Margaret Heffernan: Dare to disagree

Speaker

Margaret Heffernan is an entrepreneur, CEO, writer and keynote speaker.

Summary

In the 1950s, Alice Stewart was studying childhood cancer on a shoestring budget. Since she’d only be able to run a single study with minimal analysis, she surveyed people, asking them everything possible and seeing if anything gave a correlation. The overwhelming answer was that X-rays on pregnant women were increasing cancer risk in children. Her findings flew in the face of doctor’s roles (that their tests were harming patients) and common medical wisdom of the time. The controversial findings took 25 years of fighting before they were adopted by the medical boards of UK and USA. To give Alice confidence in her findings she used a statistician George Neil – whose job was to dig into the numbers and DISprove Alice’s findings (rather than mindlessly support them). His job was to create conflict around her findings, and in failing to do so he gave her confidence. Alice and George saw conflict as a form of thinking, and were very good at it.

We need to work with people who are different from ourselves- different backgrounds, thought processes, personalities. This can be hard – it goes against our instincts and uses much more time and energy.

In corporations, 85% of executives acknowledge that they have refrained from raising issues or concerns at work because they didn’t want to cause conflict. This says that they can’t think together – they can’t raise the conflicts George and Alice did to challenge themselves. It is a skill to use conflict to fix an issue, and it is the job of a leader to raise issues they see – since everyone else may see the same issues but be too afraid to talk about them.

Margaret says that pHd students at some universities are forced to submit 5 statements that they are willing to defend – they must do this to show they can deal with being challenged. She suggests it needs to be extended to school kids – to get them ready for conflict at a younger age. Most major catastrophes aren’t caused by secret information – the signs are in open information that people are unwilling to discuss. When we dare to break that silence, we allow everyone to do their best thinking.

My Thoughts

Wonderful talk and strongly recommended. She cuts to the heart of the issue with wonderful clarity, and convinces all viewers to raise their concerns when they see them. I can see a lot of potential in getting people to make statements at a young age and making them defend them.

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Sheena Iyengar: How to make choosing easier

Speaker

Sheena Iyengar is a Professor of Business in the Management Division at Columbia Business School and the Faculty Director of the Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center. She is known for her research on choice, culture, and innovation

Summary

The average American reports they make 70 decisions per day. A study was done by following CEOs around, and found they completed 139 tasks, and 50% of their decisions were made in 9 minutes or less. Only 9% of decisions took longer than an hour.

The choice overload problem is summarised by a grocery store that can offer hundreds of types of olive oil or jam. Sheena was fond of such a store, and found they had hundreds of tourists but very few people bought anything (including herself). She ran an experiment where she offered jams for tasting – once she offered 6 flavours, another time she offered 24. While people were more likely to stop and taste the 24 flavours, nearly noone bought a jar. She got 6 times more sales from the experiment with only 6 flavours. This can happen even with more significant decisions such as saving for retirement. A study looked at participation in 401k plans, each of which offered a different number of funds within them. Those that offered only 1-2 funds had participation of 75%, and participation decreased until the plans with 59 funds recorded only 63% participation.

There are 3 main consequences of offering people too many choices

  • Engagement – they tend to procrastinate
  • Quality – Make worse choices
  • Satisfaction – they are less happy with their choice, even if their decision is objectively better.

This is because it is difficult to properly compare all choices – it is fun to gaze at a wall of mayonnaise, but how can you really decide which one is best?

Sheena suggests 4 techniques in your businesses to prevent choice overload in customers.

  1. Cut – reduce the redundant options. This will increase sales, and lower costs. When Proctor and Gamble reduced their Head & Shoulders line from 26 products to 15 their sales increased 10%. Aldi offers only 1400 products (compared to Walmart offering 100,000) and is the 9th largest retailer in the world. If people can’t tell the difference between 2 products, don’t force them to choose.
  2. Concretisation – Relate a decision in terms that mean something. Sheena described a road in terms of it’s surroundings and accident statistics (one of the most dangerous roads in the world) and asked who would want to visit it. She then showed photos of the road, and more people seemed keen. By showing the photo it seemed more real and easier to decide, even though there was less concrete information about the road. Similarly, when saving for retirement, thinking about what how you want your retirement to be can make saving easier.
  3. Categorisation – Reduce the objects into categories that mean something to the chooser. For example – putting 600 magazines in categories makes it easier to pick one. Of course, categorising by industry jargon that can’t be understood by the consumer is useless.
  4. Condition for Complexity – Gradually increase the complexity. When custom making a car, a lot of decisions need to be made eg engine, gear shifter (with only a few choices each) or paint colour (with 56 choices). People stay engaged longer if they are presented with the smaller sets first – they get exhausted making the largest decision first (paint colour), and will tend to pick the default thereafter.

My Thoughts

While Sheena focussed on business owners, the same principles should be applied whenever you are trying to convince someone of something. By presenting the options in a more concrete form – what it means to them, or grouping a few similar options together, you could make it easier to win them over.

I am a big fan of simplifying, and Sheena’s talk did not disappoint. She gave useful advice, and explained it so well that it all made sense. Strongly recommended for business owners focussed on consumers, and great background info for everyone else.

Nigel Marsh: How to make work-life balance work

Speaker

Nigel Marsh is best known for his creative pursuits. As well as the author of three books – Fat, Forty and Fired, Overworked and Underlaid and Fit, Fifty and Fired-Up – he is also the co-founder of Earth Hour and the founder of the Sydney Skinny.

Summary

Nigel used to be a ‘corporate warrior’ – working and eating too much and neglecting other aspects of life. He took a year off, and when he returned he studied and struggled with work-life balance. Here is what he learned:

  1. We need an honest discussion about work-life balance. However, some jobs seem to be incompatible with daily engagement with a young family. Flexi time and casual fridays do not do enough to fix this issue.
  2. Governments and corporations will not solve this issue for us. We need to take responsibility for the type of life we want to lead, and setting the boundaries of our life. Even the good companies will try to get as much out of you as they can.
  3. We need to be careful of the timeframes when we will achieve our work life boundaries. We need to be realistic about what personal activities we can do around an ideal work day, but we can’t fall into the trap of delaying everything until we retire, or until our children grow up.
  4. We need to approach balance in a balanced way. Some people see balance as an ability to go to the gym more. We need to make time to satisfy all our physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional needs. This can be daunting, but the small things matter.

We don’t need to completely upheave our life, and if everyone starts to make small changes we can alter our definitions of success (away from ‘whoever dies with the most money wins’).

Thousands of people are currently quietly screaming desperation, long hard hours at jobs they hate to buy things they dont need to impress people they don’t like.

 

Jason Fried: Why work doesn’t happen at work

Speaker

Jason Fried thinks deeply about collaboration, productivity and the nature of work. He’s the co-founder of 37signals, makers of Basecamp and other web-based collaboration tools, and co-author of “Rework.”

Summary

Businesses, governments and other organisations invest so much money in bringing their people together at the office, but when people really want to get something done at work, they want to do it elsewhere. They tend to either do it at home, or on their commute (plane, train, car), or at strange times – early morning, late night, weekends. This is because most people in creative professions need uninterrupted time to work, and being at work chops up your day with meetings and other requests.

 

Jason sees a connection between work and sleep. Sleep happens in phases – to get to the deepest phase you need to go through the others first. If interrupted in an early phase you need to go through them all again. The interruptions in an office are not the same as at home – at home you can choose to turn on the TV or surf the internet or go for a walk. In the office the main interruptions are managers and meetings. Managers job is to interrupt – to check what you’re doing. They also tend to call meetings to resolve issues – taking 10 people out from their train of thought to talk about work (rather than actually working). For a 1hr meeting, this is 10hrs of lost productivity from the organisation. Meetings also have a habit of causing more meetings – scaling up the damage done.

So how can enlightened managers get their employees working at the office again?

  1. ‘No talk Thursdays’ – tell people not to talk to each other for 1 afternoon per month. It is amazing how much work will get done if employees can have 4hrs uninterrupted.
  2. Move away from face-to-face communication, and towards emails / messaging. This can still be time-consuming, but at least the recipient can choose when to deal with it. They can schedule around their core work and take it at their own pace.
  3. Cancel a meeting – if you have to make a decision at a meeting, just cancel it. The decision will still get made somehow, and you’ll free up everyone’s schedule.

 

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

Speaker

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

Summary

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.

Ray Anderson: The business logic of sustainability

Speaker: Ray Anderson

Length: 16:39

Summary

In 1973, Ray read from “The Ecology of Commerce” that business and industry is

  1. the major culprit of the decline of the biosphere, and
  2. the only institution large and powerful enough to fix the problem.

The environmental impact equation is Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology. Ray’s focus as CEO of a carpet manufacturer was on the ‘Technology” side – his goal was to use technology to improve the environment, turning impact into Impact = Population x Affluence / Technology. Since embracing this goal, his greenhouse gas has dropped by 82%, while sales have risen by 2/3rds and profits doubled. His goal is still zero impact – mission zero, which is even better for business, as an important market differentiator.

His achievements so far have shown the following benefits, and mission zero is going to increase profits considerably by the same action

  • Decreased costs: $400million savings and zero waste – this alone has paid for the project, and products have continued to be produced at similar high quality
  • Design for sustainability has attracted high quality candidates and galvanised them around the shared goal for zero impact
  • Goodwill of the market: the drive for zero waste has given them much more sales than pure marketing.

If Ray’s carpet company- a petroleum intensive manufacturer, can achieve these goals and recognise the benefits, then any business can do the same. His idea is to further extend the Environmental Impact equation, decreasing affluence to be less reflective of pure wealth and more what is necessary to stay happy.