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Friday, February 28, 2014

Strategic Humor: Cartoons from the April 2014 Issue 03-01

Strategic Humor: Cartoons from the April 2014 Issue

Enjoy these cartoons from the April issue of HBR, and test your management wit in the HBR Cartoon Caption Contest at the bottom of this post. If we choose your caption as the winner, you will be featured in the next magazine issue and win a free Harvard Business Review Press book.

“This passive-aggressive stuff is getting to me.”
P.C. Vey

“I appreciate your concern, but I’ll be fine. I always leave a trail of breadcrumbs whenever I venture in there.”
Crowden Satz

And congratulations to our April caption contest winner, John Gregor of Edmonton, Alberta. Here’s his winning caption:
“Thanks for the dramatic reenactment of our quarterly growth chart, but you could have used PowerPoint.”
Cartoonist: Susan Camilleri Konar

Enter your own caption for this cartoon in the comments below — you could be featured in the next magazine issue and win a free book. To be considered for the prize, please submit your caption byMarch 13.
Cartoonist: Paula Pratt

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Schoolboy, 4, over the moon with Nasa's help on his homework 02-27

Schoolboy, 4, over the moon with Nasa's help on his homework

Four-year-old Lucas Whiteley wrote to Nasa asking for help on a school project and became the star of his class when the space agency replied

It was one small step for a Nasa engineer but one giant leap for a four-year-old schoolboy from Yorkshire who wrote to the space agency asking for help with a science project.
Lucas Whiteley enlisted the help of his father to record a video of himself asking three questions which he posted on the Nasa website and was over the moon when the space agency replied.
He was sent a an email and 10-minute film from the space agency’s engineer Ted Garbeff which included a virtual tour of his Mountain View base in California.
Lucas presented the video to delighted teachers at Sunny Hill Primary in Wrenthorpe, West Yorks, who played it at the school assembly.
Mr Garbeff, an expert in experimental fluid physics who studies the wake of space capsules, answered Lucas’s queries about the number of stars, which countries had landed on the Moon and whether any animals had been there.
4 year old Lucas Whiteley got a detailed reply from NASA (Photo: Ross Parry)
He explained the huge number of stars by comparing them to grains of sand on a beach.
“You might see a lot of stars, but the truth is there are more stars than you can even see,” he wrote.
“There are so many stars that it’s really hard to imagine how many there are.”
Mr Garbeff also told Lucas that the US was the only country to put a man on the moon but that Russia and then China had landed rovers and he described the role of animals in space exploration including Russian dog Laika, the first living thing to be sent into space.
Lucas’s father James Whiteley, 37, of Roberttown, West Yorks, said: “When I was a kid I wrote to
NASA and got a brochure, so when Lucas was doing a project on space I thought
we might be lucky if we sent a video of Lucas asking some questions.
“What we got back was amazing. Obviously Ted has thought about his audience and
gone to a lot of trouble just for them.
“When I sat down to watch it with Lucas he had a big smile on his face.
“Ted is a fantastic bloke to go out of his way to do something for someone he
doesn't know on the other side of the world.”
In his response to Lucas, Mr Garbeff claimed it had been difficult to get his job at NASA and urged Lucas and his classmates to listen to their teachers, adding he hoped to see them all "up in space one day."
He said the video had been "super fun" to make, "especially as Lucas asked such
great questions."
He added: "I'm always happy to talk about NASA."
Lucas’s questions and Mr Garbeff’s answers
Q: How many stars are there?
A: You might see a lot of stars, but the truth is there are more stars than you can even see. There are so many stars that it’s really hard to imagine how many there are. So we haven’t counted every single star in the universe, that would take a really long time. But instead engineers and scientists are really good at estimating really large numbers.
- he told Lucas there were about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars.
Q: Who came second and third in the race to the moon?
A: The US did land the first people on the moon and in fact no other country has made it back to the moon. But Russia did manage to land a rover on the moon to drive around. So I guess I would probably give Russia second place. Very recently, a country called China has landed a rover on the moon so China would have third place.
Q: Did any animals go to the moon?
A: No. But animals have really helped us understand the way space works and how well humans can live in space. In fact one of the first living things to go into space was a Russian dog named Laika. Laika’s now very much a space hero. She was the first living thing to go into space. Nasa also launched animals into space (including) the first primate, a chimpanzee named Ham. But none of them made it to the moon, they orbited around the Earth.

University education: steer towards a career 02-27

University education: steer towards a career

Universities and graduate recruiters are working together to maximise students’ chances of success in the jobs market.

Universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment
Universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment 
With future job prospects high on most students’ list of concerns, universities are focusing on easing the transition from study to employment. Graduate recruiters, keen to snap up emerging talent, are following suit.
“Employers maintain that a degree is very valuable to them, and they’re increasingly looking to engage with students,” says Jane Goodfellow, head of careers and employability at Cardiff University.
According to Brian Staines, head of guidance services at the University of Bristol careers centre, “There’s more focus nowadays on questions of employability. Students want to know how their university careers service can help them get where they want to go.”
Thankfully, universities have strong answers. Besides running recruitment fairs, most organise workshops and offer careers advice services, including support in writing CVs and preparing for interviews.
Beyond this, many university careers centres are strengthening their relationships with industry, which requires graduates to have the right grades, soft skills and experience.
Companies including multinationals, public sector organisations, NGOs and SMEs across a range of sectors are therefore being invited on campus to run workshops and give talks addressing teamwork, leadership, time-management and other skills.
In the battle to help graduates win jobs, universities are also coming up with ever more inventive schemes.
At Cardiff, an alumni mentoring programme links successful graduates with students in their field, and panel-format events provide the chance to question employers in a specific sector. A growing number of institutions are also offering their own “employability award”.
Endorsed by recruiters, they enable students to gain a certificate by, for example, attending workshops, completing work experience and giving presentations. “Our award, Bristol Plus, can give job applications that added edge,” says Staines.
Creating a cycle of support, the University of Leeds careers centre helps entrepreneurial students start their own businesses via its Spark programme.
As well as supporting students in gaining access to grants and funding, it hosts events and modules to get them started, offers advice and mentoring, and provides access to resources. In return, once up and thriving, these new businesses hire younger Leeds students as interns and graduate recruits.
As Dr Bob Gilworth, director of the University of Leeds careers centre, puts it: “Setting up internship opportunities with SMEs is great, but how about giving students a hand to set up the SMEs in the first place?”
Former students Becky Edlin, 26, and Gerard Savva, 29, have proved the project’s success. They started their design and marketing service, Magpie Comms, in 2009. Initially benefiting from Spark support, they now provide opportunities for the next crop of students.
“There’s no shortage of students who want enterprising careers,” says Chris Phillips, UK information and research director at GTI Media, a graduate careers media company. He advises undergraduates to look beyond the obvious recruiters and consider smaller, high-growth businesses, as they “often give earlier responsibility and greater autonomy”.
In companies both big and small, however, internships can lead to great things. During her aeronautical engineering degree at Imperial College London, Zoe Versey, 24, did a summer internship at Jaguar Land Rover.
She enjoyed the experience, and secured a place on its graduate scheme. “Completing my final year at uni with a job lined up meant I could concentrate on exams,” says Versey.
The internship has also helped to make sense of her academic studies, allowing her to “apply things I had learnt on my degree to a work environment”.
This practical application of university teaching has long since been the aim of vocational degrees — many of which are developed and imparted by industry partners.
The IT Management for Business (ITMB) degree, for example, is run by 20 universities in conjunction with E-skills UK and supported by 60 employers, among them Hewlett Packard, ITV and the Cabinet Office.
“It’s about building relationships between students and employers,” says Irina Fotache, 22, who is on a placement at CA Technologies as part of her University of Manchester ITMB. “I’ve met potential employers from day one; it’s great for developing a strong professional network.”
Overall, the increasingly productive relationships between universities and employers allow students to build skills, contacts and experience before hitting the jobs market.
“Research shows that students who undertake work experience and consider their employability carefully make better career decisions and have better employment prospects,” says Good fellow.

With up to 10 new designer drugs every year, more education is needed to convey risks ·0-7

With up to 10 new designer drugs every year, more 

education is needed to convey risks ·

In the span of a decade, Canada has gone from ecstasy importer to global supplier of the illegal party drug. At the same time, even newer designer highs—sometimes just a mouse-click away—are flooding the drug market faster than legislation can keep pace.

It’s a worrying problem that University of Alberta researchers say requires more education to help Canadians understand the very real, deadly risks of designer drug use.
“The chemists who are making these drugs are coming up with about 10 new drugs per year; the legislation cannot keep up with the market,” said Alan Hudson, a pharmacologist at the U of A who studies how ecstasy and other drugs affect brain neurochemistry. “The best way forward is to educate people that they’re playing Russian roulette—the health risks from taking these drugs are high, and potentially lethal.”
In a new paper published in Drug Science, Policy and Law, Hudson and his U of A co-authors—Maggie Lalies, Glen Baker, Kris Wells and Katherine Aitchison—warn the recreational drug scene is growing in Canada, fuelled by an appetite for designer drugs and legal highs such as K2, spice, Benzo fury, Barts, Homers, bath salts, plant food and other “party pills.”
“This is a pressing public health issue,” said Wells, director of programs and services with the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services. “The profile that we’re seeing of someone taking ecstasy or these so-called recreational drugs is not perhaps your average user when we think of drug use. It could be one of our own university students going to a party on the weekend—where they haven’t experimented before—and then take a tablet of ecstasy. It doesn’t have an effect and they take another one; pretty soon they’re in emergency fighting for their life.”
Designer highs, massive profits
Newer designer drugs, often purchased online from Asia, can represent big business in Canada.
“For some of these legal highs, you only need a milligram to get high,” Hudson said. “If you can buy a kilogram for $200, the mark-up can be huge.”
Although Health Canada statistics show ecstasy use is down slightly among young people across the country, a 2006 report from the RCMP shows Canada has become a “major production and export country,” a situation that developed over just two years and a significant departure from the mid-1990s, when Canada was an import-consumer nation.
During the same time, Hudson notes, ecstasy has become increasingly toxic, cut with a mix of, at times, deadly chemicals. In a 2007 Health Canada study, only three per cent of seized ecstasy tablets contained pure MDMA, the drug’s main ingredient, compared with 69 per cent in 2001.
Two such contaminants are PMA and PMMA; the latter may cause severe serotonin toxicity and has been linked to as many as eight deaths in Alberta over the past two years. Hudson and his colleagues caution that even pure ecstasy can have toxic side-effects that vary by individual, due to genetic factors.
“There is no safe dose of ecstasy,” Hudson explained.
Rise of legal highs
Head shops and online operators have increasingly turned to peddling legal highs such as BZP and TFMPP, often sold as “party pills,” “Barts” or “Homers” for shapes resembling characters from the Simpsons TV show. Both ingredients were declared illegal in 2012, but have given way in popularity to newer drugs such as “plant food” or bath salts, which have been sold legally as variants of mephedrone, methylone and MDPV—the latter of which is known for inducing a “zombie-like” state and paranoia.
The federal government banned the drug, but Hudson said there will always be others like Benzo fury and various online options to take their place, underscoring the need for more education.
Research grounded in the community
In their efforts to raise awareness, the research team has forged relationships in the community, including the Edmonton Police Service.
Wells co-chairs the Chief’s Advisory Council, a role that helped facilitate access to newer drugs for research, and his work at iSMSS puts him in constant contact with at-risk youth. Sexual and gender minority youth are three times as likely to take drugs and alcohol as negative coping mechanisms, he said, which underscores the importance of creating positive environments that help youth feel supported, and allowing them to make informed, hopefully healthy decisions.
“It’s about taking the research to the next level—communicating it, mobilizing the knowledge to all the stakeholders and, ultimately, to all those young people who may be facing a choice in their lives,” Wells said.
When youth do turn to drugs, Hudson said, parents can turn to resources offered by  Alberta Health Services and look for warning signs such as
  • depressed moods after the weekend (a common symptom of coming down from euphoric highs of ecstasy)
  • mood changes, often associated with drugs such as K2 or spice
  • sudden nosebleeds, from snorting designer drugs such as plant food
This U of A research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Government of Alberta.

Dyslexia may not exist, warn academics 02-27

Dyslexia may not exist, warn academics

Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning

The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia

Millions of children may have been wrongly diagnosed as dyslexic after academics found the condition probably does not exist.
Experts at Durham and Yale Universities are calling for the term ‘dyslexia’ to be abandoned because it is unscientific and lacks meaning.
They claim resources are being wasted by putting youngsters through diagnostic tests and say the umbrella term is used too readily for children who often display vastly different reading problems.
In the book The Dyslexia Debate, Professor Julian Elliott, a former teacher of children with learning difficulties, said more focus should be put on helping children to read, rather than finding a label for their difficulty.
The author, a professor of education at Durham University, said: "Parents are being woefully misled about the value of a dyslexia diagnosis.
"In every country, and in every language, a significant proportion of children struggle to master the skill of reading and some will continue to find it difficult throughout their childhood and into adulthood.
"Typically, we search for a diagnostic label when we encounter problems because we believe that this will point to the best form of treatment.
"It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the parents and teachers of children with reading difficulties believe that if the child is diagnosed as dyslexic, clear ways to help them will result.
"Research in this field clearly demonstrates that this is a grave misunderstanding."
The authors found that symptoms in one person leading to a diagnosis of dyslexia are often absent in another person similarly diagnosed. Therefore a typical education invention for one pupil may not help another who has also been diagnosed with dyslexia.
While the researchers do not question the existence of the real, sometimes complex, problems some people have with reading, they are critical of the term "dyslexia" because it is too imprecise.
They suggest the key task for professionals is to spot reading difficulties early in any child and intervene as quickly as possible rather than search for a questionable diagnosis.
Children are diagnosed with dyslexia for a range of reasons including those whose difficulty in reading is unexpected, those who show a discrepancy between reading and listening comprehension or pupils who do not make meaningful progress in reading even when provided with high-quality support.
The NHS estimates that 4-8 per cent of all schoolchildren in England have some sort of dyslexia.
Dr Gay Keegan, District Senior Educational Psychologist for Hampshire County Council, said: “As an applied educational psychologist I do not find the term ‘dyslexia’ helpful since there appears to be no unifying identifying characteristics, prognosis or response to interventions which all people with ‘dyslexia’ share.
“So, rather than considering a single entity, I find it helpful to consider different reasons for reading difficulties, using a functional analysis rather than looking for a label.
“My approach involves assessing what the child can do and what they find difficult, assessing and enhancing their learning opportunities and measuring their response to well-delivered, evidenced-based interventions over time.”
However charities have challenged their assessment claiming that the term is important and should not be dropped.
Dr John Rack, head of research, development and policy, for Dyslexia Action insisted the term retained a scientific and educational value.
He said: "We don't buy the argument that it is wasteful to try to understand the different reasons why different people struggle.
"And for very many, those reasons fall into a consistent and recognisable pattern that it is helpful to call dyslexia.
"Helpful for individuals because it makes sense out of past struggles and helpful for teachers who can plan the way they teach to overcome or find ways around the particular blocks that are there."

Monday, February 24, 2014

Opioid abuse initiates specific protein interactions in neurons in brain’s reward system 02-5

Opioid abuse initiates specific protein interactions in neurons in brain’s reward system

Identifying the specific pathways that promote opioid addiction, pain relief, and tolerance are crucial for developing more effective and less dangerous analgesics, as well as developing new treatments for addiction. Now, new research from the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai reveals that opiate use alters the activity of a specific protein needed for the normal functioning of the brain’s reward center.
Investigators were able to block the protein, as well as increase its expression in the mouse nucleus accumbens, a key component of the brain’s reward center. It altered the actions of opioids like morphine dramatically. The preclinical study, published online Feb. 24 in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology, is the first to show that opioid use changes activity of the protein RGS9-2 and alters both the threshold for pain relief and affects opioid tolerance.
“We were able to block addiction-related behaviors, but increasing the activity of the protein also lowered the pain relief response to morphine, and mice developed morphine tolerance much more quickly,” said the study’s senior researcher, Venetia Zachariou, PhD, Associate Professor, Fishberg Department of Neuroscience, Friedman Brain Institute, Department of Pharmacology and Systems Therapeutics, at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.
Dr. Zachariou explained that because the brain’s reward center has such a strong impact on analgesic responses, non-opioid medications should be used for the treatment of severe chronic pain conditions. Pain specialists have several alternatives for the treatment of chronic pain. For patients that are already addicted to opioids, “an alternative pain medication could offer more analgesic relief without the adverse effects of opioids.” Additionally, with this research in hand, the research team points out that targeting this molecule may eventually lead to a novel treatment for addiction.”
In the study, investigators used a novel technique known as optogenetics, which allows the activation of specific neurons via blue light in real time, to determine the exact cell types of the brain reward center responsible for the reduced analgesic response.
“In our earlier work, by inactivating RGS9-2, we saw a tenfold increase in sensitivity to the rewarding actions of morphine, severe morphine dependence, a better analgesic response, and delayed development of tolerance,” said the study’s senior author. While opiate analgesics act in several brain regions to alleviate pain, their actions in the brain reward center may also affect analgesia. The nucleus accumbens may also affect the development of morphine tolerance, via mechanism that are distinct from those described in other regions of the brain.
Eric Nestler, MD, PhD, Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, praised the research. “These discoveries provide important new information about the role of the brain reward pathway in the analgesic responses to opiates”.

New ideas change your brain cells 02-25

A new University of British Columbia study identifies an important molecular change that occurs in the brain when we learn and remember.
Published this month in Nature Neuroscience, the research shows that learning stimulates our brain cells in a manner that causes a small fatty acid to attach to delta-catenin, a protein in the brain. This biochemical modification is essential in producing the changes in brain cell connectivity associated with learning, the study finds.
In animal models, the scientists found almost twice the amount of modified delta-catenin in the brain after learning about new environments. While delta-catenin has previously been linked to learning, this study is the first to describe the protein’s role in the molecular mechanism behind memory formation.

“More work is needed, but this discovery gives us a much better understanding of the tools our brains use to learn and remember, and provides insight into how these processes become disrupted in neurological diseases,” says co-author Shernaz Bamji, an associate professor in UBC’s Life Sciences Institute.
It may also provide an explanation for some mental disabilities, the researchers say. People born without the gene have a severe form of mental retardation called Cri-du-chat syndrome, a rare genetic disorder named for the high-pitched cat-like cry of affected infants. Disruption of the delta-catenin gene has also been observed in some patients with schizophrenia.
“Brain activity can change both the structure of this protein, as well as its function,” says Stefano Brigidi, first author of the article and a PhD candidate Bamji’s laboratory. “When we introduced a mutation that blocked the biochemical modification that occurs in healthy subjects, we abolished the structural changes in brain’s cells that are known to be important for memory formation.”
According to the researchers, more work is needed to fully establish the importance of delta-catenin in building the brain connectivity behind learning and memory. Disruptions to these nerve cell connections are also believed to cause neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Huntington disease. Understanding the biochemical processes that are important for maintaining these connections may help address the abnormalities in nerve cells that occur in these disease states.

What made Facebook like WhatsApp 02-24

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants 02-23

Toughest Questions HBS Asks Applicants

In a typical year, slightly more than 2,000 highly driven people are interviewed for admission to the prestigious MBA program at Harvard Business School. They’re subjected to a 30-minute grilling by an admissions official to see if they are Harvard material.
Other than some Q&As that are held via Skype or a few in some far-flung cities, the vast majority of the interviews are on the Harvard Business School campus. In earlier years, they were held in small rooms in Dillon House, where the admissions staff makes its home. These days the interviews are scheduled in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall.

HBS admission interviews are now held in the project rooms on the second floor of Spangler Hall

The questions in these sessions usually come fast and furious, with little comment from the person asking them. It’s as if the admissions officer doesn’t want to waste any of the 30 minutes with an applicant and wants to get in as many questions as possible.
The queries cover everything from an MBA candidate’s undergraduate experience to an applicant’s leadership ability. Many of them are routine: Why do you want an MBA degree? Why do you want to come to Harvard to get it? Walk me through your resume? What are your strengths and weaknesses? How did you choose your undergraduate major and why?
Almost always, however, there are a few unpredictable zingers, the kinds of questions that can take a person by surprise. These are questions that can easily throw an applicant completely off his or her game. They are designed to narrow down the more than 2,000 interviewees, chosen from 9,315 overall applicants, to about 1,100 who were accepted for one of the 941 seats in Harvard’s Class of 2015.
What are the ten most unpredictable questions?
The following queries, along with advice on how to approach the answers, are from current HBS students who have successfully gained admission into the school. They’re among 96 questions gathered by the staff of The Harbus, the school’s MBA student newspaper, for its recently updated “Unofficial Harvard Business School Interview Guide.” The Winter 2014 edition includes brand new questions that Class of 2016 applicants received in Round 1.
The most intriguing questions below are reprinted with permission from The Harbus.

Explain to me something you’re working on as if I were an eight-year-old?

This question gauges your ability to distill the essence of your job into very simply language. Think of how you would explain accretion/dilution to your grandmother at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Take the question quite literally, but don’t talk down to the interviewer. The ability to communicate complex information to laymen who may not share your grasp of the subject material happens to be a very important business skill. Clever metaphors can add color or flair (as in Sherman McCoy’s explanation to his daughter of what selling bonds entails in Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities).

Describe something that you should start doing, do more of, and do less of?

This question is driving at your ability to step outside of yourself and perform an honest appraisal. Can you see and act on your areas for improvement? Self-awareness and the ability to make sound judgments are important here. HBS is looking for someone who knows they don’t have it all figured out yet and is reflective about what they can strive towards.

What’s the one thing you’ll never be as good at as others?

If you respond ‘nothing’ to this, it indicates a lack of self-awareness. If your response is ‘modesty,’ you’d better hope your interviewer has a good sense of humor. There are so many honest, personalized answers to this question that it should not be difficult to come up with an example. Be honest: don’t try to hedge it or spin it. Just own it.

Friday, February 21, 2014

How to Thrive While Leading a Family Business 0-22

How to Thrive While Leading a Family Business

We’ve seen both sides of the spectrum: family executives hating their jobs, their businesses, their families, feeling underappreciated for their efforts, exhausted by all the “craziness,” wanting nothing more than to “sell the damn thing.”  And we’ve seen family executives thrive with rewards that are richer and more profound than a leader of a publically traded company could possibly derive.  The company flourishes, the family has a collective purpose that brings them together, and the kids prosper.

So, naturally, we wonder, “Why do some executives thrive while others wilt?”
Family businesses are inherently messy.  Work and life are almost inextricably intertwined.  With so many things going on concurrently, family executives either get swept up in a virtuous cycle or a vicious cycle with very little in between.  Leaders who thrive in this environment embrace and use this messiness.  They can be all sorts of people – introverts, extroverts, operations-oriented folks, great sales people, men, or women.  But what we see in common in thriving family business leaders is that they get four things right:
Four separate rooms
Life in a family, business can really be a pressure cooker because the business discussions continue around the dinner table and in the bedroom.  There sometimes is no separation between work and family, home and the office.  The CEO leaves a meeting at the office with the CFO, his daughter, and he goes home to her mother, his wife and joint owner of the business.  This entanglement of relations runs so deep that the only leaders who thrive are those who have learned to explicitly separate their lives into four separate rooms: one for the business managers, another for the board of directors, yet another for the owners, and a separate one for the family members.
Consider your own home:  You have different discussions in the kitchen, the bathroom, the bedroom, and the living room.  Of course there’s some overlap: Nothing is hermetically sealed.  There are doors and windows that open, but there are rules – spoken and unspoken – regarding what can be discussed where.  And things must be discussed.  Owners, for example, need to talk about ownership issues away from board directors, family members, and employees.  The thriving leaders we see know how to get their own houses in order.  They build discussion rooms – not silos – and teach others to work within the spaces that they’ve created.
The crocodile brain
Thriving family business leaders know how to manage what neuroscientists have named the “crocodile” brain, so-called because it is controlled by gut emotions; thought processes are limited, and impulse control is nonexistent.  The crocodile brain is the reason that people are not rational actors; it explains why decisions should never be made without trying to help people process their feelings, their passions, their rivalries, and their egos.
After placing people in the right room, thriving leaders deal explicitly with the irrational side of decision-making.  Think about it:  in a family business, owners can never decide to buy or sell a business based entirely – or even primarily – on the basis of money.  When they are on the surface deciding whether or not to acquire a company, thriving leaders in a family business are really thinking about that acquisition’s impact on the identities, roles, relationships, and personal finances of others.
Thriving leaders don’t ignore the crocodile brain and are not afraid of the crocs’ behavior.  We see these leaders putting the croc issues on the table for careful conversation.  “Gosh, it hit me, this acquisition could really change your role in the business.  Let’s talk that through,” is the type of leadership behavior we see them exhibit.  They make the emotional side of business safe.
A place to land
Thriving leaders in family businesses help to create places to land when their gig is over.  They build for themselves and others a number of attractive paths forward after the day-to-day spark goes out of life in the C-Suite.  Often in corporate businesses, you’re either in that executive suite, or you’re out – you go to work at another company.  By contrast, in the best family businesses, the aging executive doesn’t just move over to the curb.  He or she stays around as a board member or shareholder or special advisor, or on special projects.  Thriving leaders embrace the reality that they can add real value after life as a business executive.  Their identity is not all tied up with living and working in the C-Suite.
This is the other side of succession.  Thriving executives don’t just say, “Who is going to be our next CEO,” but also, “What can I do next?”  Think of the four rooms we talked about earlier.  Once they depart the C-Suite, thriving executives still use their wisdom and experience to make valuable contributions in the other three rooms.  They can go up to the board. They can go up to the shareholders’ council.  Or over to a family leadership role.  They may also decide to take up a philanthropic role in the family foundation.  Thriving leaders appreciate that all of these roles are vital and necessary in family businesses.
Passion and wisdom to develop the next generation
Thriving leaders’ greatest joy is to see their children succeed in their business and as owners.  They get it that their own role, while central, is temporary.  For example, in a recent cross-generational ownership meeting with a client, a 26-year old, introverted next generation member surprised the eight owners in the meeting with a fundamental insight into the future of their business.  You could feel the leadership baton starting to be passed.  The current generation, three seasoned business executives in their late fifties, beamed with pride.
Developing the next generation is really tricky.  These thriving leaders have great wisdom in how they do it:  They don’t coddle, they challenge.  They know their kids will lead differently than they did and accept that fact.  They provide real jobs with real challenges.  They let their kids fail and then help them up.
As you can see, we are talking about a very different leadership task than in corporate environments.  The rewards are different and deeper.  These thriving leaders find meaning, money, and mentoring in ways not available outside family businesses.
Are you a thriving leader?  Do you know of others who are? As a test, ask yourself, “How many of these four leadership behaviors are shown by you and others in your family business?”

What Mark Twain, Van Halen and Dan Rather Teach Us About Failure 02-22

What Mark Twain, Van Halen and Dan Rather Teach Us About Failure

Mark Twain remains one of the most-quoted authors in American history, the creator of masterpieces such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “Life on the Mississippi.”
And much of what he wrote was dreck.
That last fact ought to be inspiring to all of us, notes author Megan McArdle in her clever, surprising fast-paced and enlightening book, The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success. McArdle explains that a college English course she took recast Twain as a writer who failed like the rest of us: 
In the 1890s, Twain “churned out lackluster prose on an almost industrial scale, just to get enough money to maintain his household and pay his debts,” McArdle writes. “But almost no English class reads the eminently forgettable stuff he produced during this period.”
Tom Sawyer, Detective isn’t on too many college reading lists. But reading this poorly-structured throwaway work was a lesson to McArdle that even great writers aren’t great all the time — that they suffer from misbegotten ideas, false starts and off-days like the rest of us. Knowing that makes it easier to take on a career as a writer — or an entrepreneur. “The reason we struggle with insecurity,” notes Pastor Steven Furtick, “is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.”
It’s okay to fail, and as Americans we understand this liberating fact better than, say, Europeans or Asians. When you meet business executives who have worked in different cultures overseas, they’ll tell you that having been a leader of a company that failed in these countries generally means you no longer have a career. 
Not so here: having a big stinking failure in your past is “often a résumé booster–particularly in the fertile fields of Silicon Valley,” notes McArdle, who put a couple of startup meltdowns on her own résumé before becoming a renowned economics blogger.
Trial and error with complex systems led the rock band Van Halen to an ingenious tripwire system that inspired a colossally misunderstood celebrity factoid: the band’s insistence that no brown M&M candies be seen backstage has become synonymous with daft rock-and-roll  imperiousness. The band’s singer David Lee Roth, though, explained in a memoir that Van Halen was the first band to take mammoth stage productions to third-tier markets. 
Often, the result was technical error — “the girders wouldn’t support the weight, or the flooring would sink in.” The contract rider that carried all of the specifications necessary to avert catastrophe was mammoth, and laden with safety warnings about, say, the proper spacing of fifteen amperage voltage sockets. Out of nowhere, in article 126, would come this addendum: “There will be no brown M & Ms in the backstage area, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation.”
Van Halen in 2008. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Roth would stroll backstage before the show, and if he saw that no one bothered to spend two minutes removing the brown M&Ms, he guessed that staffers didn’t exercise much attention to detail when it came to the important matters either. The presence of brown M & Ms was a warning to “line-check the entire production,” he wrote. 
“They didn’t read the contract. Guaranteed you’d run into a problem. Sometimes it would threaten to just destroy the whole show. Something like, literally, life-threatening.” Economists call this kind of negligence “normative error,” and the members of Van Halen protected themselves against this level of failure by hiding an alarm system in Article 126 of their standard rider.
What happens when massive failure happens anyway? McArdle suggests studying the case of Dan Rather, who during his CBS CBS +0.14% career was one of the most revered television journalists in history until the presidential campaign of 2004, when his career unraveled quickly after he aired a report purporting to prove then-president George W. Bush had shirked his duties in the Vietnam era while a member of the Texas Air National Guard. Rather failed to notice a problem first identified, McArdle relates, in comment no. 47 about the story on the Free Republic blog.
 “A champagne glass was probably still clinking at CBS,” writes McArdle, when this pseudonymous commenter pointed out that the documents that appeared likely to cost President Bush re-election appeared to be faked. (Said by Rather and Co. to date from the 1970s, they used proportionally-spaced fonts unlike the monospaced fonts that would have been used on a typewriter in that period.)
The inability to notice such obvious details while the attention is focused elsewhere is called “inattentional blindness,” but that’s not what cost Rather his career.  “The truly amazing thing about the story of Dan Rather and [producer] Mary Mapes is not that they let a hoax get on air,” writes McCardle. “It’s their dogged inability to recognize that they’d done so after it was pointed out to them.” Urged on by Rather, CBS continued to stand by its story for 12 days of increasingly untenable followup reporting, even resorting to the ludicrous stance that no one had proven the documents were fake, as though the burden of proof were not its own.
Though it’s unpleasant and sometimes even humiliating to do so, news organizations retract incorrect or unverifiable stories all the time. Rather didn’t, and so CBS retracted him. What happened with the veteran news anchor is what McArdle calls “bending the map.” She cites psychologist Edward Cornell’s point, “Whenever you start looking at your map and saying something like, ‘Well, that lake could have dried up’ or ‘That boulder could have moved,’ a red light should go on.
 You’re trying to make reality conform to your expectations rather than seeing what’s there.” Rather bent the map so badly he didn’t notice that his wrong turn was about to result in his falling off a cliff. Acknowledging failure, McArdles teaches us in her engrossing book, is a necessary first step in learning from it.