From time to time, I plan to do a quick tour of links that pro­voke (at least for me) some moments of sur­prise, alarm or pause. Many of the points I present under this ban­ner (At The Speed Of Next) could eas­i­ly be news items or stim­u­lat­ing ideas for which I have more ques­tions than answers or opin­ions. As always, feel free to post com­ments here or on Twit­ter as these links promise to be great con­ver­sa­tion starters. Here goes:

The pow­er of refram­ing prob­lems Under the ban­ner of the Stan­ford Tech­nol­o­gy Ven­tures Pro­gram, Tina Seel­ig wrote a post that, often, peo­ple are stuck at solv­ing a prob­lem sim­ply because of the way they phrase it. Here’s how she opens “Shift Your Lens: The Pow­er of Re-Fram­ing Prob­lems”:

What is the sum of 5 plus 5?
What two num­bers add up to 10?
The first ques­tion has only one right answer, while the sec­ond has an infi­nite num­ber of solu­tions, includ­ing neg­a­tive num­bers and frac­tions. These two prob­lems, which rely on sim­ple addi­tion, dif­fer only in the way they are framed. In fact, all ques­tions are the frame into which the answers fall. And as you can see, by chang­ing the frame, you dra­mat­i­cal­ly change the range of pos­si­ble solu­tions.

Cit­ing many exam­ples, she demon­strates clear­ly why it may be more impor­tant for you to take extra time to define the chal­lenges fac­ing you and your enter­prise. She quotes Albert Ein­stein say­ing that, if only giv­en an hour to solve a prob­lem, he would take 55 min­utes to phrase it cor­rect­ly. “Refram­ing prob­lems takes effort, atten­tion and prac­tice, but it enables you to see the world around you in a brand-new light,” Seel­ig con­cludes.

This made me won­der if I have (far too often) charged right into form­ing solu­tions to prob­lems with­out a full grasp of the issues at hand. Still mulling that one…

Fail­ing smart­ly Jeff DeGraff, writ­ing for Man­age­ment Infor­ma­tion eXchange, recent­ly pre­sent­ed me with yet anoth­er won­der­ful exam­ple of an arti­cle that cer­tain­ly is far more than one thought. Yet, as I read “Why Inno­va­tion Is So Hard”, I kept com­ing back to a hard ques­tion he asks: “So how do you fail with­out becom­ing a fail­ure?” He is so right to point out in the arti­cle that fail­ure is vir­tu­al­ly required for any progress to be made. His the­sis:

There are two kinds of par­ents at the play­ground – the “don’t do that” kind, and the “hurt, didn’t it?” kind. Which approach helps the kid learn faster? Ouch! That’s because all learn­ing is devel­op­men­tal. Don’t believe it? Take out a piece of paper and draw a pic­ture of your dog. Your friends and fam­i­ly will be able to tell you at what age you stopped learn­ing to draw. Speak a for­eign lan­guage or play an instru­ment and you get the point. No mat­ter your age or pro­fes­sion­al sta­tus, if you haven’t done it before you will inevitably fail before you suc­ceed.

Yet, from my expe­ri­ence, many organ­i­sa­tions fear fail­ure. In fact, they often shun peo­ple who try big things on their behalf and fail. Fail­ure in most places I vis­it is a kind of plague that is to be total­ly avoid­ed or severe­ly con­tained. DeGraff makes a very good case that fail­ure can be the best friend of the inno­va­tor. What both­ers me, how­ev­er, is the sear­ing stig­ma that is quicky attached to those inside firms who believe that no risk equals no reward. Why do I dwell on that? Well, what if it turns out that the peo­ple who should be most lis­tened to and most pro­mot­ed are the ones who are often cast aside because some major project of theirs failed. Seems to me that we need some vast rethink­ing about the impor­tance of fail­ure and that, with­out it, no leader’s resumé is com­plete. Nice thought, but how many enter­pris­es prac­tise it?

European cafeWant some beer with the the­o­ry of rel­a­tiv­i­ty? Most peo­ple who trav­el to Orlan­do (from wher­ev­er!) do so for the theme parks. But Dis­ney World had bet­ter watch out. Reuters (in “Sci­ence Cafés Offer A Sip of Learn­ing”) reports that “Amer­i­cans may be turn­ing away from the hard sci­ences at uni­ver­si­ties, but they are increas­ing­ly show­ing up at ‘sci­ence cafes’ in local bars and restau­rants to lis­ten to sci­en­tif­ic talks over a drink or a meal.”

I’ve cer­tain­ly enjoyed drinks with many col­leagues over the years, and, yes, some­times some heavy aca­d­e­m­ic thoughts have been exchanged. But what this news sto­ry reports seems beyond that. The arti­cle says that sci­ence cafés are pop­ping up in all 50 states and that they are grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty. Yet, this is not news to those who already know about the Café Sci­en­tifique move­ment which (accord­ing to this arti­cle) start­ed in the UK in 1998. My sense is that the US ver­sion of this idea may be just what’s need­ed to ratch­et up the con­cept:

The Amer­i­can move­ment of inde­pen­dent cafes is loose­ly orga­nized at the sciencecafe.org web­site cre­at­ed by pub­lic broad­cast­er WGBH’s NOVA sci­ence pro­gram. [Edward Had­dad, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Flori­da Acad­e­my of Sci­ences,] said NOVA sev­er­al years ago pro­vid­ed a few hun­dred dol­lars of seed mon­ey to groups around the coun­try that want­ed to start a cafe.

How­ev­er, any­one with a venue, a speak­er and a mar­ket­ing plan can start one. On the sciencecafes.org web­site, an inter­ac­tive map shows the loca­tion of cafes across the Unit­ed States and around the globe from Islam­abad, Pak­istan, to Antwerp, Bel­gium, to the Hawai­ian islands.

Some cafes have cropped up in book­stores, the­aters and high school cam­pus­es.

In Viera, Flori­da, about 60 most­ly retirees reg­u­lar­ly pack a pizze­ria to hear speak­ers from the well-regard­ed Bre­vard Zoo or NASA’s near­by Kennedy Space Cen­ter. In Day­tona Beach, sci­en­tists from the inter­na­tion­al­ly known Embry-Rid­dle Aero­nau­ti­cal Uni­ver­si­ty draw stand­ing-room-only crowds at a local cof­fee shop.

I like this idea. My ques­tion: why can’t we start doing the same kind of thing only focussing on being an entre­pre­neur; cre­at­ing brave, new organ­i­sa­tion­al worlds; or refram­ing prob­lems or over­com­ing fail­ures? Maybe we should meet some­time soon in a café to talk about this.

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