Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

Enhancing Organizational Performance

Note to staff on science & immigration/visitor ban

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This weekend has ended up being one of great turmoil for our nation. Our new president has signed a series of executive orders and has imposed other rules which are very questionable from a legal, moral, and scientific standpoint.

Gag orders have been imposed on organizations like the EPA – the Environmental Protection Agency, charged with protecting our environment not only for ourselves, but for future generations, the CDC – The Centers for Disease Control, The National Park Service as well as a host of others. What this gag order does is prevent the dissemination of peer reviewed scientific research without vetting from the White House on its political implications. This strikes at the very foundations of the scientific process and at a cornerstone of what has made this nation a leader in research and innovation, but it also begins the process of degrading the notion of data sanctity.  Over the years I have had conversations with some clients who wanted me to present results in a certain “light”, whether it is one that was more favorable to them or one that made a specific point. At one client I was fired by the board after I would not create a story that was critical of the CEO (they wanted to get rid of him) – a story that the data did not support. I will not violate the sanctity of our data at any time. This attempt to undermine the scientific process has the potential to do great harm to the nation and to our futures and I will join other researchers and scientists as we resist this attempt. The nation’s Park Rangers, have begun an information dissemination program that is independent of the government and pushing out facts on climate change. See for instance:  https://qz.com/894622/its-no-surprise-the-national-park-service-is-defying-trump-it-is-deathly-serious-about-climate-change/. I expect many other efforts to provide unvarnished scientific truth to emerge.

The new president also issued an executive order barring refugees and other immigrants from certain Muslim nations. The second part of what has made America great, beyond our science has been the flow of immigrants that has powered many of our most innovative organizations over the years. Who among us can go back more than a few generations and not find immigrants in our ancestry? We are a nation of immigrants and that, unquestionably, has made us stronger. Many technology companies, have already expressed alarm at this order. Google has recalled any employees traveling on business, telling them to return to the USA. Microsoft, Apple, & Facebook have expressed their opposition to the order. Many others have voiced similar concerns.

As some of you may know, my daughter was accepted at MIT. She is scheduled to start there this fall. There are a number of her high school peers from other nations who will now be banned from entering the country to attend MIT with her. She is in communication with them. They are distraught as they see lifelong dreams and their futures going up in smoke because of pandering to a political base. MIT is trying to figure out how to get these kids here so they can study, but right now the door is closed. This order is affecting real people in disastrous ways.

And of course the science behind a ban like this in an attempt to prevent terrorism is non-existent. And those of us who have worked in selection know how weak this approach, painting a class of people with a broad brush, really is. Not to mention that punishing a class of people for the actions of a few is considered a war crime under the Geneva Convention and a religious test is a direct violation of the constitution.

I have signed an academic petition (based on my teaching in the MBA program at Binghamton University) in opposition to this order, along with thousands of other academics, including some of the most accomplished in the world. I am proud to be able to add my name to the list.  https://notoimmigrationban.com/. Last night in support of the efforts to resist this order I also joined the ACLU – the American Civil Liberties Union, who are challenging it in court. They also won a short-term victory, getting  a stay issued for those people who were being held at the nation’s airports, preventing them from being deported. There is of course much more that needs to be done.

In terms of how this new president’s approach of wall building will affect us, I wrote a blog piece describing how it will imperil innovation at companies and in the nation in general. Read it here: https://jeffreysaltzman.wordpress.com/2017/01/26/the-big-lie-walls-and-innovation/.

For those of you, within OV, who feel personal uncertainty, for yourself or for family, please know that we will support you and help you through this turbulent time.

Warmest Regards,

Jeff

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 30, 2017 at 8:14 am

The BIG Lie, Walls and Innovation

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If I was consulting at a company and the CEO told me that they were going to wall themselves off from the rest of the world, to prevent unwanted impacts from occurring to the organization, I would pretty forcefully make the argument that what they were doing was going to increase the amount of unwanted impacts, exactly the opposite of what was hoped.

Organizations which isolate themselves in an attempt to insulate themselves will not be challenged by or have access to better ideas, processes or products from elsewhere. Ideas, processes and products that others will have access to. Are those challenges uncomfortable, pushing the organization into new and potential untried directions? Yes. But those very challenges help them to progress as an organization and it helps them progress on making better, higher quality products. Isolated organizations stagnate, as the world passes them by, making them obsolete and ripe for failure or collapse. It is only a matter of time.

Organizations that embrace the outside world, find that they have to constantly update themselves, including their products and process, as well as the skill sets of their people. It makes success more difficult to achieve, but it also strengthens the organization so it can compete more effectively in the long-term.

One key element in measuring whether an organization is functioning as a highly innovative organization is to determine if the organization can make use of the best ideas from within the organization regardless of where they come from. Is the source of new ideas and concepts limited only to those whose responsibility or job title has something about research or innovation in it? If so, you can be pretty sure that you are looking at an organization that is not all that innovative. If innovations come from all over the organization, and the organization can incorporate the best of those ideas into the way they operate, you are likely dealing with a much more successful, innovative company. Another aspect of innovation is whether the company can find the best ideas and concepts externally and can they incorporate those novelties into their existing products and operations.

Innovation comes in at least two “flavors”. Big “I” and little “i” innovation. As Scott Brooks and I describe in our new book, Creating the Vital Organization, little “i” innovation is when existing processes, products and policies are improved. A daycare center which changes their hours of operation to better accommodate parents is doing little “i” innovation. Big “I” innovation is when brand new explorations are taking place, new products are thought of, new markets explored, and completely new business processes are being tried out. A daycare center that adds eldercare, which likely requires new and different equipment and/or facilities, new activities, different and/or additional staff and care standards, new marketing, etc. is doing big “I” innovation. Both of these types of innovation are critical for long-term organizational success.

A daycare center which, by walling itself off from its environment, continues doing only childcare, while all of its competitors are also offering eldercare, will fall behind competitively, for as the environment changes (with an aging population), they fail to adapt. Can they survive? Perhaps. But if everyone who needs childcare, suddenly finds themselves needing eldercare as well, this daycare is ill-prepared to deal with the market and the changing external environment. The organization which does not change will not thrive as they fail to fulfill their potential.

As the pace of change quickens, partly driven by rapidly changing technology and global economic conditions, keeping pace with change is all that more difficult and painful. But that difficulty will not change the ultimate outcome for an entity that Walls itself off.

An aspect of personality has been shown to be tied to innovation, changes and Walls. Neophobics, are people who tend to fear new things, they are traditional, wanting to maintain existing social orders, the things they have done in the past that work “just fine”, they want to build walls, both socially, policy-wise and physical. And they have been shown to have a more easily triggered sense of disgust. (Jonathan Haidt, the noted sociologist, has also found that they tend to be Republican). When something is new or different, or perceived as a threat their reaction can be one of disgust. They may talk about how “disgusting” an event, a person, or a change is to them. Neophobia is not a binary, either/or condition. It is anchored at the other end of the scale with neophillia, or a tendency to engage in new activities or to like new things. People at this end of the scale tend to embrace change and find it invigorating. The vast majority of us are not at one extreme or the other, but tend towards the middle of the scale. And depending on the situation, or environment a person who is neophillic just might act in a neophobic way and vice versa. Those at the more extreme ends of the scale exhibit somewhat predictable behaviors.

There are many forms that Walls can take. A physical wall between the USA and Mexico is very obvious, aimed at keeping a “problem” outside. Presenting your opinion as being based on “alternative facts” is simply a Wall that prevents the truth from entering, allowing those who base their actions on alternative facts (lies), to ignore reality. (People who cannot tell fantasy from reality are technically psychotic, a very serious mental illness.) A trade agreement is a way of overcoming Walls while tariffs on goods is a way of creating Walls. Eventually these Walls will increase the undesired impacts on the nation rather than reducing them.

Having peered reviewed scientific research run through a political vetting process as has been stated as a new policy for Federal Agencies as the new administration begins a lock down on information at such places as the Center for Disease Control and the Environmental Protection Agency is nothing more than a Wall. You don’t want to let scientific truths impact your political talking points, so you must Wall off the truth. As both a scientist and a CEO, I find that deeply troubling, as there is only one way that can end if implemented, and it is not good for science, for business or for the USA. Fantasy worlds tend to collapse over time as they are nothing more than a house of cards. Scientific facts simply do not care what you believe. The ice is melting, the climate is changing, whether you personally believe it or not.

The USA is a very large organization. At this moment in time, there are elements that are aiming to build all sorts of Walls around it and even within it. These Walls will weaken the nation, will reduce the standard of living, and put all of us in peril. It is time to tear down Walls, not build them.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 26, 2017 at 9:49 am

Posted in Vitality

Patience vs. Perseverance

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Is patience the same as perseverance? In the world of business, perseverance, the ability to stick to something, to see it through is often viewed as a positive personality characteristic. How many times have you heard that innovators, or inventors, or entrepreneurs will fail many times before finally succeeding? And that those who finally succeed are the ones who persevered? In order to persevere must you have patience?

Aspects of patience feel different than perseverance. It feels more like the guru sitting crossed-legged on a mountain-top waiting for that mountain to wear down or for enlightenment to strike. Gurus, for some reason are never depicted in images as young people (or as female), but rather as old men with beards. That somehow wisdom comes with age and with patience (and apparently maleness). But of course the world is full of many patient people who never achieve wisdom or enlightenment.

While the stone of the mountain seems strong, we all learned that water and wind (even human footsteps), given enough time, will eventually wear away those steps or that mountain, changing the landscape and the environment as it slowly does its work. All you have to do is be patient. Just look at what water was able to do in carving the Grand Canyon and other western landscapes.

Perseverance somehow carries a connotation of activity, whereas patience feels more passive. You can persevere at learning and education, but as you look around the world and see the conditions of many of the humans living upon it, the notion of “patience, all good things come to those who wait”, rings rather hollow, doesn’t it.  You must go out and make things happen for positive change to occur.

Perseverance is closely tied to resiliency. Humans, both young and old, tend towards resiliency. One overarching review of resiliency in humans came to the conclusion that the most surprising thing and defining thing about resiliency is how common-place it really is. We seem to be very good, when faced with adversity to “keeping at it” or when overcome by adversity, to recover and trying again. Resiliency is a key characteristic of organizational vitality, for we know that every organization, no matter the type, profit, non-profit, political or even religious will face challenges and being resilient will be a key marker of those who will overcome those challenges and survive.

So perseverance seems to be generally positive in tone whereas patience has both a positive and negative connotation. And that is where generational issues comes in.

When a characteristic can have both positive and negative attributes, through the eyes of different people the same attribute can be viewed either positively or negatively depending on the point someone is trying to make. It is like making folk wisdom fit whatever situation you happen to find yourself in to explain, rationalize or justify.

“Get off my lawn!” The grouchy old man, (very rare to see grouchy old women depicted – rather the stereotype is that they are nurturing), seeing the kids playing on his lawn, sees damage to the grass that he so carefully tends and enjoys and the kids see a beautiful lawn that is just perfect for a game of tag. Same environment, two viewpoints. But the world is also full of old men who would love to see kids playing on their lawn and kids who would never dream of trespassing without permission.

Individual differences and characteristics are key. Young people can certainly be patient. They can certainly persevere. They can also be impatient and eager to get ahead quickly, and be seen as wanting rewards without paying their “dues” by others. But there are older generational people who would also fit those characteristics to a tee as well.

As a CEO, I can tell you, I have to remind myself to have patience. Everyday. CEO’s in general have a proclivity towards action and towards getting things done quickly. Time is the enemy. When a project takes more time, it is less profitable. When a support task takes more time, it costs the company more in both dollars and resources. When a new product roll out takes longer, you run the risk of a competitor beating you to market and grabbing market share, damaging your company. Or an environmental change which makes your investment in the new product meaningless. As a CEO you want things done and you want them done quickly. On the flip side, as a CEO you want the company’s reputation to be sterling. Things done quickly run the risk of being haphazard or of poor quality. That can damage the organization. So each and every day a balance must be achieved, between speed and quality. The trick is to figure out how to do things quickly and with high quality (at the lowest cost possible).

Surrogate measures are when we use a characteristic or measurement of a person or environment to infer something about that environment. A column of mercury rising in a thermometer is a surrogate measure for temperature. We make the assumption, based on science (yes it is a scientific principle), that as the atoms in the mercury become more energetic due to the rising temperature, they expand as they bounce around more, causing the visual appearance of the mercury to more fully fill the tube it’s in. We are not measuring temperature directly, we are using an outcome (the energy of the atoms and the visual appearance of the mercury) as a surrogate measure to infer the temperature.

Some people use surrogate measures, such as patience, to infer personal characteristics of someone else and to further infer whether they will succeed or fail in various situations. Young people look at old people (like me) and could see patience as a negative. But they are using a surrogate measure. The real question is whether in the unique situation we find ourselves, in order to succeed, do we need to be in a hurry to get things done or is patience the best path towards success. And many if not most people can adapt themselves to the situation.

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

January 20, 2017 at 7:00 am

Posted in Human Behavior

Prediction 2017

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The start of a new calendar year is upon us.  Everyone wants to know what is in store for us, and there is no shortage of those willing to make predictions. After such an abysmal year in trying to predict election outcomes you would think there would be some hesitation in offering prognostications.

There are those who extensively study prediction making, such as Phil Tetlock and his Good Judgement Project. He documented his work in a book he co-authored with Dan Gardner, called Superforecasting, the Art and Science of Prediction. He identified people, by nature of their approach to problem solving and prediction, who were much better than average at determining likely outcomes to an event or situation. The very best of them knew that they did not have all the answers, were always questioning themselves, acknowledged their mistakes and failures, were always looking for more information, and were willing to adjust and change their predictions based on that new information. He summed up their approach as “try, fail, analyze, adjust, try again”.

Phil’s recommendations for doing good forecasting include:

  1. Use predictive techniques on problems that can be predicted. Don’t try to predict, for instance, what life will be like 50, 100 or 150 years from now. The answers will be sheer nonsense.
  2. Break complex predictions into a series of less complex predictions. You are better off trying to predict one aspect of life 50 years out, not everything.
  3. Consider both insider and outsider sources of information. An insider (your contractor) might say, in predicting how much a kitchen remodel might cost, that it would cost X. By doing your research you would find that kitchen remodels more than a third of the time run over budget by substantial amounts (outsider source of information) and you should adjust your contractors estimate accordingly.
  4. Don’t over or underreact to evidence as it becomes available and don’t fall into the trap of wishful thinking (just because you want something to be true does not make it true).
  5. Open yourself up to considering both sides on an issue. (But make your consideration based on scientific evidence).
  6. Think about your predictions with percentages of certainty and uncertainty. Very few things in life are binary, either/or. Think about your prediction as a likelihood number – say 65% or 75% certain.
  7. Don’t become frozen by “analysis paralysis”. Balance making a prediction needed to take action, with the need to continually refine your predictions.
  8. Learn from your mistaken predictions, but don’t fall into the cognitive traps and biases commonly found.
  9. Listen to others and consider their insights.
  10. You get better at making good decisions by practicing and honing your decision-making skills and abilities.
  11. Don’t blindly follow these or any other rules. Realize that each situation can be different.

In today’s environment, I would add, 12. Don’t give into fear. Realize that many people will be trying to influence your personal predictions and your perceptions of future events by manipulating your emotions and thinking patterns in order to achieve their own ends. And 13. With the abundance of fake news and fake information that is now all around us, check your sources. Make sure they are legitimate. We all need to take lessons on how to be better at predicting, for the decisions and predictions that we make have real consequences on people’s lives.

Psychologists spend a lot of time trying to predict behaviors. In my first job after graduate school, I was tasked with trying to predict which person would make the best steel worker, the best bearing manufacturer, executive assistant, or corporate manager among other occupations. All of those predictions were based on probabilities and not absolute judgments. And I would have to say that many (maybe most) did not understand that. In order to make better predictions in this area, one technique used by psychologists is called a “multiple hurdle” approach. This means that the prediction of who would be the best steel worker, for instance, had multiple decision points where a candidate either passed for failed. Did they score high enough, compared to other successful steel workers, on a test of math ability? The kind of math required to do the job. If they did, they moved onto the next hurdle. If not, they were rejected.  Could a person who failed the math test make a good steel worker? Yes, but the odds were longer. The more hurdles, in general the better the prediction. The cost of each hurdle had to be taken into consideration against the added value it gave in prediction. (In my work, at the time, I determined that the most predictive assessment for steel workers was the Bennett Test of Mechanical Comprehension, it measured people’s understanding of how the physical world operated. It was a test, mostly non-verbal, of innate understanding of the properties of mechanics and physics).

At my current company, OrgVitality, which I founded with several partners, a good portion of our work on assessing organizational culture is aimed at prediction as well. Some of the questions we attempt to answer for clients include: What pattern of responses to an organizational survey, will best enable, making it more likely, that an organization can fulfill its strategic mission? (And how do you increase the likelihood of success?) Where in the organization are there response patterns that are indicative (more likely to occur) of higher levels of innovation, customer service, sales success, safety, ethics, etc.? What response pattern is indicative of less turnover and more future success for employees? And we like to examine those factors in terms of present performance and future potential. Scott Brooks and I wrote a book called Creating the Vital Organization which examines our approach in detail. One aspect of prediction the company is working upon and continually fine-tuning, is to determine, through various algorithms, which comments an employee or customer may make which are the most valuable in terms of organizational improvement and to have the very best rise to the top out of a pile of tens or hundreds of thousands.

Some pressing questions of prediction in the public sphere today revolve around violence and mass killings.  Can we predict who will cause mayhem and violence in our society and importantly can we prevent the violence from happening? If we look at 85 tracked mass shootings from 1982 to 2016 the demographics of those who committed these crimes in our society, a pattern emerges. Most of the mass murders were committed by around 30 year old, white men, a significant portion of which had a history of some sort of mental illness. The vast majority, as far as can be determined were not Muslim (about ½ of 1% were Muslim), even though those committed by Muslims garner much attention. Most obtained their guns legally and were not prohibited from owning the weapon.  Who has access to guns to commit these crimes? The largest percent are more likely to live outside of the northeastern part of the USA, 41% are white, 51% live in rural environments, 49% self-identified as Republicans (22% as Democrat) and 41% identify themselves as having a conservative ideology.  Using this profile, logic and statistics (and I am doing this to point out a flaw in this reasoning), if we take guns away from 30 year old white, non-Muslim men, who live in rural environments and have conservative beliefs we will greatly reduce the incidence of mass murders in our country. The flaw in this logic should be obvious to you. Of the 30 year old, white, non-Muslim men, who live in rural environments and have conservative beliefs, less than a fraction of one-tenth of 1% will commit mass murders. 99.99% of them will not commit any crimes with their weapons. Taking away the guns from all of them is like putting out a match with the Pacific Ocean. It simply does not make sense.  Yet there are those who are willing to use this very same type of flawed logic to castigate all Muslims or those with mental illnesses. It doesn’t work there either. Americans are being skillfully manipulated to come to erroneous conclusions.

I am reminded of an adult education class discussion I attended, where there was much discussion of how violent the 20th century was, with huge numbers being slaughtered in WWI and WWII. I made the statement that in general humanity over the millennia was becoming less violent (and there is one hypothesis that we are self-domesticating, weeding out the most violent among us). My statement was met with much derision. Those who ridiculed my statement where falling prey to at least one human bias – what you see is all there is. If you look at the larger context, which they were not, you realize that historically, the conquerors, the crusaders and warlords of millennia ago, killed much larger percentages of the population than what occurs today. For instance it is estimated that Genghis Khan killed 40% of the total global population as he conquered much of Asia. I am certainly not condoning or dismissing the levels of violence that occur today.

So what can we predict for 2017? Anything beyond the sun will come up in the morning and set at night? Yes, probabilistic predictions can be made, as long as they are about specific manageable, measurable issues which are surround by scientific facts, (important facts, not red herrings), all the information available is taken into consideration and you are careful not to fall into the traps of human bias and predisposition. Happy predicting!

 

Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 25, 2016 at 10:49 am

Selling Falsehood

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From 2010, but even more relevant today.

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I am feeling somewhat cynical at the moment so forgive me if this seems a bit one-sided.

What organization has not tried to present itself in as favorable a light as possible through their marketing and promotional efforts? A question for deliberation is, how far can they go before they cross the line into what could be called deception and falsehood? And what causes them to do so? The pursuit of profit? Fear of failure? A win at any cost mentality? The need to attract organizational members? A desire to maintain a harmonious employee or customer base? Simple goal attainment? Hubris?

False statements by an organization fall broadly into two categories, those that are ignored or “winked” at by society and those that carry formal penalties. For instance, false statements made by a representative of the organization during the hiring of a new employee are generally viewed as…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2016 at 8:17 am

Errors

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Organizations and societies need to examine their errors and to learn how to correct them on an ongoing basis. First, most importantly you must be able to openly and candidly admit to an error. Errors can be made in selection, opportunity, training, resources (including support staff), as well as in a host of other areas. In the heat of the moment it is very easy to ignore the basics of error correction. This piece covers some of those basics.

Jeffrey Saltzman's Blog

“If you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, he will not bite you. This is the principal difference between a dog and a man.” – Mark Twain

We all make errors, it is part of life. I have made more than a few, and some of them were big ones. When an error occurs by an employee inside an organization, there can be a concern on the part of the employee that the over-riding motivation on the part of management when investigating the error is not simply to learn from the error and put into place corrective actions, but that there will be some form of retribution taken against the employee. This can often be the case no matter what words are coming out of the organization regarding their motivation to find the cause of the errors, and to learn from mistakes so that they don’t reoccur.

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 19, 2016 at 6:54 am

Justification of Decisions

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In these days of rapid rushes to judgement, the taking of hard and fast opinions, it is worthwhile to again think through how humans make rapid decisions. Jeff

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“So convenient a thing is it to be a reasonable creature, since it enables one to find or make a reason for every thing one has a mind to do.”

Benjamin Franklin

A teenager with a motorcycle is racing another motorcycle down a two lane road in the countryside. He loses control when he hits 90 miles an hour around a curve and wraps his bike around a tree. He breaks both legs, fractures his skull, scraps off a good portion of his backside, he is lying on the ground bleeding heavily and writhing in pain. One can’t help but notice the long skid marks which show exactly where the motorcyclist began to lose control and went off the road. His racing partner takes off, not sticking around to see what becomes of the injured biker. Luckily, no one else is injured by their behavior.   It will take…

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Written by Jeffrey M. Saltzman

December 14, 2016 at 7:17 am

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