Five Ways to Solve Tough Problems

HouseSolving problems – the really tough problems – takes fortitude, insight and wisdom. Tough problems are tough because its difficult to think outside the box. It is often difficult to escape the current situation.

McKinsey provides us with 5 ways to solve tough problems, that they call flexons – “flexible objects for generating novel solutions.”  Stated more simply – flexons are methodologies for finding a solution.

  • Networks – engaging the broader social network to understand the social prestige and influence – excellent when problems involve people and social systems.
  • Evolutionary – systematically guessing allowing the fittest answer to survive – great when many small experiments can be conducted quickly such as A/B testing for website design.
  • Decision agent – applying game theory to stakeholder behavior models – good when stakeholders have different value systems
  • Systems dynamics – mapping the major components and their forces amongst themselves (i.e. creating a ecosystem or systems map) – geared towards physical systems
  • Information processing – mapping the flow of information into the problem solving process -the proverbial the solution is only as good as the data applies.

By getting the group to focus on the best methodology  suited to solving the problem, group think is mitigated and solutions become more easily found.


Picture from Martino! @ Flickr


BYOBD – Bring Your Own Big Data

What can Big Data and Bring your own device (BYOD) teach us? Has big data peaked?  Howard Borland, at, writes

The big data phenomenon shows no signs of slowing down. Like any good journalist looking for blood in the water, I’m waiting for the backlash just as we’ve seen with other new technologies, such as BYOD.

Google trends shows BYOD plateaued after 12-18 months, but Big data is growing strong and nearly four times bigger, with no sign of slowing.

What’s going on? Let’s look at some related trends – Data Warehousing and Business Intelligence.

Data Warehousing was declining, but dropped more when big data took off. Can we say “re-branding?” I wonder how many companies just changed their messaging to ride the big data wave? Interestingly the broader term “Business Intelligence” has declined much more slowly. Seems that you can discard a technology like “data warehousing” but you can’t just discard your intelligence quite as easily. Almost seems like as the world gets more complex businesses are becoming less intelligent.

Let’s look more closely at that flippant remark. Are companies less intelligent? With this year’s big data surveys – Gil Press nicely summarizes this year’s surveys. At first, the result look like nearly any survey “xx respondants say they are engaged in…big data.” But, Bain & Company found:

…those with the most advanced analytics capabilities outperform their competitors by wide margins.

  • Twice as likely to be in the top quartile of financial performance within their industries
  • Five times as likely to make decisions much faster than market peers
  • Three times as likely to execute decisions as intended
  • Twice as likely to use data very frequently when making decisions.

Bain and Company’s findings show us the most intelligent companies, understand data analysis drives results.

Perhaps despite the big data term hype and over-use, bottom-line-results still rule. By all means, bring your own big data (BYOBD) definition, but don’t forget the data analysis.

Social Impact on Big Data

red-wood-ant-4398_640-300x225BizKnowlogy recently guest blogged on PreScouter, click for the full article.

Summary: Social Marketers are using big data to drive eyeballs and shopping carts. You are the product. The simple goal: treat you like an ant. Put sugar directly in front, and like the ant, you will consume it quickly. People are not ants. To understand people you need to look at all the social relationships. You cannot just dig up the ant nest and peer into all the tunnels.  You need other big data tools to examine the many ways people interact to form a complex social web.

The Good News, “..the trends are clear; it will be possible to re-shape our world. BIG DATA is getting BIGGER and BETTER.  Our SOCIAL awareness is following the same trajectory sociologists followed. We are shifting from understanding INDIVIDUALS to GROUPS to CITIES and beyond.  We are shifting from counting things and individual behaviors to understanding connections across large groups.”


Masthead image via qthomasbower @ flikr

Should I worry? The NY Times is missing.

via nayukim @ Flikr
image via nayukim @ Flikr

Recently a business strategist, asked me. “Should I worry? The NY Times website was  attacked by the Syrians.” He went on to ask “Is the Internet vulnerable?”

That’s a great question. The adage the only bad question is the one not asked, applies. Many many people do not need to the details about how the Internet works. But having a sense can help them understand what we face.

I used an analogy to answer his question:  The Internet is like the United States transportation system. There are many roads, railroads, streets, and even airports, all criss-crossing this country. In the countryside the roads are fewer and smaller. As we get closer to big cities with more people, the roads get bigger. At rush hour the roads slow down and get congested.

If you parked a truck on a busy freeway, you’d create a traffic jam.  People would look for alternative routes. Most roads would not be impacted because this is a big country.

But you don’t need to crash a truck, you could just coordinate a flash mob. You could get 20 of your friends to park their cars in the middle of the street at Times Square — you’d really hose things up. This is what internet attackers do – they tell other computers to park their car on a website.

The Internet isn’t a freeway and doesn’t have cars. Everything is electronic. Instead you can sit at home and direct your friends to visit the same NY Times website all at the same time. You’d  cause that one website to slow down; but you couldn’t stop the entire Internet. Traffic just re-routes around the problem.

The Syrians or any organized attacker, doesn’t recruit friends, they just borrow thousands and thousands of computers that have been infected with computer viruses. They just tell the virus to repeatedly visit the NY Times. Presto. You have instant mess.

So do we need to worry? Yes and no. No, because you can’t attack the entire network all at once. Yes, because there are millions of infected computers. (Panda Security 2012 Annual report estimates 32% of the worlds computers are infected!)  Attackers can use infected computers to direct them to attack and snarl traffic. Will we get rid of viruses? No. Just like we try to vaccinate our human bodies, viruses still exist. The question becomes are we keeping up with the vaccinations? Are we keeping the computer viruses in check? Will we prevent a plague and all out attack on many cities simultaneously? Or will we need a plague to make us act and vaccinate the internet?

The World Aint Flat. It’s Bumpy

globe_east_540Why is the flat earth so bumpy?

As Thomas Friedman’s 2005 bestseller “The World is Flat” shows us the world is flat. With distance virtually eliminated, creating new relationships and connections with suppliers, customers and employees has never been easier.

Surely, the world  is flatter today? I can hire just about any service or advice through the click of a button. Sites like elance, guru, freelancer and others make it easy. With massively open online courses (MOOCs eg: UdacityCoursera, and edX, iversity) I can attend school on nearly any subject. For learning a language or a musical instrument, hiring a teacher through a video conference call, gives me choice to work with native speakers and music masters. All in all these are smooth simple transactions.

With the ease at which Friedman explains the chaotic world,  many people continue to believe the internet has flattened the world.

“The World Ain’t Flat. It’s Bumpy”

If the internet is such an all powerful equalizer leveling the playing field, why bother to hold peace talks in person?

Trust is built by sitting at the same table, at the same time†.  Creating trust cannot be commoditized. The trust needed in complex business (and personal) dealings is not a simple elance transaction.  Humans are social creatures. We need to see, touch, feel, smell, inuit, and taste the situation.

So when making decisions, understand the relationship being created. For simple commodity like transactions, the world is very flat. For complex transactions the world is very very bumpy. If you are competing against a commodity try to make the world bumpier. If you are competing at distance try to make the world flatter. Know how to use each strategy to your advantage.


† There is a fancy word, “propinquity” meaning 1: nearness of blood : kinship; or 2: nearness in place or time : proximity.


The Broken Bell Curve

Sea Shells by Inspirational.Images, on Flickr

We have been brainwashed to believe in the almighty bell-curve. Throughout our entire academic schooling, we ask “Will this be graded on a bell curve?” In business school we learn statistics, financial analysis and quantitive modeling – all use the bell curve. Six Sigma, the gold standard for process improvement,  holds the bell curve on a pedestal; allowing only only 3.4 defects per 1 million parts – making perfection the bell curve’s domain.

With all this brainwashing, we use the bell curve when we shouldn’t.  The bell curve is a probability distribution based on randomness – like throwing two dice at the Las Vegas craps table, sevens are thrown more often than snake-eyes (a two).  A person’s behavior is not random! It might feel random to you, when you “bump” into your neighbor while standing in-line at the airport.  If you both live in Los Angeles, you don’t drive to Colorado and then use the airport. Instead, you will both use the Los Angeles airport. So guess what? Every single time you analyze people, a community, a city, a club, a university, an institution, a non-profit agency, a government, a country, or any human-human activity you [highlight4]don’t get a bell curve[/highlight4]†.

So why do companies still measure a salesperson’s productivity by counting things? by trying to put defects on a bell curve? Companies count the number of phone calls, emails, appointments, call-backs, demos, letters, promotions, banner clicks, and on and on. Because that’s what you do when you want to grade salespeople on a bell-curve. 

Ask a salesperson. They’ll tell you its about the relationships. Success is about the depth and breadth of the relationship.

So start measuring relationships. Start measuring social graphs and social networks. STOP measuring with bell curves! Bell curves are more cracked than the Liberty Bell.


† Communities follow a power law scale free relationship.  This is the same as the 80/20 (Pareto) rule. Where 80% of your revenue only takes 20% of your effort; and the remaining 20% revenue takes 80% of your effort.

Three Steps to Innovation – When The Emperor Has No Clothes

The “Emperor has no clothes” strikes a chord, because it so aptly points out our human failings. Societal norms and group think effectively  make us fearful from speaking out. We want to fit in. But innovators are different. The very nature of innovation is to change. If you don’t speak out, then nothing changes. As the story tells us, we must find the child in ourselves and speak our mind. “Hey that man. He has no clothes!”

Even with new products, services and and new ways of doing business, we must often speak our mind. Here are three things you can do to drive innovation.

  1. Just Stop, Look and Think
    • If you don’t Stop and Look you won’t even see anything wrong. You’ll think it is normal to have a naked emperor.
    • Thinking is the most inexpensive thing you can do. You avoid costly mistakes.
    • Shouting “The Emperor has No Shoes!” does not have the same impact.
  2. Ideas are Cheap
    • Talk is cheap and so are ideas; if you don’t talk about your idea, it just doesn’t matter.
    • Everyone else is thinking the same thing. It’s obvious the emperor has no clothes. Who will talk first?
  3. Finally, Do Something
    • Speak out and let the world know. Build it. Share it.
    • You might not get it right the first time. Your voice might be timid. But with conviction you can be heard.
    • “The Emperor is Wearing a Broken Invisibility Cloak!”

* Image of Emperor Angelfish

Eight Nations of Innovation

Rick-Warren-TEDxOCWhen does innovation become innovative? In a recent review, I stumbled across Rick Warren’s, talk from TEDxOrangeCoast. With innovation and discovery asking the right question is more important than the answer. He’s compiled a list of 8 questions everyone should ask. He calls them his 8 Nations of Innovation:

  • Determination – What do I need to stop/change?
  • Collaboration – How do we do it together?
  • Combination – How can we combine opposites?
  • Elimitation – What can we remove?
  • Reincarnation – What died that we can bring back to life?
  • Rejuvenation – How can we change purposes or motivation?
  • Illumination – How can we look with new light?
  • Fascination – How can we make it more interesting?

Photo credit: blmiers2 / / CC BY-NC-SA

Number One Thing to Know about Social Prestige

ID-10084546What’s the first thing people do when they sit down in a meeting? Especially a meeting with people they don’t know — they size up the room. They look for clues as to who is the alpha male or alpha female.  We all intuitively try to figure out “Who’s in charge?” and “What is the pecking order?” This behavior is so ingrained in our DNA that we often don’t even realize we are judging social standing and prestige.

Merriam-Webster defines prestige as  the standing or estimation in the eyes of people : weight or credit in general opinion.  Sociologists provide further expand this definition to four dimensions. Social prestige is the sum total of  the respect, honor, recognition or courtesy that an individual receives from other members of society or the group to which they belong. For example dons, Mafia bosses are well respected within the Mafia but overall society considers them criminals, not worthy of social prestige.

So if you want prestige, understand the group and company in which you find yourself, and work to be at its center;  progress will be recognized through the respect, honor, recognition and the courtesy you receive.


Image courtesy of Mr. Lightman /

Most Important Thing About Social Networking

17003_wpm_lowresLinkedIn, Facebook, Ning, Pinterist, MySpace, Google+, Meetup are just some of the most popular social networking sites. But, What is the most important thing to remember about Social Networking? Don’t over think the answer. Humans are social! To be social means we are connected. We cooperate to survive.  Even a baby enters this world as part of a family network – some large families others just a mother.

Social networking sites are just simply an extension of our humanity and ability to connect with others. We use them to connect; to communicate; to belong; to interact. The better our ability to connect, either in real life or the virtual social network the greater our social prestige. More on this in my next post.