Being Creative

YAPP (Yet Another PsyBlog Post) …

This time about being creative.

Apart from the discussion on different or unusual thinking styles (for the person themselves) to enhance creativity, the biggest “take-away” for me from the post was the exhortation to simply remind people that they are to be creative (say, in a particular situation), and this simple reminder will give them permission (so to speak) to be creative.  This is, thus, rather important in a business setting, because in many (if not most) instances, people are told, either explicitly or implicitly, to just follow the rules or procedures and do what has been done before, rather than being allowed to express some creativity in order to solve a problem or improve the situation at hand.

The relevant paragraph is:

Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal.  It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to ‘be creative’ increases their creativity (e.g. Chen et al., 2005).

Anyway, the full article is below, and please consider buying Jeremy’s e-book “How To Be Creative” (see ad at the bottom of the article).  I bought it – it is a great little read.

Unusual Thinking Styles Increase Creativity

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Psychological research reveals how rational versus intuitive thinking can inspire new ideas.

The idea of creativity is wonderful: that a spark of inspiration can eventually bring something new and useful into the world, perhaps even something beautiful. Something, as it were, from nothing.

That spark may only be the start of a journey towards the finished article or idea, but it is still a wonderful moment. Without the initial spark there will be no journey. It’s no exaggeration to say that our ability to be creative sits at the heart of our achievements as a species.

Do incentives work?

So, how do you encourage creativity in yourself and in others? I discuss this question of how to be creative in my recent ebook on creativity. There I describe six principles, based on psychological research, that can be used to understand and increase creativity.

But, what methods do people naturally use to encourage creativity? In the creative industries the usual method is money, or some other related incentive. So, can incentives encourage people to be creative?

According to the research, they can, but crucially these incentives need to emphasise that creativity is the goal (Eisenberger & Shanock, 2003). Studies find that if people are given an incentive for just completing a task, it doesn’t increase their creativity (Amabile et al., 1986). In fact, incentives linked to task completion (rather than creativity) can reduce creativity.

Another way of encouraging creativity is simply to be reminded that creativity is a goal. It seems too simple to be true, but research has found that just telling people to ‘be creative’ increases their creativity (e.g. Chen et al., 2005).

The theory is that this works because people often don’t realise they’re supposed to be looking for creative solutions. This is just as true in the real world as it is in psychology experiments. We get so wrapped up in deadlines, clients, costs and all the rest that it’s easy to forget to search for creative solutions.

People need to be told that creativity is a goal. Unlike children, adults need to be reminded about the importance of creativity. Perhaps it’s because so much of everyday life encourages conformity and repeating the same things you did before. Doing something different needs a special effort.

Rational versus intuitive thinking

However telling someone to ‘be creative’ is a bit like telling them to ‘be more clever’ or ‘be more observant’. We want to shout: “Yes, but how?!”

Along with the techniques I suggest in my ebook, another insight comes from a new study on stimulating creativity. This suggests one solution may lie in using an unusual thinking style—unusual, that is, to you (Dane et al., 2011). Let me explain…

When trying to solve problems that need creative solutions, broadly people have been found to approach them in one of two ways:

  1. Rationally: by using systematic patterns of thought. This involves relying on specific things you’ve learnt in the past, thinking concretely and ignoring gut instincts.
  2. Intuitively: by setting the mind free to explore associations. This involves working completely on first impressions and whatever comes to mind while ignoring what you’ve learnt in the past.

The researchers wondered if people’s creativity could be increased by encouraging them to use the pattern of thinking that was most unusual to them. So, those people who naturally preferred to approach creative problems rationally, were asked to think intuitively. And the intuitive group was asked to think rationally for a change.

Participants were given a real-world problem to solve: helping a local business expand. The results were evaluated by managers from the company involved. When they looked at the results, the manipulation had worked: people were more creative when they used the thinking style that was most unusual for them.

One of the reasons this may work is that consciously adopting a different strategy stops your mind going down the same well-travelled paths. We all have habitual ways of approaching problems and while habits are sometimes useful, they can also produce the same results over and over again.

A limitation of this study is that it only looked at the generation of new ideas. This tends to occur mostly at the start of the creative process. So once ideas have been generated and a more analytical mindset is required, these techniques may not work so well (I discuss this balance between a wandering and focused mind in principle six of my ebook).

Image credit: gfpeck

How to Be Creative

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Why Concrete Language Communicates Truth

Another pertinent post from PsyBlog, this time about communicating (mostly writing) effectively. Particularly relevant for consultants, but applicable for all employment in all fields. Click on the header below to go to the original article.

Have I said before that you should be subscribing to PsyBlog? Well, it is about time you did so – click here!

Speak and write using unambiguous language and people will believe you.

I’ve just deleted a rather abstract introduction I wrote to this article about truth. The reason? I noticed I wasn’t taking the excellent advice offered in a recent article published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. That advice is simple: if you want people to believe you, speak and write concrete.

There are all sorts of ways language can communicate truth. Here are some solid facts for you:

  • People usually judge that more details mean someone is telling us the truth,
  • We find stories that are more vivid to be more true,
  • We even think more raw facts make unlikely events more likely.

But all these involve adding extra details or colour. What if we don’t have any more details? What if we want to bump up the believability without adding to the fact-count?

Just going more concrete can be enough according to a recent study by Hansen and Wanke (2010). Compare these two sentences:

  1. Hamburg is the European record holder concerning the number of bridges.
  2. In Hamburg, one can count the highest number of bridges in Europe.

Although these two sentences seem to have exactly the same meaning, people rate the second as more true than the first. It’s not because there’s more detail in the second—there isn’t. It’s because it doesn’t beat around the bush, it conjures a simple, unambiguous and compelling image: you counting bridges.

Abstract words are handy for talking conceptually but they leave a lot of wiggle-room. Concrete words refer to something in the real world and they refer to it precisely. Vanilla ice-cream is specific while dessert could refer to anything sweet eaten after a main meal.

Verbs as well as nouns can be more or less abstract. Verbs like ‘count’ and ‘write’ are solid, concrete and unambiguous, while verbs like ‘help’ and ‘insult’ are open to some interpretation. Right at the far abstract end of the spectrum are verbs like ‘love’ and ‘hate’; they leave a lot of room for interpretation.

Even a verb’s tense can affect its perceived concreteness. The passive tense is usually thought more abstract, because it doesn’t refer to the actor by name. Perhaps that’s partly why fledgling writers are often told to write in the active tense: to the reader it will seem more true.

Hansen and Wanke give three reasons why concreteness suggests truth:

  1. Our minds process concrete statements more quickly, and we automatically associate quick and easy with true (check out these studies on the power of simplicity).
  2. We can create mental pictures of concrete statements more easily. When something is easier to picture, it’s easier to recall, so seems more true.
  3. Also, when something is more easily pictured it seems more plausible, so it’s more readily believed.

So, speak and write solidly and unambiguously and people will think it’s more true. I can’t say it any clearer than that.

Image credit: Lee Huynh

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The Future of Computing (Now and Then) – Visualisation

Visualisation, as the name implies, is about methods or techniques of displaying (visualising) data, in such a manner that the result is further and better understanding of the underlying information or knowledge of the data, what the data is “imparting” to the audience.

Visualisation is closely aligned with Analytics in many ways, in that Visualisation is all about how to present large volume and complex data in such a manner that it is (relatively) simple for humans to understand the underlying message, or pattern, represented or conveyed by the data. Typically, the analytics process will apply algorithms to process the data in a variety of manners, hopefully obtaining a suitable result – which then needs to be presented such that decisions can be made and further action can be taken. In many instances, the analytic process itself may involve Visualisation in order to allow the people performing the analytics to determine what to do next.

These insights into the data – what it is trying to tell us – are imparted through the power of the human mind, through its ability to make connections and understandings according to visual cues (and prior knowledge). Interestingly, the ability for humans to understand based on visualisation is mainly achieved through additional computing processing – advanced visualisation typically involves advanced information processing (and sometimes advanced hardware for particular visualisation purposes, such as 3D displays, large screen projections, etc). It should be noted though, that visualisation has been around for quite some time – early maps are a form of visualisation – producing a visual representation of some data to assist in understanding (see http://www.math.yorku.ca/SCS/Gallery/milestone/milestone.pdf).

In the past, Visualiation has been part of Business Intelligence (think charts, graphs, dashboards), but in a rather simple and simplistic manner. Modern visualisation uses all the power of graphics and animation (including 3D) to present a compelling vision for decision making. Visualisation today is much much more than a few charts and graphs. It is many different types of graphical representations; it is animated timelines (combined with multiple graphic types); it is now 3D (both static and animated) and it is interactive (the initial visualisation can allow those viewing to select an element, which will then query for new data (for instance, more detailed information which is then visualised (possibly using a different mode of visualisation) and allows for further interaction).

Some disciplines and specialist areas only operate based on visualisation. Areas include:

Computed Axial Tomography (CAT) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans in medicine only “work” because the massive amounts of data generated are presented in a visual form for the specialist physician to interpret. The physician never works with the raw data – only with a computed representation (http://www.humansfuture.org/visualize_scientific_visualization.htm). Astronomers now regularly use visualisation to process the huge amounts of data generated by modern telescopes (current estimates suggest that this data stream will exceed 1 Terabyte of data per day in the near future – see http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/scivis/ and http://astrocompute.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/scientific-visualization-in-astronomy-towards-the-petascale-astronomy-era/) to visualise and understand how the universe works – and what it looks like, from a variety of perspectives – not simply in the human visual spectrum, but also in the infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths, as well as gamma radiation and other signals. Geospatial data, such as topography, hydrography, etc, are all presented in terms of visualisation – as simple as a mapping display, up to as complicated as real-time 3D animation through a timeline.

Visualisation today is enabled by hardware advances, specifically the inclusion of Graphical Processing Units (GPUs) in computers (specifically PC based hardware) – offloading the processing for visualisation from the standard CPU onto a dedicated and high-powered chip (see http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/Xplore/login.jsp?url=http%3A%2F%2Fieeexplore.ieee.org%2Fiel5%2F9449%2F29999%2F01372245.pdf%3Farnumber%3D1372245&authDecision=-203; http://astrocompute.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/gpus-vs-cpus-apples-vs-oranges/ and http://astronomy.swin.edu.au/scivis/).

An excellent visualisation graphic of the different types of visualisations which can be produced, categorised into six different types (data; information; concept; strategy; metaphor and compound) has been produced by Visual Literacy (which provides e-Learning tutorials on visualisation – see http://www.visual-literacy.org/) and is available at http://www.visual-literacy.org/periodic_table/periodic_table.html. The web page is interactive, displaying an example of each type of visualisation when mousing over the entry box in the table. An excellent example of how to do visualisation well!

Some of the specific techniques used for visualisation include:

  1. a Cladogram (for display of phylogeny – see http://darwiniana.org/trees.htm; http://www.scribd.com/doc/51895193/6/Cladograms-and-Trees; http://cnx.org/content/m11052/latest/; http://www.crescentbloom.com/ii/l/17.htm; http://www.dinosauria.com/jdp/misc/cladogram.html);
  2. a Dendrogram (for display of classifications – see http://botanydictionary.org/dendrogram.html; http://www.nonlinear.com/support/progenesis/samespots/faq/dendrogram.aspx; http://www.mathworks.com/help/toolbox/stats/dendrogram.html);
  3. Graph drawing (http://graphdrawing.org/; http://gdea.informatik.uni-koeln.de/; http://www.ogdf.net/doku.php);
  4. Heat-maps (http://www.cs.uic.edu/~wilkinson/Publications/heatmap.pdf; http://www.patrick-wied.at/static/heatmapjs/; http://ashleylab.stanford.edu/tools_scripts.html; http://www.bioinformatics.ubc.ca/matrix2png/);
  5. Hyper Trees (http://www.sigchi.org/chi95/Electronic/documnts/papers/jl_bdy.htm; http://hypergraph.sourceforge.net/; http://thejit.org/; http://ucjeps.berkeley.edu/map2.html; http://www.touchgraph.com/navigator);
  6. Treemapping (http://www.magnaview.nl/documents/Visualizing_Business_Data_with_Generalized_Treemaps.pdf; http://www.perceptualedge.com/articles/b-eye/treemaps.pdf; http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/treemap-history/index.shtml; http://iv.slis.indiana.edu/sw/treemap.html).

In the future, such visualisation will link to differing models of Human Computer Interaction (HCI), including various forms of haptics (“The science of applying tactile sensation to human interaction with computers” – source: http://foldoc.org/haptics. Also see: http://www.immersion.com/docs/Value-of-Haptics_Jun10-v2.pdf) and immersive technologies, such as the multi-touch desktop (see http://www.perceptivepixel.com/ – similar to the technology hypothesized in the movie The Minority Report, based on the short story of the same name by Philip K. Dick).

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6 Easy Steps to Falling Asleep Fast

Another post from the PsyBlog, once again, re-posted with kind permission.
Something that we are all going to have to pay attention to at some time in our lives.

6 Easy Steps to Falling Asleep Fast

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Psychological research over three decades demonstrates the power of Stimulus Control Therapy.

Can’t get a good night’s sleep? You’re not alone. In surveys of what would improve people’s lives, a good night’s sleep frequently comes near the top of the list.

Poor sleep results in worse cognitive performance, including degraded memory, attention, performance and alertness. And in the long term insomnia is also associated with anxiety and depression. And people’s sleep gets worse as they get older. After 65 years old, between 12% and 40% of people have insomnia.

All sorts of methods have been tried to combat poor sleep, from drugs through psychological remedies to more outlandish treatments.

The problem with drugs is that they have side-effects and are often addictive. The problem with the more outlandish treatments is that although they tend not to have side-effects, we don’t know if they have any effect at all. Psychological remedies, though, combine the best of both worlds: studies show they work without side-effects.

Stimulus Control Therapy

Professor Richard R. Bootzin has been researching sleep disorders for many years at the University of Arizona Sleep Research Lab. Writing in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, he describes the different psychological approaches that have been used to treat insomnia (Bootzin & Epstein, 2011).

Of these the most successful single intervention is called Stimulus Control Therapy (Morin et al., 2006). You’ll be happy to hear it consists of six very straightforward steps. If you follow these it should improve your sleep. After the list I’ll explain the thinking behind them. First, here are their six steps:

  1. Lie down to go to sleep only when you are sleepy.
  2. Do not use your bed for anything except sleep; that is, do not read, watch television, eat, or worry in bed. Sexual activity is the only exception to this rule. On such occasions, the instructions are to be followed afterwards, when you intend to go to sleep.
  3. If you find yourself unable to fall asleep, get up and go into another room. Stay up as long as you wish and then return to the bedroom to sleep. Although we do not want you to watch the clock, we want you to get out of bed if you do not fall asleep immediately. Remember the goal is to associate your bed with falling asleep quickly! If you are in bed more than about 10 minutes without falling asleep and have not gotten up, you are not following this instruction.
  4. If you still cannot fall asleep, repeat step 3. Do this as often as is necessary throughout the night.
  5. Set your alarm and get up at the same time every morning irrespective of how much sleep you got during the night. This will help your body acquire a consistent sleep rhythm.
  6. Do not nap during the day.

Why it works

This method is based on the idea that we are like Pavlov’s drooling dog. We attach certain stimuli in the environment to certain thoughts and behaviours. Famously Pavlov’s dogs would start drooling when a bell rang, because they associated hearing the bell with getting food. Eventually the dogs would drool at the sound of the bell even when they didn’t get any food. Replace the bell with a bed and food with sleep and conceptually you’re there.

If we learn to do all kinds of things in bed that aren’t sleep, then when we do want to use it for sleep, it’s harder because of those other associations.

This is just as true of thoughts as it is of actions. It’s important to avoid watching TV in bed, but it’s also important to avoid lying in bed worrying about not being able to get to sleep. Because then you learn to associate bed with worry. Worse, you suffer anticipatory anxiety: anxiety about the anxiety you’ll feel when you are trying to get to sleep.

So, this therapy works by strengthening the association between bed and sleep and weakening the association between bed and everything else (apart from sex!).

Other treatments supported by the research are progressive muscle relaxation, which is exactly what it sounds like, and paradoxical intention. This latter technique involves stopping people trying so hard to get to sleep. The paradox being that when people stop trying so hard, they find it easier to fall asleep.

All this assumes you don’t live next door to a late night drummer and you’re not downing a double espresso before hitting the sack, but those sorts of things are pretty obvious. Everything else being equal, though, Stimulus Control Therapy seems the easiest for most people to implement.

Image credit: Meredith Farmer

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Vision, Mission, Strategic Intent, Strategies, Tactics, Recommendations, Roadmap, Action Plan

 

Vision An aspirational statement of where the organisation desires to be in the future, the direction and ultimate goal of the organisation what it would achieve or accomplish in the future. The vision statement answers the question “Where do we want to go?”, and as such, is purposively directional.
Mission The core purpose and focus of the organisation, which normally remains unchanged within a strategic planning period, whereas strategies and tactics may be altered more often to adapt to the changing circumstances. A mission is different from a vision in that the former is the cause and the latter is the effect; a mission is something to be accomplished whereas a vision is something to be pursued for that accomplishment.
Strategic Intent The critical drivers for the organisation, what the organisation must do (now) in order to achieve its vision and mission. A clarification of vision with specifics for realisation. Strategic intent has a sense of direction, a sense of discovery and a sense of destiny associated with it.
Strategies Strategy is the planning and marshalling of resources for their most efficient and effective use to create a desired future, such as achieving a goal or solution to a problem. Strategies are the statements of individual strategy to be pursued. Also described as (or in terms of) Objectives. Each of the strategies / objectives must satisfy the SMART criteria, in that they must be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound. Various strategies may constitute a “strategic enabler” for a particular strategic intent.
Tactics The specific sets of actions in a scheduled sequence (typically in the near term) to accomplish a strategy. More generally, the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end (such as the objective of a strategy).
Recommendations Statements of the appropriate course of action to be taken with respect to a subject.
Roadmap The Roadmap identifies specific strategies and tactics (such as specific technology solutions) in a sequenced arrangement (plan) to achieve organisational goals, taking into consideration dependencies and other factors influencing achievement of ends. The Roadmap constitutes a framework assisting in coordinating future work and development, as well as communicating such work with involved parties.
Action Plan The (communication) document which outlines all the elements of strategic planning for an organisation into a single cohesive plan, defining required action to achieve organisational goals.

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Over-estimation, Under-estimation

There’s a saying in the technology industry: People tend to overestimate what will happen two years from now and underestimate what will happen in 10.

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The Future of Computing (Now) – Social Networking

Social Networking is Facebook, right?

Well, not quite.
It is a lot more than teenagers posting updates on Facebook.
It is definitely about business – and the general public – now.
A recent commentary (http://www.web-hosting-newsletter.com/2011/05/06/surprise-social-media-actually-delivers-real-value/, as at May 2011) stated:
“With the dramatic rise in use of social media, entrepreneurs were decidedly placing themselves in one of two camps: those who saw NO potential value in social media and those who jumped on the bandwagon without a clue to where the train was heading. Game Over. Now, after a lot of experimentation and evaluation by experts and novices alike, it seems there are some real opportunities in social media for businesses of all sizes.”

Social networking is about instant communication, within an extended social setting (rather obviously). It is about stating “Your Message” – directly and instantly, to a wide group of people, rather than through some intermediary.

Historically, the intermediary is a publisher of some sort, some business which determines what is published to the wider community and what is not.

Communities

Now, one has the opportunity to build one’s own community of like minds – as large or as small as one desires (it should be noted that social networking does NOT mean that one automatically gets a “free” community. Building a community requires effort and work. If one desires a large community, one must expend substantial effort to obtain that community. The point about modern social networking is that it is possible to build such a large community with less capital outlay than was ever required previously – making the ability to reach such large communities within the hands of every individual – provided they so desire and make the requisite effort.

In many ways, this is similar to the advances in music production bought about by the digital age. Today, everyone has the capacity to produce high quality music. Not everyone does so, though, nor, for those that do, they are heard. Why not? Because (1) most people are just not interested in producing music (they would rather just listen to it); (2) many people, even though they may be technically capable of operating music studio production software, do not have the requisite talent, experience nor application to produce anything of general worth; (3) many people can and do produce excellent music, yet few hear it – simply because the steps associated with making this music available to a wider audience are not taken; and (4) even if some-one makes their music available, many will not hear it, due to the glut of content available, meaning that distribution and marketing take precedence in terms of music awareness – which returns us to the issue of social networking – another means of making a wider community aware of one’s content).

Social Networking Facilities

Facebook not the first

Most might consider that social networking began with the advent of Facebook in September 2006. Although Facebook would no doubt classify as the largest “social networking” site existing currently (as at 2011, with more than 500 million users world-wide), it was not the first such entity (indeed, Friendster (started in 2002 http://www.friendster.com/ – now concentrating on social gaming) and MySpace (started in July 2003 http://www.myspace.com/ – now concentrating on music and bands) pre-dated Facebook and were much more successful early on but were soon eclipsed by their successors) and is certainly not alone in terms of providing social networking facilities (other examples include Bebo (formed in 2005 http://www.bebo.com/). Indeed, many web-based / cloud computing based applications offer collaboration / social networking capabilities as either core or adjuncts to their offerings. It appears that if a product is not “socially”-enabled then it will not sell.

Blogging

Early examples of social networking were Blogging – a “en-verbened” and shortened form of the phrase “web-log” – a facility whereby one maintained a log of events / occurences / thoughts / ideas / writings / anything of interest – on the web (as a series of web pages). Specific software to allow people to create (post) and display their blog entries were soon created, with an early contender being Blogger (http://www.blogger.com – founded in August 1999, now a Google property, and also known as Blogspot), soon followed by other major blogging platforms (WordPress in 2003 http://wordpress.org; Typepad on 6 August 2003 http://www.typepad.com/; Movable Type in 2001 http://movabletype.com/; and Live Journal in 1999 http://www.livejournal.com/).

Micro-blogging

Blogging was followed by micro-blogging – the best known example being Twitter (http://www.twitter.com, formed in 2006 / 2007). The concept of a micro-blog is to keep the entry down to a minimum – in the case of Twitter, to 140 characters – the size of a SMS (Short Message Service) message from telephony minus 20 characters to allow for special addressing etc, such that a micro-blog entry could be made from a mobile phone. Twitter is not the only major micro-blogging platform (others include Status Net (formed in July 2005 http://status.net) and its public face, called identi.ca (http://identi.ca/); and Plurk (formed in January 2008 http://www.plurk.com)). Other products exhibit micro-blogging qualities, through their status update capabilities (such as in Facebook, but also, for instance, Google Buzz, announced on 9 February 2010, which integrates with most Google products as well as a range of external offerings).

Mini-blogs

And not to be left out, there is also the concept of mini-blogs – a cross between a full blog and a micro-blog, combining the ease and immediacy of micro-blogging with the extended entry capacity of blogging (longer text, photo’s, video’s, etc). The major examples in the mini-blogging niche include Tumblr (formed in 2007 http://www.tumblr.com); and Posterous (formed in July 2008 https://posterous.com/).

Secondary Support Applications

The success of the various blogging / micro-blogging / mini-blogging platforms has led to the creation of a vibrant secondary support industry of individuals and organisations writing applications which integrate and work with the major products. As an example, there are a range of products which allow one to view all the “streams” of information to which one subscribes – one’s Facebook stream; one’s Twitter stream; one’s blogging news feed and other such sites. Such products include Hootsuite (http://www.hootsuite.com); TweetDeck (http://www.tweetdeck.com/); Stroodle (http://www.stroodle.it/) and the Ubermedia apps (http://ubermedia.com).

People and Place

Social networking is not only about connecting people, but also about connecting people and place (see http://biznik.com/articles/location-aware-social-networking-sites-the-next-wave-of-relationship-marketing). Location based social networking is enabled by smart-phones with both GPS and 3G/4G internet capabilities – people are always connected, no matter where they are.

Possibly the most pre-eminent site in this category is FourSquare (http://foursquare.com), allowing people to check-in to places and comment on what they are doing there, or what they experience (say, comment on a restaurant, or service from a shop, or being at a concert, etc). Google has a similar product called Google Latitude (http://www.google.com/latitude). Other examples include Gowalla (http://gowalla.com/), specifically targeted at travel and exploration; and Yelp (http://www.yelp.com/), which bills itself as “the fun and easy way to find and talk about great (and not so great) local businesses”. Indeed, even Facebook is now in on the act, with its Facebook Places (http://www.facebook.com/places/).

Video

Finally, don’t forget that social media is not just text – it is all types of media, most notably video. YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/) is the most famous – or possibly, infamous – of the video sharing sites, which not only allows anyone to upload video, but for others to comment on and share videos. The measure of popularity of an event or item can be measured by the number of Youtube “views” that a video will receive. Another well used video sharing site is Vimeo (http://www.vimeo.com/), similar in concept to Youtube (allowing uploading and sharing of videos), but possibly more oriented towards information sharing, particularly in a business context. It headlines itself as: “Vimeo is a respectful community of creative people who are passionate about sharing the videos they make. We provide the best tools and highest quality video in the universe.”, indicating its focus on a defined community, as opposed to the “free-for-all” which could characterise YouTube.

These types of social networking are not in isolation from each other any longer. People share their Youtube videos using Facebook. They receive their entertainment (TV shows, viral video clips, information and infotainment) through Youtube, which they then share with their friends. Breaking news is now Twitter and Facebook and Youtube – the news is witnessed by, photographed or video’ed by people, on the spot, using their mobile phones, immediately uploaded and instantly available world-wide.

Another type of multi-media based social networking tool is Skype (http://www.skype.com), allowing individuals and groups to make voice and video calls across the internet, integrated with a set of contacts.

Social Networking and Business

Social networking is not limited to individuals or personal matters. As mentioned above, and throughout this article, social networking is increasingly being used as a business tool (eg for marketing purposes) and within businesses themselves. To provide a more “serious” description of social networking for business use, it is also known as “Enterprise Social Software”. From a business perspective: “Social media at its core is all about having a dialogue with your customers – it’s about people investment.” – Blake Cahill (Principle at Banyan Branch, quoted from http://blog.ning.com/2011/02/ning-at-social-media-week-trends-and-the-future-of-social-media.html).

Blogging and wiki capabilities for business are provided by a wide variety of systems, commercial and open source – which can be installed and operated in-house or using a software-as-a-service model. Systems such as WordPress, Typepad etc can be used in this manner. Micro-blogging facilities are available from a number of sources, such as StatusNet and Yammer (formed in September 2008 https://www.yammer.com/) which is billed as a “free private social network for your company”.

Social Networking for Professionals

And there are specific social networking sites just for professionals. The largest is LinkedIn (formed in May 2003 http://www.linkedin.com/) is where “Over 100 million professionals … exchange information, ideas and opportunities” (according to its website). XING (formed in August 2003 http://www.xing.com/) also bills itself as a professional business network. Both these sites are about making connections between professionals, particularly with respect to job hunting and career development, but also in terms of maintaining contact with one’s network.

And the final site is a hybrid business / individual social networking site, specifically for maintaining an address book, called Plaxo (http://www.plaxo.com).

Social Networking and Applications

As mentioned above, many products with other tasks / functions at their core are increasingly adding collaboration and social networking / media capabilities to their offerings, since, even if not an integral component of the functionality of the product, these facilities must be provided for the product to sell. Prominent examples in the area include the myriad of project and task management products available, as well as CRM, DMS, CMS and other such suites.

Social Networking is Mainstream

As evidence of the rise of social networking, Facebook has become so ubiquitous that mainstream companies, who have nothing specific to do with ICT, are creating Facebook accounts and pages, displaying their details in their advertising – such as on business cards,in print ads and on TV. Car companies, banks, insurance companies (and increasingly, everyone else) are now using Facebook as their consumer entry “page”. One’s local car yard, one’s local plumber all have Facebook pages.

Social Networking – Today and in the Future

What is social networking and social media being used for today (and in the future)?

Some elements include:

  1. one-to-one conversation;
  2. one-to-intimate group “conversation” / “discussion” / “information dissemination”;
  3. event- notification, organisation, attendance;
  4. location based notifications, and recommendations etc;
  5. marketing, advertising and selling;
  6. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) enablement;
  7. disseminating materials, such as brochuresm eBooks, etc;
  8. photo albums and video collections;
  9. match-making;
  10. emergency management – notifying communities and constituents during flood, fire and earthquake, etc;
  11. political advertising and commentary;
  12. political activism – dissent (and assent, if you will);
  13. automatic updating of location and connectivity, incorporating geo-mobile technologies and “internet of things” technologies;
  14. automatic understanding of one’s environment (facial recognition, for instance) and context (through natural language processing);
  15. greater decentralisation – many elements of social networking will inter-operate;
  16. search engines will embrace all social networking interactions;
  17. content aggregation (introducing a new element of electronic intermediation) will work towards sifting, analysing and presenting the mass of online data from a wide variety of sources (including all social media sources) into a useable form for the individual (and businesses);
  18. greater use of analytics – particularly big data and deep analytics, sifting through the massive amount of data generated by social networking tools and systems, to identify patterns and understand what is happening, or what is relevant to one’s area of interest (business or otherwise);
  19. social rating – of sites, of products, of places and of experiences – will assume a marketing prominence;
  20. universal identities – the same identity used on all social networks (most likely integrated with security a la OpenID):
  21. a single social graph, integrating not only “standard” social network sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn but also all of email, Skype, IM etc;
  22. more platform facilities and uses, for applications, games etc within a social networking site (such as the Facebook Platform);
  23. greater integration with mainstream business applications – packages and custom built systems. Email, database management systems, document management systems, content management systems, and many others will integrate collaboration and social networking cabailities.

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The Seven Surprises for New CEOs

 

The Seven Surprises for New CEOs were described first in the HBR of October 2004 in an article by Michael Porter, Jay Lorsch and Nitin Nohria on CEO leadership.

As a newly minted CEO, one may think to finally have the power to set strategy, the authority to make things happen, and full access to the finer points of your business. But if one expects the job to be as simple as that, you’re in for an awakening.  Even though you bear full responsibility for your company’s well-being, you are a few steps removed from many of the factors that drive results.  You have more power than anybody else in the corporation, but you need to use it with extreme caution.

Porter et al have discovered that nothing—not even running a large business within the company—fully prepares a person to be the chief executive.

The following seven surprises are most common for new CEOs:

  1. You can’t run the company (The sheer volume and intensity of external demands take many by surprise.  Almost every new CEO struggles to manage the time drain of attending to shareholders, analysts, board members, industry groups, politicians, and other constituencies);
  2. Giving orders is very costly (No proposal should reach the CEO for final approval unless he can ratify it with enthusiasm.  Before then, everyone involved with the matter should have raised and resolved any potential deal breakers, bringing the CEO into the discussion only at strategically significant moments to obtain feedback and support);
  3. It is hard to know what is really going on (Certainly, CEOs are flooded with information, but reliable information is surprisingly scarce.  All information coming to the top is filtered, sometimes with good intentions, sometimes with not such good intentions);
  4. You are always sending a message (A CEOs words and deeds, however small or off-the-cuff, are instantly spread and amplified, scrutinized, interpreted and sometimes drastically misinterpreted);
  5. You are not the boss (Although the CEO may sit at the top of the management hierarchy, s/he still reports to the board of directors.  At the end of the day, the board—not the CEO—is in charge);
  6. Pleasing shareholders is not the goal (CEOs must recognize that, ultimately, it is only long-term value creation that matters, not today’s growth expectations or even the stock price);
  7. You are still only human (CEO Should recognize s/he needs connections to the world outside the organization, at home and in the community, to avoid being consumed by corporate life).

These seven surprises for new CEOs carry some important lessons:

  • First, as a new CEO you must learn to manage organizational context rather than focus on daily operations;
  • Second, you must recognize that your position does not confer the right to lead, nor does it guarantee the loyalty of the organization;
  • Finally, you must remember that you are subject to a host of limitations, even though others might treat you as omnipotent.

 


 

This article re-worked from the original at http://www.valuebasedmanagement.net/methods_porter_seven_surprises_new_ceos.html.

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Pascale and Athos 7S Model

Strategy  

Structure

Systems

Staff

Style

Skills

Shared Values

 



 

The McKinsey consultants Anthony Athos, Richard Pascale, Tom Peters and Robert Waterman developed the 7S model as an analytical framework in the late 1970s when they researched organisational effectiveness.    The consultants developed a 360 degree model by linking strategy with organisational effectiveness.

7S Model Diagram

The 7S model consists of seven factors:

1. STRATEGY:
The integrated vision and direction of the company as well as the manner in which it communicates and implements that vision and direction.
2. STRUCTURE:
The form of the organisational chart and interconnections between positions in the organisational hierarchy.
3. SYSTEMS:
The procedures and routine processes required to perform the work, including the ways information moves through the organisation.
4. STAFF:
The personnel categories within the organisation, e.g. marketeers, engineers.
5. STYLE:
The characterisation of the ways key managers set priorities and behave in order to achieve the organisation’s goals.
6. SKILLS:
The distinctive capabilities of the organisation as a whole.
7. SHARED VALUES:
The core beliefs underlying the organisation’s existence and its expectations of its members.  Values act as an organisation’s conscience and provide guidance in times of crisis.

The original intention of the model was to help guide thinking about organisational effectiveness in the broadest sense.  The 7-S model turned out to be an excellent tool for judging an organisation’s ability to implement a given strategy.

To be effective, an organisation must have a high degree of internal alignment among all seven Ss.  Each S must be consistent with the other factors for them to reinforce one another.    With the exception of the skills factor, all Ss are interrelated and a change in one affects all others.

Certain key factors such as staff, strategy, structure and systems can be changed in the short term.  The three remaining Ss — style, skills and shared values — are delayed factors that can only be affected long term.   Skills are both hard and soft.   Peters pointed out that true competitive advantage originates from these soft factors.

The model can be used as both a static checklist for analysis purposes and a tool to assess potential conflicts when a strategic program is implemented.

The original source for the 7S model is the book:

The Art of Japanese Management,
R. T. Pascale and A. G. Athos,
Simon & Schuster, New York, 1981
http://www.amazon.com/Art-Japanese-Management-Business-Library/dp/0140091157/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1226384146&sr=8-1
Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New Ed edition (1986)
ISBN-10: 0140091157
ISBN-13: 978-0140091151
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/smj.4250030413/abstract
The consultants developed a 360 degree model by linking strategy with organisational effectiveness

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The Future of Computing (Now) – Cloud Computing

What is Cloud Computing?

In simple terms, cloud computing builds on the foundations of virtualised resources (compute resources, storage resources, network resources), providing an additional level of configuration and control across multiple virtual environments, as well as the capability of implementing “self service” facilities.

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of:

  1. five essential characteristics:
    1. On-demand self-service;
    2. Broad network access;
    3. Resource pooling;
    4. Rapid elasticity;
    5. Measured Service;
  2. three service models:
    1. Cloud Software as a Service (SaaS);
    2. Cloud Platform as a Service (PaaS);
    3. Cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); and,
  3. four deployment models:
    1. Private cloud;
    2. Community cloud;
    3. Public cloud;
    4. Hybrid cloud.

Key enabling technologies include:

  1. fast wide-area networks;
  2. powerful, inexpensive server computers; and
  3. high-performance virtualization for commodity hardware.”

(Source: NIST)

“Cloud computing is a category of computing solutions in which a technology and/or service lets users access computing resources on demand, as needed, whether the resources are physical or virtual, dedicated, or shared, and no matter how they are accessed (via a direct connection, LAN, WAN, or the Internet). The cloud is often characterized by self-service interfaces that let customers acquire resources when needed as long as needed. Cloud is also the concept behind an approach to building IT services that takes advantage of the growing power of servers and virtualization technologies.”  (Source: IBM)

Cloud Computing is now one of the “hot topics” in ICT.  Almost all major vendors have some semblance of a cloud computing offering, however that may be defined (since, as with most “hot topics”, vendors and others define an amorphous term such as cloud computing in a manner which best suits their interests).

Other terminology is sometimes used in conjunction with (and sometimes, erroneously, synonymous with) cloud computing.  The terms SaaS (Software as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service) can all be considered as sub-variants of the more generic term “cloud computing”.  The diagram in this IBM introductory material further elucidates these differences.

 

Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds

“In general, a public (external) cloud is an environment that exists outside a company’s firewall. It can be a service offered by a third-party vendor. It could also be referred to as a shared or multi-tenanted, virtualized infrastructure managed by means of a self-service portal.

A private (internal) cloud reproduces the delivery models of a public cloud and does so behind a firewall for the exclusive benefit of an organization and its customers. The self-service management interface is still in place while the IT infrastructure resources being collected are internal.

In a hybrid cloud environment, external services are leveraged to extend or supplement an internal cloud.”  (Source: IBM)

Diagrammatically, the three (3) types of cloud computing offerings can be depicted as:

Cloud Computing Types

(Source: Sam Johnston)

Private Clouds

“Private clouds presents (sic) a shift from a model where everything is customized to one of standardization. Management in such an environment is no longer about avoiding change but instead embracing it to facilitate IT’s twin goals: delivering on the needs of the business and managing the underlying resources in the most efficient way possible.

The move to private cloud represents an industrial revolution for IT, applying industrial manufacturing techniques to the provisioning of IT services, gaining standardization and automation.

Standardization is central to achieving much greater operational efficiency.  Private clouds not only facilitate standardization but dramatically increase the returns on standardization. Deploying standard infrastructure from a templatized catalog of applications is orders of magnitude faster and easier than building each application from scratch. Similar gains are available from centralizing and standardizing high availability, network management, and security.

To take advantage of the cloud, there needs to be a clear separation of the production versus consumption layer. In the cloud, the consumer (the business) has no idea – and importantly, little interest in or concern with – what hardware platform and management tools are being used to deliver services.”  (Source: VMWare)

It should be noted that some commentators (for instance, Sam Johnston in his “Random rants about tech stuff (cloud computing, intellectual property, security, etc.)“) suggest that Private Clouds are a neologism to justify various vendors offerings in competition to the “pure” Public Cloud model.  Nevertheless, even these commentators acknowledge that Private (and Hybrid) Clouds are likely to be used into the immediate future as organisations come to grips with a new way of providing computing facilities.

 

What Should Run in the Cloud?

Since the “cloud” can effectively implement any computing environment (operating systems, etc), then basically anything could be run in the cloud.  As with most things in life, just because it is possible does not necessarily make it either desirable or useful (or even usable).

Typically, highly interactive applications may best operate using a desktop or workstation environment (such as high end graphics manipulation, high end development IDEs, etc).  But the boundaries between a pure cloud environment and a pure desktop environment (and, now, even a pure mobile environment) are becoming increasingly blurred.  In many instances, what were previously only desktop applications now are connected to cloud facilities, typically for storage of data, but also for additional processing capabilities (for instance, to render complex images using the additional compute resources available in cloud facilities).  In the same manner, mobile applications will store (synchronise) data using a cloud facility, thereby allowing a single view of one’s data whether using a web based interface (into the cloud), a mobile device interface (ie on a smartphone) or a desktop interface (ie a MS Windows application).

In addition, applications with extremely sensitive security profiles would most likely not be run in a public cloud or hybrid environment (although could readily be conceived as operating in a secure private cloud environment).

Everything else is amenable to cloud based operation.

 

How big is Cloud Computing?

An interesting infographic from the Wikibon site and its blog provides an insight into the current and projected size of cloud computing, including the economics of why cloud computing is here to stay …

How Big is the World of Cloud Computing?
Via: Wikibon

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