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October 31, 2006

Red Auerbach, Communications Guru

If you’re a basketball fan or live in the Boston area, you know that Red Auerbach died a few days ago. Among other achievements, Auerbach coached the Celtics to eight consecutive N.B.A. championships. There’s a bronze statue of him sitting on a bench in Boston’s Faneuil Hall marketplace—balding, stocky, holding his famous “victory cigar”—an ordinary-looking guy, but a basketball genius.

Part of that genius was an extraordinary ability to communicate with his players. How? Yes, he had a loud voice, he was passionate, he knew a lot about basketball. But the key to his effectiveness as a communicator was his ability to listen.

In a 2004 USA Today interview (quoted in the New York Times obituary for Auerbach), Bill Russell said, “Red had the greatest of ears. After he talked to a player four times, he knew how to communicate with him.”

In other words, communication has as much to do with listening as talking.

Auerbach himself once said, “It’s not what you say; it’s what they hear,” putting his finger on what I think is the essential truth about communication. It only works when you understand the person you’re talking with and shape your words and manner to how he hears—that is, to how he thinks; what he cares about; what he needs. And the only way to understand those things is to listen and observe.

You can’t communicate well if all you do is talk.

Posted by Don Cohen at 10:30 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

October 19, 2006

Webcast: Competing on Analytics

The AMA is hosting a complimentary webcast on Tuesday, October 31, 2006:

Competing On Analytics: Move Faster, Accomplish More, and Avoid Mistakes by Learning From The Best

Like never before, marketers today are being held accountable for their impact on the corporate bottom line. Quantifiable results matter more than ever as marketing initiatives are conceived, executed, and eventually evaluated.

Professor Tom Davenport, Babson College (that would be me!)
Anna Carbonara, Moderator, American Marketing Association

Capital One, Procter & Gamble, Amazon and other leaders pioneered this data-driven approach to marketing. If your marketing organization is like most, you've already begun a similar move towards leveraging data and analytics. Like most, you're probably also facing the same challenges faced by the early adopters - finding and retaining qualified staff, aligning with shifting business priorities, and satisfying the (seemingly) endless demand for analysis, for example.

What you will learn:

- What data-driven marketing is (and isn't)
- How marketing visionaries are using analytics for competitive advantage
- What specific tactics these early adopters believe are essential to their success (and what they'd do differently next time)
- How you can personally succeed as a marketer during these tumultuous times

Who Should Attend:

- Business-to-business and business-to-consumer marketers at all levels, up to and including CMO's and Vice Presidents of Marketing
- Information technology professionals, particularly those in fields involving collaboration with marketing colleagues

As some of you may have noticed, I've been rather busy. This webcast is a good way to catch up.

I hope to see you there. Register >>

Posted by Tom Davenport at 12:14 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

October 03, 2006

One Way to Stifle Creativity

Some years back I wrote what I thought was a pretty good little article about the origin of a knowledge group at a well-known consulting company. It told the story of two young guys who thought it might be useful to collect proposals and reports from successful engagements and make them available for research and reuse. When their boss rejected the idea, they went ahead anyway, working on weekends, pulling a couple of discarded computers out of a storeroom, soliciting contributions from people they knew, informally spreading word about the resource they had created. A few months later, a consultant used some of the material they had gathered to win a big contract. Demand increased. The bootleg system was eventually legitimized and grew into a sizeable knowledge center.

The article was never published. The company executive whose approval I needed admitted that the article was accurate but said he didn’t want the public to get the impression that things happen in such an informal, ad hoc way at the company. Although he didn’t say so, I think he was also uncomfortable about casting disobedience in a positive light.

I think the fiction he wanted to maintain—that all decisions are carefully deliberated at the top and carried out by those below, that nothing happens by accident—is a damaging one. To the extent that leaders tend to believe it, it stops them from seeking and learning from the innovative ideas and practices that bubble up in odd corners of their organizations. To the extent that they present themselves as the sole source of company wisdom, they stifle the creativity of the people who work for them. (Why bother if leaders won’t listen and then take credit for ideas that survive in spite of their opposition?)

By way of contrast, I think of a story from the early days of Hewlett-Packard. David Packard responded to an engineer who had disregarded an order to stop working on technology that turned into a successful product by calling a meeting of engineers and presenting him with a medal for “extraordinary contempt and defiance beyond the normal call of engineering duty.”

Posted by Don Cohen at 03:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBacks (0)

October 02, 2006

The Rising Tide of Knowledge Populism

I’ve recently thought about writing a book, or at least a few well placed articles, on the subject of knowledge populism, of which evidence is all around us.

Like political populism, which flourished in the US mid-west at the turn of the 20th century, the knowledge populism we see is surely a tricky subject-containing elements both malignant and glorious. It is a natural outgrowth of the world-wide democratization of knowledge and information that is roiling our world in so many ways.

In doing some reading for this subject for a dual talk Tom Davenport and I are doing later in the month, I found some books for you all worth commenting on.

The first is Infotopia, by Cass Sunstein who is a law school professor in Chicago, and is also what I’d call a "public intellectual" i.e. someone willing to talk on subjects outside the technical details of their field, someone actually worth listening to. This book is quite good – it’s short, interesting, and with a real knowledge perspective. Its main theme is the need for deliberation - space and time to deliberate. Sunstein is particularly interested in how many users using the web have the potential to create valuable new knowledge.

Another interesting tome, is by Yochai Benkler, yet another law school guy (this one at Yale – what’s with these guys?). This book is called The Wealth of Networks and is sub-titled How Social Production transforms markets and freedom.

I’m not at all sure about the power of his argument concerning freedom but his arguments about social production are cogent and interesting - if a bit dry and based on neo-classic economics - which is tidy but not real. The book, like Sunstein's, is well written and is also really about knowledge.

We are winning the race, fellow knowledge practitioners!

To butress this last point take a look at a World Bank report, released just a few months back called Where is the wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century.

While the bank researchers still conflate knowledge with human capital, at least they now acknowledge it as a powerful source of intangible wealth.

We have come quite a ways in this regard. Take a look at any economic reckoning of wealth just a few decades ago and there was no mention of any intangibles whatsoever. Now if we can only get accountants and finance people to see the light!! They will if they have Baruch Lev as a professor but he can’t teach everybody!

Posted by Larry Prusak at 10:28 PM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)

June 06, 2006

Attention Bloggers!

I haven’t written a blog entry in a while, but apparently a lot of people have. I heard in a presentation today that there are (as of May 30th, 2006) 28,592,813 blogs, and 43,109 new blogs in the last 24 hours. Hmmmm. One could argue that this is too many. As I pointed out in my first entry for the Babson Knowledge blog, the key issue is the imbalance of information in the blogosphere and the amount of human attention available to attend to it. It’s far easier to write a blog than to get anyone to read it. This imbalance leads me to believe that a couple of major changes need to take place in individual and organizational information environments.

One is the automated mining of textual and unstructured information. We’re finally getting a handle on how to get value from structured information. But most organizations don’t have a clue about how to mine blogs, emails, instant messages, presentations, and so forth. We don’t have time to look at all of this stuff to see if it’s interesting and relevant to us, so we will have to have systems that find the good content and serve it up or summarize it for us. It is individuals that read and take action on unstructured information, so we need to address this issue at the individual level.

Some of this mining will be automatically intuited by an intelligent system based on stuff we’ve looked at in the past, and perhaps on how we’ve rated it. But, of course, we’ve been hearing for a number of years that such “machine learning” will improve our lives. Thus far and for the foreseeable future, we’re going to have to help our computers with some personal interventions. In particular, we’re going to have to get better at specifying what information we care about.

Most of us are pretty haphazard about what information we need and want to see. We click mindlessly through the blogosphere. We read whatever free magazines publishers are willing to send us. We read whatever emails appear in our inboxes or on our Blackberry screens. One prominent GE executive admitted to me—without much sheepishness—that the only articles he reads are those that other people attach to his email messages. This is not a well-designed personal information environment!

Someday it will all be better. I’ll be able to say to a computer something like the following:

- I like and want to read/hear/view content about the Boston Red Sox, analytical competition, attempts to improve the performance of knowledge work, case studies about knowledge management, process management initiatives that employ IT, Julie Bowen (a somewhat obscure but lovely actress) and so forth.

- I don’t want to receive stuff about dining hall schedules at Babson College, regular meetings that I have never attended in the past, marketing messages from IT vendors, movies that are badly reviewed, hockey, Britney Spears, and so forth.

Of course, it’s the “and so forth” that kills us. We know some things we definitely like and don’t like, but we’re always afraid that we’re missing something important, and we’re afraid to rule out sources and topics because there just might be something valuable there. I’m hoping that technology will help us out in this regard—noting that you haven’t looked at the last 42 RSS feeds from a particular blog, so maybe you should stop pretending to be interested in it—or that you seem to be clicking on a lot of sites about real estate in Palo Alto, so should I feed you more of that? Between all of us working a little harder at figuring out what we want, and a bit of help from intelligent software, we’ll eventually get to an attention-preserving environment that still keeps us well-informed.

Posted by Tom Davenport at 12:21 AM | Permalink | TrackBacks (0)