Archive for category human behaviour
Every valuable human being must be a radical and a rebel, for what he must aim at is to make things better than they are.
~ Niels Bohr
Just finished reading The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Cooper Ramo, and while it was a good book, that closing quote was great, and just the type of motivation I need as I get ready to head back to Vancouver and pick up where I left off. It’s often difficult to find motivation after a great holiday, but that quote delivers.
I’m not sure who liked Saskatchewan more, me or my dog Sally. They say you can see your dog run away for days in Saskatchewan (thankfully that never happened), however in Sally’s case I’m quite sure I would only see her run for a day max given her insane speed and penchant for finding and chasing jack rabbits and other wildlife. In the field I took her to for her walks, what really amazed me is you would, say, see her run off from left to right across your field of vision, maybe 50 meters away from you. You might then swat at mosquitoes for 10 seconds, then look up to find her, and again see her running across your field of vision from left to right at the same distance. I’m sure sometimes she just ran back and forth, but with the afterburners on she might also have circled me. There’s so much deja vu from that you’d swear you were in the Matrix.
And, just because I haven’t shared anything in a while, here is a TED talk I particularly like. All about the remix. Courtesy Lawrence Lessig.
I learned a lot of different things during the MBA. All of it was interesting and worthwhile and most of it I remember quite well. But what is interesting to me is what REALLY sticks almost two years out. I should say at this point that the idea of this post came from a colleague of mine, Danny Starr, who recently wrote a review of Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Dan and Chip Heath. I agree with him that the book is excellent and I continue to use the SUCCESs checklist he speaks of – in any case, it is worth going over to Danny’s blog as he illustrates quite well how to apply some of the book’s advice in a very concrete way in a real-life example.
So, like I was saying, what is interesting is what REALLY sticks over the life of a 15 month program such as the MBA. I began the program in September 2007 and we finished in December 2008 (officially we graduated in May 2009). Probably there are a few life-changing experiences or moments of learning that I could point to, but I chose this one because it still blows me away whenever I think about it. This piece of advice came to me through an hour-long guest lecture in our Business Strategy class by Amos Michelson, CEO of Creo Inc. (we were also lucky enough to have Dan Gelbart, also of Creo fame, speak to us in that class). He spoke to us about how he came to be involved with Creo, how they operated, what they accomplished, and of course how they ended up selling the company to Kodak for approximately $1 billion USD (when he came to Creo in 1991, it was worth about $3 million). Amos has since moved on to some projects in health care and clean tech – most notably a company called Kardium.
Our hour with Amos passes very quickly. He is a great speaker and he peppered his tale with witty, memorable anecdotes. I still remember quite a bit of his lecture. It was amazing. But one concrete piece of advice he gave us I will take to my grave, so beautiful, simple and valuable it was. I will attempt to paraphrase it now, because it really is worth sharing.
However you measure your employees is up to you. But it is easier to think about people on a scale of 1-10, 1 being a disaster and 10 being a superstar you cannot live without out (in many ways these are the Linchpins that Seth Godin based his most recent book on helping you to become). Obviously, you want to stay away from employees or candidates that would be on the bottom of the scale. If you are hiring 5s and below you have deeper problems. But it is difficult to distinguish between certain levels of output and achievement. For example, 5s can look like 6s, 6s can look like 7s, 7s like 8s, and so on and so forth. However, 6s are easily distinguishable from 9s, 7s from 10s, and so on. Now, if you have a company of 9s and 10s, it almost doesn’t matter what you do, you will have great success. You can probably survive and do well with a few 8s, but only if the rest of the team are all 9s and 10s. If you make a mistake and hire some 5s, 6s or 7s – that’s no problem. They are easy enough to identify and you can eventually get rid of them.
Now, you probably would think that as long as you have 7.5s and up you are going to be fine. But I am here to tell you that the 7s and 8s are what will kill you as a company. Particularly those pesky 8s. These are the people who work only hard enough to sometimes appear to be 9s or maybe even 10s, but they are not – they are only masquerading as high achievers. You will see them do well and you will think ‘let’s keep them on a little longer. They might work out still’. But I am here to tell you that they are still 7s and 8s and they will mire you in mediocrity, and mediocrity will never get you anywhere in business. Of course, firing and hiring are costly endeavours – but mediocre employees will drain you forever. So, fire your 7s and 8s. Don’t wait too long to see if they are really 9s and 10s.
It was probably more eloquent than that, and a lot funnier, but that is the single piece of knowledge from the MBA that I will always remember. Fire your 7s and 8s. They will sink you. It really does run so counter to what we think of normally as what constitutes a good employee. You might think a good employee is one who keeps his head down, gets his work done and doesn’t cause any problems. But by Amos’ definition, this person is almost certainly a 7 or 8. He is not thinking about the big picture, he is thinking about his payday and what he is doing on the weekend. Sure, he’s better than a 6, but if you are in the business of hiring 6s you will not be in business for long and you will not create things of real and lasting value.
The anecdote was sticky because, whether he meant to or not, Amos pretty much nailed the SUCCESs checklist from Made to Stick. The story and the wisdom it implied was Simple. The punchline was Unexpected – who would have thought that a bunch of 8s might sink your company? The advice was Concrete – fire your 8s. It was Credible – Amos had been CEO when Creo was sold for $1 billion USD and he helped revolutionize an industry along the way. His anecdote was Emotional – he was very passionate about his beliefs and he delivered the advice emotionally, as if your entire future depended on you understanding what he was saying. And last, the anecdote told a Story. Fill up a room of people all pulling in the same direction and you will go somewhere. Fill it up with superstars, and you will create real, lasting value. Fill it up with 8s and you will put-put along eternally.
Never leave the scene of a decision without first taking a specific action towards its realization. ~ Tony Robbins
I may not have that exactly right, but the spirit of it is there. So often in the past I have made decisions and basked in the afterglow of ‘accomplishing something’ or ‘doing the right thing’ only to notice that weeks later I still have not taken any steps to make that decision a reality. However, quotes like these are, to me at least, very sticky – once I know them they pop up all the time. It’s like my consciousness has a twitter account and once it gets a hold of something good it tweets it to me at very timely intervals.
I can remember in my undergrad days having to write (seemingly) incredibly long research papers and dreading each one. I would put them off as long as possible and then scramble to put something reasonable out. Then, one day, I came across a motivational poster that said:
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step
and it just made perfect sense to me. It’s cheesy, I know, but it worked for me. Whenever I sat down to write something that I knew would be a long journey, I would repeat the quote to myself, and then beginning it would be easy. Just one foot in front of the other. You don’t think about the end state, just the next state, and then you get that feeling of blissful productivity that is so addictive.1
Action precedes motivation.
This is a great segue from one quote to the next. I learned this phrase while working at BrainBoost Education as a tutor. Students are notorious for waiting for motivation to get started on something, generally anything, that resembles school work or homework. Of course, this is a generalization, but it’s mostly true. We would use this phrase all the time to prod students into action. For some it became like a mantra. You utter it before you begin something and soon enough you have done something and then you are motivated. Motivation does not come out of the vacuum – it is manufactured by each of us through doing.
The thing is, I really like saying yes. I like new things, projects, plans, getting people together and doing something, trying something, even when it’s corny or stupid. I am not good at saying no. When you die, and it really could be this afternoon, you will not be happy about having said no. You will be kicking your ass about all the no’s you’ve said. ~ Dave Eggers
I generalize this quote as ‘yes to everything’. Granted, I don’t say yes to literally everything, but if I have no immediate and strong objection to whatever thing is proposed, I immediately think of ‘yes to everything’ and then I say yes. Sometimes whatever it is is awesome, other times it’s just generally ok, but when I think about what I would have been doing, such as watching tv or surfing the internet, I think, ‘man am I ever glad I said yes.’ You should try it – it’s great.
The Lesson, or Theme
The common theme here, if you can’t see it already, is that doing stuff is great. It probably sounds juvenile, but you should always be doing things, real things, things that mean something. The things you do don’t always have to be new or different or meaningful (but bonus points for each if so), but standing still is like death.
A way in which I used these quotes recently: I’m currently looking for a job, and on this morning a week or so ago, I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. Action precedes motivation – I turned on the computer and inbox zeroed my gmail. One of these emails came from Vantage Point – I get it semi-regularly and it outlines various volunteer opportunities available in Vancouver. This time, quite recently, I saw a posting for ‘Business Coach’ so I clicked through on the link. EMBERS, a Vancouver based organization that is working to eradicate poverty on the DTES, helps individuals get small businesses going through teaching, coaching and sponsorship. They need some people with business experience to commit a few hours each month to helping fresh graduates from their build-a-business program to help them get their businesses running. Say yes to everything - I thought, this is great, that’s what I’ll do, and promptly opened the Globe and Mail to read some news. But my brain said: wait! This is that thing you do where you make a decision without doing anything! Email the person and get this thing rolling! Take a concrete action to make this decision reality – so that is what I did and now I’m signed up and raring to go. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step – granted, getting signed up for this was hardly a thousand mile journey, but in the end maybe that is where this first step will take me. And there were, of course, other smaller steps, but without doing that first one right then I would still be thinking what a good idea this was and why hadn’t I done it yet?
Problem Solving using these four rules:
1 – blissful productivity – not a term I made up, but learned from the truly excellent TED talk by Jane McGonigal. You should watch it. In case you aren’t one to take a step toward a decision right away, I will help you out by embedding it below.
Last week I went up to my little loft office (I think I’m allowed to brag that I now have, that’s right, a little loft as an office in our new place) only to find that my trusty desktop was unable to start up. It was very bizarre. Power on, but no noises, no blue screen of death, no hard drive light, no nothing. It didn’t even try to start up. Don’t you see? It wasn’t even trying*. That’s what was so weird.
So, I grabbed the other computer and searched for what this might be. One article said hard drive failure was the likely culprit since the HD light wasn’t flickering at all. So I did what any normal male would do and took the thing apart (OK, I banged the case a few times first to see if that would get whatever was wrong working again. This of course did nothing.)
Now, I have no practical experience with the hardware side of computers. But I do really like to do things myself, particularly when they are new to me, so when I saw that the case was held together by normal Phillips style screws, it was like the computer was practically begging to be taken apart. I have to say, it’s kind of thrilling to be taking something as supposedly delicate as a computer apart. I guess it’s probably like exploring the world if you lived like at least three centuries ago. You kind of feel like you never know what might be around the next corner. Screw going to space, just take apart some stuff in your house for that little thrill of exploration.
The Thrill of Exploration
Anyway, once you take the cover off, all the computer’s guts are totally exposed. After a bit of orientation I was able to locate the hard drive but had no idea how to get to it. So I just started pulling cables off of whatever looked removable. A few more screws here and there and eventually I get the dvd drive, some part I couldn’t identify, and finally the hard drive totally separated from the motherboard and chassis. Next I did something which I could only justify as very lightly supported by evidence at the time, but which now seems downright crazy. I put the hard drive in a zip lock back and then into my freezer for the next three days. I had read somewhere that this can supposedly fix a bad hard drive, depending on the error, and in the meantime it was the weekend so that’s how it ended up staying there for three whole days.
This morning I located the external hard drive in the hopes of transferring data to it, and so I removed the frozen one and set about getting all the computer bits near the right cords to see if I could at least get the data off of my bad drive. Somehow, before I even began, I knew it wouldn’t work. Over the weekend I had been replaying the error in my mind and I just kept thinking there’s no way it’s the hard drive. The computer is not even sending any information to the screen! It’s probably something else, and now I have a broken computer and my perfectly good data is frozen solid. Great. Score one for acting without thinking.
Plugging in the computer while it is all over the floor in heaps is about as thrilling as it sounds. It feels like you’re watching surgery, but you’re not sure if you’ll be electrocuted or maybe burn the house down. Of course, nothing much happened, just like before, so I returned to the laptop to read more about how to fix my computer on my own with no skills and no training.
Finding another online forum, a seemingly respected author offered up this tidbit: try banging the hard drive while it loads.** If that doesn’t work, try reorienting it, and then bang it harder. Repeat as necessary. (I’m paraphrasing, but that’s basically what it said). Now, like I said, I’m no hardware genius, but that didn’t sound like a great idea. However, frustration is a very motivating force sometimes, and so it wasn’t 10 minutes later I found myself taking this anonymous strangers advice. Still nothing, but a lot of weird noises from the obviously spinning hard drive.
If you fail, try harder
This of course motivated me further. Seeing as the hard drive is working, I reasoned, I might as well take apart something else. So I just unscrewed anything that was left, like this cooling fan for the processor, all the RAM, the CMOS battery, and some jumper pins and things. Turns out that this was all stuff I was supposed to do anyway (more or less) as I later learned from this checklist. (Also, this was another useful forum.)
The Turning Point
That checklist actually proved to be the turning point as I realized it kept mentioning the cooling fan as a potential error source and I realized it had never turned when I attempted to boot the computer. So I cleaned out the fan, losing a screw inside the guts of the computer in the process. I tried it again. It didn’t work.
Enragedly Stupidly, I flipped the computer over hoping to find the screw. Stuff banged around and suddenly the fan started spinning. My heart jumped. Yes! It was the stupid fan! I threw some parts back together and finally the computer started beeping on start up. They were weird, very alarming beeps, but I was so happy to have anything different happen that I hurriedly googled ‘beep error codes HP’ to understand what the stupid beeps meant.
According to HP, one short beep followed by one long beep meant a memory problem. I had just reseated the RAM and had a feeling that something was off there. Turns out you have to really push hard on those things in order to get them back in place properly. Of course, after this, the computer started up normally. I put everything back together and found I had only three screws left over, a new record!
For some reason, the mouse no longer works, but everything else is fine. I suspect I created this problem when I noticed a transistor was kind of leaned over a bit and so I decided to straighten it up. I don’t think this was such a good idea anymore. All in all, I’m going to call it a win.
Things I learned:
1. Freezing your hard drive, and then whacking it with a screwdriver while it loads, is not as obviously damaging as you might think.
2. Holding a spinning hard drive is a very weird feeling. It really has a gyroscopic feel to it, like it doesn’t want to be oriented in certain directions.
3. In general, don’t jump to conclusions about what is causing your computer problems.
4. Computers are surprisingly tough (see 1).
5. If you’ve got a screwdriver, more guts than sense, and a thirst for adventure you can pretty much fix anything you want.
6. Unless of course you use that screwdriver to straighten out some bent transistors.
7. Some things inside computers are supposed to look weird (see 6).
8. 5, revisited: If you’ve got a screwdriver, more guts than sense, and a thirst for adventure you can pretty much fix or break anything you want. It’s that simple.
Note: images used are not my own. I was
fixing charging the battery on my camera, so it was unavailable for duty. I stole these from the internet, but they are rough approximations of what I actually did.
*F. Scott Fitzgerald fans will probably get this reference from The Great Gatsby.
** That’s what she said.
They are trying to be adults but they are kids. They are talking about ignoring fashion – they are anti-fashion, yet they speak of loving Europe in the summer because you can simply don your Lululemons and head out into the street. We stare at them and listen. They are like a different species – so naively cynical, so ready to proclaim allegiances and alliances, cultural or otherwise. Skipping a class in grade 9 is apparently the most exciting thing that has ever happened to them. I want to chastise them for this, but I know it is true; I was there once, and it simply is the most exciting thing you have done in your life at that point. Is it sad? Not really. You are pretending to be an adult, spending time in Starbucks socializing like the adults that have it so easy in life. We’ve arrived, they think.
I am here because I am ostensibly doing research on the market for green packaging, but I am distracted by their presence. I am reminded of The Merchants of Cool, a documentary by PBS showing how marketers utilize teenagers willingness to ‘show and tell’ to figure out emerging trends in retail and entertainment. According to these teenager, I am cool (or perhaps lame?) because I also like Gossip Girl. They are loud and brash and I am losing the battle for concentration.
But while I’m out here on a trembling twig of this limb called concentration, let’s examine background consciousness. It is what is allowing me to focus on writing this while being aware that the teenagers have moved on to Harry Potter, and now, lurchingly, the politics of Paris Hilton (the verdict: attention = money). Because marketing is about first listening and then communicating, we briefly studied the art of subliminal advertising. The word itself is, in my opinion, quite beautiful – sub, meaning under or beneath, and limin, meaning threshold. Therefore, as the words refers to consciousness, it means anything below your conscious threshold.
Here is Derren Brown giving a demonstration of the power of subliminal messages. While he is known primarily as an illusionist, most of what is going on here is uprfont.
Here he uses Neuro-linguistic programming to convince someone they love a gift. And I think the target is the guy from Shaun of the Dead, but I could be wrong.
As I am currently taking a graduate business degree, most of what I want to write about these days concerns economics – or rather, human behaviour. For example, I am constantly confounded by what I learn in marketing. Although the discipline is full of buzz words and applications of strategy, it all really boils down to observation of human behaviour. And there is something I really like about that. Whereas I used to believe that marketing was about changing behaviour (and, in a sense, it still is), what I am finding more and more is that we are simply there to observe and gather information and then try to make informed decisions. Certainly, there are influence techniques we study and tools we use to change buyer perception, but ultimately it is human behaviour that dictates what marketers call marketing strategy.
A pricing manager for one of the major oil companies came to speak to my class recently. One of the more interesting tidbits from the lecture was the way in which he dispelled the myth that collusion occurs among gas stations. To be sure, collusion is possible in pretty much any industry. But because of human behaviour – in this case, the price-elasticity of demand – the benefits of not colluding generally outweigh the benefits of collusion. It turns out that among consumers of gasoline identified as brand- or station-loyal (meaning they will almost always patronize a certain oil company or gas station), two-thirds would roll over on their favourite to save 0.5 cents per litre of gasoline. The effects of this are manifold: first, it means that we would expect long line-ups at a lower priced gas station when higher priced alternatives are nearby (which we do generally observe); second, and this is the part that I find quite fascinating, it means that we are willing to wait sometimes 20 minutes in order to save 25 cents on a 50 litre fill-up.
How is it that anyone can value their time at 75 cents per hour? Would you ever hire yourself out for any reason for 75 cents per hour? I should hope not. But I’m probably exaggerating slightly. So let’s say that, instead of 0.5 cents per liter, we’ll really save 2 cents per litre, and we’ll halve the waiting time. Now you’re choosing to wait ten minutes so you can keep a whole dollar in your pocket. If you own a vehicle, a dollar a week probably isn’t that much to you. Think about it for a minute. Which would you choose? $52 a year or nearly 9 hours of free time (assuming the 10 minute wait)? Of course, you’ll say those ten minutes you save cannot be condensed into one free day from work, and you would of course be right. But those ten minutes…what would you do with those? Maybe you would spend time with your spouse, maybe your kids, hell maybe you’d just take your shoes off and sit on your own front porch or balcony. But – and this is an important but – how often do you ever make a calculation like that? If you’re honest, the answer is probably almost never. Because we’re not trained to think like an economist, we don’t think like one. Instead, we strive to save money where we can, often in exchange for ridiculous amounts of time. And I am no different (to be fair, I’m not an economist either).
But it is because of this innate price sensitivity we all suffer from that it is nigh impossible for gas stations to collude on pricing. Even if a deal were struck between two gas stations, the gains to be made by abandoning collusion for one station are quite significant when you factor in the extra volume of gas you can sell by undercutting your competitor by half a penny (we expect far greater than 66% of drivers to switch to the lower priced alternative at that point). One of the pricing manager’s main job functions was to be ‘on call’ until 11 pm every evening simply to coordinate prices for all of his stations around the city and its environs to avoid any price discrepancies among them. Of course this isn’t the whole story – there are many other reasons collusion is impossible, chief among them the threat of government intervention (three studies in Canada in the last ten or so years all found no collusion). The manager we spoke with isn’t even allowed to so much as golf with anyone from a competing oil company.
Perhaps our price sensitivity is fueled by our outrage that gas prices should be so high. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The supply and value chains of pulling a barrel of crude out of the ground and turning it into gasoline are very complex. I could go into more detail, but suffice it to say that there is pretty intense competition at each transaction level. The bottom line for retailers is that margins are low on their end product, which is why they charge exorbitant prices for bottled water and salty snacks at gas stations – it is all about getting us in the door, and it is quite obvious that we will go wherever the signs tell us that prices are lowest, even if it means a more expensive cola.
The point of all this? Well, when you’re thinking about saving money, think about how you’re spending your time (a very finite resource). Make sure it is making you happy. Imagine what you could do instead of driving across town to save $10 on an ipod, and then ask yourself, which would I rather have: $10 or an hour with my honey?