What was that on Sunday night on the CBS 60 Minutes program? Charlie Rose interviewed Amazon founder Jeff Bezos in a roughly 15 minute segment on the popular news show. In the now infamous interview, Bezos unveiled his vision for how drones might someday deliver Amazon products to people's homes. Rose swooned. But wait... did anyone at 60 Minutes even bother to think about the timing of the interview? It ran on the DAY BEFORE CYBER MONDAY! It amounted to a huge 15 minute infomercial for Amazon on the day before the biggest online shopping day of the year. Where is the journalistic integrity here? Did anyone at CBS even question the timing? Of course, Rose didn't ask much about a tiny little word that somehow conveniently never receives much attention when journalists swoon over Bezos (shhh... let's not talk about profit, or the lack thereof). I don't blame Bezos or Amazon here. They had an opportunity to participate in a feature on a highly popular news show. They took advantage of the opportunity for some great public relations. The fault here lies entirely with Rose and the 60 Minutes producers. When do the small independent merchants in every small town in America get there 15 minute infomercials on CBS?
Tuesday, December 03, 2013
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Thank you to my colleague, Professor David Ketcham, for pointing me to this hilarious video featuring the famous comedic character, Father Guido Sarducci. The video is very funny, in part because it contains a kernel of truth about college education in America.
Monday, November 25, 2013
David Burkus has published a new book titled The Myths of Creativity. I highly recommend it. In the book, Burkus explains how creativity truly works, drawing on the latest research as well as plenty of compelling examples. Here are a few myths that he exposes:
- The Eureka myth: the truth is that most great creative ideas do not emerge in a flash of instant brilliance.
- The Lone Creator myth: the truth is that many great ideas are works of collaboration, not the product of a lone genius.
- The Brainstorming myth: the truth is that brainstorming itself is not a bad thing, but the notion that it will produce a fully formed idea that translates directly into a successful innovation... that's a mistaken belief.
- The Constraints myth: the truth is that creative potential is not necessarily diminished by constraints. Constraints, indeed, can be helpful in the innovation process.
Friday, November 22, 2013
On the Washington Post website, Darden Business School Professors Yael Grushka-Cockayne and Kenneth C. Lichtendahl Jr., ask the provocative question: Is it better to trust the best expert, or the average of a group of experts? They examine this question in the context of economists forecasting economic growth for the Wall Street Journal. They remind us about the concept of "the wisdom of crowds" described so eloquently by James Surowiecki of The New Yorker. Then, they describe research by two Duke professors, Rick Larrick and Jack Soll:
Rick Larrick and Jack Soll, business professors at Duke University, have shown that when given a chance to do so, people often prefer to rely on experts. In laboratory experiments, they found that where experts disagreed, people would deem the “most able” among them and trust that individual’s judgment more. Despite this perception, the average forecast often outperforms the best individual’s forecast. Such outperformance happens when forecasts bracket the true result.
In their column for the Washington Post, the two Darden Professors examine past data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, an institution that surveys economists and relies on averaging of the individual forecasts. They found that, "The crowd beat the expert in 63 percent of the 40 quarters. Not surprisingly, any two forecasters in the survey often bracketed the truth, bracketing on average 28 percent of the time."
No surprises here... we have known about the wisdom of crowds for some time. What is fascinating is that people tend to want to rely on the individual expert. They prefer the expert over the crowd... absolutely the wrong strategy.
Thursday, November 21, 2013
Several years ago, Michael Mauboussion wrote a good book titled, "Think Twice: Harnessing the Power of Counter-intuition." At one point, he describes an experiment by Adrian North, David Hargreaves, and Jennifer McKendrik regarding the sale of wine in supermarkets. Researchers examined whether consumers would choose a French or German wine, when the products were placed next to each other on the shelves. In some weeks, French music played in the aisle. In other weeks, German music played. Consumers said that the music did remind them of the associated country, but they said that the music had no impact on their buying decision. However, they were completely wrong! Consumers bought French wine 77% of the time when French music played. However, when German music played, they bought German wine 73% of the time.
What's the lesson here? Our environment really does shape our behavior, and we often underestimate how much the situation/environment influences us. It's very easy for us to believe that we would have behaved differently than others or made a different decision than the flawed choice they made in a particular circumstance. Yet, what would have happened to us given those same situational factors they faced? When I teach a case on the Columbia space shuttle accident, many students and executives often indicate that they would have behaved differently than the engineers there. They claim that they would have spoken up more forcefully about the dangers of the foam strike and the need for more investigation. Would they really have behaved differently? It's easy for us to say that we would act differently, but are we recognizing and admitting how much environment, culture, and situation shapes our actions?
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
Francesca Gino, Leigh Plunkett Tost, and Richard P. Larrick have conducted a fascinating study on power and leadership. For one of their experiments, the scholars used the Everest Leadership and Team Simulation that Amy Edmondson and I developed. The simulation enables students and executives to learn by doing. They experience challenging team decision-making in a virtual climb of the world's tallest mountain. Participants work in five-person teams in this virtual climb, and they face increasingly challenging decisions as they ascend the mountain. One person serves as the leader. Four others adopt pre-assigned roles, such as a team physician and team photographer.
The scholars decided to modify the simulation, by asking some leaders to consider a time when they had control/power over others. They asked those leaders to write about that situation, prior to conducting the simulation. Other leaders did not engage in this "priming" exercise. What did they find? The "high-power" leaders (those primed to think about a situation in which they exercised power/control over others) tended to dominate the group conversation. Their comments accounted for 33% of the air time during group deliberations in the simulation. The other leaders only spoke 19% of the time! Did the difference in leader behavior affect group performance? It did! The groups with "high-power" leaders achieved 59% of their goals (slightly below average in my experience running the simulation). The teams without a dominating leader achieved 76% of their goals, a very solid performance. Why? The teams with a dominating leader missed key clues and did not share and integrate information effectively. Gino explains, "Even subtle ways of making people feel powerful have powerful effects on behavior."
Imagine, then, the effect that truly powerful executives have on group deliberations. If this simple "priming" had such a significant effect, what is the impact of a dominating, charismatic, powerful chief executive in "real world" settings?
Tuesday, November 19, 2013
This week, the New York Times Corner Office column (by Adam Bryant) features an interview with Bob Pittman, CEO of Clear Channel Communications. You may also know Pittman as the person who oversaw the creation and launch of MTV back in the 1980s. In the column, Pittman talks about the value of dissent, a topic about which I have written extensively over the years. Here is what he says:
Often in meetings, I will ask people when we’re discussing an idea, “What did the dissenter say?” The first time you do that, somebody might say, “Well, everybody’s on board.” Then I’ll say, “Well, you guys aren’t listening very well, because there’s always another point of view somewhere and you need to go back and find out what the dissenting point of view is.” I don’t want to hear someone say after we do something, “Oh, we should have done this.” I want us to listen to these dissenters because they may intend to tell you why we can’t do something, but if you listen hard, what they’re really telling you is what you must do to get something done. It gets you out of your framework of the conventions of what you can and can’t do.
I love the question: What did the dissenter say? Often, people come to the leader with a recommendation. They are both the advocates for a particular plan, as well as the primary information gatherers and analysts of the situation. They clearly have strong vested interest. (bias!) Asking about the dissenters insures that you are not simply hearing advocacy. Moreover, it enables the leader to dig into the advocates' decision-making process a bit. Did they reach out to hear opposing opinions at all? Did they consider alternatives? Did they probe and test their assumptions? If they stumble on this question, then you know that their decision-making process has key weaknesses. At this point, as a leader, you can conclude that you are not in a good position to make a tough call. Your team is not providing you with the right information, analysis, and advice.