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Creativity – A Primer December 7, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Creativity, [Books] Ways of Thinking.
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MIHALY CSIKSZENTMIHALYI followed his his world renowned book Flow by Creativity: Flow and the Pyschology of Discovery and Invention.  This book is written from an academic viewpoint exploring finding from over 90 interviews with contemporary persons who have made major contributions to the fields of arts or sciences, business, government, or human well-being.  It is not an easy read, but I can see why it is considered one of the main primers for the study of creativity.

He explains the importance of successfully controlling one’s mental energy to achieve personal satisfaction and success in creative endeavors. In his analysis of cultural evolution, he noticed that there are circumstances which make cultural contributions possible: hope, recognition, training, opportunity, resources, expectations, and rewards.

Some of the lessons I took away focused on how to acquire creative energy.  His advice included developing curiosity and interests.  That may seem like a basic suggestion…however, he explains why it is so important in helping us see the world from new perspectives and finding intersections between disciplines.  He also encourages us to add surprise and wonder to our lives.  This is an emotion that we, as adults, are not as aware of now compared to when we were children.  He also makes general statements about embracing complexity and being comfortable in duality.

Many subsequent authors have quoted Creativity, and taken deeper dives into areas explored in these chapters.


Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior December 7, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Sway: Pull of Irrational Behavior, [Books] Leadership & Change.
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In Sway, brothers Ori and Rom Brafman investigate what makes intelligent people make irrational decisions.  With a combination of Ph.D. in psychology and MBA, they offer a unique perspective into irrational behavior and offer recommendations on how we can “resist the sway”.

For anyone who has paid for cell phone minutes they won’t use just because they are afraid of going over, or felt a connection with someone because the other person displayed signs of being interested in them, or started out with good intentions of helping a coworker and but once they got rewarded for it they didn’t want to continue helping without another reward, these are all examples of how we get swayed in our decision making.

Psychological forces that influence irrational behavior:

  • Aversion to loss
  • Commitment
  • The Chameleon Effect
  • Diagnosis Bias
  • Incentive vs. Altruism

Loss aversion can create costly mistakes, such as in the Tenerife air disaster of 1977.  Pilot Captain Jacob Van Zanten led KLM’s safety course programs and had a spotless record of on time flights.  In analyzing this tragedy, it has become clear that the Captain made drastically different decisions than he would have if not under the pressure of avoiding a perceived potential loss.  Since the stakes kept getting higher and higher, Zanten took higher risks to avoid those losses.  In retrospect the potential gain vs. loss was not weighed objectively and he was lacking an effective feedback mechanism from his crew.

The Brafman brothers also discuss their theory of the swamp of commitment in which past success makes us want to use the same strategy over and over rather than incorporating feedback that may indicate a new strategy is needed.  They offer examples from the arenas of sports and politics that bring to light that the higher the potential loss, the more optimistic we become in hoping everything will be ok, rather than reevaluating our strategy.

I thought this was a great read full of stories which bring the principles to life. I highly recommend Sway and my major takeaways were to (1) second your first impression to stay open minded, (2) focus on the long term to avoid short term loss panics, (3) reevaluate your incentive strategy so it doesn’t derail altruistic motivations, and (4) be actively aware of your assumptions and paradigms.

Sparking innovation in engineering education October 18, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Design Thinking.
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Read more to learn about plans for bolstering the nation’s competitive edge…


Patterns by IDEO October 12, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Design Thinking.
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IDEO recently launched a collection about people, culture, business and design called PATTERNS: http://patterns.ideo.com/

PATTERNS gathers design insights across a wide variety of projects. It’s an experiment that started off as a knowledge sharing effort amongst social scientists and designers at IDEO.

Check out the archive for a wide variety of past topics and share your feedback with them: http://patterns.ideo.com/archive/

Cognitive Style of PowerPoint September 25, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, Edward Tufte, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Edward Tufte argues that PowerPoint is diluting message content and the information transmission rate in his book, “The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint.” The bullet style of most corporate and government presentations leads to shortening of evidence and thought, using space for decoration and phluff, and a focus on format not content. Specifically, when dealing with serious issues such as corporate strategy or scientific analysis the one-dimensional and superficial style of PowerPoint leaves critical relationships and logical connects ambiguous. I agree with Tufte’s sentiment, however disagree with his solution. Tufte recommended using full sentences instead of phrases and charting full numerical data in tables rather then providing summary charts. While this would increase the richness of the information being communicated, I think it would distract the audience from paying attention to the speaker. Using key phrases and graphics helps frame the discussion for the audience, but should be supplemented with a handout or supplemental document with the details.

Design Thinking in the Corporation September 25, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in Design Thinking.
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With the current focus on quarterly earnings and short term results, I wonder how more companies can incentivize this type of design thinking into their strategic planning. Especially right now when discretionary spending is being cut, how can companies better justify allocating resources toward a “systems” solution for capturing market opportunities. My hunch is that even if scorecards and metrics will still be needed to justify spending at publicly held companies (e.g. # milestones met each quarter in key initiatives), they should not be artificially quantified in the short term.

Another suggestion to help companies manage these projects with the transition of many employees rotating every 1-2 years, is to have their design projects follow them from the idea generation phase in one role, to the implementation phase in a subsequent role. This will allow for more long term continuity with the project, but still keep the employee challenged and progressing in his or her career.

Holistic View of Wealth September 25, 2009

Posted by Kavita Vora in As The Future Catches You.
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The format of Juan Enriquez’s book, “As the Future Catches You,” was interesting at first but then distracting. The varying style, size, and placement of the text mirrored a PowerPoint presentation.

Enriquez used GDP as a proxy for national wealth when categorizing countries as wealthy or poor:

“Countries whose economies remain natural-resource based…
Have to produce more and more…
To earn the same.
As their populations grow…
Most of these countries get poorer and poorer.”

This is an example of where he introduced an intriguing pattern but did not prove a causal relationship via evidence. It also did not seem to be a comprehensive view of wealth. There are inherent costs to the advancement of technology which have not yet been assessed. Some of the most technologically advanced and educated countries also are the producers of the most waste and pollution. So, I think you could argue the opposite position…more and more members of the educated class may be looking to regress technologically for the benefit of society. They are walking to local farmers markets and willing to pay a premium for organic food. They are also willing to invest in finding solutions to the damage being caused by climate change. The net wealth of a country could also include a deduction for environmental damage and quality of life which may change the order of the rich/poor list.