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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