Sunday, August 31, 2008
What is deliberate practice? Deliberate practice involves following:
1. Learner’s motivation to attend to the task and exert effort to improve the performance (are you passionate about it?)
2. Design of the task should take into account the preexisting knowledge of the learner (is the practice customized for you?)
3. Learner should receive immediate feedback
4. Learner should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.
How long does one do deliberate practice before one becomes super-expert? Hold your breath. To achieve highest level of performance, typically learners take 10 or more years. Apparently Boby Fischer was an exception in the last century and he took 9 years to become super-expert.
A classic essay on deliberate practice: If you are interested in reading more about deliberate practice, you should read A stars is made essay from Freakonomics-fame authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner. They show how deliberate practice can explain the anomaly that “Elite soccer players are more likely to have been born in the earlier months of the year than in the later months.” If academic papers don’t cause any indigestion to you then you might want to try Prof. Anders Ericsson’s paper “The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance”
Saturday, August 30, 2008
Image of “Personal brand”: When I asked this question about personal brand in the last workshop, one participant answered, “Personal brand is a necessary evil.” What came as a bigger surprise was that most others (budding technical leaders) agreed with this opinion. So I asked, “How will people in other projects come to know that here is an expert whom we should invite for technical review?” The answer was, “My actions should speak for themselves. I don’t want to boast about myself.”
Art of personal branding: Well, “necessary evil” may sound like an extreme view. But the truth is, most technologists don’t consider “brand building” as an important activity. It is no surprise that many of them find it difficult to grow as technical leaders. When you grow as an architect or principal engineer, you don’t get a large team reporting to you. In fact, you may be an individual contributor. This means your span of control is not large. However, organization expects you to create significant value by assisting delivery teams, by grooming and mentoring juniors, through innovation and by assisting in business development. So, to excel as a technical leader, you have to learn the art of personal branding and start enjoying the boxing game.
And don’t forget to read the classic essay by Tom Peters “The brand called you”.
Monday, August 25, 2008
Metaphor of “sandbox”: I am certainly not the first one to link innovation approach to sandbox creation. C. K. Prahalad introduced an approach called “Innovation sandbox” in an article published in Strategy+Business. This approach is called an innovation “sandbox” because it involves fairly complex, free-form exploration and even playful experimentation (the sand, with its flowing, shifting boundaries) within fixed specified constraints (the walls, straight and rigid, that box in the sand).
What is an innovation platform? Taking the sandbox metaphor, I feel that innovation platform contains following 4 elements:
- A set of constraints (corresponding to the walls of the sandbox)
- A lab for experimentation (corresponding to the sand)
- A set of tools (corresponding to the tools in the sandbox)
- A critical mass of passionate people (kids playing in the sandbox)
An example: Let’s take a concrete example. RIA (Rich Internet Application) is a hot technology. Let’s say we would like to develop an innovation platform around it. Hence, our constraint #1 is: RIA. Another important constraint I will fix by asking the question: What market trend do we want this platform to exploit? The answer may be social networking or e-commerce (or something else). This would be constraint#2. Then I would ask the question: What are we really good at which we want to leverage? Answer may be “testing” or “system integration” or “end to end development”. I would fix the answer as constraint#3.
Next we need to answer the question: How can we build a prototyping lab for this platform? Is there an open source platform already available? And what kind of tools do we need?
Defining criteria: You may say, all this is fine, where are the people? And you are right. We got it all wrong. We first need to ask the question, what do (at least a few) people in my organization excited about? As a KM head in a large IT organization told me today, you need at least 6-7 passionate folks to keep a platform going.
Saturday, August 23, 2008
“Made to stick” written by Dan and Chip Heath is about how to design a message such that it becomes more sticky. All of us know how much we remember from the last presentation that we attended. On the flip side, the same thing must be true about the last presentation we made as well. The book talks about attributes such as simplicity, unexpectedness, and concreteness that are common to all sticky messages.
Apart from these interesting attributes, the story has a villain too. The villain who makes it really hard for us to generate sticky messages. And it is this villain which has got stuck to my mind more than anything else. In fact, I would say I am in love with the villain! Who is this villain, after all? It is called “Curse of knowledge”. When we, as experts, know something, it is extremely difficult to imagine what it means to “not to know” that something. I don’t know about you, but I have felt this “villain” in me active many times during my training sessions.
It is no surprise that the Stickiness Aptitude Test created by Guy Kawasaki & Co takes away 3 points if you are an engineer and takes away 4 points if you are an MBA. It does not even consider PhD worthy of mention (perhaps, you are not even qualified to take the test). I have learnt my lesson.
You may want to check out Chip Heath's interview with McKinsey Quarterly. And Guy Kawasaki's interview with Dan Heath. And Chip Heath's interview podcast at iinnovate.com.
Friday, August 8, 2008
Does 3M talk about idea contests? Well, none of these folks talked about idea contents. That does not mean that they don’t have idea contests. However, “idea contests” don’t form a core in their innovation effort. Then what do these companies consider important as a basic building block? The answer is: Platforms. In fact, Bert of 3M showed us a “periodic table” consisting of 45 platforms. Some of these platforms were: adhesive, filtration, microreplication. Bert also presented the mapping of platforms to businesses. For example, 3M has 40 businesses and adhesives platform is used in 24 out of 40 businesses (filtration is used in 8/40 and microreplication is used in 16/40). While DuPont does not have as many innovation platforms as 3M, Homi said it does have dozens. In contrast to 3M and DuPont, P&G innovation effort is consumer led. P&G innovation platforms are anchored in basic human want such as thirst, hygiene, beauty etc. Moreover, P&G is good at using the same platform and creating different products at different price points in different markets (e.g. developed vs emerging).
Innovation platforms: Instead of asking the question, are we generating ideas? Or are we conducting idea contests? Ask the question, what innovation platform(s) are we building? What is it anchored in? Perhaps answers to questions like these will lead to “sustainable innovation”.