 24, 2007.  Jim has written many interesting articles that support the Goal-Free Living concept (in fact he mentions Goal-Free Living in this article, but I did not bother including that part below).  Enjoy.

Support for goal setting can be found in highly controlled laboratory studies where participants reliably perform better when they set or are given goals. The trouble is life is not a highly controlled laboratory and so soon as you let in all the other pesky bits it can play havoc with goals. Mark Tubbs from the University of Missouri, writing in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1986, examined 87 studies on goal setting and found a clear pattern of results: under laboratory conditions goals work, in real-life settings they are far less effective. One of the central ideas in goal setting is goal commitment. Goal setting, so the theory goes, will be effective only if you truly want to achieve your goals. So perhaps this explains why goals can be less effective in real-life settings – your commitment wanes over time.Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case either. As reported in the Journal of Applied Psychology in 1998, John Donovan and David Radosevich from New York State University examined goal commitment and performance in 12 studies over 20 years, involving 2000 participants – and found goal commitment accounted for next to none of the performance.

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How To Always Be On Time

April 3, 2007

StopwatchRight now I am sitting in the Las Vegas airport. With an hour to kill, I decided to write this blog entry with the harmonious sound of slot machines ringing in my ears.

I know so many road warriors who pride themselves in being able to get to the gate just as the doors are closing. Not me. I appreciate having extra time at the airport to relax and work before my flight. In fact, I tend to get to most places early. And there is a good reason.

My background is process design where there is a concept called “the theory of constraints.” The general idea is that “success” is limited by at least one constraining process (i.e., a bottleneck). In the business world, this means that if you want to make more money, the best way to do that is to increase the throughput at the bottleneck so that overall throughput is increased. You can think of this as strengthening the “weakest link in the chain.”

I use the theory of constraints in my personal life. With nearly 1 million miles of flying under my belt, I have never missed a flight. How is this possible? Because I allow plenty of time to get to the airport. I live a mere 15 minutes from Logan International in Boston, yet I typically leave for the airport two hours before a flight. Why?

We are all at the mercy of various bottlenecks: traffic on the way to the airport and long lines at the check in counter, baggage drop-off, and security. Any one of these could prevent me from getting to my plane on time…and I can’t predict when it will happen.

Therefore, instead of sitting in my office working until the last minute and then scrambling to get to the plane on time, I get to the airport early and work there. My philosophy is to put as many of the potential bottlenecks behind me before I settle down. When I get to the airport, I always check in first and drop off my luggage (I know I can print my boarding card from my computer before going to the airport, but I find this saves me very little time as I still need to check my luggage). Although I could then sit down at Dunkin’ Donuts and relax, I still have another bottleneck – security – ahead of me. Therefore, if possible, I go through security before getting my bagel and diet Coke. Besides, we can’t bring liquids through security anymore.

With technology these days, I can be as productive at the airport as I would be in my own office. I have a BlackBerry which delivers my email. I use my BlackBerry as a modem to connect my computer to the internet. The airport is an effective remote office. And doing it this way allows me to be totally stress free. I “put bottlenecks behind me” nearly every day.

If I am heading to a meeting, but haven’t eaten, I may drive through the known traffic spots before getting some food. I always leave plenty of extra time. The worst that happens is I arrive at my destination ahead of schedule. And since I assume that I will be early, I plan activities (work or pleasure) for me to do during this spare time. The good news is, I never have to have a contingency plan for if I am late.

It costs $2 to ride the T (Boston’s subway/train system), and you must have a ticket to go through the turnstile. When finishing one trip, I always purchase tickets for my next trips. This way I do not need to buy tickets when I am in a hurry to catch a train. There is nothing worse than shoving dollars into a ticket machine (and having the machine spit out your crumpled bills) when you hear the train pulling into the station. I know if I miss a train, I will have to wait at least another 15 minutes.

With potential bottlenecks behind you, you save yourself time and frustration. You will almost always be on time. And you can still be highly productive when you arrive at your destination early. OK, you won’t get that wonderful adrenaline rush this way. But in the long run, this approach keeps my blood pressure in check. Besides, numerous studies show that people who are not under severe time constraints operate at higher levels of performance. Goal-Free Living is stress-free living which is highly-effective living.

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