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Just one sale!

Just one sale!

If I could just sell one!

Posted by on Feb 8, 2016 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on If I could just sell one!







One Simple Idea: Turn Your Dreams into a Licensing Goldmine While Letting Others Do the Work Revised and expanded edition by Stephen Key. McGraw Hill; New York 2016.

Picture this scenario: A man selling pencils on a street corner is having no luck until a couple stops out of pity and asks him the cost. “Thirty thousand dollars apiece.” the would-be vendor replies smartly. Shocked, the couple backs away. “If I could just sell one!” speculates the man with the pencils. What grit, what confidence, what outrageous optimism! But what if he had a one-of-a-kind so valuable that selling it brings in tens or even hundreds of thousands from the right buyer?

Picture this scenario: A man selling pencils on a street corner is having no luck until a couple stops out of pity and asks him the cost. “Thirty thousand dollars apiece.” the would-be vendor replies smartly. Shocked, the couple backs away. “If I could just sell one!” speculates the man with the pencils. What grit, what confidence, what outrageous optimism! But what if he had a one-of-a-kind so valuable that selling it brings in tens or even hundreds of thousands from the right buyer?

Painless scaling. Every would-be innovator, inventor or start up visionary who would prefer working on the next new, new thing dreams of it while being buried in “administrivia” or organizational politics. Not only would that dreamer be better off lying on the beach conjuring up what nobody in the corporate world has the time or latitude to imagine, the results stand to be bargains for many corporations as well. Are you kidding us! You might well ask, but I invite you to read through Stephen Key’s One Simple Idea before you dismiss this possibility.

Here is the drill. You pick an industry, one you have some understanding of and preferably a real pre existing interest in. After all, if you are going to hate your work, you’ll come to dislike your boss; and if that’s you, you are doubly a fool. So choose carefully. You should also be someone who likes to fiddle with stuff and is curious by nature. Research and development is expensive and time consuming, so if you have a well thought out idea that you’ve tested with a works- or looks-like prototype you might be a winner in the licensing game.

Why License?

You can’t sell your idea unless your buyer accepts that you either own it or have the option to own it. Patenting is expensive and demanding because the standard of evidence is high when you ask the law to stand firmly behind you. The alternative, says Stephen Key, is licensing. Nondisclosure agreements and patent applications, either provisional or non provisional are effective protection during negotiations. If your object is simply to license your idea and not go directly to manufacture on your own, you do not need the bother and expense that follow through would demand. The operative phrase is “first to file” and if you thought of the great idea you likely have the drop on anyone else who might, but don’t wait to see, start moving!

Another aspect of patenting that concerns many inventors or innovators is the mock up of your design. Again, the bar is not so high for licensing. As alluded to above, your model need not be an assembly line facsimile to gain a manufacturer’s attention. If how it appears is the principal selling point for your new and better version, then how well it works is not so important. On the other hand, if your improvement is all about better function, you can cannibalize other products or parts to prove the contraption, however ugly, actually works.

What an inventor looks like

Stephen Key gained his credentials in the toys and novelties industry. The popular image of the inventor as an unkempt figure in bottle bottom glasses and lab coat who toils secretly on cold fusion in a basement workshop is a caricature. Stephen doesn’t look or sound like that dude. Most innovation is small in scope, bringing undramatic shifts to established lines. which are scarcely earth shaking but yield good return on investment. Key explains that although you might think incremental improvement would be the normal by-product of in-house efforts to be more competitive. In reality, controlling costs and safeguarding investments is the usual preoccupation of most company employees. Risk aversion is a more reliable route for the employee to job security.

When Stephen spoke to me from his Lake Tahoe home last year, he sounded like someone who had struck the right balance between the tedium of corporate life and the craziness of the overworked small business proprietor. As he told me and writes in One Simple Idea, getting on with what you are best at while leaving the other parts of the job to those whose skills lie there, is challenging enough, but overall, more satisfying.

Licensing is a two stroke engine

Finding your niche then systematically studying both the market and the industry, mark the crucial division between burnout and success. It also helps, and this is where his book really proves itself, to know how to navigate the qualifying filters that prevent or boost your chances of getting a serious hearing. Stephen Key told me how the best, most pain free results come from listening carefully for the signs that a pull marketing strategy will pay off. Social media and communications technology have made the process of connecting with prospects much smoother than it had been only a few years ago.

However, the caution is that you will have to be quite skilled at communicating with your prospects. Never use the term “inventor”, for instance. When you are in your prospect’s office, on the telephone or corresponding to explain the benefits of your brainchild show appreciation of client needs not your own obsessions. At every turn risks appear. However, most of these are averted with a frank, common sense approach. This book, now in second edition, like the courses Stephen teaches is a boon that anyone with saleable ideas who is prepared to explain them could profit from.

Which brings us back to the tantalizing prospect we began with – what if the inventors could just be allowed to invent? Well, Stephen Key writes as he explained in our interview, if you want to be successful in licensing your ideas you do need to talk to people and you do need to negotiate on behalf of yourself and your idea. However, you have big advantages you can leverage with a little common sense. Picking a market you understand, a product line that fascinates you and enhancements you recognize as needed are elements you control. Building secure relationships of trust is partly intuition, but there are ways to greatly smooth the path.
Key first explains each logical move with instructive examples then summarizes the whole process as a ten step strategy near the end of the book. (Chapter 18.) So far, we’ve touched on the importance of market research, affordable research and effective manageable ways to protect your intellectual property and One Simple Idea is thoroughly systematic about how to get those things done. Getting your foot in the door is obviously also important. Once your idea is tested and prototyped adequately, you will need a one-line benefit statement and a one-page sell sheet. Fortunately, this book devotes two chapters on how to do this, but it will take practice. As anyone who has ever developed an elevator pitch or prepared for a job interview realizes, encapsulating a value proposition is no piece of cake without concentrated practice.

The ten steps and associated skills are entirely within range of mastery. As I could tell during my talk with the author, a big part of the fun and deep satisfaction he takes from the lifestyle he has created for himself, lies in applying that learning. Royalties can be a steady source of income security while the inventor promoter explores exciting new opportunities. A regular revenue stream pays for patents not already covered in licensing agreements. Stephen Key emphasizes that as in any role that requires initiative or continuous self direction, remembering why you are doing what you do is vital, but the actual doing must be motivating in itself.

Inventive ways to get inventions out there

Proof that the independent entrepreneur who pursues the licensing route is an important catalyst appears in interesting new initiatives that publicize and promote partnerships. On of these is a company called Quirky that accepts submissions through its site then sends these out to its million-member community to vote on their market value. After a winnowing process that includes a publicly broadcast meeting and the pursuit of big business partners, a few ideas come to market weekly. Thousands of submissions boil down to ten selections per week of which five may get a green light.

Ninety per cent of sales returns are what pays for Quirky’s extensive role and the remaining ten is divided between the original inventor and other contributors to the ultimate idea. On average a submitting inventor might receive four per cent of sales revenue. Not a great deal? That depends on perspective. Let’s suppose you have a good idea for an innovation but no feasible way to personally pursue licensing or patenting. Quirky does the work for you without your risking anything (except rejection) and you are free to pursue whatever else you want to.

Somewhat better odds are available for inventors who pitch to network shows like Shark Tank and Dragon’s Den. Even participants who are turned down by the risk averse sharks and dragons often benefit from the exposure attracting the consumer and investor interest so necessary to move forward. To impress these very public investors, you should already be in a market one or more of them knows well which promises a high rate of return and a big potential pool of consumers. Participants must be able to show clear evidence of product ownership – not what the independent entrepreneur seeking a licensing agreement is typically after. The odds of either Quirky or these network shows coming through for you as an inventor are minimal of course, but they do teach a great deal about what it takes to get to market and entertain at the same time.

Greater probability of return for your time invested is offered through crowdfunding which gives consumers input, provides a capitalization boost and often convinces licensing manufacturers down the road of value. Another more frequently productive route lies through direct response television such as shopping channels and programs. Here, as with other arrangements, the inventor is cautioned to avoid paying for upfront or other charges including video production and other promotional tools. The DRTV media outlets do rigorous market research and maintain a highly focussed telephone sales force. You will still have to sell to one of the five or so companies in the field, but they don’t ask for patents and a well prepared video sales sheet does much of the pitching for you.

Stephen Key not only sees many more and many more painless avenues to pursue the licensing option, he also has come to realize how beneficial the outside inventor channel is to embattled competitive companies. Shareholders are not keen on financing exploratory research and much of company management is fixated on cutting costs. Yet there is no business future without continuous development of new products. The creative outsider with the killer “simple idea” is a scarce if crucial lifesaver. Key believes smart companies should hire “product scouts” to find people like him who know plenty about their industries, but are not chained like company insiders to preserving the currently cost effective, but short-lived, limited status quo. If he were starting out today, he would become a product scout chasing down licence opportunities.

Symbiotic intrapreneuring?

From a larger economic perspective, the licensing alternative could be a boon to companies facing fields crowded with a surfeit of small players, a handful of big international operators and darn little in-between. The ability to grow or even keep thriving is hard to achieve in fast changing environments. Biologists inform us that our guts are populated by billions of single celled creatures we might call parasites if they did not do indispensable work in breaking down needed substances our metabolisms haven’t evolved to handle. You might say these free lance microbes introduce adaptive innovation in exchange for all the necessities they could dream of. The analogy is a bit crude, but suggests that once again new ways of creatively adapting the core of many organizations might lie in copying from nature.

Typically, investment loans or tax breaks help the little guys but these are no longer available if the company needs to grow. For the few potential superstars in embryo there are dozens of struggling small caps which can see no obvious path to healthy growth. Could licensing feed the ” internal flora”  that might sustain the painless scaling to something bigger and better?

Why the hole in the middle matters

For some decades, employment economists have tracked a dismal long term trend in the labour market. While there are several amazing career opportunities appearing on the horizon daily, they are reserved for the highly gifted, ultra hard working and extremely well placed. Sadly, there are far fewer “good” jobs and many, many more sub standard, hard grinding, yet insecure openings. Creativity and autonomy are needed for any career to be nourished and flourish. Where will those ladders to happiness and fulfillment come from, if we don’t build them ourselves? How will the workforce of tomorrow develop reservoirs of imagination and resilience? Like the little company, the talented independent innovator has so much to offer. Let’s get imaginative about getting into the game!

Blazing a trail for new scholars

Posted by on Nov 27, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Blazing a trail for new scholars

How to Become an Academic Coach: What you Need to Know by Mary Beth Averill and Hillary Hutchinson. CreateSpace independent Publishing Platform; First Edition edition 2014 (162pp).

Anyone who knows either Mary Beth or Hillary will not be surprised to see how clearly and frankly they lay it on the line in this plainspoken, but thoughtful joint effort. Available in either paperback or Kindle format How to Become an Academic Coach reflects the decades of experience as writers, academics and academic writing coaches these authors variously share. 
In their closing chapter, “The Solopreneur Life,” the authors remind us they are also self reliant independent business women. After listing the typical downside of the entrepreneurial lifestyle (irregular business cycles, multiple demanding roles, continuous rebalancing) they list the pros. Flexibility and creative opportunity head the list, but they close with these heartfelt words for the individuals they serve, “…the clients for an academic coach are some of the most creative, interesting, and cutting edge researchers that it is a privilege to work with and know personally.” Implicit in any such labor of love is this brand of heartfelt empathy. 
What else does an academic coach need to know or be? It doesn’t hurt to have subject matter expertise in the fields one’s clients are versed in and certainly the experience of being a published scholar oneself would be a big asset. Many academic coaches are also skilled editors and knowing how dissertation supervisors think is undoubtedly beneficial. Yet just as in athletics, where the best players are not always capable of drawing the best from the team, academic coaches need not be high flyers with impressive lists of credits or letters from storied institutions after their names. They should be skilled in life coaching fundamentals and adept at adapting their skillsets to academic settings. Awareness of the peculiarities of academic life would serve them well as would an appreciation of cognitive process, motivation and brain science.
How to Become an Academic Coach: What you Need to Know is not a step by step how-to book, nor is it a feel good fable designed to recruit battalions of new academic coaches. The authors are at pains to emphasize that not everyone, not every coach is destined to be an academic coach. Often the academic coach’s task is to wean the client away from the ivy covered walls either for career or mental health reasons. The words “recovering academic”, although they do not appear anywhere in this book, seem appropriate for such cases. Academic life like academic coaching is not for the fainthearted. Nonetheless, when the match is right, both coach and scholar will recognize their callings. 

Live, love longer with the one you’re with

Posted by on Oct 30, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Live, love longer with the one you’re with

LOVE SENSE: The Revolutionary New Science of Romantic Relationships By Sue Johnson 340 pp. Little, Brown & Company 2013. Image courtesy of

Sue Johnson’s Love Sense is indeed about romantic love as popularly defined. More specifically the book targets prospects for “happy ever after”. Her continuing professional and research focus is fostering the enduring emotional attachment she believes truly happy couples exhibit. According to Johnson’s clinical experience, despite inevitable conflicts or setbacks, true long range love is no fairy tale. By extension and example, Love Sense is also about the many other forms of strong attachment mainly as the author believes the roots of all human affection are essentially the same. Johnson’s work has real implications for positive psychology.

Not every researcher would agree. According to the well known intimacy scientist, Helen Fisher, different neurological systems are at work in mate-seeking, pair-bonding and child-rearing. In her New York Times review of Love Sense she writes about how her own extensive research supports distinctive brain based systems for sex drive, romantic attachment and parental care, each with its own neurochemical triggers. While Fisher describes these triggers (fairly) as separate “reproductive strategies.” Johnson’s hypothesis is that secure emotional attachment is more than an innate or calculated technique for genetic continuance, but instead represents a more inclusive, enduring long term survival strategy for both the individual and the species as a whole. In support of that position she has assembled many years of clinical evidence.

If Sue Johnson’s Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is as effective as she claims in this book and in her previously well received, Hold Me Tight, which introduced Johnson and her research to a world beyond her University of Ottawa based therapeutic practice, she credits much to the work of British child psychiatrist, John Bowlby. Originally a child psychiatrist under psychoanalytic pioneer Melanie Klein’s supervision, with the important contributions of his associate, Mary Ainsworth who painstakingly collected much of the data, he pioneered the formulation of Attachment Theory.

The gist of Bowlby’s theory and approach is that early childhood experience produces one of three basic strategies for relationship formation. The chosen one of these three options tends to persist throughout life: positive, ambivalent or detached. Positive anticipation tends to lead to open, joyful interaction, ambivalence to anxious, strained experiences with others while detachment produces shallow, fragile connections at best. In a sharp departure from psychoanalytic practice, Bowlby borrowed from the methods of ethology (the study of animal behaviour) and observed the reactions of children interacting with their parents in the context of their home settings. This was a big change from just listening to his young clients reflecting on their emotional lives.

Sue Johnson has helped us see that whatever the triggers or filters, the personal bond and the bonding style matter most over the long haul. Important for all of us (and who isn’t eventually wounded in love) weak or damaged bonds are repairable with deliberative practice. Johnson’s EFT practice offers clinical evidence. Some issues important to individuals and by extension the community are not resolved by Johnson’s emotion focussed system. She would probably agree the powerful emotional cohesion of a community derives at heart from many of its members being in strong pair bonds. Perhaps this is not directly obvious, but it does have something to do with the attachment style of those who belong.

Whatever many social traditions or certain neurochemical releases might favour, life and love are about much more than monogamous commitment. A strong lifelong bonding might serve many couples’ as well as society’s needs but does present problems once freedom of choice, passion or full expression of values come into play. Literature is rich and getting richer in its exploration of such complexities; the continuing strength of romantic themes in every medium attests to their mesmerizing influences. Helen Fisher points this out in her review. For her part, Sue Johnson explains at length that attachment to our children, other family, close friends, buddies and team mates also releases serotonin and oxytocin while building resilience, suppressing stress, increasing longevity, promoting happiness and increasing social capital. She is quick to observe as well that the same positive effects accrue to enduring same sex intimate relationships.

It’s fair to say none of these other positive relationships detract from her bedrock message. In a quickly changing era when many people live alone most of their lives, when diverse workplaces or communities require us to interact with individuals we might not  be inclined to associate with, the absence of the close connections we used to take for granted is not a healthy development. Sue Johnson warns of the potentially disturbing consequences our always on world of technologically mediated connection portends. As a supplement to strong interpersonal connection social media can play a helping role. However, when our lives are filled with emotionally thin electronic chatter, what potentially deep relationships will be stifled in the din? As Johnson notes, it is ironic that the new science of emotional bonding is emerging just when real threats to close relationships are accelerating everywhere.

Humble heroism or “Adaptation 101?”

Posted by on Sep 21, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Humble heroism or “Adaptation 101?”

Legendary Service: The Key is to Care by Ken Blanchard et al. 161 pages. McGraw-Hill 2014.

The idea is simple enough although there is often an undertow of resistance from accounting and the executive suite. Look after your customers and all your other people. Loyalty will follow delivering growing, reliable returns. For many in business, or government for that matter, the formula just does not compute. Motivation to buy is complex, but everyone wants to be respected and valued beyond the immediate transaction.

Co-authors Ken Blanchard, Kathy Cuff and Vicki Halsey outline the new math of Legendary Service by telling the story of one young employee completing her business degree and working in a hardware store. It’s a plausible narrative that interweaves the gist of her lectures with opportunities on the job to illustrate their key points.

Throughout the chapters text boxes with pull quotes inside appear every few pages to drive home the message. The excerpts are a bit wordy and too prosaic for needlepoint samplers, but they serve roughly the same purpose in the context of this pithy little primer on delivering the best level of service.

So why don’t we get that kind of quality every time we come up to bat? Well it probably begins with the zero sum thinking mentioned above. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Calculated dealing is a recipe for disengagement all down the line. Furthermore, as the subtitle reminds us, Neither you nor your colleagues will be able to fake it for long.

How did we wind up like this? Was there once a golden age of great service now drowned in a sea of corporate greed? The authors do not get into that nor need they. The book is more about a nostalgia for the future. After all, attending and responding to the emotional nuances of the person in front of you is not something easily replaced by an algorithm.

Are you steering or in steerage? Part 2: Author interview

Posted by on Oct 17, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Are you steering or in steerage? Part 2: Author interview

This post continues our exploration of Upgrade, both the book and the ideas behind it.  Part 2 is our recent interview between author Rana Florida and Praxis interviewers Kelly Okamura and Donald Officer.

KO/DO  What were your main reasons for writing Upgrade? Why now?

 RF I’ve interviewed an amazing cast of successful creatives for Your Start-up Lifemy business advice column at The Huffington Post. Not just CEOs, business executives, and management leaders but a rocket scientist, an all-star athlete, politicians, mayors and governors, a Grammy Award winning musician, a graffiti artist, starkitechts, fashion designers, media moguls, a tech billionaire, authors, a neurologist and so many others.  I learned a lot from them and it’s their collective insights boiled down in 7 simple principles that I found we could all use to upgrade our lives.

KO/DO  Who would you most like to read this book? Why? Who else might benefit from it? How?

 RF Business managers and entrepreneurs of course, but anyone looking to optimize their lives will benefit from it, from young people just starting out in the work world to stay at home parents looking to get back in. Successful people who want to get off the treadmill and live a better life should read it too.

KO/DO  If you were promoting Upgrade would it be as a how-to book a memoir or something else? Please elaborate on your choice.

 RF Upgrade is a business book that is chock full of advice from successful innovators, plus my own personal insights and opinions, drawn from my varied career.

I’ve worked in 1950s-style Organization Man corporations where management acts like prison wardens, monitoring your every move and counting the minutes you’ve taken for lunch. As the CEO of the Creative Class, I’m not just an insider in the brave new world of creativity, but I’ve toured countless companies as a consultant, observing their environments, workspaces, and policies, studying the ways they work and collaborate. Plus, I have had the incredible good fortune to meet a number of extraordinarily successful people who do what they love.

I was taught to go to school, get good grades to go on and get a corporate job. I landed a high level job for a Fortune 500 company just  outside Washington, DC.  But I soon realized the corporate dream was a sham.  I was stuck commuting in traffic for hours a day, I had no control of my schedule and felt like a hamster spinning in a wheel.  When I took the leap and risk to head up the Creative Class Group, I gave up the stability of a steady paycheque but regained control of my time and life. But shifting from corporate America to full on startup mode, I felt that I needed to throw out everything I learned in business school and implement the lessons I discuss in Upgrade.

KO/DO You mention that you are of Jordanian heritage. In what ways do you believe your roots have formed or currently direct your approach to your life and career?

 RF My father’s journey from a tiny village in Jordan to the US at the age of 18, with no network and little money, certainly inspired in me a willingness to take risks—and to seek out my own opportunities.

KO/DO  As CEO of the Creative Class Group, what do you most enjoy, what is most rewarding and what do you least like about the job?  Are you trying to upgrade, outsource, eliminate or bite the bullet on the unpleasant parts?

 RF Working with and meeting innovators and creative thinkers all over the world is incredibly rewarding and inspiring.

I love my job, but it does have its downsides. I’m constantly thinking about how to reduce the inefficiencies of email and the perils of information overload.  Our devices are always on, buzzing, dinging, blinking, and alerting us to new messages. The frantic drumbeat of incoming information—so much of it so pointless—has us so stressed out that we can’t even enjoy our time away from the office.

My team knows how I feel about e-mail overload. I am constantly pleading with them to “be nice to my in-box.” I even send them joking warnings when they send me too many e-mails in one day: “Cease and desist. You are an e-mail violator today!” I trust them to do their jobs; I don’t need to be cc’d on everything.

I encourage leaders to empower their teams. If they know they have the authority to make their own decisions not only won’t they be bombarding you with e-mails, they’ll work harder and make betterdecisions than they would if they were constantly checking in. When I tell my team that I don’t need to be cc’d or FYI’d, they know I really mean it. By expecting the best from them, I usually get it.

KO/DO  How would you describe your vision in life, your missions in your various roles and what would you most like to accomplish in the next ten years?

 RF  I’d love to change the mindset of leaders in the corporate world; I want to make it a rewarding experience. When I talk to so many business leaders, I am literally shocked by the old school practices they preach.  Too many of us, unfortunately, are still stuck with crackpot managers who give us no opportunities to grow or learn.  Too many people spend the majority of their time in soul-deadening jobs.  The top down approach to leadership does not work. I want to help foster a cultural and behavioural shift.

“If you have information, it is your obligation to share it with others.” I once heard this powerful statement, and it stuck with me. We are motivated to work harder when we feel valued and respected and fully-vested in our work, not when we are being treated like cogs. A leader’s job is to set a vision and goals and inspire their people to attain them. Our society, our institutions, and our businesses need to embrace this new style of leadership, as it brings the largest rewards.

KO/DO  Your husband is the renowned scholar Richard Florida, who argued in The Rise of the Creative Class that innovative thinkers frequently arise from the fringes of society. Upgrade is about playing (and winning) by mainstream rules. How a creative outsider with non-conforming ideas negotiate a game change?

 RF Upgrade is about everything BUT mainstream rules! Just a few of the nonconformist theories I suggest are:

Lead by serving – a leader’s job is to take a C player and make them an A player.

Kill the breakfast meeting (and most other meetings as well) – Most meetings are a waste of time. Scheduling back to back meetings keeps people from doing their real work.

Free the prisoners – Stop chaining people to their desks! Emphasize results rather than hours worked.

Embrace failure – Look at failure as an opportunity to grow, learn and reflect.

Take chances – Facebook’s motto is to move fast and break things, meaning it’s okay to take chances on several things at once. I concur.

Work from wherever, whenever, and however you want.

 Freedom & Flexibility for working parents – The children we raise today will be our leaders tomorrow.

These are all ideas that I heartily embrace but that are not yet accepted in conformist companies, even if they pay lip service to some of them. Here’s another one that I am extremely open to: James Vaupel of the Max Planck Research Center in Denmark believes that everybody should work shorter hours but continue to work well past the traditional age of retirement. “A 25-hour work week will allow younger people to spend more time with their children, take better care of their health (which will help raise average life expectancy), and improve their over-all quality of life,” he says, “while for the older population—many of whom have more time on their hands than they know what to do with—work can serve as both a psychological and physical outlet.”

KO/DO  We can’t all sit in first class. What would you say to those who are continuously relegated to coach through no fault of their own?

 RF  Whether we realize it or not, we all choose our own journey.  Our life is the result of several decisions we make each and every day.  Anyone can make small changes to their life to upgrade it.

KO/DO  Your book and career seem to be about how the individual can compete and stand out, but your ethical stance seems more oriented towards a community focused philosophy.  How would you reconcile this divergence?

 RF  Individuals can make choices about how to manage their lives, but our society’s practices need a total overhaul. Too often we look to the past for the right way of doing things, when it’s the future that holds the answers.

KO/DO  Throughout your book I see much evidence of the powerful tactics you used for personal reinvention to avoid becoming obsolete. Is there a strategy or principle beyond simple self-preservation behind that approach? If so, how would you describe it?

 RF  I read an interview in Fast Company with the designers Ken Carbone and Leslie Smolan. Their firm’s mantra is something they found in a fortune cookie—they have it framed in their office: “If you stay the same, you’ll die.” If they hadn’t taken it already, that would be my motto.

Constant change, creativity, and innovation are the key to success. If you sit back and think you have the perfect product or service and don’t constantly upgrade, tweak, and change it, business will pass you by. In business as in life, we need to constantly upgrade ourselves—our mental awareness through discovery and learning, and our physical bodies by exercise and a healthy diet.

 KO/DO  You cite the work of  Martin Seligman, Daniel Gilbert and other practitioners or advocates of Positive Psychology.  How has their work guided you in moving towards the life you want? Which principles have been most influential?

 RF  Seligman’s theory of learned helplessness has had a huge influence on my thinking. He began to formulate it while conditioning dogs for laboratory experiments. He realized that some animals behaved as though they were helpless in certain situations to avoid an adverse circumstance even though they had the power to change it or escape. When some people feel that they have no control over their lives, they too behave in a helpless manner, which, ironically, can close the

door to opportunity and the possibility of change.

KO/DO Would you like to add to expand on or clarify your message?

RF  The majority of us don’t think enough about how we can optimize our lives. Instead of developing a real strategy based on where we want to go in life and why, we just slog through in a state of what I like to call managed dissatisfaction.

My notion of managed dissatisfaction is inspired by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Herbert Simon’s classic theory of satisficing.  Simon coined the word (a combination of “satisfy” and “suffice”) to describe how human beings really make decisions.  Where most economists imply that people make decisions rationally to maximize outcomes, Simon recognized that this is impossible in most circumstances. Most of our decisions, he said, are circumscribed by what he called “bounded rationality.”  We choose the first solution that works, that satisfices, sacrificing the best for what’s “good enough.”

Well, it is never too late to envision a better future—or to actively upgrade your work or life. Anyone can do it. You don’t have to be a 20-something single person with nothing to lose to start living the life you want today. The changes you make don’t have to be huge.  Simple tweaks and changes to our everyday lives can dramatically enhance it.

Are you steering or in steerage?

Posted by on Oct 16, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Are you steering or in steerage?

Upgrade: Taking your Work and Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary by Rana Florida McGraw-Hill 2013 review and author interview by Donald Officer and Kelly Okamura

Part 1: The Review

Although Upgrade is written in a readable, conversational style, author Rana Florida is pretty hard headed in what she prescribes for any individual seeking an upgraded life. She is also on record as a strong believer in creativity – Get Creative is one of her seven commandments and she is CEO of the Creative Class Group which embodies her husband, Richard Florida’s well known innovative ideas about economic growth. She is, moreover, a regular Huffington Post columnist. Consequently, the disciplined regime advocated in this book might seem at odds with the out of the box ideas the author espouses elsewhere.

Perhaps qualifying as a member of the creative class does not tick off all the boxes on the independent artist application (presuming it exists and artists agree to complete it).  It’s also just possible there are other ways to climb the ladder or to achieve happiness that don’t involve grit, perseverance and discipline. However, the no nonsense success prescription jumping from the pages of Upgrade offers very solid advice backed by positive psychology and anecdotal support from an impressive list of well-known interviewees noted for either performance excellence or impressive innovation.

Nor does Rana Florida casually drop or reference her star calibre names. Instead she consistently takes their stories to action points sharing the most important takeaways with her readers.  Here are the key headers illustrating the Upgrade code:

  1. Envision your future – it’s never too late to start living your upgraded life
  2. What’s your passion? Or find someone else’s passion and join in
  3. Get creative – embrace change and innovate
  4. Design your time – only 3 things needed to manage your most valued resource – have fun, be productive, and give back
  5. The power of we – collaborate with others
  6. Big risks – big rewards
  7. Fail to Succeed.

We’d be remiss if we overlooked Rana’s concise summary of visioning in the first chapter. To upgrade properly, conduct a first class scrutiny of what it’s going to take and how driven you are to get there. Although celebrity chef, Mario Batali calls Upgrade a manifesto for success, it’s not a playbook for everyone – after all, there are only so many seats in first class. Kelly once got bumped to first-class on a transatlantic flight, but found the oversize seats too uncomfortably big for her britches.

However, if you want to lead a beautiful people life and love working with laser focus on your career, Upgrade offers critical nuggets to correct your more mediocre bearings. Remember to stay mindful that your journey takes place in an imperfect, unjust world and look out for kids or burdensome friends, they tend to mess up the best laid plans.

See Part 2: The Interview tomorrow

Moral dissention

Posted by on Aug 7, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Moral dissention

Every generation somebody discovers a scientific framework to explain everything as far as one particular field or another is concerned. In The Moral Landscape we see neuroscientist Sam Harris devising a moral construct based on brain science. Reviewer William Sheridan suggests this might be a new ideology or belief system every bit as dogmatic as the various forms of fundamentalism it is intended to supplant.

I don’t know if I’d go that far. Neuroscience and cognitive psychology have already helped the open minded find  ever more open terrain to explore more freely. Yet Harris and other neurologically informed enthusiasts would do well to remember the silliness that the science of earlier eras now presents us with as Sheridan muses below. Today’s maps of the brain in action might eventually be no more credible than phrenology is to us. – DRO.

The Moral Landscape by Sam Harris; The Free Press, New York, 2010. Reviewed by William Sheridan

Neuroscientist Sam Harris uses this book to argue that modern science not only explains the operations of the universe, but can also provide the basis for social policies that will assure human wellbeing.  He claims that science can replace all of the folklore of traditional cultures with a rational worldview that unifies facts and values.  However initially positive this may sound, it has serious drawbacks.

If science could account for all aspects of life that are “good” (beneficial) for human wellbeing AND all of the aspects of behaviour that are “bad” (detrimental) for human wellbeing, then science would be a totalitarian worldview by definition (like other totalitarian accounts, it would cover EVERYTHING!).  Such a position represents Knowledge Imperialism.

Positivistic Science of the 19th century once aspired (implicitly) to this position.  Science as envisioned by Harris would aspire to it explicitly.  How did Sam Harris arrive at this conclusion, and should the rest of us agree with him?  The foundational premise behind this ideology is that of “consilience,” a new proposal for unifying science.  We should consider the consequences of this proposal, something Harris overlooks.

First let’s think through a historical perspective.  New sciences often go through a similar exuberant phase.  In the early days of Newtonian Mechanics, all of life was portrayed as a “balance of forces.”  With Darwin, all trends became “evolutionary.”  Interpreters of Einstein saw social reality as “relativistic.”  According to the behaviourists, all social variations were due to “conditioning.”

Glandular biologists of the 1930s cited “secretions” as the basis of individual differences.   Geneticists proposed that “everything human was controlled by the human genome.”  Now we have neuroscientists (like Sam) interpreting all cultural variability as “brain-based.”  A deep knowledge of the history of science would reveal that each of these scientific “rising stars” was simply re-interpreting the same phenomena again and again, but each from within their own distinct vocabulary and mind-set.

What of Harris’ argument.  The facts and values of human wellbeing certainly coexist – but that does NOT make facts and values identical.  And he is certainly correct that the vocabulary we use to discuss these issues leaves much to be desired.  However, it is possible to have a comprehensive view of knowledge without insisting that EVERYTHING (in the final analysis) is based on just one thing!  A landscape has peaks and valleys (different altitudes), but it also has flora and fauna (different kinds of things).  “Facts” tell us what is, whereas “values” tell us what should be – values must be based “on” facts, but are not the same “as” facts.  The concept of “wellbeing” doesn’t resolve this, because there are radically different definitions of wellbeing!

Both a nation at war and the mafia expect their young men to fight for, and if necessary die for their respective causes, each of which they eulogize.  Interestingly enough, both systems propose “loyalty” as the basis for their rules of behaviour.  Since dying is not in everyone’s concept of wellbeing there must be something more to morality than the simple facts of the case.  Although this appears to be a sincere attempt to assist humanity, it needs to be considered from a wider perspective.

The book’s whole argument requires deconstruction.  Since morality is all about values, what is a value?  Certainly not just an ideal that one advocates – that’s only rhetoric.  A value is something (anything) for which one consistently strives.  People can name and organize their values. Other creatures must settle for simple pursuit, but all living things “value” food and water.  Because people use symbols to one extent or another, it is usually considered appropriate to “ask them” what they value and why.  Simultaneously their behaviour can be observed to see if answers and actions coincide.

Many people these days have a skeptical, even jaded view of the supernatural. I am one of them.  But I am careful not to “button-hole” others and proselytize regarding my beliefs.  On the other hand, my parents were fundamentalist Christians, who never tired of telling others “the truth” about sin and salvation.  Fortunately I have learned better!  Sam apparently does not share my sense of civility.  He is quite prepared to condemn any and all whose moral views do not conform to his own rather stringent standards. He rationalizes this by saying that his position is scientifically supported and “obviously correct.”

Actually, the substance of most of what Harris recommends is quite acceptable generally.  Tolerating the intolerable is neither necessary nor advisable.  Furthermore, many of his suggestions seem workable.  So where do our views diverge?  I don’t find science a credible foundation for morality.  Pragmatism would give similar results, but avoid extremist posturing.  In his current state of mind, Harris is a fundamentalist (of science) in a similar fashion to my parents who were fundamentalists (of religion).

Does it really matter how we label these concepts?  According to this book it does – so let’s see where that goes.  Harris’ vision of science is an over-idealized version of a particular knowledge management methodology.  Furthermore, many of the things he attributes to “science” can more appropriately be assigned to “technology.”  Science is more of a semiotic system (symbols for understanding), whereas technology is more of an existential system (techniques for problem-solving).

The “all or nothing” attitude is the real problem with fundamentalism.  The agenda of fundamentalists, of whatever belief, is to eliminate tolerance of all alternatives and dissentions.  If science ends up replacing religion as the dominant worldview, it will likely be prone to all of the excesses that science was originally developed to overcome!  That is neither advisable nor necessary.  We can achieve both individual and social wellbeing without grandiose ideological straight-jackets – a sense of cooperative and coordinative commitment would be entirely sufficient.


Posted by on Apr 24, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on I DON’T THINK SO

In this era of relativity, quantum mechanics, climate change, genome mapping, neuroscience, cognitive studies, systems analysis and complexity theory etc. etc. any notions about an absolute basis for figuring out the world seem presumptuous. So when my colleague, William Sheridan, sent me this review I was amused, but provoked in a good way by the paradox implicit in what he says. In a few sweeping sentences he dismisses the preponderance of the west’s canon of received wisdom. On the other hand, what would he replace this with? I would suggest he offers a very humble but honest perspective that few authors have the courage to put in writing.

The Thinking Life by P. M. Forni; St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2011. Reviewed by William Sheridan

The author and I agree that much of people’s time these days is consumed with trivial pursuits.  And I concur that these activities distracts us from “serious and deep thinking.”  He recommends the teachings of some Classical Thinkers for advice on how to start thinking, and why to start thinking.  Although I agree heartily with the goal, I regard his proposed method as both ludicrous and ineffective.  Why?!

He recommends the views of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and Marcus Aurelius amongst others.  These follows lived and thrived in societies based on slavery, radical inequality, male chauvinism, and territorial conquest.  Since each version of wisdom reflects the circumstances of its origin and practice, I can’t go there – furthermore, I don’t really want to!

Is there any other way to learn “serious and deep thinking?”  Since I have done it myself, and NOT with Dr. Forni’s proposed method, there must be another way!  I have reviewed the intellectual accomplishments of these and other great thinkers, and like the Conceptual Pragmatist that I am, I have taken what is useful, and disregarded with is not!

Conceptual Pragmatism (originated by American philosopher C.I. Lewis) teaches us that ideas are NOT intrinsically good or useful except insofar as their use provides our cognitive efforts with some value-added.  I therefore accept and use Plato’s single great contribution to philosophy, namely “idealism,” and forego the remainder – he was just secularizing the astrology of his time anyway!

I have summarized all of the “great ideas” in a single page, and inter-related them for pragmatic use.  I call this “The Human Knowledge MindMap” and it is available in the book How to Think Like a Knowledge Workerpublished by the United Nations, and available as a free download on the Internet.  Based on my own recently completed manuscript, How to Present Knowledge to the Public, and a reading of Dr. Forni’s book, the following thought occurs to me:  Perhaps the willingness to take the time and effort to “think” does not depend on either values or brains – perhaps instead it depends on temperament.  This would explain why for all of human history, the vast majority has always been devoted to the pursuit of the trivial – the peculiar and rare temperament needed for sustained thinking is just not a characteristic of the majority.

William Sheridan©2013      William Sheridan is a deep thinker who lives and works in Ottawa, Canada.

Is it good to be content?

Posted by on Apr 11, 2013 in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Is it good to be content?

We do live in extraordinarily interesting times to over exaggerate the Chinese curse. On a day to day level life has never been more secure even in some of the most desperate parts of the earth. Longevity is increasing everywhere daily. Some of the worst banes of human history are fading into its dimmer annals. The really unpleasant reminders of disease, risk and mortality are the more irksome for their exceptional persistence in the face of so much progress.

As we all know intuitively, these clear and totally desirable advances do not tell the entire story. Psychologists inform us that fear of loss is stronger than hope of gain. Sadly, our reactions validate the sentiments. These gut feelings are deeply rooted in atavistic irrationality, but irrationality that compels us to fight for survival. The evidence also tells us that survival is more important from nature’s point of view than pretty much anything else. Our genetic endowment would prefer that we hang around long enough to reproduce and raise our young than be happy or have a realistic grasp on reality itself. The best philosophy, science or culture overall can do for us is to ground us in the basics and provide enough opportunity to enjoy ourselves now and then as a practical release of stress. Stress after all and definitely after a certain point is a risk factor that threatens nature’s design for our species.

Wait a minute, did I say design?