The Stubbornness of Linear Thinking

Key Point: Thinking exclusively in straight lines gets in the way of innovative and exponential performance. A brilliant article by Bart de Langhe, Stefano Putoni, and Richard Larrick appeared in the May/June, 2017 issue the Harvard Business Review. Their conclusion:

“In recent years a number of professions, including ecologists, physiologists, and physicians, have begun to routinely factor nonlinear relationships into their decision making. But nonlinearity is just as prevalent in the business world as anywhere else. It’s time that management professionals joined these other disciplines in developing greater awareness of the pitfalls of linear thinking in a nonlinear world. This will increase their ability to choose wisely—and to help the people around them make good decisions too “

To make their point, they invite readers to test their linear thinking on the following puzzle:

“Imagine you’re responsible for your company’s car fleet. You manage two models, an SUV that gets 10 miles to the gallon and a sedan that gets 20. The fleet has equal numbers of each, and all the cars travel 10,000 miles a year. You have enough capital to replace one model with more-fuel-efficient vehicles to lower operational costs and help meet sustainability goals.

Which upgrade is better?

  1. Replacing the 10-MPG vehicles with 20 MPG vehicles.
  2. Replacing the 20-MPG vehicles with 50 MPG vehicle.

Intuitively, option B seems more impressive—an increase of 30-MPG is a lot larger than a 10-MPG one. And the percentage increase is greater, too. But B is not the better deal. In fact, it’s not even close. 

Shockingly, upgrading fuel efficiency from 20 to 100-MPG still wouldn’t save as much gas as upgrading from 10 to 20-MPG.

But choosing the lower-mileage upgrade remains counterintuitive, even in the face of the visual evidence. It just doesn’t feel right. If you’re still having trouble grasping this, it’s not your fault. Decades of research in cognitive psychology show that the human mind struggles to understand nonlinear relationships. Our brain wants to make simple straight lines.”

If you want the full-Monty on this concept, please read the entire article. I see the stubbornness of linear thinking in people all the time. However, the fact that our brain wants us to keep things on the “straight and narrow” can often hamper our ability to really challenge, experiment and explore. A non-linear thinker tends to embrace a myriad of unrelated thoughts that somehow connect in ways that might otherwise not have been evident. We know the world is getting faster, and more complex. As leaders, we have to intentionally nurture non-linear thinking within others and ourselves to discover novel approaches to daunting opportunities. 

Character Moves:

  1. Challenge yourself with questions like: What other perspectives are there? Who else is talking about this? How would ___ think about it? How might we___? Have we considered or thought of ___? 
  2. Ask people who have nothing to do with your business or who work in tangential fields how they might approach a problem. 
  3. Momentarily walk away from the problem and intentionally put yourself in a position to look at things from a completely different perspective. What do you see now?

Non-Linear in The Triangle,

– Lorne

One Millennial View: As the HBR article above states, it’s easier said than done, but tackling something from a new and different angle seems to be one of the greatest weapons Millennials have to make waves in a world that ceremoniously and uncreatively “re-tweets.” Go ahead, call another situation “____gate.” Photoshop another “Crying Jordan” meme for something obvious. Your initial results and “likes” might be gratifying, but in my opinion it’s so tired. Can’t we think a little non-linear and do a lot better than that?

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Singularity University and Abundance

Key Point: Acting with abundance is a way of life and in my view, THE only way. Those of you that have read my book The Character Triangle,” are aware that I emphasized this vital value of “Abundance,” seven years ago when I first wrote about it. It was very gratifying to attend Singularity University in Silicon Valley last week and to see the slide presented in the photo below. Singularity is a powerful voice of influence and impact regarding exponential thinking and adaptability performance. Organizations setting a breakthrough pace in the world are truly exponentially better than competitors. Abundance is a key value underlying Singularity and a necessary foundation for exponential performance. Note the way Singularity compares Scarcity versus Abundance: 

Singularity

I particularly want to point out the bottom column comparing thinking small versus having a 10x mindset. Scarcity people scoff at the idea of thinking 10x. They feel it’s unrealistic and get hung up on how literal the idea is, rather than accepting the “moonshot” inspiration as an accelerant. Subsequently, scarcity people get exactly what they think; small improvements of “sameness,” often copying whatever industry practice prevails. This leaves a big “hole” for a competitor, typically a disruptor, to find that innovative breakthrough. They bring the 10x thinking to life and all the “sameness” people stand together watching. 

Character Moves:

  1. If you don’t know about Singularity University, I strongly urge you to find out more about them. If you don’t know what exponential organizations are doing, you’ll learn when they consume your job/business. 
  1. Where are you on the Scarcity versus Abundance scale? Where is your organization on the same? Learn what being abundant really means from a behavioral perspective. If we all acted with an abundant framework, the entire world would be better from a personal and world viewpoint. 

Always Abundant in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: What a great comparative slide from Singularity University. It’s amazing how one could ever choose Scarcity over Abundance when the differences are that clear, but obviously many organizations do. If these were applied to personality traits, which person would you like to have dinner with? The Scarcity minded person, or the Abundance minded person? I’m making reservations with Abundance every time.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

What’s Better Than Being Smart?

Key Point: The ability to shift perspective is better than being smart. That’s the view expressed by Astro Teller, the leader who runs Google’s moonshot business, X. Chris McQueen, another Googler and the guy who leads Google’s Innovation lab, heads many of Google’s transformation and ideation sessions out of the famous “Google Garage.” He deftly makes this “perception” point by telling a story he shared with a number of us fortunate enough to spend a day with him this past week. 

A friend of McQueen’s is a crazy gear head and wanted to share that enthusiasm with his newborn infant by immediately hanging a car themed mobile over the crib. Surely the little one would be excited to view these bright, shiny vehicles and quickly begin a shared paternal love for the automobile. Much to his friend’s chagrin, the baby just never seemed to show any interest in the colorful, beautiful mobile. One day, the dad bent down to make up the crib and happened to see what the mobile looked like from the baby’s perspective. He was shocked to observe that instead of ogling, cooing, inspiring cars, the toys looked like a bunch of intertwined, unattractive sticks. It was nothing like the view from the top of the crib, or even from the side. His friend realized that the mobile was essentially for him and not at all interesting from the baby’s point of view. Hmm.

This simple, yet impactful little story reminds us when we want to deliver something of meaning to others, we have to be sure that we are looking from the perspective of the receiver or user. Otherwise, the service or product we offer is more often about us than them. During his workshops, McQueen emphasizes the only real way to deeply understand and achieve this valued actionable viewpoint, is to connect the user and their needs through observation and data. Doing this well results in actionable insight from the users’ perspective. This is often easier said than done and usually requires iterative work, including fast prototyping and testing before we invest (regardless of how well intended or how strongly we believe in our interpretation).

While I’m sharing “McQueen Nuggets,” I thought I’d provide another represented in his San Francisco “pothole” story. Chris asked us how we would prioritize fixing ALL the potholes in San Francisco (or any other place for that matter). This is under the assumption that it is not practical, feasible or economical to fix all of them at once. The obvious thing is to fill in the big ones that could cause harm or damage to people and transport. However, the next logical place would be to repair the holes that experience the most traffic. This simple and helpful guide is a principle many organizations could benefit from: Map the journeys your most valuable customers take and fix every pothole where they frequently travel! 

Character Moves: 

  1. Remember that you can add to your IQ significantly by being a naive and open learner; continuously and consciously lifting and shifting your perception. See things from every angle other than just where you are standing. Pay extra attention to the view of others/users you really want to meaningfully serve. 
  1. Map the journey of these users, smooth over the potholes of their roads most travelled, and you will be a friction, fixing genius. It is focused attention and priority more than just throwing resources at problems. 
  1. Become a Googler in attitude and action… You and I too can think Google X: It’s simple, possible, and still hard. 

Googley in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I think as Millennials, we thrive on user/customer generated feedback. We want to inquire about what “potholes” we can fix first. Thankfully, there’s always a great platform for this type of communication. But we also know the asphalt is always going to get torn up somehow, and need to be on the lookout. It’s a bumpy road out there, but if you learn how to navigate and adapt to the journey by asking those who frequent the commute, it’s a lot smoother.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Become a Sprinter at Any Age!

Key Point: Nike’s breakthrough slogan, “Just Do It,” was brilliant. It promoted and celebrated the principle of forward movement without seeking permission or being burdened by judgment. While all of us are not necessarily naturally great athletes, we are all athletic in the context of moving… “Doing it.” Trying something! The same concept applies to life and business overall if one opens themselves to the idea of celebrating the principles of prototyping or testing. So, in the spirit and inspiration of Nike, allow me to introduce you (if you haven’t already met) to the process described as the SPRINT! 

Too often we are bitten by the notion of perfection or burdened by the old fashioned limitations of traditional project management. There are numerous problems related to this way of thinking. Many times building to “perfection” involves a big investment of resources before testing or prototyping whether our idea or solution is workable. We assume “requirement gathering” is sufficient for product or service development, and eventually, production. Everything has to be “right” before we make a move to full production and often the first time a customer is really introduced to a product or service is when it’s offered to the market. The risk associated with this framework is that the size of the bet can become very big. Large investments of time and/or money connected to big bets on the risk reward continuum can be scary. We are better off under that scenario to stop or do nothing. Or we “bet the farm” and hope our market customer research was right and the eventual product is a reasonable facsimile of what we intended. This is where the SPRINT process comes into play. 

In the spirit of moving with speed and rigor, what if we embraced the learning of the folks at Google Ventures (GV)? At GV, they’ve run what they describe as sprints with companies like NestFlatiron Health, and Medium—to help them enter new markets, design new products, develop new features for millions of users, define marketing strategies, and much more. Over the last few years, teams around the world have adopted this system of sprinting. (They’re collecting their stories at SprintStories.com). In their book, naturally entitled SPRINT, the authors (Jake Knapp, John Zeratsky and Braden Kowitz) introduce a very detailed and specific five-day process for answering critical business questions through design, prototyping, and testing ideas with customers. They boldly and confidently describe it as a “greatest hits” of business strategy, innovation, behavior science, design thinking, and more.

Sprint

Character Moves: 

  1. The idea of more speed, agility, and rigor that dramatically improves the time and investment for a successful outcome has evoked much attention over the last few years. The five day print process developed by GV is just one of many such methodologies; most with common process elements (for example, agile/design thinking). The key thing is to learn the principles underlying these fast/agile processes and try testing them  (regardless of which process best suits you) BOTH in and out of work situations. 
  1. Try focused and fast testing/prototyping all kinds of stuff before making the big bet. This applies to whether you want to make fly fishing a hobby, start a business, or try out ideas in your work area, and more. Try sprinting! It’s aerobically and financially healthy. 

Sprinting in The Triangle,

Lorne 

One Millennial View: I like this concept. Nothing is worse than dwelling on an idea for too long and never executing. I don’t believe that in this day and age customers/clients will only accept a one-and-done pitch. The best ideas seem to be tested regularly, grow, evolve, change and develop a winning format through trial and error. Who performs better? The person who hits the track and sprints right away, or the one who puts off training because they’re spending a bunch of time and money saving up for the best running shoes? No matter what’s on their feet, I’m willing to bet the first one winds up in better shape.

– Garrett

Edited and published by Garrett Rubis

Lorne Rubis

Lorne Rubis

The constant in Lorne’s diverse career is his ability to successfully lead organizations through significant change. At US West, where he served as a Vice President / Company Officer, Lorne was one of only seven direct reports ...
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Confidence, Patti Smith and Dylan: Failing authentically

Breathe fire: Leading and inspiring ourselves

Asking for feedback: The why

Taking on a new role: Lorne's journey

Lessons from Dot: Integrating technology into workplace culture

 

The Character Triangle Companion

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The Character Triangle

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Character Triangle

Our character is exclusively ours. We define it by how we think and what we do. I believe that acting with Character is driven by what I call the Character Triangle.

What, exactly, is the Character Triangle (CT)?

The CT describes and emphasizes three distinct but interdependent values:

Be Accountable: first person action to make things better, avoiding blame.
Be Respectful: being present, listening, looking again, focusing on the process.
Be Abundant: generous in spirit, moving forward, minimizing the lack of.

Read more about the Character Triangle

 

Be Accountable

Be Respectful

Be Abundant

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