Communicating Tough News
Actually, that headline maybe generalizes the point a bit too much. The Harvard Business Review headline is better: “How to Tell Your Team That Organizational Change Is Coming.”
Two issues I have with this author’s approach:
“Even when businesses are doing well, organizational and structural change is to be expected…” — while this may be true as a descriptive statement, it’s too easily accepted as an explanation for a never-ending series of changes, restructures, and cost-saving layoffs. Treating one’s workforce as disposable, fungible costs to be cut or “re-org’ed” is neither effective nor historically a simple fact of business life. At least, so say professors at Wharton.
Over 1,100 words on how leaders should plan and deliver hard news about how corporate restructuring will affect their employees, and no form of the words “honestly” or “truthful” appear even once.
Losing the Fight for Attention
“This is us: eyes glazed, mouth open, neck crooked, trapped in dopamine loops and filter bubbles. Our attention is sold to advertisers, along with our data, and handed back to us tattered and piecemeal.”
Why Teaching Is Hard Having been married to a professional teacher for over two decades, I was not surprised to hear this teacher’s explanation for how hard her job is, and why. What captured my attention was who she was and where she came from. Lucy Kellaway was an award-winning journalist with London’s Financial Times until last year, when she decided to leave that career behind and embark on being an inner-city high-school math teacher (or “maths,” as the Brits evidently call it). Not only did she make such a striking career change, but she founded Now Teach to encourage similarly aged professionals to join her in doing so.
In this 1:41 clip, hear Lucy describe to CNN’s Fareed Zakaria how teaching is the “hardest job I’ve ever done.” Her TEDxLondonBusinessSchool talk explaining why she did this is both insightful and entertainingly funny.
Science Visualized This video illustrates beautifully how gravity works according to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. To replicate it, all you need is some PVC piping, a giant piece of spandex, clips to hold it in place, and various weights and marbles. My favorite aspect of this video is the setting and what is going on here. The instructor is Dan Burns, a high school physics teacher in Los Altos, CA. His demonstration is part of a weekend workshop for new physics teachers. Teachers teaching teachers on Saturday to more effectively teach students come Monday.
For an even more wild example of visualizing science for the sake of learning it, check out what chemistry class looks like when enhanced with 3D augmented reality technology.
Katie’s New Face
There’s no other way to say it: this piece by the National Geographic Channel is hard to take in. It is equal parts heavy emotional viewing with mind-blowing, awe-inspiring medical miracle working. Katie Stubblefield shot herself in the face in order to commit suicide … and survived. She was 18 years old at the time. Three years later, a surgical team at the Cleveland Clinic made Katie the 39th person in the world to receive a full facial transplant. This is a story of depression and suicide, of the never-ending road of impossibly hard work loving parents will walk for their daughter, and of the science fiction-level medicine being delivered by gifted surgeons using cutting edge technology, all told through a visual medium that moves as much as it informs.
LinkedIn: the Site for Professional … Athletes? Ever since it formed the backbone of my TEDxDayton talk, the idea of defining ones’ self by one’s professional identity is a topic that always captures my attention. Interesting to see how the more stuffy of all the social media networks is being used by professional athletes to navigate the journey of transition for how they see themselves. In the words of former WNBA great Tamika Catchings: “Yeah I was an athlete, that’s what I did, but now this is what I do.”
After pondering the symbol of international cooperation in space — the ISS — and wondering what Pence was talking about, I found the article linked above from Wired magazine. Now I know what he was talking about.
All Game, No Gain The idea of cognitive training is an intriguing one. If the muscles of the body can be made functionally stronger by doing non-functional exercises like lifting weights, why not the same for the muscle of the mind, the brain? Thanks to the concept of neuroplasticity, that’s the idea behind the plethora of brain training sites and apps. You might remember the commercials for Lumosity that were all over your TV about 5 years ago or so.
The Costs of Stock Buybacks
The study being reported on in this piece raises an interesting question. According to the authors, McDonalds spent enough money on average in stock buybacks over the last three years to have given every one of its 1.9 million employees a raise of $3,800. Now, for that interesting question this raises: whose investment should matter most and thus be rewarded with the payouts of profits? — those who invest their money (shareholders), or those who invest their time (employees)? Sure, the answer seems obvious because it’s always answered the same way — investors > employees — but that doesn’t mean that’s the only proper answer. If scarcity creates value, then one’s time is far more a valuable resource to invest in a company than one’s money. It reminds me of the line from the movie Braveheart:
Robert the Bruce: Wait! I respect what you said, but remember that these men have lands and castles. It’s much to risk.
William: And the common man who bleeds on the battlefield, does he risk less?
The Relationship Between Leading and Following
In a new study involving over 200 recruits going through commando training with Britain’s Royal Marines, and interesting dichotomy emerged. Those recruits who saw themselves as natural leaders were more likely to be recognized as such by their commanding officers. Conversely, those recruits who self-identified more as a “follower” were more likely to be seen as leaders by their peers.
Last week my Daughter spent a week attending summer art camp hosted by the Dayton Art Institute. Among the many pieces she created over the course of her week, her pencil artwork of a lightning bug with a light bulb for an abdomen is my favorite. Her assignment was to mix something real with something imagined. She didn’t name it, so I have dubbed it “20-Watt Firefly.”
In honor of my 13-year-old’s artistic output, this week’s “5 things” have an arts and education focus.
Then you come across the artistry that’s possible when a lens and shutter are in the hands of an actual professional. In this case, it’s Rachael Talibart, and her muse is the sea. As her photos illustrate, the artistry isn’t so much in the taking of the photo as in the seeing what is there worth capturing in the first place.
Unveiling The Colour of Time I’ve been following Brazilian artist Marina Amaral on Twitter for some time now. I forget how her work first came into my feed, but I’ll never forget the image that captured my attention and caused me to follow her. You see, her art is using digital tools like Photoshop to turn historical photos like this —
— into vividly life-like images like this:
Her attention to detail is utterly astounding, and her faithfulness to telling the stories about the people behind the images is noble. What started as a hobby combining her love of history with her talent for Photoshop has now turned into a new book. You can pre-order a copy and get yours when it comes out later this month.
McKinsey on Storytelling When I first came across this article about how to tell powerful innovation stories that emotionally move people by Professor Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School, I confess that my reaction wasn’t kind. I mean, a B-School professor writing under the name of corporate consulting titan McKinsey&Company about emotive storytelling? LOL, right? In fact, I happened to catch myself on video when I first clicked on the link. In a moment of public confession, I share it with you now:
(I know. The John Krasinski look-alike thing. I’m always flattered when people think I’m him, and not offended when they realize I’m not. Moving on…)
Once I actually read the piece, though, I was pleasantly surprised. It is a good summation of several archetypal story narratives that serve as great vehicles to carry a company or product’s message about its place in the market. (Provided it’s true, of course.) I take issue with one thing and one thing only. This here is bad advice:
Claiming to be astute and clever like this is not something to be modeled after. Conversely, admitting the role of luck and the trail of mistakes made is not something to be avoided.
Billed as the “Netflix for theaters,” Moviepass’ premise is a simple one: for a set monthly fee, you can see any movie in any theater, once a day, every day. In short, the subscriber pays Moviepass a monthly fee, and Moviepass pays the full retail cost of each and every movie ticket for the subscriber. (Sensing a problem yet?) With monthly subscription rates originally ranging from $15-$50, Moviepass worked fine for 6 years. Then, in August, 2017, a “big data” company bought Moviepass and announced a grand new strategy: a single, nationwide subscription rate of $9.95. Predictably, the subscriber count shot through the roof, going from 12,000 in August 2017, to 3 million by June 2018.
In the past week, Moviepass users have suffered a series of service outtages due to the company running out of money needed to buy tickets. The parent company — Helios & Matheson Analytics — has now taken to publicly complaining about the “exorbitant prices for theater tickets and goug[ing of] customers with overpriced concessions” by movie theaters. And now, in a sign that the last days of Moviepass are upon us, a share of Helios’ stock, which was as high as $2,285/share as recently as six months ago, could be had for one solitary dime at the close of trading yesterday. (Yes: $0.10/share.)
King James Vision
I’m no fan of the NBA, and I think I can truthfully state that I haven’t watched LeBron James play for a total of 2 minutes in my entire combined tv sports viewing life. Of course, James is the kind of mega-star that even those who pay zero attention to his sport likely know who he is and of his generational athletic talent.
Imagine being a 3rd grader in inner-city Akron suddenly getting to experience learning as if he were living in the swankest of Cleveland suburbs, and all due to the generosity of the world’s biggest sports superstar. All the feels.
And it wasn’t just the students who were wide awake unable to sleep from excitement on the night before school started.
The jitters before the first day of school are real right now!!! Tomorrow is going to be one of the greatest moments (if not the greatest) of my life when we open the #IPROMISE School. This skinny kid from Akron who missed 83 days of school in the 4th grade had big dreams… https://t.co/PwmRaHRfng
Nearly every article and corporate statement about companies moving to the open office model have cited the same proffered reasons for doing so. For example, from Harvard Business Review just this January: “Organizations are rushing to implement open office spaces in hopes of retaining talent, encouraging cross-functional collaboration, enhancing exposure to different kinds of expertise, and accelerating creativity and innovation.”
Now here we are, three years after Facebook’s MPK20, and science has had time to catch up with this corporate HR/Operations trend. The verdict?
Imagining a Future Without Employees
Here’s an interesting crystal ball piece on what the world could look like in 2030 when two economic forces converge: the drive to cut corporate costs and the “Gig Economy.” Who needs to worry about whether to provide employees desks, walls, and offices when you don’t have employees?
How likely is this? Well, last month the New York Timessounded pessimistic, citing data from the Federal Government’s Bureau of Labor Statistics that gig’ers (a term I may have just made up) make up only 10% of the American workforce. Hardly a revolution. But then two days ago we learned that the Feds really have no idea how big the freelance economy actually is, because it’s definition for what counts doesn’t match reality.
“But really, the benefit of big-data policing for police departments is political. New technology gives police chiefs an answer to the age-old question asked by every politician in every community forum: ‘Chief, what are you doing about crime?’ They now have a progressive-sounding, technologically inspired answer: ‘We are using a new black-box technology to predict and deter crime.”’
So, there’s that.
It’s Elon’s Show, but Gwynne Directs It After last week’s Apollo-rama, it should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I’m a big fan of Elon Musk’s sci-fi miracle factory known as SpaceX. But, to truly understand the leader making that rocket ship company go, it isn’t Elon you need to study. (Though that is certainly time well-spent, IMO. I’d start here or here.)
Last week I noted the sad fact that the contributions of women in the original Space Race were often in the background, overlooked or just poorly told. I don’t think this modern version will suffer the same problem, not with Gwynne Shotwell running SpaceX as it’s current President and COO. Get to know her through this Bloomberg Businessweek spotlight piece, or listen to her on the TED stage describe how SpaceX wants to use rockets to ferry business travelers from NYC to China in about a half hour.
Robots In Space
Imagine if Alexa wasn’t stuck on your countertop, but she could float and follow you around the house … and instead of trying to entertain you with music and dumb jokes, her job was to watch how you interacted with your house guests and report her assessment back to headquarters.
If you’re an astronaut on the International Space Station, this is your new reality. Earlier this month, SpaceX’s most recent resupply mission to the ISS included CIMON, a volleyball-sided floating AI-powered computer assistant. While technically CIMON’s mission is to simply help the astronauts with operational tasks no less than Alexa and Siri and Google’s nameless assistant do down here on Earth. But in the future? Who knows?
Today marks the 49th anniversary of Apollo 11’s touchdown onto the dusty surface of Mare Tranquillitatis. Each year at this time I experience a mix of two emotions:
slack-jawed awe at the engineering marvel and operational choreography that went into landing men on the moon;
mournful sadness at how this pinnacle of human achievement sits in relative obscurity in the cultural mind of our modern American moment.
And each year, I use whatever platforms I have at my disposal to remind anyone listening that this event not only happened, but is worth every bit of celebration we can (but don’t) muster. Frankly, I believe July 20th should be a federal holiday: Apollo 11 Day.
Until that happens, I’ll just have to be content with efforts like this themed edition of “5 for Friday,” and watching our set of From the Earth to the Moon DVD’s. There’s a LOT more content here than normal, because … well, frankly, I just enjoyed digging into it and sharing it all. Fortunately, this is “5 for Friday” and not “5 for Wednesday” or something. You’ve got the whole weekend to read and learn at your leisure!
COMPOSITE PIC: 5 frame shot of the gantry retracting while the Saturn V boosters lift off to carry the Apollo 11 astronauts to the Moon. SOURCE: Time | LIFE
A Moment for All Time
Long before the age of Google, Flickr, and Instagram feeds, LIFE magazine was the definitive source for the photographs and stories that defined a generation. When it came to the pinnacle technological achievement of the entirety of human history, LIFE delivered as it always did — in stunning pictures and two weeks after the fact.
Imagine waiting that long in today’s 24/7/365 media world.
Thankfully, Time, Inc. (the owners of the long-defunct magazine) have put the modern internet to great use by sharing with us the original magazine as a 49-page digital slideshow of every double-page spread. (One drawback: most of the text itself is too small to read. But the photos and readable captions are enough!) The alternative is to buy an original copy off of someone on eBay. This tattered copy is currently listed at $39.99. (A bargain, TBQH, that I may have to avail myself of…)
The story of how LIFE photographer Ralph Morse captured the iconic sequence of Apollo 11 liftoff photos seen above is pretty spectacular in its own right.
Apollo 11 – the Cliffs Notes Version
Whereas my parents’ generation had LIFE magazine, my kids’ generation has infographics. Personally, I love a good infographic. When well done, the combination of words, numbers, and images stimulate multiple areas of the brain, which aids in the persuasive power and memorability of the information presented. (It’s science.)
With that in mind, SPACE.com produced a great infographic highlighting the key facts about the Apollo 11 landing. My favorite fact that I had never heard before: how the timing of the landing was strategically chosen to coincide with a particular phase of the moon. (Hint: it’s about the utility of long shadows.)
It soon became clear that landing a man on the moon was America’s best chance to leapfrog the Russians. Crashing a satellite into the moon was one thing; arriving there with a live astronaut in a vehicle capable of returning home was orders of magnitude more complex. But, long before the contractors could commence building the spacecraft that would take an American astronaut to the moon, NASA had to figure out its strategy for just *how* to go about getting there. That meant choosing one of three potential technological paths:
Lunar-Orbit Rendezvous, or LOR (*), was considered a too-risky non-starter by most in the NASA braintrust even though it promised to be the most advantageous in terms of development time, cost and — most importantly — weight requirements. (In both the Direct and EOR approaches, the craft landing on the moon would have to do so while carrying the fuel and systems (propulsion, guidance, etc) needed to leave the moon surface, break free of it’s gravity, and fly home. It would also have to carry to the moon’s surface the heavy heat shield that would be needed for reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere. With LOR, on the other hand, all that material and weight would be left parked in a lunar orbit, leaving the LEM lander free to be light on its feet and custom designed for its singular mission.)
Critics dismissed the promise of all this weight savings from LOR — as much as 2.5x less — as simply optimistic math. They also viewed LOR as too risky because it required the then (1959-62) untested rendezvous maneuver to be done in lunar orbit. If something went wrong, the Apollo astronauts would be stranded nearly a quarter of a million miles from home.
Then, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy uttered his immortal words before a joint session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Suddenly, NASA had a hard and very ambitious deadline to meet and a decision had to be made; it could only afford the time and expense of developing a lunar landing program along one of the three paths.
In July, 1962, NASA Administrator Jim Webb announced LOR as the approved route the Apollo program would be taking to the moon. This shift away from the Direct ascent mode (favored by the legendary Dr. Wernher Von Braun, designer of the Nazi V-2 rocket and Apollo’s Saturn V launch system) to the least likely candidate in LOR was due to the zealous belief and dogged determination of one man: Dr. John Houboldt. For the better part of two years, Houboldt make it his singular mission to convince the rest of NASA that not only was LOR the best approach to landing on the moon, it was the only one that could be done before the end of 1969. As recorded in a NASA organizational history series:
“In the summer of 1960, while making back-of-the-envelope calculations to confirm the savings in rocket-boosting power gained by the LOR approach, Houbolt experienced a powerful technological epiphany. Three years later, in a 1963 article, he described what happened: ‘Almost simultaneously, it became clear that lunar-orbit rendezvous offered a chain reaction simplification on all ‘back effects’: development, testing, manufacturing, erection, count-down, flight operations, etc.’ In this moment of revelation, Houbolt made an ardent resolve: ‘I vowed to dedicate myself to the task.’ From that instant until NASA’s selection of the mission mode for Project Apollo in July 1962, he tirelessly crusaded for the LOR concept.”
Without Houbolt’s determination, it’s possible that one of the other two lunar transport modes would’ve ended up successfully delivering American astronauts to the moon and back. It just wouldn’t have occurred at a time when the Beatles were still a functioning foursome. He is truly a hero of the Apollo 11 landing deserving to be remembered as the astronauts themselves.
When it comes to the act of Apollo 11 actually executing its landing on the moon’s surface, one team’s work was flawless and pivotal at the most crucial moment of the landing itself. That team was led by a woman, and her name was Margaret Hamilton.
Margaret led the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which was the recipient of NASA’s very first Apollo program contract. (It was issued a mere three months after JFK’s shocking moonshot declaration.) Margaret and her team wrote the guidance program source code for the LEM’s on-board computer, which stood as a stack taller than her when printed out.
Margaret Hamilton: Apollo Guidance and Navigation Programming Queen
Now ponder this from the article: “the Apollo guidance software was so robust that no software bugs were found on any crewed Apollo missions, and it was adapted for use in Skylab, the Space Shuttle, and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft.” A stack of computer code standing over five feet tall, and not a single bug! But plenty of easter eggs, naturally.
One shortcoming of the popular re-tellings of the Apollo story is their monocular view of the women involved. Take, for example, the really well done HBO miniseries executive-produced and narrated by Tom Hanks, From the Earth to the Moon (1998). It is a favorite of my wife and I, and is our bedtime viewing each year during #Apollo11Week. (That’s not a real thing … but it should be.)
Over the course of its 12 episodes, the series gives viewers access to a variety of viewpoints even as it marches through the chronology of the achievement of Kennedy’s audacious goal and beyond. Episode 5, “Spider,” tells the story of the development of the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) from the perspective of the civilian engineers at Grumman Aircraft Engineering contracted to built it. Viewers see the Apollo 13 drama through the lens of the television journalists that covered it in Episode 8, “We Interrupt This Program.” But, when it comes to the women associated with the Apollo program, it’s the same one-note song: the astronauts’ wives are the focal characters of Episode 11, “The Original Wives Club.” (Not that theirs wasn’t a good story to tell, as evidenced by a New York Times bestseller and TV show inspired by it.)
Thankfully, with 2016’s Academy Award-nominated movie and NYT bestselling book, Hidden Figures, that has started to change. Through the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA … and those of women like Susan Finely and Barbara Paulson working as “computers” for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA … we learned about the substantive but overlooked role that so many women played in math and science behind America’s moonshot. It’s a story so powerful and in need of telling that the broader pop culture has started to find its own ways to retell it. Witness this advertisement produced by German marketing firm DDB for the well known highlighter, the Stabilo Boss: