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Best content from the best source handpicked by Shyam. The source include The Harvard University, MIT, Mckinsey & Co, Wharton, Stanford,and other top educational institutions. domains include Cybersecurity, Machine learning, Deep Learning, Bigdata, Education, Information Technology, Management, others.

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    Airbus & Boeing say Indian aviation growth story is intact in long term


    India continues to be one of the fastest-growing regions for aviation traffic growth through the next 20 years. So, Airbus doesn't see its forecast for new aircraft changing dramatically


    Despite slowing growth in India, Airbus and Boeing remain bullish on the demand for civilian aircraft from the country. Analysts and industry experts, however, warn of lower-than-anticipated passenger growth, unless urgent steps are taken to revive the sector.

    In their market forecasts last year, Airbus and Boeing had estimated demand for 1,232 and 1,450 planes from India, respectively through the next two decades. However, that was at a time whenKingfisher Airlines was still in service. Also, they had estimated growth in India’s gross domestic product (GDP) at about eight per cent. Similarly, a civil aviation ministry report for the formulation of the 12th five-year Plan (2012-17) had factored in 12 per cent average annual growth in domestic air traffic between 2012 and 2017.

    Last financial year, GDP growth slowed to five per cent; this year, it is estimated to grow about six per cent. Domestic air traffic growth, too, is subdued. Analysts and airlines expect growth of about six per cent this year.

    Despite the slowdown, aircraft manufacturers remain optimistic. “Our forecasts look at passenger traffic growth through a 20-year period, which takes peaks and troughs into account. This growth is translated into demand for aircraft. India continues to be one of the fastest-growing regions for aviation traffic growth in the world through the next 20 years. So, our forecast for new aircraft in India will not be dramatically adjusted,” Airbus said in an email response.

    A Boeing spokesperson said, “Our airline customers have indicated they will continue with their fleet plans. India is projected to have the highest passenger traffic growth in the world. Over the next twenty years, the forecast passenger growth is expected to be driven by an underlying economy with long-term growth projections of twice the world average, supported by continued economic prosperity among a growing segment of the large Indian population, higher discretionary incomes, business progress and easier access to airports.”

    Domestic airlines did not respond to emails on the subject. A Jet Airways source said though the domestic market was slow, it could cross-utilise Boeing 737s for international operations. Jet Airways has pending deliveries of 46 Boeing 737s and expects to induct a plane each month through the next three-four years.

    It is expected IndiGo would add 50 planes to its existing 70 Airbus A320s by 2017. SpiceJet planned to add eleven Boeing 737s to its 55-aircraft fleet by the end of 2014-15 and was seeking early deliveries, a source said. Though the airline has an option include an additional 15 Bombardier Q400 turbo props to its fleet, it has held back the decision due to subdued passenger demand.

    In 2010, the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa) had estimated airline traffic in India would touch 450 million (domestic and international) by 2020-21. Capa is set to revise its 10-year India forecast in September. Now, it feels airline traffic at 375-400 million by 2020-21.

    “We expect the industry fundamentals to be positive from 2015 due to introduction of Gagan (GPS and geo-augmented navigation system) and the implementation of flexible use of air space, which would reduce fuel consumption. I expect aviation turbine fuel to be given a declared-good status in the next 12-18 months, or key states would reduce sales tax to four per cent, and this would bring very significant cost advantages. The introduction of Airbus A320neos and Boeing 737 Max would further reduce operating costs and the focus on building the ancillary business could create additional revenues of $400-500 million a year in the next two-three years. 

    Capa expects the Indian economy to be back on the growth path from 2015-16. However, the next 12-18 months are critical because the trading conditions would be very tough, costs and risks will be at a peak and holding costs for some will become unbearable. Raising funds will be fundamental to survival in the near term, especially the next 12 months,” Capa’s Kapil Kaul said.

    “In 2013-14, air traffic is likely to see five-eight per cent growth, buoyed primarily by international traffic. The rising dollar has helped bring down the cost of travel and accommodation in India for foreign travellers. With the continued hammering of the rupee and the Indian economy in deep distress, domestic traffic growth might be nearly flat or in a low single digit,” said Amber Dubey, partner and head (aerospace and defence) at global consultancy KPMG .“Projections for 2014-15 and thereafter would be pure speculation. It depends entirely on the outcome of the 2014 general elections and what the new government does to boost investment, aviation and tourism,” he added.



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    Researchers Grow Human 'Mini Brains'


    Researchers have used stem cells to grow pea-sized structures that resemble the developing human brain, an advance that offers a way to model brain maladies that are otherwise hard to study.
    The human brain is one of the most elaborate natural structures known to science. These new lab-grown "mini brains" are imperfect, and a long way off from matching the real thing.
    Still, the structures, which are about four millimeters in diameter, share some of the crucial three-dimensional architecture of a developing human brain. The different brain parts interact in a normal manner, though they aren't necessarily in the proper places.
    Enlarge Image
    Credit: Madeline A. Lancaster
    A cross-section showing development of different brain regions.


    image

    "It would be like a car with the engine on the roof, the gear box in the trunk and an exhaust pipe that points to the front," said Jürgen Knoblich at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology of the Austrian Academy of Sciences and leader of the research team. "You can still use such a car to study how an engine works."
    The experiment was reported Wednesday in the journal Nature.
    The advance is expected to allow researchers to investigate human brain disease in a lab—something that currently is a big challenge. Brain disorders such as Alzheimer's typically are studied in rats, mice and other animals, but these are inadequate proxies mainly because the human brain is much more complex.
    By contrast, the new approach should enable scientists to study neurological disorders by examining brain tissue derived from actual patients.
    [image]
    Jürgen Knoblich created versions of developing brains in the lab.
    In the Nature paper, Dr. Knoblich and his colleagues described how they used their technique to study brain tissue created from a patient suffering from microcephaly, a genetic disorder that leads to a smaller brain. His team's research builds on several experiments published by other researchers since 2008, which showed how stem cells could be manipulated to create not just nerve cells, but more elaborate neuron-based structures as well.
    At a lab in Austria, Dr. Knoblich did experiments with human embryonic stem cells, which are derived from an embryo. He experimented with stem cells that were obtained by reprogramming mature tissue, such a person's skin cells, into an embryonic-like state. Both types of stem cells are "pluripotent"—they can be changed into all other cell types in the body.
    The researchers added chemicals known as growth factors to the stem cells, which created tissues that would go on to form the central nervous system. The tissues were put in a gel-like substance resembling the environment of a developing human embryo.
    That mix was then put into a spinning bioreactor, a vessel that helps cells develop and grow. After 20 to 30 days, the neural cells organized themselves into tiny structures, called cerebral organoids.
    These structures had defined brain regions, including a dorsal cortex—which makes up the largest part of our brain—and the choroid plexus, where cerebrospinal fluid is produced. The neurons were active and fired.
    "That was the big surprise—it was self-organizing," said Dr. Knoblich, who added that his team made hundreds of the "mini brains."
    But within the structures, the various bits were in a jumble and the shape and overall spatial organization didn't fully match that of a real brain. Plus, key pieces—such as the cerebellum, an area involved in motor control—were missing.
    After the organoids achieved a size of four millimeters in diameter, they stopped growing, probably because they lacked a circulatory system, the researchers said. At that stage, they resembled the developing brain of a nine-week-old human embryo.
    "Despite these compelling data, the realization of a 'brain in a dish' remains out of reach," wrote Oliver Brustle of the University of Bonn, in an article that accompanied the study. Dr. Brustle, who wasn't involved in the study, added: Although parts of the organoids' exteriors "clearly bear a resemblance to the developing cerebral cortex, it remains unclear whether they can advance to the complex six-tiered architecture of their natural counterpart."
    Nonetheless, even imperfect brain tissue has uses, such as the work by Dr. Knoblich's team to study a patient suffering from microcephaly, the malady that leads to a small brain size and which has been difficult to model in mice.
    The researchers first reprogrammed the patient's skin cells into stem cells, then grew those into mini brains. As expected, the mini brains grew to a lesser-than-normal size.
    By examining the mini brains in the lab, Dr. Knoblich's team was able to pinpoint some ways in which the disease develops. In such patients, it seems, stem cells get transformed into neurons prematurely—at the expense of a proper buildup of stem cells. That is why the brains of such patients end up being smaller than normal, the scientists theorized.


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    Clay Christensen’s Milkshake Marketing


    About 95 percent of new products fail. The problem often is th


    at their creators are using an ineffective market segmentation mechanism, according to HBS professor Clayton Christensen. It's time for companies to look at products the way customers do: as a way to get a job done.

     
    When planning new products, companies often start by segmenting their markets and positioning their merchandise accordingly. This segmentation involves either dividing the market into product categories, such as function or price, or dividing the customer base into target demographics, such as age, gender, education, or income level.
    Unfortunately, neither way works very well, according to Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen, who notes that each year 30,000 new consumer products are launched—and 95 percent of them fail.
    “THE JOBS-TO-BE-DONE POINT OF VIEW CAUSES YOU TO CRAWL INTO THE SKIN OF YOUR CUSTOMER AND GO WITH HER AS SHE GOES ABOUT HER DAY, ALWAYS ASKING THE QUESTION AS SHE DOES SOMETHING: WHY DID SHE DO IT THAT WAY?”
    The problem is that consumers usually don't go about their shopping by conforming to particular segments. Rather, they take life as it comes. And when faced with a job that needs doing, they essentially "hire" a product to do that job. To that end, Christensen suggests that companies start segmenting their markets according to "jobs-to-be-done." It's a concept that he has been honing with several colleagues for more than a decade.
    "The fact that you're 18 to 35 years old with a college degree does not cause you to buy a product," Christensen says. "It may be correlated with the decision, but it doesn't cause it. We developed this idea because we wanted to understand what causes us to buy a product, not what's correlated with it. We realized that the causal mechanism behind a purchase is, 'Oh, I've got a job to be done.' And it turns out that it's really effective in allowing a company to build products that people want to buy."
    Christensen, who is planning to publish a book on the subject of jobs-to-be-done marketing, explains that there's an important difference between determining a product's function and its job. "Looking at the market from the function of a product really originates from your competitors or your own employees deciding what you need," he says. "Whereas the jobs-to-be-done point of view causes you to crawl into the skin of your customer and go with her as she goes about her day, always asking the question as she does something: Why did she do it that way?"

    HIRING A MILKSHAKE

    In his MBA course, Christensen shares the story of a fast-food restaurant chain that wanted to improve its milkshake sales. The company started by segmenting its market both by product (milkshakes) and by demographics (a marketer's profile of a typical milkshake drinker). Next, the marketing department asked people who fit the demographic to list the characteristics of an ideal milkshake (thick, thin, chunky, smooth, fruity, chocolaty, etc.). The would-be customers answered as honestly as they could, and the company responded to the feedback. But alas, milkshake sales did not improve.
    The company then enlisted the help of one of Christensen's fellow researchers, who approached the situation by trying to deduce the "job" that customers were "hiring" a milkshake to do. First, he spent a full day in one of the chain's restaurants, carefully documenting who was buying milkshakes, when they bought them, and whether they drank them on the premises. He discovered that 40 percent of the milkshakes were purchased first thing in the morning, by commuters who ordered them to go.
    The next morning, he returned to the restaurant and interviewed customers who left with milkshake in hand, asking them what job they had hired the milkshake to do. Christensen details the findings in a recent teaching note, "Integrating Around the Job to be Done."
    "Most of them, it turned out, bought [the milkshake] to do a similar job," he writes. "They faced a long, boring commute and needed something to keep that extra hand busy and to make the commute more interesting. They weren't yet hungry, but knew that they'd be hungry by 10 a.m.; they wanted to consume something now that would stave off hunger until noon. And they faced constraints: They were in a hurry, they were wearing work clothes, and they had (at most) one free hand."
    The milkshake was hired in lieu of a bagel or doughnut because it was relatively tidy and appetite-quenching, and because trying to suck a thick liquid through a thin straw gave customers something to do with their boring commute. Understanding the job to be done, the company could then respond by creating a morning milkshake that was even thicker (to last through a long commute) and more interesting (with chunks of fruit) than its predecessor. The chain could also respond to a separate job that customers needed milkshakes to do: serve as a special treat for young children—without making the parents wait a half hour as the children tried to work the milkshake through a straw. In that case, a different, thinner milkshake was in order.

    PROVEN SUCCESS AND PURPOSE BRANDING

    Several major companies that have succeeded with a jobs-to-be-done mechanism: FedEx, for example, fulfills the job of getting a package from here to there as fast as possible. Disney does the job of providing warm, safe, fantasy vacations for families. OnStar provides peace of mind.
    Procter & Gamble's product success rate rose dramatically when the company started segmenting its markets according to a product's job, Christensen says. He adds that this marketing paradigm comes with the additional benefit of being difficult to rip off. Nobody, for example, has managed to copy IKEA, which helps its customers do the job of furnishing an apartment right now.
    Christensen also cites the importance of "purpose branding"—building an entire brand around a particular job-to-be-done. Quite simply, purpose branding involves naming the product after the purpose it serves.
    Kodak, for example, has seen great success with its FunSaver brand of single-use cameras, which performs the job of preserving fun memories. Milwaukee Electric Tool Corp. has cornered the market on reciprocating saws with its trademarked Sawzall, which does the job of helping consumers safely saw through pretty much anything. Its Hole-Hawg drills, which make big holes between studs and joists, are also quite popular. The company's other tools, which rely on the Milwaukee brand, are not nearly as celebrated.
    "The word 'Milwaukee' doesn't give you any market whatsoever," Christensen says.
    So, if jobs-to-be-done market segmentation is so effective, why aren't more companies designing their products accordingly? For one thing, future product planning usually involves analyzing existing data, and most existing data is organized by customer demographics or product category.
    "I've got a list of mistakes that God made in creating the world, and one of them is, dang it, he only made data available about the past!" Christensen says. "All the data is organized by product category or customer category because that's easy to get. To go out and get data about a job is really hard. But there are a lot of people who hire consultants to tell them how big the market is. And because the data is organized in the wrong way, you start to believe that's how the market should be organized."
    Furthermore, it's difficult for product developers to break the mold when many of their customers organize their store shelves around traditional marketing metrics. Christensen gives the example of a company that developed a novel tool designed to help carpenters with the daunting task of installing a door in a doorframe, a job that usually took several tools to do. But a major home goods store refused to sell the tool because its shelves were organized by product category—and there was no shelf in the store dedicated to the singular job of hanging a door.
    "Most organizations are already organized around product categories or customer categories," Christensen says, "and therefore people only see opportunities within this little frame that they've stuck you in. So you have to think inside of a category as opposed to getting out. You've just got to make the decision to divorce yourself from the constraints that are arbitrarily created by the design of the old org chart."


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    Advertising Symbiosis: The Key to Viral Videos



    Creating an online ad that goes viral requires more than mere entertainment. Thales S. Teixeira discusses the key to creating 


    It probably won't shock you that the most popular YouTube video in the past month was "Gentleman," the latest hit from South Korean rapper PSY, whose "Gangnam Style" is the most-watched video of all time. More surprising: among the other most-watched videos was an advertisement for bottled water.
    Evian's baby&me   features several adults dancing with toddler versions of themselves in the reflection of a store window. Only at the end of the 77-second video do we see a bottle of Evian, along with the slogan "Live young." Since its release in April, the video has garnered more than 53 million YouTube views. By contrast, Nestlé's self-explanatory "From Maine Water Springs to You: The Journey of Poland Springs Water" has barely cracked 500 views. So why did one water commercial sparkle on YouTube, while the other fizzled?
    The answer may lie at the heart of new research by Thales S. Teixeira, which identifies the ingredients necessary to create online videos so compelling that viewers will not only want to watch them but also actively seek them out and share them with friends, family, and coworkers. The research shows that if sharing an ad will somehow benefit the sender as much as it helps the advertiser, then the ad might go viral.
    The stakes are high for advertisers. eMarketer estimates that online video advertising in the United States will increase from $1.1 billion in 2009 to $4.1 billion in 2013—an overall spending rise from 4.3 percent to 11.0 percent of all advertising expenditures. Advertisers can get the most bang for the buck if they post their videos on YouTube and then motivate consumers to disseminate the ads for them, via email or social media. Getting an ad to go viral is among the cost-saving techniques that fall under the umbrella of what Teixeira terms lean advertising  . (Other lean advertising techniques include do-it-yourself content, crowd-sourced talent, and do-it-yourself distribution—also known as inbound marketing.)
    “IT TURNS OUT THAT WHILE GETTING PEOPLE TO WATCH AN AD IS ALL ABOUT EMOTION, GETTING THEM TO SHARE IT IS ABOUT THE SENDER’S PERSONALITY.”
    So how do firms increase the likelihood that their ads will go viral? For starters, they need to prioritize entertainment over facts and figures. To paraphrase an old campaign, these are not your father's Oldsmobile ads.
    "People no longer want a lot of information about the products or brands in the advertisements they watch," says Teixeira, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who has spent the last four years figuring out the factors that make or break online ads. "In the past, when a company launched a new product, the advertisement would include all the information about the product so you could discover whether you wanted to buy it. But now we have all the information about all the new products available to us online. Now, we want ads to entertain us."
    But making an ad go viral requires more than mere entertainment. According to Teixeira's research, successful viral advertising requires four key steps: attracting viewers' attention, retaining that attention, getting viewers to share the ad with others, and persuading viewers. "The issue is that some content is better at the first stage, some is better at the second stage, some is better at the third, and some is better at the fourth," says Teixeira, who will deliver a lecture explaining how to foster each step at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival   on June 20. "The challenge lies in getting the best mix of all four ingredients and baking them into your ad."

    TAPPING INTO CONSUMERS' PERSONALITIES

    Teixeira discovered the keys to attraction and retention through a series of lab experiments where participants viewed real ads that Teixeira selected from YouTube, while a camera recorded their facial reactions. They had the choice of watching an entire ad or skipping to the next one at any time. Researchers collaborating with Teixeira then measured the participants' emotional responses with a combination of eye-tracking technology and facial expression analysis software.
    The data showed that evoking surprise was the best way to attract attention, while evoking continuous moments of joy was the best way of retaining it. Thus, the most captivating ads in the experiment were those that began by surprising the viewer and then went on to make the viewer smile.
    But successfully capturing and keeping viewers' attention during a YouTube video does not guarantee that they will share it. "People watch a lot of things online that they would never share with anyone," Teixeira notes.
    To figure out what prompts viewers to share ads, Teixeira's team conducted an additional experiment where participants could forward ads to their friends outside the lab. The researchers tagged the videos in order to keep track of which ones were shared. Participants also completed written personality tests to gauge whether they were introverts or extroverts, self-directed or other-directed.
    "It turns out that while getting people to watch an ad is all about emotion, getting them to share it is about the sender's personality," Teixeira says.
    After comparing the sharing behavior with the emotional responses and personality tests, Teixeira found that the main motivation for viral sharing was egocentricity—the viewer's desire to derive personal gain from sharing the video. In this case, the potential gain comes in the form of improving the viewer's reputation among friends and family, for example. Thus, it behooves advertisers to create videos that not only will make the product look good but, if shared, will make the viewer look good, too. Teixeira refers to this idea as "advertising symbiosis" because the advertiser and the viewer mutually benefit from the act of sharing.

    FIVE EXAMPLES OF ADVERTISING SYMBIOSIS

    Teixeira offers five approaches as examples to achieve virality through advertising symbiosis:
    • CONCEPT: Make the viewer the center of attention.
      EXAMPLE: Old Spice's Twitter campaign  .
       In 2010, Procter & Gamble launched a campaign where Facebook and Twitter users were encouraged to send messages to Isaiah Mustafa, the strapping spokesman for Old Spice who markets the idea that if men can't look like him, they at least can smell like him. The advertising agency Wieden+Kennedy then created and uploaded 185 short videos where Mustafa responded personally to individual Twitter users, a mix of celebrities, politicians, and average fans. Inevitably, they supposedly shared the personalized responses with their social networks, and many of the videos received upwards of a million views each.

    • CONCEPT: Offer the viewer privileged access to valuable content.
      EXAMPLE: Virgin Atlantic's sneak peek  .
       Also in 2010, members of Virgin Atlantic's frequent-flyer program received an email message with a link to the airline's new commercial on the web. The ad wouldn't air on TV for another week, the customers learned. The airline was giving them the privilege of a sneak peek at the ad—and the privilege of being among the first to share it.

    • CONCEPT: Give the viewer the opportunity to communicate his or her values to others.

    • EXAMPLE: Dove's message about self-image  .
       Two months ago, Unilever's Dove brand uploaded "Dove Real Beauty Sketches," a web-exclusive mini-documentary in which a forensic artist sketches each of several women twice, first based solely on their descriptions of themselves and then based on descriptions from strangers. 

    • The women are seated behind a curtain, hidden from the artist's view. Side-by-side comparisons of the sketches inevitably reveal that the sketches based on the strangers' descriptions are more stereotypically attractive than the sketches based on the women's descriptions of themselves. The powerful tagline, accompanying a Dove logo: You are more beautiful than you think. 

    • (Evian's "live young" campaign delivers a similarly positive message—not to mention the fact that dancing babies garner the magic mix of surprise and joy.) "I think of these types of ads as video bumper stickers," Teixeira says. "They let people broadcast their personal values the way a bumper sticker on the back of a car does."

    • CONCEPT: Enable the viewer to showcase a badge of honor and relate to tribes.

    • EXAMPLE: Fiat's rapping mommy  .
       Last December, Fiat UK released "The Motherhood," a hip-hop video in which a British mother raps about the joys and indignities of being a mom. ("I swapped my sexy handbag for a snot-stained sack…") The Fiat 500L makes a cameo appearance, but her life is the focal point. The idea is that moms will share the ad with other moms. "Fiat is not really about mothers, but the company is providing the connection among them," Teixeira explains.

    • CONCEPT: Let viewers show off their ability to find strange hidden gems.
      EXAMPLE: Blendtec's wacky blender videos  .
       In 2006, Blendtec founder and CEO Tom Dickson launched a series of infomercials where he sticks an object in the company's flagship Total Blender and answers the question, "Will it blend?" Items he has blended in the series include an iPhone, an iPad, a can of Easy Cheese, and a vuvuzela. Unlike many viral ads, this one features the product front and center. Usually that's a turnoff, Teixeira says, but these videos are too fun and unconventional not to share.
    As for persuasion, the final step of successful virality, marketers (with the notable exception of Blendtec) face the tough challenge of entertaining viewers without losing a connection to the brand. Showcase the brand too much and viewers will stop watching, not enough and they won't know what the video is advertising. The solution, based on Teixeira's research, is a technique called "brand pulsing," wherein the brand or product is shown repeatedly but not too intrusively throughout the course of the video.
    And if it produces a strong emotional response, the video—and the brand—might stick with the viewer for a long time.
    "When entertainment creates an emotional connection, it leaves a lasting effect on our minds," Teixeira says. "Psychologists have shown that emotions are memory markers, and if you feel very strongly about something during the day, your brain will more likely retain the information related to that emotion longer."


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    Should Higher Education Be Free?

    In the United States, our higher education system is broken. Since 1980, we've seen a 400% increase in the cost of higher education, after adjustment for inflation — a higher cost escalation than any other industry, even health care. We have recently passed the trillion dollar mark in student loan debt in the United States.
    How long can a business model succeed that forces students to accumulate $200,000 or more in debt and cannot guarantee jobs — even years after graduation? 
    We need transformational innovations to stop this train wreck. A new business model will only emerge through continuous discovery and experimentation and will be defined by market demands, start-ups, a Silicon Valley mindset, and young technology experts.
    Neither the pedagogical model nor the value equation of traditional higher education have changed much in the past fifty years. Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford are still considered the best schools in the world, but their cost is significantly higher today than two decades ago.
    According to Rafael Reif, MIT's president, who spoke at the Davos conference   this past January, there are three major buckets that make up the total annual expense (about $50,000) of attending a top-notch university such as MIT: student life, classroom instruction, and projects and lab activities.
    There is a significant opportunity to help reduce the lecture portion of expenses using technology innovations.
    According to the American Institute of Physics (PDF)  , as of 2010, there are about 9,400 physics teachers teaching undergraduates every September in the United States. Are all of these great teachers? No. If we had 10 of the very best teach physics online and employed the other 9,390 as mentors, would most students get a better quality of education? Wouldn't that lead to lower per unit cost per class?
    Yes, you might argue the lack of "classroom experience" is missing. But when it comes to core classes which don't require labs or much in-person faculty interaction, does the current model justify the value-price equation?
    What is traditional college education really worth?
    In a recent interview  , Laszlo Bock, SVP of people operations at Google, said, "One of the things we've seen from all our data crunching is that G.P.A.'s are worthless as a criteria for hiring, and test scores are worthless — there is no correlation at all except for brand-new college grads, where there's a slight correlation."
     Even more fascinating is his statement that "the proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time," leading to some teams in which 14% have not gone to college. "After two or three years," Bock said, "your ability to perform at Google is completely unrelated to how you performed when you were in school, because the skills you required in college are very different."
    Mr. Bock's comments suggest that smart people can figure out how to pass college tests if they can master what the professor wants, resulting in great test scores — but this skill and knowledge has very little relevance to solving daunting business problems with no obvious answers.
    Once leading companies embrace what Google is already doing, seismic shifts and breakthroughs will occur in college education. Maybe a two year college degree will be sufficient instead of four. Imagine a business model where you take two years of courses online with the world's best teachers, followed by two years in structured problem-solving environments. Driven by market forces, such new business models could emerge faster than we expect.
    So what is happening now? Who are some of the new education providers experimenting with new business models?
    Emerging new education models
    There are three strong players with millions of students and thousands of course offerings, all for free and available to anyone in the world. Coursera, Udacity, and edX have over four million enrolled students in their Massive Open Online Courses   (MOOCs).
    All three uniquely (and differently) replicate the classroom experience. Each uses top-notch professors and technologies in a creative manner — but not without challenges. One of the authors (Jatin Desai) enrolled in a few courses to test out the environments and found that, just like in the traditional classroom, courses vary greatly based on who is teaching. Some professors use the technology brilliantly and others use it as minimally as possible. (Access to higher bandwidth greatly enhances the experience.)
    These three are not the only ones in the MOOC movement; many others   are quickly joining. In fact, the New York Times dubbed 2012 "The Year of the MOOC"   and Time magazine said that free MOOCs open the door to the "Ivy League for the Masses."  
    According to a recent Financial Times article  , many employers are unsure of what to make of MOOC education — unsurprising, since many new technologies and business models go through multiple evolutions. The good news, according to the article, is that 80% of respondents surveyed would accept MOOC-like education for their internal employee development. 
    We can extrapolate from this survey that the employer demand for online education exists — and, moreover, that it is only a matter of time until universities and well-funded venture capitalists will respond to this white space in the market very soon.
    Georgia Tech  , in fact, has already responded; in January, it will begin offering a master's degree in computer science, delivered through MOOCs  , for $6,600. The courses that lead to the degree are available for free to anyone through Udacity, but students admitted to the degree program (and paying the fee) would receive extra services   like tutoring and office hours, as well as proctored exams.
    In the near future, higher education will cost nothing and will be available to anyone in the world. Degrees may not be free, but the cost of getting some core education will be. 
    All a student needs is a computing device and internet access. Official credentialing from an on-ground university may cost more; in early 2012, MIT's MOOC, MITx  , started to offer online courses with credentials, for "a small fee" available for successful students — and we're eager to see how Georgia Tech's MOOC degree will transform the education model.
    What's next? 
    How far are we away from new business models where MOOC-type pedagogy will dominate the first two years of college experience? When will most employers begin to accept non-traditionally credentialed MOOC-based education? And what will this mean for the education industry? With luck and ongoing innovation, perhaps the US's broken education system may be repaired.


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    As every entrepreneur knows, there are plenty of ideas and opinions -- good and bad -- about how best to focus your organization’s resources and efforts for success. Some years ago, management guru Peter Drucker wrote an intriguing little book titled The Five Most Important Questions You Will Ever Ask About Your Organization.   In just under 100 pages, Drucker tells you everything you’ll ever need to know about where to focus your organization and how to do it.
    Set aside some time to ask the 5 crucial questions Drucker poses -- and listen carefully to the answers you get in return. They just might make all the difference for you and for the future of your business.
    1. What Is Your Mission?
    Every business needs a reason to be, and this is most often encapsulated in a concisely-worded mission statement. This shouldn't be an elaborate document that you file away in a drawer somewhere, but one that your organization and your people live every day of the week. Says Drucker, "The effective mission statement is short and sharply focused. It should fit on a T-shirt. The mission says why you do what you do, not the means by which you do it."
    2. Who Is Your Customer? 
    In many cases, a company’s leaders are uncertain about who, exactly, their customers are. And even if they have some idea, these leaders fail to make their customers the primary focus of their attention. According to Drucker, "Answering the question 'Who is our customer?' provides the basis for determining what customers value, defining your results, and developing the plan." Once you figure out who your customers are, then focus your efforts on satisfying their needs.
    3. What Does Your Customer Value?
    The natural next step is to figure out what it is that your customer values and what they’re willing to pay for. However, this may not be an easy question to answer. Drucker writes, "The question 'What do customers value?' -- what satisfies their needs, wants, and aspiration -- is so complicated that it can only be answered by customers themselves." While this may be the most important of the five questions, he says, it's also the one that businesses most often fail to ask themselves. 
    4. What Are Your Results? 
    Every initiative you undertake will have results, which will need to be collected and reviewed. Says Drucker, "Progress and achievement can be appraised in qualitative and quantitative terms. These two types of measures are interwoven -- they shed light on one another -- and both are necessary to illuminate in what ways and to what extent lives are being changed." You should make sure you know not just what your results are, but how you can evaluate them. 
    5. What Is Your Plan? 
    Given how quickly everything changes today, it’s more important to have a plan than ever before. For a plan to be effective, it should comprise certain elements. According to Drucker, "A plan … is a concise summation of the organization’s purpose and future direction. The plan encompasses mission, vision, goals, objectives, action steps, a budget, and appraisal." If you can't answer this question, you won't know where you're going or how you're getting there.
    Taken together, Peter Drucker's five questions are powerful and  get right to the heart of what makes a business successful. The answers you get will provide you with the clear roadmap you need to build a highly effective -- and profitable -- venture.

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    Infrastructure productivity: How to save $1 trillion a year



    Insufficient or inadequate infrastructure—and the resulting congestion, power outages, and lack of access to safe water and roads—is a global concern. Typically, the debate about the growing need for infrastructure focuses on whether financing is sufficient to meet it. But, in fact, there are clear ways to create more and better infrastructure for less.
    Just keeping pace with projected global GDP growth will require an estimated $57 trillion in infrastructure investment between now and 2030. That’s nearly 60 percent more than the $36 trillion spent over the past 18 years, according to Infrastructure productivity: How to save $1 trillion a year, a report from the McKinsey Global Institute and McKinsey’s infrastructure practice. The $57 trillion required investment is more than the estimated value of today’s infrastructure. And this figure does not include costs such as clearing maintenance backlogs, meeting development goals in emerging countries, and making infrastructure more resilient to climate change. But given widespread fiscal constraints in the wake of the global financial crisis, even assembling the minimum investment required to meet growth predictions is a challenge.
    Yet practical steps could boost productivity in the infrastructure sector—a long-time laggard—by as much as 60 percent, thereby lowering spending by 40 percent for an annual saving of $1 trillion. Over the next 18 years, this would be the equivalent of paying $30 trillion for $48 trillion worth of infrastructure.

    Exhibit

    Improving infrastructure productivity could save $1 trillion a year.
    These steps do not require reinventing the wheel. Eliminating waste, improving the selection of projects, streamlining their delivery, and other best-practice examples from around the world would make a decisive difference if scaled up globally.
    We have identified three broad types of moves that could help deliver savings:
    1. Optimize project portfolios. One of the most powerful ways to reduce the overall cost of infrastructure is to avoid investing in projects that neither address clearly defined needs nor deliver sufficient benefits. Choosing the right combination of projects and eliminating wasteful ones could save $200 billion a year globally. Project owners must use precise selection criteria to ensure that proposed projects meet specific goals, develop sophisticated methods for determining costs and benefits, and evaluate and prioritize projects—in a transparent and fact-based way—by their potential effects on the entire network, instead of looking at individual projects in isolation.
    2. Streamline delivery. This area presents an opportunity to save up to $400 billion annually and accelerate timelines. To streamline delivery, it will be necessary to speed up approval processes, invest heavily in the early stages of project planning and design, and structure contracts to encourage time and cost savings. Contracts can lead to costs savings by, for example, encouraging the application of lean manufacturing to construction and the adoption of advanced construction techniques such as prefabrication and modularization.
    3. Make the most of existing infrastructure. Rather than invest in costly new projects, governments can address some infrastructure needs by getting more out of existing capacity. Boosting asset utilization, optimizing maintenance planning, and expanding the use of demand-management measures can generate savings of up to $400 billion a year.
    To spur change programs and capture potential savings, governments must move beyond a project-by-project view and upgrade systems for planning, operating, and delivering infrastructure. A well-functioning system entails close coordination between the authorities responsible for different asset classes, clear separation of political and technical responsibilities, and clarity about the roles of (and effective engagement between) the public and private sectors. Other requirements include improved stakeholder management, better operational and financial information to guide decisions, and upgraded capabilities across the infrastructure value chain.
    The private sector, too, has a role to play: it can drive productivity within its own operations, engage in a productive dialogue with public-sector stakeholders, and develop business and contracting models that promote the productivity opportunities outlined above.

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    5 Ways Mayer's Trying To Kick-Start The Yahoo! Culture

    After reviewing Marissa Mayer’s first year as CEO of Yahoo YHOO -0.21%, my colleague Kathy Gersch finds that Mayer has provided some decent examples of ways to turn a company culture around – despite what the media’s had to say.
    In her first year as Yahoo CEO, Marissa Mayer made some transformational changes, launched dozens of apps, and purchased 16 startups. Her most infamous change went viral in February, when an internal memo   to employees requesting that everyone work on-site, was leaked to the press. While Mayer was widely panned for this move, she didn’t intend it to be punitive. She simply recognized that nothing can replace face-to-face collaboration to drive innovation. She may have stumbled on her delivery, but the intention to increase the engagement of her team was right on target.
    This memo triggered Mayer’s biggest scandal of the year and the ensuing media-frenzy overshadowed the memo’s very important message. The message asked that employees “participate in our culture and contribute to the positive momentum.” While the message was intended to “get all-hands on deck,” Mayer had neglected to first establish a sense of urgency throughout the company around the opportunity to change Yahoo for the future. If she had, the memo may have received more cheers than jeers.
    Looking past the headlines and debatable financials, here are five points Mayer has wisely pursued, which led to the most recent surge the Yahoo culture is experiencing today.
    Communicate your vision widely, be clear, and “over-communicate.”
    Many leaders are shocked at the lack of initiative shown by employees. What Mayer has figured out, which those other leaders haven’t, is that in order for employees to participate, they have to understand the vision. CEO communication is so rampantly poor, recent studies show that 70% of employees don’t understand their company’s strategy. In fact, research finds that leaders typically under-communicate their visions by a factor of 10  . As Mayer was interviewed over the course of the year, her quotes in the media seem startlingly redundant. She speaks constantly about the company’s goal to develop “engaging” products that “delight and inspire,” by focusing on “the things that Yahoo’s always been great at.” While it may strike you as repetitive, she was no doubt focusing on ensuring the company and the world understand her vision for the future of Yahoo. Smart leaders gladly risk sounding like a broken record in order to ensure that they are clearly understood.
    Get them to re-commit.
    The best way to turn a company around is to establish a clear opportunity to do something great, and to make that vision clear to everyone. While most people are eager to be re-invigorated by change, unfortunately, a cynical few become so attached to the negativity of the past they cannot let go. In the controversial memo, when all remote employees were asked to work on-site by June, Mayer was drawing a line and asking for engagement – either you’re with us or you’re not. Many missed the positive intent – she asked employees to join the movement and take a personal part in changing Yahoo for the future  . Those without the interest or the energy to see the opportunity in this message, opted-out. Any company’s culture is better off without those who aren’t willing to participate.
    Give permission and ask for participation.
    If employees who have innovative ideas have exhausted their attempts to make change, receiving either no support or discouragement from leadership, they will give up innovating. In Mayer’s first memo to employees   she stressed and repeated, “You are doing important work. Please don’t stop.” She then closed by inviting employees to come by her office to say “hello” and that she, “cannot wait to hear your ideas for Yahoo’s future.” This was the first of Mayer’s direct and clear calls-to-action, requesting that everyone in the company pitch-in. Employees need to know it’s okay to try, to take risks, and to learn from failures.
    Provide the support that nurtures innovation.
    At the WIRED business conference 2013, Mayer said she had a lot of people with great ideas who haven’t been able to run   with them due to the economy and other internal problems. She said “to get my team to play offense [get people to run with their ideas], my job as an executive is to play defense,” or in other words, clear the barriers out of the way.
    She’s been clearing them. As Mayer works to set up the foundation to support new ideas from the inside, that infrastructure is already there to support the innovation being brought in from the outside (new acquisitions). This will fundamentally change the way a company functions – switching from incremental changes, to taking big risks that offer big rewards.
    Celebrate the progress.
    When Mayer speaks to the media, no matter what subject she’s interviewed about, she refocuses attention to the accomplishments the company has made most recently, celebrating those wins. She’s also said over and over that “at Yahoo people are working on important things,” and the repetition of this statement helps her people reconnect with the pride they have in their work. There have been innumerable press releases celebrating new acquisitions and app releases, partnerships, and expansion plans. When employees feel they are an integral part of the success, they spend their free-time dreaming up new innovations, and they bring their best and brightest ideas to work every day.
    Are Mayer’s efforts to improve the company culture paying off? Well, the media continues to highlight the company’s ad revenue challenge, and they attribute the 73% increase in the company’s stock value   over the year to factors outside Mayer’s control. Time will tell if Mayer has her priorities in the right order; the next year will tell a very interesting story. Either way, if you’re a CEO with a stagnant company culture, the examples she’s provided may help turn your company around and get it innovating again.



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    Are Women Better Leaders?


    Chamorro-Premuzic , a professor of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL), and VP of Research and Innovation at Hogan Assessment Systems, previously taught at the London School of Economics and New York University. Women he believes usually have better emotional intelligence. 

    “A quantitative review   of gender differences in personality involving more than 23,000 participants in 26 cultures indicated that women are more sensitive, considerate, and humble than men, which is arguably one of the least counter-intuitive findings in the social sciences. An even clearer picture emerges when one examines the dark side of personality  : for instance, our normative data, which includes thousands of managers from across all industry sectors and 40 countries, shows that men are consistently more arrogant, manipulative and risk-prone than women.”

    The best leaders he thinks are those that are usually humble and either through nature or nurture this trait is much more common in women than men. Women also have the ability to build and maintain high-performing teams, and to inspire followers to set aside their selfish agendas in order to work for the common interest of the group.

    So why aren’t there more women leaders? Contrary to Cheryl Sandberg’s advice in her popular book Lean In, women shouldn’t be adopting the dysfunctional behaviors of men. “Most of the character traits that are truly advantageous for effective leadership are predominantly found in those who fail to impress others about their talent for management, “ he writes. “This is especially true for women. There is now compelling scientific evidence   for the notion that women are more likely to adopt more effective leadership strategies than do men. 

    Most notably, in a comprehensive review of studies, Alice Eagly and colleagues showed that female managers are more likely to elicit respect and pride from their followers, communicate their vision effectively, empower and mentor subordinates, and approach problem-solving in a more flexible and creative way (all characteristics of “transformational leadership”), as well as fairly reward direct reports. In contrast, male managers are statistically less likely to bond or connect with their subordinates, and they are relatively more inept at rewarding them for their actual performance. 

    Although these findings may reflect a sampling bias that requires women to be more qualified and competent than men in order to be chosen as leaders, there is no way of really knowing until this bias is eliminated.”

    In sum, Chamorro-Premuzic says there is “no denying that women’s path to leadership positions is paved with many barriers including a very thick glass ceiling. But a much bigger problem is the lack of career obstacles for incompetent men, and the fact that we tend to equate leadership   with the very psychological features that make the average man a more inept leader than the average woman.”

    Women CEOs that Chief Executive have spoken with over the years take a much more nuanced view. For starters, most bristle at the notion that they should be viewed differently from their male counterparts. Competence is competence as far as most are concerned. And it should not surprise anyone that the advice they give is equally applicable to men. Frontier Communications CEO Maggie Wilderotter offers the following for women coming up the executive ranks:

    Refuse to be invisible. Take high-profile assignments and make sure your contributions are recognized and acknowledged. There’s a balance between hubris and humility. Find it.

    Absolutely, positively gain field expertise. There is no substitute for P&L responsibility. It has to be a big part of your work experience if you want to rise to the C-suite.

    Network. Every encounter is qa chance to make a connection. Attend events that attract CEOs. Build relationships and follow-up.

    Pursue a board seat. Get to know the nominating committees of the boards of companies that interest you.

    Her advice not only worked for Wilderotter but also for her sister Denise Morrison, the freshly minted CEO of Campbell Soup who succeed Doug Conant.



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    The Succession Woes of the People Picking Microsoft's Next CEO

    Could eBay’s John Donahoe replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?
    Photograph by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg
    Could eBay’s John Donahoe replace Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer?
    (Corrects first paragraph to note that Reed Hastings is a former member of Microsoft's board.)
    Let’s pause the party game of betting on who will replace Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer for a minute to look at who will make that choice. Microsoft’s board has appointed a special committee to help decide if the next chief executive will be an insider like Julie Larson-Green, the prodigal Stephen Elop of Nokia (NOK  ), a buzzy outsider like eBay’s (EBAY  ) John Donahoe, or even a former board member such as Netflix (NFLX  ) boss Reed Hastings. It’s a daunting task for a board that has never had that responsibility before—Bill Gates handpicked Ballmer as his replacement 13 years ago. The record of those leading the charge could prompt some concern, too.
    Start with John Thompson, the search committee chairman who retired as CEO ofSymantec (SYMC  ) in April 2009. At the time he talked about the two-year succession process that led to Chief Operating Officer Enrique Salem getting the job, and he stayed on as chairman to ensure a smooth transition. Three years later, Salem was fired amid sagging sales and profit. Thompson doesn’t deserve all the blame, of course. Still, investors may have balked at hearing him predict   Salem would “continue to drive the success of our team” at a software giant that was struggling amid a sluggish culture and costly mistakes, including its $13.5 billion acquisition of Veritas in 2004. While Thompson brought industry knowledge and independence to Microsoft’s board when he joined last year  , his impact on its ability to hire and fire leaders remains unclear.
    Another director charged with screening CEO candidates is board newbie Steve Luczo. As the chairman and CEO of Seagate Technology (STX  ), Luczo knows what it’s like to be battle tested. He’s managed the business through recessions, a buyout, an IPO, and even Thai floods that hampered supplies. Then again, he was also instrumental in picking CEO Bill Watkins as his replacement in 2004, only to reclaim the job five years later when his successor produced a tumbling stock price and such memorable moments as when he told a reporter   “we’re building a product that helps people buy more crap—and watch porn.” While Luczo returned the company to record revenue and profit, he’s been notably silent on his role in hiring and firing a man who didn’t succeed in the job.
    A third member of the search committee is Chuck Noski, who stepped aside as chief financial officer of Bank of America (BAC  ) in 2011 after one year on the job. He left the post because a family member’s illness prevented him from relocating to Charlotte, though reports that boss Brian Moynihan failed to inform him that the Fed had rejected a plan to increase dividends may have muted his regrets about leaving that role. 
    While Noski is an experienced director who is also on the boards of Avon Products (AVP  ) and Avery Dennison (AVY  ), he has been in that position at Microsoft for a decade in which the critics felt the board was too soft on the underperforming Ballmer.
    The fourth member of the search committee? Bill Gates. While nobody cares more about who leads the company he founded in 1975, his loyalty to longtime friend Ballmer made some shareholders wonder if he’s the right person to judge what’s needed for Microsoft in the future. (While Gates may be the spiritual guru of the brand, 95 percent of the company is owned by other people.)
    Of course, they will have the services of Heidrick & Struggles (HSII  ) to guide them—a search firm that’s had its own succession struggles as CEO Kevin Kelly recently stepped down. None of that precludes Microsoft’s board or its search firm from making the right choice for the future of the iconic tech company. But anyone betting on Ballmer’s replacement might want to consider who’s running the race.

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    How You Can Be a Great Mentor, and a Great Protégé


    Revised editions of books don’t often pique my interest, even when they are best-selling business books, such as Chip Bell’s Managers as Mentors: Building Partnerships for Learning  , which Berrett-Koehler originally published in 1996. But there is something unusual about the newly published third edition: Bell   has taken on Marshall Goldsmith   as a coauthor. When I asked Bell why he decided to share the author credit on such a well-regarded book, he said, “No one on the planet has more expertise and is better known in the coaching field than Marshall.” No argument here.
    Accordingly, there’s lots of new content in the book, such as interviews with a number of notable corporate leaders and a mentoring toolbox. The latter features, among other things, the following “quick tips” list for mentors and their protégés (reprinted with the authors’ permission):
    Tips for Being a Great Mentor
    • Mentoring is about establishing a partnership that helps your protégé learn. It is not about your being an expert or the authority.
    • Great mentors foster discovery, they don’t instruct; thought-provoking questions are much more powerful than smart answers.
    • Your protégé will learn more if you create a relationship that is safe and comfortable. Be authentic, open, and sincere.
    • Your rank or position is your greatest liability—act more like a friend than a boss.
    • Great listening comes from genuine curiosity and obvious attentiveness.
    • Give feedback with a strong focus on the future, not a heavy rehash of the past.
    • Mentoring is not just about what you say in a mentoring session; it is also about how you support your protégé after the session. Focus on helping your protégé transfer learning back to the workplace.
    • If your mentoring relationship is not working like you hoped it would, clearly communicate your concerns to your protégé.
    • Mentoring relationships are designed to be temporary. When your protégé has met his or her mentoring goals, be willing to let the relationship end.
    Tips for Being a Great Protégé
    • Select a mentor who can help you be the best you can be, not one you think can help you get a promotion.
    • Remember, you can sometimes learn more from people who are different than from people who are “just like you.”
    • Get crystal clear on your goals and expectations for a mentoring relationship.
    • Communicate your goals and expectations in your first meeting.
    • Mentoring is about learning, not looking good in front of your mentor. Be yourself and be willing to take risks and experiment with new skills and ideas.
    • When your mentor gives you advice or feedback, work hard to hear it as a gift. Just because it may be painful does not mean it is not beneficial.
    • If your mentoring relationship is not working like you hoped it would, clearly communicate your concerns to your mentor.
    • Great mentoring relationships take two people—a partnership. Look in the mirror before you conclude a poor mentoring relationship is all about your mentor.
    • Mentoring relationships are designed to be temporary. When you have met your mentoring goals, be willing to let the relationship end.


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    Capturing the Value of Synchronized Innovation



    For more than 30 years, Intel Corporation and Microsoft Corporation, two technology powerhouses, have closely synchronized many product development and launch activities in one of the most widely recognized corporate alliances. The early success of their collaboration set market expectations for a flow of coordinated semiconductor and software products. In some rapidly growing industries such as mobile telecommunications, such synchronization is more extensive, permeating the product development moves of dozens of young companies at once.1

    Intercompany synchrony in product development and innovation is hardly new, and some research has shown that synchrony can generate performance benefits for companies. However, prior research largely centered on the relationships between two companies rather than examining how synchrony emerges in broader industry networks or how individual or pairs of companies could capture the value of synchrony in different industry networks. (See “About the Research.”)

    For example, it is relatively common for companies to coordinate their product development efforts in hopes of generating increased sales and customer satisfaction. Yet while some businesses work hard to synchronize their product development processes with other organizations, others are significantly less formal about how they tie in with outside entities that are involved with related products or synchronize unwittingly with companies in their network.

    Synchronization can take a number of forms, and the implementation costs vary widely. Moreover, keeping part of one company’s operations synchronized with those of another organization can present substantial challenges involving control. Such challenges are magnified when capturing the benefits of synchrony depends on many other players in the industry network. Understanding what it takes to coordinate critical activities across industry networks can therefore be extremely helpful, particularly in technology-intensive industries, where innovation is distributed and companies are strategically interdependent.

    ABOUT THE RESEARCH
    This article is based on research that explores how established organizations in the computer industry collaborate in developing a multitude of innovative products. Although there has been much research on the structural features that support innovation (longstanding relationships between partners, alliance contracts, etc.), there has been little about the strategic approaches and organizational processes that facilitate collaborative innovation in interorganizational relationships. My underlying research is a study of eight technological collaborations between 10 companies.

    Synchrony’s Role in Distributed Innovation

    In industries where innovation is highly distributed, companies often attempt to gain market advantages by coordinating their product introductions with those of other companies. Such advantages are frequently sought in technology-oriented sectors, where the benefits of product and component compatibility are obvious. For example, Sony Corporation and Microsoft, leading manufacturers of video game consoles, often try to coordinate product releases with game manufacturers such as Electronic Arts. Sony’s and Microsoft’s video game consoles generate little consumer interest unless they are paired with new games or rereleases of popular older games. As long as the products provide some complementary value when customers use both, synchronized product releases by different companies can increase customer satisfaction and stimulate joint sales.2

    Although synchronization is common in industries where complementary products create value, it is also widespread in industries with highly complex products, such as the aerospace and medical diagnostics industries, where distributed innovation is the norm. A magnetic resonance imaging machine, for example, might be designed, manufactured and marketed by one company, but it is often built from subsystems and parts designed and manufactured by a variety of suppliers. Likewise, sophisticated aircraft are made of components developed by outside suppliers. Indeed, some analysts have suggested that Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner’s highly publicized battery problems reflect the challenges of aligning the safety and testing procedures of outside suppliers with those of the integrating manufacturer. The design, testing, production and delivery of components would align perfectly in the ideal world, enabling a manufacturer to release its product on schedule with no quality issues. However, experience shows that this is easier said than done.

    Synchronizing product introductions can be achieved rapidly and with relative ease in nascent industries. For example, the entrepreneurial ventures that produce mobile applications for Apple’s iPhone and iPad have developed their own synchronized rhythm. While new applications are being released in these ecosystems every day, the majority of new and updated applications are released in two peak introduction periods — one just prior to summer and another during the holiday shopping season. Industrywide synchrony emerged very quickly in this sector, although it is still a fledgling market. Even in the face of low entry barriers and rapid growth, businesses were able to rapidly synchronize their efforts. In some cases, the new ventures developing applications are colocated, which facilitates social interactions that enable smoother coordination around release plans. In other cases, corporate strategic alliances can be used to align product releases.

    These and many other examples in modern industrial ecosystems suggest that the network of relationships among companies (sometimes called the “alliance network”) plays a key role in producing synchronization. Such relationships can range from intense collaborations (where two or more companies codevelop products) to arm’s-length alliances (involving less interaction, perhaps just a joint sales and marketing agreement). The network of alliances determines if and how synchrony occurs, because it is through these links that companies influence one another to speed up or slow down their product development work.

    Types of Synchrony

    My research shows that enterprises synchronize their product development work in three different ways: by planning the synchrony proactively with a few other partner organizations; by reacting to signals by other companies; or by combining these two approaches to create a hybrid approach. Each is based on particular types of intercompany relationships and therefore has unique costs and benefits.

    Planned Synchrony

    The planned approach is one in which a small number of companies formally agree proactively to collaborate, with the explicit goal of synchronizing their product innovation and development activities on a given project. I call these companies “coordinators.” Apple Inc., for instance, collaborates closely with a small set of suppliers to ensure that the components for new devices are fully compatible and that the development schedules are closely coordinated to create new end products such as the iPhone. This approach to synchrony generally requires periodic meetings to align goals, determine budgets, establish or adjust schedules, review progress and address a wide range of other project needs.

    Planned synchrony extends from project inception to product launch, and even beyond. Participating businesses can be relatively confident that their projects are being closely managed and tracked by other participants, and they can call for adjustments as needed to address problems or delays.

    Such intercompany collaboration requires a significant level of commitment. Participating companies typically agree to provide specified amounts of talent, financial support and other resources for the project’s duration. Additional resources, for example professional alliance managers, are necessary to coordinate boundary-spanning projects, such as developing interfaces between proprietary technologies. As with most R&D investments, there can be considerable risk. However, the risk can be mitigated by closely managing the projects relative to mutually determined objectives and timelines. The collaborations between Intel and Microsoft that produced many versions of the so-called “Wintel” platform are prime examples of how proactive synchrony can extend across many product cycles and time periods.

    Reactive Synchrony

    In many industries synchrony isn’t planned or coordinated — it’s simply a timely reaction to circumstances. Companies react to signals from other companies and attempt to get in step with their efforts in order to advance mutual interests. For example, two businesses might have done little more than engage in a sales or marketing alliance with each other in recent years, but that experience might be sufficient to spur new collaborations. A manufacturer scaling up production of a particular item might work closely with businesses that make complementary products to broaden the market; the same process may work in reverse.

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    Typically, reactive synchrony spreads among companies with existing relationships because a prior alliance or joint venture is sufficient to convince partners to accelerate their schedules in response to each other. Because it is merely an acceleration of existing timetables, reactive synchrony requires comparatively less investment and commitment in coordination than planned synchrony; it is often favored by companies that are reluctant to make major commitments without some external signal that the market is ready for new product
    introductions. A developer of telecommunications equipment, for instance, might try to accelerate the release of products that have next-generation technology if partners that are producing complementary products have released theirs. A prior relationship with another company may be enough to convince managers to accelerate their product introduction schedules in response to the partner’s actions.

    Research shows that businesses often engage in reactive synchrony unintentionally or unbeknownst to their company’s senior leadership.3 Mid-level managers may simply accelerate their schedules in response to a change in another company’s product release date or when managers become anxious about their ability to keep pace.

    The real power of reactive synchrony is that it can quickly spread throughout an entire industry’s network. This is often seen in new industries such as mobile applications or clean technologies — entrants initially make decisions on their own timetables but decide later to get in step with another company. Industrywide synchronization begins when the product development activities of two companies overlap, perhaps unintentionally. Their product releases may prompt a third company to follow suit with its own product introduction, and so on. This phenomenon has been compared to the behavior of fireflies, hundreds of which can momentarily glow in chorus with no apparent coordinating mechanism other than the momentary influence that one exerts on its neighbors when it flashes.4

    Hybrid Synchrony

    Synchronization between companies presents an inherent conflict: Even if the benefits are obvious, many companies are reluctant to cede leadership by aligning with another entity entirely, as in planned synchrony. Industry pacesetters can manage the rate of product development with an eye toward market impact and cost. Schedule changes — which can shift the demand for talent, funding, training and other assets — can be disruptive. Thus, many companies strive to minimize disruptions; they want others to conform to their schedule rather than vice versa.

    Acknowledging this tension is helpful when selecting which approach to synchronization to follow. Planned synchronization increases the likelihood that it will occur more or less as desired. However, it can be difficult and costly to orchestrate across a broad network. Reactive synchronization, by contrast, has lower costs, but the process takes a long time to implement, and the outcomes are less predictable.

    In industries that produce highly complex products, such as computers and telecommunications equipment, industry leaders can overcome the weaknesses of planned and reactive synchronization by blending the two approaches. First, they proactively engage with the company or companies they absolutely must coordinate with; second, they “signal” their intentions to a selected group of other companies in hopes that the broader network of companies will respond.

    I studied a pair of partner companies that used the hybrid approach to develop Internet-based middleware technologies that connect different proprietary systems. One company, a large computing systems business, collaborated intensively with a large enterprise software company. Over a three-year period, the two companies synchronized their product releases in an effort to persuade other businesses to adopt each new generation of their technologies. As a vice president of the computer company explained, “We not only want to align with [the software company], but also want to influence other developers to use our new technologies. The sooner they adopt our new versions, the more popular each will become; however, we are doing nothing more here than publicizing our collaboration.”

    As the example suggests, most of the expense of hybrid synchronization is associated with the advance planning that resembles planned synchrony. However, the signals sent by the coordinators in the hybrid approach are considerably stronger than those of a purely reactive approach because more than one company is making a substantial investment in the project.

    As the collaboration between Intel and Microsoft demonstrates, the hybrid approach offers important advantages to coordinating companies and also to companies in the broader network. In planned synchronization, coordinators invest heavily in a few close collaborations to align product development and releases. They are thus better protected from unexpected changes in project scheduling than they would be if they were simply reacting to the scheduling decisions of others. This also increases the likelihood that surrounding companies will synchronize as well.

    For example, coordinating Intel’s microchip and Microsoft’s software releases aligns the two companies’ product launches while at the same time providing strong signals to other companies that
    aspire to reap benefits from synchronizing with them; the outside companies gain when their own projects attain their respective goals sooner. The middleware collaboration mentioned above
    between the large computer systems company and the enterprise software company offers a good
    example. It led to numerous innovations, including middleware that supports new technology for virtualization, portals and authentication, as well as 18 patent applications, and a 9 out of 10 average rating for innovativeness by collaboration participants.6

    Managing Hybrid Synchrony

    How do organizations implement and maintain hybrid synchronization? A common starting point is proactive engagement in product development relationships with one or more industry partners. As companies begin intense collaborations, they can signal their actions to other organizations within their networks, including through formalized press releases and partner-to-partner communications. If appropriate, they can adjust product development and manufacturing schedules in ways that are attuned to the respective needs of the other companies.

    The mechanics of coordinating collaborative efforts between two or more companies are complex and difficult. Not only do organizations have different cultures, objectives, demands and priorities, they are often sensitive about sharing their product development and innovation plans. Project synchronization requires that companies engage with each other on multiple levels. (See “Putting Synchrony to Work.”)

    PUTTING SYNCHRONY TO WORK
    How do companies use synchrony with other organizations to their advantage? The following steps provide a useful map for how the process can move forward:

    See more
    Phase Coordination

    Companies aiming to synchronize with other companies can begin with project-related work already under way. The focus should be on making the efforts parallel. By coordinating product development phases, participating organizations can test compatibility at critical junctures, thereby avoiding unnecessary costs. Parallel phasing also allows the coordinating companies to pursue the sequencing that will enhance the project’s overall outcome. In one case, for example, a silicon chip producer and a computer manufacturer agreed to hold off on chip design until the silicon research work was complete.

    Pace Adjustment

    Once companies agree on sequencing, they can shift their attention to timing. Different companies often move at very different speeds. For example, a semiconductor company that I studied placed a lot of emphasis on product planning but was slow at development, in part because it had an extremely low tolerance for defects. The company’s managers became frustrated when a product development partner, a telecommunications equipment maker, was dismissive of long-range planning and wanted to rush into production of rough prototypes.

    Ultimately, the two companies resolved their differences. The telecommunications company, for its part, agreed to invest more resources into planning; the semiconductor company, meantime, agreed to accelerate the pace of product development (without giving up on procedures that assured high quality). The companies agreed that, while prototyping was necessary, it couldn’t come at the expense of quality control. In other instances, partners have found that it’s possible to adjust the speed of individual phases (such as manufacturing or marketing) to help ensure product compatibility or to accommodate another company’s pace.

    Sharing the Road Map

    It’s important for companies that are trying to synchronize product development efforts to release new products at the same time — that’s what tells other companies in the industry to react. However, if product releases are too infrequent, the companies that should react may miss the signal. Innovative companies often cue other companies about upcoming products with product-development road maps. Such road maps tend to be highly confidential and are used to align product releases, marketing events and other milestones with close partners. Some companies establish milestones far into the future to ensure sustained synchronization.

    Working off common road maps enables companies to avoid reacting to product releases by partners that do not involve them. For example, the semiconductor company and the telecommunications company discussed above shared their respective road maps with each other. As a manager at the semiconductor company explained, “We have learned to be cognizant of our different planning and product development cycle times. In some cases, we convince [the telecommunications company] to align around our milestone. In other cases, we engage earlier and align around theirs, which requires slackening our process, and that’s not easy to do.”

    Working off a partner’s road map can be useful because it generates external deadlines around which companies can organize their own internal activities. Companies can use shared project road maps to identify and allocate resources as part of their internal planning and resource allocation efforts. What’s more, road maps can send a message to the other businesses in the network that when they react they will not be left facing a marketing embarrassment.

    Encouraging Other Companies to Join in Synchrony

    The best way to promote synchronization across a broad network of organizations is for coordinating companies to send signals that relevant projects are under way. Ideally, the signals should be sent to the whole network, even those members operating far away from the core. The signals are typically announcements in the trade or public media, or at industry events. For example, when Apple announces the development of a next-generation operating system, the goal is to motivate software companies to modify their product offerings to ensure compatibility and take advantage of features in the new operating system. Companies might also contact arm’s-length alliance partners directly — a simple “heads up” that they are planning a synchronized product release.

    In industries where companies routinely introduce new product versions, such as technology, entire networks often fall into a single rhythm. When an influential company adopts hybrid synchronization, its rhythm infects the whole network, increasing the likelihood that networkwide synchronization will occur. In a sense, coordinating companies function as leaders and help other companies achieve synchrony faster. In return, the coordinators enjoy a greater likelihood that the emerging synchrony will reflect their preferred rhythm.

    The studies of spontaneous synchronization among fireflies mentioned earlier contain sophisticated mathematical models of synchronization processes that illustrate how rapidly it can spread across a network. To explore synchrony in industry networks, I adapted those models to reflect the proactive, reactive and hybrid synchrony types discussed above, thereby enabling rigorous inferences about the speed with which synchrony can occur and the circumstances under which coordinators are most likely to succeed when establishing synchronous rhythms for their own industries. It turns out that both the speed and the circumstances affecting success depend on the nature of the industry’s network structure.

    Synchronization develops faster and more easily in denser networks with a greater number of alliances, such as the manufacturing and finance industries.
    The Impact of Network Structure on Synchrony

    Industry networks can vary dramatically. In mature industries with large established companies, such as the semiconductor industry, many players have occasional collaborative partnerships with each other. In emerging industries, many new ventures haven’t had time to develop alliances. Some networks are highly clustered, made up of subgroups within which partners are highly interconnected; in these subgroups, companies are quickly referred to other companies without working through vast referral networks. Other networks are less clustered and/or companies are less connected.

    Network structure affects innovation synchrony in two ways. First, it influences how quickly synchrony develops. Synchronization develops faster and more easily in denser networks with a greater number of alliances, such as the manufacturing and finance industries. Perhaps counterintuitively, synchrony spreads more slowly in clustered networks where subgroups operate more independently but with highly interconnected mini-networks. Sometimes the subgroups are like separate cliques. While reactive synchrony can occur quickly withinsubgroups, it develops more slowly across them. Thus, it can take longer for subgroup rhythm differences in highly clustered networks to coalesce into a common rhythm that synchronizes the entire network.7

    Second, network structure affects a coordinating company’s ability to get other companies in its network to follow its product release rhythm. Hybrid synchrony achieves this more quickly in denser networks than in sparser networks because there are more connections through which synchronizing signals can be sent. This occurs because the coordinator’s hybrid approach piggybacks on the reactive impulses of other companies. Effectively, a noncoordinator relays signals from coordinators about their preferred rhythm.8

    The implications are clear. Denser, less clustered industry networks, such as those organized around computer software, are likely to synchronize faster than networks that are less dense and more clustered, such as those organized around automobile suppliers.

    Strategic Challenges of Managing Synchrony

    Reaping the benefits of intercompany synchronization is costly. The biggest challenge for companies is maintaining sufficient levels of control. Planned synchronization offers the highest degree of control, but there are significant costs. Conversely, reactive synchrony affords relatively limited control in exchange for lower investment costs. Such trade-offs prompt many companies to adopt a more hybrid approach, which gives them project control in those areas they deem most critical yet allows cost savings in areas where they have more risk tolerance.

    Sustaining an industrywide pace and rhythm for long periods, as occurs in the computer and auto industries, also presents challenges — especially when it involves hybrid synchronization. Here, coordinating companies can become so focused on their relationships with other companies that they inadvertently ignore the partner organizations they must have on board in order to be successful. It is therefore essential for companies to maintain broad and clear communications, especially with the network members who are critical.

    Communicating across senior management ranks is vital because projects involving intercompany synchrony often have the potential to shape the company’s long-term performance. Clear communication with mid-level managers is also critical because they are the individuals charged with implementing projects and ensuring that they mesh smoothly with that of partner companies. Since these projects usually extend for months or even years, there is substantial risk that communications might break down, with serious and costly implications.

    Synchronization within industry networks can provide companies with important mutual benefits. In industries where high interdependence is the norm, it is essential for managers to gain a better understanding of how synchronization works and the potential pitfalls across their collaboration networks. Companies need to take stock of their current and potential positions within their industries and markets. 

    Managers of companies in younger industries need to explore how alignment with other companies can strengthen their company’s position — and how their position might be disrupted. Managers of companies in more mature industries should examine how the structure of the industry might change and how active they want to be in promoting those changes.

    Reproduced from MIT Sloan Management Review

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    The Right Way To Execute Your Strategic Plan


    It’s no secret that most strategic plans fail to deliver their intended results. Often, the problem isn’t the strategy, but how it’s implemented.  Many leaders erroneously conclude that the answer is simply to drive the organization harder and ‘put their feet to the fire.’  But that risks burning out the very people you need to make the strategy happen and keep it moving.  We’ve all either been in organizations where this is the case or have heard about them, and the toll on people is high.  Here are three keys to successfully implementing strategy and achieving your goals without causing burnout.
    Strengthen accountability for results.  Get people focused on the results they need to accomplish, instead of overloading them with activities and to-do lists.  Start by looking at your organization’s position descriptions.  If they list 27 tasks and job responsibilities, your employees may be confused about which ones are most important and how to handle so many responsibilities.   Instead, identify the 4-8 ongoing results the position is designed to accomplish and for which the person is accountable.  When the desired results are clear, it brings tremendous focus.  It also makes it far easier to set measures and evaluate performance.
    Similarly, when organizations impose lengthy and bureaucratic procedures to get something done—think of project management—people lose sight of what the result is because they’re forever following process, getting signoffs and doing paperwork instead of focusing on results.  And when that happens, you have busy people getting burned out without really accomplishing anything, and they confuse inputs with outputs.  Put in place a clear system for setting accountability, establishing how results will be measured, and managing progress.
    Strengthen accountability for behaviors.  Any significant business strategy involves some degree of change – in direction, focus, structure, process, or a number of other factors. What makes it successful is how well it’s sponsored by senior management, both in words and in actions.  A gas and electric utility Bob worked with was having a very difficult time implementing a companywideEnterprise Resource Planning system because employees at lower levels in the organization refused to use it.  But the problem wasn’t the employees – it was senior management.  While each executive spoke of the project’s overall strategic importance, when it came to setting work priorities for their people, the strategic project was bumped down the list.  “That’s IT’s project,” they would tell their people, “and I need you to work on our projects.”  As a result, the strategy was in danger of failing.  You need to make sure your accountability system reinforces the behaviors needed to implement the strategy.
    Build an employee population that acts like owners.  You don’t see many people taking rental cars to car washes for a simple reason—they don’t own the cars.  Companies that are excellent at reaching strategic goals have developed employee populations who act like owners; they do the right thing with gusto because it’s in their own best interests to do so. This is not the same thing as giving people pizza parties, coffee mugs, or workout facilities.  Those may help create a good place to work, but they don’t create a sense of ownership.  Instead, you need to connect the strategy to each individual’s role and appeal to the individual’s own rational self-interests.
    A leading consumer goods manufacturer Bob worked with created a team approach to a manufacturing line, challenging the employees to ‘own’ the entire line’s performance and giving them all the information and support needed to do so.  The employees established their own goals, tracked metrics, solved problems, made improvements and took full responsibility for the operation of the line.  The result? Better results on every measure and more energized, productive, and satisfied employees.
    Your company can implement similar systems throughout the organization tied to career challenge, the next promotion, safety improvements, or other interests. If you want your employees to act like owners, stop treating them like employees.
    You won’t successfully achieve strategic objectives by driving – however aggressively – an action plan that’s simply layered on top of “business as usual.” Instead, you have to think clearly about accountability and ensure the entire organization is working toward your objectives.



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    Assad: U.S. does not have "a single shred of evidence" of chemical weapons attack


    (CBS News) Syria's President Bashar Assad denied his regime's use of chemical weapons in a wide-ranging interview with CBS News' Charlie Rose. Assad issued a chilling warning for the U.S. to "expect everything in response to a potential strike on Syria and repeatedly told Rose the Obama administration lacks irrefutable evidence to back up charges of chemical weapons use. 
    The White House says more than 1,400 Syrian civilians were killed in a chemical weapons attack outside Damascus on August 21 using sarin gas.
    Complete coverage of the Syria Crisis
    Assad said he had no knowledge of the chemical attack allegedly carried out by his own military, and took aim at Secretary of State John Kerry for making the charges without "a single shred" of evidence.
    "We-- we're not in the area where... the alleged chemical attack was happened, as is alleged. We're not sure that anything happened," Assad insisted.
    "Our soldiers in another area were attacked chemically, our soldiers. They went to the hospital, as casualties because of chemical weapons. But in the area where they said the government used chemical weapons, we only had video and we only have pictures and allegations. We're not there. Our forces -- our police, our institutions don't exist. How can you talk about what happened if you don't have evidences? We're not like the American administration. We're not social media administration or government. We are the government that deals with reality."
    Secretary Kerry and other Obama administration officials insist they have intelligence showing it was Assad's forces who fired rockets into a region controlled by the rebels on Aug. 21. Assad emphatically denied the charge, and pointed to Russian evidence claiming the contrary. He went on to compare Kerry's claims to Colin Powell's claims about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
    "He presented his confidence and he presented his convictions," Assad said of Kerry. "It's not about confidence, it's about evidence. The United-- sorry, the Russians have completely opposite evidence that the missiles were thrown from area where the rebels controlled. That reminds me -- about what Kerry said -- about the big lie that Colin Powell said in front of the world on satellites about the W.M.D. in Iraq before going to war when he said, 'This is our evidence.' 

    Actually, he gave false evidence. In this case, Kerry didn't even present any evidence. He talks, 'we have evidence,' and he didn't present anything, not yet. Nothing so far... not a single shred of evidence."

    View at the original source

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    ZEN AND THE ART OF CONSTRUCTIVE CONVERSATIONS


    WHETHER IT'S ON THE TENNIS COURT OR THE SALES FLOOR, APPLYING PRINCIPLES FROM YOGA AND MEDITATION CAN HELP YOU KEEP YOUR COMPOSURE AND WORK TOWARDS THE RESULT YOU WANT. REMEMBER: BREATHE!


    I was scheduled to play one of the area’s top players in a local tennis tournament. My opponent, Scott M., was the former captain of an NCAA Division 1 college tennis program and someone I had never come close to beating. My goal was just to keep the match competitive.
    About an hour before the match I met with my friend Karen McPhillips, Marketing VP with Plum choice  , an innovative technical support solutions provider. Karen is also a Yoga devotee. We discussed how the teachings of Yoga and meditation can help improve performance during stressful situations. Some of the key ideas are:
    • Use controlled, deep breathing to stay relaxed and focused.
    • Remain in the present.

    • React to events in a detached, non-judgmental manner.
    • Practice and prepare to perform at your best.
    Without thinking about it too much, applying these principles enabled me to play one of the best matches of my life. I narrowed my focus to make the best possible shot. Rather than berating myself after a missed shot, I calmly analyzed what was going on and made the right adjustments. I was aware of the score, but didn’t feel tense. Using deep breathing enabled me to stay relaxed between points.
    I was so completely focused on what I was doing, it took me a minute at the end to realize I’d won.
    So what does winning a tennis match have to do with customer conversations?
    After discussing this with Karen and also with Bruce McCarthy, a former Oracle and D&B executive and also a Yoga devotee, it turns there are a lot of similarities.
    Almost every company I work with and every executive I meet wants to sell value and not push product features. Selling value starts with understanding customers’ needs. One of the best ways to uncover customer needs is through in-depth interviews.
    Unfortunately, inexperienced or poorly trained product or marketing people often find these customer conversations to be extremely stressful. And when people are in what they perceive to be stressful or dangerous situations, their fight-or-flight instincts kick in.
    I was observing a customer interview session with a product manager who had not much experience in these situations. Like many of these sessions, it took a long time to set up and the sales manager wasn’t crazy about someone from “corporate” talking to his customer. Not surprisingly, the product manager was visibly nervous. And I watched helplessly as his fight-or-flight response kicked in.
    The customer made a relatively innocuous comment about the product. The product manager lost his composure. He began arguing with the customer and criticizing the sales person.
    Needless to say, the session did not go well. And the sales team had more ammunition to not let product managers talk with their customers.
    The four key principles from Yoga and meditation that helped me win a tennis match can help overcome the fight-or-flight response, which gets in the way of conducting effective customer-needs assessment sessions.
    1. The power of the breath
    Under stress, we take shorter breaths. Research has proven that taking longer, deeper, slower breaths has a calming effect. Product or marketing managers should do some slow, deep breathing prior to a customer conversation. Karen recommends inhaling for two seconds and exhaling for six seconds for as long as required to get your emotions under control. It may be helpful to practice breath control when you are doing something mundane, such as brushing your teeth.
    2. Be in the moment.
    The best customer interviews can never be fully scripted. So it is vital to pay attention to what the customer is saying and be able to ask appropriate follow-up questions. A good way to start is by minimizing distractions. Turn off your phone. Minimize excess motion such as wiggling your leg or clicking a pen.
    Consciously maintain eye contact and watch their mouth move. Before you respond, take a moment to absorb what they are saying and then ask a follow-up question. Writing the purpose of your visit at the top of your pad can help you stay in the moment.
    3. Not being judgmental
    To ensure our survival, we have hyper-developed our ability to identify and flee from danger. While this helped people avoid becoming a saber-toothed tiger’s meal, it is counterproductive when we want to have a learning conversation with a customer.
    We tend to overreact to customer comments (our modern version of danger), take them personally, and potentially misinterpret them.
    If a customer makes a comment about a product or your company, recognize it for what it is. Instead of focusing on the implications of the customer’s comments on you, your product, or your company, focus on understanding the customer and his or her goals and challenges.
    Bruce McCarthy refers to this as not letting your ego get in the way.
    As Bruce points out, customer's expressed concern may not be the real issue. Instead of reacting, focus on asking some probing questions, listening sympathetically, and seeing it from the customer's point of view.
    4. Practice and prepare to perform at your best.
    Yoga and meditation are known as practices. As we do them repeatedly, we get better at them. Denise Desautels is the vice president of brokerage sales at one of my clients, First American Insurance Underwriters, and a former U.S. Olympian. Whether she's working to meet the needs of her customers or competing in the sports arena, she knows that practice and preparation are key. Confidence gained through repeated practice can help you keep focused on your goals for the call and get the most out of it.
    Some of the things to practice and prepare prior to a customer conversation include:
    • A statement of the purpose of the conversation, including how the customer will benefit

    • A list of hypotheses you want to test

    • A conversation guide to keep things on track

    • A process to ensure that action items don’t get dropped
    Just like yoga or meditation, working with an external coach can make a huge difference in your performance. Practice sessions or role plays with experienced professionals can increase your level of confidence and effectiveness.
    These four principles of yoga and meditation--breath control, remaining in the moment, avoiding judgment, practice and preparation--can help you relax and perform at your best in customer conversations as well as in sports.

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    FROM OM TO OMG: SCIENCE, YOUR BRAIN, AND THE PRODUCTIVE POWERS OF MEDITATION


    USING FMRI SCANS, WE CAN NOW SEE WHAT MEDITATION DOES TO THE BRAIN. THE AUTHOR SUGGESTS IT CAN LEAD TO A HAPPIER, MORE PRODUCTIVE, AND CREATIVE LIFE. AND EVEN TWO MINUTES A DAY CAN DO WONDERS.





    Ever since my dad tried to convince me to meditate when I was about 12, I’ve been fairly skeptical of this practice. It always seemed to be so vague and hard to understand that I just decided it wasn’t for me.



    More recently, I’ve actually found how simple (not easy, but simple) meditation can be and what a huge benefit it can have for my day-to-day happiness. As an adult, I first started my meditation practice with just two minutes a day. Two minutes! I got that idea from Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits blog  , where he points out how starting with a tiny habit is the first step to consistently achieving it. So even though two minutes won’t make much difference, that’s where I started.
    Whether you’re as skeptical as I used to be, or you’re well ahead of me with a meditation habit of several hours, I think it’s always interesting to find out how new habits affect our brains. I had a look into meditation to see what’s going on inside our brains when we do this, and what I found is pretty interesting.

    WHAT IS MEDITATION?

    There are different ways to meditate, and since it’s such a personal practice there are probably more than any of us know about. There are a couple that are usually focused on heavily in scientific research, though. These are focused-attention, or mindful meditation  , which is where you focus on one specific thing--it could be your breathing, a sensation in your body or a particular object outside of you. The point of this type of meditation is to focus strongly on one point and continually bring your attention back to that focal point when it wanders.
    The other type of meditation that’s often used in research is open-monitoring meditation. This is where you pay attention to all of the things happening around you--you simply notice everything without reacting.

    WHAT HAPPENS IN YOUR BRAIN WHEN YOU MEDITATE

    This is where things get really interesting. Using modern technology like fMRI scans, scientists have developed a more thorough understanding of what’s taking place in our brains when we meditate, kind of similar to how scientists have previously looked at measuring creativity in our brains.  
    The overall difference is that our brains stop processing information as actively as they normally would. We start to show a decrease in beta waves  , which indicates that our brains are processing information, even after a single 20-minute meditation session, if we’ve never tried it before.
    In the image below you can see how the beta waves (shown in bright colors on the left) are dramatically reduced during meditation (on the right).


    Below is the best explanation I found of what happens in each part of the brain during meditation  :

    FRONTAL LOBE

    This is the most highly evolved part of the brain, responsible for reasoning, planning, emotions, and self-conscious awareness. During meditation, the frontal cortex tends to go offline.

    PARIETAL LOBE

    This part of the brain processes sensory information about the surrounding world, orienting you in time and space. During meditation, activity in the parietal lobe slows down.

    THALAMUS

    The gatekeeper for the senses, this organ focuses your attention by funneling some sensory data deeper into the brain and stopping other signals in their tracks. Meditation reduces the flow of incoming information to a trickle.

    RETICULAR FORMATION

    As the brain’s sentry, this structure receives incoming stimuli and puts the brain on alert, ready to respond. Meditating dials back the arousal signal.

    HOW MEDITATION AFFECTS US

    Now that we know what’s going on inside our brains, let’s take a look at the research into the ways it affects our health. It’s, in fact, very similar to how exercising affects our brains  .
    Better focus
    Because meditation is a practice involving focusing our attention and being aware of when it drifts, this actually improves our focus when we’re not meditating as well. It’s a lasting effect   that comes from regular periods of meditation.
    Focused attention is very much like a muscle, one that needs to be strengthened through exercise.
    Less anxiety
    This point is pretty technical, but it’s really interesting. The more we meditate, the less anxiety we have, and it turns out this is because we’re actually loosening the connections of particular neural pathways.   This sounds bad, but it’s not.
    What happens without meditation is that there’s a section of our brains that’s sometimes called the Me Center (it’s technically the medial prefrontal cortex). This is the part that processes information relating to ourselves and our experiences. Normally the neural pathways from the bodily sensation and fear centers of the brain to the Me Center are really strong. When you experience a scary or upsetting sensation, it triggers a strong reaction in your Me Center, making you feel scared and under attack.
    When we meditate, we weaken this neural connection. This means that we don’t react as strongly to sensations that might have once lit up our Me Centers. As we weaken this connection, we simultaneously strengthen the connection between what’s known as our Assessment Center (the part of our brains known for reasoning) and our bodily sensation and fear centers. So when we experience scary or upsetting sensations, we can more easily look at them rationally. Here’s a good example  :
    For example, when you experience pain, rather than becoming anxious and assuming it means something is wrong with you, you can watch the pain rise and fall without becoming ensnared in a story about what it might mean.

    More creativity
    As a writer, this is one thing I’m always interested in and we’ve explored the science of creativity in depth before  . Unfortunately, it’s not the easiest thing to study, but there is some research into how meditation can affect our creativity. Researchers at Leiden University in the Netherlands studied both focused-attention and open-monitoring meditation   to see if there was any improvement in creativity afterwards. They found that people who practiced focused-attention meditation did not show any obvious signs of improvement in the creativity task   following their meditation. For those who did open-monitoring meditation, however, they performed better on a task that asked them to come up with new ideas.
    More compassion
    Research on meditation has shown that empathy and compassion are higher in those who practice meditation regularly. One experiment   showed participants' images of other people that were either good, bad, or neutral in what they called “compassion meditation.” The participants were able to focus their attention and reduce their emotional reactions to these images, even when they weren’t in a meditative state. They also experienced more compassion for others when shown disturbing images.
    Part of this comes from activity in the amygdala--the part of the brain that processes emotional stimuli. During meditation, this part of the brain normally shows decreased activity, but in this experiment it was exceptionally responsive when participants were shown images of people.
    Another study in 2008   found that people who meditated regularly had stronger activation levels in their temporal parietal junctures (a part of the brain tied to empathy) when they heard the sounds of people suffering, than those who didn’t meditate.
    Better memory
    One of the things meditation has been linked to is improving rapid memory recall. Catherine Kerr, a researcher at the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging and the Osher Research Center found that people who practiced mindful meditation   were able to adjust the brain wave that screens out distractions and increase their productivity   more quickly that those that did not meditate. She said that this ability to ignore distractions could explain “their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.” This seems to be very similar to the power of being exposed to new situations that will also dramatically improve our memory of things.  
    Less stress
    Mindful meditation has been shown to help people perform under pressure while feeling less stressed. A 2012 study   split a group of human resources managers into three, with one-third participating in mindful meditation training, another third taking body relaxation training, and the last third given no training at all. A stressful multitasking test was given to all the managers before and after the eight-week experiment. In the final test, the group that had participated in the meditation training reported less stress during the test   than both of the other groups.
    More gray matter
    Meditation has been linked to larger amounts of gray matter   in the hippocampus and frontal areas of the brain. I didn’t know what this meant at first, but it turns out it’s pretty great. More gray matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability and heightened focus during daily life.
    Meditation has also been shown to diminish age-related effects on gray matter and reduce the decline of our cognitive functioning.



    GETTING STARTED WITH MEDITATION

    Here’s a great infographic that gives an overview of the different kinds of meditation and some tips for fitting in meditation at work.


    An awesome app to get started with meditation--Getheadspace  
    Note from Leo: One of the best apps I’ve come across to help you get started with Meditation is called Headspace  . Invented by a former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe, this is meditation geared towards busy people like you and me.
    The way it works is that Andy guides you through 10 minutes of simple meditation every day. You don’t have to do anything; just sit down and turn on the app and let Andy’s calm voice (his voice is truly amazing--the app is worth trying just for that!) explain to you how to approach meditation.


    The best part about the app is, of course, that it’s completely free! For any beginning meditator, this is the best option I’ve come across to start reaping the amazing benefits of meditation and start on a new path to a happier life.  

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    Can a thirst for revenge help your career?

    Fists upWhen Darius Vassell, a striker in the English Premier League, was traded eight years into his career, he went looking for redemption, eager to prove his value.  
    As part of his new team, the Manchester City squad, Vassell consistently performed better against his former team, Aston Villa, scoring four goals   in the first four games against them following his trade.
    Newspapers described it as a “vendetta” against the team that had traded him. “Going back to his old club always seems to give Darius a lift,” one of his Manchester coaches told The Mirror newspaper at the time.
    In football the propensity of players to sock it to their former team is called “the immutable law of the ex.” Now, a study by researchers at the University College Dublin, finds statistically that the “law” is very real.
    Outside of sports, the impact of defections by key employees is not as easy to quantify. For large organisations, great performance depends on many things, including resources at hand and specific industry challenges. But anger or a desire for revenge, be it on the field or in the office, may not be the career or workplace negative it’s long been presumed to be. Instead, it could be a key to turning in a top performance.
    In a study of 402 head-to-head encounters between players and their former teams, players who left on bad terms consistently outperformed their new teammates. Whether attributed to a thirst for revenge, a keen sense of how the former team does things, or a bid to prove loyalty to the new line-up, footballers excelled when battling former teammates.
    “For employees, channelling anger into superior performance can transform something traditionally seen as a negative into something beneficial,” said Karan Sonpar, co-author of the report.
    Sonpar and his co-authors see implications for many fields of business where talent and relationships are crucial. Among them: investment banking, accounting and legal services, where relationships with clients are key. A few talented individuals can also make a difference in technology or advertising industries.
    Sifting through 1,600 press accounts of such football matches, the researchers found certain themes repeated by media, coaches and the players themselves as explanation for their high level of play. For one, the players seemed to have a heightened desire to win against their old team. Many voiced a desire to prove their loyalty to their new employer. Knowledge of their former squad and former coach’s style was a key asset, too. Players who left on bad terms consistently outplayed their teammates, including being more likely to score a goal.
    Corporate comparisons
    While quantifying the effect in the corporate world may be harder, the danger posed by a skilled ex-employee isn’t any less concerning.
    Of those who leave Deloitte Consulting, the firm particularly worries about employees who defect to another consulting firm, said Robin Erickson Lead Analyst for Talent Acquisition, at Bersin by Deloitte, a division of the global consulting firm.
    “They take so much knowledge with them of our methods, our solutions, our client base, knowledge of the industry,” she said. “They know all the secrets.”
    Some companies are fighting back. Lawsuits in the US seeking to enforce non-compete agreements have risen 61% over the past decade, according to the Wall Street Journal, and companies from computer chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices to financial services company Credit Suisse, among others, have recently sued departed executives claiming theft of trade secrets.
    They have reason for concern. In business, unlike sports, defectors can end up creating new competitors. Semiconductor chip giant Intel grew to become far larger than Fairchild Semiconductor, the company where Intel founders Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce worked before launching the rival firm. German software maker SAP, now an $87 billion market cap company, one of the largest software companies in the world, started when five engineers left IBM after a project they had worked on was nixed.
    In 1995 two former editors of the Harvard Business Review launched a new business magazine, Fast Company. Before leaving, one of the co-founders, Alan Webber, approached a professor at the business school who had once said he would help the pair with their endeavour. The professor declined, commenting, as Webber recalls, “Why would anyone need another business magazine when they have the Harvard Business Review?”That motivated Webber as he spent months trying to create a new enterprise and convince the world it was worthwhile.
    “With Fast Company we wanted to prove the idea was great, but I had another motivation too. ‘You want to know who else needs another business magazine? The world does and I’m going to prove it’,” he said.
    “When you are trying to move a rock up a mountain, you need as much motivating energy as you can get. You need great allies but it also helps to have a good enemy, someone you want to prove things to,” Webber said.
    Five years after its launch, Fast Company was sold for $350 million, the second-highest price for a magazine at the time.


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    Creating Shared Value at Nestlé


    Examples of Nestlé’s commitment to sustainability abound — and they’re impressive. So much so that other business leaders have been applauding. For instance, Douglas R. Conant, the former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, told us in an interview that “Nestlé has got an amazing agenda on social responsibility.” 

    And earlier this year, Andy Wales, senior vice president of sustainable development at SABMiller, told us in an interview that “In the last five years, a number of food and beverage companies — the leaders include Coca Cola, SABMiller, and Nestlé — have started to raise the risks of water scarcity with leaders of global institutions and national political leaders.”

    Meanwhile, MIT Sloan Management Review’s 2012 Sustainability & Innovation Global Executive Study and Research Project noted that “Examples of successful sustainability-driven innovation fall along a rich spectrum — from doing things differently to doing entirely different things” and that Nestlé, for instance, “developed a cost model innovation in a novel point in its value chain. The company realized how to use coffee grounds — a by-product of its manufacturing process — to help power its factories.”
    No question, Nestlé is at the forefront of the worldwide movement to incorporate sustainability into overall company strategy. And Hans Jöhr, Nestlé’s corporate head of agriculture, has been at the heart of the global group’s efforts to promote sustainable agriculture for the past decade. Jöhr — who is a co-founder, former president and now honorary president of the SAI Platform (the sustainable agriculture initiative of the food industry) — is responsible for providing technical and strategic leadership for Nestlé’s worldwide agricultural material supply chain, a job he’s held for 12 years.
    One of the ways Nestlé accomplishes its goals is by providing agricultural “extension services” for the hundreds of thousands of rural farmers who are its suppliers. “We source raw materials such as cocoa, coffee and milk from more than 680,000 farmers worldwide,” Jöhr wrote in ablog post   last fall. “Sometimes, a lack of investment in the social and agricultural infrastructure in a region or country can make it difficult for farmers to supply us with high quality, safe and sustainable-grown crops.” 
    So Nestlé provides “people with the access to knowledge and information they need to increase productivity and establish sustainable production systems.” It’s all part of the company’s Creating Shared Value (CSV) approach to business  , a process that “requires us to look for ways to create value for our shareholders while also ensuring we create value for the communities in which we operate,” Jöhr wrote.
    In a conversation with MIT Sloan Management Review’s Nina Kruschwitz, Jöhr explains the initial impetus behind the SAI Platform, the methodology of looking at the production systems in agriculture and the wisdom of not having a single sustainability officer.
    Nestlé has become so prominent in the food industry for its work around sustainability over the last decade, and you have been in your role that entire time. Tell us about the transformation.
    We started 12 years ago with our sustainable agriculture initiative at Nestlé, and then two years later we launched this sustainable agriculture initiative platform within the food industry, SAI Platform  , which has become the most recognized industry initiative on sustainable sourcing and sustainable agriculture worldwide. There are about 14 members. Do you know about that 
    No. I’d love to hear more about that.
    This is one of the best well-kept secrets, that the way we probably impact on sustainable sourcing and rural development has been ten times bigger than on all the niche market approaches, like organic, or fair trade, or you name it.
    SAI Platform is mainly a very simple thing, because everything that is quite simple really creates an impact. All the very complicated things, people do not understand over the long term, and then there is no traction and no continuity.
    Instead, SAI Platform was created with a very simple idea of putting principles and practices together on sustainable agriculture for certain crops in order to address environmental, societal and economical topics around agriculture production systems.
    So we have put these principles and practices together, and now we are sharing this in a pre-competitive way with all these member companies. And in fact, we started that together with Danone and Unilever exactly 10 years ago in May 2003. Nowadays, we have all the confidence, given that all our principles and practices are field-tested and are continuously being improved. And it’s not about labels and certification systems and schemes only. It’s about real practices.
    Can you take us back 10 years — what prompted the formation of that organization? What problem were you trying to address by forming this platform?
    We all have the same problems of quality, of scarcity, of cross-border issues from child labor to pesticide residues to contaminants. A lot of things are linked to agriculture practices that may end up, at the end of the day, in your raw materials and finally in your branded product.
    So we had a number of issues that were hitting everybody in a negative way. We said, “well, we have an exposure to the same topics, what do we do?” Instead of each one of us going out and trying to fix it, we looked at whether there was something we could do together, on a voluntary basis. And then we looked into these principles and practices and procedures.
    Were the principles and practices developed by Nestlé, or did they evolve when you partnered with other companies?
    No, no, no. That is, you develop these kinds of things in working groups, where you invite a big range of stakeholders. This is not a Nestlé-only approach. We are not the rule-setters. We initiate, we let people sit around the table and then discuss, What are the issues? What are the topics, what do we do now, and what is next? We all go forward in a kind of continuous improvement process.
    Do you know about the methodology of HACCP analysis?
    No; tell us what that is.
    HACCP analysis on food safety. It stands for Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points. [The U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines HACCP  as “a management system in which food safety is addressed through the analysis and control of biological, chemical, and physical hazards from raw material production, procurement and handling, to manufacturing, distribution and consumption of the finished product.”]
    There is a lot of methodology in HACCP that comes out of total quality management that has been developed by NASA, because you want to make sure that you really have top quality if you send someone to the moon, yeah? These technologies have been used in food safety and quality assurance, by mapping out what are the risks, and what are opportunities.
    And this is exactly what we’re doing. We’re looking at the production system in agriculture and we see where are the risks, for instance, on land use, on pollution, on waste and biodiversity, or on doing something wrong with natural resources.
    Once you have mapped it out, this is like going to see the doctor and he does a checkup. You find out where the critical control points are, and you start to address these critical control points in a way that you have an action for doing each point better. So you eliminate the worst-case scenarios and you go into striving for the better scenarios.
    This is what we call sustainable intensification of agricultural production systems. It’s a very systematic process approach to drive sustainable agriculture. At Nestlé, we do that with many hundreds of thousands of farmers.
    Can you give us an example?
    I wrote about this on a blog post   last fall, and you can get more details there, but the summary is that one of our partners, iDE Cambodia  , trains rural business people to become Farmer Business Advisors. Those advisors then work with small-scale farmers and help spread a better understanding of good farming practices.
    Our investment helped iDE Cambodia nearly double the number of advisors, so that now more than 100 are working with about 15,000 farmers. The program is being extended to Mozambique and Ghana. For this work, iDE Cambodia was the winner of our first Nestlé Prize in Creating Shared Value.
    That’s great. Let me ask one final question about how Nestlé organizes its sustainability practices. Some companies have a vice president of sustainability, some have advisory boards, some have a CEO who drives the efforts. What’s the big picture for Nestlé?
    We have sustainability in all of our operations. We don’t even have a sustainability officer. We believe that you can’t make good progress by using a ‘doctor’ prescribing to everyone what they should do.
    This is where this approach of Creating Shared Value really gets highlighted. We created this approach together with Michael Porter. And creating shared value is not sharing created value. I say that because creating shared value, to our understanding, is the next step of corporate social responsible approaches. [Details about Nestlé’s vision for Creating Shared Value are online at www.nestle.com/csv  .]
    For many companies that think about corporate social responsibility, when something goes wrong, a lot of people become extremely nervous and say, “okay, who is going to fix it?” And then they write a check to the next NGO to fix it.
    We said we do not want to have this. If something goes wrong in our company, then we fix it ourselves. So we have to embed sustainability as a clear role model of what we call the functional leadership of our organization. When we need to, we make a change in operations. That’s how we got to talking about sustainable sourcing and working with the farmers to get the raw materials into our supply chains to feed the factories.
    We really make it happen and put it into the KPIs [key performance indicators] of everybody, from the shop floor to the top. It means that you have to engage with many, many, many people and you cannot just hire one guy called a sustainability officer.

    Reproduced from MIT Sloan Management Review

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    5 institutional models for successful housing options in Asia


    The number of innovative and successful interventions to address housing issues in the Asia Pacific is encouraging – but these efforts must be galvanised, as the Asia and the Pacific is still home to 505.5 million slum-dwellers. 
    Aman Mehta:

    More than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and Asia Pacific is home to about 1.76 billion (UN 2010) of these urban dwellers. Rural migrants contribute to an increasing proportion and absence of adequate housing has led to these migrants choosing the informal housing market, often manifested as slums. Slums, one of the most rampant responses to housing shortage currently account for about 30 per cent of the total urban population in Asia and the Pacific, which is about 505 million (UN-Habitat).
    The high incidence of slums in the Asia-Pacific region poses a daunting challenge to urban planners attempting to deliver proper housing to millions of urban poor. Asian countries have attempted to address the housing problem through five main institutional models.
    1. Public housing
    2. Public private partnership
    3. Private sector housing delivery
    4. Rental housing
    5. Civil society
    1. Public housing
    Singapore, the Republic of Korea, and Hong Kong, China, have implemented public housing projects as part of government housing policies and their vigorous pursuit of slum-free cities. In Singapore, for example, such efforts have resulted in a private/public housing ratio of about 20 to 80.
    In 1970s the Republic of Korea government promoted and provided new housing in order to counter the upward pressure on prices caused by short supply. This led to the development of apartments within tenements blocks that now account for 53 per cent of the housing stock in the country.
    2. Public-private partnerships
    Several Asian cities have established partnerships with private developers to stimulate affordable housing construction for the poor. In most cases, commercial development rights on plots were granted to private sector enterprises that would in return build affordable housing on a specified percentage of the total land under development. Examples include:
    • Ashraya Nidhi (‘shelter fund’) programme in Madhya Pradesh, India
    • Revitalization of the rivers Fu and Nan in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China
    • Private developers build a minimum of three middle-class houses and six basic or very basic ones for every high-cost house, National Housing Policy, Indonesia
    • Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in Mumbai
    Land sharing has emerged as a successful alternative to compulsory acquisition. Under land sharing arrangement, the landowner (public or private) and the occupiers (squatters) reach an agreement whereby the landowners retain the economically more attractive parts of the land parcel and the dwellers are allowed to build houses on the other part, usually with full tenure rights. The slums dwellers benefit by getting security of tenure and proper housing while the private landowners gets waiver on development controls allowing for intensive exploitation of commercial part of land.
    4. Private sector housing delivery
    Many Asian governments have “enabled” the private sector to provide housing for the low earning segments of the population. However, formal private sector housing tends to favour the rich while disregarding the poor. This problem is partly caused by the relatively finite and therefore ‘inelastic’ supply of serviced land, which makes it difficult for real-estate developers to meet demand and causes an overall rise in property prices.
    4. Rental housing
    The overall share of rentals in Asian cities is estimated at between 20-30 per cent of the housing market. Although a significant proportion of urban dwellers are tenants, the number of governments giving effective support to rental housing development is small. When privately owned, the bulk of rental housing accommodates low-income households through informal, flexible lease arrangements, which entail lower rents but weaker security of tenure and probably lower quality public amenities.
    Some cities, like Bangkok, have seen innovative rental housing where low-income communities have evolved practical arrangements with landowners to enable them to live within reasonable distance from their place of work. Under this scheme the poor look out for owners who keep land plots vacant as they wait for these further to gain in value before developing them. The poor offer the landowners rent for lease. Landowners find this arrangement works well as a defence against third party invasion.
    5. Civil society
    Asia has pioneered the people-led process of housing provision as spearheaded by dedicated civil society groups. It is a testament to the fact that while the private sector is able to meet the housing requirements of the rich, the ‘people sector’ has been able to cater to the poor. As seen in Thailand, when government and civil society come together, a large number of people can improve their own living conditions.
    Civil society has promoted community-led housing development in Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Mongolia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand.

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    Obama Delays Syria Vote to Pursue Russian Plan

    Top news: President Obama went before the nation   on Tuesdaynight to make his case for a military intervention in Syria, but with the likelihood that such a resolution would be defeated on the Hill and a and a promising Russian diplomatic initiative to defuse the crisis, Obama said he would delay a vote in Congress on the issue.

    "It's too early to tell whether this offer will succeed, and any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments," Obama said. "But this initiative has the potential to remove the threat of chemical weapons without the use of force."

    Obama's speech capped a series of dramatic diplomatic developments during which the president's war resolution seemed headed for defeat in Congress   until Russia endorsed a scheme for Syria to give up its chemical weapons. The plan, which at first seemed to stem from an off-hand remark by Secretary of State John Kerry, is now being described   by administration officials as first broached during last year's G-20 meeting in Mexico. 

    Obama and Putin failed to reach an agreement at the time, and White House officials say they were surprised at the speed with which Russia embraced the plan after comments by Kerry that his own spokeswoman described as "rhetorical" and "hypothetical."

    With plans for a Congressional authorization no on ice, U.S. officials say they are evaluating the Russian proposal, the specifics of which remain vague but would involve Syria declaring giving up its chemical weapons arsenal. "It has to be swift, it has to be real, and it has to be verifiable," an administration official told   the Wall Street Journal. "It can't be a delaying tactic, and if the U.N. Security Council seeks to be the vehicle to make it happen, well then it can't be a debating society."

    In an indication of the diplomatic difficulties facing the proposal, Russia on Tuesday rejected   a proposed French Security Council resolution that appeared to authorize the use of force if the weapons transfer collapsed. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called that condition "unacceptable."

    Kerry and Lavrov will meet in Geneva on Thursday, where Kerry will try to divine   whether he has stumbled on a genuine breakthrough or into a cleverly set trap.

    Syria chemical weapons: With a Russian proposal for Syria to give up its chemical weapons gathering a head of steam, FP's Yochi Dreazen reports  on the massive challenges facing such an undertaking. 

    The plan, according to chemical weapons experts, would be nearly impossible to carry out, and the technical challenges facing such an effort cast significant doubt on the sincerity of Russian and Syrian claims that Bashar al-Assad's chemical weapons stocks can be brought under control.


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