Monday, May 26, 2014

Innovators are Rare

In Wired for Culture, Mark Pagel observes that the vast majority of people are not truly creative or inventive, but rather are copiers of others. And by vast majority, we mean something like 98-99% of the population mostly just copy what others do. There is certainly nothing wrong with this -- it is what makes humans so hypersocial -- but this does have implications for the contemporary work place.

If we are currently in a creative economy, this suggests that most of the work being done is going to be done by 1-2% of the entire population. And perhaps not even that many, since there are bound to be a high percentage of those people who are academics or autistic (and thus have a hard time holding down a job) or artists (or all of the above). So businesses are really looking at a much smaller percentage of the population who are going to be creative or innovative. This would suggest that they ought to be more open to tolerating the quirks of the creatives they need to succeed.

Think about it. To be creative or innovative, you have to challenge the way things are typically done. Most people hate that. This is why the most successful innovations have appeared to be mere slight changes in the way things are already done. Movies initially were filmed plays. Movie makers took something people were familiar with -- plays -- and filmed them. Once people were used to that, film makers could gradually turn films into what we now enjoy. And still, most movies still have play-like elements. And cinemas still look like theaters.

A firm full of innovators would likely fail. You need people who are just going to do what they are told all the time to do the day-to-day work and to keep the innovators from running off the rails with their new ideas. You want innovators working on the latest technology, not in the accounting department (innovators in the accounting department will get themselves, if not the entire company, in real trouble). But you have to expect your innovators to be different in their behaviors (such as being less social) from the vast majority of your employees.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pattern Language for B2B

The world is full of patterns. With humans, many of those patterns can be quite complex. The economy, for example, exhibits pattens so complex that we have yet to fully understand them -- and we could never replicate them on purpose. Businesses also have patterns. We try to design certain patterns, but other patterns emerge naturally through human interactions. In organizations like businesses, we try to strike a balance between the two.

At Authentic Organizations, there is a great piece on Pattern Language for Generative Interactions in business. If there are patterns in businesses -- and there are -- then there will necessarily be both good and bad patterns. It is then important that we understand the good patterns, to encourage them, as well as the bad patterns, to discourage or redesign them. And we need the right language to discuss these patterns.

What do you think of their suggestions?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Interdisciplinary Teams

A popular thing for many companies to do is to create "interdisciplinary teams." I have noticed, however, that many of these so-called interdisciplinary teams are rarely in fact interdisciplinary.

For example, if you have a team that has a mathematician, a physicist, and an engineer, that is not an interdisciplinary team. To be an engineer, you have to master math and physics. The other two may bring in a few more details from their fields, but these three people are in fact all talking the same language and using the same basic methods. They are not an interdisciplinary team.

But let us say you have a team consisting of a psychologist, an economist, and marketing specialist. Now we are closer to having an interdisciplinary team. Here we have three people who in their narrow specialties may not have the least idea what the other two are talking about. However, this team is still not necessarily interdisciplinary.

What will make this team interdisciplinary? Integration. Without the ability to integrate the knowledge provided by each, you only have a multidisciplinary team. You can get some things done with a multidisciplinary team, but you will get far less than you could if you had someone to integrate their knowledge.

One way of integrating is to make sure at least one person on the team is an interdisciplinarian, having sufficient knowledge of the other two members' knowledge to be able to do the work of integrating. While such a person is in many ways ideal, they are also rare.

Another way of integrating is to bring in an interdisciplinarian -- someone who is trained to integrate knowledge from different sources and understand the different methods being used by each of the team members. This person acts both as a bridge among the different individuals and as an integrator of ideas and knowledge.

Unfortunately, while integrationists are necessary for your interdisciplinary team to be most successful, it is rare to have such a person on such a team. People talk about being interested in interdisciplinary approaches to problem solving, but rarely do you see people act on them. And when they do, more often than not they put together a multidisciplinary team rather than an interdisciplinary one. This may also be why there is less actual enthusiasm for interdisciplinary teams than the rhetoric would suggest. Multidisciplinary teams are not going to be very successful precisely because of communication problems among the specialists; unless you have an integrationist on the team, you cannot solve those communication problems, meaning your team will not be as successful as it could be.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Self-Managed Workers Work Best and Most Efficiently

What is the difference between a good employee and a good worker? Too many people think the two are synonymous. They are not. A person can be a good employee and not a good worker, and vice versa. A good employee is someone who shows up on time, rarely if ever takes sick days, does everything exactly as they are told, etc. However, that does not mean that the person is a good worker. A good worker is someone who is productive, who returns more value to the company for which they work than they get out of the company, who does what it takes to get the job done right, etc.

Most management styles favor employees over workers. However, there is a new management model that favors workers over employees.The bottom line is this: provide goals, and allow the people who work for you to figure out how to achieve those goals. Rather than requiring everyone stick to a strict schedule (other than for things like opening the business at a given time), let people figure out the best way to become profitable. Rather than micromanaging everyone, give people the freedom to find the right (or wrong) paths.

The funny thing is, I am willing to bet that any company's managers who did this would find themselves quite surprised at how many of their great employees are in fact terrible workers -- and vice versa.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Daydreaming Your Way to Greater Productivity

Annie Murphy Paul has an insightful blog post on how to be more productive. It turns out that the answer is not to work harder -- we already work extremely hard -- but, rather, to give ourselves time to daydream.

Now, you're probably thinking, "My employees are caught daydreaming quite enough, thank you! And not a one of them is more productive!" Well, those employees are probably not actually daydreaming; no, they are probably in fact just thinking of something else rather than their work. They are not daydreaming, but rather engaged in focused thinking -- they are just not focused on their work.

No, when you are in fact daydreaming, you are allowing your brain to go into "automatic" mode. Your brain is quite active during this mode, but quite different parts of the brain are active vs. when you are focused and concentrating. When you are focused, you are less likely to make creative connections. Creativity requires your brain to be allowed to wander and connect bits and pieces that are anything but obvious.

It turns out that nondirected meditation works similarly and, therefore, is a better form of medication than is directed meditation.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Poetry and Storytelling Services

Here at Camplin Creative Consulting, we are, well, CREATIVE! Many of my posts have emphasized my ability to write and to teach others to write, but what I have perhaps not emphasized quite as much is the fact that I am an artist -- a poet and a playwright and a short story writer -- and that I therefore bring these things to the table as well.

In other words, I can tell your story. As a storyteller, I understand the most important aspects of storytelling -- what will get people's attention, what they will remember, and how they can remember. The story of your company is important to tell. It is how you attract customers. It is how you motivate employees. A story can thus be an external story, meant to attract business, or an internal story, mean to coordinate and inspire employees. The latter is important to your business culture. All cultures have foundational stories. What is yours? What would you like it to be?

I also mentioned that I am a poet. Now, it is important to note that I am not some sort of free verse, experimental, postmodernist poet that will run off readers -- and customers! No, I am a formalist poet. I write with a regular rhythm and often with rhyme. These things in fact attract readers and customers. The most successful jingles are, of course, written with rhythm and rhyme. Why? People remember them more readily. And that's exactly what you want. So if you want a slogan or a jingle, this is something I can most certainly help you create.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Speaker Topics

Given my diverse and unusual background, I am available to speak on the following topics:
  • Spontaneous Order theory -- the economy, culture, the sociology of artistic/literary production, the sociology of technological innovation, the structure of scientific discovery, etc.
  • Autism and Asperger's -- my older son, Daniel, has autism, and I discovered I have Asperger's as a result of my research into autism; I can speak on a variety of topics on autism, including various theories of autism and my own personal discovery; my wife, Anna, can also speak on being a wife to a husband with Asperger's and a mother to a son with autism.
  • Writing -- I love writing, and I can talk on a variety of topics, from writing instruction to poetry to play writing.
If you're within driving distance from me, we're happy to come to you for free. If you're not, you might at the very least have to get me there!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

What I Offer as a Writing Consultant

Whenever you decide to start a business -- including a business like Camplin Creative Consulting -- you have to ask yourself: what is your value added?

There are plenty of consultants out there. There are plenty of writing consultants out there. So what, exactly, is my value added?

In the area of writing, editing, and proofreading, I would argue that my value added is my interdisciplinary background. I have degrees in molecular biology, English, and the humanities, and I have peer reviewed publications on cognitive psychology, morals, economics, technological innovation, organizational structures, culture, sociology, literature, game theory, and evolution. I also have a philosophy book out, titled Diaphysics. And I was reviews editor for the journal Philosophical Practice.

For anyone doing any sort of academic work, there is a good chance that I can read your work with understanding, and help you to not just edit your works, but perhaps even provide feedback for revisions. Sometimes questions raised out of ignorance of a topic can stimulate the expert; sometimes questions raised from an interdisciplinary perspective can stimulate the expert. If I cannot provide one, I am sure I can provide the other!

In addition, I am very detail-oriented, highly analytical, and very good at seeing and understanding patterns. All of these are qualities you should want in a writing consultant.

In addition to all of this, I am a short story writer, a poet, and a playwright. This means I also bring to bear a strong narrative sense and a strong sense of structure and meaning. Bringing poetics to bear on a work can make the work even more persuasive. And that, too, is  something I can provide.

These are a few examples of what I consider to be my value-added -- this combination of skills and perspectives. It is possible to find a large number of people who can provide one or two or maybe even half of these aspects; however, few can bring them all together. This is what I can do for those in need of a writing consultant.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The Complexity Economy

Steve Denning has a piece in Forbes in which he asks Is the Creative Economy Also in Trouble?

There is much more going on in the piece than first meets the eye. It must be read to the bottom. Part of the problem of understanding economic growth is that most people do not really understand the dynamics of complex network processes, like economies. If you are working with an equilibrium model only, growth itself really doesn't really make that much sense.

In dynamic, complex network processes, you get s-curve growth. That means you go from essentially flat growth, through an exponential growth phase, to another period of flat growth. The three industrial revolutions mentioned in the article are periods of s-curve growth. Another term for it is "punctuated equilibrium," which emphasizes the two equilibrium points. What happens with punctuated equilibrium is there is a lot of change happening without much growth taking place. Then a tipping point is reached, and there is massive growth. We see this happening in biological evolution, in climate changes, in social changes, and in human learning. One result is the appearance of an apparent "lag" between innovation and economic growth. Denning observes one lag happening 1906-1928 -- the dynamics of punctuated equilibrium solve this problem. Another result is the lag Denning argues we are seeing now in relation to IT innovation vs. economic growth (indeed, one hopes it is indeed such a lag and not the result of another tipping point being reached: enough regulatory weight on the economy to cause a new economic equilibrium to emerge).

Euel Elliott and I suggest that technology and the economy are both dynamic network processes which, when they interact, can feed into each other and drive exponential growth. Still, there are bound to be upper limits. For example, how much is there left to be done with simple physics? Perhaps more than can be imagined, but at the same time, physics is the simplest level of reality, and that means we will sooner or later exhaust what can be done with physics-based systems. We have perhaps only touched on the possibilities in chemistry -- especially given the literally infinite ways of rearranging carbon. But what we have really only just barely touched on, if we can be said to have touched on it at all, is complexity-based technology.

The internet is certainly a complexity-based technology. True, the basic components of it are rooted in pure physics, but the overall structure is an extension of human social networks, making it a cyborg technology of high complexity. Yet even so, we have not tapped into the incredible potential of biotechnology. We have done a few small things in biotechnology, when we can treat living things like physics objects (where one gene has one effect, and no complex interactions at all), but we have not been able to scratch the surface of possibilities. We would have to understand a huge number of complex interactions to fully harness the possibility of biotechnology.

Indeed, the next biggest leap in technology -- leading to another huge industrial revolution -- will be when we are able to create complex technologies. The technologies we create now are simple. Incredibly simple. The great innovators of the future will be those who are able to harness complexity and to create complex technologies that behave in complex manners (which does not mean "unpredictable," though it can appear to be to the untrained eye).

But what we see now is a steady decline of startups. Why is that? Startups need new ideas, and if there are not many new ideas, you will see fewer startups. Also, startups need a good environment; the increasing regulatory burden in the U.S. may be slowly decreasing the number of startups, meaning we are seeing the top of an S-curve. If that is the case, we are just waiting for the regulation that will act as the tipping point to collapse the entire economy.

It may be ironic that the more hopeful interpretation is that we are running out of ideas, and that's why we're seeing fewer startups. But what that really means is that there are entrepreneurial opportunities out there. I mean, are we really running out of ideas? Or are we running out of things we can do at the level of mere physics? This means that the creative economy will become ever-more important. And ever-more difficult. More, it will mean relying more and more on those capable of seeing and understanding complex patterns.

These aren't the only things discussed in the article. Denning also lists four major changes the internet has had on the economy. All are worth taking the time to truly understand. Especially the fourth one about customer sovereignty, which is now truly here in all its glory. Meaning marketing is now itself more complex than ever.

We are moving into the complexity economy. Are you ready?

Have Patience With "Problem" Workers

Yesterday I discussed some of the problems inherent in creative people. I have also discussed some of the problems with employing autistic people. Both of these groups of people are what many would consider to be "problem" employees.

But what kinds of problems are we really talking about here? What are the trade-offs? Are those trade-offs worth the trouble? Are there ways of reducing the problems without getting rid of the workers?

The more and more we move toward a creative economy, the more and more we need creative people. And the more and more we move toward an information economy, the more and more we need autistic people (who seem designed to interface well with computers). Since the economy is increasingly creative and IT-based, your businesses ought to be full of creative and autistic people. And many autistic people are quite creative, so with the right hire, you can get the benefits of both.

Of course, these kinds of people do not fit in well with our old notions about how to run a business. You are supposed to show up to work and work in your cubicle. You are to socialize with everyone, be friendly with everyone, and be sure to be especially friendly with those above you in the firm's hierarchy. You are to think strategically -- especially if you don want to get fired. Most especially if you want to move up in the company. Work takes place between 8am and 5 pm, with a half hour lunch and two 15 minute breaks. And you have to look busy to be working.

Such an office is easy to manage, but you won't get any creativity out of it. And you will have fired your most efficient workers. And you will have fired your most creative workers.

Your autistic people are not going to play office politics. They will get run over by office politics. They need to be protected from office politics.

But why bother? Because your autistic workers are going to be your best workers, your more analytical workers, your most obsessively focused workers. They are also going to be your most honest workers. And they will lay bare to you the nonsense and hypocrisy surrounding them. If you let them -- if you don't fire them for doing so.

Your creative people are going to play. They won't always look like they're working. They will likely be moody -- annoyingly friendly one day, depressed and withdrawn the next. The firm's hierarchy means absolutely nothing to them. They will speak to the unpaid intern the same way they speak to the CEO, and vice versa.

You have to put up with these behaviors because your creative workers are going to be the ones keeping your business afloat. When someone creates a new thing to compete with your product, you need to have had the answer to their new product yesterday. Your creative people would have been the ones to have found a solution to a problem before you even knew there was a problem. And they likely did it when they were "goofing around."

Both of these groups of people are hardly anyone's idea of an ideal employee. But if you want to run a successful business, these are precisely the kinds of people with whom you need to surround yourself. The businesses that are more flexible about their hierarchies, that downplay office politics and pay more attention to the work being done (are more meritocratic), and that are willing to take risks with "odd" people are going to reap the benefits.

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Trouble With Creative People

Creative people can be a royal pain.

Edward Platt points out that:
A few months back, Andreas Fink at the University of Graz in Austria found a relationship between the ability to come up with an idea and the inability to suppress the precuneus while thinking. The precuneus is the area of the brain that shows the highest levels of activation during times of rest and has been linked to self-consciousness and memory retrieval. It is an indicator of how much one ruminates or ponders oneself and one’s experiences.
For most people, this area of the brain only lights up at restful times when one is not focusing on work or even daily tasks. For writers and creatives, however, it seems to be constantly activated. Fink’s hypothesis is that the most creative people are continually making associations between the external world and their internal experiences and memories. They cannot focus on one thing quite like the average person. Essentially, their stream of ideas is always running—the tap does not shut off—and, as a result, creative people show schizophrenic, borderline manic-depressive tendencies. Really, that’s no hyperbole. Fink found that this inability to suppress the precuneus is seen most dominantly in two types of people: creatives and psychosis patients.
What’s perhaps most interesting is that this flood of thoughts and introspection is apparently vital to creative success.
Borderline psychosis is not the only problem associated with creative people:
Although this stream of introspection and association allows for creative ideas, the downside is that people with “ruminative tendencies” are significantly more likely to become depressed, according (PDF) to the late Yale psychologist Susan Nolen-Hoeksema. Constant reflection takes a toll. Writing, editing, and revising also requires are near obsession with self-criticism, the leading quality for depressed patients.
 And as if all of this weren't bad enough, Annie Murphy Paul points out that creative people have a tendency to pull pranks. A company with a policy of not tolerating such shenanigans is likely stifling creativity -- and is likely to have fired most of their most creative people.

So, what are you supposed to do? Just put up with a bunch of out-of-control, manic-depressive, borderline-psychotic jerks? If you want to have a culture of innovation, the answer is, yes.

Heck, you might have a little fun yourself.

Friday, May 9, 2014

10 Reasons Content Goes Viral

How do you get your content to go viral? There are 10 reasons :
  1. Inspire awe, laughter, or amusement.
  2. Appeal to people’s narcissistic side (think BuzzFeed quizzes)
  3. Long-form content has less competition, and more shares on average.
  4. List posts and infographics are more likely to be shared.
  5. Make sure your article inspires trust. Have a byline, and bio. Make sure you have a professional logo and design as well.
  6. Mix text with visually appealing elements.
  7. Implement social metadata such as the Facebook preview image
  8. Reach out to influencers before you write your content.
  9. Promote your articles after it’s been published for a week
  10. Tuesday is the best day to publish and promote content
Read the entire article. They go into detail about why and how.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Hero's Journey

I have recently finished reading A Field Guide for the Hero's Journey by Jeff Sandefer and Rev. Robert Sirico. I highly recommend it.

At the end of each chapter are a series of questions. The ones at the end of chapter 2 are questions each person should ask themselves. They are also questions you might consider asking your employees.

  • What skills and talents do you possess?
  • What do you enjoy doing?
  • What do you love doing so much that you lose yourself in it?
  • What do you hate doing?
  • Do you tend to rush into things, or hesitate too long?
  • Do you tend to save up for a rainy day, or does every cent burn a hole in your pocket?
  • Are you a perfectionist who always demands the best, or are you satisfied with better-than-before?
  • Are you a natural optimist, or do you tend toward pessimism?
  • What do you have to offer?
  • What can you do that no one else can do?
  • What needs do you see in the world around you?
  • Are you willing to take risks in the hope of great rewards?
  • Are you ready to use your resources---your natural talents, your ideas, your money---instead of burying them?
  • Who do you want to become?
  • What would you like to be known for?
  • What would you like to have accomplished?
  • What sort of person would you like to have become?
Some of these might be obviously useful, such as asking your employees what skills and talents they possess. Some, such as "What do you hate doing?" might be answered more truthfully if you can guarantee anonymity (it might be useful to find out what your employees as a group tend to hate doing). Some of these might be interpreted as being job-specific, but could also (if you are more specific in your wording) be used to learn "big question" aspects of your employees (E.g., "What do you have to offer?").

If you can get your employees to be more personally reflective, this will be beneficial overall. If you can get them to reflect on what they are doing, you will make them more mindful, and that will make them more productive. With these questions, you might be able to find people who would be better doing other things. Where might a natural optimist do best in your company? Where could you use a natural pessimist?

The entire book is worth reading. Consider making your entire business a "hero's journey" -- not just for yourself, but for all of your employees.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Learning Requires Motivation

You won't get good at anything you don't like to do. You have to have passion to become good at something. To become good at something, you have to be willing to do it over and over, to spend hours and hours doing it.

This makes it unlikely too many people are going to become great writers. Or even good writers. But even without passion, people can become better writers. It is a skill like any other skill. And with the proper motivation, you can gain writing skills. To become as good as Shakespeare, that motivation must be entirely internal, but to become merely competent, an external motivation is sufficient.

If you want your employees to become better writers, you have to decide what will best motivate them to do so. It has to be measureable. Simply telling them they have to sign up for a course or a seminar -- whether external or internal to the company -- will never be enough to get results. One does not learn anything by simply being present when someone is talking about something. To learn, you have to be actively present, mentally present. No one can teach -- not even the greatest teachers of all time -- if students are not interested in learning the material.

What is going to be their motivation to learn it? What can you provide?

Friday, May 2, 2014

Classes of Readers

Readers may be divided into four classes:
1) Sponges, who absorb all that they read and return it in nearly the same state, only a little dirtied.
2) Sand-glasses, who retain nothing and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
3) Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
4) Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.
Samuel Taylor Coleridge (Lecturers, 1811-1812)

Among those who read, most fall into categories 2 and 3. Categories 1 and 4 are the ones who can learn how to write. Only category 4 can learn now to write exceedingly well. This insight, though 200 years old, is lost on almost every reading and writing teacher today. We labor under the illusion that everyone can be in category 4. But great readers and great writers are as rare as are great basketball players and great chess players. Worse, many teachers are in categories 1 and 3, so tell people at a similar stage that they are good readers.

It is possible to move people from 2 to at least 1? Certainly. But what about non-readers, who not only retain nothing, but despise getting through the book? That describes most people, whether they admit it or not (their reading habits tell). Thus, we have to get people from that stage to category 2 to category 3 to category 1 (I won't fool either you or myself into believing such people can get to 4).

Category 1 is enough to get a good writer. But all of this only emphasizes the fact that you have to be a good reader to be a good writer, that you have to read  a lot to write well.