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Senator McCain, CEO Tim Cook, Apple, Fashion, and God

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Yesterday I caught some of the Senate hearings on Apple avoiding paying taxes.  The issue of taxes aside, something that Senator McCain said gives great insight into his personality and perhaps a generation.

Senator McCain to the Apple CEO, Tim Cook:

Sir, there’s only one thing I really wanted to ask you today. Why do I keep on having to update all the apps on my iPhone? Can’t you guys fix that already?

Can’t you fix it?
Once and for all…
So I don’t have to get these updates…

Tim Cook replied that  McCain’s iPhone got updates because Apple is making things better all the time.

The Static, Finished Universe

John McCain, like many, thinks in terms of a “static universe”.  Things  should work in a certain way and then stay that way forever.  Change is bad; I am satisfied what with I have; why change it?

Perhaps such an idea is generational.  McCain is of the generation who have one career, work at one place their entire life, and defend the status quo at all costs no matter what.  I meet these people all the time in just about every organization.

Pre-rational belief systems

Henry Ford once said, “If you think you can or think you can’t – you’re right”

The idea is that your attitude has a direct effect on outcomes.  If you think the World is static then it is; if you think it’s not then it’s not.  These sorts of decisions are pre-rational.  The outcome will be what your pre-conceived ideas make it.  You make your own Reality.

God’s perfection

Perhaps we have been influenced too much by the traditional Christian theological position of the perfection of God.  The idea that God, in his/her perfection is “changeless”.  This is pure metaphysics.  Why should “changelessness” be perfection?  In the 13th century St Thomas Aquinas brought Aristotle’s metaphysics into the Catholic tradition.  That’s the long and short of it.

A different idea

If you saw the movie The Social Network about Mark Zuckerberg and the creation of Facebook then perhaps you remember this scene in the movie.  Someone asks Zuckerberg this question, “When will Facebook be finished?”

Zuckerberg replies, “Facebook is like fashion, it will never be finished.”

It’s matter of perspective – and it makes all the difference in the world.

Like fashion, nothing should be finished.  No idea, no concept, no product, no innovation, no organization,, and even your career – should never be finished.  There is no life when one is finished.

The Take

McCain is probably not alone.  Fix this software and be done with it.  To change something implies that it’s broken.

Fashion is not  broken.  Innovation is only broken when it stops changing.

Traditional Theology got a shock in the 20th century by Process Theology.  That movement in theology in the 1950’s “outted” traditional theological debt to Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas in the notion that “changless” is some sort of perfection.

Shocking as it might seem, the Process Theologians held that “God’s future is open”.  God is not static and not finished.

As the McCain and Cook short exchange demonstrates, just about every organization, every government, and every social context is a collision between those who want to stop the world and those who want to change the world.  Exchanges like McCain-Cook demonstrate how people differentiate themselves in thier pre-rational belief systems about change and what it implies.

There are insights every day about how people think, if you know where to look. Hopefully, McCain and Cook learned something interesting about themselves and their view of the world in this exchange.  And now you know it too.

Insights from the difference between Jazz and Classical Music

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I recently attended a week long conference.  As part of the conference group dinners were planned for Thursday evening at a nearby restaurant. This is always a good opportunity to have some good dinner conversation late into the evening.  The key is to find the right dinner partners.

Finding the right dinner partners is part plan and part serendipity. Some people I knew only by reputation. This was a business conference. But, the real find are those people who have interests, knowledge, expertise, and insights that would go far beyond the tip of the iceberg that were the planned topics of the conference.

Snagging the right dinner partners

I worked a bit to snag a table with a woman who I discovered, quite by accident, was a professional classical musician.   The conference had nothing to do with music. I know nothing about music.  I am 100% a consumer of music – I am not a producer of music nor do I have any musical ability whatsoever.  To me, music is like magic. Who better to share a dinner table with than a trained professional classical musician?  I would be in the company of someone, who for me, did something I could not do and found to be  incomprehensible.

Professional classical musicians & Jazz artists

So, as luck would have it, the table of dinner partners had an extended conversation about music. During the conversation we found out that the woman who was trained and performed classic music had a husband that was a jazz musician. Further, she informed us, he could not read music.  As if the gods were playing a joke in a marriage she informed us that she could not play without sheet music. For a musical family, what an interesting combination.

One other person at the conference picked up on this difference between classical and jazz musicians and related it to innovation. She wrote this on an internal corporate blog.

I agree jazz is a good metaphor for innovation. I’m not an expert on jazz, but I am a jazz fan. This is how I see it. Jazz has a basic framework for the music: a key signature (so notes will harmonize), a meter (a beat or cadence to set the speed of collaboration), and a basic melody line (that sets the theme). Within that framework, jazz musicians improvise to enhance the melody. Every musician will hear it and play it a little differently and all will contribute to a wonderful collaboration of sound called jazz. It can be relaxing or driving. It can be stimulating or sad (blues), but it is always an expression of the minds creating it. Many variations are produced, depending on who is playing and interpreting the tune.

Such is the case with innovation. With a framework as a guide, we “open our minds” to new ideas and concepts that could create a whole new offering. We generate new ideas individually and then collaborate to shape them into something special. For the ideas that don’t bear fruit, we simply enjoy the stimulating process and remember and learn from the experience and then move on and try again. Remember, Edison successfully discovered 99 times what would not work before he invented the light bulb.

Another person responded with this…

Following on with the similarity with Jazz which I absolutely agree with. It also demonstrates why some musicians are great at jazz with all the improvisations whereas many professional musicians would stay away from it and keep to formally composed music. So just because you can play music doesn’t mean you can do both.

In any company we  must recognise that many individuals will be much “better” in either an innovative or standard environment

The real secret of LEGO’s, Tinker Toys, and Erector Sets

We can go a bit further with analogies of innovation.  It applies to Tinker Toys, Lego blocks, Erector Sets, and the like.  The key to the success of these toys are the pictures of what a child can build with these toys.  Without a picture of what can be built many children don’t really know what to do with these things and lose interest.  (See note below)

The Take

Some people can “make something out of nothing”.  These are the jazz musicians, kids that successfully play with Lego blocks, tinker toys, and Erector sets, without a diagram.  These people are also the innovators and entrepreneurs in business.

Other people need the sheet music, the script, or the diagram and the orchestra leader (manager) to get their work done.

The key is to realize that people are very different in their natural capabilities and talent.  To put sheet music in front of a jazz musician would be as unnatural as trying to make a professional classical musician improvise.

The insight, for a company is this.  Sort these people out – play to an individual’s natural strength.  Don’t expect an innovator to play by the rules.  Don’t expect people who need sheet music to perform without a very explicit plan in front of them and someone to orchestrate and manage the performance.

Written by frrl

June 14, 2012 at 5:03 am

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Why (Can’t we) ask why? Questions over answers

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Seth Godin came up with a good list of questions (read the blog entry)

Why ask why?

“Why?” is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.

Hint: “Because I said so,” is not a valid answer.

Why does it work this way?
Why is that our goal?
Why did you say no?
Why are we treating people differently?
Why is this our policy?
Why don’t we enter this market?
Why did you change your mind?
Why are we having this meeting?
Why not?

That’s a good set of questions.  Those are questions you ask inside an organization.  How about some questions that you ask about an organization and what it does.  Here are few that comes to mind, not asked nearly enough.  They are about positioning, structure, and assessment.

  • Where is our industry headed?
  • What are we / can we be the very best at?
  • What should we invest in?
  • What is the best operating model that supports this?
  • Who are the best leaders to put in place?
  • What are the best metrics of our success and how do we measure them?
  • What compensation and incentive systems support this?
  • How do we continually monitor our progress and make adjustments?
  • ( rinse, repeat – often, according to the clockspeed of our industry/business – the world)

In Seth’s set of questions, if you hear “Because, I said so” it’s a clear giveaway that you are in an environment dominated by political decision-making.  In these environments it’s more important that someone gets their way as opposed to linking the decision to some measurable goal of the organization.  In short, it’s about the demonstration and exercise of power rather than making the right decision for the organization’s stakeholders. (Why do some people make decisions to their own benefit when they know they undermining the organization’s stakeholders in doing so?  Read some insights from clinical psychologist Martha Stout Ph.D regarding the “organizational bully” here. )

The second set of questions isn’t about political power, it’s about positioning.  These questions are not asked frequently enough in a world of continuous change and opportunity.  (One of my favorite answers from an entrepreneur when asked about his business model…. “You know that blind spot that you have when you’re driving.. that’s where we are”.  Perhaps Borders Books and BlockBuster should have paid more attention to their blind spot to discern the likes of Amazon and Netflix.  But now, this ability to see the blind spot or to “see around corners” is no longer needed by those companies – they are out of the race. Read more)

Teaching answers – not questions.

Today in schools we teach kids to show up on time, leave on time, memorize facts, be able to recall those facts on standardized tests, and to not question authority.  It seems the perfect factory process to turn out factory workers that … show up on time, leave on time, do their work and only their work, and not question the boss or the company.  The perfect factory education for the early 20’th century Industrial Age.

But what do we need now?  Perhaps a focus on a new set of skills.  What moves the world?

Can Innovation be taught?

Shouldn’t we be teaching our kids to be innovators as opposed to factory workers?

Gregersen and co-authors Clayton M. Christensen (professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School) and Jeff Dyer (professor of strategy at Brigham Young University’s Marriott School), believe that roughly two-thirds of the skills it takes to innovate can be learned. They point to historical research findings that concluded 25-40% of human innovation stems from genetics as evidence.

What are the skills for innovation?

In their own research involving hundreds of innovators and thousands of entrepreneurs, managers and executives from around the world, Gregersen, Christensen and Dyer boiled the formula of innovation down to five key skills:

  • Questioning allows innovators to challenge the status quo and consider new possibilities;
  • Observing helps innovators detect small details — in the activities of customers, suppliers and other companies — that suggest new ways of doing things;
  • Networking permits innovators to gain radically different perspectives from individuals with diverse backgrounds;
  • Experimenting prompts innovators to relentlessly try out new experiences, take things apart and test new ideas;
  • Associational thinking — drawing connections among questions, problems or ideas from unrelated fields — is triggered by questioning, observing, networking and experimenting and is the catalyst for creative ideas.

The take

Do we teach any of the above in schools?

When I was a kid I used to watch Jeopardy.  At the time, me and everyone else thought that those folks on Jeopardy were the smartest people in the world.  But were they?  What they could do is memorize a vast collection of facts and recall them on demand.  Did we think that was intelligent or smart or showed a capability that would make them successful in the world?

What about today?  Today everyone has a vast collection of facts at their fingertips – for free – on demand.  We can ask Siri almost anything and get a raw fact-based answer (not an insight, not a deduction, not an induction, not a connection or association among facts) in a few seconds.  The ability to recall facts is not smart or intelligent.  You can imagine the trajectory of Siri and similar systems in the future of facts on-demand.  It can only get better.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus more on the skills above?

The fist skill in the list is Questioning… challenging the status quo and consider new possibilities…

Perhaps if we taught kids the skills above then the questions that Seth posed above would be asked naturally by everyone – and Seth would lose a posting idea.  The ability to challenge the status quo would reveal the power and political dimension of organizations that undermine outcomes for stakeholders and reveal the blind spots that exist in every organization that hide opportunities.  The unique capacity of humans is imagination and the development of the skills above.  So let’s use ’em.

Read more from Forbes

More from Seth on Education

Stop Stealing Dreams (free Audio edition)

Written by frrl

May 12, 2012 at 6:12 pm

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Caine’s Arcade

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If you have kids or just want to see innovation and entrepreneurship in action you might want to take a look at this short film (10 minutes) about nine year old Caine who lives in east Los Angeles.

These are the things that came to my mind when I first saw this short film

  1. Caine, 9 years old, has tenacity.  How many entrepreneurs give up if they are not immediately successful?  How many people don’t even try a new endeavor or venture?  How many people are out there “waiting” for someone to give them a job?
  2. Caine built the arcade himself.  Imagination, innovation and committment required – for every new venture.
  3. Entrepreneurs help other entrepreneurs.  Why was it only Nirvan that spotted Caine’s talent?  How many people walked past Caine’s arcade without seeing what Nirvan saw?  Some people can spot talent – other’s can’t.  Part of leadership & entrepreneurship is spotting and developing talent no matter where you see it.
  4. Social media.  The amplifying effect of social media.  Nirvan used Facebook to spread the word and generate a flashmob for Caine’s arcade.

The net effect

Raised $176,000 (to date) to help kids like Caine go to college.  98,000 likes on Facebook.  The Goldhirsh Foundation will match dollar for dollar contributions up to $250,000.

Goldhirsh Foundation – “The Goldhirsh Foundation funds that are providing the seed funds to create/incubate the Caine’s Arcade Foundation, which will help find, foster, and fund creativity and entrepreneurship in other innovative kids.

Visit Caine’s arcade on facebook –

Caine’s Arcade website –
Interconnected –

Caine’s Arcade is a story worth telling…  and passing along.  Your turn.

Written by frrl

April 19, 2012 at 5:09 pm

Arthur C. Clarke, meet the Apple iPad 3

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I stumbled upon an interesting video of Arthur C. Clarke on YouTube.

It’s an interview from 1974 where he was asked to say more about the world he portrayed in his 1968 novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.  In that interview Clarke talks about computers and society in the future.

Keep in mind that this interview from 1974 is nearly 40 years ago from today in 2012.

At nearly the same time as this interview, Ken Olsen, founder of DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) made this prediction

There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.
Ken Olsen in 1977

So now we have this.  More than what Clarke could imagine but in the same direction; Something that Ken Olsen could never envision



It’s interesting how some people can see the future and some can’t. What gives individuals this capability? Is it intellectual? Is it a result of experience? Is it a result of a particular education? Can it be taught? 

What is the difference between Ken Olsen and Arthur C. Clarke that leads each of them to such a profound difference in what they see as the future?

Here are some related postings on those who “missed the boat” and those who could see what no one else could see.

More from Clarke on Global Communications –

And the Future…  Augmented Reality in an always-connected world

Read about Google Project Glass –
And watch the Video

Written by frrl

April 4, 2012 at 5:49 pm

Remix – Of Lions, Gazelles, Aspirations, and Globalism

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Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed.  Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle, or it will starve…

…it doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or gazelle – when the sun comes up, you’d better be running.


Heard that story a thousand times before?  This story has been told over and over for decades to motivate teams, groups, organizations, divisions, and just about any group of people.  The message is clear: no matter who you are – from the corporate executives to the mail room clerk – every day you have to run.

A couple of weeks ago I heard a few people talking about this story.  People are amazingly creative.  They took this story and remixed the meaning of it.  Quite remarkable – at least to my way of thinking.  But, perhaps typical – read on.

One of the people talking about the story of the Lion and Gazelle made an astute observation.  The observation being  that a gazelle really doesn’t have to run faster than the fastest lion as the story would have you believe – a gazelle only has to run faster than the slowest gazelle in the pack.


So, lets see what some of the implications would be to this type of thinking and reinterpretation of the traditional story of lions, gazelles, and running to survive. 

First the story of the lion and the gazelle pits a gazelle against a lion.  In the remix by the astute observer the gazelle is compared to other gazelles – not a lion.  Gazelles are not competing against lions – they are competing against other gazelles.  So, your aspiration as a gazelle is not to be faster than the fastest  lion just faster than the slowest, most feeble, and lame member of the gazelle pack in which you run.  Nice!

Second, good for lions.  Gazelles in the remix interpretation of the story have reset their standards downward.  Once our astute gazelle spreads the idea to other gazelles and gets their acceptance of this new interpretation their aspiration won’t be to be  faster than the  fastest lions just one click better than the most broke-down gazelle.  With lower aspirations, and lower achievement of gazelles, Lions may just have an easier time taking down Gazelles in general.

And third – think about this – a sort of butterfly effect.  With lower Gazelle standards lions might get lazy.  Since gazelles only run as fast as the most broke-down gazelle not as fast as the fastest lion then their prey is less competitive.  If the prey is less competitive then lions have less incentive to be at the top of their running game.

So, it starts with one gazelle who changes the game from running against the fastest lions to competing against the slowest gazelle in the pack.  What is the net effect on the ecosystem of lions, gazelles, running, and the competition for survival?

America – The State of the Union 2011

On January 25,2011 President Obama gave the State of the Union Address.  Here are a few excerpts…

Meanwhile, nations like China and India realized that with some changes of their own, they could compete in this new world. And so they started educating their children earlier and longer, with greater emphasis on math and science. They’re investing in research and new technologies. Just recently, China became the home to the world’s largest private solar research facility, and the world’s fastest computer.

So, yes, the world has changed. The competition for jobs is real. But this shouldn’t discourage us. It should challenge us. Remember — for all the hits we’ve taken these last few years, for all the naysayers predicting our decline, America still has the largest, most prosperous economy in the world. (Applause.) No workers — no workers are more productive than ours. No country has more successful companies, or grants more patents to inventors and entrepreneurs. We’re the home to the world’s best colleges and universities, where more students come to study than any place on Earth…

The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.

Connecting the dots

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by frrl

February 13, 2011 at 12:24 am

Vintage Steve Jobs: Good Artists Copy; Great Artists Steal

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Watch and listen to some vintage Steve Jobs talk about his experience visiting Xerox PARC in the days before Macintosh.  At PARC, Jobs saw three things: Smalltalk, ethernet, and a graphical user interface.

It’s not so much about the technology per se, or for technology as an end it itself.  It’s  about recognizing how to use technology to enable people to work, do things, and think things they never did or thought about before.  This is what the folks at Xerox PARC could not see; but what Steve Jobs did see.  And Steve took it all from them.

It’s about thinking differently, right?  When Steve Jobs was a kid his father used to buy old cars, fix them in the family driveway, and then resell them.  Steve was not so much interested in the mechanics of fixing cars; he was more interested in the types of people who originally bought the cars he saw sitting in his fathers driveway.

In the short video you will also hear Steve talk about John Sculley.  Sculley was the CEO that the Apple Board brought in to run Apple in 1983 when they thought that Seve Jobs, at 28 years old, was not up to the task.

Take a watch

To get an insight into the early life of Steve jobs –
Steve Jobs, the Journey Is the Reward

More on John Sculley and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs at Stanford – “How to Live before you Die”

Think about it some more – Who owns creativity?  Who owns Culture?

Written by frrl

November 23, 2010 at 7:27 am

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