Monday, February 08, 2016

Brainstorming vs. Question-Storming?

I read a terrific article by Stephanie Vozza in Fast Company this week.  The article focuses on the notion of asking great questions.  She argues that the best leaders ask good questions so as to enhance their learning and engage more effectively in meetings.  Toward the end of her article, Vozza highlights a particular technique proposed by Hal Gregersen of the MIT Leadership Center.   He proposes that teams should employ "question-storming" sessions from time to time, particularly when they have reached an impasse on a tough issue.  Vozza explains:

Have your team generate at least 50 questions about the problem. At about question 25, Gregersen says it will stall. "I have watched this a hundred times around the world," he says. "People say: 'I don't have any more questions, I am stuck.' Keep going, because it's that pass forward that can sometimes give you some of the greatest questions."  Question storming a long series of questions gets you closer to the right questions that will give you the right answer, says Gregersen. "And that's where question storming complements traditional brainstorming," he says.

I like the notion.  In fact, I think question-storming might be useful at the front end of some challenging problem-solving processes, rather than simply as a tool for when a team is deadlocked.  Generating a list of thoughtful questions can insure that a team looks at a problem from multiple frames, and it can help inform the research that needs to be done to generate key insights about an issue.  

Friday, February 05, 2016

Behavioral Science & Effective Super Bowl Commercials

Great Super Bowl commercials engage us with wonderful stories and some humor as well.  Is there more to it than that though?  Could we use cognitive science to understand why some ads have a bigger impact than others?  Ad Age magazine sat down with Carey Morewedge, associate professor of marketing at Boston University.  Professor Morewedge explained how certain principles from the research on cognitive biases help us explain the power of certain very memorable commercials.  First, Morewedge points to the legendary "1984" ad from Apple as well as last year's BMW Super Bowl commercial.  In both cases, the representativeness heuristic is at work.   Ad Age's Michele Fabrizi explains: 

"Analogies transfer positive associations with a good, old idea to the new idea. In scenes evoking the well-known novel "1984," the hammer-wielding young heroine smashing the existing norm heralds the societal sea change promised by the introduction of Apple's Macintosh.  We see the same principle effectively used again -- albeit with ironic humor -- in last year's BMW "New Fangled Idea" (No. 23 on Ad Age's list). Here a look back at Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel's failure to initially recognize the massive future impact of the internet is juxtaposed against their confused first response to an electric car."

Morewedge also points to the principle of loss framing as a mechanism by some commercials have a powerful impact on us.   Fabrizi explains: "Loss framing offers an approach to elevate the importance of a brand's benefits. This principle tells us that the pain of losing a thing we own is about twice as powerful as the pleasure we would feel acquiring it." FedEx ran an ad called "We Apologize" that took advantage of loss framing. It didn't focus on the benefits of FedEx's timely service. Instead, it showcased (with humor) the dangers of bad service and delayed deliveries. 


Thursday, February 04, 2016

Learning by Doing

On Twitter the other day, I saw a great quote from Jerry Sternin. He said, ""It's easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting."  Sternin proved the value of learning by doing in an amazing project on malnutrition in Vietnam, while he and his wife were working for Save the Children.   Most efforts to combat malnutrition in developing nations focused on big problems/solutions such as education, infrastructure, sanitation, etc.   Sternin took a different approach.  He talked to many families there, and he discovered that some children were better nourished than others, though they did not have higher incomes.  These mothers had adopted a different approach to meals.  What did he do?  He asked the malnourished families to prepare meals alongside these moms who had discovered a better approach.   The malnourished families learned by doing.  Sternin had much more impact on their behavior than previous programs.  Dan and Chip Heath explained in a column for Fast Company some time ago

He (Sternin) knew that telling the mothers about nutrition wouldn't change their behavior. "Knowledge does not change behavior," he told us in the spring of 2008 (Sternin passed away in December of that year). "We have all encountered crazy shrinks and obese doctors and divorced marriage counselors." The mothers would have to practice it. They'd have to act differently until the different started to feel normal.

The community designed a program in which 50 malnourished families, in groups of 10, would meet at a hut each day and prepare food together. The families were required to bring shrimp, crabs, and sweet-potato greens. The mothers washed their hands with soap and cooked the meal together. Sternin said that the moms were "acting their way into a new way of thinking." Most important, it was their change, something that arose from the local wisdom of the village. Sternin's role was only to help them see that they could do it, that they could conquer malnutrition on their own.

Dozens of experts had analyzed the situation in Vietnam, agonizing over the problems — the water supply, the sanitation, the poverty, the ignorance. They'd written position papers and research documents and development plans. But they hadn't changed a thing.  Six months after Sternin's visit to the Vietnamese village, 65% of the kids were better nourished — and they stayed that way.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

What Do Facebook's Best Managers Do?

Facebook's VP of People Lori Goler talked to Business Insider recently about an interesting study that the firm conducted. Facebook analyzed teams throughout the organization to determine the ones whose members reported the highest levels of employee engagement and satisfaction. They talked to members of these groups to find how what the team leaders were doing to create such high levels of engagement. Seven behaviors stood out. They should not shock you at all, but they do provide a nice summary of what good leaders do day after day as they work with their teams:

1. They care about their team members.

2. They provide opportunities for growth.

3. They set clear expectations and goals.

4. They give frequent, actionable feedback.

5. They provide helpful resources.

6. They hold their team accountable for success.

7. They recognize outstanding work.

Monday, February 01, 2016

The Dangers of Decisiveness

Last week, Derek Pankratz and I published a new article in the Deloitte Review.  The article focuses on decisiveness, and it is titled, "Crossing the mental Rubicon: Don't let decisiveness backfire."   Here's a summary:

We demand that leaders be decisive, but research in social psychology and behavioral economics suggests that decisiveness is not an unequivocal good. Studies on “mindset” reveal that, when contemplating an important decision, prematurely focusing on execution can exacerbate decision-making biases and lead to overconfidence and excessive risk-taking.

In the article, we describe two mindsets for decision-makers.  We argue that people adhere to a deliberative mindset as they are making a critical choice.  They are contemplating the options they might pursue to achieve their goals, and they are evaluating the consequences of various courses of action. At some point, people shift to an implemental mindset. At this stage, individuals focus on how to execute a particular plan of action. They consider the key steps involved in implementation, who will be responsible for those elements of their plan, and how progress will be measured. Of course, decision-makers often look ahead to issues of execution as they are contemplating their choice. We argue that jumping ahead into the implemental mindset too soon can be dangerous. Here's the core of our argument:

Herein lies the danger. Even if a decision seems correct at the time it was made, new facts may arise, warranting reconsideration. However, the implemental mindsets we adopt to help us achieve our chosen goals can exacerbate a host of judgmental and decision-making biases. An execution-oriented frame of mind may encourage “tunnel vision” and lead to overconfidence and excessive risk taking. In the end, individuals may stick to decisions that no longer make sense, with potentially disastrous consequences.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

What Do You Do During the First Five Minutes of Any Meeting?

In a terrific article for the Chronicle of Higher Education, James Lang writes about how faculty members should use the first five minutes of class more effectively.   Lang points out that many faculty members engage in mundane logistical or administrative tasks during the opening moments of class (taking attendance, reminding students of items on the syllabus, talking about deadlines for future assignments).  He recommends a different approach.    Lang writes:

The opening five minutes offer us a rich opportunity to capture the attention of students and prepare them for learning. They walk into our classes trailing all of the distractions of their complex lives — the many wonders of their smartphones, the arguments with roommates, the question of what to have for lunch. Their bodies may be stuck in a room with us for the required time period, but their minds may be somewhere else entirely.  It seems clear, then, that we should start class with a deliberate effort to bring students’ focus to the subject at hand. Unfortunately, based on my many observations of faculty members in action, the first five minutes of a college class often get frittered away with logistical tasks (taking attendance or setting up our technology), gathering our thoughts as we discuss homework or upcoming tests, or writing on the board.

Lang has some great suggestions, starting with his first and most important one:  Open with a question or two.  In so doing, you articulate the purpose of that particular class.   Perhaps you intrigue them a bit and/or capture their attention.  You also invite their active participation.  

The same advice holds true for meetings at work.   As the leader of a team, consider carefully how you start your meetings.  Do you launch into mundane administrative talk, or do you articulate a clear and compelling question?   In so doing, are you articulating the purpose of the meeting quite clearly? Perhaps most importantly, by starting with a question, you are inviting your team members' comments, insights, and questions.  You are drawing them into the conversation and giving them license to share their ideas.  

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Broadcast Television: How Can They Discount the Netflix Threat?

AdWeek has a startling article about one broadcast network executive's thoughts regarding Netflix. McAlone quotes Alan Wurtzel, NBC's head of research. Wurtzel draws on data from Symphony Advanced Media, which has been trying to assess Netflix viewing habits through various metrics (since Netflix does not disclose viewership on particular shows). Wurtzel says, "The reports of our death have been greatly exaggerated."  AdWeek reports that, "Symphony measured the average audience in the 18-to-49 demographic for each episode within 35 days of a new Netflix series premiere between September and December. During that time, Marvel's Jessica Jones averaged 4.8 million viewers in the demographic, comparable to the 18-to-49 ratings for How to Get Away with Murder and Modern Family." The article goes on to report the following about Wurtzel's views:

Wurtzel said Symphony's data also revealed that most viewers of those SVOD (subscription video on demand) shows return to their old viewing habits by the third week. "[By then], people are watching TV the way that God intended"—that is, via traditional, linear viewing—said Wurtzel. "The impact goes away."  That's because Netflix has "a very different business model—their business model is to make you write a check the next month," said Wurtzel. "I don't believe there's enough stuff on Netflix that is broad enough and consistent enough to affect us in a meaningful way on a consistent basis."

I'm speechless.  How could Wurtzel have his head so far buried in the sand?  Has he spent anytime actually visiting the homes of families with teenagers or interviewing college students?  Does he understand how they consume content?   Compare Wurtzel's view with the information shared in a Business Insider article by Lara O'Reilly

The average Netflix subscriber streams movies and programs for two hours a day, according to estimates from Rich Greenfield, an analyst at BTIG Research.  That's huge.  Not only is that mean average domestic number up around 18 minutes per subscriber per day on BTIG's last estimates, but it is a major benchmark that suggests Netflix is really eating traditional TV's dinner.