Yves Morieux: As work gets more complex, 6 rules to simplify


Yves Morieux is a consultant at BCG, and researches how corporations can adapt to a modern and complex business landscape.


Yves starts with a paradox: why are companies struggling so much with low productivity despite the vast improvements in technology, and increased leadership development programs? Management is based on 2 pillars:

  • hard pillars: based on structure, processes, metrics
  • soft pillars: feelings, interpersonal relationships, traits, personality

Yves believes these pillars are now obsolete. Businesses are now extremely complex, and to manage an improvement (to reliability, technology, cost) they typically add more hard rules to make things more complicated. For example: if an automotive engineering firm has a separate team for each aspect of a car (20 teams), and there is a new focus on ease of maintenance, the hard solution is to make a new functional team with responsibility for maintenance. Each of these will have a KPI to improve their function, which dilutes focus and makes cooperation between the teams more difficult. This extra burden of competition and cooperation is borne by the individual employees, who have to work harder to make up for the flaws of the structure.

Yves proposes 6 simplification rules for business

  1. Understand what others do – beyond a superficial title, understand what their role involves.
  2. Reinforce integrators – give managers the power to make cooperation happen without forcing KPIs and complicated structures on people.
  3. Increase total quantity of power – empower everyone to use their judgement and intelligence to take good risks
  4. Extend the shadow of the future – make sure feedback loops expose employees to the consequences of their actions
  5. Increase reciprocity – remove buffers that force people to be self-sufficient
  6. Reward those who cooperate –  “blame is not for failure, it is for failing to cooperate or ask for help”

When you do this, it stops being about boxes and organisational structures. You have simplified complicated businesses.

The real battle is not against your competitors, it is against yourself, and against bureaucracy.

Johnny Lee: Wii Remote hacks


Johnny Chung Lee is a Human-Computer Interaction researcher currently working at Google. Lee is best known for his work on Kinect development.


Researchers sometimes use vast resources to achieve their goal. Sometimes the best solution uses cheap, off-the-shelf products to do somethine similar. Johnny shows off some hacks taking advantage of the Wii-mote – a cheap game controller (~$40) with its motion sensing capabilities and infra-red camera.

  • With the right software, and a cheap infra-red pen (can be built for $5), the Wii-mote’s IR camera can simulate a digital white board (worth $3,000). This software has been downloaded half a million times.
  • By putting the Wii-mote’s IR camera under a TV screen, and fitting a (cheap) IR sensor to the viewer’s head, the screen will track them. So as they move around the room, the 3D interface on screen will show them a different perspective. This could allow a new type of video games.

Johnny is also amazed at how these hacks have gained popularity – using Youtube. Within days of posting videos of these hacks, he was already seeing others imitating the work. He hopes in future Youtube will be used to its full potential by researchers to publish results.

Jonas Eliasson: How to solve traffic jams


Jonas Eliasson – Director of the Centre for Transport Studies at Sweden’s Royal Institute of Technology


Congestion is a problem in all cities, regardless of how the city is designed. Whether European cities with a central core and few roads, or American cities with plenty of roads and an urban sprawl, all have congestion. As people investigate solutions, they boil down to discouraging people from driving during rush hour. When dealing with complex social problems, no one person can be responsible for it. The solution is to create the right framework and incentives and allow everyone to adapt to the new situation.

Stockholm is mainly congested at bridges entering the city, so they implemented a small charge of 1-2 euro at these bottlenecks during peak hour. This reduced traffic by 20%, which reduced it below the threshold needed to cause major congestion (which needs only a small decrease in traffic to drastically reduce congestion). The congestion charge stopped and started a few times, and traffic dropped by 20% the day it was introduced, and then increased the day it was removed. Importantly, the traffic numbers stayed down even after being implemented for a few years.

Public support for congestion charges improved over time. When first introduced, 70% of people opposed it. After a few years it flipped and 70% of people supported it. Surveys show that people feel they have not changed their minds, that they supported congestion charges all along. They also found that no-one feels like their transport mode has changed – they can’t identify the 20% who seemed to stop driving through the bridges. The effects of this price were subtle, nudging people towards making the desired decision rather than forcing it on them.

What this shows is that subtle cues: people have reduced peak hour car usage by 20%, gotten rid of congestion completely, and not only love it but feel like they supported the idea all along.

Jeff Speck: The walkable city


Jeff Speck is a city planner and urban designer who, through writing, lectures, and built work, advocates internationally for smart growth and sustainable design.


The worst idea Americans have ever had is urban sprawl, and it is being emulated in other countries. Through it the automobile, that was once a symbol of freedom, has become a gas-belching, time-wasting, life-threatening prosthetic device that people need just to live their daily lives. Jeff wants to make cities more walkable to free us from relying on cars, for 3 reasons

  1. Economic: in the 70s the average american spent 10% of their income on transport, now the spend 20%. Working families now spend more on transport than housing, since they travel further to find cheaper houses.
  2. Health: in the 70s 1 in 10 Americans were obese, now it is 1 in 3. The current generation is expected to live a shorter life than its predecessor. Jeff sees this as an urban design problem – by denying people chances to be active in their daily life. There are clear correlations between how walkable a region is and the obesity of its residents. Asthma rates are also up due to car exhaust. Car accidents are the single largest killer of healthy adults. We think of it as a natural event, but rates are far less in cities which have been designed to reduce car usage.
  3. Environmental: Cities reduce CO2 emissions per capita, with densely populated cities reducing emissions more. However cities can always reduce more.

Portland has instituted policies to differentiate it from other US cities. It has instituted a city boundary to limit sprawl, reduced the width of roads, and increased cycling infrastructure. As a result, Portland residents drive 4 miles and 11 minutes less per day – which is saving 3.5% of their income. It has also attracted young workers, because people want to be in that sort of city.

Jeff argues our houses are getting greener in the wrong way. We’re looking for greener gadgets and ideas to add to our houses, but the impact of energy saving bulbs is a fraction of the impact of living in a walkable city. People shouldn’t be afraid of selling the lifestyle of living in a more walkable city. The lifestyle of people living in cities is studied and these studies show that people are happier in cities with better sustainability. It isn’t an easy transition, but it can be done and is worth trying.

Winston Churchill said “Americans can be counted on to do the right thing, once they have exhausted the alternatives”.


Randall Munroe: Comics that ask “what if?”


Randall Monroe – former engineer at NASA and most known for his webcomic at xkcd.com


Every week on his website xkcd.com, Randall writes a feature called ‘What If’ – where he answers questions using maths and displays them as an explanation interspersed with comics. For example, when asked what would happen when a baseball is thrown at the speed of light, he talks about the interactions with the air – superheating it to plasma and creating a mushroom cloud that would strike the batter. In his opinion, this would constitute a ‘hit by pitch’, and allow the batter to walk to first base (if it still existed).

Randall was asked how big Google’s data centres would be if all their data was stored on punch cards. Noone knows how much data Google holds, but Randall predicted it using estimates of the money Google has, or how many hard drives they use, or how big their data centres are, or how much electricity they used. He can use what he does know to improve the quality of guessing what he doesn’t. He predicted 10 exabytes of data, and perhaps another 5 exabytes of offline data stored in tape drives. A punch card holds about 80 characters, with about 2,000 cards in a box. 15 exabytes would cover the entire area of New England to a depth of 5km. A few weeks later he got a message from Google, consisting of punch cards. This is a puzzle, including a code, which gives them some equations, which Randall eventually cracks to get a message. The message was “No Comment”.

Randall enjoys maths, but not for it’s own sake. He likes using maths to take things he knows and then use them to discover what he could never know.

But sometimes maths cannot help. One of his user questions just contained the subject line “Urgent’ and the question “If people had wheels and could fly, how would we differentiate them from airplanes?”.

Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend

Speakers: Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist known for her popular explanation of scientific research.


Kelly has been treating stress as a disease that makes people sick, but has now changed her tune. A study assessed people’s feelings of stress, their attitude towards stress, and correlated against public death records. The people most likely to die were more stressed, but they also believed that stress was harmful to their health. People who were highly stressed but didn’t believe it was harmful were the least likely group to die. The study shows it isn’t stress that kills people, it’s the belief that stress is harmful. By reshaping how you think about stress, you can retool your body’s response.

When stressed, your heart beats faster, you breathe faster, and you’ll break out into a sweat. Normally we’d view these as signs that you’re not coping well, but people could also be taught that your body is preparing for action. By pumping more blood and breathing more you are preparing for something difficult, and ready to take on any challenge.

The harmful part of stress is a restriction of blood vessels, which is associated with cardiovascular disease. When people learn to see stress as a positive, the blood vessels do not constrict. The body response looks more like it is full of joy.

The next time you are stressed, think about it as your body preparing you for the challenge.

Stress makes you social. Octytocin is a neural hormone that primes you to strengthen relationships, and help your friends. It is also known as ‘the cuddle hormone’. But Oxytocin is also released as a stress response – to make you want to tell someone you are struggling. Oxytocin is also received in the heart, to strengthen, heal and protect it from the effects of stress. As you release more of this hormone by being stressed or helping others, you increase your stress resilience.

Another study looked at how stressed people were, how much time they had spent helping family / friends / their community, and correlated with public death records. For the general respondants, each major stressful crisis increased the risk of dying by 30%. However, people who spent time caring for others had no increase in risk of death due to stress.

The results of stress are changed by your mindset. When you think of stress as a benefit it acts that way. When you help others, you build resilience to stress.

When given a choice between a stressful job and one that is less stressful, Kelly recommends that you follow the one that gives you the most meaning, and trust yourself to handle the stress that results.

David Epstein: Are athletes really getting faster, better, stronger?


David Epstein is a senior writer at Sports Illustrated and the author of The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance.


The Olympic motto is “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, and over time our Olympic records are getting better. However, David is investigating why: the technological and training drivers.

100m sprint: Jesse Owens won the 1936 Olympics in 10.2 seconds, but would have came last in the 2013 race where Usain Bolt set his record of 9.77seconds. The human race has not evolved over this time, but technology is supporting them: for example Owens ran on a soft surface of wood ash (cinders), which would have made him lose a lot more energy than Usain’s engineered carpet. Likewise, Usain ran from starting blocks, while Owens used a trowel to dig small holes in the surface. By analysing Owens’ movements, it is believed if he competed directly against Usain Bolt on the same surface, he would have come within a stride of victory, instead of being 14ft slower.

4 minute mile: The first man to run a 4 minute mile was in 1954, also on cinders (soft wood ash). Since then 1,314 have run a 4 minute mile, but the cinders are 1.5% slower than synthetic tracks. If you apply this conversion, only 513 men have run 4 minute miles.

100m freestyle: the record is decreasing over time, but there were sudden drops in time caused by introduction of flip turns, gutters around the pool to absorb ripples, and the introduction of full body swim suits.

Longest distance cycled in an hour: increased from 30miles, 3774 feet in 1972 more than 35miles in 1996. the 1996 bike was aerodynamic and much better engineered. When the rules were changed to force everyone to use a similar bike to what was used in 1972, the new record stands at 30miles 4657ft – not much further than 1972. Essentially the whole gain was from technological gain.

Selection of athletes: In the early 20th century it was believed that the most normal, average body type was best suited for all sports. Since then sports scientists revealed different body shapes were stronger in different sports, resulting in each sport having a certain type of people competing. This coincided with more people wanting to join in on the sports, making a wider range of people available to choose from, and therefore more people able to fit into the perfect body for the sport. This has been called the ‘Big Bang of Bodytypes’. Specialisation has concentrated people into these sports for example 1 in 6 men taller than 7ft are in the NBA. In sports where large bodies are prized, the athletes got bigger. Likewise sports preferring smaller bodies got them.

Ultra-endurance: There was a time when it was believed that ultra-endurance was harmful to our health. However, as we analysed our bodies we found they were hairless and easily cooled, and muscle structures made us well adapted to long runs. Recently Kilian Jornet ran up and down the Matterhorn (8,000ft) in under 3hrs, but he is not a freak. More people will do the same in the future, now that we have changed our mindset about what is possible.

With new technology, body type adaptation, mindset, imagination, and understanding of what the human body is capable of, athletes have been getting faster, higher, stronger.