Book Suggestion Undaunted, Overcoming Doubts and Doubters

“I think I stopped listening at ‘Sweetie’.”

She had had an accomplished career in sales and executive positions with fast-moving companies. Then she started a company bottling flavored, unsweetened water. Curious about some aspects of the business, she took up a friend’s contact suggestion and talked with an executive at Coca-Cola. During the conversation, he said, “Listen sweetie…”

Kara Golden used that slight as the impetus to succeed with her new company, Hint. And succeed it did. After many struggles and setbacks.

Undaunted: Overcoming Doubts + Doubters reveals her story about building a company in a competitive market. They chose a perfect picture for the cover. I look at the set of her jaw and the look in her eyes and have no doubt but what she’d be a success.

Many of the dozen readers of this blog are in the food & beverage market, perhaps building bottling machines or doing custom, contract filling and capping. Integral to the story is the pursuit of contract companies that would help her get her product to market. We learn most of the factors it takes from conception to testing to production to marketing to merchandising for success in the market.

It’s a great read for all of us. I’d especially recommend getting a copy for your daughters. We still live in a society that glorifies rich, white, men (or if you’re in another country, drop the “white” part). If the other half of the population is encouraged to succeed, it lifts all of us.

Oh, yes, I recommend the water, too.

Do Standup Meetings Inhibit Innovation?

Blog Stand Ups Inhibit Innovation

Andy Wu of Harvard Business School and his doctoral student Sourobh Ghosh embedded a field experiment in a Google hackathon to investigate the impact of stand-up meetings—a core component of agile management practices—on innovation. They found that the teams that engaged in them developed less-novel products. The conclusion: Stand-up meetings inhibit innovation.

This thought was quoted in a blog post by an acquaintance in Belgium, Yves Mulkers, whom I had met on a trip to Germany several years ago. His Website/business is 7wData.

Those of us with familiarity with Lean thinking know the standup as a daily first thing information and daily goal-setting time. You “stand up” to keep the meeting a short as possible, but no shorter. The standup is conducted where the action is. When people gather in conference rooms in the morning, they have their coffee or tea, a doughnut, and settle into their chairs. A 30-minute catch up time can become a 60-minute waste of time.

I am slightly familiar with the various software development organizing hacks. But this one seems to me to be applying the wrong tool for the purpose. There is a time to sit and have an intense discussion with coffee or Hint water or whatever. There is a time to do a standup in order to maintain focus and get done. 

Innovation does not come from committees or meetings. People need time to think on their own to come up with ideas. I insist on the 20-Things method. Sit alone with your coffee and a blank pad of paper and a pen. Put your topic or question at the top. Then quickly start listing possible solutions. By item 20, you should have evolved the idea completely away from where you started and come to a satisfying conclusion.

And when you are doing research, don’t make an observation and then just jump to a broad conclusion. Step back and take a different view. Maybe additional insights will come to you.

3 Cognitive Biases Perpetuating Racism at Work — and How to Overcome Them

Life is a series of paradoxes. We’re living in a time of many people either temporarily or permanently losing their jobs while other companies are struggling to find qualified people to hire.

When we dip into the labor pool, are we limiting our searches through something called Cognitive Bias?

I ran across this article at the World Economic Forum by Adwoa Bagalini, its Engagement, Diversity, and Inclusion Lead. He identifies three cognitive biases and shares some ideas for overcoming. Not to give away a punchline, but most of us should be students of W. Edwards Deming and/or Taiichi Ohno and should have learned about changing the process, not the individual.

From the paper.

We do know is that lasting, positive change is difficult to achieve without deliberate, sustained effort informed by reliable data that is free from bias. And it’s important not to underestimate the role cognitive bias can play in undermining these efforts – and to stay vigilant in spotting and mitigating it.

What is cognitive bias?

Human brains are hardwired to take shortcuts when processing information to make decisions, resulting in “systematic thinking errors”, or unconscious bias. When it comes to influencing our decisions and judgments around people, cognitive or unconscious bias is universally recognized to play a role in unequal outcomes for people of colour.

1. Moral licensing

This is when people derive such confidence from past moral behaviour that they are more likely to engage in immoral or unethical ways later. In a 2010 study, researchers argued that moral self-licensing occurs “because good deeds make people feel secure in their moral self-regard”, and future problematic behaviour does not evoke the same feelings of negative self-judgment that it otherwise would.

Moral licensing may help explain the limitations of corporate unconscious bias training in creating an anti-racist work environment, an effect which has already been observed when it comes to tackling gender inequality.

2. Affinity bias

This is our tendency to get along with others who are like us, and to evaluate them more positively than those who are different. Our personal beliefs, assumptions, preferences, and lack of understanding about people who are not like us may lead to repeatedly favouring ‘similar-to-me’ individuals.

Many hiring managers have a hard time articulating their organization’s specific culture, or explaining what exactly they mean when they say “culture fit”, leading to this being misused to engage employees that managers feel they will personally relate to.

3. Confirmation bias

This is the tendency to seek out, favour, and use information that confirms what you already believe. The other side of this is that people tend to ignore new information that goes against their preconceived notions, leading to poor decision-making.

Many people’s perceptions of others with different identities and with whom they have limited interaction, is strongly influenced by media depictions and longstanding cultural stereotypes.

For example, a 2017 study published in the American Psychological Association’s Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people tended to perceive young Black men as taller, heavier, and more muscular than similarly sized white men, and hence more physically threatening.

How to overcome unconscious bias

1. Change systems, not individuals

The main reason unconscious bias training programmes fail to have the desired effect in creating lasting change, is that they are focused on changing individual behaviours while leaving largely untouched the systems that enabled those behaviours to thrive.

2. Slow down and act deliberately

Bias is most likely to affect decision-making when decisions are made quickly, according to Stanford University psychology professor Jennifer Eberhardt, who studies implicit bias in police departments.

3. Set concrete goals and work towards them

Data is essential to making real progress on diversity goals, and especially important when it comes to mitigating the effects of bias because it provides an objective measure of what has improved – or worsened – over time.

Born To Manufacture

This is a stylized bullet used in aircraft machine guns during World War II. By 1940 my grandfather had become a manufacturing production superintendent of a GM plant in Dayton, Ohio that manufactured Frigidaire refrigerators. With the entrance of the US into the war, the Army figured weaponry was more important than refrigerators. They took over the plant and converted it to the manufacture of machine gun bolts to arm aircraft.

When I was quite young, grandpa would tell me stories of how production sucked and a general came to him and gave him the job of turning the plant around and getting production going. The pressure was intense. “We’ve got boys dying over there and we need this support,” he was often told.

By age 10, I had heard (probably several times) about how he had taken a couple of days to stand up on the mezzanine and watch. Then he began reorganizing the equipment and processes to reduce wasted time and motion. And got production up to where it should have been.

He also told me stories of being an apprentice machinist at The Monarch Machine Tool Company making huge lathes and other machinery.

So, I grew up on manufacturing stories. About the lessons he learned when the company sent him to General Motors Institute for classes (not bad for a guy whose step-father wouldn’t let him finish high school).

When I started my career working in manufacturing, I carried his lessons. We were “Lean” before Lean was a thing. If only I were a writer back then…

However

I read many political theorists in graduate school and was deeply affected by reading a short piece by the young Karl Marx on alienation. Marx meant by this that in the days prior to industrialization a craftsman built an entire thing. There was a little piece of “him” in everything he made. It was his creativity, knowledge, skill that went into making something that someone could use for a long time. I knew some craftsmen when I was young. They had little schooling, but they were some of the smartest and most creative people I’ve ever known.

Industrialization and mass production brought with it the assembly line. Men (and sometimes women and children under terrible conditions) would be hired at poor wages. They neither had nor were provided with training for skills needed to build a product. Rather, the people were merely a replaceable component in a big and inhumane system. Marx called this “alienation” as in humans were alienated from the fruits of their labor. Fifty years of labor unrest, protests, violence followed as people protested the conditions. And also how a very few became very rich while almost everyone else lived in poverty.

Seth Godin produced some thoughts on this topic (not Marx, but industrialization) in his latest Akimbo podcast. Listen to this and the prior one on Interoperability to get you thinking about the morals and ethics of what we do.

On the one hand, we who strive to make industrial manufacturing and production better provide much benefit to our societies. On the other hand, we need to take care to consider the effects of what we do on people, environment, and society.

I had not intended it since I’m not much of a holiday type of person, but these thoughts seem to go along with the US celebration of Labor Day this weekend. I hope you have a happy and safe one.

Podcast Passion for Teaching Thinking

Maurice Ashley immigrated to a tough part of New York City from Jamaica and later worked diligently to become the first African-American chess grandmaster. Later, he became a teacher of chess to inner city youth. His passion for teaching shines strongly in his interview with Tim Ferriss. I listen to almost an hour of podcasts a day while I workout. Another of my favorites is Wednesday with Seth Godin on Akimbo. Recently quoting Nobel-prize winning physicist Richard Feynman as saying I don’t understand people now. They just want answers given to them. They cannot think things through. Seth also tells of an experience with straight-A students where he showed them a gadget and asked them to explain how it worked. They couldn’t. They all just got out notebooks and pens ready to write down the answer. I riff off these for my latest Podcast.

Entrepreneurship: Building the Amazon of Africa

PR people often send me review copies of new books. In this case, I received an invitation from the author. I just finished Chasing Black Unicorns: How building the Amazon of Africa put me on Interpol’s Most Wanted List by Marek Zmyslowski

As in many good stories, this one is true on many levels. You can read it as the adventures of a young man maturing into wisdom, experience, and perspective.

It’s also a story of entrepreneurship. How there does exist a “glamorous” side, but also extremely hard work, long hours, strenuous travel. And also attracting liars. cheats, backstabbers, crooks, huge egos. Then again beautiful women, much liquor, parties. It’s all here.

Zmyslowski includes not only his successes, but also his failures. His decisions both right and wrong.

Along the way, we learn as much about ourselves as about him.

As an American born and raised in the Midwest, I was also fascinated by his descriptions of life in Poland, Nigeria, South Africa, and more. It is also instructive to hear what someone outside of the country thinks about the US.

We have grown accustomed to media alternately glamorizing the crop of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and billionaires only to jump on any who are down. Very much like the PR machine developed in the 1920s to glamorize movie actors and actresses who in all previous history were considered outside of respectability. This story provides a raw look inside the sausage factory to show how the sausage is made.

These stories also caused me to pause and reflect on my own experiences with small startups. None ever grew, which is why I am where I am today. But I also met my share of liars, cheats, backstabbers. On the other hand, I’ve met many great people and learned much about success and failure.

It’s a good read.