The Pen From A Puddle

Pen
You know how ideas just sort of come to you…



Well, major innovations that have changed the course of history haven’t really happened that way. 



All innovation and development start from somewhere–usually where G-d or someone else has left off–and then we take things a cycle forward. 



In the Wall Street Journal, James Ward describes how the simple yet profound ballpoint pen was invented. 



Not until 1899 was it founded giving everyone the ability to write away with a ball at the point (a ballpoint) that rolls and dispenses the ink with ease. 



The ballpoint pen was invented by Liszlo Biro of Budapest. 



Observing that in printing presses the machine cylinder could only roll ink back and forth, however for everyday writing people needed an all-directional mechanism. 



So what happens…



Sitting at a cafe and thinking, he sees children playing with marbles.



And one child’s marble rolls through a puddle of water. 



The marble leaves “a line of water in its wake.”



Boom…the idea for the ballpoint bearing comes in being with “minute grooves” in the pen head to draw the ink to the tip and unto the paper. 



With further experimentation, the famous Bic (Cristal) pen named after Frenchman, Marcel Bich, was born in 1959.  It has a “hexagonal body (inspired by the shape of aa traditional wooden pencil) and instantly recognizable lid”–since it’s launch, more than 100 billion of these pens have been manufactured and sold!



By the way, remember the hilarious commercial for the Bic Banana Ink Crayon Pens (watch here to laugh a little).



So in both instances of the invention of the pen, the developers found other things in their environment from which they learned and then they applied it to something new (in one instance the child with the marble and water, and in the other the shape of the good ‘ol pencil). 



Lesson learned here: 



Watch, learn, experiment, learn, apply — change the world! 😉



(Source Photo: here with attribution to photosteve101)

How You Treat Animals

Bird and Beer

This little bird is singing pretty with his Coronoa.


But this isn’t always how we treat animals. 


Some absolutely revere their animals as integral parts of their family or faith–as pets, they may be loved and cared in nice homes, and as source for milk, dung, and tilling, they may even considered sacred as in Hindu India, or for sacrifices on the holy Temple alter in Jerusalem. 


I’ve seen dogs picked up after and wheeled around in baby strollers, while in the Movies like “Meet The Fockers,” Jinx the cat is exalted for doing her deed in the toilet, the same one used by the family.


One colleague told me how she had to run after her dog cleaning up all over her house, when it was sick and had a bleed out of its butt–yeah, ick!


And I remember learning about how in Nazi Germany, dogs would walk on the sidewalk, while Jews were forced into the gutters. 


On the other side of the animal coin…


We have animals sickeningly and inhumanly confined and caged in tiny spaces; starved or fattened; pepped up on antibiotics, and clubbed, electrocuted, given lethal injections, shot and cut up.


Animals are used for food, fur, and even so-called fun from cock fighting to bull runs.


Further, animals are used for research in everything from new medications to abusive studies in mind control and even punishment.


Animals have also been used for horrific torture of POWs where masks were attached to victims faces and a fire would heat the other side and force the rodent locked inside to burrow into the faces of their victims.


Similarly, in Nazi Germany, gruesome studies were conducted on humans by sewing live cats into the stomach of victims.


In more positive ways, animals have been used to locate everything from disease to the implements of war–from dogs being used in identifying human diseases like cancer and tuberculosis to giant rats used to locate land mines


Also, animal products are used in many life-saving medications. 


I found the remorse of an animal experimenter today in the New York Times to be refreshing, and those who choose to become vegan or disavow the use of fur and other animal products to be noble, as long as they accept that others may feel different. 


When the experimenter in his guilt thinks about the tables being turned, he imagines aliens coming to Earth and abducting and conducting experiments on us humans…oh, he seems to go, now I know how it must feel. 


Guess he didn’t think to walk in that chicken’s shoes before…


While to carnivorous animals, we are just another piece of beef in the food chain, other domesticated animals can be “man’s best friend.”


Killing an animal for survival is one thing, and where people draw that line can vary quite some–for example, how badly does Kim Kardashian need another fur to keep her warm?


But pure abusive and sick treatment of animals for amusement, profiteering, or psychotic ends is wrong, period. 


Animals are not people, but they are G-d’s creatures and sentient, and they should not be harmed or pained just because some of us like to act like animals too. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Pets, But Not People

Pampered_pooch

I remember learning how the Nazi’s in the Holocaust and WWII would take great care of their dogs, while at the same time exterminating Jews, Gypsies, gays, the disabled, as well as political opponents and prisoners of war. 

While I fully respect people who are pet owners and love their pets, it is odd how even today the love of animals and their treatment can be elevated above how we treat each other.

Some recent articles about our pets that stood out:

– An article in the Wall Street Journal (2 December 2012) compares helicopter parents to now helicopter pet owners. One example given, from a pet-rescue site states: “All dogs must be constantly supervised in their yards for their safety…animals such as bats, bees, and snakes can gain access to yards” and threaten your dog. Another example provided was about a couple who wante dto adopt a dog, but had to complete an 50 question application. 

– Two days later, another article in the Wall Street Journal (4 December 2012) about people memorializing their pets by turning their ashes into diamonds. “Producing a one-carat diamond requires less than a cup of ashes or unpacked hair.” And “some gems start at about $250, while pet diamonds cost about $1,400.” No really!

In contrast, here were some recent articles about how we memorialize those who were gruesomely murdered and tortured by Nazis (may their name be obliterated):

– The Wall Street Journal (1 December 2012) presented an article on how “every year since 1963, the Space Medicine Association (SMA) has [disgracefully] given out the Hubertus Strughold Award to a top scientist or clinician for outstanding work in space medicine” even though, “Dr. Strughold, a former scientist for the Third Reich, was listed as one of 13 ‘persons, firms, or organizations implicated’ in some notorious Dachau concentration camp experiments.” In particular, Dr. Strughold was implicated in the “infamous hypothermia, or ‘cold experiments,’ in which inmates were used, and typically died as subjects [brutally] exposed to freezing conditions” such as immersion in freezing water or in vacuum chambers that simulated altitudes of nearly 20,000 feet. Yes, the concentration camp prisoners exposed to these experiments at Dr. Strughold’s own instuitute, included “children 11 to 13 old [who] were taken from a nearby psychiatric facility” and subjected to oxygen deprivation experiments,” yet the SMA continues to use Dr. Strughold name as worthy of an annual award–yes, beyond belief and sick indeed. 

Bloomberg BusinessWeek (6 December 2012) describes how in India, a clothing store in Ahmedabad is named Hitler with a swastika used as the dot over the “i” in Hitler, and Mein Kampf is a bestseller. Similarly, in 2006 a cafe opened in Mumbai called Hitler’s cross and a pool hall named Hitler’s Den opened in Nagpur. Last year, a comedy was released called Hero Hitler in Love and there is a hit soap opera called Hitler Didi (or “Big Sister Hitler”). While the article states the “Hitler’s popularity in India is not a result of anti-Semitism” but rather that Hitler weakened the British in WWII, thereby freeing their country. Nevertheless, the hero treatment for Hitler stands out in stark contrast to his life as a notorious murder of millions.

So while many admirably love their pets and seek to treat them kindly and with care, there are those who still love for the likes of Hitler, the Nazis and the murder, cruelty, and chaos they inflicted on the world. 

What is commentary on and future of a world, when people love and respect their pets more than their fellow human beings? 

As the English Statesman, Edmund Burke, said, “The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Glenda Wiburn)

Engaging Millennials

Engaging Millennials

I have a new article in Public CIO magazine called Trophy Kids at Work.

Millennials may be having a tough time finding work–perhaps they are down, but they are certainly not out!

The article explores how to successfully engage millennials in the workforce by:

– Connecting in person and through social media

– Offering leading-edge technologies with room to experiment and innovate, and

– Providing a sense of meaning through professional contributions.

Hope you enjoy,

Andy

>Playing It Safe or Provoking to Action

>

Which does your leadership do? Do they play it safestaying the same familiar course, avoiding potential change and upset or do they provoke to action, encourage continuous improvement, are they genuinely open to new ideas, and do they embrace the possibilities (along with the risks) of doing things better, faster, and cheaper?

Surely, some leaders are masters of envisioning a brighter future and provoking the change to make it happen. Leaders from Apple, Google, Amazon, and other special leaders come to mind. But many others remain complacent to deliver short-term results, not rock the boat, and keep on fighting the day-to-day fires rather than curing the firefighting illness and moving the organization to innovation, ideation, and transformation through strategic formulation and execution.

Provoking to action is risky for leaders as the old saying goes, the nail that sticks up gets hammered down,and often leaders that make even the best-intentioned mistakes in trying to do the right thing get sorely punished. Only enlightened organizations encourage innovation and experimentation and recognize that failure is part of the process to get to success.

While responsible leaders, almost by definition, provide a stable, reliable, secure, and robust operating environment, we must balance this with the need to grow and change productively over time. We need more organizations and leaders to stand up and provoke actionto drive new ways of thinking and doing thingsto break the complacency mindset and remove the training wheels to allow a freer, faster, and more agile movement of organizational progress. To provoke action, we need to make our people feel safe to look out for long-term organizational success strategies rather than just short-term bottom line numbers.

Harvard Business Review (December 2009) provides some useful tips for provoking action called Five Discovery Skills Separate True Innovators from the Rest of Us.

  • AssociatingDevelop a broad knowledgebase and regularly give yourself the time and space to freely associateallow your brain to connect the dots in new ways and see past old stovepipes. Fresh inputs trigger new associations; for some these lead to new ideas.
  • Questioning–”Innovators constantly ask questions that challenge common wisdom. We need to question the unquestionable as Ratan Tata put it. We must challenge long-held assumptions and Ask why? Why not? And What if? Dont be afraid to play devils advocate. Let your imagination flow and imagine a completely different alternative. Remove barriers to creative thinking and banish fear of people laughing at you, talking behind your back, dismissing you, or even conducting acts of reprisal.
  • ObservingCareful observation of people and how they behave provides critical insights into what is working and what isnt. There is a cool field of study in the social sciences called ethnomethodology that studies just such everyday human behavior and provides a looking glass through which we can become aware of and understand the ways things are and open us up to the way things could be better.
  • ExperimentingWeve got to try new things and approaches to learn from them and see if they work and how to refine them. Productive changes dont just happen all of a sudden like magic; they are cultivated, tested, refined, and over time evolve into new best practices for us and our organizations. Experimentation involves intellectual exploration, physical tinkering[and] engaging in new surroundings.
  • NetworkingIts all about people: they inspire us, provoke us, complement us, and are a sounding board for us. We get the best advances and decisions when we vet ideas with a diverse group of people. Having a diverse group of people provides different perspectives and insights that cannot be gleaned any other way. There is power in numbers”–and I am not referring to the power to defeat our enemies, but the power to think critically and synergistically. The group can build something greater than any individual alone ever could.

Of course, we cannot drive change like a speeding, runaway train until it crashes and burns. Rather, change and innovation must be nurtured. We must provoke to action our organizations and our people to modernize and transform through critical thinking, questioning the status quo, regular observation and insight, the freedom to experiment and constructively fail, and by building a diverse and synergistic network of people that can be greater than the sum of their parts.

>A Call to IT Arms

>

Recently, I heard a colleague say that we should view IT not as a cost center, but as a resource center—and I really liked that.

In fact, IT is a cost center and a resource center, but these days there is an overemphasis on it being a cost center.

On the negative side, people seem to like to criticize IT and point out the spectacular failures there have been, and in fact, according to Public CIO “a recent study by the Standish Group showed that 82% of all IT project were either failures or were considered challenged.”

This is the dark side of IT that many would like to dwell on.

However, I would argue that while we must constantly improve on IT project delivery, IT failures can be just a point in time on the way to tremendous success and there are many of these IT successes that we benefit from in big and small ways every day.

Moreover, it may take 1000 failures to achieve that one great breakthrough success. That is the nature of innovation and experimentation.

Of course, that does not mean we should do stupid or negligent things that results in failed IT projects—we must do our best to be responsible and professional stewards. But, we should not be afraid to experiment and fail as a healthy part of the creative process.

Thomas Edison said: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

So why are we obsessed with IT failures these days?

Before the dot com bust, when technology was all the rave, and we enjoyed the bounty of new technologies like the computer, cell phones, handhelds, electronics galore, the Internet and all the email, productivity software and e-commerce and business applications you could ask for, the mindset was “technology is the engine that drives business.” And in fact, many companies were even changing their names to have “.com” in them to reflect this. The thinking was that if you didn’t realize the power and game-changing nature of technology, you could just as well plan to be out of business in the near future. The technologies that came out of those years were amazing and you and I rely on these every day.

Then after the dot-com burst, the pendulum swung the other way—big time! IT became an over zealous function, that was viewed as unstructured and rampant, with runaway costs that had to be contained. People were disappointed with the perceived broken promises and failed projects that IT caused, and IT people were pejoratively labeled geeks or techies and viewed as being outside the norm—sort of the societal flunkies who started businesses out of home garages. People found IT projects failures were everywhere. The corporate mindset changed to “business drives technology.”

Now, I agree that business drives technology in terms of requirements coming from the business and technology providing solutions to it and enabling it. But technology is also an engine for growth, a value creator, and a competitive advantage!

Further, while some would argue these days that IT is “just a tool”, I would counter that IT is a true strategic asset to those who understand its role in the enterprise. I love IT and I believe we all do and this is supported by the fact that we have become basically insatiable for IT. Forrester predicts U.S. IT budgets in 2009 will be in the vicinity of $750 billion. (http://it.tmcnet.com/topics/it/articles/59200-it-market-us-decline-51-percent-2009-researchers.htm) Think about what you want for the holidays—does it have IT in it?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was about how the homeless are so tied to technology that many have a computer with Internet access, even when they don’t have three square meals a day or a proper home to live in.

Another sign of how critical IT has become is that we recently stood up a new Cyber Command to protect our defense IT establishment. We are reliant indeed on our information technology and we had better be prepared to protect and defend it.

The recent White House 2009 Cyberspace Policy Review states: “The globally-interconnected digital information and communications infrastructure known as “cyberspace” underpins almost every facet of modern society and provides critical support for the U.S. economy, civil infrastructure, public safety, and national security.”

It’s time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction and to view IT as the true strategic asset that it is.

>Adaptive Leaders Rule The Day

>

One of the key leadership traits is of course, agility. No single course of action—no matter how intelligent or elegant—will be successful in every situation. That’s why effective leaders need to be able to quickly adapt and to apply situation-appropriate behaviors (situational leadership) to the circumstances as they arise.

Leaders need a proverbial “toolkit” of successful behaviors to succeed and even more so be able to adapt and create innovative new tools to meet new unchartered situations.

Harvard Business Review, July/August 2009, has a interesting article called “Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis” that offers up some useful insights on adaptive leadership.

But first, what is clear is that uncertainty abounds and leadership must adapt and meet the challenges head on:

“Uncertainty will continue as the norm even after the recession ends. Economics cannot erect a firewall against intensifying global competition, energy constraints, climate change, and political instability.”

But some things that effective leaders can do in challenging and uncertain times are as follows:

Foster adaptation”—leaders need to be able to function in two realities—today and tomorrow. They “must execute in order to meet today’s challenges and they must adapt what and how things get done in order to thrive in tomorrow’s world.” Or to put it another way: leaders “must develop ‘next practices’ while excelling at today’s best practices.”

Stabilize, then solve—in uncertain times, when an emergency situation arises, first stabilize the situation and then adapt by tackling the underlying causes and building capacity to thrive in a new reality.

Experiment—don’t be afraid to experiment and try out new ways of doing things, innovate products and services, or field new technologies. “The way forward will be characterized by constant midcourse corrections.” But that is how learning occurs and that’s how success is bred—one experience and experiment at a time.

“Embrace disequilibrium”—Often people and organizations won’t or can’t change until the pain of not adapting is greater than the pain of staying the course. Too little pain and people stay in their comfort zone. Too much change, and people “fight, flee, or freeze.” So we have to be ready to change at the tipping point when the discomfort opens the way for change to drive forward.

Make people safe to question—unfortunately, too often [poor] leadership is afraid or threatened by those who question or seek alternative solutions. But effective leaders are open to new ideas, constructive criticism and innovation. Leaders need be confident and “create a culture of courageous conversations”—where those who can provide critical insights “are protected from the organizational pressure to remain silent.”

Leverage diversity—the broader the counsel you have, the better the decision you are likely to make. “If you do not engage in the widest possible range of life experiences and views—including those of younger employees—you risk operating without a nuanced picture of the shifting realities facing the business internally and externally.

To me, while leaders may intuitively fall back on tried and true techniques that have worked for them in the past, adaptive leaders need to overcome that tendency and think creatively and in situation-appropriate ways to be most effective. The adaptive leader doesn’t just do what is comfortable or known, but rather he/she synthesizes speed, agility, and courage in confronting new and evolving challenges. No two days or situations are the same and leadership must stand ready to meet the future by charting and creative new ways ahead.