12 Weird Things That Tech Companies Do To Make Their Employees More Creative – by Julie Bort

Lady gaga phone hat

The tech industry is fast-paced and always looking for that Next Big Thing.

VEVO Lady Gaga

So tech companies have come up with a lot of great tricks to boost their employee’s creativity.

From having Lady Gaga talk to employees to giving staff year-long sabbaticals, these ideas have often led to a company’s most successful products.

It also leads to happier employees.

Sagmeister & Walsh gives everyone a whole year off every seven years

Every seven years, designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his New York studio, Sagmeister & Walsh for a year-long sabbatical to let all employees rejuvenate and refresh their creative outlook.

He showed off the innovated products that resulted from a refreshed workforce in a 2009 Ted Talk.

(His staff also poses naked for official photos … but that’s another story.)

Google’s famous “20 percent time”

Google famously gives engineers regular time away from their daily jobs to work on creative projects. Up to 20% of their work week can be applied to these projects.

The most famous example of a Google service that came out of a “20 percent project,” as Google calls them, is Gmail.

Google offers mind-enriching @Google Talks

Another great thing Google does to stir creativity is to invite all kinds of famous people onto its campus to give lectures. It calls this program @Google Talks and the guests range from celebrities, like Lady Gaga and Tina Fey  to artists, authors, performers, activists and politicians.

The goal of these talks is to “keep our brains learning, growing and thinking,” the company says. It also shares the talks on YouTube.

HubSpot lets any employee sit in with another team for a while

HubSpot lets any employee sit in with another team for a while

HubSpot offices


Like Google, HubSpot is another company that is famous for a great company culture.

It also brings in speakers and teaches classes. But one unique thing it does, as part of its culture of an “uncomfortable level of transparency,” is to let employees join another team for a while to learn about that part of the business, HubSpot cofounder, CTO, Dharmesh Shah, told Business Insider. 

So engineers can learn more about marketing for instance, or vice versa.

3M offers 15% Time

3M offers 15% Time

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

3M’s “15% time” actually predates Google’s “20 percent time” by a few decades. Back in 1974, one 3M scientist, Art Fry, used his 15% time to put adhesive onto the back of a piece of paper.

That project would become the company’s most iconic product, the Post It Note.

Microsoft uses Bill Gates’ office for inspiration

Microsoft has converted Bill Gates’ old office into a place called “The Garage” filled with every imaginable techno-toy. Employees can go there to tinker on fun tech projects.

Sometimes, whole product teams get a “Garage week” where they head to the space to innovate.

Microsoft also holds science fairs

Microsoft also holds what it calls “Science Fairs” twice a year. They use these fairs to show off the kind of projects they are working on in their spare time, often at the Microsoft Garage.

The whole company attends, even senior vice presidents, and the projects are judged. The winner gets to set off a homemade volcano named Mount St. Awesome.

IBM holds enormous “jams”

IBM holds enormous "jams"


IBM holds what it calls “jams,” which are massive brainstorming events focused on a specific topic.

The most famous jam is probably the one that took place in 2006 called the “Innovation Jam” – the largest IBM online brainstorming session ever held.

The company brought together more than 150,000 people from 104 countries and 67 companies and they came up with 10 new ideas that IBM invested $100 million into developing, including things like smart healthcare payment systems and a 3D Internet.

Asana feeds its employees gourmet lunches and chocolate

Asana feeds its employees gourmet lunches and chocolate

Julie Bort/Business Insider

Asana, the project management app cofounded by ex-Facebookers Dustin Moskowitz and Justin Rosenstein, uses food to keep employees creative.

Asana’s office has a commercial kitchen staffed with two full-time chefs who plan healthy, gourmet, organic meals that boost productivity and avoid post-lunch sleepiness.

If employees still need a boost, they can chow down on chocolate from the wall-o-gourmet chocolate stored in the office. (Or they can do a shot of Scotch from the Scotch collection kept above the chocolate.)

Eventbrite uses dim lights to recharge employees

Eventbrite uses dim lights to recharge employees

Eventbrite Zen room


Recent research shows that dim lighting boosts creativity. San Francisco-based ticket-sale company Eventbrite has taken that lesson to heart.

Its office includes a Zen Room, with low-lights and no noise. It’s a place where employees can meditate, think or  nap on the comfy couches.

Yammer conducts hack days … in costume

Lots of tech companies have “hack days.” That’s where developers gather to create new products or features, often working all night writing the code to bring their ideas to life.

Yammer does it one better. The hack day lasts a full 24-hours and employees dress up in wild costumes. The whole company joins in on the fun.

GitHub crowns a monthly King or Queen of Developers

GitHub crowns a monthly King or Queen of Developers

Owen Thomas, Business Insider

GitHub is a San Francisco-based company that makes a tool for hosting other people’s software projects. Each month, it crowns a King or Queen of Developers and that person runs the help desk for its customers, CEO Tom Preston-Werner told Business Insider.

Where tech support is often considered an entry-level job at other tech companies, by putting a top developer on it each month, engineers find the trouble spots and sees unexpected ways its customers are using its platform. That leads to fast fixes and all sorts of creative new features.

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/how-tech-companies-boost-creativity-2013-7?op=1#ixzz2ZV5FnjWK

Change the World: Treat the Interview as a Sales Call

Most employment interviews are a waste of time. Candidates think they’re about correctly answering the interviewer’s questions and interviewers think they’re designed to figure out if the candidate meets the requirements listed in the job description. They’re not.

Google just found out after exhaustive research that brainteasers don’t predict on-the-job performance. (To be a bit cynical here, this is not new news. I read about this classic problem in the mid-1990s doing research for my first book.) The bigger news at Google is that they found that very few of their hiring managers have a good track record using the interview for predicting on-the-job success. Google’s revelation is not uncommon.

Given that the common and traditional interview is flawed, including the vaunted behavioral interview (see below), what is a job-seeker, hiring manager, recruiter or anyone on the interviewing team to do? I suggest all parties take a page from any well-trained sales department and convert the employment interview into a discovery call. Here’ssalesforce.com’s blog describing this core activity. In essence, the idea is to use the sales call to find out the customer’s needs and then craft a solution that demonstrates your product is a perfect fit. Whatever side of the desk you’re on, this is what interviewing should be about.

During the interview the buyer and seller roles often switch, so conducting parallel discovery can become a bit unnerving – similar to dating. Regardless, here are the basic steps.

The Discovery Process for the Job-seeker

Step 1: Find out what’s being sold. Don’t assume the person interviewing you is competent. If the interviewer is either box-checking skills, asking pointless questions, or asking brainteasers, begin your discovery right away. This starts by asking questions at the beginning of the interview to uncover real job needs. Here are some questions that will get you started:

  • What’s the focus of the job?
  • What are some big problems or issues the person will face right away?
  • How will performance be measured?
  • Are there any team related challenges?
  • Why is the position open?

Step 2: Prove you’re the solution. Once you have some understanding of the job, you’ll then need to describe some past accomplishment that demonstrates you’re capable of doing the work required. Use the SAFW two-minute response to form your answers. This involves providing a 1-2 minute overview of a major past accomplishment with just enough details to naturally prompt the interviewer to ask some clarifying follow-up questions. You’ll need to do this for at least 2-3 of the most important aspects of the job during the interview in order to “win the sale.”

Step 3: At the end of the interview ask for the order, or at least find out the next steps. Something like, “Based on what we’ve discussed, do you think my background is a good fit for the position? (Pause) What are the next steps in the process?” If you are a good fit for the job, the interviewer will be specific about the next steps. A vague response is not a good sign.

The Discovery Process for the Interviewer

Step 1: Be different. Don’t ask behavioral questions since all candidates have practiced answering these. (Here’s Google’s multi-million answers.)

Step 2: Figure out what you’re selling. Start by making sure everyone on the hiring team is familiar with the performance-based job description listing the top 4-5 performance objectives required for on-the-job success. Interviewing accuracy is dramatically improved when everyone knows what they’re evaluating.

Step 3: Early in the interview find out why the candidate is looking for another job, most likely it’s something involving economic need or lack of sufficient career growth. You’ll use the balance of the interview to determine if your position meets these needs. This will be essential for negotiating the offer, especially if the person is a passive candidate and/or has multiple opportunities.

Step 4: Validate what you’re buying. Use The Most Important Interview Question of All Timeand the associated fact-finding questions to find out if the candidate is competent and motivated to do the actual work required. This involves describing one of the performance objectives and then asking the candidate to describe a comparable accomplishment. You’ll need to do this for the 3-4 most important performance objectives to make an accurate assessment. From this you’ll be able to determine if the gap between what you’re offering and what the candidate has done is a career move, a lateral transfer or something below or beyond the candidate’s current abilities.

Step 5: Determine thinking skills. Rather than using brainteasers to figure out thinking and problem-solving ability, ask about a real problem the person in the role is likely to face. (This is the second half of the two-question Performance-based Interview.) The purpose is to get into a back-and-forth dialogue to determine if the candidate’s approach to solving the problem is appropriate. Focus on the process of getting the answer, not the answer itself. Then Anchor the question by getting an example of what the person has done that’s most comparable to the problem being discussed. (See Anchor and Visualize questioning pattern.)

Step 6: If the candidate is someone you’d like to consider, describe the opportunity gap and present your job as a true career move. Then find out the candidate’s interest in further discussion. (Here’s the complete explanation behind the selling process involved in negotiating offers.)

Whether you’re on the hiring or job-seeking side it’s important to recognize that an interview is a sales call. While figuring out who’s the buyer and seller is a function of supply and demand, meeting the performance objectives for the job is what’s being bought and sold. Unfortunately, too many companies, job-seekers and interviewers lose sight of the core purpose of the interview. You won’t, if you put yourself in the shoes of a top sales rep on a 100% commission plan, and are always fully prepared.


Lou Adler (@LouA) is the creator of Performance-based Hiring and the author of the Amazon Top 10 business best-seller, Hire With Your Head (Wiley, 2007). His new book, The Essential Guide for Hiring & Getting Hired, (Workbench, 2013) has just been published. Feel free to joinLou’s new LinkedIn group or ‘like’ us on Facebook to discuss all types of hiring issues.

3 Ways Employment Branding is Better than Job Postings

power of attractionJob postings have been around since the early ages. If an employer needed to hire, they simply wrote out what they were looking for and put it someplace for all to see.

Then, newspapers came along and radically changed job postings by making them all rest in one place for easy access.

Finally, the Internet came. I still remember the first time I visited Monster.com and realized anyone could look for job postings anywhere. It seemed too good to be true… and it was.

As we all know, somewhere along the way in our efforts to improve the job posting process, we created a system that now overwhelms recruiters with unqualified candidates. All of whom expect to be contacted – and then are offended when they don’t hear back about their application status. Add to that a bad economy where some job seekers have developed “angry mob” mentalities, and it has forced many recruiters to rethink their job posting strategies as a way to limit the applications submitted. For example, posting on industry-specific sites as opposed to larger sites. But the problem with limiting where we post a job also increases the odds that some of the best possible candidates (i.e. passive job seekers) will never see it.

Employment Branding = A Better Way to Attract & Filter Talent

The most exciting new development in the effort to attract top talent is Employment Branding. Now, companies of all shapes and sizes can strategically develop online content designed to catch the attention of and develop a relationship with the very talent they most desire. Using social media to push out blog posts and videos authored by their employer, recruiters are finding new, better ways to connect with the right applicants. However, effectively using Employment Branding techniques comes with a learning curve, leaving many time-crunched recruiters to still rely on job postings for the majority of the sourcing. To inspire you to commit some time and energy into building an Employment Branding strategy for your organization, here are 3 ways Employment Branding is better than traditional job postings for finding the top talent:

1.) It’s cheaper. Creating and circulating content that showcases your Co.Co.Fa. (Company Cool Factor) can be done for a fraction of the cost of a job posting today. Especially, if your company has in-house staff who can write and promote the content. For example, getting your company showcased on a high-ranking Google site will drive lots of organic traffic to your Careers page. Top talent is always on the lookout for the best companies to work for. When they see them written up, they go looking to learn more about them.

2.) It weeds out lazy people. Good Employment Branding not only grabs the attention of top talent, but it also invites them to make the effort to engage in conversation with your organization. Lazy job seekers just want to send you a generic cover letter and resume. Top talent wants to contribute to the conversation. An Employment Branding strategy that creates an opportunity to dialog with your company opens the door for the best and brightest to feel connected to you.

3.) It’s more valuable over time. Employment Branding is like a good wine, it gets better with age. That’s because the digital assets you create online increase in visibility over time. As your Employment Branding content gets circulated and re-circulated, it increases in Internet search engine rankings, ultimately driving even more talent to your company. News travels fast – and when it’s about a hot company like yours, it travels even faster!

Employment Branding is not a passing fad. As top talent becomes more savvy online, their expectations for content that helps them make an informed decisions about their next employers will increase dramatically.Those companies that have lots to offer in the way of Employment Branding will prove to job seekers they understand their needs.Those that ignore Employment Branding will find it harder and harder to attract the best talent and will be left dealing with the disengaged, entitled workers who stuff your online application system. Invest in Employment Branding now and you’ll reap the rewards later!

[Read more in Employer Branding]


J.T.J.T. O’Donnell is CEO of the career media services company, CAREEREALISM and founder of the virtual career coaching resource, CareerHMO. A nationally syndicated job and workplace expert, her company specializes in the development of digital assets for both individuals and companies in the areas of executive branding, employment branding, expert platform development, and authority marketing. On Twitter she tweets as @jtodonnell and @CAREEREALISM.

Five routes to more innovative problem solving – by Olivier Leclerc and Mihnea Moldoveanu

Rob McEwen had a problem. The chairman and chief executive officer of Canadian mining group Goldcorp knew that its Red Lake site could be a money-spinner—a mine nearby was thriving—but no one could figure out where to find high-grade ore. The terrain was inaccessible, operating costs were high, and the unionized staff had already gone on strike. In short, McEwen was lumbered with a gold mine that wasn’t a gold mine.

Then inspiration struck. Attending a conference about recent developments in IT, McEwen was smitten with the open-source revolution. Bucking fierce internal resistance, he created the Goldcorp Challenge: the company put Red Lake’s closely guarded topographic data online and offered $575,000 in prize money to anyone who could identify rich drill sites. To the astonishment of players in the mining sector, upward of 1,400 technical experts based in 50-plus countries took up the problem. The result? Two Australian teams, working together, found locations that have made Red Lake one of the world’s richest gold mines. “From a remote site, the winners were able to analyze a database and generate targets without ever visiting the property,” McEwen said. “It’s clear that this is part of the future.”1

McEwen intuitively understood the value of taking a number of different approaches simultaneously to solving difficult problems. A decade later, we find that this mind-set is ever more critical: business leaders are operating in an era when forces such as technological change and the historic rebalancing of global economic activity from developed to emerging markets have made the problems increasingly complex, the tempo faster, the markets more volatile, and the stakes higher. The number of variables at play can be enormous, and free-flowing information encourages competition, placing an ever-greater premium on developing innovative, unique solutions.

This article presents an approach for doing just that. How? By using what we call flexible objects for generating novel solutions, or flexons, which provide a way of shaping difficult problems to reveal innovative solutions that would otherwise remain hidden. This approach can be useful in a wide range of situations and at any level of analysis, from individuals to groups to organizations to industries. To be sure, this is not a silver bullet for solving any problem whatever. But it is a fresh mechanism for representing ambiguous, complex problems in a structured way to generate better and more innovative solutions.

The flexons approach

Finding innovative solutions is hard. Precedent and experience push us toward familiar ways of seeing things, which can be inadequate for the truly tough challenges that confront senior leaders. After all, if a problem can be solved before it escalates to the C-suite, it typically is. Yet we know that teams of smart people from different backgrounds are more likely to come up with fresh ideas more quickly than individuals or like-minded groups do.2 When a diverse range of experts—game theorists to economists to psychologists—interact, their approach to problems is different from those that individuals use. The solution space becomes broader, increasing the chance that a more innovative answer will be found.

Obviously, people do not always have think tanks of PhDs trained in various approaches at their disposal. Fortunately, generating diverse solutions to a problem does not require a diverse group of problem solvers. This is where flexons come into play. While traditional problem-solving frameworks address particular problems under particular conditions—creating a compensation system, for instance, or undertaking a value-chain analysis for a vertically integrated business—they have limited applicability. They are, if you like, specialized lenses. Flexons offer languages for shaping problems, and these languages can be adapted to a much broader array of challenges. In essence, flexons substitute for the wisdom and experience of a group of diverse, highly educated experts.

To accommodate the world of business problems, we have identified five flexons, or problem-solving languages. Derived from the social and natural sciences, they help users understand the behavior of individuals, teams, groups, firms, markets, institutions, and whole societies. We arrived at these five through a lengthy process of synthesizing both formal literatures and the private knowledge systems of experts, and trial and error on real problems informed our efforts. We don’t suggest that these five flexons are exhaustive—only that we have found them sufficient, in concert, to tackle very difficult problems. While serious mental work is required to tailor the flexons to a given situation, and each retains blind spots arising from its assumptions, multiple flexons can be applied to the same problem to generate richer insights and more innovative solutions.

Networks flexon

Imagine a map of all of the people you know, ranked by their influence over you. It would show close friends and vague acquaintances, colleagues at work and college roommates, people who could affect your career dramatically and people who have no bearing on it. All of them would be connected by relationships of trust, friendship, influence, and the probabilities that they will meet. Such a map is a network that can represent anything from groups of people to interacting product parts to traffic patterns within a city—and therefore can shape a whole range of business problems.

For example, certain physicians are opinion leaders who can influence colleagues about which drugs to prescribe. To reveal relationships among physicians and help identify those best able to influence drug usage, a pharmaceutical company launching a product could create a network map of doctors who have coauthored scientific articles. By targeting clusters of physicians who share the same ideas and (one presumes) have tight interactions, the company may improve its return on investments compared with what traditional mass-marketing approaches would achieve. The network flexon helps decompose a situation into a series of linked problems of prediction (how will ties evolve?) and optimization (how can we maximize the relational advantage of a given agent?) by presenting relationships among entities. These problems are not simple, to be sure.3 But they are well-defined and structured—a fundamental requirement of problem solving.

Evolutionary flexon

Evolutionary algorithms have won games of chess and solved huge optimization problems that overwhelm most computational resources. Their success rests on the power of generating diversity by introducing randomness and parallelization into the search procedure and quickly filtering out suboptimal solutions. Representing entities as populations of parents and offspring subject to variation, selection, and retention is useful in situations where businesses have limited control over a large number of important variables and only a limited ability to calculate the effects of changing them, whether they’re groups of people, products, project ideas, or technologies. Sometimes, you must make educated guesses, test, and learn. But even as you embrace randomness, you can harness it to produce better solutions to complex problems.

That’s because not all “guessing strategies” are created equal. We have crucial choices to make: generating more guesses (prototypes, ideas, or business models) or spending more time developing each guess or deciding which guesses will survive. Consider a consumer-packaged-goods company trying to determine if a new brand of toothpaste will be a hit or an expensive failure. Myriad variables—everything from consumer habits and behavior to income, geography, and the availability of clean water—interact in multiple ways. The evolutionary flexon may suggest a series of low-cost, small-scale experiments involving product variants pitched to a few well-chosen market segments (for instance, a handful of representative customers high in influence and skeptical about new ideas). With every turn of the evolutionary-selection crank, the company’s predictions will improve.

Decision-agent flexon

To the economic theorist, social behavior is the outcome of interactions among individuals, each of whom tries to select the best possible means of achieving his or her ends. The decision-agent flexon takes this basic logic to its limit by providing a way of representing teams, firms, and industries as a series of competitive and cooperative interactions among agents. The basic approach is to determine the right level of analysis—firms, say. Then you ascribe to them beliefs and motives consistent with what you know (and think they know), consider how their payoffs change through the actions of others, determine the combinations of strategies they might collectively use, and seek an equilibrium where no agent can unilaterally deviate from the strategy without becoming worse off.

Game theory is the classic example, but it’s worth noting that a decision-agent flexon can also incorporate systematic departures from rationality: impulsiveness, cognitive shortcuts such as stereotypes, and systematic biases. Taken as a whole, this flexon can describe all kinds of behavior, rational and otherwise, in one self-contained problem-solving language whose most basic variables comprise agents (individuals, groups, organizations) and their beliefs, payoffs, and strategies.

For instance, financial models to optimize the manufacturing footprint of a large industrial company would typically focus on relatively easily quantifiable variables such as plant capacity and input costs. To take a decision-agent approach, you assess the payoffs and likely strategies of multiple stakeholders—including customers, unions, and governments—in the event of plant closures. Adding the incentives, beliefs, and strategies of all stakeholders to the analysis allows the company to balance the trade-offs inherent in a difficult decision more effectively.

System-dynamics flexon

Assessing a decision’s cascading effects on complex businesses is often a challenge. Making the relations between variables of a system, along with the causes and effects of decisions, more explicit allows you to understand their likely impact over time. A system-dynamics lens shows the world in terms of flows and accumulations of money, matter (for example, raw materials and products), energy (electrical current, heat, radio-frequency waves, and so forth), or information. It sheds light on a complex system by helping you develop a map of the causal relationships among key variables, whether they are internal or external to a team, a company, or an industry; subjectively or objectively measurable; or instantaneous or delayed in their effects.

Consider the case of a deep-sea oil spill, for example. A source (the well) emits a large volume of crude oil through a sequence of pipes (which throttle the flow and can be represented as inductors) and intermediate-containment vessels (which accumulate the flow and can be modeled as capacitors). Eventually, the oil flows into a sink (which, in this case, is unfortunately the ocean). A pressure gradient drives the flow rate of oil from the well into the ocean. Even an approximate model immediately identifies ways to mitigate the spill’s effects short of capping the well. These efforts could include reducing the pressure gradient driving the flow of crude, decreasing the loss of oil along the pipe, increasing the capacity of the containment vessels, or increasing or decreasing the inductance of the flow lines. In this case, a loosely defined phenomenon such as an oil spill becomes a set of precisely posed problems addressable sequentially, with cumulative results.

Information-processing flexon

When someone performs long division in her head, a CEO makes a strategic decision by aggregating imperfect information from an executive team, or Google servers crunch Web-site data, information is being transformed intelligently. This final flexon provides a lens for viewing various parts of a business as information-processing tasks, similar to the way such tasks are parceled out among different computers. It focuses attention on what information is used, the cost of computation, and how efficiently the computational device solves certain kinds of problems. In an organization, that device is a collection of people, whose processes for deliberating and deciding are the most important explanatory variable of decision-making’s effectiveness.4

Consider the case of a private-equity firm seeking to manage risk. A retrospective analysis of decisions by its investment committee shows that past bets have been much riskier than its principals assumed. To understand why, the firm examines what information was transmitted to the committee and how decisions by individuals would probably have differed from those of the committee, given its standard operating procedures. Interviews and analysis show that the company has a bias toward riskier investments and that it stems from a near-unanimity rule applied by the committee: two dissenting members are enough to prevent an investment. The insistence on near-unanimity is counterproductive because it stifles debate: the committee’s members (only two of whom could kill any deal) are reluctant to speak first and be perceived as an “enemy” by the deal sponsor. And the more senior the sponsor, the more likely it is that risky deals will be approved. Raising the number of votes required to kill deals, while clearly counterintuitive, would stimulate a richer dialogue.

Putting flexons to work

We routinely use these five problem-solving lenses in workshops with executive teams and colleagues to analyze particularly ambiguous and complex challenges. Participants need only a basic familiarity with the different approaches to reframe problems and generate more innovative solutions. Here are two quite different examples of the kinds of insights that emerge from the use of several flexons, whose real power emerges in combination.

Reorganizing for innovation

A large biofuel manufacturer that wants to improve the productivity of its researchers can use flexons to illuminate the problem from very different angles.

Networks. It’s possible to view the problem as a need to design a better innovation network by mapping the researchers’ ties to one another through co-citation indices, counting the number of e-mails sent between researchers, and using a network survey to reveal the strength and density of interactions and collaborative ties. If coordinating different knowledge domains is important to a company’s innovation productivity, and the current network isn’t doing so effectively, the company may want to create an internal knowledge market in which financial and status rewards accrue to researchers who communicate their ideas to co-researchers. Or the company could encourage cross-pollination by setting up cross-discipline gatherings, information clearinghouses, or wiki-style problem-solving sites featuring rewards for solutions.

Evolution. By describing each lab as a self-contained population of ideas and techniques, a company can explore how frequently new ideas are generated and filtered and how stringent the selection process is. With this information, it can design interventions to generate more varied ideas and to change the selection mechanism. For instance, if a lot of research activity never seems to lead anywhere, the company might take steps to ensure that new ideas are presented more frequently to the business-development team, which can provide early feedback on their applicability.

Decision agents. We can examine in detail how well the interests of individual researchers and the organization are aligned. What financial and nonfinancial benefits accrue to individuals who initiate or terminate a search or continue a search that is already under way? What are the net benefits to the organization of starting, stopping, or continuing to search along a given trajectory? Search traps or failures may be either Type I (pursuing a development path unlikely to reach a profitable solution) or Type II (not pursuing a path likely to reach a profitable solution). To better understand the economics at play, it may be possible to use industry and internal data to multiply the probabilities of these errors by their costs. That economic understanding, in turn, permits a company to tailor incentives for individuals to minimize Type I errors (by motivating employees to reject apparent losers more quickly) or Type II errors (by motivating them to persist along paths of uncertain value slightly longer than they normally would).

Predicting the future

Now consider the case of a multinational telecommunications service provider that operates several major broadband, wireless, fixed, and mobile networks around the world, using a mix of technologies (such as 2G and 3G). It wants to develop a strategic outlook that takes into consideration shifting demographics, shifting technologies for connecting users with one another and with its core network (4G), and shifting alliances—to say nothing of rapidly evolving players from Apple to Qualcomm. This problem is complicated, with a range of variables and forces at work, and so broad that crafting a strategy with big blind spots is easy. Flexons can help.

Each view of the world described below provides valuable food for thought, including potential strategic scenarios, technology road maps, and possibilities for killer apps. More hard work is needed to synthesize the findings into a coherent worldview, but the different perspectives provided by flexons illuminate potential solutions that might otherwise be missed.

Decision agents. Viewing the problem in this way emphasizes the incentives for different industry players to embrace new technologies and service levels. By enumerating a range of plausible scenarios from the perspective of customers and competitors, the network service provider can establish baseline assessments of future pricing, volume levels, and investment returns.

Networks. This lens allows a company or its managers to look at the industry as a pattern of exchange relationships between paying customers and providers of services, equipment, chips, operating systems, and applications, and then to examine the properties of each exchange network. The analysis may reveal that not all innovations and new end-user technologies are equal: some provide an opportunity for differentiation at critical nodes in the network; others do not.

System dynamics. This flexon focuses attention on data-flow bottlenecks in applications ranging from e-mail and voice calls to video downloads, games, and social-networking interactions.5 The company can build a network-optimization map to predict and optimize capital expenditures for network equipment as a function of expected demand, information usage, and existing constraints. Because cost structures matter deeply to annuity businesses (such as those of service providers) facing demand fluctuations, the resulting analysis may radically affect which services a company believes it can and cannot offer in years to come.

Flexons help turn chaos into order by representing ambiguous situations and predicaments as well-defined, analyzable problems of prediction and optimization. They allow us to move up and down between different levels of detail to consider situations in all their complexity. And, perhaps most important, flexons allow us to bring diversityinside the head of the problem solver, offering more opportunities to discover counterintuitive insights, innovative options, and unexpected sources of competitive advantage.

About the authors

Olivier Leclerc is a principal in McKinsey’s Southern California office. Mihnea Moldoveanu is associate dean of the full-time MBA program at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, where he directs the Desautels Centre for Integrative Thinking.

La felicità in un tweet – by Luciano Canova


Ogni anno Il Sole-24Ore pubblica una sua classifica sulla qualità della vita nelle province italiane, basando l’analisi sull’aggregazione di diversi indicatori oggettivi, dalla qualità dei servizi pubblici al reddito medio, includendo numerose dimensioni che afferiscono al benessere delle persone. Ora unaclassifica molto interessante, e decisamente originale, ci viene proposta dal team di ricerca di Voices from the Blogs. Si tratta di uno spin-off dell’Università statale di Milano che analizza i tweet postati sul web dagli italiani.
Già nel 2012, per Wired, è uscito un ebook nel 2012 sulla felicità degli italiani, monitorata anche attraverso l’applicazione smartphone iHappy.
Sono stati 43 milioni i tweet durante l’intero anno passato (circa 200mila a settimana) e 4 milioni gli utenti attivi, nel 2012, per quello che è il social network con i dati di crescita più rilevanti. (1) Si tratta di un pozzo di informazioni dal potenziale incredibile, soprattutto se si pensa che cattura, real-time, la reazione agli eventi di chi posta in rete.
Il gruppo di ricerca ha costruito un indicatore di felicità in modo metodologicamente robusto: Twitter offre già una classificazione automatica di happy/unhappy tweets, basandola sugli emoticons(le faccine) contenute nei post. Questo sotto-insieme di cinguettii viene utilizzato come campione di riferimento e, sulla base di un algoritmo sviluppato da alcuni ricercatori di Harvard, la classificazione si estende all’intera popolazione di tweet postati quotidianamente, calcolando in sostanza una certa probabilità che vi siano tweet felici/infelici, e riducendo al minimo il tasso di errore. (2)
L’indicatore iHappy nasce da una formula molto semplice:
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Si ottiene un indice tra 0 e 100 a livello di singola provincia. Non ci sono, infatti, informazioni sui profili individuali, ma vengono raccolte informazioni sulle 110 province d’Italia. Qui di seguito viene riportata la classifica delle province che emerge da iHappy, decisamente ‘diversa’ da quella proposta dal Sole-24Ore.

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Sole 24 Ore: prime 10 province per QV

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iHappy: Prime 10 classifiche

Un’analisi di correlazione tra le due classifiche mostra il seguente risultato:

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L’interpretazione è chiara: la correlazione tra le due classifiche è bassa, il che è in linea con quanto dice la letteratura scientifica sul tema. Happiness e benessere soggettivo sono qualcosa di diverso dalla qualità della vita. Non è un caso che siano state inserite di buon diritto tra le dodici dimensioni del benessere investigate dall’Istat attraverso il Bes.


Il team di ricerca dell’Università statale ha condotto, poi, uno studio econometrico per cercare ledeterminanti di questo indicatore di happiness. I risultati sono molto interessanti, poiché evidenziano come esista una forte componente improvvisa. Ovvero, gli italiani reagiscono in modo significativo a shock esterni, che si tratti di cattive o buone notizie. Se lo spread si alza, l’indice iHappy si abbassa significativamente. In giornate di sole e a primavera, l’indicatore ha valori più elevati di quando fa freddo ed è inverno.
Estremamente interessanti anche alcuni dati relativi alla situazione economica: iHappy aumenta sensibilmente il 27 di ogni mese, quando la maggior parte delle persone percepiscono lo stipendio. E si riduce a fine maggio, in concomitanza con il pagamento delle tasse.
Ovviamente, i dati di Twitter presentano una forte criticità, legata alla rappresentatività del campione: gli utenti della rete, e dei social networks, non rappresentano l’intera popolazione e costituiscono un gruppo specifico. Tuttavia, la quantità di informazioni raccolte e il fatto che rappresentino reazioni real-time (e non espresse attraverso una risposta a un questionario, particolarmente soggetta a distorsioni o condizionamenti) delle persone che postano sul web, costituisce un elemento di grande rilevanza per questo tipo di ricerche, il che apre prospettive molto interessanti per il futuro scientifico del tema happiness.

(1) Il numero di utenti attivi, in Italia, è raddoppiato in meno di un anno.
(2) http://gking.harvard.edu/files/abs/words-abs.shtml

Bio dell’autore

Luciano Canova: Attualmente docente di economia ed economia comportamentale alla Scuola Mattei di Enicorporateuniversity, si occupa di economia pubblica, economia dello sviluppo ed economia ambientale. Di ritorno in Italia dopo due anni di esperienza alla Paris School of Economics nell’unità Microsimula (valutazione delle politiche pubbliche) ha conseguito il dottorato in Modelli Quantitativi per la Politica Economica all’Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore e, in precedenza, un Master of Arts in Development Economics alla University of Sussex.

Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are

“Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.” Ted.com website

An amazing speech! Don’t miss the ending!