Eva Cassidy: Fields of Gold

Related Resource: NYTimes, Aug 2002

a silken soprano voice with a wide and seemingly effortless range, unerring pitch and a gift for phrasing that at times was heart-stoppingly eloquent.

Cassidy was firm about what she would and would not sing, insisting on performing only material that meant something to her. The result was an eclectic mix of standards, blues, rhythm and blues, folk, rock, country, jazz and gospel that in these days of musical pigeonholing almost guarantees a lack of serious interest from major record labels.

A Review of the Machine Intelligence Market

Source: HBR, Nov 2016

We prefer the more neutral term “machine intelligence” over “AI.”

Stories that Omit Key Details

Source:  The Creativity Post, Nov 2016

The appeal of parables is that they reveal a simple truth without having to explain facts and that is also why they are so dangerous. The world is not such a simple place, which is why parables so often lead us astray. As Alfred North Whitehead put it, seek simplicity, but distrust it.

Blockbuster Video

Blockbuster Video is a cautionary tale, but not for the reason most people think it is. As the story is usually told, the executives at the now defunct video rental giant ignored the threat coming from Netflix until it was too late. Their futile efforts to meet the challenge came too late and the company went bankrupt in 2010.

The real story is decidedly different. In fact, Blockbuster CEO John Antioco recognized the threat and began to make serious changes as early as 2004. Soon, its Total Access program was gaining ground against Netflix. Alas, both investors and franchisees balked at the cost of the changes, Antioco was fired and the strategy was abandoned.


Thomas J. Watson, the iconic CEO of IBM, is often pilloried for observing in 1943 that “there is a world market for maybe five computers.” It’s a remark so foolish that PC World ranked it #1 on its list of the 7 worst tech predictions of all time. The magazine implies that he failed to see the future because he didn’t imagine that computers would move beyond vacuum tubes.

It is a puzzling comment to be sure. What makes the observation even more curious was that he was supposed to have made it in 1943, three years before the first digital computer was introduced in 1946. How could Watson predict a market for five computers when none yet existed? To envision a market of any size would have been strange at the time.

Other facts make the comment seem out of character as well. Watson took a major risk  when he established IBM Research in the depths of the Great Depression to ensure that his firm would be on the forefront of computing technology. He also went to the trouble to hire the legendary John von Neumann to help develop digital computing in the 50’s. IBM then went on to dominate the technology for decades.

The truth, as Kevin Maney points out in his definitive biography of Watson, is that he never said it. The source of the confusion is probably a comment that Watson made to his board in 1953 about a sales trip he took for one of IBM’s early computers, the 701. “As a result of our trip,” he said “on which we expected to get orders for five machines, we came home with orders for 18.”


Fleming was a brilliant, but sometimes careless biologist who returned from his summer vacation in 1928 and found that the bacteria cultures he had been growing weren contaminated by a mold that was eradicating the colonies. He decided to study the mold and… Eureka! he discovered penicillin.

Yet penicillin didn’t become commercially available until 1945, so clearly that story leaves out quite a bit. In fact, what Fleming discovered wasn’t very useful at all. It was just a mysterious substance — he called it “mold juice”— that could kill bacteria in a petri dish. It was nothing that could cure anyone which is why, when he published his findings, no one really noticed.

It wasn’t until a decade later that Howard Florey and Ernst Chain rediscovered Fleming’s work. They and their colleagues figured out how to transform the “mold juice” into a storable powder and develop a fermentation process it to produce enough penicillin to perform studies on mice, which were incredibly successful.

Yet still, penicillin was far from a finished product. In fact, the first patient died because they ran out of the wonder drug. So in 1941, Florey and another member of the team, Norman Heatley, travelled to the US, where they collaborated with American labs to identify a more potent strain of the mold and develop an industrial scale fermentation process.  

Improve Your Posture

Source:  Fast Company, Nov 2016

Good posture, it turns out, is not only good for your body, but your brain and your productivity as well.

A 2009 study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology revealed that sitting up straight and sticking your chest out can boost self confidence, while slouching can lead to negative thoughts. Another study found that good posture actually increases your productivity and creativity.


Pretend an invisible string runs up through your body and out the top of your head, and then act as if someone is constantly pulling that string up.

when you are more erect—whether you’re sitting, standing, or walking—”you have more energy and more access to positive thoughts,” says Peper.

“Posture is how we communicate to others: dominance versus submission. When standing tall you unknowingly occupy more space, you radiate outward, and thus are more easily recognized.”

Gowers: Ideas for UK math teaching

Source: Gowers website, Jun 2012

What I emphatically would notlike to see is teachers learning “the right answer” and giving a mini-lecture about it to their classes. Instead, the entire discussion should be far more Socratic.

The idea is that the teacher would go into a discussion about a question like this with a good grasp of the issues involved, but would begin by simply asking the question. An initial danger is that nobody would have anything to say, but one way of guarding against that is to discuss questions that people are likely to care about.

For example, the question above about whether girls are better than boys at a certain subject is far more likely to encourage people to think critically about statistics than a mathematically equivalent question about a less contentious topic. If the discussion stalled, the teacher’s job would be to give it a little nudge in the right direction.

The main point is one I’ve basically made already: the discussions should start from the real-life problem rather than starting from the mathematics. Pupils should not feel that the question is an excuse to force some mathematics on them: they should be interested in the question and should feel the need for the mathematics, the need arising because one can give much better answers if one models the situation mathematically and analyses the model.

“Mad Dog” Mattis

Source: Louise Mensch twitter account, Dec 2016

Don’t know whether this is a genuine Mattis quote, but it’s fun🙂


Execution/Operations CEOs Follow Visionary CEOs

Source: Steve Blank website, Oct 2016
<great read – read the source in its entirety>

Visionary CEOs are not “just” great at assuring world-class execution of a tested and successful business model, they are also world-class innovators. Visionary CEOs are product and business model centric and extremely customer focused.

The best are agile and know how to pivot – make a substantive change to the business model while or before their market has shifted. The very best of them shape markets – they know how to create new markets by seeing opportunities before anyone else. They remain entrepreneurs.

One of the best examples of a visionary CEO is Steve Jobs who transformed Apple from a niche computer company into the most profitable company in the world. Between 2001 to 2008, Jobs reinvented the company three times. Each transformation – from a new computer distribution channel – Apple Stores to disrupting the music business with iPod and iTunes in 2001; to the iPhone in 2007; and the App store in 2008 – drove revenues and profits to new heights.

These were not just product transitions, but radical business model transitions – new channels, new customers and new markets–and new emphasis on different parts of the organization (design became more important than the hardware itself and new executives became more important than the current ones).

Visionary CEOs don’t need someone else to demo the company’s key products for them. They deeply understand products, and they have their own coherent and consistent vision of where the industry/business models and customers are today, and where they need to take the company.  They know who their customers are because they spend time talking to them. They use strategy committees and the exec staff for advice, but none of these CEOs pivot by committee.

Transitioning from Visionary CEOs to Operations CEOs

One of the strengths of successful visionary and charismatic CEOs is that they build an executive staff of world-class operating executives (and they unconsciously force out any world-class innovators from their direct reports). The problem is in a company driven by a visionary CEO, there is only one visionary. This type of CEO surrounds himself with extremely competent executors, but not disruptive innovators. While Steve Jobs ran Apple, he drove the vision but put strong operating execs in each domain – hardware, software, product design, supply chain, manufacturing – who translated his vision and impatience into plans, process and procedures.

When visionary founders depart (death, firing, etc.), the operating executives who reported to them believe it’s their turn to run the company (often with the blessing of the ex CEO).  At Microsoft, Bill Gates anointed Steve Ballmer, and at Apple Steve Jobs made it clear that Tim Cook was to be his successor.

Once in charge, one of the first things these operations/execution CEOs do is to get rid of the chaos and turbulence in the organization. Execution CEOs value stability, process and repeatable execution.

On one hand that’s great for predictability, but it often starts a creative death spiral – creative people start to leave, and other executors (without the innovation talent of the old leader) are put into more senior roles – hiring more process people, which in turn forces out the remaining creative talent. This culture shift ripples down from the top and what once felt like a company on a mission to change the world now feels like another job.

In the 21st Century an Execution CEO as a Successor Increasingly May be The Wrong Choice
In a startup the board of directors realizes that risk is the nature of new ventures and innovation is why they exist. On day one there are no customers to lose, no revenue and profits to decline. Instead there is everything to gain.

In contrast, large companies are often risk-averse engines – they are executing a repeatable and scalable business model that spins out the short-term dividends, revenue and profits that the stock market rewards. And an increasing share price becomes the reason for existing. The irony is that in the 21st century, the tighter you hold on to your current product/markets, the likelier you will be disrupted. (As articulated in the classic Clayton Christensen book The Innovators Dilemma, in industries with rapid technology or market shifts, disruption cannot be ignored.)

Increasingly, a hands-on product/customer, and business model-centric CEO with an entrepreneurial vision of the future may be the difference between market dominance and Chapter 11. In these industries, disruption will create opportunities that force “bet the company” decisions about product direction, markets, pricing, supply chain, operations and the reorganization necessary to execute a new business model.  At the end of the day CEOs who survive embrace innovation, communicate a new vision and build management to execute the vision.