Career Development 2015

I’m excited to bring the Career Development course to my Millennial students starting Feb 2015. The course is a blend of practical advising, passion building, and tactical implementation.

It will be 2 hours (8-10p EST) on Wednesday nights for 3 weeks.  Breaks down like this:

Session 1: Things you need to understand about magical you – and answers the “Why don’t I know this stuff already.”

Session 2: Dig Deep, let’s find out what really sparks your fire so you can go for it. “Stop chasing jobs; build a career”

Session 3: Put it in motion – tactical tips (such as clever use of LinkedIn) for how to take your next steps and put this in motion.

It’s three live webinars with phone support and homework. By the end of the three weeks you should have a good idea of what career to pursue and what you need to do next to make that dream a reality. And you don’t have to leave your couch to participate!

This course includes the essential elements of what my business school application candidates walk through on the way to writing killer applications. I think it makes for stronger candidates and the bschools seem to agree**!

Friends and Family get an extra cool offer BEFORE Feb 3 – a private consulting session with me, gratis! This is only good through Feb 3 so if you click the link and there’s no page, too late.

Excited about building a career you’re passionate about?

http://www.prepwise.com/career-development-course/ffcareer/

Let’s make 2015 your best year yet! -Kate

(**97.8% admitted to their #1 MBA program)


Be Exponentially Better, Not Incrementally

It’s Easier To Make Something 10 Times Better Than To Make Something 10% Better

– Astro Teller, head of Google X
The size of the goal helps to determine the outcome.My students who struggle the most start 30-60 points away from their target score. It seems so close. But the brutal truth is that most won’t make it. In the hordes of students I watched go through the GMAT prep process while at MGMAT, it the students in the mid 600s who were least likely to be successful on their own.

It wasn’t that they had tapped out of intellectual power. It wasn’t even that admissions tests are too tricky to navigate. If that were the case my 470/480 students wouldn’t regularly land at 720.

So how is it a student in the bottom 30th percentile can rise to the 95th percentile, but the 85th percentile student rarely does?

Expected effort.

If you think you’re close to your target, you back off. You almost can’t imagine you won’t make it so you do the toil the way you’ve done in the past. After all, you’re only 30, 40 points away. “It was probably just 1-2 more questions right.”

Hmm, no, probably not.

Failing that close the the finish line is often tied to poor processing and high intellect. In other words smart pants, you are very capable intellectually, but you actually stink at problem solving. You didn’t really focus on critical thinking growing up. You focused on getting good grades. That A+ you landed in Calculus was from rote machine learning. You didn’t really understand, you endured, and now you can’t be creative with problem paths because you don’t have the flexibility. Worse . . . you think you are great at problem solving because you earned decent grades all along or you’re teachers told you were smart if you’d bother to do the homework – so now you’re stubborn (and possibly arrogant).

Students ridiculously, hopelessly far from their goals are more likely to rise to the challenge when presented with the right tools. This is my experience. And it’s backed by science.

According to Shane Snow, best selling author of Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success, research shows when you set bolder, more audacious goals you work harder than when you’re reasonable.

Subconsciously, we actually push ourselves harder when we’re going after bigger, loftier, harder goals. Research shows people who set higher goals end up outperforming their peers or themselves because they push themselves harder or because they force themselves to find more creative, alternative, unconventional solutions to problems.

When you have a bold goal, you behave differently. You prioritize different activities. You accept the wisdom of outsiders and most importantly, you experiment. You open yourself up for the opportunity to learn in new/different/unexpected ways.

Who wants a few points better, aim for ridiculously great. Get all the best out of you! Someone else can whine about that 30 points today.

Thanks to Eric Barker for the inspiration for this post. He’s got a great newsletter, check him out.

Image courtesy of Robin Benad

 

What is Talent

The most obvious expression of talent is that which is shown externally. A fast athlete,the top of the class, MacArthur grants . . . some talent is innate, the rest is cultivated. Can we do better cultivating the good stuff? That might depend – what is our definition of the good stuff?

We fixate on the stories of someone with extraordinary talent who never quite gets it done, perhaps because substance abuse interferes, or of someone who didn’t look like much in high school only to run a very successful company years later. Sure, those are the tail end of the bell curve, easy to get the imagination going.

But more important to actual talent is knowing when to say when, knowing when to quit. A huge part of encouraging talent is actually stopping less talent-worthy activities. It may be obvious that you stop skiing after the 5th major fall. For some that is the decision point of yes, I can be a world class skier, but for most of us, that will be the time to put away the skis. If you are one of the ones who would put the skis away eventually, why not do it earlier?

In other words, if you are ultimately going to quit, why not quit sooner? Quitting sooner allows you to spend the energy that would have been slushing the slopes on other activities, perhaps activities at which you can excel. Activities you won’t quit.

This idea of quitting what you can’t do well in order to focus on what you can came to mind as I watch Blockbuster Inc. shuffle itself into Bankruptcy. Blockbuster has had a rough few years, but it wasn’t because the economy sunk. If anything, more people are renting movies and staying home. And, no, it wasn’t because Netflix is bigger, or has been around longer….

It never had to be about beating Netflix. It could have been about changing the game. Blockbuster had a tremendous opportunity to utilize something Netflix doesn’t have. Space. Physical space. Space where people can rub noses and bump iPhones. As it turns out those under 27 are so plugged in, and have been their entire lives, that they go out to plug in. My grandmother cannot understand why at a table full of college students, all of the students are on the phone talking to someone not at the table. These folks are so plugged in that they actually seek public places to plug in in order to feel connected, because being on the phone is no longer enough to feel connected.

To those over 35, it’s just rude and ridiculous. But ask someone under 27 why he is on the phone when he is at a table with 3 other people, and he won’t even understand the question. Wild, yes? Game changer, certainly.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda, Blockbuster still has a chance to to turn this around, but after reading their 10-k I am even more discouraged by the prospects. The 10-k focuses on “video rental distribution” as though that is the business model. They should quit referring to their business as video distribution. They have to spend a page discussing the effect of Piracy on the bottom line – in other words, they’re busy counting pennies instead of creating dollars.

They provide entertainment. Access to imagination.

Too bad they seem so stuck in neutral. It’s as though they are just waiting for someone to tell them what to do…. The Blockbuster I watched growing up was more of a data driven company. They were effectively pioneers are geo-targeting. They had databases that connected local potential customers and their tastes to the local store. So some stores carried 5 copies of Die Hard and other stores carried 50 copies. This may seem obvious now, but it wasn’t as obvious or as easy to execute successfully in the late 1980s.

I spent a few blog posts creating potential action items for Blockbuster on our corporate site under Blockbuster Bankruptcy. Please add your thoughts.

Instead of focusing on what Blockbuster can do with excellence, they are playing catch up in game they don’t even want to admit they are playing. I had occasion to chat with Jim Keyes 2 years ago. He is a nice guy and a smart man. We talked more about real estate and less about providing obscure video selections (the perceived Netflix model – not quite right, but …). So why are they pretending to chase Netflix when they could be crushing it with a different concept?

What do you think Blockbuster should do to turn itself around?

As a side note: Carl Ichan left the Board of Blockbuster this spring before they were delisted at NYSE (ouch!). How many of the companies on which he sits as a Board member are successful? I’m asking. If you happen to know, I’d be mighty obliged.

It’s all in the NUMBers – Insurance 101

Have you ever tried to figure out your health insurance benefits?

InsuranceWhat a confounding experience. I spent a little time today reviewing my coverage. As much as I’d like to claim it’s because I’m that organized, but really it’s just because my part time employer recently made benefits available to us. So, why not take a look at my coverage and options.

Health Insurance is not my bailiwick, but a person with reasonable education should be able to figure out her own insurance costs and benefits. Yes?

If you treat the total payout for this policy as full use of resources and the total cost as monthly premium + copays, you get a decent reflection for apples-to-apple comparison with other policies. It ain’t perfect, but it works. Since this policy caps the payout annually, it’s easy to calculate as the Maximum Benefit – assume full use of maximum benefit. The Cost is set in stone through bi-weekly withdrawals – so that too is blissfully easy to calculate.

Here’s how the numbers break down:

My Maximum Benefit My Minimum
Cost
NET
Medical Option 1 $1,050 $868 $182
Medical Option 2 $1,250 $1,388 ($138)

So . . . how’s that option 2 looking? Just because a plan is offered, does not mean it makes sense. This is an actual apples-to-apples for these two plans, same provider, same stuff. Remarkable. Keep in mind, once I hit the Total Benefit mark, the plan is 100% out of pocket for me, so this is only an in-between type plan to cover those of us who elect to have a high deductible plan.

Aetna, thanks but no thanks.

Even though the NPV of plan 1 is positive on a cash basis, adjusted for hassle factor, it rolls negative pretty quickly. I look at it this way, I’ll need to spend 2-3 hours a year (at least) dealing with the paperwork, submitting receipts, and assorted shenanigans. Is my time worth more than the $182/3 hours, or roughly $60 an hour? Without a doubt.

Insurance CheckupAs a healthy person, I can get away with less . . . that’s part of the reason I make certain choices . . . to keep my health care costs down. When business was down for a bit I did just fine, not optimally, but just fine, on a cash-to-provider plan. The plan consisted of me paying my provider directly for services rendered. Annual cost for medical and dental was under $500. But the threat of idiots running red lights and slamming into me and my family is enough to keep me renewing the high deductible plan for “just in case” situations. So, I’m still on that cash-to-provider plan and have a safety net if needed.

Turns out doctors really appreciate the no nonsense approach too. Two out of three of my annual providers now no longer file insurance forms for clients. You pay cash at the door. Why should a doctor spend his or her time shuffling through insurance mandates? Which would you rather have a doctor who has time and attention for you or a doctor who file insurance forms?

Image courtesy of 401(K) 2012

Cost of Education

Friday night my little sisters graduated from high school. Come Fall they are off to college. What better time to reflect on the changing values of a college education. Does it make sense to go to the best school you get into? Is it worth $100k, $200k in debt?

100000It seems to depend on what we expect to get out of the education.

1. If you just want to get a good liberal arts education so you can be witty conversation at cocktail parties, there are several low cost and no cost alternatives to a proper college. Do you really need to be signed up for Lit 201 to read Beowulf?

You’ll need a copy of the book, the online forum full of medievalists and a few discussion partners to really understand the significance that Beowulf plays in the great context of literature.That would take getting organized, but identifying what you want and going after it are two very useful skills.

Or you could watch any of the Foundations of Western Culture Classes at MIT . . . for free. So there’s really no excuse, if you want access to the best minds, this is a mighty fine start.

2. Perhaps you consider college preparation for the working world. That is perfectly reasonable, but let’s review….

Is there a causal relationship between wage rate and level of education? Is there a relationship between COST of that education and the wage rate? Seth Godin put together a chart comparing the relative, relevant cost increases. I added the aggregate wage data.

If the cost of education was a relatively small percent of the budget, then a 10-fold increase might not be that important. But the cost of education has been and continues to be a stumbling block for many families. Are we really getting the value out of it or is it a luxury item?

If you are preparing for a specific field: engineering, medicine, or any other field where you need access to equipment not likely to be found at Home Depot, then you must get thee to a University. But how is this different from a Vocational school?

3. Or do we really go to college simply because it is socially expected? Can we be honest enough to admit that? It isn’t bad to do things that are socially expected – we stop at stop signs (for those of us outside of Boston), but we shield college under the guise of higher education when in reality most schools require students to sit through junky, giant classes taught by disinterested Teaching Assistants. Star faculty are absent or inaccessible. Students will take multiple choice tests where only one answer is correct.

Where is the HIGHER in this form of education. On the whole schools are teaching average students average material and then handing them an average piece of paper that will not change the job prospects, nor the level of enlightenment.

We would benefit more as a society to teach our kids tolerance for ambiguity.

At no point is there just one option. It is challenging to authentically look at the purpose of our actions.

-All that being said, Kelly and Victoria are off to college in the Fall and I’m mighty proud of them. 🙂 Kate

Yet, all of these require a child to be independent and self motivated . . . isn’t that what we really want for our kids?

Image courtesy of Tax Credits

Start at the Beginning

As students struggle to determine how to invest their time wisely, one question dominates the conversation.

Do I make incremental improvement or do I start from the beginning?

In proper CYA fashion, it depends . . .

Starting OverBut what it depends upon may surprise you.Continue Reading

Consenting Adults Part 2

 

So how is the Federal Government going to save me from myself today?

Back to the topic of interns . . . which can mean SO many different things depending on the administration…. For the Obama administration it means legislation. In particular, enforcement of legislation against unpaid internships. Never mind that the Obama political campaign is requesting UNPAID Interns right this moment.

InternshipsSpeaking of coincidence, you may want to see Atlas Shrugs on this one…. Included is the reading list for the Winter Interns. Seriously, check it out.

Back to the topic at hand, Interns.

Last week I spurred a private discussion by asking what an Unskilled, Unemployed person is to ask of others if he/she wants to break into a new field.

If you are a musician, you expect to play for hundreds of hours at dives before you gain enough reputation to charge a living wage. Actors and actresses, the same. So why do we have this tumult over interns for Investment Banks? Architecture Firms? Veterinarian Clinics?

I could make a statement about the various values of the end product of each activity, but I’ll refrain.

If you are an unskilled person who wants to break into a new (to you) field, you have to make an offer that someone in the field will find acceptable. It costs me money, both in hard dollars and in my time to train a staff member. That is time that could be spent producing more for my business, picking up additional clients, etc. It is a trade-off to the business owner. So if you are unskilled, but energetic, well, that’s something, but you’d better be ready with more.

One of my students informed me that if he was producing a work product for me, I should pay him. True. If that’s Down Bar Graph Yield Sign White Backgroundwhat we agree to beforehand. If on the other hand you want to work with me either to build your portfolio or because it will give you access to others with potentially bigger and better opportunities, I may not be willing to pay you in dollars. What you can take from your experience is worth phenomenally more than cash.

When you have 2 consenting adults, the situation can be resolved between the 2 parties. There is no need to have the Federal government intervene as though to enforce a collective bargaining agreement.

Let’s circle back to the example of a high schooler who is interested in Architecture and would like to get to know what it is like to be an Architect at the ground level.

The challenge for her right now is that the economy is down. Construction and therefore Architecture are down as well. Few Architectural firms are hiring and those who are certainly aren’t looking for unskilled labor in a field full of skilled labor. How does she convince the firm to spend time and energy training her?

She really has 2 options:

1. She offers to do the work no one else wants to do such as re-arranging the sample store room or cost estimating (both jobs I have done).

2. She lowers her price to work. In this market, that might mean zero.

If she is really interested in Architecture, she will be lucky to get the opportunity to test out her career choice BEFORE she invests 5 years getting her basic credentials for Architecture. One summer was enough for me….

Images courtesy of One Way Stock and Bernard Pollack

Consenting Adults

The Labor Department is out to protect you from yourself. Legislation prohibiting unpaid internships is officially in force.

“If you’re a for-profit employer or you want to pursue an internship with  for-profit employer, there aren’t going to be many circumstances where you can have an internship and not be paid and still be in compliance with the law,” says Nancy J. Leppink of the Labor Department.

What’s all the fuss?

Why is the government beefing up enforcement NOW, when the teenage unemployment rate is 26%?

For teens without marketable skills, where do they start?

Let’s take a hypothetical situation….

Say you are 15 and you are interested in becoming an architect. But you don’t know much about what architects really do, or how they do what they do. What is the fastest way to figure out if architecture is for you?

ArchitectRead a book?

Work for an Architect?

While reading a book about how Architects do what they do is helpful, no amount of reading can prepare you for the actual day-to-day activities of an Architect.Best case, you get a more realistic picture of the profession. Worst case, you still think all architects get to design cool buildings (most do not), and your IM Pei fantasy persists.

Now how about working for an Architect…. If you are in the office you get to see the day-to-day in action.You end up learning that architecture is less about building cool buildings and more about client management. If you’re lucky you’ll get to participate in the mind-numbing meetings. In other words, you’ll get to know if you like architecture enough to deal with the drudgery that it, as with every profession, has.

But here’s the current challenge. Now is a particularly tough time for Architects. Few are hiring and fewer still need unskilled labor when there’s a pile of skilled labor available. It costs an employer a significant investment of time to bring any staff member in – paid or unpaid. How do you as the unskilled teenager convince the firm to hire you?

What do you think?

Image courtesy of Wonderlane

Hot Nerds – Barbie Dedicates Herself to Science

How great! Barbie is officially geeking out.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Computer Scientist won the popular vote for What career would you like Barbie to have next. The vote ultimately split between the under tweens and the adults. Adults pushed for Computer Scientist and the little girls pushed for Anchorwoman. Lots of little Katie Courics on the way.

Computer Scientist Barbie is black legging clad with dashes of bright pink. She is however wearing what appear to be jellies – flat shoes – this writer disapproves. Given Barbie’s natural propensity for heels this is not a match. Barbie is built for heels.

Actually, why is she wearing a handbag across her body, AND carrying a silver briefcase? Computer Scientist Barbie will have no trouble getting the rest of the lab to schlep her servers.

Apologies, that was terribly sexist of me.

I guess Mattel wants to convey an image that Computer Scientist Barbie is practical. You’re just as likely to see her at the Moscone Center for Apple World as you are to see her in Vegas for CES. I just can’t imagine her at an academic conference. Can you? The other speakers will be upstaged just because she walks in the room.

She glides between uber-geeks who live in labs and the rest of us who consume the products the lab rats conceive. GeekyShe is the poster child for science. And it’s about time someone put a pretty face on computer science.

In 2008, women received only 18% of computer science degrees, down from 37% in 1985, according to the National Center for Women & Information Technology.

At all ages we gravitate toward shiny, pretty things. If little girls play with a Comp Sci Barbie, perhaps they’ll be inspired to follow that path.

So the Big Question: MAC vs PC?

Who are we kidding?

Look at the way she is dressed. Bright green, Turquoise, splashes of hot pink . . . over black tights . . . pink shoes (though freakishly flat shoes) . . . this Barbie is a Mac.

If they had put her in a black turtleneck Jobs would’ve sued for trademark infringement.

Or she might’ve been confused for a ballerina.

Maybe the Ken doll will be PC.

What do you think about Computer Scientist Barbie?

Crush Your Competition – the Superstar Effect

The best way to win? Be better. How much better?

Soul crushingly better.

Sound cruel?

InfluenceThe Weekend Journal shared a great piece about the Superstar effect – how some stars are so much better than everyone else in the field that they literally crush their competition before the game/match/negotiation begins.

Boris Spassky, Bobby Fishcher’s rival sums it up:

When you play Bobby, it is not a question of whether you win or lose. It is a question of whether you survive.

These superstar competitors are so significantly better that opponents essentially give up. Whereas in a “normal” competitive setting you can expect several players to push for the win, if a superstar is present the competitors on average slink back. It is not simply a reality of the superstar outperforming – the superstar’s actual game day performance is less material. It is that the would-be competitors actually play/perform worse than if the superstar were not present.
By analyzing PGA Tour data, Jennifer Brown of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School has determined that players take on average .8 MORE strokes when Tiger Woods is entered in the tournament. Many Tournaments are won and lost over 1 stroke.

From personal experience watching PGA Tour events on the ground last Spring/Summer I noticed the leaderboard effect. As a golfer landed on the top of the leaderboard, he became more likely to spectacularly unwind. At first I suspected it had to do with the increase scrutiny. You need not see the leaderboard to understand who is in the lead, just watch the camera crews. The crews will scramble to get every inch of play by the current leader. I’m sure it changes the way you play to have a camera crew up your shorts all of a sudden.

But it wasn’t simply the camera crews that caused the anxiety. Consider, as a player gained leader status he was more likely to play with Tiger – an unpleasant experience from what I understand. If you think Tiger can beat you, he already has.

The Superstar Effect

Comparing SAT results based on testing venues across all 50 states, researchers have determined that students who test in larger groups did worse. It is speculated that the increased competition and knowledge of the competition led to less motivation.

Some of this is insurmountable. Do we really want to provide private testing pods for taking the SAT?

But it speaks volumes of the nonverbal influence your peers have. Simply the sight of your peers doing the work you hope to do best may be enough to cause you to give up. So how do we set up our students for success?

Automation of skills.

Students/golfers/performers do their best work when they have gone through the process of mastering the content and then allowing their unconscious minds to direct and control the action. The more “thinking” an expert does, the worse the result. When expert math students are offered cash rewards for winning, they do significantly worse than when told to try their best.

It is as though the thought of winning blocks the actual ability to perform.

ThinkingI’ve watched this in students and in consulting clients. If client sees someone else’s website launch faster than his he loses focus on the long-term win, which is not about speed, but depth, and instead begins sabotaging his own project. Similar outcome with students. A student who perceives his classmates as superior will often give up by the 4th class and either disappear or come up with a huge number of excuses why he cannot perform. In both cases when the performance actually begins to decline, the student/client look for someone to blame.

If only we could live in isolation….

By isolating a student – making him stop reading the GMAT blogs (most of it is false – no one should read that stuff!), having him give up the constant GMAT chatter available on twitter or with his friends – then he has the mental energy to concentrate on learning the material he needs to succeed. It isn’t simply the distraction, but the increased anxiety about inadequacy that drives his performance down.

But then, that seems to be what ails most of us, most of the time. Would we have viagra without it?

So if you want to win, be the superstar, don’t compete with one.

Image courtesy of Keith Allison and tango 48

Superstar Effect

Everyone’s favorite Intimidators

WinningThe Weekend Journal recently published an article on one of my favorite topics – the Superstar Effect. They also kindly included a list of the most famous intimidators. Here is that list:

Muhammad Ali – noting himself as the “greatest” and following it up with a nasty punch . . . very effective.

Jack Welch – up or out, either do great work or find a new job – grew GE’s market cap from $14B to $400B . . .

Babe Ruth – considered the first celebrity athlete

Michael Jordan – UNC champ whose jersey still sells in the Top 10, wait, make that #1 for the NBA…. His White Sox jersey doesn’t do quite as well. He is still “the Man” in the NBA.

Roger Federer – opponents admit he is just that much better. Understated domination.

Tiger Woods – causes others on the golf course to take extra swings just knowing that he is on the course. Literally induces anxiety in tournament participants, that anxiety vaporizes if he plays poorly.

Nonverbal Influence – Color

New article on the overview of color as a nonverbal influence.

Everyday you are bombarded with millions of images. Some perceived others not consciously perceived. Advertisers want our attention. As we get more and more images, our conscious brains – the part we think we control – ignore even more.

So now we ignore more than we see.

But if a tree falls in a forest and hits a mime, does anyone cry?*Continue Reading

Contextual Cues Influence Learning

Did you know . . .

The fusiform facial area is a special area within the brain that processes facial images. This is apart from the Clutter (1)processing of other spatial objects. The neurons literally light up in a different pattern depending on whether we are looking at a human face or a non-human object. It is even indicated that the brain can distinguish from a face that is actually in your presence and a face that is presented graphically (as in a picture or on a computer screen).

Pop, pop, pop!

This leads to different rates of cognition in general and contextual processing specifically.

Boldly taking the initiative with this recent research, Australia is conducting a national experiment by redesigning their classrooms. Reading some of the tactics they are employing in the redesigned classrooms, it is interesting to note that nonverbal influence in the classroom is first addressed through clutter reduction. Turns out we really do have trouble with understanding others if our environment is cluttered.

Which leads me to wonder about workplace productivity.

Studies bat back and forth concerning cluttered versus non-cluttered workspaces. Too clean versus too cluttered, and just what constitutes cluttered (your sandwich from yesterday = definitely too cluttered). I prefer a clean work space, but several colleagues seem to prefer and even claim better performance by having clutter around them. The “I know where everything is” syndrome. I even have students who bring seemingly every worldly possession they own to class so they can clutter the limited desk space. Do you really need to charge your phone, iPod and laptop while you are in class? At 9p on a Tuesday night?

Does it matter? What do you think?

Image courtesy of Richard Stebbing

Freedom of Speech

As I dig through journals for interesting tidbits I often find myself far afield from the original topic at hand, which is Cheeringexactly what happened the other day. I was reading a piece on the influence the color of the box that holds your local traffic signal has on traffic flow – not the color of the light: red, yellow, green, but the color of the box around the light* – and ended up diverted to a Law journal, specifically, the University of Pittsburgh Law review.

Topic?

Freedom of Speech at Sporting Events.

Excellent.

The article puts forth that your heckling of the opposing team, the ref and even cheering for the opposing team deserve vigorous protection as free speech. The first and most obvious point is that your seats are a public forum.

Second, it argues that professional sports teams and public universities are state actors, the latter for obvious reasons and the former as a result of the pervasive public financing of sports arenas.

Last, but not least, the article uses examples to create legal precedence for protecting “cheering” speech at games.

Chapel Hill, one of MANY celebrations for UNC beating dookA diversion well worth the time. So the next time the NHL/NFL/MLB/NBA tells you to pipe down, you tell them that you have a right to free speech in a public forum owned by the state since you’re financing it. If they haven’t already thrown you out by the time you finish that statement, you’ve done good.

*P.S. Don’t paint traffic signals yellow if you want folks to stop.

Photo – one of many celebrations for UNC beating dook.

Other image courtesy of Alberto Restfo at Unsplash

Education Issues – Teacher Signaling

Confession: as a teacher I have challenges with the different levels of students who cycle through my classroom. I am not unbiased, and yes, I take my students’ performance personally.

But this is as it has been and should be….

Some students are bright, but it’s not just the ability level of the student it is the teacher’s interaction with that perceived ability level of the student that influences a student’s outcome.

In a study that measured a teacher’s ability to influence student academic performance, researchers found that a teacher who perceives her class to be bright can help an average group out-perform the control group (over the period of one academic year) and a teacher who perceives the students to be less bright will have students who under-perform the control group.

Average students elicit average teaching, you simply aren’t as invested as you are in the progress of the super star talent. The super star talent progress you take personally, you take as a reflection of your ability to teach. The average student you don’t take quite as personally. You build and adapt your plan for the average student’s success, but the progress of the average student won’t keep you up at night.

A co-conspirator in the world teaching sums up his view of his students this way when asked, “What goes through the teacher mind when a student demonstrates a lack of progress?”

Avg student: he’s an idiot for wasting this opportunity
Super Star: he’s insulting me – a slap in the face

That is a harsher version of what many of us are uncomfortable describing. It isn’t polite to confront a lazy student, nor is it our job. But what surprises more than reactions to average students is the backlash against perceived bright students who shirk their duties. If you are a bright student, step-up your game and your teacher will help you exceed your abilities, shirk your duty and prepare for wrath.

Image courtesy of

Stat of the Week – Monkeys and Medals

Lionel Tiger shares the history of monkeys and medal in his latest Op-Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal. He posits that there is a biological need for humans to have games such as the Olympics

Like our primate cousins, competition is in our blood.

Is this just more justification for what my less athletically-inclined friends call ‘testosterone-fueled’ children’s games?

Or is there a verifiable, quantifiable biological need?

Continue Reading

Seth Godin, Linchpin

LinchpinI was fortunate to receive an advanced copy of Seth Godin’s latest, Linchpin. I had a very hard time writing an appropriate review on Amazon.

What others reviewers are raving about is how this book is about doers . . . kind of, but not really. This book is about people who fancy themselves single-handedly able to change the world. Change being the operative word.

Which means they are discontent now, want things to be different and heretofore really haven’t done squat about it. You and I know them as whiners. If they’re just out of college they really want to travel Europe staying in youth hostels. They think the answer, the Change, is out there. Somewhere else. Away from here.

Is it?

The first 48 pages . . . Set. Me. Off.

Like reign of terror “set me off.”

Here’s what really gets my panties in a wad, he attacks the underpinnings of Mastery.

Even worse, he specifically attacks memorizing fractions….

GRRRrrrrr…..

You KNOW how I feel about fractions . . . and multiplication tables.

The reason you learn multiplication tables and fractions is for deeper domain understanding. You start to see the number 6 not as the visual 6 but as little chunks of 2s and 3s – you get understanding of the properties of numbers which is what leads you to discovery.

He later circles back to the concept of Mastery as a good thing, but …

He implies that the “always on Wikipedia” can get the answers we need when we need them. Really? What an incredibly shallow existence you must lead if Wikipedia can answer all of your questions. Can we thrive without domain knowledge?

FractionsWhy does a Violinist practice her chords? So she can know them to the point that the notes play through her. She cannot create art without first making simple things automatic.

Picasso didn’t start in his Cubist period. He started by learning the techniques of the masters before him. He started with rote painting.

Great art – the visual, the intellectual, the emotional – starts with expression of mastery. You must understand your materials before you can really give of yourself.

The other major issue I take with Linchpin is Godin’s perpetual reference to employers as huge faceless organizations. It is true that 64% of the population works for companies with >100 people. But that means 36% of us work for companies with less than 100 people. Half of those work for companies with less than 20 people (see Statistics of US Businesses). He refers to employees as wanting to contribute more, but being told to just fit in.

That hasn’t been my experience. How about yours?

He are some facts for your noodle:
1. 18% Americans are employed at companies with less than 20 people
2. 64% employed at companies with >100
3. Critical thinking skills + creative problem solving skills for those who do rote drills versus those who do not.

As for me, I’ve done different jobs at different times in life because that is my path. Despite my fussing with Godin’s Linchpin, I suspect he would agree, the change you need to seek is within you. The world “out there” changes when you change yourself.

So, reasonable people should skip the first 48 pages of the book.

Have you read it? What do you think?

**In all fairness, his attack on fractions, page 45, is more of a slight. But no one messes with my numbers.

Image courtesy of Steve Hodgson

Numbers for Nerds

If you get excited about numbers, today is a spetacular day.

Numbers010110

It is a rare opportunity to present the date in binary form (that’s not the actual binary date however).

So just how rare is it?

Have you figured out how many times in a century you can represent the date with 1s and 0s without getting your arse kicked in public?

cropped kateAnswer below.

Very Happy New Year to you and yours! if you’re in Dallas, I have extra Cotton Bowl tickets, give a shout.

-Kate

Answers:

01/01/00, 01/10/00, 10/01/00, 10/10/00

01/01/01, 01/10/01, 10/01/01, 10/10/01

01/01/10, 01/10/10, 10/01/10, 10/10/10

Percentage of days you can be slightly cool with numbers, or feel slightly, smuggly numerically superior – also known as “clever” . . .

12 days

———–

36525 days

Or, .03% of the century.

We only have 3 more left this century, so grab your binary buddies and part hats. We’re gonna party like it’s 10-10-10!


Mastery – how to know when to get back to basics

What do you call it when a defender “bounces” a puck into his own goal?

ScrewupsReady?

. . .

Heart Breaking.

Actually I can’t believe I have yet to find the term . . . surely there is a term for this phenomenon given what my beloved Robi had to say about it,

“I hope he doesn’t worry too much about that. It happens to everybody.”

Which I find startling. If it’s true that it happens to everybody, then why is it that I have never seen it happen before? Statistically speaking we have a problem here. I was not quite so gentle in my response, and here’s why,

It was like watching on slow mo, except it was real life mo. The puck was gently wafting down the ice, not driving out-of-control, out-of-reach, but gently wafting as though it wanted to be stopped if anyone cared to stop it.

Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images
Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

But no one cared to stop it. In all fairness there was only one person who could stop it and he unfortunately was the one who put it in motion. It’s good they put him back on the ice just after incident – the kid doesn’t need to be in counseling for the rest of his life, but why the blazes didn’t he throw his body down on the ice and stop the bugger?

Seriously, why not?

No, this wasn’t what officially cost us the game, we were already down 3-2, but we had 1 minute and the chance to even up. This killed our chance to even up.

What I saw last night was a lethargic Dallas team that was out-skated. I also saw what many fans are now calling the Ice Capades. We have a pair of forwards who spend more time executing cool blind trick passes – too many of which end up on the opposing team’s stick – than they do scoring. Looks like it is time to get back to the basics for the Stars. Last year we (the team) griped about how over-injured we were and theat was excuse enough to not be a winning team.

Well, boys, what’s the excuse this year?

So if you happen to know the term for bouncing pucks into your own net, PLEASE SHARE. I’ve been digging around and google isn’t helping.

Confidence Building for the Guys

Bringing Sexy Back – Time Management

Lisa, assistant project manager at Paladin Principals, and I were talking about guys this afternoon and we discovered sexythat we both find some of the same traits super sexy in men.

What is that number one trait . . .

#1 Time Management

It’s not that we want our guys to be too busy to be around, but rather that we want our guys to have priorities and to know what those priorities are.

What is the sexiest part of a man? How about the way he uses his time. No kidding, time management is the leading trait of hot men in the Paladin Principals office.

But is it really time management or the drive and dedication it takes to know what you’re doing?

It all comes back to Mastery.

Master yourself, master your time, win the ladies. 🙂

Education Issues

If you do some digging at katemckeon.com you will discover that I am a fan of outsourcing. Who wouldn’t be? Get the best talent to do the best work at the best price. That at least is the mantra of outsourcing . . .And oftentimes, outsourcing a project works. But then there are times it doesn’t. And worse, times that it horribly fails. These are the examples we cling to in our protectionist moments, but the reality is, projects fail whether they’re done in Iowa or Indonesia. Sometimes, projects just fail. And sometimes people fail . . .. . . at a project.If you’re still living, you have succeeded at something. Your body has figured out how to do a million different tasks, perfectly coordinated to keep you living. So it’s not that people fail, but projects certainly do fail. All the time.

“Word of Mouse” Advertising

Pilliga_MouseA friend who shall remain nameless recently shared a few of his ebooks with me. He has these crafted for him by ghost writers. What he does right is that he gets stuff done. Volumes of stuff. Where we differ is the quality control. Most of the books were written in barely passable English. And they were written for a very low-level learner. In other words, they are not ebooks you would ever share with any friends, family or clients. They are the kinds of ebooks you would give away to someone who you do not wish to have a relationship with . . .But who is that? When you are in business, is it worth your time to spend any effort on work for those you do not wish to retain? That may depend on your business. If you have low price point products, or products that do not require the consumer to be plugged in, maybe it doesn’t matter what quality you put out. Ebooks are largely a lead generation tool for a backend product or a way to test market interest in niche subjects. The “word of mouse” line comes from one of the books. If you have heard of WOM – Word of Mouth, also known as word of mouth marketing, Word of Mouse may sound cute – like a play on words. Unfortunately, it did not appear to be a play. It appeared to be a misunderstanding between someone who was speaking and someone who was writing. If the quality of the book doesn’t matter, no proofing happens . . .So “word of mouse” stands. And so, my friend’s ebook stands out in my mind. He made it memorable by not editing. But the memory is not a good one. I think about that book each time I hire a writer on Elance or Odesk or face-to-face. Outsourcing simply means he did not write the book – it doesn’t mean that the book was written by a non-native speaker which brings us back to the education issue.

Does quality of education matter?

If you believe that understanding the fundamentals of reading, writing and arithmetic are important, you are in the minority now. Regularly I have students push back when I exhort them to understand the basics instead of working the fancy problems. Sometimes they even complain to headquarters about it.We want to work the fancy problems, but we don’t have the skills to do so. Example:Student A was too proud to dial back to the basic math that I encouraged him to use. He resisted me, then relented and acknowldeged that the drills helped. As the instructor, I recommended the drills because he stunk at multiplication and had serious anxiety. Basic drills are the fastest way to curb both issues . . .Result: Student A kept up the back-and-forth complain then acquiesce behavior and ended up with a score of 640 when test day rolled around. This effectively takes him out of contention for any of the business school programs he was considering, and certainly puts him at a serious disadvantage when applying to any top 10 program. Student B however was keen to get his ultimate goal which includes b-school options. A good test score opens those options so he was game-on for whatever would get him there. He was weaker on math than student A, and about the same on verbal. Student B gave no grief when it came time to dial back and do drills. In other words, Student B did the basics. He didn’t quite get as far as “embracing” the basics, but he did them without complaint. Result: Student B managed to hit 710 on test day. That qualifies as a perfectly acceptable score for any business school, including the top 5 schools. It won’t get him in, but it also won’t keep him out. Both students prepared for the test in 2 weeks. Same duration, same environment – one block away from each other. It all comes down to understanding the basics. The students who do, will out-score their peers. Period. But, in school, we encourage kids to think that rote activities such as multiplication tables are beneath them. That memorizing the Krebs Cycle will cramp their creative learning styles….Baloney. Schools that require students to do these drills and countries who center their education on drills are the very ones who make the gains academically. They are the ones out-testing the US (by an outrageous amount) on not only the ability to do the drills . . . but also on the ability to apply concepts in complex problem solving capacities. In other words, the very creative problem solving that we claim we encourage in our students is HAMPERED by not requiring the students to learn the basics. Until you master the basics you are hacking. We are producing a generation of illiterate hackers, the kinds of students who would write about “word of mouse” advertising.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?

DIAL BACK TO THE BASICS or KEEP PRESSING FORWARD?

Leave your comments below.

Image courtesy of Viva Larson


Nonverbal Influence: Uniform Color

If you knew that the color you were wearing could influence the outcome of a game/deal/date, would you change what you are wearing?

What’s Color got to do with it?

Are TEAL uniforms (San Jose Sharks) killing any chance for a cup?

This week we look at uniform color.

Does it surprise you that teams wearing a black uniform have more penalties called on them than other teams?

Back in the Day, when Oakland had a team and town full of bad-to-the-bone, they would tell you that it was their prison break mentality that brought the punishment from officials (this was 30 years ago…).

Not so . . . not so….

Turns out we can verify that referees will call more penalties on teams wearing black than on other teams. The best example of this experiment pitted referees against a video broadcast of a football game.

GAME 1: Referees were instructed to analyze the play as if they were on the field. The defence wore white, the offense wore red.

GAME 2: Same play, but this time the defense wore black. The offense still wore red.

The rest of the story, the film was of the same play. In other words, literally the only change was the team wearing the white jersey versus the black jersey. Same, staged play. Same team. Totally choreographed.

uniform color

Outcome:

When the team is wearing black, more penalties are called. By a 3 to 1 margin. Does that translate to reducing penalties by 67% if you switch from a black jersey to another color. No. This experiment was conducted with 2 plays so, limited data. But powerful.

There’s another outcome that very few who have heard of this experiment know. If the referee is watching the game in black and white – no color – the penalty calls between game 1 and game 2 fall out. In other words, if the ref can’t tell whether a team is wearing black, red, blue, etc. he calls the same amount of penalties for the dark team as he does for the white team. It is specifically black that garners the penalties.

It’s an interesting paper even if 20 years old.

What would you do if you knew that creating visual cues could influence the outcome of the game?

Red also influences opponents, but a different model.

4goonsinaboxSo what about those Sharks? They demonstrate more aggression on ice, have more penalty time than most teams and yet, no cup to show for it . . . that picture above is of a game here in Dallas. I had to stand on my seat to get all 4 of the guys in the photo. That’s 4, yes, 4 San Jose Sharks in the bin. There are only 5 guys and a goalie on the ice. (Goalies aren’t guys, we’re not sure what they are). Maybe the Teal brings out the mean. But it isn’t fooling anyone else. They may have fewer penalties called against them, but as mentioned before, they haven’t figured out how to capitalize on that benefit. Optimization opportunity if there ever was one.

Frank, Mark G., and Gilovich, Thomas, “The Dark Side of Self- and Social Perception: Black Uniforms and Aggression in Professional Sports”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1988, 54:1:74-85

Image courtesy of Brandon Glesbrecht

Excellence versus Mastery

Mastery is a path, not a destination so I thought I would clarify a few things that have come up in comments . . .

SurrenderYou can be better than 95% of all other people after you have persevered for 1000 hours in one area.

So if you are a runner, does that mean you have to run for 1000 hours?

Not necessarily.

To be a great runner you must RUN, and you must understand nutrition, particularly your own nutrition, and you must understand hydration – race day versus training run, hot days versus cold days, and you must understand lacing patterns – how you tie your shoes depends on the course and the distance, and you must understand . . .

You get the idea.

For example, it took may many years for me to understand that citrus fruits were causing stomach cramps. I didn’t know – coaches kept handing me orange slices; I kept getting sick – I took it as a sign of athletic weakness.

Practically all sports drinks and mixes and race day stuff have citric acid. It took one killer race where I thought I was going to die on the course for me to realize that I can’t stomach citric acid. I only stayed on that course because so many friends were lining the race route and my best friend was right behind me. Glad I discovered it and glad it was so . . . distinct . . .  I will not make that mistake again. Ever.

WRM Photo 1You also learn things like how to find the finish line….

Miss the finish line once . ..

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies . . .

Miss the finish line once when Dave Scott the Father of Triathlons is handing out trophies and you went from 2nd place to 4th because you missed the finish line . . .

. . .  and he spends half the award ceremony gooning you about it . . .

Well, you’re on your way to Mastery at that point.

So, the 1000 hours is for you to be better than 95% percent of those who start in an area. To begin Mastery you must spend 5000 hours of deep practice. At 5000 hours you have achieved excellence. When you are on the Master’s path, the time builds naturally. You can’t help but focus more, improve, stumble back then experience brief blips of brilliance.

You can’t live for the brief blips of brilliance though, that is an ego expression. Mastery is surrendering to the learning and continual improvement. Mastery is the antithesis of Ego.

To become a Master you need 10,000 hours of deep practice. By the time you have reached 10,000 hours, you realize that it was never about being the top 1/2 of 1%. It was always about the process.

A Master’s work is never done. Thankfully so.

Your Sphere of Influence

That’s it. I’m pulling out the brat card. I had an epiphany today. . . .

As much as I push to find pockets of excellence whether they be academic, athletic, artistic or some combination thereof, excellence is what I “do.”

It’s my research it, my downtime reading, and to paraphrase Austin Powers, “it’s my bag, baby.”

So . . .

What hit me today was the idea concerning weight loss.

The ads that fill the whitespace on blogs, the ads that fill what could be whitespace on blogs rather, well, many of them celebrate losing 50 pounds, or 30 pounds and the one that set me off today, 110 pounds (albeit, split between 2 people).

I have known people who have lost 100+ pounds and I have known folks who could stand to lose 60+ pounds. I even had a boyfriend recently (2009) who needed to lose 60+ pounds. But he thought himself healthy. It wasn’t an issue for us, just was . . . well, gross.

So here’s the epiphany, why don’t we celebrate the folks who didn’t gain the extra weight to begin with?

Before you respond with the comment about media unfairly perpetuating models who are too thin, blah, blah, blah, save it. It isn’t about thick or thin, it is about self control.

If you surround yourself with slobs you will become one. I was reminded of this as I sat on a flight next to a person who proceded to eat out of a dunkin donuts bag . . . now, it was a flight departing from Newark, so you can’t be faulted too much when there are so few options (there were better options, but…). It wasn’t the Dunkin Donuts bag . . .

It was the way she was eating.

The food was taken from bag to mouth in one motion and then she took the heel of her palm to shove in any straggling pieces.

It was disgusting.

There is no way she was tasting that food.

There was no way she was even aware of the food.

Sadly, she might as well have had a trough attached to her.

Each time the heel of her palm reach her lips a few crumbs would drop onto her blouse.

If she was enjoying the food, she would have picked up the crumbs to savor them. But she didn’t. Instead they rested somewhere in the folds of her blouse on her not particularly large, but noticeable belly.

SpiralYou may be screaming that I don’t know what she is dealing with – divorce, death, career stress – you’re right, I don’t know. I did talk to her for 45 minutes. We talked about mainstreaming the refuge children in Dallas, we talked about excellence in schools and culture shock for the refuges. A pleasant conversation. She is a school teacher to children of refuge families.

But, will she be better off when she comes out of that depression (if there is one) with extra pounds packed on or will the pounds help her spiral even further down?

How do you have an intervention for a loved one when you see him/her doing the same?

It’s okay to call someone out for being an alcoholic, but you’re a brat if you call someone out for being out-of-control with their weight. I remember my Uncle Harold professing that everyone (expect him) in the family was fat. It was interesting to be standing in front of him and included in that mix given that I weighed 105 pounds at 5’6″. Some people want to belittle others for the sake of ego strokes. He’s famous for it so we don’t take him too seriously.

This is not that.

This is concern about the state of healthy physical, mental and emotional that is destroying our ability to be productive personally and as a country.

So again, how do you have an intervention for a loved one who is 60+ pounds over weight?

Should we really champion shows like Biggest Loser?

Something has got to give. I can’t afford to pay health insurance for these folks who aren’t taking care of themselves.

We need to incentivize the RIGHT behaviors. How do we fix this??

Images courtesy of Funky Tee

Momentum in Team Winning

In professional sports momentum swings can be attributed to teams and players going on hot or cold streaks. Does momentumthe 2005 Miami Heat come back if the Dallas Mavericks win the 3rd game? Do the 2009 Redwings win the Stanley Cup if they win game 3 instead of game 5?

These swings have been the focus of studies on sports psychology over the years (Gayton et. al. 1993). Psychological momentum has been defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Sports Science as, “the positive or negative change in cognition, affect, physiology, and behavior caused by an event or series of events that affects either the perceptions of the competitors, or perhaps, the quality of performance and the outcome of the competition.” “Positive momentum is associated with periods of competition such as a winning streak, in which everything seems to ‘go right’ for the competitors. In contrast, negative momentum is associated with periods, such as a losing streak, when everything seems to ‘go wrong’” (Kent, 2007).

It is difficult to think of your favorite sports team without thinking about some type of momentum swing.

Super Win for the Steelers  (Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Super Win for the Steelers (Doug Mills/The New York Times)

Steelers fans will remember James Harrison’s 100yd interception return in last year’s Super Bowl. The Cardinals, in reach of a 14-10 halftime lead, were held at 7 when Harrison intercepted Kurt Warner’s pass to return the ball for a 100yd touchdown.  The possible 14 point swing was a huge blow to the Cardinals and was, for Arizona’s offensive coordinator Todd Haley, “the difference in the game.”

Pacers fans think Reggie Miller vs the Knicks in Game 5 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, Miller scored 25 of his 39 points in the fourth quarter leading the Pacers to come from behind to a 93-86 victory.

Such memorable moments in professional sports!   Was this the act of “Big Mo,” that “elusive, powerful spirit of sport, who sits in fickle judgment over all competitors” (Kauss, 1980), or is too much credit being given to momentum and its impact on the outcome of sports competition. . .

Does the phenomenon of momentum really exist?

In the minds of sports enthusiasts, the media, the coaches and the players themselves, momentum exists.  If it does, how do we quantify it? Results of experimental studies attempting to identify a relationship between momentum and athletic performance are inconclusive. Several conceptual models of psychological momentum have been proposed. The two main patterns indicated are the multidimensional model and the projected performance model.

MultidimensionalThe Multidimensional Model of Momentum in Sports (Taylor & Demick, 1994) defines momentum as a “positive or negative change in cognition, physiology, affect, and behavior caused by a precipitating event or series of events that will result in a shift in performance.”  In the development of momentum, the result of a series of changes is referred to as the momentum chain consisting of 6 key elements.

The momentum chain begins with a “precipitating event.” In last year’s Super Bowl this would be Harrison’s interception. This leads to a “change in cognition, (then) physiology, and (then) affect,” which varies from athlete to athlete depending on their personal perception of the game. In post-game interviews, Harrison recalled the moment after intercepting Warner’s pass: “I was just thinking that I had to do whatever I could to get to the other end zone and get seven.” Because of Harrison’s 100 yd interception return for a touchdown, there was a noticeable momentum shift.  In head-to-head competition, momentum must occur in both teams.  Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden recognized Harrison’s touchdown as the “biggest play of the game” and how it “took the momentum from the [Cardinals].”

The Steelers went on to beat the Cardinals 27 – 23.

The second major pattern is demonstrated in the Projected Performance Model (Cornelius, Silva, Conroy, & Petersen, 1997) suggests that positive and negative momentum is the by-product, rather than the cause of changes in performance.   A response to a change in performance can be one of positive inhibition, where success leads to a loss of momentum; or negative facilitation, when failure produces an increase in positive momentum.   So, was the success of the Pacers in Game 5 a result of the Knick’s gaining a 14 point lead near the end of the 3rd quarter?  If failure begets success, the Pacers 23-6 run was an occurrence of negative facilitation; the poor performance defensively motivated an increased offensive effort.  If the increased and sustained offensive effort was most noticeable in Reggie’s fourth quarter heroics, then what is the role of the team in all of this?

There is a need for further exploration of psychological momentum and the effect it has on an individual versus a team.  It could be that the presence of momentum in one player must catalyze the momentum of all players in order to have a change in performance.  The speculative nature of such propositions clearly illustrates that psychological momentum is a difficult concept to measure and more research is needed to better demonstrate its existence and provide an understanding of the dynamics involved.

WIN FIRST OR GO HOME

It is difficult to think of your favorite sports team without thinking about some type of momentum swing – If you’re a Cubs fan you probably just thought of Steve Bartman, Pacers fans think Reggie Miller’s vs the Knicks, and Steelers fans how about Harrison’s 100yd return in last year’s Super Bowl. These three events dramatically changed the outcome of each competition. The Cubs went on to lose, the Pacers came back to win, the Steelers edged the Cards. But how much does psychological momentum actually affect the outcome of a series of competitions such as a best-of-7 game NBA Finals?

NBA FinalsThe Finals of the NBA are set up in a 2-3-2 format, meaning that the team with the better regular season record plays the first two and last two games in the best-of-7 series at home. Before the start of the Finals, sports analysts discuss statistical data on matchups, and likely outcomes based on who wins which games. The underlying subject of much of this data is how well teams cope with momentum swings. How does losing the first game at home affect the rest of the series, for instance? How does a team that goes on the road deal with losing its first two games, or winning its first game?

In the NBA Finals, when the home team wins their first game they have an 80.4% chance of winning the series. Let’s translate that: when the visiting team loses the first game the chance of them winning the series is 19.6%. For either a Home loss or a Road win in the first game, there is an equal 50% chance of winning the series (WhoWins, 2009). After that, it goes all higgly-piggly.

Contributions from Whitney Ostrander and Michael Tipton

Get to Yes Faster

When you spend your time in Sales person mode, time is even more valuable. You may have  a set amount of time that the potential client is willing to spend with you. Or you have X number of appointments to make before the day is over. And if your business is predominantly face-to-face, you really have a limited set of hours.

So how can you move your prospects more quickly?

How about some movement.

When the environment around you becomes more active, your focus actually sharpens . . . if you are interested in the other side of the table. In other words, when you want to pay attention to someone, go to a busy restaurant with lots of movement. Because of the increased action around you, your field of vision will narrow which increases rapport with the person sitting across form you.

Your brain literally tosses out the extraneous stuff and increases focus on what is directly ahead. It’s like the difference between the way you drive on a sunny day and the way you drive in a snow storm. The snow storm provides the extraneous stimulation to focus your attention on every driving lesson you ever had (never mind the folks who must not have had any driving lessons…). Essentially your IQ pops up a few marks and you have access to parts of your brain that otherwise receive very little activity.

In a sales situation, use this to your advantage by placing the person being sold with his back to the restaurant looking at you with the wall behind you so long as that wall is not mirrored. This works best in a busy restaurant.

The motion around you will increase his awareness and focus and guess what, you’re the only thing on which to focus. Bonus!

If a busy restaurant is not practical, how about going for a walk with your client. Okay, this sounds completely fishy, but same principle applies. By getting your client moving, you cause him to detach from the details of his office: emails to return, phone calls to make, paperwork to shuffle, etc. Getting him (or her) to walk at a comfortable pace allows him enough mental energy to expend on you while releiveing him from those daily stressors which ultimately puts him in a better frame of mind for considering your proposal.

This isn’t jogging, this is light, but brisk walking. If your activity level increases too much he will go into exercise mode which puts you out of mind. So keep it brisk, but not heavy duty.

This alone will not bring you the sale, but it will help your client forget to resist you.

Image courtesy of Kevin Dooley

When Free is too Expensive

I am writing from Newark, New Jersey, which is not my new favorite place. But this is not a post about that. On the flight here I noticed the airline magazine and spent a few minutes going through the puzzles. Across from one of the puzzle pages was a full-page glossy ad for FRE*E Hotel Bookings.

FreeSo we have folks advertising to give presumably a valuable eservice away without expense to me. Either

A. We have folks unclear on the concept of profitablility, or

B. They are very clear about profitability and want to lure me to their site for the sake of add-on fees or upsells to make their free offer not so free.

I have nothing against f*ree, but I’m done with it. If you offer fre*e hotel bookings, then you are getting paid by the hotel to make the booking and that removes choice from me and pervert the recommendation system. No one works out of the goodness of their own heart. No one gives away full-page ads in a top 3 highest captive audience rated magazines.

We have to eat. We sell.

I would rather pay a hotel booker to make sure I get the kind of room I want, where I want, when I want for the price I am willing to pay. It seems like we should have this service offered already . . .

Oh wait, we do!

Or did….

They were called travel agents. And while most have raced to the bottom to offer me-too basic booking services for nothing or next to nothing, some are still around, thriving.

Booking my hotel room is brainless. What we are willing to pay for is intelligence.

It is also more profitable for those who choose the long term committment to excellence demanding consumers seek. For my trip to Newark did I need a hotel booker? No. Due to the gig, there is exactly one hotel where I will stay. So I booked directly with the hotel, like most of us do.

When I want to go white water rafting . . . then I have options.

Travel AgencyThis is an unpaid recommendation for a friend of mine’s business, Golden Adventures. Diane Golden specializes in Baby Boomers and mild adventures. She organizes trips for runners, cyclists, wine lovers and hikers. And she does a mighty fine job. She specializes in her choice of population: Active Baby Boomers and her activities. And this year she’s been hiring.

So never mind the down economy, while it hasn’t been her best year ever, she has been growing. Providing expert service is more compelling than a f*reebie offering. I know the game for hotel . com, and for better or worse I use their paid reviews of properties written by low-paid staff members who have never been to the property (I’ve known some of these folks) to compare against other reviews, and then I make my choice and book directly.

That may seem unfair, but they don’t give me any reason to be loyal, they aren’t ultimately providing me with what I want which is real intelligence about my options. They are not making my job any easier. Indeed ultimately the free offerings cost me more time and THAT is the most precious commodity right now. F*ree is just too expensive.

Image courtesy of Platform London

More about Myelin

Lisa McLellan mentioned the movie Lorenzo’s oil after the post on building talent. Since I had no idea what she was Potentialtalking about, I wiki’ed it. In a short moment I appreciated the profound difference between needing to lug my notebook (which was a yellow pad and pen, not some clever little thing with keyboard) to the SMU Science library where I spent the better part of my teen years and being able to sit in my office with the basic science at my finger tips.

What a difference 10 years makes. So first, a shout out to Lisa for pushing a new research idea on me and second, God Bless you wiki writers. Wikipedia can’t replace the science library, but organizes just enough information to make a post.

Back to the point. My recent fascination with Myelin is driven by my research on talent. After a particularly stellar personal running incident October 2008, I am convinced of the following:

1. Anyone has the potential to be a great talent.

2. The right hard work will get you there.

Feisty Grandmother takes to the streets
Feisty Grandmother takes to the streets

My grandmother, Moni, looks at me like I’m a bit slow. “Of course hard work in the right direction will make you more talented.” Of course indeed, but there’s so much attention on so-called natural talent and who hasn’t assumed that once you are past 22 your athletic career is over – never mind Dara Torres, Chris Chelios, Brett Favre and the host of over-40 mega talents. Most of us act like our lives are in permanent decline.

I’m too stubborn for that. Pardon, let’s call it driven instead.

So what’s the scoop on Myelin and health?

Myelin, the sheath that wraps your nerve fibers and helps you make the connection . . . literally, is subject to attack just as any other cell or set of cells. In healthy folks, myelin can be grown presumably until death though there evidence for decline both in production and decline of the sheaths overtime. Much as the skin gets thinner as you age, the myelin sheath thins. The replacement cell rate simply doesn’t keep up with the death of cell rate. Myelin cells are living and constantly turning over just as your hair, skin, nails and every other cell in your body does.

So what happens if you can’t build or maintain myelin?

Demyelinating diseases indicate problems building myelin or rapid loss of myelin such as Multiple Sclerosis and Leukodystrophies. Destruction of myelin can lead from minor nerve damage to significant central nervous system damage including speech loss, the inability to balance and lack of cognitive awareness.

When myelin degrades, conduction of signals along the nerve can be impaired or lost and the nerve eventually withers.

Lack of or destruction of myelin can be completely debilitating. The genes that express the demyelination may not set off until later in life. Which makes me wonder about MS. I have a few friends with MS who were unaware they had it until in their 20s and 30s. Could it be that only at the cessation of rapid growth (teen years) that a more subtle expression of the disease becomes noticeable? Or is it a switch that gets thrown?

The movie Lorenzo’s Oil was about a young chap who’s parents dedicated their lives to research on fixing, preventing, and understanding myelin in those with a certain gene expression that corresponds to demyelination.

Just as not every body can grow to 7 feet tall, some cannot build or maintain myelin.

For those who can, there is nothing much to stop you….

What is Talent?

Talent is one of those things we talk about all the time, but very rarely define. How often do you refer to someone doing something incredible: Tiger Woods, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, Dara Torres, Usain Bolt as a Natural Talent?

Since that often feels a bit like a cop-out, let’s dive in to the science of Talent.

What is Talent?

One word.

Myelin.

MyelinThat white stuff that wraps your nerve fibers and keeps the electric impulses from slipping into the ether. The more myelin, the thicker the insulation around the nerve fiber, the stronger the impulse received. The more complete the training any given moment.

Firing on all cylinders
What produces talent is constant firing of the right neural pathways. Keep firing them and the myelin builds. The more you fire (the right paths!), the more myelin . . . the more myelin, the more signal reaches . . . starting to sound circular yet?

Sure. Basically it works like this:

A little bit of sporadic effort produces next to nothing as a result.

A lot of effort sporadically spent produces ocassional short-lived improvement.

A lot of effort expended regularly in any direction produces results in that direction.

A lot of effort expended regularly and in the direction of the goal gains exponential results.

In this case 1 + 1 = 5000

talentBut what about these Natural Talents?
What about them? The talent is natural, but it isn’t in-born. That’s the good news. Here’s the sobering part, the natural talent requires significant work.

By the time you have expended 1000 hours or more on developing a particular skill, you are better than 95% of the population for that skill. AND every minute you spend practicing is worth 3 minutes of a less myelin-wrapped competitor.

Your insulation from the competition is literally in your head.

That’s why Einstein’s brain had all that “white stuff.” When Einstein passed away, his brain was studied thoroughly. But no one understood what all the white stuff was. Looks like it was myelin.

Stumbling to the Top ™

So how do you get talent? Start now!

Studies demonstrate that adults still produce myelin well into their 60s and it proves to be an excellent way to hold off disease, particularly those that affect the brain. It is never too late to start. Though you might not be racing Usain Bolt around the track as a 50 year old, there’s no reason to delay your interest in painting. You can develop a masters talent, but it won’t be overnight.

There’s nothing easy about Talent. It is all hard work. In short, you develop talent by stumbling and staggering in the direction of your goal.

Why you want to Win

The internet has brought tremendous opportunity to the masses. Who would have predicted 20 years ago that selling schlocky stuff that didn’t sell at your garage sale on a little community website would allow you to make millions of dollars?** Yet, eBay has done just that.

Long TailThe success of eBay highlights the idea that as individuals we are all interested in very different things. From this we started to hear about the long tail . . .

If the Big Head, mass culture, promotes Britney Spears, the Long Tail offers ambient dub (a music style no one knows about), 80s hair metal bands that never made it on a tour and other seemingly obscure offerings.

So, the world of marketing heated up with talk of micro-marketing, niche marketing and plenty of other adjectives that describe small + marketing.

Chris Anderson of Wired even wrote an entire book on the Long Tail; it was a phenomenal success. Supposedly you could produce and market a wide variety of long tail items and make even more money than subjecting yourself to the massive competition of the big head. Yeah for the little guy!

NicheWith all the talk about how powerful marketing could be now that marketers can essentially offer mass customization, we forgot to look at the data. So let’s do that now.

Charles Blow reports in the NY Times that:

“A study last year conducted by members of PRS for Music, a nonprofit royalty collection agency, found that of the 13 million songs for sale online last year, 10 million never got a single buyer and 80 percent of all revenue came from about 52,000 songs. That’s less than one percent of the songs.”

If that doesn’t demonstrate the Pareto principle or Zipf’s curve, I’m not sure what else could. Ten Million never got a sale. If you owned all 10 million of the long tail songs, you had amazing ability to capitalize on the Long Tail, but you made ZERO dollars. Indeed, the irony is, if you owned all 10 million long tail songs plus 1-2 very popular songs, the record industry would attempt to shut you down for monopoly . . . as long as you have nothing popular in your catalog, they aren’t paying attention to you. Because, they know….

The Big Head wins.

You want to be #1.

We reward #1 with our dollars disproportionately. Look at sales for Vanilla Ice Cream. Almost 30% of all ice cream sales are vanilla. Never mind the 31 flavors available, people overwhelmingly reach for #1. Chocolate ice cream sits in second place and earns 8% of all sales. The top 4 flavors account for more than 50% of all ice cream sales.

Think again before you offer Apricot ice cream with chocolate bits and vitamin wafers….

Look at search results on google. How many times do you click on the second page of results? How about the 40th page? Ever?

googleSERPBeing in spot #10 on that first page of google is actually better than being in spots 5-9, because so few people want to click on the second page that they click on choice #10 of the first page rather than roll to page 2. Searchers are desperate to get out of the search engine results pages and into an authority site. So if the first few 1-3, sometimes 4, entries didn’t get them excited, they will scroll that first page. But they will make a choice among those first page items.

It varies by search term, but searchers overwhelmingly chose the first search result: 55-75%. For the top 3 search results expect 85%. Search result 10, the desperation click, can garner 8-10% of clicks leaving very little for results 4-9 to split. We disproportionately reward #1.

Big head + short tail + lots of junk.

The Long Tail isn’t dead, it just isn’t very long.

**I sold a set of not-totally-awesome kitchen knives to someone in Australia! He paid as much for shipping as he did for the knives. I had written a clever story about the adventures the knives had almost had, dinner parties the knives almost served…. I suspect he purchased the long tail writing effort more than the knives.

Image courtesy of Tim Wilson