December 16, 2008

One of the benefits of being a Fast Track student at Babson’s MBA school, is access to great professors like Tom Davenport. Professor Davenport runs the Working Knowledge Research Center at Babson. Recently, I was lucky enough to attend one their semi-annual conferences. Look out for lots of blog posts on my take aways from the event.

One of the most interesting discussions was provided by Cass Sunstein, professor from Harvard Law School. Professor Sunstein in collaboration with Richard Thaler has written a book Nudge. As Professor Sunstein described his efforts to get the book published, he initially called the book Libertarian Paternalism, which many book editors passed on. Eventually they called it Nudge and now I’m telling you that you must read it!

Libertarian Paternalism’s premise is that by architecting the choices that people are given, providing easy, one click opt-out and transparency throughout the process, populations and groups can be nudged into actions that are beneficial for them and society. For example:

  • Having employees automatically enrolled into a 401k plan when they joined the company as opposed to signing up for the plan, leads to more participants in the 401k program.
  • Save More Tomorrow plan – a percentage of an employee’s future pay increase is automatically put into a savings plan.
  • The key ideas to Nudge are:

  • Choice architecture: The default option has a huge effect on how many (or how successful) people participate.
  • Context & Framing: How the options are presented and supported are equally as important. For example, in a study conducted, people were asked whether they would have an operation if there was a 90% success rate, most elected the surgery. If they were told there was a 10% chance of death, most declined the surgery.
  • We each have two brains that take over depending on the context: The Homer Simpson brain and the Spock brain. The Homer brain has unrealistically high expectations of success, adds more weight to the probability of an event if you’ve already experienced it and weight short term decisions more than long term decisions. The Spock brain is high logical and calculating.
  • So what does all of this have to do with knowledge management? Well in my last post I spoke about Culture 2.0. Using the concepts in Nudge around architecting the choices that employees have in each area, I think you can improve the odds of success of building a Culture 2.0 program.



    April 27, 2007

    I just got done reading Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home by David Shipley and Will Schwalbe. A fantastic read on how to make the most of email. I, like most of you have used email for a long time, though I don’t think I ever went through some sort of formal class or training on how to write email. In school we learn about spelling, grammar, how to write an essay, research papers, how to footnote, reference and all manner of rules and styles around formal writing. But email it seems we take for granted.

    Its assumed that everyone knows the rules for using email and how to use it effectively. When was the last time you saw a class at your university or provided through your employer on writing effective email? It seems odd, because in today’s high tech world we spend large volumes of time in front of the computer writing email, using IM and texting.

    The authors of Send, David and Will, are editors for the NY Times and Hyperion Books respectively. Their book provides lots of insight and is written in a very easy to understand and humorous tone.

    One of the things I never used except on rare occasions was the Exclamation Point ‘!’. I always felt it tended to overstate things. However the authors think that because conveying affect in email is difficult, an exclamation point can help to make your email more human. For example ‘Thanks’ vs ‘Thanks!’ or ‘Hooray’ vs ‘Hooray!’. Without the exclamation point each word sounds kinda flat and almost sarcastic.

    There are lots of other such examples and tips in the book, so I highly recommend you read it if you use email for work, or for general correspondence with friends and family.

    Hard Work

    January 8, 2007


    At HDS there is a leadership book club that discusses a new leadership book once per month. A brief list of past titles includes “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership” by John C. Maxwell, “Who Moved My Cheese? An Amazing Way to Deal with Change in Your Work and in Your Life” by Spencer Johnson and The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness by Stephen R. Covey.

    This month the book was You Don’t Need a Title to Be a Leader: How Anyone, Anywhere, Can Make a Positive Difference by Mark Sanborn. Its a quick read at 102 pages, but with most business / leadership books, implementing or executing all of the ideas or even those you most relate too, takes time. The title pretty much sums up the theme of the book. That there are ways to demonstrate and practice leadership everywhere (not just at work, in fact its most often NOT at work). This is a recurring theme in most leadership books, and I hope its because the theme is true, and not because its an easy way to sells leadership books to those in non-managerial positions. “You don’t need to be a leader” and other books like it stress that Leadership takes many different forms in many different forums and that success is not guaranteed because of where you are on the corporate ladder. Leadership is defined in the book as influence, the ability to provide a vision, communicate it and persuade others to help you make it succeed. It has more to do with your effectiveness and I dare say ‘luck’ (although, there is no ‘luck’; I define luck as those people who work hard to put themselves in wining positions, to be at the right time and place and thus only seem lucky. All their hard work is mostly invisible to outside observers).

    Overall I would recommend the book for anyone looking to improve their Leadership IQ as its a minimal investment in time spent reading and instead you can focus your time an efforts on planning and executing, two far more important things, that will require hard work.

    In fact it seems that any project be it implementing a new Knowledge Management initiative at a company, improving your skills, learning a new language or other worthwhile activity will require hard work. Which is good news and bad. Bad is that it takes lots and lots of effort. Good in that it is possible even if you don’t have the immediate skills. This article from Fortune talks about the Secret to Greatness.

    The article’s summary says it all “The critical reality is that we are not hostage to some naturally granted level of talent. We can make ourselves what we will. Strangely, that idea is not popular. People hate abandoning the notion that they would coast to fame and riches if they found their talent. But that view is tragically constraining, because when they hit life’s inevitable bumps in the road, they conclude that they just aren’t gifted and give up. Maybe we can’t expect most people to achieve greatness. It’s just too demanding. But the striking, liberating news is that greatness isn’t reserved for a preordained few. It is available to you and to everyone.”

    So maybe the business improvement books aren’t just selling snake oil to make us feel better. There may be some truth to what they are telling us after-all. Its just that my goals may require a lot more hard work than they (or I) realize. What is it they say, ignorance is bliss?