Sunday, April 14, 2013

In order to inspire you must first "resonate"

April 2013 Book Review


Nancy Duarte

I’ve read a least a half dozen books on developing presentations.  This one hit the mark better than any them.  Duarte does an amazing job of breaking down how and why great presentations not only resonate, but change the world.  Her writing, visuals, and case studies provide the direction anyone in a position to present should review.  Developing and delivering a moving presentation takes a lot of persistence, practice, improvements, and passion.  This book is not only insightful but inspiring. 

Here are a few of the better passages from the book: 

“Change is hard.  Getting people to commit to change is probably an organization’s greatest challenge.” 

“The first is the call to adventure – this should show the audience a gap between what is and what could be – jolting the audience from complacency.” 

“The second turning point is the call to action, which identifies what the audience needs to do or how they need to change.” 

“Focusing on commonalities bolsters credibility, so spend time uncovering similarities.” 

“Stories help an audience visualize what you do or what you believe: they make others’ hearts more pliable.  Sharing experiences in the form of a story creates a shared experience and visceral connection.” 

“The key to getting and holding attention is having something new happen continually.” 

“Turn words into pictures.” 

“Create a moment where you dramatically drive the big idea home by intentionally placing Something They’ll Always Remember – a S.T.A.R. moment – in each presentation.” 

“Ideas are not really alive if they are confined to only one person’s mind.” 

“Many of the people who changed the world broke the rules and went against standard convention.  They stood out, were different, and were even reviled at times.” 

The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:

out of five stars

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Merging Ideas

Stealing and remixing don’t get enough respect. It’s the artistry of innovation. Books like Steal Like and Artist (my review) and this TED presentation by Kirby Ferguson on remixing demonstrate how valuable this is to humans.

Here’s my small example of a remix. I’ve intertwined the framework outlined in Chip Heath’s and Dan’s Heath’s book Decisive, How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work (my review here) with clips from the movie Moneyball to demonstrate the importance of data and research in major decisions.
Play here:

Saturday, March 9, 2013

I’ve got nothing to say

March 2013 Book Review

The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking

Susan Cain

Everything I instinctively knew was wrong when it came to criticisms of my personality or behavior now makes a lot more sense.  This doesn’t make these criticisms right, but now I’m armed with the research to defend my introversion and the virtues of having this temperament at the table.  I’m also happy that I have the tools to help my kids (it either or both turn out to be introverts) avoid the pitfalls and overcome the biases and obstacles I faced.

If you’re interested in the book but don’t have the time, watch the short 20 minute video from the author here: Video Clip Post.

If you’re an off-the-charts introvert, this book will explain a lot and should leave you with the confidence you deserve to operate in the most extroverted country in the world.

To all those teachers and managers that tried to force the “Extrovert Ideal” on me as well as other introverts, shame on you.  This idealism may have prevented countless opportunities for those introverts to offer talents and gifts in innovation, art, or leadership that are much more valuable than any worthless blathering of chit-chat or office gossip.

Here are a few of the better passages from the book:

“We perceive talkers as smarter than quiet types – even though grade-point averages and SAT and intelligence test scores reveal this perception to be inaccurate.”

“One of the most interesting findings, echoed by later studies, was that the more creative people tended to be socially poised introverts.”

“That’s because top performers overwhelmingly worked for companies that gave their workers the most privacy, personal space, control over their physical environments, and freedom from interruptions.”

“The men in twenty-three of the twenty-four groups produced more ideas when they worked on their own than when they worked as a group.”

“It suggests that when it comes time to make group decisions, extroverts would do well to listen to introverts – especially when they see problems ahead.”

“It’s not that I’m so smart,” said Einstein, who was a consummate introvert.  “It’s that I stay with problems longer.”

“…introverts are capable of acting like extroverts for the sake of work they consider important, people they love, or anything they value highly.”

“Teach all kids to work independently.”

The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:

out of five stars

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Why and How on Decision-Making

March 2013 Book Review


Chip Heath and Dan Heath

Apparently being geeky or nerdy has some privileges.  I was able to obtain an advanced copy of the Heath brothers’ next book: Decisive, How To Make Better Choices In Life and Work.  It’s an awesome book.  I dog-eared more than a dozen pages and took countless notes.  When you’re in the business of using research to help people with decisions, a book like this can be transformative.  I think The Heath brothers’ work in this book surpasses the other two books they wrote, Made To Stick and Switch.  They outline the biases and obstacles that prevent us from making sound decisions, and better yet, give us a framework to overcome them.  They have also managed to strip the framework to the barest of essence (simple is always better).

Here are a few of the better passages I can across in this book:

“Because we naturally seek self-confirming information, we need discipline to consider the opposite.”

“…when you’re trying to gather good information and reality-test your ideas, go talk to an expert.”

“The advice to trust the numbers isn’t motivated by geekery; it’s motivated by humility.  To ignore their experience isn’t brave or romantic.”

“…experts who made more media appearances tended to be worse predictors.”

“Why predict something we can test?  Why guess when we can know?”

“A preference for familiar things is necessarily a preference for the status quo.”

“Fighting overconfidence means we’ve got to treat the future as a spectrum, not a point.”

“What Dunbar discovered, after countless hours of eavesdropping and interviewing and synthesizing, was that one of the reliable but unrecognized pillars of scientific thinking is the analogy.”

The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:

out of five stars

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Great Analytical Interactions in Movies

When Geeks and Nerds interact with the real world, you get great lines. Here are some of my favorite quotes from nerds or in response to nerds in movies.

The Matrix

Oracle: “I'd ask you to sit down, but, you're not going to anyway. And don't worry about the vase."
Neo: “What vase?”  [Neo turns to look for a vase, and as he does, he knocks over a vase of flowers, which shatters on the floor]
Oracle: “That vase.”
Neo: “I'm sorry...”
Oracle: “I said don't worry about it. I'll get one of my kids to fix it.”
Neo: “How did you know?”
Oracle: “Ohh, what's really going to bake your noodle later on is, would you still have broken it if I hadn't said anything?”

Star Wars - The Empire Strikes Back

C-3PO: "Sir, the possibility of successfully navigating an asteroid field is approximately 3,720 to 1!"

Han Solo: "Never tell me the odds."

L.A. Confidential

Chief Dudley Smith (to Lt. Ed Exley): “Ace them at the grand jury tomorrow, son.  Wear the smart- looking suit and ace them.  And, Ed?  Lose the glasses.”

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Pippin: “Anyways, you need people of intelligence on this sort of... mission... quest... thing.”
Merry: “Well, that rules you out, Pip.”


Fletch (to Alan Stanwyk, who’s pointing a gun at him): “If you shoot me, you're liable to lose a lot of those humanitarian awards.”

Clear and Present Danger

The President: “So go down there, establish it.”
Jack Ryan: “Go down where?”
The President: “Colombia.”
Jack Ryan: “Who, me?”

Good Will Hunting

Head Custodian: “Look, if anything was stolen I should know about…”
Lambeau: “No,no,no, it's nothing like that. I just need his name.”
Head Custodian: “I can't give you his name unless you have a complaint.”
Tom (Lambeau’s Teaching Assistant):  “This is professor Lambeau.”
Head Custodian (referencing a janitor sitting next to him): “This is professor Hayes.”

Animal House

Bluto: “What? Over? Did you say "over"? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no!”
Otter: [to Boon] “Germans?”
Boon: “Forget it, he's rolling.”

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The origins of our internal fight and fire

February 2013 Book Review

The Warrior Ethos

Steven Pressfield

If you’re interested in a short read on the origins of the warrior mentality, this is the book.  I like Pressfield’s writing style and he keeps his subject matters simply.  He also incorporates a lot of research in the books I’ve read (this one, The War of Art and Do The Work).  The idea of sacrifice for a greater cause can seem foreign to some and Pressfield does a great job of succinctly defining a true warrior's mindset.
Here are a few of the better passages from the book:
“We all fight wars – in our work, within our families and abroad in the wider world.”
“The payoff for a life of adversity is freedom.”
“As fighting men and women, we have been motivated, commanded and validated by others.  Now we school ourselves in self-motivation, self-command, self-validation.”
The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:
out of five stars

Saturday, February 9, 2013

"Hey extroverts; watch and listen to this if you can."

My expectations for Quiet are high, especially after watching this video.  While I haven’t read Susan Cain’s book, it’s definitely on my list.  I watched a video posted on her website and recommend others do the same (introverts, extraverts and ambiverts alike). She does a great job of demonstrating how much current bias against introverts exists (especially in the U.S.). Her examples of bias hit home with many of the experiences I’ve gone through in my professional career. From what she indicates, this bias has been growing for decades.  I'm looking forward to the insight she offers in her book. 

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Top 10 Movie Practice/Training Scenes

Daniel Coyle on practice: “Small actions, repeated over time, transform us.”  Here are my favorite movie scenes centered around the lessons and importance of practice.
Battered, bruised and imprisoned, Bruce Wayne has to find a way to climb his way to the top of a pit to escape.  The only other person to have done it and survive is the very person that had him imprisoned there.
In a bizarre scene, the father of an eleven year old girl shoots at her (while she’s wearing a bullet proof vest) at close range multiple times so she knows what it feels like and is prepared for the worst case scenario during crime fighting.  As bizarre and funny as the scene is, it demonstrates a valuable point about practice.
In 1979, when we weren’t cynical about the sport of cycling, this movie won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay.  There are a series of great scenes demonstrating the main character’s commitment to becoming a champion racer.  A short clip of him riding his bike on a treadmill, while eating in the rain on lunch break at work says it all.
#7 Glory
After one of Col. Robert Shaw’s troops demonstrates some sharp shooting at glass bottles on fence posts, he challenges the private to do it faster.   The Colonel proceeds to shout and then fire a weapon near the private’s ear while he tries to load and fire his weapon unsuccessfully.  The scene is powerful because it demonstrates the importance of practice under real world conditions.  This isn’t squirrel hunting; it’s war.  The colonel ends his demonstration with “Teach them properly, Major!”
When your cover and possibly your life are on the line, practice pays infinitely.  An uncover cop memorizes an antidote about a drug deal to help authenticate his character and criminal background.  Tarantino does a great job of demonstrating how his story telling gets better with practice.
#5 Rudy (athletic practice)
You can’t help but cheer for Rudy and the level of grit he brings to tryouts a practice.  If you can find people with a similar grit, join their team.
There’s nothing like a punishing practice, but this one is punishing and punishment.  After a poor showing in a hockey game (on the ice and on the bench as a team) against Norway, Coach Brooks proceeds to run a practice at their opponent’s arena immediately following the game.  This represents a turning point in the movie, where the team gets past their differences and recognizes the importance of team discipline when Mike Eruzione answers Coach Brook’s question of “Who do you play for?”  with “I play for the United States of America.”  Coach recognizes the turning point and ends the practice.
#3 Rudy (academic practice)
When people think of Rudy, they think about him being carried out on the shoulders of teammates.  I personally think the scenes of him studying and doing everything he can to get accepted into Notre Dame are as powerful in demonstrating his mental and not necessarily his physical grit.  In my opinion, the scene with him reading his acceptance letter is more powerful than his game ending tackle.
#2 Rocky
The movie Rocky may not have technically invented the “training montage” set to inspirational music, but it’s usually the first most people think about.  Scenes of Rocky using various methods of training culminate with a sprint up those now iconic stairs in Philadelphia.  The scene makes the statement that he’s ready to go the distance versus Apollo Creed.
Not surprisingly there is a large segment in this movie that depicts the main character’s tireless training to become the world’s most deadly assassin.  Sadly, I can relate to the scene where Beatrix Kiddo is so overcome with soreness from training she can’t even use shop sticks to eat a bowl of rice.  Her coach demands she use the chop sticks instead of her fingers.  It seem cruel, but he seem him glow with pride for the first time, when she manages a bite full using the chop sticks; a lesson that to be the best you must never take short cuts and never give up.  What really made this my top pick was how Tarantino set the training segment up.  With Beatrix trapped and buried alive in a coffin, she starts to panic.  But after collecting her thoughts and thinking back on her training (where we see the training she went through), she calmly unties herself and manages to escape under her own power.  This is one of my favorite motivating movie moments.

Too bad practice doesn't take the two to three hours it takes to watch in these movies.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

It's okay to try and touch the sun

January 2013 Book Review

The Icarus Deception

Seth Godin

Godin is definitely on a recent kick for shedding our industrialized culture hangover. He contends that this culture holds people back from creative and innovative thinking and action. I tend to agree with him. Godin’s books definitely read with passion and always find a way to inspire and motivate. In this latest installment he points out the importance of ignoring myths and stories that discourage us from trying to fly higher, achieve greater heights and take a chance at creating art. The book lost a little steam in the second half, but it’s still a great read.

Here are a few of the better passages and quotes from the book:

“It’s far more dangerous to fly too low than too high, because it feels safe to fly low."

“…the ideas are not enough without commitment. They’re not enough because strategy is empty without change, empty without passion, and empty without people willing to confront the void.”

“They are about standing out, not fitting in, about inventing, not duplicating.”

“Management is almost diametrically opposed to leadership.”
“And just as important, it’s vital that we acknowledge that we can unteach bravery and creativity and initiative. And that we have been doing just that.”

“Correct is fine, but it is better to be interesting.”

“Someone with grit will grind down the opposition, stand up in the face of criticism, and consistently do what’s right for their art. Mostly, they mess up the machine.”

"The resistance is not something to be avoided; it’s something to seek out.”

“Keep doing it until you art gets better or you get fired, whichever happens first.”

“The successes are about the privilege of doing more work, not about winning.”

The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:

out of five stars

Friday, January 18, 2013

What thoughts come to mind when you hear “open-ended questions?”

Online surveys seem to have changed the expectations of open-ended questions over the last few years.  Let’s not forget that open-ended questions solicit open-ended responses (if any response in some cases), and quantifying the feedback is not in our best interest of time or analysis.  Open-ended questions in a paper or online environment don’t allow for instant follow-up (although I’m sure live surveys are in operation now).  Open-ended questions are the start of an exploratory process.
I like the idea of developing and using open-ended questions as if it’s a “micro focus group.”  Focus groups are great for developing hypotheses, but not good for making conclusions and they fall into the category of exploratory research.
From Marketing Research Methodological Foundations, Tenth Edition on Focus Groups value and challenges:
  • Generate hypotheses that can be further tested quantitatively
  • Generate information helpful in structuring consumer questionnaires
  • These data are small samples, not representative, the data are qualitative, gathered in an artificial environment.  Findings are suited to “suggesting” (e.g., lines of follow-up research), than predicting (e.g., sales or market share).
My advice:  Don’t forget that just because an open-ended question is included in a quantitative study doesn’t mean it provides quantitative insight.  Treat open-ended questions like micro focus groups; an opportunity to uncover possible follow-up research studies or questions.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Move people and advance the cause

January 2013 Book Review

To Sell is Human

Dear Mr. Pink,
I want to thank you for writing a book about sales that wasn’t “salesy.”  About four years ago after presenting a number of successful case studies in research and analytics at a research conference I asked the audience (primarily research directors, managers and analysts) how many were in sales.  At most, three people raised their hands as I was anticipating.  I follow-up the futile exercise by saying if you want to succeed in research, you need to know how to sell.  This was a point I knew would generate fear, disgust and anxiety, but a point that I felt needed to be made.  I’m a proponent that for anyone to be successful, you need to know how to sell, or as you poignantly said: "move people.”  The word “sales” has a negative stigma, but anyone with ambition or drive quickly discovers sales are an integral part of success and achievement.  Your book’s research examples and flow were exceptional.  Your writing track record puts you at a new level in the world of business, motivation, leadership, creativity, innovation and now sales.  I look forward to your next book and topic.
With the sincerest of thanks,
Adam Cook
Research Director/Salesman
Here are a few of the better passages I came across:
“The challenge,” says Ferlazzo, “is that to move people a large distance and for the long term, we have to create the conditions where they can move themselves.”
“Perspective-taking is a cognitive capacity; it’s mostly about thinking.  Empathy is an emotional response; it’s mostly about feeling.  The empathizers struck many more deals than the control group.  But the perspective-takers did even better.”
“Similarity – the genuine, not the manufactured, variety – is a key form of human connection.  People are more likely to move together when they share common ground.”
“Without negativity you…lose touch with reality.  You’re not genuine.  In time, you drive people away.”  So allow yourself what she dubs “appropriate negativity” – moments of anger, hostility, disgust, and resentment that serves a productive purpose.”
“Clarity depends on contrast.”
“Most people who resist doing or believing something don’t have a binary, off-on, yes-no position.  If your prospect has even a faint desire to move, Pantalon says, asking her to locate herself on that 1-to-10 scale can expose an apparent “No” as an actual “Maybe.””
“By making it personal, or making it purposeful, you’ll make it better.”
The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:
out of five stars

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Practice doesn’t always equal improvement

January 2013 Book Review

Practice Perfect
The authors remind us, just because someone is practicing doesn’t mean than making improvements.  The right kind of practice is paramount in achieving progress.  The authors also need to take back their creative control and re-title to book Practice Permanent.  They seem to mention it a few times throughout the book.  Something about this book didn’t resonate as much with me.  I can’t be too critical because the book’s primary target audience is teachers.  Their premise is more than sound and consistent with other books I’ve read on skill and talent development.  They seemed overly reliant on limited references, and ones I’ve read many times over (primarily John Wooden and Dan and Chip Heath).
Here are a few of the better passages I came across (many of which came from another source other than the authors):
“Never mistaken activity for achievement” – John Wooden
In reference to James Surowieck’s observations – “a missing submarine is found in the midst of thousands of square miles of open ocean by averaging the guesses of multiple scientists as to its location.  No individual was close, but the average of all the individual opinions was stunningly accurate.”
“for a novice, seeing someone execute the steps is essential.”
“she would have pointed out that if you never fall, you aren’t pushing yourself and you aren’t improving as fast as you could be.”
The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:
out of five stars

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Learn something while laughing

Last 2012 Book Review

101 Contrarian Ideas About Advertising
Hoffman writes candidly and direct. His understanding of advertising is sharp and I highly recommend his first book, The Ad Contrarian, to others.  I’m a believer that his level of candor is an important element missing from the other end of the advertising spectrum.  When I read his stuff I feel a lot more centered from the bland and blather that primarily collects dust on the shelves of most advertising professionals.  I wish there were more writers like Bob Hoffman in Marketing and Research calling things out as they see them.  Overall, this book (or computation of 101 blogs as he clearly communicates at the beginning) walks hand-in-hand with his original.
If I had to give one criticism it would be a hint of hypocrisy toward the back of the book.  He refutes an opposing critic’s claim that he is overly fixated on the value of television advertising, and then spends an inordinate amount of the book praising the virtues of television advertising.  I think this was partly a result of compiling a number of blogs into a single book, but my experience has also taught me that his critic is likely not completely off the reservation.  My experience in advertising and media has taught me that ad agencies (which Bob works within) are disproportionately obsessed with television advertising (partly for the creative challenge and emotional appeal, but more because of the higher commissions agencies collect from television advertising).
Don’t get caught up in my criticism in this review.  Bob’s tips on selling and creating strong advertising are priceless.  He also manages to make it entertaining.
Here are a few passages that caught my attention:
“After 100 years in the agency business, I still have no idea how to create great ads.  It’s a code I haven’t cracked.  But I do know how to sell them.  Get your real creative leader together with their real decision maker and get everyone else out of the f**king way.”
“The best advertising is strategically wise, creatively pleasing, and specific.”
“So far, there has been one type of online advertising that has been clear and unqualified success: search.  But search is limited.  Mostly, we use search once we have decided to buy, much like we used the Yellow Pages.  Search fulfills demand; it doesn’t create demand.”
“You see, solving real problems requires unpleasantness.  Systems have to be changed.  Products have to be redesigned.  People have to be fired.  Floors have to be swept and walls have to be painted.”
“In my experience, the ability to synthesize an imaginative strategy is unrelated to job title.  It has to do with intelligence.  Let the most intelligent people do the strategizing, regardless of their titles.”
The Fightin’ Analyst Book Rating:
out of five stars

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas, Muppets and Research? (circa 1978)

I’m not sure why this Christmas classic is no longer aired on television.  My best guess is the 60 minutes of run time doesn’t neatly fit in with our highly commercialized holiday…Oscar the Grouch singing I Hate Christmas and the absence of Elmo probably play a role as well.  Now that I have a son at a ripe age to understand the concept of Santa and able to identify Sesame Street characters, we figured it was a perfect time to watch it with him on Christmas Eve.  A couple things struck me while we watched it:  Jim Henson created incredibly entertaining, diverse and funny production that appealed to children and adults, and there’s a funny scene referencing “research.”  I’m guessing some 30 plus years ago I was subconsciously choosing my fate of working in the field of research after watching this film every Christmas Eve.

Here’s my Christmas Fightin’ Analyst post.  Notice how Kermit and Big Bird express frustration with the open-ended responses they received from a survey.  A sentiment many of us in research come across when dealing with our own open-ended questionnaires.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Why you should reconsider that "expert's" opinion

December 2012 Book Review

The Signal and the Noise
Why so many predictions fail – but some don’t
I went in with high expectations and bought into the marketing machine (primarily an interview I saw on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show).  As a result I think I set the bar a little high and felt the book fell a little short.  In hindsight, I think Silver wrote the book with the idea that different examples would appeal to different people.  I was all in on the weather, earthquake and economic prediction chapters, but felt lost in the chapters about chess, poker and the financial crisis.  I love how Silver describes the idea of some analysts/forecasters “overfitting” data to produce a detailed outlook, when in reality this kind of analysis ends up being more harmful than helpful.  I can’t tell you how many business leaders and analysts I've encountered doing this kind of analysis.  I also love how he calls out “Economists” in this book for what they are not…reliable in their predictions.  Every chapter may not hit a home run, but at 450+ pages, I suspect Silver will touch on at least two or three fascinating areas specific to your interests.
Here are a few of the better passages I came across:
“The experts in his survey – regardless of their occupation, experience, or subfield – had done barely any better than random chance, and they had done worse than even rudimentary statistical methods at predicting future political events.”
“The overfit model scores those extra points in essence by cheating – by fitting noise rather than signal.  It actually does a much worse job of explaining the real world.”
“Getting feedback about how well our predictions have done is one way – perhaps the essential way – to improve them.”
“If you give a computer bad data, or devise a foolish set of instructions for it to analyze, it won’t spin straw into gold.  Meanwhile, computers are not very good at tasks that require creativity and imagination, like devising strategies or developing theories about the way the world works.”
The Fightin' Analyst Book Rating:
out of five stars