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Innovation Through Competition

Whenever people talk to me about innovation, we inevitably discuss how to come up with a new idea.  Most people I have spoken to respond that coming up with a novel and innovative idea depends on being in the “right” environment at the “right” time.  After a little probing, these friends have explained that the “right” environment means accepting, relaxed and creative.

In my studies, I have come to realize something else.  The “right” environment is driven by competition and an interest in being the best.  Last semester, I took a course by Professor Amotz Bar-noy on the analysis of algorithms.  For those that don’t know what that means, we looked at problems and tried to figure out the most efficient ways to solve them.  A lot of the problems we discussed have little to no impact our daily lives, which got me thinking about why we are even looking at the problems.  The answer is simple: trying to find the most efficient solution forced us to look at the problem from every angle.

To me, the combination of looking for the most efficient solution with the pressure of many people trying to get there first pushes new ideas. I guess my question is, how do we get that combination and foster the “right” environment?  Of course, if you are in a competitive field, there are always people trying to get there faster.  Not everyone has that luxury.  In corporate settings, I can’t imagine pitting people against each other, that would promote a very closed communication system and a lot of office politics.

I believe that we can achieve greatness if we are pushed to get there! So the only question is, what’s the best way to push?

 
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Preach Religion through Love not Death!

This morning I was on the subway on my way into Manhattan and a very loud woman was preaching about Jesus.  Throughout the entire speech, she kept repeating that we need to “come to Jesus” and that we must do it before it is too late. The overtone of her entire session was that we are going to die and go to hell or heaven. She constantly mentioned that Jesus died for us (her) and that without his death she wouldn’t be preaching to me.

This whole experience, really struck a nerve. It isn’t because she was screaming or trying to convert me.  Those are normal occurrences on the subway in New York.  What really bothered me was the constant reference to death, hell, heaven and her not-so-subtle attempt at evoking guilt to convert the entire train car.

I should let everyone know that I am not a religious man.  I grew up in an Orthodox Jewish household and understand many of the laws of Judaism and some of the motivations behind them.  I am not anti religion.  The opposite, I think it has some great benefits, but have decided it is not for me right now.

Back to this morning’s preaching session.

Death, heaven, hell and guilt are not reasons to follow an organized religion. Love and faith are. Faith should be in the greater good that is begotten through religion and abiding by restrictive laws.  If you don’t have faith, love of god should be the only other reason to take on a restrictive set of rules.

We as humans are wired to want to survive.  We are all just trying to get food, water, sex and community to help survive longer.   Telling someone that the only way they can survive is by accepting Jesus is a cheap trick.  If that didn’t get you, let’s throw some guilt out there: Jesus died for you.

If we changed the way we taught and preached religion, people would recognize that it wasn’t built to hurt you or your families or the non-believers next door.  People would recognize that death is a small part of religion and not the driving force.  People would recognize that religion is a support system to help you live a better life with a higher standard of living.

I hope the next time someone preaches on my train, I hear how god is loving, churches and prayer houses are sources of strong supportive communities and that the structure of a daily routine tied to prayer and ritual helps focus your work and life towards a greater good.

 
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Managing through Confidence

Published on May 6, 2012 by in Management

I’ve been thinking a lot about my experiences with good and bad managers. In my post earlier this week, I proposed that all good leaders posses strength and good communication skills. I realize that some people view strength as the ability to confront their coworkers, bosses and staff. That’s why bosses that scream are bad bosses. The missing component that a bad boss doesn’t truly have is confidence.

A good manager is a confident teacher that can show anyone how to move forward successfully. This confidence allows the manager to be secure with their ideas and never be defensive, but be able to give clear direction (often using some form of confrontation).

For anyone aspiring to be a better manager, walk into your next meeting with the confidence that you can do anything. You’ll find that even when the conversation veers in odd directions, you’ll be able to bring it back on point and not get defensive, instead you’ll show everyone why to follow you.

This may be easier for some people than others, but try it once and let me know how it goes!

 
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Learning from Babies

In this week’s NY Times, there was a great profile on a Elizabeth S. Spelke, a cognitive psychologist.  Spelke’s work focuses on understanding how babies store knowledge and what they know about the world.  She mentions in the video that studying babies allows you to see how the mind works without the impacts of normal life swaying our decisions.

Whenever I give the MBTI test to people, I often preface it by saying, when you are not sure about an answer think back to your childhood and imagine what your natural preferences are.  After reading this piece, it strikes me that maybe we should study behavior and personality type in babies.  When do their personalities emerge?  What are babies’ perceiving functions like? Are some babies natural extroverts and others introverts?  I know from my experience with children, that you can definitely see certain preferences emerge early.  For all the parents and caregivers out there: When do you think children form their preferences? Have you seen it evolve through the years?

I have a feeling there is a lot of unchartered territory here.  What do you think? Is this an area of research and innovation that we should explore? What kinds of breakthroughs would we hope for?  Could we learn from babies to understand how to build artificially intelligent agents that learn the same way?

 
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We Need Strong Leaders that Communicate Clearly

I have been thinking a lot about what makes a good leader and I realize that all good leaders have two important qualities: strength/confidence and great communication skills.  Let’s be clear, I do not think that dictators are good leaders, even though they usually possess both of those qualities.  Inherent in a leader’s strength is their ability to listen to people and take all kinds of feedback into account.  At the same time, their communication skills must be a tool used in convincing everyone of any decisions being made.

As we all start a new week in the office, look around at your managers.  Are they good leaders?  What skills do they possess?  I’ll bet any managers that you don’t consider good either aren’t strong or communicate poorly.

 
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MBTI: The Epitome of Normal Behavior

The more that I talk about MBTI(Myers Briggs Type Indicator), the more people start asking about using MBTI to resolve psychological issues.  This is my first red flag to stop and explain that although knowing your type is a useful self-development tool, it does not correct or deal with personal psychological issues.  Carl Jung was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud, but unlike Freud who studied abnormal behavior and defined the ego and id, Jung studied what it means to be normal.  In reality, everyone has issues and some can be resolved by understanding your personality preferences.  Others can be resolved by understanding your friends and families personality preferences.  There are still others that are not at all related to MBTI, but are better suited for Freud’s work.

To help contextualize the idea, I’ll explain how I have found the MBTI tool very useful and when I drew the line between MBTI and psychological therapy.

  • MBTI is a great self development tool.  By knowing your preferences you can facilitate environments that work with you and are in line with what you need.  I am an ENTJ and know that I need people around (Extrovert), that I need to plan everything out (Judging), that I need some quiet time to think about the big picture and observe(Intuitive) and finally that I need to debate my decisions with peers (Thinking).  I interpreted this and know that I do not work at my best in my home in a quiet space.  I work at my best with people around and ideas flowing aloud.  I also came to realize why I love confrontation (Thinking) and rarely use empathy in my decision making process.  Introducing Feeling and empathy in my decision making process has been the hardest and yet most rewarding development that I have been working on.
  • MBTI helps understand why certain interpersonal relationships are easier than others. When I took my certification course at AMA, I learned that Judging types have a hard time accepting Perceiving types.  This is because the Judging type wants closure on all issues as soon as possible, whereas Perceiving types prefer to defer decisions until they are necessary.  Understanding this difference allowed me to take a step back and recognize that it is not that I don’t like the person, I just have a hard time accepting their preference.  To resolve this, I often try to compromise with my peers by setting deadlines that appease my Judging preference and put constraints on how long my Perceiving-preferenced peers can deliberate.
  • MBTI does not explain your issues with your parents.  I don’t know if everyone has issues with their parents, but Freud certainly believed many people did.  Those issues are sometime driven by trauma or years of conflict or whatever the reason, but ultimately they are not resolved by understanding your core personality preferences. These issues require time with a professional discussing what the root causes might be and how to get past them.

Over the last week, I celebrated Passover with my family and always appreciate all the conflicts of personalities in the room.  The matriarch of my father’s family is an ESTJ and lets everyone know how every task should be done.  The fact that all of her children have a preference for Feeling helps explain some of the tension, but many other issues stem from years of other “stuff” compounding.  I typically stop using MBTI after accepting who everyone is and what their preferences are.  I am not equipped to resolve the other stuff.

If you are an MBTI enthusiast like me, I hope you recognize that MBTI is a tool that can be used often, but does not fix everything!

 
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The Future of the Internet, Social Media and Computers

During a conversation with a colleague this week, I pointed out that I am not actively subscribed to any podcasts anymore.  I told him it is not because I don’t enjoy the content, but I never plug my mobile devices into a computer anymore to sync up.  His response was perfect, “What do your habits say about the future of the internet and computing?”.

That same day, the New York Times published an article detailing Google’s interest in web TV and partnering with Sony and Intel to get there.  If  I think about my own habits and the people around me, I think they are in the right direction and can transform the internet, social media and computers into something that is seamlessly integrated into our lives.

Let me explain my habits and maybe it will help provide context to my opinion.  I am not an early adopter, I don’t try every new toy as they come onto the market(I was never in the “cool crowd” and am still not).  I don’t sign up for every new website when they are launched(I do read about them).  I sit in front of a computer for work most of the day, but don’t use social media at work.  I use my smart phone to connect to people, twitter, facebook and any other social tool I am subscribed to.  I come home after a long day and relax, unwind and watch tv, but am loathe to open my computer because that was work.  Any additional social contacts I make are done through my cell and that is it.

In comes Google with an understanding that I am an average user and don’t want to connect wires to computers to sync everything.  I don’t want to have four devices open in front of me at a time.  They understand that I am not getting rid of my TV habit, but am willing to part with my computer.  They understand that if a cell phone suits my needs for my social interactions, that a supped up TV would be even better(font size, speed and general comfort would all be increased).

They are essentially integrating tools into our everyday habits instead of introducing tools that force us to change our human behavior.  Computers have only been mainstays in our homes since the early 90′s ( Yes, many early adopters had computers at home since the early 80′s) and during the last 20 years they have constantly evolved.  The constant evolution has changed the way we interact with them, making it nearly impossible to hard wire computers into our daily routines.  If I polled people on how they used the computer in 1990, 1995, 2000, 2005 and 2010 I bet we would have 5 different answers float to the top.

On the other hand, TV’s and phones have been part of our lives since the 1950′s for TV and 1870′s for the telephone and their basic functions have never changed.  Phones still call people and TV still displays broadcast and cable shows.  Abstractly, phones are used to connect to people and TV’s are use to get away from work and other daily routines.

As I understand it today, the future of the internet, social media and computers are not in new gadgets, websites or apps that early adopters latch onto, but in regular household mainstays that enable a seamless use of all the different media and essentially unchanged routines.

 
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Happy New Year!

In honor of the Jewish New Year, I decided it is finally time to post again.  In the spirit of the new year, I am posting a resolution.

Although, I love taking on many things and participating in new exciting ventures, I don’t always know when to say no or know when I am over committing myself.  I apologize to all the people I have neglected and all the projects I have not given 100% to.  This year I will make an effort to only start something new when everything else is wrapped up.

My goal is to be more focused on the important things and let all the detractors fall by the wayside.  Actually, I am going to shove them all to the curb!

Wish me luck!

 
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Thinking vs Feeling: A Fascinating Dichotomy

Over the last few weeks I have had some very interesting conversations with people who rationalize situations very differently than I do.  These conversations were all theoretical and stirred a heated and loud debate.  It wasn’t till afterwards that I realized these debates were fueled by the T-F dichotomy.  

One of the conversations happened yesterday with a friend who said he thinks we should NEVER fire people.  I asked him if there was any situation when he thought someone should be let go and he responded NO.  I was in shock until I realized that he strongly prefers Feeling and is very empathetic.

I personally prefer Thinking and am clearly not as empathetic as my friend.  I generally approach a situation by assessing all the facts before I assess people’s emotions.  If my goal is to cut $100,000 from the budget, I look at my expenses and see what I don’t need.  This analysis is unrelated to the people that may be effected by the cuts.  

I tried very hard to explain my thought process to my friend and he wouldn’t even listen.  Granted, I also had a hard time listening to him.  The best part was when we both realized that we were much better off having had the conversation.  We were finally able to show the other person the value of extreme Feeling and extreme Thinking.  We agreed that starting from both extremes makes the middle so much more meaningful.  

Can you imagine what the world would be like if everyone preferred Thinking?  It would be a place where facts and figures would rule.  People would lose jobs regularly.  There would be no leniency for rule breakers or punishments.  

The world would be very different if everyone preferred Feeling.  It would be a place where empathy and camaraderie ruled.  No one would ever be let go and punishments and rules would differ for each person.  

As a T, I think the F-World would be chaos.  To an F, the T-World would be prison.

Next time you have a heated debate with someone, think if it is driven from the T-F dichotomy.  If it is, I hope you learn as much as I have from the other person’s perspective.

 
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Your Life Visualized

I have been an avid reader of FlowingData ever since I stumbled across it.  Every day, Nathan posts about some new visualization or data set that we should look at.  Today, Nathan launched your.flowingdata.com and I am really impressed with the amount of work he put into it.  The idea behind your.flowingdata is that you can track, trend and visualize your own habits.  The one catch is that you need to direct message these actions to @yfd.  

For all those out there that are interested in data visualizations, FlowingData is a great place to start.  If you have a twitter account and are trying to track how much you eat, when you sleep or whatever else you want to track give your.flowingdata a try.  

I’ll be honest, I am horrible at logging the minute details of my life, but I am debating doing it now!

 
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