Random finds (2016, week 10) — On change, innovation and teaching kids philosophy

Mark Storm
6 min readMar 10, 2016


Every Friday, I run through my tweets to select a few observations and insights that have kept me thinking over the last week.

Looking back, this weeks seems to have been mostly about innovation. But first Cindy Alvarez on what (not) to do if you want to encourage change.

How to get buy-in to drive change

Cindy Alvarez, who is the director of user experience for the Microsoft company Yammer and drives entrepreneurial change at Microsoft, offered some first-hand advice during a live webcast with Lean Startup Co for those looking to lead change within their organisations.

“Don’t try to be prescriptive,” says Alvarez. “It’s a mistake everyone makes, but don’t tell someone how they should change. Instead, listen to what they have to say. And avoid asking leading questions, such as ‘Wouldn’t you like…’ and ‘Don’t you think it’d be easier if…’ People’s responses to those questions won’t reflect how they really feel. You will get misleading feedback and miss out on big opportunities as a result — this is what sinks a lot of startups during their research phase.”

Another counterproductive approach: trying too hard to enforce change. Alvarez warns that you shouldn’t come in with solutions already in mind. In other words, don’t push instead of trying to create pull. People resist change for reasons that seem small but aren’t. ‘Supposedly irrelevant factors’ — or SIFs, as behavioral economists call them — drive most of the reasons people don’t evolve, even when they should.

Watch the entire webcast or read the highlights on Medium.

Clayton Christensen, once more

In Pardon our Disruption, Mr. Christensen , Michael Anton Dila, who calls himself Design Insurgent and Chief Unhappiness Officer (but that doesn’t necessarily disqualify him), draws an interesting analogy between Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation and design thinking:

“Though design thinking is not the same kind of theory (really not a theory at all, but more of a collection of normative hypotheses) as disruptive innovation, it too, emerged originally from academic discourse and was excitedly taken up by and advanced by outsiders to the academy. […] Back in the early naughts, IDEO and Tim Brown got behind design thinking in a big way. David Kelly may have been the original force behind this at IDEO, and the dSchool has certainly been strongly associated as one of the first institutional standard bearers for design thinking. And for a long while their IDEO brand building and the rise of design thinking were pretty much in lock-step. But somewhere along the line the IDEO folks realized they had to pick a lane; either they could endorse design thinking as an open system and play the role of one of its loudest advocates and best exemplars or they could try to turn it all into the IDEO ideology™. Trouble is, if IDEO made designthinking™ their intellectual property that would turn them from advocates into shills, undermining the smartest marketing move they ever made (after the shopping cart on 60 Minutes). IDEO chose lanes wisely.”

More on Clayton Christensen and the continuing debate in Random finds (2016, week 8) — On disruption, leadership and Umberto Eco’s antilibrary.

It’s not incompetence, but competence, that causes companies to be disrupted. That applies to big companies and small, as well as people too.

To ‘conclude’, a 30-minute a16z podcast, Disruption in Business … and Life with Marc Andreessen and Clayton Christensen. This podcast shares everything from their views on managing innovation in companies like Apple, Google, and Twitter (including how to apply the jobs-to-be-done framework there), what the abundance of capital means for innovation, and how to truly measure success and strike work-life balance.

This week’s finds on innovation

“It’s difficult to spark and maintain successful innovation in a company as large as ours,” says Todd Rawlings, the senior quality manager for corporate business excellence at Microsoft. In How Microsoft’s ‘Garage’ Keeps Its Innovative Spark Burning (Wharton@Knowledge).

Steve Jobs famously said that people don’t know what they want until you show it to them, but IBM’s Chief Innovation Officer Bernard Meyerson counters, “Our customers can’t tell us about a future that doesn’t exist yet, but they can tell us about unresolved problems and we can get to work on them. Addressing a really grand challenge like Watson can begin 5 or 10 years before the result is seen in public. It was a science project, but with business problems in mind.” In How IBM Innovates by DigitalTonto.

While innovation is the journey from the problem statement (A) to a result (Z), ingenuity is the capability of getting from A to Z faster. Ingenuity is often about a surprising process in which the dots are connected in unexpected ways. And ingenuity delivers social value, not just economic gain. In What Does ‘Innovation’ Even Mean? by John Kao.

“The first step toward coming up with better ideas is defining our terms when we talk about innovation, entrepreneurs, and creativity.” — John Kao

It is counterintuitive. You would think the more scope, time and resources you have, the easier it would be to innovate. But the more limited you are, the more creative you have to be. “Time constraints eliminate second guesses. Constraint is a unifier,” , says Chris Denson, Director Ignition Factory. This may explain why larger resource-rich organizations struggle with revolutionary innovation. In Why adding constraints increases innovation (Forbes).

This distinction between feedback and reaction is crucial. You want to create a prototype that evokes honest reactions from your customers. You want it to be as real as possible, while sticking to your one-day timeline. […] the ideal prototype should be ‘Goldilocks quality.’ If the quality is too low, people won’t believe the prototype is a real product. If the quality is too high, you’ll be working all night and you won’t finish. You need Goldilocks quality. Not too high, not too low, but just right. In The Prototype Mindset by Eric Ries, who writes about the forthcoming book Sprint: How to Solve Big Problems and Test New Ideas in Just Five Days by Jake Knapp.

A bit more …

Schools face relentless pressure to up their offerings in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering, and math. Few are making the case for philosophy. Maybe they should. According to a large and well-designed study, teaching kids philosophy makes them smarter in math and English.

“Kids who took the course increased math and reading scores by the equivalent of two extra months of teaching, even though the course was not designed to improve literacy or numeracy.”

“The beneficial effects of philosophy lasted for two years, with the intervention group continuing to outperform the control group long after the classes had finished.”

Read on Quartz: http://qz.com/635002.

“There’s no doubt that Bill Nye ‘the Science Guy’ is extremely intelligent,” Olivia Goldhill writes in Why are so many smart people such idiots about philosophy? “But it seems that, when it comes to philosophy, he’s completely in the dark.”

The beloved American science educator and TV personality posted a video last week where he responded to a question from a philosophy undergrad about whether philosophy is a ‘meaningless topic.’

Goldhill: “It’s shocking that such brilliant scientists could be quite so ignorant, but unfortunately their views on philosophy are not uncommon. Unlike many other academic subjects (mathematics and history, for example), where non-experts have some vague sense of the field’s practices, there seems to be widespread confusion about what philosophy entails. In Nye’s case, his misconceptions are too large and many to show why each and every one is flawed.”

Read on Quartz: http://qz.com/627989/why-are-so-many-smart-people-such-idiots-about-philosophy.

In The Man Who Changed How Artists and Scientists Work Together, an interview with Richard Loveless, who’s work — a half-century of rethinking education — has led to the development of many symbiotic relationships and hybrid university degree programs that harness collective wisdom.

Gail Nalls spoke with Loveless, now 80, in his inspiring work environment in Sedona, Arizona, where he continues to mentor an international cadre of educators and students in matters of innovation and the art of multidisciplinary collaboration.

Read on Nautilus: http://nautil.us/blog/the-man-who-changed-how-artists-and-scientists-work-together. Or watch:

And finally, music. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who passed away earlier this week, conducts Mozart’s Symphony No. 31 in D Major (Wiener Philharmoniker, Musikvereinssaal Wien, 1984).

Philosophy is “thinking in slow motion.”



Mark Storm

Helping people in leadership positions flourish — with wisdom and clarity of thought