Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Sun, 17 May 2015 19:05:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Food Mashups: from cronuts to totchos http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 19:05:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5189 It might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it...

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TotchosIt might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it now represents $2B in revenue and more than 20% of Starbuck’s coffee sales.

While I wasn’t a fan of the drink, I was amused by the name – since I’m a fan of words, I liked that it was a portmanteau. Before Starbucks, the only other portmanteau food I had ever heard of was turducken; the turkey, duck, chicken hybrid.

And then two years ago, cronuts (croissants & donuts) stormed onto the scene. They were trendy and delicious. Amazingly, they are still popular. They’ve also spawned a legion of hybrid food portmanteaus:

  • Birizza (biryani pizza)
  • Bronut (brownie & donut)
  • Brookie (brownie & cookie)
  • Cragel (croissant & bagel)
  • Cruffin (croissant & muffin)
  • Duffin (donut & muffin)
  • Flagel (flat bagel)
  • Frankaroni (crispy mac and cheese with a hot dog inside)
  • Moffle (mochi & waffle)
  • Pizzabon (pizza on a Cinnabon)
  • Pake (pie in a cake)
  • Sushirrito (sushi burrito)
  • Totchos (tater tot nachos)

Some of these sound like they would taste delicious and some – well – are creative names. It’s a smorgasbord of food mashups. You know, fashups.

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The Silver Salt Shaker Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 03:35:58 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5161 A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do? As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to...

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A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do?

As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to be upfront with her co-worker but allow him to remedy the situation. In other words, don’t back him into a corner.

To bring the point to life, I told a story attributed to Winston Churchill, the former prime minster of Great Britain:

During dinner for Commonwealth dignitaries, the chief of protocol approached Churchill and quietly informed him that a distinguished guest had slipped a silver salt shaker into her pocket. Rather than confront the dignitary about the salt shaker, Churchill guided her out of earshot of the other guests and pulled out the matching pepper shaker from his pocket. “Oh dear,” he said in a guilty-sounding voice, “We were seen! Perhaps we’d better both put them back.”

Of course, the dignitary understood that Churchill knew the truth but was allowed to correct the wrong on her own.

I call this the Silver Salt Shaker effect. We know from research studies that people are more likely to choose the desired outcome when they believe they are choosing for themselves. In contrast, people are more likely to resist when they are told what to do. Anyone with a teenager witnesses this daily.

So the next time you have to confront someone in a delicate situation, remember Winston Churchill and invoke the silver salt shaker effect.

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This Ain’t My First Rodeo http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 04:49:29 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5116 A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied: This ain’t my first rodeo. If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for...

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A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied:

This ain’t my first rodeo.

If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for a situation and it doesn’t offer a significant challenge to you. Where I grew up, locals used a similar vivid expression:

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

In my experience, both expressions have a touch of sarcasm. They are often used when someone is being given unjustified and unwanted advice. Apparently my co-worker didn’t think the situation was particularly challenging.

Since I’m interested in the origin of phrases, I spent some time trying to figure out where the rodeo expression came from. The earliest instance I could find was from the 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, which chronicles the life of Joan Crawford. When told she is going to be removed from the Board of Directors of Pepsi, Faye Dunaway (the actress playing Crawford) responds “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” This classic scene is a fiery performance with strong language:

Who gets credit for inventing the rodeo phrase? The phrase isn’t in the book that the movie was based on and I couldn’t find any evidence this scene happened in real life. As such, the quote should probably be attributed to Frank Yablans, who wrote the screenplay.

For those of you who prefer an exact quote, I found it in the 1988 Judd family biography. From the book,

Naomi is not a shy woman; she has never claimed to be.
“I’m divorced and I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen the clowns,” as she put it “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

It’s a fantastic thought that Naomi Judd might have been channeling Faye Dunaway.

Now if I could only figure out where that turnip truck came from. Any ideas?

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What The Heck Is Antifragile? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/13/what-the-heck-is-antifragile/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/13/what-the-heck-is-antifragile/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 03:30:26 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5107 OK, an admission. I’ve been avoiding reading Antifragile, the latest but now three-year-old book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Nothing against Taleb; I follow him on twitter and really enjoyed his earlier books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. The buzz surrounding Antifragile was mixed. A friend of mine summed up his opinion in one word:...

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OK, an admission. I’ve been avoiding reading Antifragile, the latest but now three-year-old book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Nothing against Taleb; I follow him on twitter and really enjoyed his earlier books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.

The buzz surrounding Antifragile was mixed. A friend of mine summed up his opinion in one word: ‘Eh’. I still remember a withering review in the NY Times that included this sentence:

Unfortunately he delivers such lessons with bullying grandiosity and off-putting, self-dramatizing asides.

Ouch. But this weekend, I finally read Antifragile. Cover to cover. And I liked it. Not as much as the other two books but there’s plenty worth reading.

It starts with the concept of antifragile itself. It doesn’t just mean not fragile or unbreakable. Taleb uses it to refer to a category of things that get better with adversity and thrive in the face of chaos. That’s why the subtitle of the book is “Things That Gain from Disorder.”

The prototypical example is Hydra, the Greek mythological creature with many heads. When one head is cut off, two grow back in its place. A more commonplace example happens in the gym. When I lift weights, my muscles tear slightly. When they heal, I am stronger and can lift more weight. In fact, our entire bodies are antifragile. It’s estimated about 300 million cells in our body die every minute but our bodies adapt.

Smaller units tend to be more fragile than the larger, more complex systems of which they are part. Individuals are more fragile than families, families more fragile than communities. The same dynamic exists between neighborhoods, cities and countries.

Of course, not all communities and not all countries are equally antifragile. The Roman Empire may not have been built in a day but it didn’t last either. And yet Rome is still around.

So how does an organization become more antifragile?

Unexpectedly, it’s by stopping to try to protect it. Stability is not necessarily good. The longer we go without variations, without setbacks, without randomness, the worse the consequences will be when the unpredictable finally happens. In Taleb’s words,

Preventing noise makes the problem worse in the long run. […]

I have always been very skeptical of any form of optimization. In the black swan world, optimization isn’t possible. The best you can achieve is a reduction in fragility and greater robustness.

My interpretation? Taleb agrees with my assessment that “failure is the new black.” If you want to be antifragile, you have to be willing to make and embrace mistakes.

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If you lose, don’t be beaten http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/04/if-you-lose-dont-be-beaten/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/04/if-you-lose-dont-be-beaten/#comments Sun, 05 Apr 2015 00:42:23 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5092 On a recent transatlantic flight, I watched the movie Forever Strong which was “inspired by” incidents surrounding the Highland Rugby team in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the movie gets mixed reviews, I was intrigued enough by the story of Larry Gelwix, Highland’s head coach, that I decided to do a bit of research into...

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On a recent transatlantic flight, I watched the movie Forever Strong which was “inspired by” incidents surrounding the Highland Rugby team in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the movie gets mixed reviews, I was intrigued enough by the story of Larry Gelwix, Highland’s head coach, that I decided to do a bit of research into his story.

Gelwix coached the Highland Rugby team for 35 years, from its founding in 1976 until his retirement in 2011. During his tenure, Highland had an amazing 418 wins with only 10 losses – winning 20 of the 27 national rugby championships held. True to the movie, Gelwix was known to be a demanding coach and required the players to sign a non-negotiable honor code that contained behavior standards, including avoiding alcohol, tobacco and drugs. It’s been said he summarized this philosophy with the following quote:

I don’t build championship teams, I build championship boys.

Gelwix characterized his secrets to success through five principles:

  • staying away from things you know are wrong
  • horizontal leadership
  • attitude
  • effort
  • what’s important now (W.I.N.)

The last principle warrants further explanation. Gelwix advocated a kind of mindfulness for his players. Rather than worrying about mistakes they made during the last play or thinking about the next one, players are asked to be fully present in the moment and constantly decide what’s important to them.

Gelwix believed winning is determined by whether the players are focused on their own game or on their opponent’s game. If they start thinking about the other team, they lose focus and start playing to the other team’s strengths.  In other words, they lose rather than get beaten. In his words,

There is a difference between losing and being beaten. Being beaten means they are better than you. They are faster, stronger, and more talented.

Staying focused is as important in business as it is in rugby. As I’ve said before, prioritization is the key to high performance, and prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do.

Ask yourself, what’s important now and you will W.I.N.

 

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Quotes about Technology http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/29/quotes-about-technology/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/29/quotes-about-technology/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 06:12:20 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5078 In the past, I’ve compiled quotes about performance management and about failure. Here are some of my favorite ones about technology: “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.” Pablo Picasso, 1964 conversation with William Fifield about computers (source) “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate...

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In the past, I’ve compiled quotes about performance management and about failure. Here are some of my favorite ones about technology:

“But they are useless. They can only give you answers.”
Pablo Picasso, 1964 conversation with William Fifield about computers (source)

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Roy Amara, researcher and Past president of The Institute for the Future (source)

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic.”
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962)

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”
Stewart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT (1987)

“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”
Sydney J. Harris, Journalist (unverified)

“Today’s science is tomorrow’s technology.”
Edward Teller, The Legacy of Hiroshima (1962)

“Your brain may give birth to any technology, but other brains will decide whether the technology thrives. The number of possible technologies is infinite, and only a few pass this test of affinity with human nature.”
Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2001)

“For years there has been a theory that millions of monkeys typing at random on millions of typewriters would reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. The Internet has proven this theory to be untrue.”
Anonymous

And one that’s been my favorite since I moved to Silicon Valley 20 years ago:

Once a technology works, it’s already obsolete.

Anyone have any other technology quotes to add?

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March Madness Metrics: 2015 Edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/22/march-madness-metrics-2015-edition/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/22/march-madness-metrics-2015-edition/#comments Mon, 23 Mar 2015 01:26:43 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5051 It’s March Madness, Baby! Most readers will recognize this catch-phrase celebrating the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament whose opening rounds just concluded. The tournament includes 64 teams organized into four separate regions which play over three long weekends until deciding a champion. Some – including me – believe it’s the most exciting tournament in...

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It’s March Madness, Baby!

Most readers will recognize this catch-phrase celebrating the annual NCAA men’s college basketball tournament whose opening rounds just concluded. The tournament includes 64 teams organized into four separate regions which play over three long weekends until deciding a champion. Some – including me – believe it’s the most exciting tournament in all of sports, due to its history of close games and dramatic finishes.

While the term ‘March Madness’ is often used to describe the entire tournament, the opening four days which reduce the field from 64 teams to the so-called Sweet Sixteen usually produce the most drama. Over the 30 years with this tournament format, the four #1 seeds have never lost in the first round to their #16 seed opponent but the remaining seeds have not been nearly as stable. The #5 vs. #12 matchup has been particularly volatile with the 5-seed only winning 63.3% of the time. By comparison, the 6-seed has beaten the 11-seed more often, 65.8% of the time. The #8 vs. #9 is essentially a toss-up; in fact, the lower seeded team has won slightly more often.

With so many upsets, it’s tough to pick one that stands out but I’m partial to the 1991 semifinal game between UNLV and Duke. UNLV had won 45 games in a row and had beaten Duke by 30 points in the 1990 finals. But the Dukies — led by Christian Laettner — won 79-77. That game, and the infamous buzzer-beater against Kentucky the following year, sparked a generation of Duke and Laettner haters.

Speaking of Kentucky: they are on a 36-game win streak and are looking to avoid UNLV’s fate. They have decent odds. 18 teams have entered the NCAA tournament undefeated and 7 of them have won the national championship. Intriguingly Kentucky might meet Duke in the title game.

Some other tournament factoids:

  • This year, many people had all of the 1-seeds going to Final Four in their brackets but it’s only happened once before, in 2008. Villanova’s loss to NC State ensures it won’t happen in 2015 and marks the 14th time the top seed has lost in the second round.
  • How surprising is it that two 3-seeds lost in the opening round? Before this year, they were 102-18 (85%) and only two 3-seeds had lost in the first round over the last decade. However, it has happened before; two 3-seeds also lost in the opening round back in 1986.
  • There have been some amazing performances over the years. Austin Carr of Notre Dame scored a tournament record 61 points vs. Ohio on Mar 7, 1970. Loyola Marymount scored a record 149 vs Michigan twenty years later on Mar 18, 1990. The largest winning margin in the tournament is 69 points: Loyola Chicago defeated Tennessee Tech 111 to 42 in 1963.

The NCAA tournament has had a proud tradition since Villanova defeated Brown 42-30 in the very first game on March 17, 1939. Regardless of which team you root for, with so many upsets already this year, the tournament makes for an entertaining – an unpredictable – experience.

That’s the madness of March.

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We Don’t Recognize Our Own Biases http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/08/dont-recognize-biases/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/08/dont-recognize-biases/#comments Mon, 09 Mar 2015 00:06:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4991 During my career, I’ve run a variety of group exercises designed to identify ways we could improve group performance. Typically my teams can identify areas of improvement but believe the challenges are with other people, not themselves. They suffer from the bias blind spot. The bias blind spot is the cognitive bias of failing to...

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During my career, I’ve run a variety of group exercises designed to identify ways we could improve group performance. Typically my teams can identify areas of improvement but believe the challenges are with other people, not themselves. They suffer from the bias blind spot.

The bias blind spot is the cognitive bias of failing to compensate for one’s own cognitive biases. The term was coined by Emily Pronin, a Princeton social psychologist, who showed in a series of experiments that people rate themselves as less vulnerable to biases than the average person. In her words,

This “meta-bias” is rooted in our ability to spot systematic mistakes in the decisions of others—we excel at noticing the flaws of friends—and inability to spot those same mistakes in ourselves.

Study participants were told how a variety of cognitive biases work at the unconscious level. For example, the researchers explained that the better-than-average bias is the tendency of people to see themselves as above average for positive traits and less than average for negative ones. Despite this explanation, 63% of the participants insisted their self-assessments were accurate. Dilbert captured this sentiment perfectly:

© Scott Adams, Inc. http://dilbert.com/strip/2013-01-18

Pronin hypothesizes the bias blind spot is caused by a disconnect between how we evaluate ourselves and how we evaluate others. In the words of Jonah Lehrer in the New Yorker:

When considering the irrational choices of a stranger, for instance, we are forced to rely on behavioral information; we see their biases from the outside, which allows us to glimpse their systematic thinking errors. However, when assessing our own bad choices, we tend to engage in elaborate introspection. We scrutinize our motivations and search for relevant reasons; we lament our mistakes to therapists and ruminate on the beliefs that led us astray.

The bias blind spot is caused by another cognitive bias – the introspective illusion. People wrongly think they have insight into the cause of their own mental states which leads them to inaccurately predict how they will behave. In fact, further introspection usually makes the situation worse. Despite popular wisdom, the researchers claim “the more we attempt to know ourselves, the less we actually understand.”

Since I have an informal background in psychology, I wrongly assumed I would be less susceptible to the bias blind spot. In fact, increased awareness can cause increased bias. And before you think you’re smarter than that, here’s another unexpected finding: The bias blind spot seems to be even more pronounced with higher intelligence.

Smart people sometimes think they are smarter than they are.

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Scientific Advertising and its Impact on Sales http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/22/scientific-advertising-and-its-impact-on-sales/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/22/scientific-advertising-and-its-impact-on-sales/#comments Sun, 22 Feb 2015 21:31:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4979 If you’re not in the discipline of Marketing, you may not know there’s an on-going debate whether art or science is more important to producing good results. While there is clear evidence the pendulum has swung from Mad Men to Math Men, I’ve always believed both are required for true success. The real issue is...

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If you’re not in the discipline of Marketing, you may not know there’s an on-going debate whether art or science is more important to producing good results. While there is clear evidence the pendulum has swung from Mad Men to Math Men, I’ve always believed both are required for true success. The real issue is that the art and science of Marketing must come together and not be isolated disciplines.

In fact, this debate isn’t even really new. In 1923 Claude Hopkins wrote a book called Scientific Advertising which includes this passage:

[…] advertising is traced down to the fraction of a penny. The cost per reply and cost per dollar of sale show up with utter exactness. One ad is compared with another, one method with another.  Headlines, settings, sizes, arguments and pictures are compared. To reduce the cost of results even one per cent means much in some advertising. So no guesswork is permitted. One must know what is best.

That doesn’t really sound like Don Draper, does it?

Scientific Advertising might be the best book ever written on advertising. David Ogilvy himself allegedly said “Nobody should be allowed to have anything to do with advertising until he has read this book seven times. It changed the course of my life.”

Hopkins reminds us the only purpose of advertising is to make sales and that advertising fails when it’s designed from the seller’s point of view, rather than the buyer’s. In his words:

The reason for most of the non-successes in advertising is trying to sell people what they do not what. […] Ads are planned and written with some utterly wrong conception. They are written to please the seller. The interest of the buyer are forgotten. One can never sell goods profitable, in person or in print, when that attitude exists.

As a discipline, I worry we’ve forgotten that advertising is supposed to lead to sales. Too much of it feels like ad agencies just trying to demonstrate their creativity or one-up other agencies. All art, no science. And all too often, people remember the ad but forget the product.

Here’s a quick unscientific survey: think back to a Super Bowl ad you saw and ask yourself whether you’ve bought the product since then. Let me know in the comments.

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Self-Renewal and the Courage to Fail http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/16/self-renewal-courage-fail/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/16/self-renewal-courage-fail/#comments Tue, 17 Feb 2015 05:38:39 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4944 We are all faced with a series of great opportunities – brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems. February 16 is the anniversary of the death of John William Gardner, the author of that quote. Gardner was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the late 1960’s, founder of two influential U.S. organizations (Common Cause and Independent...

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We are all faced with a series of great opportunities – brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.

February 16 is the anniversary of the death of John William Gardner, the author of that quote. Gardner was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the late 1960’s, founder of two influential U.S. organizations (Common Cause and Independent Sector), and also the founder of two prestigious fellowship programs (The White House Fellowship and The John Gardner Fellowship at Stanford University).

Gardner authored several books on improving leadership in American society. My favorite is called ‘Self-renewal: The individual and the innovative society’ in which he claims organizations must use innovation as a way of renewing themselves. If the organization instead defends status quo as a preservation method, the exact opposite will happen: “the institution will rot, not thrive”.

Given my new role, I re-read the book over the last few weeks and came upon this startling text in a section called ‘Courage to Fail’:

One of the reasons why mature people are apt to learn less than young people is that they are willing to risk less. Learning is a risky business, and they do not like failure. In infancy, when the child is learning at a truly phenomenal rate—a rate he or she will never again achieve—he or she is also experiencing a shattering number of failures. […] See how little the failures discourage him or her.

With each year that passes, he or she will be less blithe about failure. By adolescence the willingness of young people to risk failure has diminished greatly. By middle age most of us carry around in our heads a tremendous catalogue of things we have no intention of trying again because we tried them once and failed — or tried them once and did less well than our self-esteem demanded.

Does appetite for risk really reduce with age? Here in Silicon Valley there is a commonly-held belief that all break-through start-ups come from people in their 20’s. Mark Zuckerberg famously once quipped, “Young people are just smarter,” although I think he meant less risk-averse. Lately I see signs this mentality is changing and an acknowledgement that innovation is an attitude, more than an age.

Regardless, it’s a good reminder for me and my team. With experience comes wisdom but also inherent biases. We need to challenge our own assumptions and not just those of others.

I’m re-instating a catchphrase I used earlier in my career: what got us here, won’t get us where we want to go.

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