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The Complexity Matters blog features the Thursday Complexity Post as well as other complexity inspired news items.


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Interaction and Networking Vital in Global Business

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, November 13, 2014

China's Haier Group, an appliance maker with a fast growing global market, interacts with customers to tailor its products to distinctive needs. It makes large washing machines for Pakistani robes, small ones for delicate garments, and a durable one for large hoses for washing vegetables on Chinese farms. It also sells water purifiers designed to remove specific pollutants in each of the 220,000 communities across China.

In an interview with Strategy+Business editor Art Kleiner, Haier CEO Zhang Ruimin explains how he took the top post at the company in 1984, studied business management and philosophy, and used his insights to transform a troubled operation into a leading producer of household goods and services. Kleiner writes that the Academy of Management invitation to Zhang to give the keynote address at its 2013 annual meeting signals that China "had produced its first philosopher-CEO." Zhang says Haier has a culture of continual self-questioning and entrepreneurial spirit.

After the arrival of the Internet Age, Zhang explained, the company eliminated hierarchical structure, got rid of most of middle management, shed 4,000 jobs, and created 2,800 small county organizations with seven or fewer people each. As the company becomes platform based, each part of the organization makes autonomous decisions, reaching out to customers, potential employees and collaborators. He wants to make the operation truly "borderless," and says in his vision the company no longer has an inside and an outside.

"We are using Internet technology to connect everyone," he told Kleiner. "As a Haier executive, my goal is no longer to be a maker of home appliances but to be an agent of interaction and networking among people who might be anywhere."

"In the long run," he said, "there won't be any company employees to speak of-only the Haier platform." His idea is, "Whoever is capable, come and work with us." That could include entrepreneurs, people who want to partner with the company, and customers engaged in the process of product development. As an example, he cites the Air Box, a Haier device that lets people use smart phones to control their environment inside a building by connecting to heating, cooling and air filtering devices. Customer input guided the company in having air conditioning units that test and monitor air cleanliness, and the company brought in Samsung and Apple to help meet user requirements. All Haier products are integrated with the internet and Zhang asserts "If a home appliance can't communicate with the Internet it shouldn't exist."

Zhang said the idea of a company as platform represents a stark contrast from past management practices. "It should allow us to bring in and integrate greater quantities of resources-all contributors will be able to enter unhindered," he said, adding that operating this way, "we at Haier are no longer the ones directing things. We are the glue binding everything together." He describes an interactive water quality platform as an example of how the company can perform that difficult task: it can collect and incorporate insights from water treatment companies around the world and resolve users' individual needs through direct interaction with them.

A Harvard Business Review blog by Mark Bonchek and Sangeet Choudary says in today's networked age, business competition is increasingly about having the best platform. The authors describe elements for successful platform strategies, with examples, and what they call platform thinking.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently told all employees that "At our core, Microsoft is the productivity and platform company for the mobile-first and cloud-first world." Read his speech here. Read Kleiner's Strategy+Business piece here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  economy  innovation 

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Pageantry of Opera Technologically Enriched

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, October 9, 2014

Imagine not being told to turn off your cell phone at the opera. Think of audience interactions with special apps providing bursts of synchronized color on the screens of hand held devices. And imagine special balcony seating where technologically inclined opera buffs can live-tweet their experience.

Youngmoo Kim is an engineer and music scholar who believes technological innovation and artistic innovation are naturally linked and he is finding new ways to bring opera into the twenty-first century.

Kim has taken a sabbatical from his post as director of Drexel University's ExCITe Center to collaborate with Opera Philadelphia in exploring how emerging technology can be woven into all phases of operatic production. As he explained to Maiken Scott at, "Music and technology have always been a part of my life. I just couldn't decide which one I loved more, so I've continued to do both." Kim double majored in engineering and music and also has a degree in vocal performance practice. The ExCITe team developed LiveNote, an award-winning app for hand held devices that guides opera goers through the musical, artistic and historical elements of what's happening in some Opera Philadelphia performances.

People habitually carry so much tech around with them, Kim observed, that it's "a little bit anachronistic" to keep asking that devices be turned off. When Opera Philadelphia presented a free outdoor performance of "Barber of Seville" projected onto massive screens at Independence Mall, the audience of 6,000 got a new technological treat. Kim and his team designed a web app that changed the color of every audience member's smart phone screen on cue and in unison.

Kim notes operas over the centuries advanced innovations such as pyrotechnics, trap doors, and imaginative lighting effects, so technology, opera and audience interaction are a natural fit. Before conventional darkened theaters existed, operatic audiences were part of the pageantry. Kim thinks traditional nineteenth century staging can make an opera seem remote today. We read "Hamlet" and "Macbeth" because some human conditions are timeless, he said, and he wants to find ways to recreate that timeless emotional connection between opera and modern audiences. He believes technology will enrich engagement.

At Opera Philadelphia's performance of "Ainadamar," the balcony had a social media section for bloggers and Twitter enthusiasts.

Earlier this year Opera Philadelphia and The Franklin Institute participated in a global experiment as a live performance of the robot opera "Death and the Powers" was simulcast from The Dallas Opera to more than ten locations in Europe and the U.S. The opera, by American composer and inventor Tod Machover of the MIT Media Lab, tells the story of Simon Powers, a dying billionaire who can't bear losing his family. He decides to upload his emotions, thoughts and personality into "the system," from whence those elements of him become absorbed into household objects that interact with loved ones after his death. Audiences at the simulcasts received secondary audio, video and multimedia through a specially developed app downloaded to their handheld devices. Audiences could experience the opera from the viewpoint of "the system," or a robot, and in addition had the opportunity to influence visual aspects of the performance. Read a review here, a discussion here and learn about the technology here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  innovation  music 

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Disruptive Innovation: A Complexity View - Part 1

Posted By Tom Bigda-Peyton, Friday, September 5, 2014
A recent PlexusCall featured the recent controversy between Dr. Jill LePore and Clay Christensen on the topic of disruptive innovation. Three panelists shared their experience with, and perspective on, Christensen's theory: Peter Jones, David Hurst, and Dr. John Kenagy.

Dr. Kenagy said that successful organizations are designed to keep doing what they are good at doing. This prevents them from seeing, or fostering, innovations that may be disruptive (game-changing). In healthcare this is important because existing organizations, especially those that are well-known and established, may miss or suppress a "game changing" innovation that could provide a breakthrough on Kenagy's area of focus, generating "more care at lower cost."* In order to support disruptive innovations in healthcare, we need to create "safe places" in which to experiment toward better and even disruptive solutions to healthcare's problems. Kenagy went on to elaborate on his methods for creating this kind of "learning line," or "safe to fail" lab in healthcare organizations.

However, healthcare also seems to be a special case of disruptive innovation. As Kenagy and other speakers noted, the notion of "disruptive" innovation suggests the advent of a new product or service that disrupts the status quo. But what is the "product" of healthcare? Kenagy posits that we have one product in healthcare: the health of the patient in front of us. This is a complex challenge, one that suggests a different set of variables than those confronted by Apple or Google.

David Hurst and Peter Jones noted additional dimensions of the healthcare challenge which differentiate it from other industries. Jones suggested that the popularity of the "disruptive" idea may lead us down the wrong path, especially when it comes to healthcare. Do we want medical device startups competing for funding on the idea that they have a disruptive innovation, when a better solution may be that a consolation of companies all have parts of an overall solution that would be better than any of them can produce on their own? The current funding model may suboptimize in terms of overall problem-solving and advancing the health and well-being of individuals and the wider society. For these and other reasons, Kenagy asserted that "adaptive" innovation may be a more appropriate term than "disruptive" innovation for healthcare.

How does a complexity view help us develop an optimal US healthcare system? Let’s assume that healthcare is a complex adaptive system. How do we represent our theory of the system itself? What are the metaphors of change that can help us navigate the journey of disruptive innovation in healthcare? The panelists agreed that organic metaphors, such as the butterfly effect or the self-organizing capacity of flocks of birds, work better than mechanistic metaphors or system dynamics diagrams. If we want to mimic nature, the panelists agreed, we need to promote conditions for trial-and-error experimentation, such that the actors in the system can use a trial-and-error pathway toward innovations that may become "disruptive."

Are there current efforts in healthcare to mimic nature’s process of self-organization and evolution? What can we say about the conditions which foster this kind of process in human organizations? Viewing the situation through a complexity lens may help.

When we think about nature as a metaphor for self-organizing and evolution, we need to think about the conditions in human organizations that promote self-organization. We would like to highlight three:

• Optimal uncertainty;

• Optimal agreement among stakeholders; and

• Common language and common framework for complex problem-solving.

Following the Stacey Matrix (below), "optimal uncertainty” refers to a middle zone between chaos and simple problem solving. There is uncertainty but not so much as to paralyze the organization; there is familiarity but not so much as to make the problem seem routine. Optimal agreement is a similar concept, in which we find a diversity of views but also enough commonality to bind, or hold, the group together. Finally, we believe the capacity for self-organization is fostered by a common language and framework for complex problem-solving, such as the ability to differentiate between simple, complicated, and complex problems and the capacity to match appropriate methods to each.

How does all of this apply to healthcare? We will take up this question in our next post.


Tom Bidga-Peyton is a Senior Consultant with Plexus Institute. Tom's work focuses on widening and accelerating the pace of improvement in individual, organizational, and large-system change initiatives.

Tags:  disruptive  innovation 

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Disruptive Innovation Debate

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, July 3, 2014
Updated: Friday, July 4, 2014
Clayton Christensen, the business scholar who developed the concept of disruptive innovation, and historian Jill Lepore are Harvard faculty colleagues. The two professors don't agree on much, and Lepore's sharply written assault on Christensen's theory has ignited an uproar in academic and business circles.

In his 1997 book the Innovator's Dilemma, Christensen lays out his theory of disruptive innovation, which holds that products or services that begin simply and inexpensively at the bottom of market, often using new technology, can eventually displace those of established companies that seem to be doing all the right things to maintain their success.

The Thinkers50, a biennial ranking of the world's most influential management theorists, last year for the second time named Christensen the top "thought leader" in the world, and disruptive innovation has been one of the most widely celebrated ideas in modern business.

According to Lepore, the theory's celebration is one of its problems: she thinks it has escaped critical examination and been carelessly applied to explain too much. In her New Yorker article "The Disruption Machine," Lepore analyzes how we understand innovation and disruption. Every age has its theory of history, she writes. The eighteenth century had the idea of progress, the nineteenth had evolution, and the twentieth had growth and innovation. "Our era has disruption," she writes, "which despite its futurism is atavistic. It's a theory of history founded on a profound anxiety about financial collapse, an apocalyptic fear of global devastation and shaky evidence." 

Innovation used to have negative connotations, she says, but the idea was redeemed by its use to describe bringing new products to market. Still, she writes, "The idea of innovation is the idea of progress stripped of the aspiration of enlightenment, scrubbed clean of the horrors of the 20th century, and relieved of its critics. Disruptive innovation goes further, holding out the hope of salvation against the very damnation it describes: disrupt and you will be saved."

In his book, Christensen supports his theory with industrial case histories. Mainframe computer manufacturers were disrupted when they missed the market for personal computers. Mini steel mills disrupted the operations of big steel companies, and a healthy department store industry—the number of stores in U.S. plunged from 316 to fewer than 10—was disrupted by growth of discount stores. Lepore asserts that Christensen handpicked his examples, and she introduces evidence to challenge or complicate his much of his analysis. She notes, for instance, that companies and divisions that dominated the disc drive industry in the 1980s dominate today, despite facing disruption Christensen describes from makers of smaller hard drives .She also points out a high failure rate among would-be disruptive start ups.

In an interview with Drake Bennett at Bloomberg Business Week, Christensen agrees with Lepore that the word disruption has become a cliché. But agreement ends there. He calls her story "a criminal act of dishonesty." Slate's technology writer Will Oremus says that’s overstating his case, which is what he accuses Lepore of doing. Oremus concludes that Lepore's cherry picked examples don't overthrow Christensen's theory any more than Christensen's cherry-picked examples definitely prove it. In a piece in Forbes, Clark Gilbert, chief executive of the Deseret News and Deseret Digital Media, vigorously defends Christensen’s theory and the scholarship behind it, as does business consultant John Hegel in his blog.

Salon's Andrew Leonard, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, and New York Magazine's Kevin Roose, sympathize with Lepore's views with some caveats. Richard Feloni at Business Insider reviewed reactions, including tweets from Steven Sinofsky, the former president of Microsoft's Windows division, who suggests that both professors are right. He says disruptive innovation has plenty of exceptions but it's still a useful theory.

What do disruptive innovation theory and its critique look like through a complexity lens? If you have thoughts on that, we’d love to hear from you.


Thank you Peter Jones, David Hurst and John Kenagy for your thoughts on disruption and innovation!

Peter Jones, PhD, of OCAD University in Toronto, addresses the issues raised by Jill Lepore and Clayton Christensen in his blog post Reproduction of Disruption, How Innovation Regimes Reproduce Culture.

Reproduction of Disruption  

Business consultant and author David K. Hurst, BA, MBA  has written two parts of a three part post interpreting disruption from an ecological perspective. He comments, "With the continual emergence of antibiotic-resistant bugs threatening to disrupt healthcare, it seems to me that the ecological/complex systems view is essential."

Disrupting Disruption Theory [Part I]: Storm in a Modernist Teacup

Disrupting Disruption Theory [Part II]: Ecological Transformation

See commentary of John Kenagy, MD, MBA, ScD, FACS  "Fireworks: The Disruption of Disruptive Innovation" at his m2s2 e club site.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  disruptive  innovation  news 

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Lean and Innovation: Perfect Together

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 22, 2014
Updated: Friday, May 23, 2014

Canopy ecology is about life at the very top of the world's forests, a distinct aerial realm where an estimated 30 million species share their space with leaves, branches, rain, sunlight and wind. Life on the ground is interconnected with life on the top and everything in between. In fact, survival of the whole forest depends on the success of the life at every level. And health care organizations have much in common with forests.

The design team envisioning a new Kirkland Clinic at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle studied rainforest ecosystems as they considered how different teams of specialists, internal medicine and family medicine providers could blend individual design needs for their own patients while working together on whole clinic with core support services. As a result, the Mountain, Meadow and Beach corridors in the clinic allow the teams to share resources and operate autonomously as needed.

In his new book Accelerating Health Care Transformation with Lean and Innovation, internationally renowned consultant Paul Plsek describes Virginia Mason Medical Center's continuing work to integrate Lean and innovation in pursuit of "the perfect patient experience." Learning from analogies in nature is one tool. Word play was another. Participants in a workshop convened for design of another clinic used the word "lagoon" to temporarily sum up a guiding metaphor. A lagoon is flexible because it supports both fresh and salt water and while it looks calm and beautiful it's teeming with life under the surface.

In 2002, Virginia Mason adopted the basic tenets of the Toyota Production System, called it the Virginia Mason Production System, and integrated it throughout the organization in an ambitious program to change the way it delivers health care and improve patient safety and quality. Plsek, a management guru and expert in large scale change in complex systems, served as the center's chair of innovation. He explains lucidly and with dozens of examples why Lean and innovation are complementary. Lean is about standardization that improves flow and removes waste, and it stretches people's thinking by aiming for perfection even when that seems impossible. That requires busting myths, re-thinking basic assumptions, and examining practices in other industries. During various change efforts, staff members were asked to study weather forecasting, air traffic control, and computer virus detection for any key features that might relate to improvement in hospital care. Inspired by the fast food business, Virginia Mason began the first drive through flu vaccine program.

The tools of lean and the directed creativity described by Plsek brought about a clinic operation so well designed that patients were seen immediately, eliminating the need for a waiting room, and an infection prevention and communication system so efficient that time needed to identify a catheter associated urinary tract infection was reduced from seven hours to 11 minutes. Plsek talks about the long commitment to create a learning organization, where all community members are introduced to VMPS, all engaged in improvement, and leaders learn to coach and support learning. Plsek discussesa commitment to andragogy-the education of the adult learner, who unlike the child or complete novice, needs opportunities for application of new concepts, dialogue, and guided reflection in a safe environment that permits the learner to challenge and unlearn old and deeply held beliefs and assumptions.

As Plsek makes clear, none of this is quick or easy. He quotes reflection by Virginia Mason neurosurgeon Dr. Farrokh Farrokhi who studied the Toyota system in Japan and came come to understand that the Japanese after 50 years are still perfecting their system, and the journey of lean and innovation is infinite. "I now realize that paradoxically, what you need is patient urgency," Dr. Farrokhi said. Listen to tomorrow's PlexusCall with Paul Plsek and Daniel Pesut.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  innovation 

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When Flying Pizzas and Medicines Drop from the Sky

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Jeff Bezos announced last year that Amazon was testing drones to speed purchased goods to Amazon customers, lots of people laughed. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd wondered whether other alpha moguls would want their own drone fleets to provide their customers with instant gratification, and she worried about the dizzying logistics and hazards of thousands of delivery drones crisscrossing the nation's airspace. Netflix mocked Amazon with a fake ad.

Entrepreneur Andreas Raptopoulos scoffed when Domino's launched two pepperoni pizzas on a publicity-driven drone delivery last summer. "Why the hell would you do that," he asked, when perfectly good ways to deliver pizza already exist? But as a story by Shane Hickey in The Guardian explains, Raptopoulos already had his own vision of drones delivering medical supplies to places that roads don't reach. He founded Matternet, a company devoted to a network of stations for flying drones that could expand beyond medical applications to become the world's next generation transportation system. Matternet has tested drone prototypes for deliveries in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The technology isn't yet ready for long distances and mass development, but Raptopoulos believes safe, reliable drone systems are inevitable.

Bezos, the Amazon CEO, is serious too. Amazon's core business is selling and delivering physical stuff, and a Wired Magazine story by Marcus Wohlsen reports plans for drone delivery are well underway. According to the story, Bezos told shareholders in his annual letter that the Amazon "Prime Air team is already testing our 5th and 6th generation aerial vehicles, and we are in the design phase on generations 7 and 8."

It not as far-fetched as it sounds. An administrative law judge for the National Transportation Traffic Safety Administration ruled the Federal Aviation Administration has no authority to ban the commercial use of unarmed aerial vehicles. Amazon has said it hopes FAA rules for civilian drone flights will be in place sometime in 2015.

What if they crash or smash into things? What if people shoot them down? An Atlantic story by Alexis Madrigal explains why Raptopoulos thinks those are baseless fears and why drones are the transportation of the future.

Drones have been used already for a friendly gesture, with a little advertising thrown in. Singapore is a wealthy country, but it relies on a million immigrant workers from China, India and Bangladesh who get paid as little as $1.60 an hour for manufacturing and construction work. Fast Company reports that to cheer people missing their homes, Coca Cola asked Singaporeans to take photos of signs thanking the immigrants for building their buildings. The photos were wrapped around cans of Coke, and 2,500 cans of cold soda were delivered by drone to construction workers. The ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Singapore filmed workers happily getting their drinks and messages, and you can watch here. Well, that is nice, but don't forget scientists say soft drink consumption is a major contributor to obesity and diabetes, in wealthy and developing countries world wide.

Tags:  buscell  business  complexity matters  innovation 

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Structures that Unleash Collaboration and Innovation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, April 24, 2014

A vibrant economy needs more organizations where people thrive, and evidence suggests we're far from that ideal. A recent Gallop report finds 70 percent of American workers are disengaged from their jobs, and nearly 20 percent of the disengaged actively resist their employers' goals. Gallop also reports disengagement may cost up to $550 billion a year in lost productivity, and untold losses in employee potential. With only 22 percent of employees committed to their work and thriving, there clearly is an urgent need to plant seeds to grow engagement.

In their new book, The Surprising Power of Liberating Structures, Keith McCandless and Henri Lipmanowicz, both experienced in business and skilled facilitators, give us an entire seed catalog: 33 Liberating Structures which, used alone or in combination, provide an endless variety of ways to include and engage people in groups of any size.

The authors identify the sweet spot where changes are easy to implement and make a big difference: the routine practices that people use to structure how they interact when they meet to plan, learn, solve problems, and make decisions. They call these practices "microstructures" and they have found that nearly everyone uses the same five conventional microstructures over and over: presentations and lectures in the classrooms, managed discussions, status reports, open discussions and brainstorms. Unfortunately, these five conventional structures are designed primarily to direct and control and are inadequate for engaging people. In contrast, Liberating Structures (LS) are designed to make it easy to include and engage everyone regardless of rank or seniority.

In introducing LS the authors help us become much more aware of the ubiquitous presence of structures and how they both support and constrain all our activities. They show us how we can configure them to help us achieve surprisingly better outcomes. The conversations we start, the questions we ask, and our listening skills all make a difference. The authors challenge us to observe circumstances and events more closely with attention to what's really important to us and to others. They make it clear that we can all learn to use simple structures that enable any group of people working together to radically improve collaboration, innovation and decision-making.

With LS everybody affected by a problem can be included in discovering how to tackle it. The role of leadership is to participate and support but not dictate. The book has a whole chapter on how leaders using LS can learn to contribute their own best while energizing others to develop and flourish in their work.

Creative icons represent each of these microstructures on the Liberating Structures website.

LS are easy to learn. For example, in 1,2,4,All, participants get a minute to reflect on an issue and write their thoughts. They get two minutes to share their thoughts in pairs, and two minutes to repeat the process in a group of four. The four person groups each decide on the most important points to share with the whole group. The entire exercise can take three to 15 minutes, and surprising new ideas are likely. All participants, regardless of position, can articulate and test their ideas in a safe space and all have an equal chance to contribute. Good ideas can emerge from anyone. There is no limit on how many people can be included.

With TRIZ, inspired in part by a Russian inventor, participants are invited to engage in creative destruction and dispatch sacred cows. They think of an important objective and then list everything they can do to achieve the exact opposite. Some of the suggestions are likely to be hilarious. During the second step their task is to identify anything they currently do that resembles the things on their list. Now they know what they need to creatively destroy in order to make space for innovation. Other LS will help with a deeper dig for solutions.

This book is elegantly structured and designed for easily accessible answers to questions. Part One offers a thoughtful discussion of "The Hidden Structures of Engagement," how to see them under the surface, how they work, and how the power of small changes can induce transformations without expensive training and personnel changes at work and without strife at home. In Part Two, the authors share their wisdom on learning and using different LS. They suggest ways to match specific challenges to specific structures. Is your purpose unclear? Try 9 Whys. It works at home just as well. Lipmanowicz recalls a colleague saying she used 9 Whys to help her daughter crystallize ideas for a school paper. Want to analyze progress to date and decide how to proceed? Try What, So What, Now What. That too works in home and career. Mixing LS can refine inquiries and discoveries. The authors suggest ways to string several LS together to work on complex issues. But they stress their examples are not prescriptions. While LS are easy to understand, advanced skill using all of them takes practice. "Learning to customize Liberating Structure designs for the specific purpose of each complex challenge is an art form that can be improved over a life time," the authors declare.

An extensive field guide explains each LS, its structural elements, its possibilities, its derivation, and some tips, potential traps and variations.

The stories from the field are instructive. Lisa Kimball is an experienced entrepreneur who started using LS in the 1980s. In her work with the U.S. Army, a User Experience Fishbowl allowed soldiers about to deploy to Afghanistan to hear first-hand experiences of soldiers returning from war. That included vital information on how they built trusting relationships with women in rural villages to improve intelligence and discourage Taliban recruitment. Officers reported they learned far more from personal exchanges than from formal summaries. Michael Gardam, MD, medical director of infection prevention at the University Health Network in Toronto, explains the way Social Network Mapping showed new relationships developing across units and diverse disciplines as people collaborated to stop the spread of infections. Simple Ethnography interviews, ranging from housekeeping to executives, then documented the culture changes and differences of habits and behavior brought about by new ways of working together.

Liberating Structures may be the seeds to grow engagement in your organization. They may also nurture new thoughts and actions in your communities and personal lives.

To learn more, participant in a PlexusCall May 9, in which Henri and others will discuss Liberating Structures. Buy the book, visit the LS website, and attend the Liberating Structures Workshop May 29-30. Read the Gallop State of the American Workplace Report.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  culture  innovation  leaders 

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Empathy, Ingenuity, Innovation

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 2, 2014

Kevin Plank, founder of the performance apparel maker Under Armour has a new product-a running shoe that fits like a brassiere and he plans to launch it in Shanghai, an emerging market where few have heard of his products. He predicts the new footwear will change the way people all over the world think about shoes.

Initially, Under Armour was a guy product. Plank hated the cotton T shirt he wore under his University of Maryland football uniform. It felt awful when soaked with sweat. He began experimenting in his grandmother's basement to make an undershirt with the same fabrics used for women's lingerie-fabrics that wicked moisture away from the body and kept the wearer cool and dry. The Hub magazine tells the story of Under Armour's dramatic growth from that basement more than 16 years ago to a $2 million a year company with 6,000 employees. And as brand chief Steve Battista explains, at Under Armour, innovation isn't a department, it's a life style. Among other things, the company has produced a sweatshirt that sheds water like a duck, and a shirt that monitors heart rate. Even the company name reflects diligent contrivance: the 800 phone numbers Plank first used had too many digits to spell out Under Armor so he added a "u." Always the entrepreneur, seed money for Under Armour came from Plank’s earlier venture selling Valentine's Day roses.

The Hub story says early advertising avoided mentioning feminine fabrics and began with what it calls "the testosterone-drenched question 'Will You Protect This House' and the emphatic, now-iconic response 'I Will!'"

Protecting the house resonated well with sports teams defending their home turf, but wasn't necessarily a universal rallying cry. In Shanghai, Plank and his team focused on the "I Will!" While people in Shanghai tend to work out regularly they don't consider themselves athletes, they reasoned, so the "I Will" slogan provides inspiration for men and women who aren't necessarily playing on sports teams any more, and it suggests a commitment to achieve no matter the challenge.

The company's pitch to athletes involved nuance. Rather than showing trophies after a win, ads featured the click of the football cleats on the concrete walkway onto the field, the last thing players heard just before the game. The pitch to a broader audience was equally engaging. The Hub reports that in 2013 when the company launched its Armour 39, a digital performance monitor, advertising focused on the idea that future performance wear will feature touch screens in the fabric that will let the wearer set temperature, choose music and change color with a finger-swipe. A woman called "Future Girl" demonstrates. The idea, according to Plank and Battista, is to tell the story of Under Armor's inventiveness and fuel the expectation "that we're doing some amazing stuff" in conjunction with an emotional message that will make people want to get up and work out.

In "Empathetic Innovation," another article in the same issue of The Hub, Tom Kelley and David Kelley, both of Ideo, describe how products and projects change when providers and manufacturers see and experience what users and customers are doing. For instance, they say, in 2007 banks were making more than $30 million a year in overdraft fees. But after interviewing people in the 20 to 35 age range they wanted as new customers, PNC Financial Services realized people in this group needed help managing their money. So they created Virtual Wallet, a product that lets customers plan savings as well as viewing their balance, pay deposits, bills due and highlights "danger days" when there's high risk of writing a rubber check. New customer deposits made up what they lost in overdraft fees. Sometimes observing can be more fruitful than asking the right questions, the Ideo executives say. Working with a house wares company, an Ideo team observed customers using an ice cream scoop. Many absent mindedly licked the scoop after using it. So the team designed a "mouth friendly" scoop, with no sharp edges or moveable parts that would hurt the tongue. Had people been asked about using the scoop, they probably wouldn’t have mentioned licking it, the authors of this piece say, and they might even have denied it. Read The Hub stories here.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  innovation 

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Plexus Institute Receives Education Grant

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, December 19, 2013
Updated: Sunday, December 22, 2013

Plexus Institute has received a $2.1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for a three year project in California's Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) to discover, develop and promote methods that help K-12 educators continually improve so that their students achieve better outcomes.

Research has shown many educators plateau professionally after only a few years on the job, while some improve continually throughout their careers. Plexus Institute is dedicated to the idea that solutions to most challenges already exist within the community. Plexus will provide coaching and support customized for LBUSD teachers, administrators, students and support staff that will be specifically designed to help members of the educational community discover the conditions and practices that foster continuous growth in teaching effectiveness and student achievement. Plexus Institute is a nonprofit devoted to innovative improvement approaches for serious challenges."

Working with Plexus coaches and members of the Long Beach educational community, project participants will identify existing practices that enable continuous professional growth, which can then be refined for wide application. New and redesigned practices will be incorporated in the education of Long Beach children on an ongoing basis, and will be available for application elsewhere.

Plexus will use a collection of innovative processes to help discover the conditions that allow teachers to tap their strengths and experience and use all available resources to develop new ways to improve education. In previous work Plexus has used these processes in such complex settings as hospitals, schools, prisons and other organizations, and results have included reduced healthcare associated infections, higher graduation rates, lower recidivism and improved employee retention.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  education  innovation 

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Some Computer Games Can Save Lives

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, January 31, 2013

Humans enjoy competitive play, and scientists are designing computer games to engage that desire and tap talent for solving complex research problems.

The game Phylo is an online pattern matching puzzle game that will give researchers a better understanding of genetic codes, and may help identify the origins of genetic diseases. "Games for Science," a story by Dan Cossins in The Scientist Magazine, explains that multiple sequence alignment (MSA) is used to identify functional elements in the genome and possible disease triggers. Jerome Waldispuhl, a bioinformatician who created the game with , notes the human brain is very good-even better than the best computers-at recognizing and sorting visual patterns and realizing when a general rule is broken.

A Wired story by Mark Brown outlines what players are asked to do. They look at blocks of different colors that represent the different letters of the genetic code A,C,G and T, for adnine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine, and they have to line up as many of the same colors as possible, avoiding gaps that represent mutations. Within months of its release in 2010, Phylo had 12,000 registered users and 3,000 regular players. A story in PLoSONE reported that the gamers outdid computers in matching up disease genes. Its creators say Phylo is pure game, and players don't have to be versed in science. Try Phylo yourself here.

The Scientist Magazine says Foldit, created by biologists and computer scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle, was the first and possibly the most influential of the crowd-sourced research games. Players have to work out the three dimensional structures of proteins by folding virtual chains of amino acids. Players are presented with a visually disorganized mass of shapes representing the amino acids in a protein, and they use a cursor to assemble them into a stable structure that uses the lowest amount of energy, just as molecules do in real life. Designers tested players to see whether they could replicate structures of proteins puzzles scientists had already solved-and they did. In 2011,players made a breakthrough. Scientists had been trying for a decade to solve the structure of Mason Pfizer Monkey virus that causes an AIDs-like disease in monkeys. The gamers did it, and not all of them were scientists. Watch Lucy Walker's animated documentary on how a game team solved the challenge.

The Cure is a serious, biology based card game designed to help fight cancer. It's a bit like poker, except that you don't know the rules when you start. As you play the game, you both learn and teach the rules. It's another game that helps identify patterns and determine how they can combine and reproduce. The game is designed by The Scripps Research Institute. Data provided by players may help predict which cancer cells are likely to metastasize and how quickly, and that information could help treat patients diagnosed with cancers.

The Scientist Magazine story, here, tells about other research games as well as games designed to enhance several levels of science learning. Games with animated characters that help children with autism learn social and behavioral skills also are described.

Tags:  buscell  complexity matters  games  innovation  technology 

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