When I was in graduate school, I got a heavy dose of systems thinking. The basic idea is to take a problem, break it apart, and build it up. Let’s say I’m building a house. The house clearly is a system unto itself but we can also break it into subsystems — like plumbing. Plumbing is a logically coherent system with specified inputs and outputs. We can further deconstruct plumbing into more specific subsystems, like sewage versus potable water. As we deconstruct systems into subsystems, we look for linkages. How does one subsystem contribute to another? How do they build on each other?
We can also build upward into larger systems. The house, for instance, is part of a neighborhood which, in turn, is part of a city. The neighborhood also has wastewater systems and electrical systems that the house needs to connect to. If I want to get my mail delivered, it also needs an address — part of a much larger system of geographic designators.
It turns out that systems thinking is a pretty good way to build computer programs. A subroutine that calculates your sales tax, for instance, has specified inputs and outputs. It’s not logically different from a plumbing system. In either case, we start with a problem, break it down, build it up, and find a solution that fits with other systems. Note that we start with a problem and end with a solution.
When Elliot went to architecture school, he got a heavy dose of design thinking. He’s now light years ahead of me. (Isn’t it great when your kid can teach you stuff?) I still find design thinking challenging. I think that’s because I was so heavily invested in systems thinking. Frankly, I didn’t realize how much systems thinking influenced my perspective. It’s like culture. You don’t recognize the deep influence of your own culture until you visit another culture and make comparisons. As I learned design thinking, I realized that there is a whole different way of seeing the world.
The trick with design thinking is that you begin with the solution and work your way backward to the problem. What a concept! Here’s what Wikipedia says:
“…the design way of problem solving starts with the solution in order to start to define enough of the parameters to optimize the path to the goal. The solution, then, is actually the starting point.”
And here’s what John Christopher Jones says in his classic book, Designing Designing:
“The main point of difference is that of timing. Both artists and scientists operate on the physical world as it exists in the present …Designers, on the other hand, are forever bound to treat as real that which exists only in an imagined future and have to specify ways in which the foreseen thing can be made to exist.”
Why would a business person be interested in design thinking? After all, most B-schools (and computer science programs) teach systems thinking. Unless you’re an architect, isn’t that enough? Well…. I’ve noticed that a lot of leading business thinkers now include designers on their teams. In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that A.G. Lafley of Procter & Gamble had designers (from IDEO) in his coterie of advisors. Similarly, was Steve Jobs more of a business genius or a design genius? Design thinkers give us a different way of looking at the world. Maybe we should take them more seriously in business.
Do you forget stuff? Yeah, me too. It makes it harder to be innovative.
The trouble is that innovative ideas don’t come all polished up and wrapped in a pretty bundle. When a creative person describes her process, it may seem that innovative new ideas arrive in a flash of insight. That’s a nice way to tell a story but it’s not really the way it happens.
In truth, innovation is more like building a puzzle — when you don’t know what the finished piece is supposed to look like. You collect a piece here and a piece there. Perhaps, by putting them together, you create another piece. Then, a random interaction with a colleague supplies another piece — which is why random interactions are so important.
Each piece of the puzzle is a “slow hunch” in Steven Johnson’s phrase. You create a piece of an idea and it hangs around for a while. Some time later — perhaps many years later — you find another idea that just happens to complete the original idea. It works great if, and only if, you remember the original idea.
In previous posts on mashup thinking, I may have implied that you simply take two ideas that occur more or simultaneously and stick them together. But look a little closer. One of my favorite mashup examples is DJ Danger Mouse, who took the Beatle’s White Album and mashed it up with Jay Z’s Black Album to create the Grey Album, one of the big hits of 2004. But how long was it between the White Album and the Black Album? Well, at least a generation. I remember the White Album but not the Black Album. I think our son is probably the reverse. Neither one of us could complete the idea. DJ Danger Mouse’s originality comes from his memory. He remembered a “slow hunch” — the White Album — and mashed it into something contemporary.
So, how do you remember slow hunches? By writing them down. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I started this blog — so I won’t forget good ideas. I can now go back and search for ideas that I thought were important several years ago. I can recall them, put them together with new hunches, and perhaps create new ideas.
I like to read widely. I’m hoping that ideas — both old and new — will collide more or less randomly to create new ideas. Unfortunately, I often forget what I read. With this blog, I now have a place store slow hunches. And, since it’s public, I’m hoping that you’ll help me complete the cycle. Let’s get your random ideas colliding with my random ideas. That will help us both remember, put our hunches together, and come up with bright new ideas. Sounds like a plan. Now we just need to remember to stick with it.
I created this website in 2011 to write about issues related to innovation, creativity, branding, strategy, organizational development, change management, persuasive communication, critical thinking, rhetoric and anything else about human affairs that seems interesting. I got serious about the site last May when I started my weekly newsletter. My goal is to write something interesting, useful, or just funny every business day. Each Wednesday, I send out a newsletter summarizing the week. I’ve been at it for 36 weeks now.
The new year seems like an opportune time to summarize my most popular posts from 2012. I’m still learning what’s popular and what’s not. I write 300 to 500 words per day and I love it when hundreds of people read what I’ve written. Here are the most popular posts in 2012. If you have suggestions for 2013, I’m all ears.
Developing a Habit of Innovation — five specific habits and modes of thinking that can help you be more innovative.
Branding: Why Buy Eyeballs That Won’t Buy? — many CEOs want their companies to become household names, even though most households will never buy their product. What’s the point of spending money to build mindshare if those minds are not going to buy?
90 Days of Anger — why do politics make us so angry? Because politicians want us to be angry. Anger motivates action better than any other emotion. If you’re angry, you’ll donate money, recruit friends, run telethons and so on. If you’re not angry, you’ll just sit on the couch. Politicians use attributed belittlement to make sure that you stay angry.
Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast — let’s say that you need to change your company’s strategy. If you change it in ways that conflict with the corporate culture, the strategy is doomed to fail. When it’s culture versus strategy, culture always wins. Always.
Did Mitt Romney Read My Blog? — when should you not attack your opponent? When you know that your audience likes or admires or respects your opponent. If you launch an attack on a popular person (or product), you’ll look like the bad guy, not them. It’s the difference between a debate and a battle — you can read more about it here.
The Persuasive Future — one of my earliest posts (check out the sweater) and still one of the most visited. You’ll never win an argument in the past tense. Learn how to be more persuasive by shifting to the future tense.
Moderating the Extremes — your friend is absolutely convinced that she’s right and everybody else is wrong. How do you get her to listen to another point of view?
Multitasking Is A Myth — stop beating yourself up. You can’t really multitask. But you can do fast, sequential tasking. Sometimes you get stuck, however, which is why you should never mention sex in a speech.
Leadership and Motivation — who said, “When I realized that men were willing to die for bits of colored ribbon, I knew I could rule the world.”? And how does that make you a good leader?
Bring Your Husband to Heel — can you train your husband the same way you train a dog? Sure you can!
Innovation and Dogs — what can dogs teach us about innovation? Hold the leash lightly. (Bonus: a precious picture of our dog, Bella).
Christmas – Deadliest Day of the Year — why is Christmas the deadliest day of the year in the United States? Maybe it’s not because of what we do but rather how we think.
Are Older People Wiser? — it seems that they are. Why would that be? Because they forget stuff.
I should have said … — have you ever thought of a perfect comeback…hours after you needed it? Watch this.
Seduction — do you want to be more seductive? Of course you do. Here are six ways.
Last week, I tweeted about the ability of golfers to make putts under different conditions. I claimed that even the best golfers have a loss aversion bias. Therefore, they’re more accurate when putting for par than for birdie. If they miss a par putt, they wind up with a bogey — a painful experience. If they miss a birdie, on the other hand, they often get a par — not so bad. The pain of getting a bogey is greater than the pleasure of getting a birdie. That’s pretty much the definition of the loss aversion bias.
Several of my friends who are golfers suggested that I don’t know what I’m talking about. For instance, my buddy Nick Gomersall wrote, “When you putt for a birdie you are more relaxed, nothing to lose and you stroke it in. Now when you putt for par you have negative thoughts as you think what happens if you miss and you put a bad stroke on it.” Nick is an excellent golfer and an all-round good guy but he’s wrong.
Here’s a link to a 2009 article on the topic, “Avoiding the Agony of a ‘Bogey”: Loss Aversion in Golf — and Business“. The authors, Devin Pope and Maurice Schweitzer, gathered data on 2.5 million putts taken in 239 PGA tournaments between 2004 and 2009. They note that “par” is an excellent divider between gain and loss. Better-than-par is a gain; worse-than-par is a loss. Loss aversion theory says losses are felt more deeply than gains. Thus, a bogey should bring more pain than a birdie brings pleasure. A golfer should try harder to avoid a bogey than to achieve a birdie.
And, that’s exactly what happens. The authors conclude, “…on average, golfers make their birdie putts approximately two percentage points less often than they make comparable par putts. This finding is consistent with loss aversion; players invest more focus when putting for par to avoid encoding a loss ….” Pope and Schweitzer used a number of statistical analyses to control for variables such as distance from the hole, the player’s overall skill, confidence, nervousness, and so on. The only explanation seems to be loss aversion.
Loss aversion is essentially an illogical bias. Why does it occur? According to Schweitzer, “”Loss aversion is the systematic mistake of segregating gains and losses — evaluating decisions in isolation rather than in the aggregate — and over-weighting losses relative to gains…”
Golf, it seems, can teach us a lot about business and finance. To avoid loss aversion, you need to look at the big picture. In golf, that means your position in the tournament rather than your position on the green. In investing, that may mean focusing on your entire portfolio rather than the gains or losses of an individual stock on an individual day. As Monty Python points out, “Always look on the bright side of life.”