Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Wed, 25 Mar 2015 15:08:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 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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The Grammys Are Trending: A Look Back Over the Years http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/05/the-grammys-are-trending/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/02/05/the-grammys-are-trending/#comments Fri, 06 Feb 2015 05:38:46 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4926 The 57th Annual Grammy Awards, honoring excellence in the music industry, will be held Sunday February 8, 2015 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Grammys were originally called the Gramophone Awards which explains the gilded statues presented to the winners. According to legend, music executives created the Grammys in reaction to the rising...

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Grammy AwardThe 57th Annual Grammy Awards, honoring excellence in the music industry, will be held Sunday February 8, 2015 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Grammys were originally called the Gramophone Awards which explains the gilded statues presented to the winners. According to legend, music executives created the Grammys in reaction to the rising popularity of rock ‘n’ roll; by awarding only ‘quality’ music they hoped to control the public’s taste. It obviously didn’t work.

While the first Grammy ceremony had only 28 categories, this year there will be 83 of them. Luckily most of the awards will be handed out before the live broadcast; otherwise it would last even longer than 3 hours.

At the first award ceremony in 1959, Henry Mancini won Album Of The Year for The Music From Peter Gunn. You may not be old enough to remember the television series named Peter Gunn, but you will likely recognize its music: listen. I’m less confident you’ll recognize the Record of The Year; that was Volare by Domenico Modugno.

The Grammys provide a simple way to search the thousands of awards over the last 57 years. After a little analysis and some additional research, I discovered some interesting factoids:

  • Stevie Wonder has been awarded 28 Grammys; the most by a solo artist. He also has a Lifetime Achievement award. U2 has been honored with 22 Grammy awards; the most by any band.
  • Kanye West has won 21 Grammys, more than The Beatles, Barbra Streisand and James Taylor combined.
  • Christopher Cross is the only artist to have won the so-called “Big Four” in one year (Record/ Album/Song of the Year, and Best New Artist).
  • Elmo the Muppet has won three Grammys, including one for 1998’s Elmopalooza.
  • At 14 years old, LeAnn Rimes was the youngest person to win a Grammy. At 94, George Burns was the oldest.
  • In 1990, Sinead O’Connor won for Best Alternative Album but she refused her award in protest against the “extreme commercialism of the Grammys”.
  • In 1989, Milli Vanilli won for Best New Artist but were stripped of their Grammy when it was discovered that they were not the lead vocals on the record.
  • The longest title for a winning song is ‘The Wizard Turns On…The Giant Silver Flashlight And Puts On His Werewolf Moccasins” by The Flaming Lips.

And probably the most bizarre occurrence at the Grammys happened in 1998 during Bob Dylan’s live performance when a man danced on stage with the words “Soy Bomb” painted on his bare chest. After being removed by security, he explained: “Soy represents dense nutritional life. Bomb is, obviously, an explosive destructive force. So, soy bomb is what I think art should be: dense, transformational, explosive life.”

I wonder if anything that weird will happen this year. Watch #GRAMMYS

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Should you care about ‘I could care less’? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/26/i-could-care-less/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/26/i-could-care-less/#comments Mon, 26 Jan 2015 13:16:12 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4886 I could care less if you read this blog. Of course, I’m being partly sarcastic and partly ironic when I write that. Since words matter, language purists often point out the phrase ‘I could care less’ is illogical and even an “an ignorant debasement of language”. If you don’t care about something at all, then...

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I could care less if you read this blog.

Of course, I’m being partly sarcastic and partly ironic when I write that. Since words matter, language purists often point out the phrase ‘I could care less’ is illogical and even an “an ignorant debasement of language”. If you don’t care about something at all, then you cannot care less than you already do. The grammatically proper phrase is “I couldn’t care less”.

Check out UK comedian David Mitchell’s amusing rant on the topic:

Ben Zimmer, language columnist for The Wall Street Journal, writes that ‘could care less’ has become increasingly common in American speech over the last few decades. In fact, it’s estimated ‘could care less’ is used about five times more frequently than ‘couldn’t care less’.

While I’m not a fan of bad grammar, this construct isn’t unique. I can think of two other phrases which mean the same thing both with and without the word ‘not’ in them:

You know diddlysquat. You don’t know diddlysquat.

I can hardly wait. I can’t hardly wait.

Some language etymologists suggest these phrases emerged in the U.S. during the 1950’s to express sarcasm in the style of Yiddish humor. They point to other phrases like ‘I should be so lucky!’ which really means ‘I have no hope of being so lucky’ and ‘Tell me about it!’ which means ‘Don’t tell me about it, because I know all about it already’. My issue with this explanation is most people aren’t being sarcastic when they use the phrase ‘I could care less’.

So how did we get to this situation?

To me, the most plausible explanation comes from the linguist John Lawler who suggests the phrase ‘could care less’ lost the word ‘not’ through a process he calls negation by association. The most well-known example of this process happened in French. The phrase ‘je ne sais pas’ (which means ‘I do not know’ in English) evolved into the current colloquial phrase ‘je sais pas’. Even though the ‘ne’ (‘not’) is no longer there, the phrase didn’t change its meaning.

Is this really how it happened?  I know not but I couldn’t care less.

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Banished Words for 2015 http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/11/banished-words-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/11/banished-words-2015/#comments Sun, 11 Jan 2015 21:49:36 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4848 For 40 years in a row, the LSSU-Nation folks at Lake Superior State University have been curating a cra-cra list of “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”. During last week’s polar vortex, I hacked the entire 800+ word list to understand if the authors should swag for their skill...

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For 40 years in a row, the LSSU-Nation folks at Lake Superior State University have been curating a cra-cra list of “Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness”.

During last week’s polar vortex, I hacked the entire 800+ word list to understand if the authors should swag for their skill set in choosing words. My takeaway is they are just having fun – and doing a bit of friend-raising.

LSSU’s 2015 list of banished words are:

  • BAE
  • Polar VortexBanished 2015
  • Hack
  • Skill Set
  • Swag
  • Foodie
  • Curate
  • Friend-raising
  • Cra-Cra
  • Enhanced Interrogation
  • Takeaway
  • <anything>-Nation

I agree with most of this list but wonder about BAE. Other than Pharrell Williams himself, I don’t think most people over 40 would even know what it means. This begs the question of whether you can banish a word that hasn’t even been established.

Instead of BAE, I would offer up photo-bomb. What would you add?

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The Psychology of Wine Labels http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/04/psychology-wine-labels/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/01/04/psychology-wine-labels/#comments Sun, 04 Jan 2015 20:42:15 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4805 After multiple opportunities to do field research this holiday season, I’ve come to the conclusion most of us choose wine based on brand, rather than taste. Sure, many people have an oenophile friend who knows that a bottle of 1787 Château Lafite with the initials Th.J. etched on it sold for more than $150K. However, most of us...

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Happy New Year Wine

After multiple opportunities to do field research this holiday season, I’ve come to the conclusion most of us choose wine based on brand, rather than taste.

Sure, many people have an oenophile friend who knows that a bottle of 1787 Château Lafite with the initials Th.J. etched on it sold for more than $150K. However, most of us either stick with a few vintages we’re already familiar with or, when we want to choose a new wine, we make the decision largely based on the label. That’s right, the label.

According to David Schuemann of CF Napa Brand Design,

a carefully crafted label can make us think the bottle is way more expensive than it is, and it can boost our enjoyment of the wine itself.

In his new book, 99 Bottles of Wine: The Making of the Contemporary Wine Label, Schuemann reveals the strategy behind the company’s most successful packaging designs. The book contains a wide variety of photographs of some of the most eye-catching wine labels which, “tickle our subconscious and coerce us into grabbing a bottle off the shelf”. The book’s dust jacket unfolds to become the following poster which displays all of the wine bottles in the book:

99 Bottles of Wine

The general public needs explicit clues on what to expect from a wine so the entire bottle is designed to convince novices to buy it. For starters, bottles typically look $10 more expensive than they actually are. People associate simple uncluttered designs with high-end vintages and sophisticated flavors. Therefore, more expensive vintages have a single color background with only a simple logo.

For mass market wines, labels are colorful so they can compete for attention. As Schuemann says, “they’re whimsical in a clever way. And we’ll still add a bit of gold foil to show the quality.” The foil helps beginners know what flavors to expect; red means berries, yellow is buttery and green implies tropical flavors. And, of course, the descriptions on the back of the bottles are usually less about the wine itself and more about the experience you will have drinking it.

Academic research shows this effort pays off. In Customer Sense: How the 5 Senses Influence Buying Behavior, Professor Aradhna Krishna explains the brain’s pleasure centers are more active when people think they are drinking $90 wine than $5 wine, even if the two are really identical. The flowery writing on the back of the bottle also works:

if the description on the back makes you imagine the wine’s fruity bouquet and the way it feels in your mouth, then the taste will be enhanced and consumption goes up.

So the next time you reach for an impulse buy of a bottle of wine, go ahead and choose by the label. It may or may not be a great wine but you’re likely to be entertained.

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Time Magazine’s Best of 2014 http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/12/28/time-magazines-best-2014/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/12/28/time-magazines-best-2014/#comments Sun, 28 Dec 2014 21:24:45 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4768 It’s that time when most articles are either about the best of the year that is ending or predictions/resolutions for the year that is about to start. Given I’m not a big fan of New Year’s predictions or resolutions, I thought I would create a “Best of 2014”. As I was doing some research, I...

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Best of 2014It’s that time when most articles are either about the best of the year that is ending or predictions/resolutions for the year that is about to start. Given I’m not a big fan of New Year’s predictions or resolutions, I thought I would create a “Best of 2014”.

As I was doing some research, I stumbled upon Time Magazine’s 25 Best Inventions of 2014. I like their list – and it saved me quite a bit of work – so I’m recreating it here:

  1. The Real-Life Hoverboard
  2. The Supersmart Spacecraft
  3. A Reactor that Could Realize Nuclear Fusion
  4. Wireless Electricity
  5. 3-D-Printed Everything
  6. Watches that Redefine Smart
  7. The Smartphone that Puts Privacy First
  8. The Cooler that Powers Your Party
  9. The Chip that Stops Your Slouching
  10. The Car that Makes Electric Enticing
  11. The Tablet that Replaces Laptops
  12. The Ring that Alerts You in Style
  13. The Pillbox that Gets Personal
  14. Bananas that Prevent Blindness
  15. The Wheel that Gives Bikers a Boost
  16. The Seamless Sign-Language Translator
  17. The Filter that Fights Ebola
  18. The Selfie Stick (and Hairbrush)
  19. The AC that Lowers Your Energy Bills
  20. The Prison Room that Helps Inmates Relax
  21. The Tablet Toy that Gets Physical
  22. The Coaching Basketball
  23. Wrappers You Can Eat
  24. Screens that Showcase Digital Art
  25. Action Figures that Empower Girls

Each of these inventions are a breakthrough in their own right but will have a different impact on the world and on me personally. The kid in me is partial to the Hendo Hoverboard (Back to the Future is real!) but at $10,000 I don’t think I will pre-order one. I am probably most intrigued by the WiTricity (wireless electricity) technology which can already power devices from as far away as 8 feet (2.4 meters). Constant connectivity and non-stop power would certainly change the way we all work.

Which invention do you think is the best of 2014?

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Rudolph and the reality of reindeer http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/12/22/rudolph-reality-reindeer/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2014/12/22/rudolph-reality-reindeer/#comments Tue, 23 Dec 2014 05:23:28 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=4756 Parents: don’t let your children read this article… Reindeer are so closely associated with Santa Claus that many people assume they don’t really exist. Unlike Kris Kringle, reindeer are real and are indigenous to the Nordics, northern Russia and China, Canada and Alaska. Oh yes, and the Arctic – home of the North Pole. Most people...

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ReindeerParents: don’t let your children read this article…

Reindeer are so closely associated with Santa Claus that many people assume they don’t really exist. Unlike Kris Kringle, reindeer are real and are indigenous to the Nordics, northern Russia and China, Canada and Alaska. Oh yes, and the Arctic – home of the North Pole.

Most people believe reindeer and caribou are the same animal but a genetic analysis published in Nature Climate Change shows they are different, but closely related. In the words of Don Moore, a wildlife biologist for the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, reindeer are a “mostly-domesticated race of caribou.” Unfortunately their population is in severe decline – perhaps as much as 60%.

The myths surrounding reindeer obscure reality.

Reindeer can’t fly but they can swim up to six miles per hour. They partly owe their swimming skills to their coat. The hair that makes up a reindeer’s coat is hollow, trapping air, which provides insulation for warmth and buoyancy for swimming.

Rudolph’s shiny red nose was designed to guide Santa’s sleigh but it may not have been needed. Researchers at University College London discovered reindeer are the only mammals that see ultraviolet (UV) light. As the lead researcher said, “reindeer can not only see ultraviolet light but they can also make sense of the image to find food and stay safe. Humans and almost all other mammals could never do this.”

By convention, we leave cookies and milk for Santa. To give Santa the strength to make it around the world in one day, the milk should probably be from reindeer. Reindeer milk is 20% butterfat and 11% protein; in comparison, cow’s milk is only 4% fat and 3% protein.

Oh, and one more thing. Of the more than 45 species of deer, only female reindeer grow antlers. Since males shed their antlers in early Winter while females shed theirs in the Spring, the odds are Santa’s sleigh is powered by females.

Maybe Rudolph should have been called Rudelle.

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