Social Media - Email - Texting - AddictionIn response to my post highlighting SMET addictions, Maya Larson (@connectionsbym), an Etsy shopkeeper, asked, “Is there a 5-step (rehab) program” for it. So, here it is:

  1. Admit even a slight addiction
  2. Set parameters
  3. Review, monitor and measure regularly
  4. Sensitize ourselves to others’ SMET
  5. Encourage others’ participation

Immediately, most of us will say, “I’m busy. I can’t do this.” In most cases, this is a symptom of addiction because we “instinctively cling to tasks that make us feel busy and thus important” (“Make Time for the Work That Matters” by Julian Birkinshaw and Jordan Cohen, Harvard Business Review, September 2013 edition). Numbers play us too: someone receiving 1,000 emails daily is more important than someone receiving 10, right?

Next, our SMET parameters can define:

  • Time spent each day
  • SMET-free periods (part of day or week)
  • Purposes such as family, business or specific friends
  • Material and information suitable for sharing
  • What day or part of a day will be a SMET-free period?

Companies can set similar policies. No business-related SMET on weekends, holidays or employees’ time off are common ones.

Reviewing, monitoring and measuring not only means keeping score but also utilizing organizational tools. Priority settings and tones, on/off buttons, auto responses indicating limited or no access to email or cell phone are helpful common ones. Setting email rules to sort and prioritize emails helps too.

Our SMET usage compounds SMET for others, especially in the workplace. Sensitizing ourselves means acknowledging this and working to reduce it. Cutting back companies’ leaders’ emails cascades throughout the organization (“To Reduce E-mail, Start at the Top” by Chris Brown, Andrew Killick, and Karen Renaud, Harvard Business Review, September 2013 edition). Instead of email, call.

Finally, we invite others to join SMET rehab with us, forming a mutual support group while also sensitizing each other. We’ll emphasize the benefits: better effectiveness, decisiveness, creativity, relationships and happiness. Encourage a try for a day or two. If anything it might cause them to doubt our free will.


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War Gaming BoardComputer games have all but wiped out regular board games. Why then, do American military officials rely more on board games to analyze military strategies than on computer simulators? More pertinently, what are the business implications?

“War Games” (The Economist, March 15, 2014 edition) highlights three reasons for the preference of board games over computer simulations:

  • They foster the critical but creative thinking needed to win (or avoid) a complex battle or campaign.
  • You can constantly tweak the rules to take account of new insights.
  • [They] can also illuminate the most complex conflicts.

As the movie, The Matrix, entertainingly made clear, computers run on rules (timestamp 0:12-0:30), so while the U.S. military uses computers to predict outcomes “for ‘tight, sterile’ battles” with certain rules and events, they aren’t forgiving when you want to tweak the rules based on alternate approaches, hypotheses and interpretations. In other words, computers are good when we need to think inside the box, but they confine us when we need to venture out.

For our businesses, there are four implications:

Of course, this doesn’t mean avoiding computers but rather becoming smarter on how we employ them. Again, they help much when rules and information are certain. For more complex and creative approaches though, simple notes and sketches on a napkin are likely better.


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Zombies To The Rescue

By Mike Lehr
Complacency is the zombified life.

Zombies are emotions of complacency incarnated in our entertainment.

Entertainment often reflects our lives. Sometimes depicting it directly but other times serving to assuage emotions that don’t have an outlet. Just as we go to the gym to “blow off steam” and vent to others, entertainment can do the same as cinematic venting.

As early as the Romans, when they conquered the known Western world, the martial spirit of its people needed an outlet. Thus, gladiatorial games gained prominence. During the Great Depression, movies such as Shirley Temple’s expressed our dreams for a turnaround by depicting better lives especially for children. After the intensity of the sixties, our music and television shows depicted a lighter side for which we yearned.

Today, in our work, companies are keener to finding talent that fits rather than the best talent. The plethora of personality tests are a testament to this. Centralized heads know what needs to be done; they just need people who can do what they’re told and execute without distracting complaints. It’s a paradox of business that it strives for predictability while most employees yearn for variability in their work.

With computers, the ultimate processing tool, processes, procedures and rules dominate. If someone isn’t telling us what to do, some robot, computer, software, workflow or smartphone alarm is. Our lives are scheduled, morning until night, especially if we have children. We’re running through processes thoughtlessly. We do as told and keep heads down. Such compliance is the antithesis of the human spirit. It’s living dead, living the zombified life.

Zombies bring forth unconscious negative emotions accumulated from daily compliance and predictability, a form of hell. Entertaining ourselves with their killing, zombies take away our emotional garbage so we can return to effectiveness.

Without them, we and business would suffer.


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How Intuition & Anchoring Impacts Thoughts

How unconscious influences slip through and affect our decisions

Finola Howard (@FinolaHoward), a marketing professional, found my post, “Information You Know Is Wrong Still Influences You,” interesting but wanted to know, “How do you address it?” The post dealt primarily with anchoring, planting ideas in others’ heads, many times on an unconscious level. So, I’m expanding my answer to include all unwanted unconscious influences, not just anchoring.

Essentially, there are four broad defenses available to us:

  1. Accept we don’t have the free will and control we think we do
  2. Learn about them
  3. Adapt to them
  4. Avoid them

Advertising works on us primarily because we don’t think it does. Negative political ads are a great example. They work even though everyone dislikes them. Still, many will read this and say something like, “The weak minded are affected. I’m not.” Yet, this hubris about control over their own thoughts makes them among the most vulnerable.

Learning about these influences so we can identify them helps greatly. Unconscious smells are an example. Even though they don’t register consciously with us, they influence our decisions; but, once we know of them, our minds often adjust automatically.

For other influences, we need a more conscious adaptation. For instance, in sales it’s common for sales people to ratchet up our cost expectations so when we finally hear cost, it doesn’t seem so high. We can adapt by consciously setting that expectation (or researching cost) before the salesperson influences us.

Finally, with some, avoiding is best. Inflammatory rhetoric applies here. We will become more extreme, either more supportive if we agree or more against if disagree. Our decisions will become more extreme, thus increasing potential for undesirable outcomes.

Still, we fall victim mainly because we believe our conscious filters catch all, so we don’t take precautions. Unfortunately, some will use that against us.


Related post: How Intuition Influences our Thought Process


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Software Softening Our Brains?

By Mike Lehr

Brain MappingQuick, by hand, calculate:

  • 186 x 3,086 = ?
  • 196,452 ÷ 2,568 = ?

Why? For the same reason we exercise. Modern conveniences and technology require less muscle. Same occurs with our brains. We don’t have to train our minds to remember things because apps in smart phones and software in computers do it for us. We also don’t have to remember or figure directions. GPS software does that too.

Our sixth grade teacher had us go to the blackboard and those who scribbled through a problem like above the quickest scored a point for their team. Half of my classmates could get through one in less than forty-five seconds. Expanding our examination, research shows map users were more likely to recall how to get to their destination than those using GPS’s. More recently, Nicholas Carr’s “The Great Forgetting.” (The Atlantic, November 2013 edition) begins with pilots mishandling emergency situations because they had forgotten basic maneuvers. The planes do almost all flying now. Additionally, Carr cites:

  • Problem solving experiments in which those using more advanced software did better initially but those using more rudimentary ones excelled later because they caught onto concepts better.
  • Accountants using upgraded audit software became poorer risk assessors than those using older versions.
  • Younger Intuit hunters using GPS’s for hunting on ever-changing ice caps suffered more hunting accidents than older hunters relying upon winds, snowdrift patterns, animal behavior, stars and tides.

If we want to become better problems solvers, mental exercise, in the form of difficulty, helps us. Software only goes so far, perfect systems never completely defining our imperfect world. Consequently, more technological integration means more hidden, unaccounted imperfections and potential failures. We, our minds, need to be alert.

So, before we claim our memories are fading from age, perhaps we should interrogation of our smart phones first.


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Leveraging Relationships IconThe techniques in this series sometimes have people asking, “Mike, isn’t this manipulation?” My response is, “Yes, it is, but remember manipulation differs from influence in the same way snails differ from escargot.” Interpretation matters.

For example, I wish to influence my wife’s birthday experience by finding a gift she will like. Am I manipulative because I consciously worked weeks to find such a gift? Would going out at the last minute without much thought be better? At minimum, she would appreciate the effort. Our people would feel the same way especially if we’re making their work experiences better.

TED presenters thoroughly plan and practice for months, sometimes hiring acting coaches, working hard to influence our experience. TED’s curators advise and edit talks, fitting them into one of several different formulae, looking for the right stories, gestures, intonations and signature “Aha” moments within an eighteen-minute timeframe. Ensuring a consistent consumer experience no different than what McDonald’s popularized and many businesses do today keeps us returning – manipulation or influence?

Radiation can kill people or cancer; these techniques can manipulate or influence, a function of our intentions, sincerity and relationships. People often fear change. We can help them overcome that with these techniques. Consider a doctor who refused to help a dying patient because she was afraid she might kill him. Consider a manager who refused to help an employee in danger of losing his job because she was afraid he would interpret her efforts as manipulation.

Where would we be with fire if people were fearful of it consuming them in flames?


Related link: “Listen and Learn,” TED Talks reach millions around the world. How has a conference turned ideas into an industry? (The New Yorker, July 9, 2012 edition)


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Our Twitter exchange regarding a quote of mine encouraged Dr. Julie Rasmussen to suggest that I incorporate it into a post. She found applicability to her experiences with healthcare workers:

Laws make people immoral because they believe if their action isn’t against the law it must be okay.

We’re taught to obey the law, it’s very ingrained. We often set our moral compasses (or aspects of them) to it. We like laws and morality to align. Otherwise, cognitive dissonance (more) arises. Which do we follow? Rosa Parks resolved it by upholding the morality of equality. Rasmussen’s healthcare workers resolved it by working around rules, a milder form of law, to provide care and by feeling badly about it.

So now, consider Jesse Willms (“The Dark Lord of the Internet”, The Atlantic, January/February 2014 edition). He “has been sued by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Microsoft, Oprah Winfrey . . . But he has never been charged with a crime.” Willms runs spam campaigns. He usually buries lucrative provisions in seemingly very normal, innocuous purchase disclosures. He knows people rarely read them. Some include charging credit cards extraneous monthly membership fees. The stated procedures to halt this (if people ever catch these relative small amounts on their statements) are often difficult to find and onerous to execute. His defense is that people should have read everything. He hasn’t broken any law warranting his arrest despite many consumer complaints and civil suits.

Consider finally the financial crisis. It’s perfectly legal to make all the money we want at the expense of our homeland’s and fellow citizens’ financial security. Is it moral, ethical and patriotic?

Thus, in reality, the law isn’t about what’s right, it’s about what’s legal. If this sounds strange, the law might be giving us a false sense of morality.


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Social Media - Email - Texting - AddictionA SMET addiction exists for three reasons. First, it’s extremely hard to resist engaging, and SMET has potentially harmful effects, the second reason. Finally, SMET provides opportunities for denying an addiction.

Social media is hard to resist because we enjoy sharing our stories. It stimulates the same reward systems as sex, food and money do. Additionally, we get rushes from simply checking our social media, emails and texts. As “The Selfish Meme” (The Atlantic, October 2012 edition) explains:

Like playing a slot machine, engaging in these activities sends the animal brain into a frenzy as it anticipates a possible reward: often nothing, but sometimes a small prize, and occasionally an enormous jackpot.

SMET problems arrive as decreased efficiency, productivity, effectiveness and happiness. “Fix This Workplace” (Bloomberg Businessweek) and “Slaves to the Smartphone” (The Economist, March 10, 2012 edition) are representative of the increasing number of articles reporting emails decreasing our efficiency and productivity. The distractions they and all of SMET create reduce our effectiveness and creativity.

In regards to happiness, we are happiest when we interact with people in the same space. A correlation exists between happiness and number of in-person interactions. SMET reduces the reasons for meeting in that same space. Despite the dramatic increase in our interconnectivity with people around the world, loneliness has increased just as dramatically (“Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?”, The Atlantic, May 2012 edition).

This leads directly into the third reason SMET is an addiction. It deludes us into thinking we are connecting and interacting healthily thus providing plenty of opportunities for denial.

Solutions not only include transferring SMET time to in-person interactions, but also to more sidebar interactions with those online. It means sharing confidences and avoiding the superficial, Pollyannaish-speak indicative of social media. In other words, it means being human.


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Strategic Conversation Example

Integrating technique throughout a conversation

In Parts #1 and #2, we explored the technique be revising and elaborating upon a single sentence:

  1. Our new business model helps us deliver better service to clients because we can deliver everything through a single contact.

After working the magic, we finished with this:

  1. John, our new business model helps me deliver better service to clients because it allows you to help me by better positioning your natural talent to relate to others.  I’m counting on your support because I know others respect you and your work, so I’d appreciate your help.  Will you help me out?

Of course, real conversations are not so condensed; they’re open and fluid, meaning the different components I covered are integrated throughout a conversation. The Strategizing Schematic Tool for Interpersonal Conversations I explained in an earlier post is an effective tool to illustrate this (see figure).

Again, the words and solid lines represent what we, the initiators of the conversation, say while the broken lines the receiver, or the person whom we are addressing. Each line represents a thought or just a sentence. As initiators, our objective is to work the various elements from the previous posts into the conversation. This schematic tool shows us how this can be done in a normal back-and-forth interchange of a conversation.

Thus, we have much flexibility in how we integrate the elements into the conversation. Yes, we can condense them all at once in a few sentences or disperse them throughout. Our challenge is doing so without producing an awkward conversation. The Refer Back Technique helps much in this regard, but no matter how we examine it one thing is certain . . . we must listen in order for this to help us.


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Peer-to-peer Marketing Overrated?

By Mike Lehr

OZA No 401 (Peer-to-peer Marketing Overrated)Yes, peer-to-peer marketing (P2P) is overrated but still important as long as we understand what what we are buying: just another channel to create product awareness or actual influence of the buying decision. Consider this question:

Did we buy because our friend did or because we liked the product?

The truth lies somewhere in between. The hype around P2P says, “It’s your friend”; however, Sinan Aral (“What Would Ashton Do and Does it Matter?” [Harvard Business Review, May 2013 edition]) “found that traditional models overestimated the power of influence by a factor of seven.” That’s because they don’t account for homophily, emotionally favoring those similar to us by socializing with them. Now, consider this:

If person A is similar to person B but very different from person C, who is more likely to buy more of the same products as A does, B or C?

If you said “B,” you’re feeling homophily’s influence (similar to giddiness). So, a very plausible answer to our first question now becomes:

We bought because our friend made us aware of the product not because she influenced us; it’s just natural because we are friends and like to share similar things.

Now, this isn’t completely true either. Friends do influence us even if we don’t think so, but the point is as Aral states, “half of perceived influence was really just homophily and other confounds.” In other words, people might be buying because they fit the same ideal demographic for our products and services, not because of influencers.

Access is easier to get than influence is; we access many more prospects than we actually influence to buy. So, before paying too much for your P2P campaign, ensure you are paying for influence and not just another channel creating awareness for your products and services.


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