Susan Colantuono: The career advice you probably didn’t get

Speaker

Susan Colantuono is the CEO and founder of Leading Women. She is the author of No Ceiling, No Walls: What women haven’t been told about leadership, which takes a close look at the conventional wisdom keeping women from rising from middle management.

Summary

Women now occupy 50% of middle management positions, but less than a third of that portion in upper management. Leadership skills are required at all levels of management – defined by using your own skills and engaging with others to help the organisation achieve its goals. However in the highest positions, the most important skill is ‘Business, strategic, and financial acumen’ – or the ability to understand the business, and people’s roles. This is the skill that is missing in the advice given to women – not because they are incapable of achieving it but because it isn’t recognised as a skill they are advised to acquire.

As an example, Susan was discussing with some executives what they look for in people with executive potential: they recognise personal success & work ethic, and they recognise people skills. When asked about high level strategy and business understanding they say “That’s a given”. When Susan asks women how many have heard that this skill is important, very few have had that advice. Most advice given to women relates to developing negotiating skills, personal branding, networking and self confidence. This is good advice for reaching middle management positions, but is not enough to reach executive level. Additionally, performance & talent systems focus on personal achievement & leadership, and are not directing people to develop business or strategic skills.

Men are doing a better job of developing business skills through mentoring and networking – being sponsored by someone at the top. In one case, an executive mentored a man and a woman – helping the man learn the business and helping the woman develop self-confidence. At the time he didn’t realise he was treating them differently.

Actions that can be taken from these findings: For women to develop they need to demonstrate financial acumen. Even for people not at middle management yet, by weaving financial or strategic information into project reports it can really impress those above. For executives, these findings should cause concern – it shows a lack of strategic alignment if their middle managers do not understand the skills expected of them to advance. Additionally, boards should demand proportional succession pools to fill future executive positions, with CEOs and HR prepared to help high potential employees get the skills needed. By recognising and acting on this, we can close the gender gap at the top.

My Thoughts

Very worthwhile topic and wonderful result – to identify what is missing in middle managers to help them become executives. Although I am not a woman, personally I will take the advice to develop high level strategic skills in the workplace.

However, I’m not entirely convinced that the only thing missing is the advice to develop business, strategic and financial skills. I would have thought that people aiming for executive positions should be capable of recognising they need these skills. It is possible that executives do not see women as having these skills – similar to the example in Susan’s talk who mentored his men and women differently. In this case the women can’t just learn the skills, they need to take the chance to show them off as much as possible as well.

Regardless, an enjoyable and useful talk.

Drew Curtis: How I beat a patent troll

Speaker

Drew Curtis is creator of Fark.com – an internet news aggregator.

Summary

In January 2011, Fark was sued along with MSN, reddit, yahoo for violation of a patent. The patent was for “creation and distibution of news releases via email”. This happens all the time, where a simple thing that is already happening can be patented, especially for a new emergent technology. These ‘Patent Trolls’ often sue major companies, ending in out of court settlements allowing them to claim they won the case.

The flaw in the case against Fark was that news release has a specific meaning in media – a press release by a company. Drew believed this meant he was not in violation, but a quirk in patent law is that the burden of proof is on the defendant to prove they have not violated the patent. Best case is that this can cost $2million and take 18 months to prove if they win. Most of the other companies in this case opted to settle out of court despite none of them violating the patent.

When Drew demanded screenshots showing where Fark had violated the patent, his troll was very quick to want a settlement: immediately demanding Drew’s “Best and final offer”. He offered nothing and no non disclosure agreement, and they accepted. This allowed him to talk about his experience in a way most other companies could not.

What Drew learnt about this case

  • Don’t fight the patent, fight the infringement – it’s a lot easier to prove that you haven’t infringed.
  • Either say you have no money, or that you’d rather spend money fighting the troll instead of giving it to them. Patent trolls need to recover their money, and if they’re less convinced they’ll get anything they are no longer interested in pursuing the case.
  • Tell them you will make this process as annoying and painful and difficult for them. These are the strategies a patent troll will use on you, but they need a quick return so it works really well when you reverse it.

“Do not negotiate with terrorists” – lawsuits from patent trolls have cost the US economy more every year than the all time cost of terrorists on US soil. Patent law is big, and driven by the needs of industries that want to protect inventors (healthcare industry) versus producers. These forces are on opposite ends of the patent spectrum, and patent trolls manage to exist in the gaps between them.

My Thoughts

Good summary of the dangers of patent law, and how to fight a frivolous lawsuit. Drew presents well and has a lot to tell us in such a short talk.

Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

Speaker

Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.

Summary

Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.

Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.

Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it

Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.

Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.

  • He uses overly formal language
  • he distances himself from “that woman”
  • he uses qualifying language.

Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.

She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:

  • They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
  • We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
  • They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
  • Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.

Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:

  • An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
  • an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
  • an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
  • In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
  • A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
  • A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail

A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.

The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.

Julian Treasure: How to speak so that people want to listen

Speaker

Julian Treasure is the chair of the Sound Agency, a firm that advises worldwide businesses – offices, retailers, hotels on how to use sound.

Summary

Sometimes you talk and get the feeling that noone is listening. Julian starts by listing the ‘7 deadly sins’ of conversation – basically people don’t want to listen if you are doing this

  1. Gossip (speaking about people who aren’t present, and probably saying nasty things about the listener later)
  2. Judging (judging the person you are speaking to, and finding them wanting)
  3. Negativity (negative outlook)
  4. Complaining (achieves nothing)
  5. Excuses (passing problems of the world on to everyone else)
  6. Lying
  7. Dogmatism (mixing up facts and opinion)

However there are 4 positive, powerful ways to improve your conversation style – summarised as HAIL.

  • Honesty – be true and clear with what you mean
  • Authenticity – be yourself, stand in your own truth
  • Integrity – do what you say, be trustworthy
  • Love – wish people well

You can also look at how you say it – tools in your speech patterns to enhance your speech.

  • Register – a deeper voice from the chest speaks with more power and authority.
  • Timbre – how the voice feels or sounds – distinct from tone or loudness.
  • prosody – the sing-song or up and down of the movement – opposite of montonous. Some problems are an upward inflection at the end of every sentence to make everything a question?
  • Pace- a rapid pace, then slowing down for emphasis. Or just pausing occasionally can be very powerful.
  • Pitch – a higher pitch can make you sound more excited
  • Volume – quiet to make people lean in and pay attention, louder can also show excitement. Don’t broadcast loudly all the time.

Finally he discusses 6 vocal warmup exercises – to get you ready before you need to talk. This includes breathing, making noises with lips, ‘rapberries’, lalala on tongue, practising a rolled ‘r’, and moving through the whole range of pitch.

 

Ruth Chang: How to make hard choices

Speaker

Ruth Chang is a professor of philosophy at Rutgers University. She is known for her research on the incommensurability of values and on practical reason and normativity.

Summary

Ruth discusses how to make hard choices – between 2 jobs or partners, or whether to have children. In an easy choice one is better than the other. In a hard choice each choice has better qualities, but neither is clearly better. We think of them as big choices, but the same dilemma can happen when choosing breakfast – do you want healthy food or tasty food? By realising that even these small choices are hard, we can make the big ones easier: if I managed to eat breakfast I should be able to choose a new job. We also shouldn’t think of ourselves as stupid for being unable to pick a best option – they may genuinely be equally good options.

When choosing between being a philosopher and a lawyer Ruth tried writing the pros and cons, agonised over her decision, wished she could see a DVD of her life after taking each option. She settled on lawyer out of fear – she didn’t think she could get a job as a philosopher, and lawyering seemed the safe route. Later she switched back, becoming a philosopher.

Looking at a hypothetical job choice between banking and artistry, you can list all the advantages of each but still be unable to choose one over the other. You can then start to imagine what it would take to make one better than the other – eg if you added an additional $500/month to the banker’s salary, is it suddenly clearly better than the artist? Not necessarily, and this may show that the 2 original options were not equal. If the original jobs were equal, then adding more salary to one should have made it clearly better.

Choices are difficult because they cannot be easily broken down into numbers. In comparing the weight of 2 suitcases, one could be heavier, lighter or equal in weight. All questions involving numbers can be broken down in this way. It is a mistake to think that these simple numerical comparisons have the same structure as the decisions between your future life. We need to make a 4th alternative – that things can be better, worse, equal, or ‘on a par’. When decisions are on a par, neither is better or worse than the other, and your lifestyle after the decision is not exactly the same, but you see both future lives as having a similar value.

We need to see hard choices as empowering. If life only consisted of easy choices, we would always pick the clearly better route. We would then be slaves to our own reason. It is the ‘on a par’ decisions where we get to create our own reasons for picking one over the other, and define who we are. We become the authors of our own lives. People who don’t exercise their own reasons on hard choices become drifters. They allow the world around them to dictate their lives – they follow the obvious rewards, punishments, and fears to define them. Ruth was drifting when she chose to be a lawyer and later regretted it.

When the ‘correct’ and ‘incorrect’ choices disappear, we have the power to create reasons for ourselves, and become the distinctive people we are. That is why hard choices are not a curse but a godsend.

Dan Pink: The puzzle of motivation

Speaker

Dan Pink is the author of five books about business, work, and management that have sold two million copies worldwide

Summary

Dan Pink introduces ‘The Candle Problem’ – attaching a candle to a wall with a box of thumbtacks and matches to that it doesn’t drip. 2 groups try to solve the problem – one is told they are timing to discover norms, while the other is given money if they are in the top 25%. This test consistently shows that the group being given money is 3minutes slower than the other. Other research over 40 years backs up the idea that for most tasks you can’t incentivize people to perform better with money. This is one of the most robust findings from social science, but also the most ignored. There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.

Extrinsic motivators do however work well for ’20th century tasks’ – with manual work and simple solutions. The reward narrows their focus towards the answer, and pushes them to solve it quicker. But most modern professionals don’t do this kind of work, they do much more complicated tasks with no easy answer. An MIT study found a similar result – for simple mechanistic tasks a reward improved their performance, but if they required ANY kind of cognitive function the higher reward decreased performance.

Modern psychology is leaning more towards intrinsic motivators – the desire to do more for personal reasons. In the business setting it revolves around

  • autonomy – the desire to direct our own lives
  • mastery – the urge to get better, or develop skills
  • and purpose – the need to do what we do for reasons bigger than ourselves.

Dan’s talk focuses on autonomy. Management is an example that improves compliance, but decreases autonomy for most workers. Modern approaches can increase autonomy – giving people a personal project. Atlassian for example is a software company that makes engineers take a day off their normal work to develop whatever they want – as long as it is unrelated to their normal work and they deliver something by the end of the day. This approach was so successful that they adopted Google’s famous approach, which lets people allocate 20% of their time to personal projects. Around half of Google’s new products come from engineer’s personal projects.

A more extreme approach is ROWE – Results Only Work Environment. People can work whatever hours they want as long as they do the work. This increases autonomy and productivity, and decreases staff turnover.

Dan’s ultimate example was Microsoft Encarta vs Wikipedia. Encarta was build by well paid professionals and managers, incentivized with standard extrinsic motivators. Wikipedia was built by unpaid (autonomous) volunteers for fun, and because they believed in the project. In 1999 no economist would have tipped that Encarta’s model would be overtaken by Wikipedia’s, but it has.

If we get past the simplistic ‘carrots vs sticks’ ideology, and allow people to be more motivated by autonomy, mastery and purpose, we can make our businesses stronger and maybe change the world.

Jonas Eliasson: How to solve traffic jams

Speaker

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

Summary

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.

Hans Rosling: Debunking third-world myths with the best stats you’ve ever seen

Speaker

Hans Rosling is a medical doctor and statistician. He is co-founder and chairman of the Gapminder Foundation, which developed the Trendalyzer software system.

Summary

Hans taught ‘Global Development’ to Swedish undergraduates, finding they had preconceived ideas about statistics of Child Mortality after failing to predict which of 2 countries had worse child mortality. He talked through some common myths about the third world

  1. Developed world has long lives with small families, while developing world is the opposite: Hand showed this was true in 1962, but since then (until 2003) most countries have moved towards a trend of smaller families and increasing life expectancy. The African countries were one area lagging in life expectancy, due to a HIV epidemic in the 90s.
  2. Income distribution: there is no ‘gap’ between rich and poor (in that people earn incomes at all possible rates from $1 to $100 per day). The riches 20% take 74% of income, while the poorest 20% have 2%, and the middle 60% have 26% of money. There is some overlap in income rates between OECD and Africa (in that some Africans earn more than some OECD).
  3. Child mortality vs GDP: there is a clear linear trend between Child survival and GDP.
  • However within regions such as sub-Sahara Africa, there is tremendous variation – with Mauritius having OECD level high GDP and child health, but Sierra Leonne being much lower than average. He credits Mauritius’ success with breaking down trade barriers.
  • Taking China as an example, Hans showed Mao Ze-Dong’s period as bringing health to China (with decreased child mortality on one axis), and the Deng Xiao-Ping bringing money to China (moving across the GDP per capita axis).
  • UAE is an example of a country that started with high GDP but poor child mortality. Over time it has improved, but it is evidence that money alone is not enough to guarantee health, you need time to train doctors and build infrastructure.
  • Within countries, there is tremendous variation in income – eg over 3 countries in Africa there is the full spectrum of income levels. This makes it deceptive to talk of health issues in ‘Africa’, since the management strategies for the richest would be very different to those of the poorest.

These data will increase everyone’s understanding of the world, but is hidden away with separate organisations, making is difficult to access. Hans linked up some of the key databases using ‘GapMinder’ organisation. Gapminder has provided animation, search functions and design features to make it accessible and usable for all.

Edward Snowden: Here’s how we take back the Internet

Speakers: Ed Snowden – a CIA & NSA computer specialist who came to notoriety when he released internal documents to the public, which showed evidence of spying on USA citizens and foreigners. Currently in exile in Russia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Snowden

Interviewed by Chris Anderson – curator and current owner of TED talks with a background in journalism.

Summary

Ed Snowden, currently exiled to Russia for releasing many documents showing evidence of NSA spying on citizens and foreign governments, appears by webcam robot to discuss his decisions to release the documents. An interview style of ‘talk’, rather than the more conventional lecture. Recommended for it’s thought-provoking style and discussion of the ideas of privacy vs security.

Ed as a sysadmin in Hawaii was uncomfortable with the sort of data he discovered, which was being taken in secret without oversight. He released this data to the journalists to encourage the freedom of the press to analyse and release it responsibly. The NSA says most of the things held are ‘metadata’, however PRISM program includes true content as well. When corporate America resisted handing over the content, they were taken to a secret court without oversight or coverage. Most of the main tech giants have given data to PRISM via warrants, but Ed also accuses the NSA of ‘hacking’ into Google’s internal servers to intercept data. For this reason, Ed wants the tech giants to enable encrypted browsing to prevent intelligence services from intercepting your browsing habits.

He talks about an NSA program called ‘Boundless Intelligence’, which intercepts more data from within USA than Russians intercept within Russia – a claim the US should not like to make. The chairman of the senate intelligence committee has minimal oversight of these interceptions, having not even seen audit reports before the Washington Post wanted comment on them.

Chris asked Ed why people should be scared if they have nothing to hide. Ed said this came to the rights of the individual – you shouldn’t give them up just because you might not need them. He said it is too much of an invasion of privacy to give access to all human interaction to all governments.

They then discussed Dick Cheney and some other government comments about this being the worse betrayal in US history, about the dire consequences. Ed countered that they are conflating public interest and national interest – that going to war in places that are no threat to the US does not serve the public interest. He also said that after a year we have seen no dire impacts from his releases.

Bullrush is a program where NSA influences companies to adopt standards which allow them (and other governments) backdoors to access the data. The goal is to weaken security of these companies. This will also weaken USA’s defence against foreign agents. NSA says the goal of these programs is to counter terrorism, but the government has said it has no value. Terrorism is an emotive word, and September 11 attacks were used as a secret justification to begin programs like Bullrush which were previously discussed and believed to be of minimal value.

The talk ends with introducing Tim Berners-Lee to the stage – the inventor of the internet. They discuss a magna carta for the internet- to encode the values of the digital generation into the internet. The ask whether the internet has increased the power of ‘Big Brother’ and their ease of surveillance, or of the public for fighting unlawful invasion of privacy.

When asked whether he would return to the US, he said he’d like to, but not if it would involve betraying his journalistic sources or watering down his message. The last year has been a reminder that democracy may die behind closed doors, but individuals are also born behind those doors. We don’t have to give up our privacy to have good government. We don’t need to give up our liberty to have security.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s stroke of insight

Speaker: Jill Bolte Taylor – a neuroanatomist interested in how the human brain relates to schizophrenia and severe mental illness. She is also an author, having published books on her stroke “My Stroke of Insight” and ranked by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Full Bio at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jill_Bolte_Taylor

Length: 20:11

Summary

Note this talk is an animated story of Jill’s experiences during a stroke – where one hemisphere of her brain was ‘switched off’. This summary cannot do the full talk justice – if it interests you, watch the full video.

Jill Bolte Taylor starts by trying to work out what makes her brain different from her brother’s – who is schizophrenic. She elaborates by bringing a real human brain to the stage – showing it is divided into 2 distinct halves, with minimal connection between the two. Each half functions differently:

  • Right Hemisphere is a parallel processor. It focusses on the current moment, using pictures and learns through kinaesthetic movement. It is well connected to senses to build an understanding of what is happening at the moment. It connects us with the world around it.
  • Left Hemisphere acts as a serial processor. It thinks linearly and methodically, looking at the past and future. It picks through the details of the current time – arranging and sorting these, and connecting them to the events of the past and future. It thinks in language and words. It looks as us as an individual, isolating us from the world.

Jill had a stroke which disabled the left side of her brain – waking up to a throbbing pain behind her eyes similar to ice cream headache. She used an exercise machine while on a stroke, and focussed on how strange her body looked – as if she was out of her body. She noticed that every movement was slower, laboriously focussing to execute every movement. She couldn’t work out where her body ended and the rest of the world began, thinking about the energy of the world around her. Soon her left hemisphere recovered and started to realise that she was in danger, before dropping out again. During the stroke, she was disconnected from her normal brain chatter – the stress and emotional baggage.

When she realised she was having a stroke, she decided to study her brain from the inside. She tried to read her business card, but her vision as broken to ‘pixels’ – and she couldn’t differentiate it from the background. She was having difficulty picking out objects in vision – couldn’t read the numbers, couldn’t keep track of the numbers she had dialled. When she eventually got the phone working, she couldn’t understand the other end, nor speak clearly herself. Eventually an ambulance was called, and she blacked out.

When she woke, she was alive and the stroke was over. She thought back on the stroke as a moment of Nirvana – where she felt connected to the world, and that her spirit was larger than her body. She started to wish everyone could have that moment where their left brain switched off.