Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Essential Summer Reading List

Source: Getty Images
Thank you to Jack McCullough, founder and president of the CFO Leadership Council, for including my book, Unlocking Creativity, on his list of essential summer reading.   McCullough's complete list may be found in this Forbes article published last week.  

Monday, July 06, 2020

Farming for Dissent at Netflix

Source:  Wikimedia
Yesterday, I listened to the first episode of the Recode by Vox podcast, Land of the Giants: The Netflix Effect.  The episode focuses on Netflix's vaunted corporate culture.   Many of you have probably read a great deal about the Netflix culture and the famous slide deck describing its tenets and values that circulated widely on the internet for years.   This episode takes a comprehensive, balanced look at the culture, highlighting its strengths and limitations.  I found one particular aspect quite interesting, given my work on decision making.  Here's an excerpt from a description of the episode by Recode/Vox:

Another tenet — “farming for dissent” — came out of one of the company’s biggest failures. You might remember it as a punchline: Qwikster.  The short version: In 2011, Hastings wanted to move his company from its core DVD-by-mail service to online streaming, which was growing quickly but was still a smaller part of his business. So he tried splitting Netflix into a DVD business and a streaming business named Qwikster. Which meant that if his customers wanted the same services they were already getting before, they would have to subscribe to both and end up paying 60 percent more.  Netflix veterans still wince about the experience: The company was skewered on social media and by SNL. Its stock dropped 70 percent, and more than 700,000 people canceled their subscriptions.

Eventually, Hastings admitted that Qwikster’s name, the price hikes, and the way the company talked about it all had been a huge blunder. He rolled back the changes.  But in Hastings’s narrative, the failure was useful for Netflix’s culture. He thinks that many of his top employees could have told him he was wrong but were too afraid or at least too in awe of their CEO’s former successes to say anything.

“Everyone knows the tale of the self-absorbed, arrogant CEO who doesn’t listen. And there’s an element of that, because we have been so successful at so many things before that,” Hastings told us earlier this year at Netflix’s offices in Los Angeles. “But the more subtle one is that I had been so successful before that most of the executives thought ... ‘But Reed has been right on so many things. I’ll bet he’s right on this one. And I’m just not seeing it.’”

After the debacle, Hastings instituted “farming for dissent,” a formal practice where employees are supposed to run their big ideas by colleagues and have them tell you candidly — on a Google Doc that’s open for everyone to see — what’s wrong with it. It’s considered integral to the company that your coworkers tell you what they really think of your idea, even if — perhaps especially if — you’re their boss.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Microsoft vs. Apple: Vertical Integration

Source: CIO.com
In a matter of days, we saw two contrasting announcements by tech giants Apple and Microsoft.  First, Apple announces that it will be making its ARM-based processors for Mac laptops and desktop computers.   The firm will no longer be using Intel chips.   Second, Microsoft announces it will close all 83 of its retail stores.  What's happening here? Apple is deepening its vertical integration, while Microsoft is backing off.  

Both strategies make sense.  Vertical integration has always made more sense for Apple than for Microsoft.  Apple has used vertical integration, backward and forward, to control product quality, enhance brand experience and product differentiation, and stay close to its customers.  Microsoft has operated in the portion of the industry that has relied far less on vertical integration.  Microsoft made the operating system, Intel made the microprocessors, Dell, Lenovo, HP and others assembled the PCs, and a variety of players helped distribute and retail the computers.   

What, then, was Microsoft doing in the retail store business?  I'm not sure.  It never made as much sense as it did for Apple to operate stores.   The genius bar, product demonstrations, computer classes, and other activities that occur within an Apple store are all part of the rationale for vertical integration at the company.   These activities deepen Apple's relationship with its customers, enable it to collect valuable information directly from its most ardent fans, help the firm create a powerful brand experience, and provide an opportunity to enhance product differentiation.   Microsoft doesn't sell the same type of products, nor does it have the same type of image.  Moreover, its customers are different.  Microsoft has incredibly satisfied, loyal customers; Apple has fans.  Remember the word fan comes from the word fanatics.  Apple's customer base is just different, and it fits more with a vertical integration strategy.  

Vertical integration, of course, has many drawbacks.   I often discuss these limitations and risks at length in my strategy courses.  However, in some cases, it can make a great deal of sense.  Apple may be one of those cases; Zara may be another.  Microsoft's competitive positioning doesn't appear to be as conducive to vertical integration.  

Friday, June 26, 2020

Assessing Your Personal Brand

Dina Smith, a leadership development expert, has written a Fast Company article titled, "How do you overcome a bad job market? Groom a dynamite personal brand."   Smith argues that many people have misconceptions about the concept of cultivating a personal brand.  They think that focusing on your brand is unnecessary, since they deliver great outcomes for their organization.  Or, they shy away from the notion of engaging in excessive self-promotion.  However, Smith points out that we all have personal brands, whether we focus on them or not.   We should be aware of how others perceive us, and how it may help or hinder our ability to achieve our goals.   She offers three questiosn to help us understand and assess our personal brand:

To clarify your desired personal brand, ask yourself these straightforward, though not necessarily easy, questions:
  • What do I want to be known for?
  • What value or results do I want to deliver through my efforts?
  • How do I want colleagues to describe me?

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Scenario Planning: A Useful Tool in Today's Environment

In today's environment, companies need to rethink their approach to strategic planning.  Many firms continue to rely on very traditional planning exercises.  Frankly, most of these processes assume that managers can accurately predict the future.  Many plans are characterized by high amounts of false precision in forecasting and budgeting.  

Scenario planning represents a useful tool for reshaping the planning process given the turbulence and ambiguity in today's world.  This technique involves imagining different ways the future may unfold and challenging some of our most basic assumptions and tenets of conventional wisdom.   We envision multiple, differentiated scenarios and then build strategies to fit those environments.  Finally, and most importantly, we think about early warning signals or leading indicators that we should monitor becuase they may help us detect the emergence of one of these scenarios at an early stage.  For more on the usefulness of this technique, see this short video. 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Underestimating our Creativity

We are all generally familiar with the notion that people tend to exhibit overconfidence in their abilities across a variety of domains. However, some recent research suggests that we are not at all overconfident when it comes to assessing the originality of our own ideas during the early stages of the problem-solving process. We underestimate our own creativity. Ella Miron-Spektor of INSEAD writes,

"The results of three studies we conducted on this little-researched facet of creativity were striking. We found that people systematically underestimate their originality – a defining characteristic of creativity – throughout the ideation process. Such bias in the evaluation of our originality stems from the belief that other people think like us."

Professor Miron-Spektor notes that individuals become overconfident when they invest a great deal of time, effort, and energy into refining an idea that they selected from among many they may have considered initially.  However, early on in the process of generating ideas, we may actually underestimate how novel our possible solutions are.   What, then, should managers do with this finding?  How should it affect their behavior as they lead team members in a problem-solving process?   Miron-Spektor writes:

As a manager, make it a point to invite your team members to share their ideas which may otherwise never see the light of day because they assume their ideas are not innovative enough. By acknowledging their creativity, you can reduce their bias, at least to some extent.

 For more about my own research on creativity in organizations, see the short video clip below: 

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Ensuring Your Team Feels Valued

Source: needpix.com 
Aytekin Tank, founder of JotForm, has crafted a useful column for Fast Company titled, "4 ways to ensure your team feels valued without in-person connections."  Tank acknowledges that it can be very challenging for leaders to make team members feel valued when so many are working remotely, resources are scarce, and the stress is very high.   The article notes that, "A recent Gallup report showed that only one in three U.S. workers 'strongly agreed' they received recognition for their work in the past seven days. Employees who don’t feel recognized are twice as likely to say they’ll quit in the next year."   Given this reality, Tank offers four strategies for ensuring that team members feel valued.  

GIVE YOUR TEAMS THE TOOLS THEY NEED:  What technology, supplies, and other resources do your employees need to work effectively in a remote mode?  Like a good coach, put your team members in the best position to thrive and win.  

MAKE TIME TO LISTEN AND CONNECT:  Keep up the informal check-ins with your employees.  Don't just inform them about what you are doing or what the organization is planning.  Make sure to listen to their concerns, questions, and needs.  Open up about yourself a bit; let them see a different side, perhaps a bit about your personal/family situation.  Letting them see you as human can be very important for connecting with them, and encouraging them to be candid with you.  

INCREASE TRANSPARENCY: Provide regular updates on key initiatives and metrics.  Be honest about the challenges facing the organization.   Let them know exactly where things stand.  If you don't have everything figured out in terms of plans for the coming months, that's ok.  Let them know your decision-making process, how their input will be incorporated, and the criteria you will use to make final choices.  

OFFER TANGIBLE REWARDS: You might not be able to offer bonuses or raises this year.  What can you do to reward your employees?  Tank suggests offering time off in the future (days that they can bank now for future use), or providing new professional development opportunities.  Other forms of recognition and reward might include supporting causes about which the employees care a great deal, or perhaps providing paid time for team members to volunteer in the community.  

Monday, June 15, 2020

Empathize & Challenge

Source: Flickr
Over the past few months, we have read a great deal about the importance of empathy as a crucial leadership competency.  Here's one take, by Ruth Gotian on Forbes.com:  
A pandemic brings out fears, frustrations and anxiety and many of us are feeling tired, unmotivated and incapable of focusing. As I previously reported for Forbes, this is the time to connect and empathize with our colleagues. One such way of doing so is with a ‘check in’ conversation. This chat is not about catching up on work related tasks, rather, to see how the members of your team are doing, really doing. The chats can be by any medium you have available including phone, text, Slack and Zoom. 

What is critical, AJ Duffy, Learning and Development Director, Corporate Groups at Microsoft explains, is to “Listen with intent. Don’t just ask ‘How are you doing?’ Ask and then hear them. Pause longer to allow all thoughts to come out. Sometimes people just want to be heard and not given advice.” Duffy encourages listening for specifics. “If a colleague or direct report says something specific about a family member or friend, next time you speak, check back in with them about that specific person.” Most importantly, Duffy explains is to model the behavior. If a manager or peers sees you doing this, it will get noticed and others will follow your lead.

I know some leaders struggle with the concept of empathy though.   They understand its value and would like to improve their skills in this area.  However, they also do not want to sacrifice their ability to challenge their people, hold them to high standards, and push them to achieve what they might not consider possible.   These conversations suggest to me that leaders often think that empathizing and setting a high bar are somehow mutually exclusive.   That view is misguided, in my opinion.  I think about what the best teachers do.  They clearly care a great deal about their students.  They seek to understand their interests, goals, perspectives, and struggles.  However, they also set a high bar, and they challenge students to achieve more than they ever could imagine.  One need not sacrifice one to achieve the other.  However, it is a delicate balancing act.  What I've found as a teacher, though, is that they will respond to your challenges if they know you care.  If they believe you have their best interests at heart, they will run through walls for you.  

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Micromanaging in a Crisis (or not)

Source: CrystalLinks.com
I came across a very useful perspective on micromanagement during a time of crisis this week. Jeff Hyman is an adjunct lecturer of innovation & entrepreneurship at the Kellogg School of Management. Hyman serves as the chief talent officer of the firm Recruit Rockstars Executive Search. Prior to that, he served as the CEO of a weight-management firm, Retrofit, that he also founded. Hyman explains his perspective on when to zoom in and when to step back in this brief excerpt of an article posted on the Kellogg Insight website

During this extraordinary time, there will be functions critical to the business that you will have to micromanage because, without your attention, there might not be a business to lead. At the same time, there are going to be some functions that you absolutely need to trust your team to execute on their own.

For example, under regular circumstances, a CEO would not spend time thinking about cash collections or accounts receivable. They have a CFO whose team handles that function. But if, say, half your revenue vanishes overnight, or your early stage company is not yet profitable, or the venture capital deal you had lined up falls through, cashflow takes on a new urgency.  So, micromanaging might include working with your accounts-receivable team to determine whether to negotiate creative, flexible deals that still keep cash flowing into your business, especially at a time when many of your suppliers may want to wait on paying you. “Cash is the oxygen of your business,” Hyman says. “If you’ve only got six- or three-months’ cash on hand, you may need to be way in the weeds on cash collections if your company is going to live to fight another day. You may require daily reviews with your accounts-receivable team to understand when you can expect payments from customers.” 

Just as you will have new roll-up-your-sleeves tasks, other projects may not demand much of your attention at all. That product that you had intended to launch next year, and on which you still want to keep moving forward, can be delegated to trusted team members.

“It’s very tempting in times of uncertainty to find this false sense of certainty by trying to micromanage everything,” Hyman says. “But you can’t micromanage virtual teams. So you have to trust that you’ve hired well. They may get things done almost the way that you would have done it. You have to be okay with that. It’s much more important right now to get the few things right and get them right enough versus getting them perfect.” Be clear with your team about who has responsibility for these new projects, as well as on how (or if) you would like to be involved in any decisions.  “You can let them know, ‘I’m letting you run it. Keep me posted. Let me know what you need from me,’” he says.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Asking for Help at Work

Source: Needpix.com
Many people refrain from asking for needed assistance at work.  Why?  They do not want to appear incompetent, or perhaps they do not want to admit failure.  Sometimes, we don't ask for help because we don't want to burden others.  Cornell Professor Vanessa K. Bohns wrote about the issue this week in Harvard Business Review.   She argues that many people hold beliefs that prevent them from asking for help, yet these beliefs turn out to be misguided.  Here are Bohns' three myths about asking for help.  In each case, she cites research demonstrating that these beliefs are indeed myths, not reality.  

Myth 1: Asking for Help Makes You Look Bad
Myth 2: If I Do Ask for Help, I’ll Be Rejected
Myth 3: Even if Someone Agrees to Help, They Won’t Enjoy Doing So

While I agree that people ought to reconsider the reasons why they might be hesitant to ask for help, I do think workers should contemplate HOW they ask for help as well.   Sometimes, reaching out can be done in a highly ineffective manner.   Here are a few tips.  First, be clear about what you are trying to accomplish and why.   Second, explain what you have already done.  What have you tried?  What's worked? What hasn't?   Third, describe how you think the person may be of assistance.  What expertise or skills do they have that might be helpful?  Finally, be sure to encourage them to identify others who might be better suited to assist.  Don't make them feel bad about acknowledging their own limitations.   Of course, be sure to thank them in advance for their help as well!  

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Unforced Errors & Competiive Rivalry

Source: PGA
31 year old Rory McIlroy is a four-time winner of a golf major, and one of only three men to win four majors by the age of 25.   He was #1 in the world in the fall of 2015.  However, he hasn't won a major since the 2014 PGA Championship. Brook Koepka overtook him at the top of the golf world, coming on strong to win four majors from 2017-2019.  The rivalry has been intriguing. In the 2019, Koepka said, "I'm not looking at anyone behind me. I’m No. 1 in the world. I’ve got an open road in front of me – I’m not looking in the rearview mirror.”  However, in February 2020, McIlroy reclaimed the #1 spot in the golf rankings.  However, Koepka notes that McIroy still hasn't won a major since 2014.   What can we learn from these types of intense rivalries in sports, and how can they help us understand competitive dynamics in the world of business?

Niro Sivanathan, associate professor of organisational behaviour at the London Business School, recently wrote an article in the South China Morning Post about his research on "unforced errors."  He argues that this research may explain, in part, the type of actions taken at Boeing leading up to the Boeing 737 MAX crisis.   Sivanathan has studied tennis and chess players, and he's found something quite interesting about how competition affects their behavior.  Here's an excerpt from his article:

In a recent study of more than 117,000 professional tennis matches, we found professional tennis players, such as Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, perform worse and commit more unforced errors when they compete against players who have recently risen in their rankings, compared to those with similar rankings but who lack the same momentum.  When we abandoned tennis courts and analysed more than 5 million games from online amateur chess platforms, we found that when competitors are evenly matched, chess players perform worse against opponents they know have been climbing in the rankings.

Drawing on this research, Sivanathan asks the question about the Boeing-Airbus rivalry: "Is this a classic case of a younger rival intimidating an older, better established competitor, resulting in the established player making mistakes and, in this particular instance, losing a long-held leadership position?"  Of course, there's much more to the Boeing story than this type of unforced error effect, but it is an interesting causal factor.   I'll have more to say about the Boeing case soon, as I have a new case study about the 737 MAX crisis under review at the moment.  Stay tuned. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Transparency During the COVID-19 Crisis

Jonathan Davies recently posted a brief article summarizing new research conducted by O.C. Tanner. Here is an excerpt:

Organisations that have increased transparency with their employees since the start of the COVID-19 crisis have seen an 85 per cent increase in staff engagement. This is according to latest research by Global corporate culture specialist, O.C Tanner, which surveyed 1,715 employees across the U.K, U.S and Canada.

The survey found that leadership transparency is a critical factor right now with employees craving honesty, authenticity and regular communications. In transparent organisations, in which clarity and honesty are prioritised, trust in leaders has increased by 174 per cent, employee satisfaction is up by 72 per cent and employee burnout has reduced by 13 per cent.

For more on the importance of transparency as a means of building trust in your organization, check out this brief Kellogg School of Management video featuring Andrew Swinand, CEO of advertising agency Leo Burnett.  

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

While Many Firms Focus, Sony Doubles Down on Diversification

Source: Bloomberg
In recent years, many companies in highly developed economies have chosen to divest unrelated business units. Many break-ups of conglomerates have occurred, including at major firms such as GE, United Technologies, Fortune Brands, and Danaher. However, the Wall Street Journal reports today that Sony has chosen to move in the opposite direction. The newspaper states that, "Sony said it planned to buy the portion of its financial unit that it doesn’t own for about ¥400 billion ($3.7 billion), highlighting the electronics maker’s strategy of keeping a diverse portfolio of businesses."  That business unit includes life insurance, auto insurance, and banking products and services.   

Over the past few years, Sony has faced pressure from an activist investor, hedge fund Third Point LLC, that has argued for a breakup of the conglomerate.   Third Point has made the case that mixing video games and other electronics businesses with financial products and services does not make economic sense. Sony Chief Executive Kenichiro Yoshida has countered that owning the financial units enables Sony to diversify risk effectively, and that the financial units benefit from the trusted brand name and reputation for quality that Sony has established in various electronics businesses.   Interestingly, these types of arguments tend to be rejected by investors in the United States, but Sony's investors seemed enthusiastic about Yoshida's decision to double down on the finance businesses.  Sony's share price rose on the news that the firm had rejected Third Point's proposal and chosen to purchase the remainder of the finance unit that it did not already own. 

This decision strikes me as a powerful example of how unrelated diversification is viewed quite differently in various regions of the world.   Academic research has clearly shown that unrelated diversifiers may not make much sense in countries such as the UK, Canada, or the United States. However, HBS Professor Tarun Khanna and others have argued that markets are not as efficient, and key institutions that act as information intermediaries are not as well-established, in countries such as India and China.  In other words, the institutional context matters.  In an influential article for Harvard Business Review many years ago, Khanna and his colleague, Krishna Palepu, argued that Japan appears to a middle ground... not quite India or China in terms of institutional context, but not the same as the US and other western nations either.   They argued that unrelated diversifiers have many disadvantages in western nations and many advantages in countries such as India.  Japan appeared to be a case where conglomerates had some advantages, though not nearly as many as in emerging economies such as India and China.  It seems that investors believe that this situational assessment may still hold today, more than twenty years later.  That's one way, at least, to interpret the investor reaction to the Sony news this week.   Institutional context, it appears, may evolve very slowly amidst the otherwise rapid pace of change and globalization.  

Monday, May 18, 2020

What Do Employees THINK You Care About the Most?

Employees listen, interpret, and even dissect the words and actions of their leaders.    They talk to their peers, trying to make sense of key messages.   As they do so, employees look past what leaders say, and they focus on what leaders do.   Leaders may say that they care about x, y, and z, but do they really?  Employees will look at how leaders act and how they allocate resources. They will examine what efforts and accomplishments are recognized most often by senior leaders, and which are not.   What does the organization celebrate most visibly?   They will examine how leaders spend their time - what types of meetings do they attend most often, and what types of things don't receive their attention much.   In the end, the words don't matter much. The actions do.  Leaders have to mean what they say.  Employees will be looking to see if that is the case.  In so doing, employees will be interpreting and deducing what the leader's values and priorities are.   In the end, it doesn't really matter what the leader intends... it matters what the employees conclude and believe.  Perception is reality.   Leaders, then, must make a great effort to examine in an unvarnished way what people actually believe in the organization.   What is their sense of the priorities and values?   What do the employees actually think leaders care about the most?

Friday, May 15, 2020

Bob Iger's Lessons on Leadership

Source: The Walt Disney Company
Bob Iger stepped down as CEO of Disney just before the COVID-19 crisis escalated. He remains Chairman of the company. Naturally, the firm faces some serious challenges at the moment. Several months ago, I read Iger's book on leadership and his career at Disney/ABC. It was titled, "The Ride of a Lifetime: Lessons Learned from 15 Years as CEO of the Walt Disney Company."  I thought that it was one of the more insightful books I've read by a senior executive. Here are a few of my favorite leadership lessons from the book:

It’s not good to have power for too long. You don’t realize the way your voice seems to boom louder than every other voice in the room. You get used to people withholding their opinions until they hear what you have to say. People are afraid to bring ideas to you, afraid to dissent, afraid to engage. This can happen even to the most well-intentioned leaders. You have to work consciously and actively to fend off its corrosive effects.

We all want to believe we’re indispensable. You have to be self-aware enough that you don’t cling to the notion that you are the only person who can do this job. At its essence, good leadership isn’t about being indispensable; it’s about helping others be prepared to step into your shoes—giving them access to your own decision-making, identifying the skills they need to develop and helping them improve, and sometimes being honest with them about why they’re not ready for the next step up.

You have to convey your priorities clearly and repeatedly. If you don’t articulate your priorities clearly, then the people around you don’t know what their own should be. Time and energy and capital get wasted.

Hold on to your awareness of yourself, even as the world tells you how important and powerful you are. The moment you start to believe it all too much, the moment you look at yourself in the mirror and see a title emblazoned on your forehead, you’ve lost your way.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Designing the New Customer Experience

https://medium.com/pragma-partners/
In the weeks and months ahead, consumers will engage in a very different shopping experience.  That "new normal" is likely to persist for quite some time.  As we have seen in grocery stores during quarantine, that experience will include social distancing, required masks, strict queueing procedures, contactless payment, limits on the number of people in the store at any given time, one-way aisle traffic, and a variety of other measures designed to protect our health and safety.

Which retailers will thrive the most in this new world of shopping? It won't simply be the ones with the best safety precautions, though naturally, that will matter a great deal.  I would argue that it will be those who design the best NEW customer shopping experience given these constraints and rules.  Applying design thinking can help stores not only provide appropriate protections for workers and customers, but also provide a positive experience.  It will be different, of course, than the old shopping experience.  Using design thinking will mean starting with a concerted effort to empathize with the consumer.  What are they thinking and feeling in this new shopping environment?   What are their pain points and frustrations?  What work-arounds are the consumers and/or the store employees adopting to deal with the situation?  From there, retailers can develop insights that can help them craft an experience that alleviates these pain points and enhances customer satisfaction.  Of course, they won't get it right the first time.  Retailers will have to conduct experiments and test new ideas, and then adapt them based on customer feedback.  

In sum, customer experience still matters a great deal.  It just won't be the old customer experience.  It will be an entirely new one, designed from the bottom up based on a deep understanding of the consumer's needs, pain points, frustrations, and desires.  


Monday, May 04, 2020

What Should We NOT be doing?

Source:  Flickr
During the current COVID-19 crisis, many organizations have had to be very clear about their priorities.  With tremendous pressure on the business, and limited resources, companies often have moved quite nimbly to focus time, attention, and money on only the most important initiatives and activities.  Leaders have been able to push less important or urgent issues aside.   The crisis has really made organizations focus on what is truly most critical to achieving the mission, maintaining viability, and serving customers effectively.   

When the crisis subsides, companies should not forget the lessons learned during these trying times.   It will be only natural as some semblance of normalcy returns for initiatives and activities which did not receive attention or resources to return to the agenda post-crisis.  However, leaders should proceed with caution in that regard.  Every organization should continue to ask at that moment:  What should we NOT be doing?  In other words, are some activities simply not value-adding or do they not deserve to return to the agenda?   Being disciplined about priority-setting post-crisis will be essential to recovery and success.  It's easy to lose that discipline when the urgency of a crisis subsides.  The best organizations will not lose that sense of focus around resource allocation moving forward.  

Friday, May 01, 2020

Happiness = Haves Divided by Wants

Yesterday, on the last day of class with my seniors, I shared with them the key points from this excerpt of Arthur Brooks' terrific essay in The Atlantic titled, "The Three Equations for a Happy Life, Even During a Pandemic."

EQUATION 3: SATISFACTION = WHAT YOU HAVE ÷ WHAT YOU WANT

Many great spiritual leaders have made this point, of course. In his book The Art of Happiness (written with the psychiatrist Howard Cutler), the Dalai Lama stated, “We need to learn how to want what we have not to have what we want in order to get steady and stable Happiness.” The Spanish Catholic saint JosemarĂ­a Escrivá made the same point in a slightly different way: “Don’t forget it: he has most who needs least. Don’t create needs for yourself.”

This is not just a gauzy spiritual nostrum, however—it is an intensely practical formula for living. Many of us go about our lives desperately trying to increase the numerator of Equation 3; we try to achieve higher levels of satisfaction by increasing what we have—by working, spending, working, spending, and on and on. But the hedonic treadmill makes this pure futility. Satisfaction will always escape our grasp.

The secret to satisfaction is to focus on the denominator of Equation 3. Don’t obsess about your haves; manage your wants, instead. Don’t count your possessions (or your money, power, prestige, romantic partners, or fame) and try to figure out how to increase them; make an inventory of your worldly desires and try to decrease them. Make a bucket list—but not of exotic vacations and expensive stuff. Make a list of the attachments in your life you need to discard. Then, make a plan to do just that. The fewer wants there are screaming inside your brain and dividing your attention, the more peace and satisfaction will be left for what you already have.

Perhaps decreasing the denominator of Equation 3 is a little easier for you than normal during your isolation, because your expectations have diminished along with your physical ability to meet them. Can you find a way to continue this after the material world begins to beckon again in a few weeks or months?

Monday, April 27, 2020

Planet Fitness Case Study

Source: Wikipedia
My newest strategy case study, Planet Fitness:  No Judgements, No Lunks, is now avaiable in the Harvard Business Publishing catalog.   (The case was published by the University of Michigan's Davidson Institute).  The case study focuses on how the company has managed to position itself and create a competitive advantage in a very tough industry.   Moreover, it examines whether the firm will be able to sustain that advantage moving forward given its aggressive growth plans.   Finally, the case enables students to examine the issue of vertical integration and the pros and cons of a franchising model.   Interestingly, Planet Fitness was co-founded by a Bryant alum, Marc Grondahl.  

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The NFL Draft & The Sunk Cost Trap



Back in graduate school, I read an excellent paper by Barry Staw and Ha Hoang titled, "Sunk Costs in the NBA: Why Draft Order Affects Playing Time and Survival in Professional Basketball." The authors found that NBA teams fell into the sunk cost trap when it came to high draft picks. If the team expended a highly valuable first round pick on a player, they tended to stick with that player far longer than they should have. The NBA teams gave those players more playing time and retained the player longer than other players of similar ability who were drafted in later rounds. At times, coaches and general managers think to themselves, "We can't put a high first round pick on the bench." It's irrational, of course. They shouldn't be worried about sunk costs. However, we know that human beings have a hard time letting bygones be bygones. In fact, we throw good money after bad. That's precisely what happened to NBA coaches and general managers in this study. 

As a graduate student in the late 1990s, I decided to see if the same effect occurred in the National Football League. Since tonight is the NFL draft, I thought that I would look back what I discovered in that paper. Note that this dataset is from a very different NFL era. For a variety of important reasons, I looked back at NFL drafts in the 1980s, prior to free agency in the NFL. What I found was slightly different than the NBA study. NFL teams did fall into the sunk cost trap in the first few years after drafting running backs out of college. That was the same as the NBA. However, I found that teams disproportionately disposed of high draft picks starting around year 4. In short, there seemed to be a reversal of the sunk cost effect. Why? It turns out that historical data clearly showed that NFL running backs had a very short career, on average. They peaked in Year 4, on average. Almost no one became a star running back for the first time (defined by having their first 1,000 yard season) after Year 4. (see chart above) So what? Well, teams seemed to be quite aware of this history, and thus, they started dumping high draft picks around Year 4 who had not performed as stars in their first few years. In fact, they dumped them at a higher rate than lower round draft picks with similar performance to date. I described this as a reversal of the sunk cost trap.

In other words, the direction of the sunk cost effect may actually change over time. Traditionally, sunk cost research has demonstrated that individuals fail to ignore prior investments when deciding future courses of action. Consistent with prior research, my examination of NFL running backs demonstrated that prior investments can lead to additional investments in the future, and to an escalation of commitment to a course of action. However, the analysis also demonstrated that sunk costs may serve as inducement for divestment, rather than additional investment, as an asset matures. In short, a large prior investment may lead to the de-escalation of commitment in certain situations.

My conclusions focused on the importance of beliefs and expectations. When we throw good money after bad, we do so because we have a strong belief that a little more investment can somehow yield a better outcome. What happens, though, if that belief is strongly contradicted by well-known historical data? Perhaps the sunk cost effect wanes or even reverses itself. 

I concluded that sunk costs begin to become an inducement for divestment, rather than continued utilization, when individuals can no longer sustain the belief that this additional investment and/or utilization will yield improvement in the future. My analysis demonstrated that historical data regarding asset improvement appears to play a significant role in shaping these beliefs. In the case of NFL players, the historical data strongly suggests that players are not likely to improve after Year 4 in their career. Therefore, as assets mature, it appears that sunk costs can become an inducement for divestment if people no longer believe that improvement is possible, and if they believe that the assets have underperformed the expectations typically associated with their acquisition cost.

It's the hardest decisions often have to make in a variety of fields. When do I cut my losses? Perhaps there are a few lessons to learn from the mistakes made by NFL coaches and general managers in all too many situations. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Don't Overestimate Your Powers of Prediction


This week is the NFL Draft. Here's my analysis of 15 years of data on 1st round picks at QB. Conclusion: It's very hard to predict success. True in other fields too. Lessons for us all: don't overestimate powers to predict; don't misattribute forecasting success/failure based on few data points.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Tapping Into Your Employees' Creativity in a Time of Need

Bryant University just released this short article that I've written, titled "Tapping Into Your Employees' Creativity in a Time of Need."  

During this tumultuous time, organizations face a variety of perplexing problems and challenges. Some of these issues may seem intractable to the senior management teams at many firms. Executives will need to think creatively to develop solutions that meet the pressing needs of their customers and other constituents. The answers will not always come from the top. The best leaders will tap into the creativity of all employees, no matter their level in the hierarchy or level of formal authority. For far too long in far too many firms, executives have sent the implicit message that they desire compliance and control, rather than creativity. They talk a good talk about innovation, but don’t walk the walk. That must change during this time of crisis. 

What can senior leaders do to unleash the creativity of their employees to solve a myriad of challenging problems? Here are five simple strategies that they can employ: 

1. Assemble several virtual “kitchen cabinets” of employees who are likely to bring fresh perspectives. Create a direct line of communication between the top team and these kitchen cabinets. For instance, bring together a group of highly talented young employees, many of whom will not be beholden to the conventional wisdom or past patterns of behavior. Ask them what assumptions need to be challenged and what processes need rethinking. Encourage the youngest to teach the oldest about new trends in technology, consumer behavior, and the like. Or, assemble a team of front-line employees who are interfacing with customers directly each day, and ask them what obstacles they are facing. Then, ask them how senior leadership can help and support them in addressing these challenges. 

2. Invite employees to reach outside their industry for creative ideas. Specifically, encourage them to reason by analogy. Are you facing a customer service problem? What situations are analogous to your own? Invite employees to consider what firms in other industries might be doing to address a similar issue. Or, ask them how people with different technical backgrounds and expertise might approach a similar problem. Then encourage them to adapt and apply those lessons to your organization. 

3. Champion experimentation. Offer to provide resources and other support to employees who design simple, low cost, rapid experiments to test out new ideas and solutions. Insure them that people will not be punished for failed experiments, provided that employees demonstrate that they are learning from mistakes and sharing those lessons with others throughout the organization. Create recognition and offer small awards for people who conduct the most interesting experiments. 

4. Invite employees to role play other key constituents. How might our customers react to a particular situation or proposed solution? What about our suppliers or other external partners? Research shows that we often are more creative when we imagine that we are someone else facing a similar predicament. Imagining ourselves in someone else’s shoes can stimulate fresh ideas. 

5. Create virtual brainstorming sessions where small teams can come together to generate many divergent ideas in a short period of time. Ask participants to withhold critique during this time, focusing instead on building on one another’s ideas. Encourage them to propose ideas that may not seem feasible, or that even may seem a bit quirky or unconventional. Tell your employees that a discussion of feasibility will come later, after a wide variety of options have been put on the table. 

These strategies offer practical ways in which leaders can engage with a broad set of employees in critical problem-solving work. Most importantly, though, leaders need to send the signal that they genuinely believe that they have much to learn from their employees. They need to demonstrate some vulnerability and acknowledge what they do not know in these turbulent times. Stress that you don’t have all the answers and that you appreciate all the help you can get. Identify specific issues about which you believe others may have something valuable to contribute. Making people feel valued in this way can often stimulate them to come forward with terrific ideas. In sum, if you acknowledge you don’t have all the answers, and simply pose a few thoughtful questions to your people, you will be amazed at what you can learn from them. 

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Time to Write a Thank You Note

Source: Bloomberg
During this crisis, we have an even greater need to express our gratitude to hard-working, dedicated employees in our organization.   Recognizing people's efforts and achievements can be instrumental to cultivating high employee engagement, fostering their well-being, and increasing productivity.   Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell's Soup, has been an ardent proponent of the handwritten thank-you note for years.   Here's an excerpt that he wrote for Harvard Business Review several years ago about the importance of acknowledging what people have done for the organization.  

Believe it or not, I have sent roughly 30,000 handwritten notes to employees like Patti over the last decade, from maintenance people to senior executives. I let them know that I am personally paying attention and celebrating their accomplishments. (I send handwritten notes too because well over half of our associates don’t use a computer). I also jump on any opportunities to write to people who partner with our company any time I meet with them. It’s the least you can do for people who do things to help your company and industry. On the face of it, writing handwritten notes may seem like a waste of time. But in my experience, they build goodwill and lead to higher productivity.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Excessive Worrying About How Others Judge Us

Source: Wikimedia
Alice Moon, Muping Gan, and Clayton Critcher wrote a paper last year titled, "The Overblown Implications Effect."   They studied how people think about how others are judging them.  They conducted a series of experimental studies on this topic.   The researchers found strong evidence that, "Actors overestimate how much observers think an actor’s one-off success or failure offers clear insight about a relevant competency.  Furthermore, actors overblow performances’ implications even in prospect, before there are experienced successes or failures on which to ruminate."

The researchers uncovered a particularly interesting phenomenon.  People tend to assume that others are making blanket judgments about their overall afbilities in an area based on upon a very specific result. In an interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Professor Moon explains:

"Our key finding was that people overweigh how omuch both failures and successes factor into observers’ perceptions of them. That is, if you bake a bad batch of cookies, you assume that now others will think you are horrible cook, and if you bake a good batch of cookies, you think that others will now assume you are a fantastic cook. Interestingly, both you and the observer agree on whether the batch of cookies is good or bad, but the error arises in the greater implications from that performance: how good of a cook you are, and also, how good you are at related skills, such as making an omelet."

The study has some interesting implications for how managers provide recognition and constructive feedback to their employees.  They need to keep in mind that employees often think managers are making broad sweeping conclusions based on the one incident or project.  Managers need to remind employees that the feedback pertains to the particular situation.  Moreover, they need to clearly distinguish between specific incident feedback and broader pattern recognition.  Clarity here is essential.  Are you commenting on a pattern of good or bad performance, or are you simply trying to identify and provide feedback on a specific situation?  Employees will think you are commenting about a pattern unless you specify otherwise.  They assume you think a pattern exists, in a sense.  


Friday, April 03, 2020

Sharing Learning Across the Organization: The Power of Near-Misses

Source: Moody Air Force Base
I'm working on a new case study about the Boeing 737 MAX crisis right now, and I've come across a very interesting incident that arose before the first crash.  I think there is a key lesson from that incident that applies to all organizations as we cope with the COVID-19 crisis today.  

On the day before the crash of Lion Air Flight 610 in Indonesia, pilots flying the same plane nearly experienced tragedy.   Fortunately, a third pilot happened to be in the cockpit that day.   He observed the captain and co-pilot struggling to understand and react to the fact that the stall-prevention system was pushing the nose of the plane down repeatedly.   Finally, the observer recognized what was happening and identified how to rectify the situation.  He intervened and saved the day.  Unfortunately, the lessons from this "near-miss" never flowed to other crews at Lion Air.   On the very next day, flying the very same plane, tragedy ensued.   Pilots experienced a mis-fire of the stall-prevention system, brought on by a faulty sensor reading.  They did not know how to address the sitaution, and the plane crashed into the sea, killing everyone on board.

What's the lesson for us today?   We have to make sure that teams are reflecting on what they have learned, particularly after failures, and sharing their lessons learned with others throughout the organization.   Of course, failures often get a lot of attention, and people do hear about what went wrong and what the lessons learned are from those situations.  However, people often do not hear about the near-misses, yet they are some of the most valuable learning opportunities.   Near-misses are those situations when a failure almost occurred, but thankfully, someone intervened to take action, avoiding a major negative consequence.   

Why don't we hear about the near-misses?   Often, people's natural reaction is to simply say, "Phew! Thank goodness!"   Then they don't share the news of the situation with others.  In part, they do it to avoid scutiny or perhaps the assignment of blame.  Sometimes, they simply don't think about how the lessons from that incident can be helpful to others in the organization. 

Years ago, Amy Edmondson, Anita Tucker and I wrote a case study about Children's Hospital and Clinics in Minneapolis/St. Paul.   They wanted to surface near-misses, rather than sweep them under the rug, so as to learn from them and avoid future medical accidents.  Someone there came up with the brilliant idea to rename the near-misses!   They started calling them "Good Catches."   Clinicians were asked to record these "good catches" in logs, and then a team studied the lessons from those situations.  The term "good catch" emphasized the heroic action to intervene and avoid tragedy, rather than focusing on the bad things that happened leading up to the problem.   I since have encountered another organization, in a manufacturing environment, that actually borrowed the phrase "good catch" and actually created an award for plant employees who initiated a "good catch."  As a result, they learned about many more near-misses than ever before, studied them closely, and over time, they reduced quality defects in the factory considerably!  

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Coping with Quarantine: Learning from the Polar Explorers

Source: history.co.uk
Daniella McCahey, a history lecturer at the University of Idaho, has written an inspiring column for Fast Company this week.   She takes a look back at the Antarctic explorers of the early 1900s and examines how they coped with months of isolation, darkness, and surviving in close quarters with fellow adventurers.   She argues that seven things helped the explorers cope effectively, and that we can use some of these same strategies today during the COVID-19 crisis. 

1. Music: McCahey quotes Apsley Cherry-Garrarde, an English explorer and member of Robert Falcon Scott's expedition of 1910: “It is necessary to be cut off from civilization … to realize fully the power music has to recall the past…to soothe the present and give hope for the future."

2.  Books:  She reminds us that, when Shackleton's ship sank, he made sure to grab his favorite Rudyard Kipling poem.  Grab that book you have been meaning to read.  Dive into a subject you would love to learn more about, or expand your understanding into a related domain.   Reading widely can help spur creativity and innovation, as we sometimes find ideas in adjacent fields that are applicable to our own.   Read a few fun books too... a mystery that captures the imagination or keeps you in suspense.
 
3.  Diary Writing:  Taking the time to record key events and reflect upon them can have value.  It also helps people release a bit of their stress.  

4.  Expedition Newspapers:  Some explorers also chose a different form of writing.  Not only did they record personal diaries, but they also produced newspapers for the expedition as a whole.  These basic newspapers included poetry, humor, games, and puzzles. 

5. Games: She quotesCarsten Borchgrevink, leader of the Southern Cross Expedition: “The sameness of those cold, dark nights attacks the minds of men like a sneaking evil spirit. We found that … playing chess and cards were very valuable pastimes.”   I can attest to the value of playing games.   My family and I have been enjoying many game nights amidst the crisis.  As the kids grew older, we played board games much less often.   Now we are revisiting our game night tradition, and we have enjoyed the break from our remote work.  

6.  Food:  Here's one that I can relate to very much.   She says that the meals quickly became monotonous.  Out of boredom and at times necessity, the explorers experimented with new foods and recipes.  I've found myself doing the same thing.  I've always enjoyed cooking, but often don't have the time. Now, I'm usig my time at home to try new recipes, and the practice has not only lifted my spirits but made the entire family happy.  (well most of the time... there have been a few misfires!) 

7.  Alcohol:  I don't think that I need to say much about this one.  We all agree it has a role to play!  Of course, some research does suggest that drinking wine can enhance your creativity! 

Monday, March 30, 2020

Doing the Right Thing: Kent Taylor at Texas Roadhouse

Source: bizjournals.com
This morning, I read some terrific news about a leader doing the right thing for his organization amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Kent Taylor is co-founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse, the popular steakhouse restaurant chain. According to this article by Leo Shvedsky, Taylor has chosen to give up his 2020 salary and bonus.   He's giving the money to his employees who are hurting financially due to the crisis.  He's also made an additional $5 million donation to help his people.   Here's the excerpt:

Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor announced on Thursday that he is forgoing the rest of his 2020 salary and bonus and instead directing the funds toward paying his employees during the coronavirus outbreak. The remaining salary and bonus both amount to $525,000 each for a total of $1,050,000.  "Kent Taylor has always said that Texas Roadhouse is a People-company that just happens to serve great steaks. His donation of his salary and bonus to help employees is the embodiment of that saying," a Texas Roadhouse spokesperson told The Hill. "We are blessed to have his leadership."  The spokesperson also told The Hill that Taylor has already donated $5 million of his personal funds to Andy's Outreach, a non-profit run by Texas Roadhouse to help employees in times of need.

Paul Levy, former CEO of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, argues that all leaders should be taking these types of actions. In a blog post for Harvard Business Review, Levy, Atta Tarki, and Jeff Weiss write:

"If you are doing cut backs to save job losses, you must lead by example and do cut backs that impacts your own day-to-day as well. If you don’t, there is a danger that your staff will feel like saps, doing sacrifices while the C-suite continues unaffected. Get a commitment for a pay cut from your senior leaders. As CEO, you should take the largest salary cut yourself."

Friday, March 27, 2020

Small Wins: More Important Than Ever

Source: https://michiganross.umich.edu/faculty-research/faculty/karl-weick
In the 1980s, the great social psychologist Karl Weick wrote a paper about the importance of small wins. Weick argued that some problems can be cognitively and emotionally overwhelming. In these cases, people may find it very difficult to make progress toward addressing the issue and achieving their goals. Weick advocated breaking down large, complex problems and goals into smaller, intermediate objectives. Pursuing a small wins strategy could then help people achieve their goals, but lowering stress, creating a powerful sense of accomplishment, and motivating people to continue working on a tough project. Here's an excerpt from that paper:

A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals. Small wins are controllable opportunities that produce visible results.

The idea of small wins seems more important than ever right now, amidst the COVID-19 crisis.  It's easy to feel overwhelmed at times.  Thinking in terms of concrete small wins may help us work toward longer term, stretch goals as well as to tackle very challenging projects.  

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Why Companies May Benefit from More Transparency about Product Drawbacks

Source: Pixabay
Most companies, quite expectedly, focus intensely on the positive attributes of their products and services when communicating with customers.   They market all the benefits, and typically, they minimize any discussion of the limitations or drawbacks of the product. After all, who would want to shine a spotlight on negative attributes of your products? 

Well, Harvard Business School scholars Ryan Buell and MoonSoo Choi decided to challene the conventional wisdom.  They sought to examine whether a bit more honesty and transparency might actually be beneficial for companies.  Buell and MoonSoo Choi published their findings in a paper titled, "Improving Customer Compatibilitywith Operational Transparency."   

The scholars worked with Commonwealth Bank, a large Australian financial services company, to conduct a randomized field experiment.  On the bank's website, potential new customers received one of two offers: one highlighted the best attributes of the company's credit card, while the other also mentioned key drawbacks that firms often tend to place in the fine print only.   In short, the company made explicit some of the key tradeoffs inherent in the company's strategy and product offering.   In other words, you get these wonderful features, but here's what we don't offer, or what we don't provide at the same level of service.   Think about Southwest Airlines... we offer you on-time flights, low fares, friendly service, and no baggage fees, BUT we don't assign seats, have no first class and no meals, and won't transfer your bags to other airlines.  The company makes the trade-offs quite clear to consumers.  

The scholars tracked customer behavior at Commonwealth Bank for the next year.  What did the researchers find?   HBS Working Knowledge summarized the key results:

"The researchers found that people who opened an account after learning about a card’s downsides spent 10 percent more each month than customers who heard only the benefits. Their nine-month cancellation rate was also 21 percent less, and they were 11 percent less likely to make late payments on a month-to-month basis... Although the team didn’t probe why customers spent more, they suspect that providing more information helped people choose products that were more compatible with their financial needs, creating a better customer experience."

Now, clearly, companies need to be careful with this added level of transparency.  They can't just dump a bunch of negative information on customers and hope to succeed.  However, they can think about how providing more transparency may help them gain consumers' trust and help customers self-select in a way that creates a more enduring and better fit between company and customer.  

Monday, March 23, 2020

Now is the Time: What is Your Organization's Purpose?

Source:  Needpix
Over the past decade, we have seen more organizations come to the conclusion that they must become purpose-driven.  They have come to realize that an authentic higher purpose (that connects to business goals and objectives) can be motivating and inspiring, and it can advance efforts to develop a highly engaged and committed workforce.  I would argue that now is the time for organizations to think deeply about purpose, specifically as it relates to the current COVID-19 crisis.  What is your organization's role in helping our society cope with this crisis?   How can your firm help our society preserve and improve public health, promote economic recovery and protect jobs, insure that global supply chains remain functioning effectively, etc.?   Even if you already have a clearly articulated purpose, now may be the time to adjust that purpose to suit the specific situation in which we find ourselves.  Or perhaps more appropriately, to communicate how your purpose connects to and can contribute to addressing the crisis in which we find ourselves.  

If you are interested in this topic, I highly recommend an article from Harvard Business Review titled, "Creating a Purpose-Driven Organization" by Robert Quinn and Anjan Thakor, published two years ago.  They remind us that we have to take great care not to simply resort to cliches and platitudes.  We have to engage with our employees to discover that authentic higher purpose, and to get their buy-in as we align the organization with that new sense of mission.  Here's an excerpt:

At a global oil company, we once met with members of a task force asked by the CEO to work on defining the organization’s purpose. They handed us a document representing months of work; it articulated a purpose, a mission, and a set of values. We told them it had no power—their analysis and debate had produced only platitudes.

The members of the task force had used only their heads to invent a higher purpose intended to capture employees’ hearts. But you do not invent a higher purpose; it already exists. You can discover it through empathy—by feeling and understanding the deepest common needs of your workforce. That involves asking provocative questions, listening, and reflecting.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Don't Overestimate Your Multi-tasking Capabilities

Source: Pixabay
Given the COVID-19 situation, many of us find ourselves juggling a variety of unexpected tasks and obligations.   For many parents, working from home has become the norm.  In addition, parents have been asked to home school their children in conjunction with various online learning being faciliated by their children's teachers.  In our home, my spouse and I are both teaching online.  My oldest daughter is home from college taking classes online, and my other two children are engaging in online learning at the high school and middle school level.  The house is busy, and the schedule is complex.   

The natural tendency in these cases is to find ourselves multi-tasking often.  However, we have to be careful about overestimating our multi-tasking capabilities.  Research clearly shows that human beings struggle with trying to work on multiple streams of work simultaneously, yet we are overconfident in our abilities to juggle in this fashion.  Here's an excerpt from an article Kendra Cherry on the topic:

Take a moment and think about all of the things you are doing right now. Obviously, you are reading this article, but chances are good that you are also doing several things at once. Perhaps you're also listening to music, texting a friend, checking your email in another browser tab, or playing a computer game.

If you are doing several different things at once, then you may be what researchers refer to as a "heavy multitasker." And you probably think that you are fairly good at this balancing act. According to a number of different studies, however, you are probably not as effective at multitasking as you think you are.

In the past, many people believed that multitasking was a good way to increase productivity. After all, if you're working on several different tasks at once, you're bound to accomplish more, right?

Recent research, however, has demonstrated that that switching from one task to the next takes a serious toll on productivity. Multitaskers have more trouble tuning out distractions than people who focus on one task at a time. Also, doing so many different things at once can actually impair cognitive ability.

Ok, so how do we handle the current dynamic situation given these research findings?  Building a schedule is a start, as is dedicating particular spaces as quiet areas where people cannot enter and interrupt others.   Building in breaks is essential, so that you can step away and clear your head.   Research shows that "unfocusing" in this way can stimulate creativity and enhance productivity.   For us, we've started a family workout challenge.   That has been a nice diversion, and it addresses the issue of breaks and unfocus time.   Next, you need to find some time to step away from being connected so that you can get some of your work done without interruption by email, text, and the like.   Be sure to let others know when you are going to be focused on a task and not able to respond to messages.  Finally, you have to spend some time each day prioritizing tasks, so that you are focusing your efforts on the most essential duties.   Getting three things done very well is always better than doing a mediocre job at ten things.