Skip to content

Archive for

Book review: think better

By Tim Hurson

McGraw Hill, $31.95

Look at you, having a VIP business lunch with your new best friends.

After months of courtship and three rounds of interviews, you’re breaking bread with the big kahunas from corporate head office.

If all goes well, lunch will end with your boss-to-be making an offer you can’t refuse.

So far so good. You look sharp in an outfit and haircut that cost as much as your monthly mortgage payment. You’re minding your manners.

You’re charming and engaging. Laughter and smiles all around. You can feel the love.

But then disaster strikes.

For whatever reason, you order pasta and now a speck of red sauce has just landed on your blindingly white and ridiculously expensive dress shirt.

You panic. What to do? If you’re like me, you discreetly dip the edge of your napkin into your water glass and dab the stain. Now, that’s a stupid move. The speck becomes a splotch. You keep dabbing until the splotch looks like a bleeding knife wound to the chest. And then the conversation around the table stops. All eyes turn to you and your impromptu wet dress shirt competition. It’s job applicants gone wild.

Your face is now as red as the stain on your shirt.

What happened? "All of us have had the experience of coming up with a solution to a problem that hasn’t done anything to solve the problem or that’s made the problem worse," says author Tim Hurson.

He claims we all pretty much take the same imperfect approach to problem-solving. We perceive a problem. We pick a solution. And then we do something. Fast. "That’s it," says Hurson. " Three steps. Simple but not often very effective. We don’t give ourselves the time or the tools to do any of the steps well."

When was the last time your boss stuck his head in your office and said, "We have a really big mess on our hands and I need you to go away and get your head around what’s really the problem and then think through some options"?

More likely, your frantic boss says, "The sky’s falling, here’s the solution I just came up with, now drop everything and make it happen."

Efficient problem-solving is the hallmark of reproductive thinking.

"Reproductive thinking is essentially a matter of repeating the past: doing what you’ve done before and thinking what you’ve thunk before," says Hurson. Anyone who nixes your new idea or suggestion to get a handle on the real problem with the "this is the way we’ve always done things around here" or "we don’t have any time to think" or "this solution worked before" is a reproductive thinker.

Reproductive thinking has its place. You don’t want to hear a pilot or surgeon say "let’s try something new and completely different today" while your plane’s coming in for a landing or you’re laid out on the operating table. But an organization that’s overstocked with reproductive thinkers won’t exactly be a hotbed of creativity or innovation. Breakthrough change will be a long time coming if reproductive thinkers hold the keys to strategic planning.

"Reproductive thinking can fashion the perfect buggy whip but only productive thinking can imagine a car," says Hurson. "To create the future, you have to be able to imagine it. Productive thinking is a way to help you do that."

Productive thinking bolts together creative thinking and critical thinking. Most of us overlap the two, simultaneously generating and judging ideas. "It’s like trying to drive with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. You won’t get anywhere, and you’ll probably burn something out in the process." Creative thinking is generative, non-judgmental and expansive. Critical thinking is analytic, judgmental and selective.

You need both for productive thinking but just not at the same time. "Critical thinking is the yang to creative thinking’s ying. The key is to alternate between the two: creative, critical, creative, critical.

"That way you develop enormous forward momentum."

Drawing on more than 50 years of cognitive research, Hurson’s created a six-step productive thinking model that unlocks the yin and yang of creative and critical thinking.

The good news is anyone can master the model, think better and come up with smarter solutions. When faced with a challenge or opportunity, resist the urge to jump to conclusions and instead :

1. Ask what’s going on? Figure out what’s the real problem.

2. Ask what’s success? Where do you want to end up?

3. Ask what’s the question? In the immortal words of Peter Drucker, "the most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question."

4. Generate a lot of potential answers.

5. Forge the solution — take the most promising ideas from Step 4, apply critical thinking and create robust, stress-tested solutions.

6. Align resources so you have enough rubber to meet the road. "With productive thinking, you can train yourself to generate more options, better options, more of the time in almost any situation, from dealing with a spaghetti spot to creating full-blown business strategies," says Hurson.

So what about that speck on your shirt? Instead of dipping and dabbing, how about ignoring it? Adjusting your tie or jacket. Making a joke and moving on. Asking the waiter if they have any stain remover you could borrow.

Or how about this solution, courtesy of a friend of Hurson’s who had the same real-life experience:

"Time sure flies when you’re having fun," said the friend to her potential future employer. "It looks like spaghetti sauce does too.

Excuse me for a sec, I’m going to see if I can’t perform some quick magic." She slipped away to the restroom where she put her crewneck sweater on backwards, slipped on her jacket and returned to the table in under two minutes.

"Success," she said. "I hope I don’t have to do that again. They say a magician should never repeat a trick." The boss was impressed and she got the job.

Book review: think better

By Tim Hurson

McGraw Hill, $31.95

Look at you, having a VIP business lunch with your new best friends.

After months of courtship and three rounds of interviews, you’re breaking bread with the big kahunas from corporate head office.

If all goes well, lunch will end with your boss-to-be making an offer you can’t refuse.

So far so good. You look sharp in an outfit and haircut that cost as much as your monthly mortgage payment. You’re minding your manners.

You’re charming and engaging. Laughter and smiles all around. You can feel the love.

But then disaster strikes.

For whatever reason, you order pasta and now a speck of red sauce has just landed on your blindingly white and ridiculously expensive dress shirt.

You panic. What to do? If you’re like me, you discreetly dip the edge of your napkin into your water glass and dab the stain. Now, that’s a stupid move. The speck becomes a splotch. You keep dabbing until the splotch looks like a bleeding knife wound to the chest. And then the conversation around the table stops. All eyes turn to you and your impromptu wet dress shirt competition. It’s job applicants gone wild.

Your face is now as red as the stain on your shirt.

What happened? "All of us have had the experience of coming up with a solution to a problem that hasn’t done anything to solve the problem or that’s made the problem worse," says author Tim Hurson.

He claims we all pretty much take the same imperfect approach to problem-solving. We perceive a problem. We pick a solution. And then we do something. Fast. "That’s it," says Hurson. " Three steps. Simple but not often very effective. We don’t give ourselves the time or the tools to do any of the steps well."

When was the last time your boss stuck his head in your office and said, "We have a really big mess on our hands and I need you to go away and get your head around what’s really the problem and then think through some options"?

More likely, your frantic boss says, "The sky’s falling, here’s the solution I just came up with, now drop everything and make it happen."

Efficient problem-solving is the hallmark of reproductive thinking.

"Reproductive thinking is essentially a matter of repeating the past: doing what you’ve done before and thinking what you’ve thunk before," says Hurson. Anyone who nixes your new idea or suggestion to get a handle on the real problem with the "this is the way we’ve always done things around here" or "we don’t have any time to think" or "this solution worked before" is a reproductive thinker.

Reproductive thinking has its place. You don’t want to hear a pilot or surgeon say "let’s try something new and completely different today" while your plane’s coming in for a landing or you’re laid out on the operating table. But an organization that’s overstocked with reproductive thinkers won’t exactly be a hotbed of creativity or innovation. Breakthrough change will be a long time coming if reproductive thinkers hold the keys to strategic planning.

"Reproductive thinking can fashion the perfect buggy whip but only productive thinking can imagine a car," says Hurson. "To create the future, you have to be able to imagine it. Productive thinking is a way to help you do that."

Productive thinking bolts together creative thinking and critical thinking. Most of us overlap the two, simultaneously generating and judging ideas. "It’s like trying to drive with one foot on the gas and one foot on the brake. You won’t get anywhere, and you’ll probably burn something out in the process." Creative thinking is generative, non-judgmental and expansive. Critical thinking is analytic, judgmental and selective.

You need both for productive thinking but just not at the same time. "Critical thinking is the yang to creative thinking’s ying. The key is to alternate between the two: creative, critical, creative, critical.

"That way you develop enormous forward momentum."

Drawing on more than 50 years of cognitive research, Hurson’s created a six-step productive thinking model that unlocks the yin and yang of creative and critical thinking.

The good news is anyone can master the model, think better and come up with smarter solutions. When faced with a challenge or opportunity, resist the urge to jump to conclusions and instead :

1. Ask what’s going on? Figure out what’s the real problem.

2. Ask what’s success? Where do you want to end up?

3. Ask what’s the question? In the immortal words of Peter Drucker, "the most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question."

4. Generate a lot of potential answers.

5. Forge the solution — take the most promising ideas from Step 4, apply critical thinking and create robust, stress-tested solutions.

6. Align resources so you have enough rubber to meet the road. "With productive thinking, you can train yourself to generate more options, better options, more of the time in almost any situation, from dealing with a spaghetti spot to creating full-blown business strategies," says Hurson.

So what about that speck on your shirt? Instead of dipping and dabbing, how about ignoring it? Adjusting your tie or jacket. Making a joke and moving on. Asking the waiter if they have any stain remover you could borrow.

Or how about this solution, courtesy of a friend of Hurson’s who had the same real-life experience:

"Time sure flies when you’re having fun," said the friend to her potential future employer. "It looks like spaghetti sauce does too.

Excuse me for a sec, I’m going to see if I can’t perform some quick magic." She slipped away to the restroom where she put her crewneck sweater on backwards, slipped on her jacket and returned to the table in under two minutes.

"Success," she said. "I hope I don’t have to do that again. They say a magician should never repeat a trick." The boss was impressed and she got the job.

Bad news for bad news managers

The good folks at Gallup have crunched the numbers and come up with these not-so-surprising yet sobering stats about the influence managers have an employee engagement:

  • If your manager largely ignores you, your chances of being actively disengaged is 40%.
  • If your manager dwells on your weaknesses, your chances of being actively disengaged is 22%
  • If your manager focuses on your strengths, your chances of being actively disengaged is just 1%

Changing how we talk about change

Met with a project team last week. And like project teams everywhere, they came up with a slogan to tell the world what they’re doing and get everyone as excited as they are.

"Champion of Change". Sounds catchy. Short and snappy.

Yet I had a wise boss who forbid us from ever using the word change. I thought it was a little dumb at first but now I see the wisdom of his ways.

Change is great if you’re driving it. A welcome break from routine. The chance to create something new and better.

Leading change is one thing. Being a follower is something else altogether.

Change is rarely much fun when it’s being done to you. Will the change work? Will it make things better, the same or worse? For many of us, it’s better the devil we know. So we stick with the familiar.

Time to change how we talk about change.

Innovation Nation: How America is Losing Its Innovation Edge, Why It Matters and What We Can Do To Get It Back

By John Kao

Free Press, $29.99,

Instead of a New Year’s resolution, I have a confession. I didn’t watch Brian Melo win Canadian Idol. Never phoned in a vote. Didn’t put up Go Brian Go posters. Didn’t download Melo music, surf Melo YouTube clips or pay attention to the Melo-mania media coverage.

But I did tune in for CNN Heroes – An All-Star Tribute. That’s the global telecast where Burlington teen Kayla Cornale won the Young Wonders Award. Kayla created a way of using music to communicate with people living with autism. Along with the CNN honours, Kayla’s been named one of Canada’s Top 20 Under 20 and has won a whack of awards at regional, national and international science fairs. She’s now at Stanford University on a science scholarship.

Not to take anything away from Brian. I’m sure he’s a great performer and a stand-up guy. I’m glad he won and I wish him all the best. But it’s innovators and not pop stars who will keep our community’s competitive edge sharp.

Here’s why. Innovation holds the key to sustainable economic growth and prosperity, says author and innovation guru John Kao. He defines innovation "as the ability of individuals, companies and entire nations to continuously create their desired future. It is about new ways of doing and seeing things as much as it is about the breakthrough idea."

It’s innovation that will solve what Kao calls wicked problems. You know the list. Climate change. Environmental degradation. Communicable diseases. Education. Potable water. Poverty. Renewable energy.

"Wicked problems hold the keys to making the most consequential breakthroughs of the 21st century," says Kao. "They become opportunities when flipped on their heads. Innovation applied to a wicked problem can realize an enormous amount of social and economic value by setting new commercial standards, creating new businesses and generating new sources of value. For a country that aspires to become an Innovation Nation, the search for opportunities to do good and still do well will allow it to exercise its innovation muscle."

So imagine if Hamilton flexed its muscle and went from Steeltown to Innovation Town? What if we solved wicked problems like Randall Reef, industrial brownfields, lousy air quality and brutal poverty rates?

And what if we then turned our know-how and made-in-Hamilton solutions into lucrative global exports and the world beat a path to our door?

Sound crazy? Check out what’s happening in innovation hubs south of the border and around the world. California’s invested $100 million over four years in each of four Institutes for Science and Innovation. The institutes are driving leading-edge innovation in biomedicine and bioengineering, nanosystems, telecommunications and information technology.

In North Carolina, there’s the Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle Park, a 7,000-acre technology centre with 100 facilities and three university partners. And there’s a thriving and innovative community college network, serving 800,000 students at 300 sites.

If a company needs an employee trained in a subject not currently offered, the college network will create a program to get the job done so long as the company pledges to add 12 jobs in the coming year.

Denmark’s a world leader in wind power and controls 40 per cent of the global market in high-tech wind turbines. Government, private sector and trade union alliances are fostered through the prime minister’s Innovation Council, education minister’s Learning Lab and the economy minister’s Mind Lab, a creativity incubator.

And then there’s Singapore, an island-nation that aims to be the global leader in biotechnology. They’ve spent $300 million to create Biopolis.

It’s a research centre that’s home to 2,000 world-renowned scientists (with long term plans to assemble a team of 10,000 very smart people).

Modelled after Silicon Valley, Biopolis is a mix of government institutes, biotech start-ups and pharmaceutical multinationals.

As a recruitment tool to lure the world’s best and brightest, there’s a new entertainment district going up next to Biopolis that will feature Singapore’s largest concert venue, an extreme sports centre, high-end shopping and gourmet restaurants. To stock Biopolis with homegrown talent, Singapore’s Economic Development Board set the goal of attracting 10 world-class universities and institutes by 2008. They met that goal five years ago.

Talent may be the biggest stumbling block if North America makes a run at re-establishing ourselves as an Innovation Nation.

"While our competitor nations focus on educating and training engineers and inventors, our schools are turning out youngsters who are better consumers than they are creators," says Kao.

"It has been well – and painfully – documented in opinion polls that most high school students would rather take out the trash, clean their bedrooms or wash dishes than study math or science."

Teens would rather line up for a 30-second shot at Canadian Idol fame than invest months of hard work to compete in a regional science fair.

Speaking of which, while Canadian Idol holds auditions in Hamilton this March, hundreds of local teens will be competing in the 48th annual Bay Area Science and Engineering Fair in Oakville. It’s the same fair where Kayla rolled out her award-winning science project. For the future of our community, here’s hoping we know where to focus our attention and who to get most excited about. Who knows. If these young wonders feel the love now, they just might decide to launch their careers and build innovative companies in their hometown.

Quote of the day

If you want to travel fast, go alone. If you want to travel far, go together.

— African proverb

Survey says…

From a recent Ipsos Reid / Royal Bank of Canada survey of 2,000 Canadian workers:

  • 36% of us are very satisfied with our jobs (down from 49% in 1998)
  • 50% are somewhat satisfied

And of the less-than-very-satisfied:

  • 29% report toiling in dead-end jobs
  • 15% say they have extremely boring jobs

To help bump up those stats, employee engagement advice courtesy of David Shaw from today’s Globe and Mail Report on Business, (The seven rules of engagement for a diversified workforce):

  1. Present a winning organization
  2. Promote admired leaders
  3. Develop positive working relationships
  4. Pursue meaningful work
  5. Recognize, appreciate and provide feedback
  6. Live a balanced life
  7. Communicate the big picture and a compelling vision

Dishpig flashbacks

For all of us who’ve worked in restaurants, a great read from Stewart Onan.

Last Night at the Lobster.

An entire book about the final shift at a rundown Red Lobster on the edge of a dying mall in New England during a late December blizzard, told from the perspective of the manager who’s being reassigned to a nearby Olive Garden.

The book (one of Entertainment Weekly’s Top 10 books of the year) will bring back fond memories for anyone who’s worked in the food service industry.

Through high school, I worked as a dish pig, bus boy, host and weekend cleaner at a Mother Tucker’s before the chain became an all-you-stuff-into-your-cakehole buffet-emporium. And after graduating from university under the false assumption that employers would beat a path to my door, I worked at the same restaurant (same owners) reborn as Cowboy Angelos, which presented a less-than-winning combination of Italian and Western themes. Worked as a host, very briefly as a waiter and did the books on the weekend which did not in any way contribute to the restaurant’s spectacular flameout.