Test or Debug: What’s Your Style?

Frank Wilczek writes a column in the Wall Street Journal’s weekend edition, and one headline grabbed my attention. Better to Test Than to Debug.  His focus was on computer programmers, but the question and implications applies to all of us when we do creative work.

Is it better to draft an entire project (article, computer program, etc.), and then when there is a problem “debug” it, or to view the project as consisting of lots of small steps that you can take and ‘test” before going on to the next step?

While it would seem more efficient to “test” parts before having to “debug” the whole things, yet many people opt for the latter. For instance, as a teacher, I often encourage students to provide me with a brief outline before starting the entire paper, and a sizable number of students prefer to skip the “testing” phase and just hand in the completed work. Similarly, when I invite people to write a guest blog for AgeBrilliantly.org, I encourage them to fill out a simple outline form (the “test”) so they can get feedback first, and instead get full articles.

Wilczek believes that “debugging sucks” while “testing rocks”;  “haste makes waste”, and “the struggle for existence” is the test, while Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” is debugging.  What’s your style?  Why? Share with us.

The Risks of Automation Displacing Workers

In this blog, as well as my college courses, I’ve been raising the issues of how important it is for young people to focus on the power of automation to displace some workers, while also transforming industries and creating new jobs/careers. This is key inforamtion for young people making education decisions, and advisors (and parents) trying to guide them.

McKinsey & Company , in its July 2016 Quarterly magazine, began reporting on a study that analyzed 2000+ work activities for more than 800 occupations to help us understand where the greatest risks are.

They discovered that current demonstrated technologies could automate 45% of the activities people are paid to perform and that 60% of all curatesion could see 30% or more of their constitutent activities automated.

They discovered that automation will depend on five factors:

  • Technical feasibility,
  • Costs to automate,
  • The relative scarcity, skills and cost of workers who otherwise might do the activtiy;
  • Benefits (e.g. superior performance of automation vs. labor-costs)
  • Regulatory and social-acceptance.

The most automatable activites are those in which human activities are predictable. These including physical activites (e.g., moving things) and operating machinery in a predictable environment. Overall this is about 20% of what takes place in the US workplace, with much of it taking place in manaufacturing, food service, accomodations, and retailing. Less susceptible (for now) are activities which require cognitive and social skill decisions which are not predictable and require judgement and emotional intelligence. For instance, they calculated that 47% of a retail sales’ person’s activites have the techical potential to be automated, compared to 86% for bookeepers, accountants and auditors.

The takeaway: part of everyone’s job is automatable today and will increasingly be vulnerable if they are predictable and “easier” to do by machines; even more will become susceptible as algorithms for making decisions are developed. Advanced banking, which requires risk assessments based on more than numbers, such as character and potential, will need people, while “teller” jobs will continue to be replaced by ATMs and online banking. Future job risks will remain smaller for those work aspects which require creative decision-making.  For students seeking careers, the wise path is to find industries, careers and jobs, in which they can develop their “irreplaceable” skills and specialize in them, using technology to handle the automatable parts of their jobs.

What’s your experience with automation replacing jobs?  What do you think the future holds? Share with us your views.

Creating a Culture of Innovation

Once you’ve committed to an innovation strategy, you need to make sure that the culture will support it. In addition to the many steps the leaders must take (which were mentioned in prior blogs), here are a few additional tips:

  • Make sure that teams tasked with producing potentially disruptive innovations are truly cross-functional. The diversity of perspective is key to both spurring creativity and avoiding potential blindspots when it comes to execution.
  • Keep innovation teams connected to the core business. While companies often separate the “skunk-works” early stage innovation efforts from the rest of the company, it’s important that once the innovation take shape, it graduates and is re-housed in the department that will operate it hereafter. This encourages excellence in execution because the core business has that skillset and key relationships.
  • Assure that key leaders are actively engaged in the process. They are the bridge between the stage of innovation development and execution.
  • Measure the impact of the new technology from the long-term, not short-term perspective. Not all technologies have immediate higher profit margins than the legacy business; your job is to figure out how it can be incorporated into the larger business and eventually become more valuable. At this time, most use of sustainable energies are not as cost-effective as legacy sources of energy. But governments take the long view in supporting them. Companies need to do the same thing – or else their competitors will figure it out and then disrupt them.

Do you have other innovation culture-related advice to share? Please do.

What’s Your Power Position?

Identifying the customer’s real needs is critical to faciliate a sale. Matching it with your unique capability  is just as important – and the answer needs to be identified before preparing your sales presentation.

In Conversations that Win the Complex Sale, Erik Peterson and Tim Riesterer note that company sale presentations need to positioned from strength. They need to focus on:

  • the strategic need that your customer has, so he/she understands why it’s important;
  • your strength – why you are “uniquely” qualified to meet that need,
  • providing defensible proof of both of the above propositions.

Most importantly, these presentations cannot be based on facts alone – they need to be embedded in a story that evokes the emotions of your audience and drive them to the conclusion that your proposal is a competent business solution and that you and your team are a reliable, trusted partner.

Such presentations create for you a position of power for two reasons. First, it’s what your customer needs to hear to accept your proposition. Second, your competent, presentation generates confidence – and self-confidence is the way to conquer any speaking anxieties. Again, as our ADAP formula (Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations) teaches when you focus on meeting all the customer’s needs, you’re outward-focused, which leaves little room to focus internally at your insecurities!

What’s your experience here? Share with us.

Social Influence: Don’t Underestimate its Power

As a social psychologist with a strong interest in behavioral economics, I enjoy learning new ways that people influence one another – so we can use them for good purposes.

Jonah Berger, in Invisible Influence: The Hidden Forces that Shape Behavior, identifies several factors that influence people’s decisions based on laboratory and field studies.

Let me share one example. Imagine you’re trying to get people to conserve energy. There are many ways to do so – focusing on their concern for the environment, their desire to save money, an appeal to good citizenship etc.  Studies have tried all these – and in general none have a real impact. However, encouraging people to follow a social norm – showing them on their electric bills that their neighbors are spending less than they are – and giving tem concrete suggestions for how they might also reduce energy consumption has had an impact.

Indeed, Yates and Laskey created a company Opower which sent consumers carefully targeted energy reports. Rather than an appeal, they simply report the difference in consumption patterns of people with their neighbors/ they also note that they can save energy by replacing certain electronics, turning off lights, adjusting light settings, etc.  The program led people to reduce energy consumption about 2%/ That might not seem a lot, but multiplied by the number of people they’ve reached so far it saved 6 trillion watt-hours or enough to take all homes in Alaska and Hawaii off the electric grid for a year. And, it reduced carbon dioxide – the equivalent of taking all cars in Chicago off the road for a year.

There are many other helpful hints in this book. For instance, if your sales (or other) team fell behind their goal, social influence can come to the rescue in certain cases – by unleashing the competitive spirits. If you’re using social influence techniques now, share them with us. If not, after reading the book share which you liked and will be applying!

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