Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus – and it’s You!

By Shlomo  Maital


  One of my Coursera students (Cracking the Creativity Code) writes, in a chat forum,

“I was a college professor who had to retire at age 45 due to illness. I am now 55 and happy.  My best advice to you is to branch away from your comfort zone.  For instance I was a biostatistician (loved it)    and am now a digital artist (self taught, I am bringing the two together through infographics”. 

   Thank you “Virginia”.   You show us that, Yes, Virginia, there IS a Santa Claus – and it is YOU.  You have successfully used Stephen Johnson’s clever method, known as the “adjacent possible”.   Change your field.  Move far enough away to make it interesting and challenging, but not so far away as to be impractical and impossible.  When you do this well and successfully,  “Santa” showers the gift of energy and passion on you.  

   The key is to leave your comfort zone. It is super comfortable to remain in that old familiar rut, doing again and again what you always did.   Trying new stuff is risky and uncomfortable, because at first you inevitably fail, and many of us are so used to permanent success, we cannot imagine doing anything poorly. 

   Try an imaginary exercise.  Lying in bed at night, before you fall asleep – think to yourself,  what could I do, that is different, different enough to be just possible (but hard),  not so different as to be clearly unfeasible?  Dream it.

    Then, do it. 


Chaos Is the New World Order

By Shlomo Maital


  Thomas Friedman’s latest New York Times column helps us understand what is going on in the world.  In a word:  Chaos.  Chaos is the new world order.  Here is what he means.

   Quoting a high-tech executive, Tom Goodwin,  Friedman notes:  Uber is the world’s biggest taxi company but has no taxis. Facebook is the world’s most popular media owner but has no content. Alibaba is the world’s most valuable retailer but has no inventory.  Airbnb is the world’s biggest accommodation provider but has no real estate.

    So what is going on?  More and more businesses are simply doing global matchmaking (someone needs something, someone else has it), without owning assets.  More and more businesses are digitally creating markets where none existed before.  (You have a seat in your car?  Why not use it to make some spare cash?)

    This trend is highly disruptive, because it disorganizes and reinvents whole industries, in no time.  The existing players (taxi drivers, hotels) have little time to adapt. 

     It’s pretty clear, out of this chaos will emerge some order, and the chaos is actually creating value.  But the implications are huge.   A whole range of job skills will disappear.  New patterns of markets and ownership will emerge. 

     For now, chaos is the new world order.   How are YOU adjusting and adapting?  Do you have a job skill that will be needed in a year or two, or do you need to reinvent yourself and your skills?  If so, how will  you do it? 

    These are interesting times indeed.

How Teachers Ruin Inquiring Minds – And Why They Must Stop

By Shlomo Maital

elevator-cover one half

Illustration by Avi Katz

    Thanks to my outstanding colleagues at Technion’s Center for Improvement of Teaching and Learning,  our MOOC (massive open online course), Cracking the Creativity Code: Part One – Discovering Ideas,  launched on the Coursera website on May 18, and has over 6,000 students enrolled, worldwide, from Qatar, India, China, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, among others.   The course is based in part on the book by the same name by  Ruttenberg & Maital.

   Part of the course involves “chat” forums,  organized as ‘forums’ on topics the students themselves initiate. 

   Lizzie writes:  “My 7th grade teacher’s response to many a question was ‘don’t show your ignorance by asking that’.   Which didn’t reduce my ignorance but did get me to stop asking questions and start hating school instead of loving it.”   Malgorzata responds: “Oh yes. I have suffered high school phobia because of it. Constant bullying by teachers was unbearable.”

    How many teachers encourage questions?  How many shut them off, destroying the spirit of inquiry and love of learning?  Are teacher training schools helping teachers encourage students’ questions, rather than shutting them off? 

   Javier writes about how his teacher, in Barcelona, requires the students to copy verbatim a short story.  He tried an experiment – writing with his eyes closed, to see if he could write straight lines without looking.  The teacher ridiculed him before the class.  End of experiment.  Could the teacher have responded:  Class! Javier is trying to write with his eyes closed.  Let’s all try it.  Let’s see what happens.  Javier, thank you for this interesting idea.!

     There are millions of superb, dedicated teachers all over the world, educating the next generation, overworked, underpaid, underappreciated.  But there are still too many to believe they should be teaching the laws of algebra, rather than (in addition) why mathematics is interesting and fun to explore.    

    The Nobel Laureate in Physics Isidore Rabi tells this story:  When he came home from school, his mother never asked him, what did you learn today in school? Instead she asked, Isador, did you ask good questions in class today?   He attributes his success as a scientist to his mother and to her question.   How many Nobel Prizes are we destroying, by shutting off kids’ questions?


Pop a Pill? No! There’s a Better Way

By Shlomo Maital

Aziz Kaddan

Aziz Kaddan, Amir Khalaily, Hilal Diab, Anas Abu-Mukh

   Arab culture is highly entrepreneurial.   Given the right opportunities, Arab entrepreneurs could transform the Arab world, shifting Western attention from ISIS and its vicious violence to IS (Innovation Startups).  Here is an example (thanks to Sharona, my wife, who drew my attention to this story).

     ADHD attention deficit hyperactivity disorder  is widely treated with a drug, Ritalin.  Novartis sells $350 m. worth of methylphenidate (Ritalin) each quarter.  When kids have problems in school, it’s super easy for teachers to demand that they pop a pill – even if the problems could be addressed differently, with a little effort.  In general, our pop-a-pill society plays into the hands of Big Pharma, and sometimes does immense harm to us all.  Ritalin is now used widely as a recreational drug, too.   For Big Pharma, it’s all just money.

      NASA developed a computer-based technique to improve attention, focus and learning.  Now, Aziz Kaddan, age 22, an Israeli Arab,  and three friends have launched a startup, Myndlift, that uses biofeedback to deal with ADHD.  It’s an app-based wearable solution, together with mobile games that work only through attention, and boost attention levels with only 10 minutes of play time a day.  Kaddan is the son of a neurologist, and got a computer science degree at the age of 19. 

       Friends urged Kaddan to up the price of his app (it’s only $15 for the premium version), but he and the founders believe that to keep this solution accessible, it has to be quite cheap.  (Big Pharma – don’t you just love it?). 

      Over the years, I’ve taught many students with ADHD.  Most of them avoided Ritalin, and instead developed their own personal unique ways to focus and deal with their challenges.  Sometimes, the ADHD was even a blessing, because it appears that those with ADHD happen to be very creative. 

      Next time you have a problem, and someone tells you to pop a pill,  think about it for a while.  Sometimes you really do need that pill.  Sometimes, you can manage better without it.

 Thanks to  Aziz and his friends for showing us another way, other than pill popping.  I hope their story will inspire other Israeli Arab entrepreneurs.

Cool Idea?  What ELSE Can You Do With It?

By Shlomo Maital

Elon Musk Tesla battery factory

  In my previous blog, I wrote about how entrepreneur John Osher invented a lollipop that spins in your mouth, created a huge hit, and then, tireless, asked, what else can I do with a cheap tiny electric motor that spins things?  His answer was: an inexpensive electric toothbrush.  Result: a half billion dollar (acquisition by P&G).

  Here is another example.  Elon Musk succeeded against all odds in building and selling Tesla electric cars.  His cars are cool, beautiful, fast, expensive, green and in demand.  They are not hybrids.  They run solely on electric power.  The core technology is the rechargeable electric car battery. 

  Like Osher, Musk asked, what else can I do with what I know about batteries that store electricity?  Answer – build batteries that can store solar power, so that at night, when the sun doesn’t shine,  you can still have power.  Storage is a crucial element to the success of solar power, because people consume electricity not only in daylight but also at night.  And so far, the storage element is missing. 

   According to Diane Cardwell, (New York Times, Sunday May 2-3), Tesla Motors is initiating a “fleet of battery systems aimed at homeowners, businesses and utilities”.  One of the products will be a lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, four feet by three feet,  that can be mounted on a home garage wall.  The battery will be called the Powerwall, and will sell for $3,500.  It was derived from the car batteries that power the Model S vehicles.

   The proposed batteries will be connected to the Internet and can be managed by Tesla from afar. 

    The key to this idea?  Tesla is building a $5 billion battery production plant, called the Gigafactory, in Reno, Nevada. (See photo). 

     This story reminds me of the 9-word capsule description of successful entrepreneurship.   First to imagine.  (Musk did).  First to move. (Musk did).  And first to scale. (Musk is).    And, add to that – first to platform (take one good product and transform it into another). 

Meet John Osher: What We Learn from SpinPop & SpinBrush

By Shlomo  Maital  


    As a retired Technion professor, with silver hair and lots of stories,  I get to meet and greet many visitors.  Yesterday I had lunch with one of the most interesting ones – an American entrepreneur named John Osher.   Here is his story.

    Osher grew up in Ohio;  he took 7 years to finish college. He worked as a plumber, carpenter and cabdriver.   He was an entrepreneur from age 5, he tells me.  He started and sold a vintage clothing store, and an earring outlet, while still in college.  HBR Professor William Sahlman, who wrote a lengthy case about Osher, says, “he’s a street-smart guy and he has this observational power.  He hated having to manage employees, so he built a big company with very few employees.” 

   Dr. John’s was Osher’s 3rd major venture built from the ground up and ending in a lucrative exit.  He produced the uniquely American (and ‘insanely popular’) SpinPop battery-powered lollipop, which later led to SpinBrush.  SpinPop is a lollipop that spins in your mouth (using a tiny battery-powered motor),  enhancing the flavour,  and creating a new market category of “interactive candy”.  In developing the product,  Osher focused laser-like on cost, setting cost targets and determining that if they were not met, the product would not be produced.  

    I teach, “don’t fall in love too soon with your product”, I told Osher.

    Osher answered:  NEVER!   (Never fall in love with your product.).    Easy to say, hard to do. 

    After SpinPop’s success, Osher simply walked up and down the aisles of Wal-Mart, and looked for product ideas that could build on the cheap-battery technology of SpinPop.  He came up with 100 of them.  Then he narrowed them down, to an inexpensive electric toothbrugh, to become SpinBrush.  Here was his plan:  Produce an electric toothbrush that would have battery life of at least 3 months,  and cost only $1.49 to manufacture!  Sell it retail at $5.00.    

     I told him that what he did fits 2 of our models, in our book Cracking the Creativity Code.  First, zoom in, zoom out.  Zoom in on “SpinPop” and what you learned from it;  Zoom out to find ideas that can leverage it.  Then Zoom in again, to implement the idea.   Second,  Price Cost Value.    Start with high value (electric toothbrushes that create value, because people are willing to pay  $50 for a Braun, e.g.).   Make it at very very low cost.  Then charge a reasonable price, to share the value between profit margin (for the company, price minus cost) and client margin (for the buyer, value minus price).  (You get, say, a $50 electric toothbrush for $5 – that’s value!). 

     Osher is very modest, quiet-spoken, and very very wealthy – he sold SpinBrush to Procter & Gamble for nearly half a billion dollars.   He achieved this with soaring head in the clouds imagination  (Lollipops that spin????   Give me a break!)   and hard-nosed hard-headed feet-on-the-ground pragmatism.     

     Anyone can do this.  All you need is imagination, experience, objectivity, pragmatism, leadership, drive, energy, hard work, and persistence. 

    Thanks, John, for showing the way.  


Why Boeing’s Dreamliner 787 Is a Nightmare

By Shlomo  Maital


Yup, Boeing, one of America’s leading industrial exporters, is in trouble – again.

In 2011 it introduced the fuel-saving Dreamliner, a truly great and comfortable aircraft —   but Boeing is still not making money on it. Normally, the learning curve lowers production costs dramatically, moving new planes into profitability.  Why not the Dreamliner, which is a great airplane?

   Reading between the lines in Christopher Drew’s New York Times article: 

   Boeing has not yet ramped up production to 12 a month.  There are delays in supply of seats from a French supplier, Zodiac Aerospace.

   But buried in the article is the real zinger:   “Boeing has an aggressive stock repurchasing program; it spent $2.5 billion to buy back 17 million of its shares in the first quarter.”

   Had Boeing used that cash to boost its production rate, and help Zodiac get those seats delivered,  it could have moved down the learning curve faster.  Instead it buckled to shareholder pressure and distributed the money instead of re-investing it.

    I never give advice on the stock market.  But here is one exception:  Never invest in shares of a company that spends money to buy back its own shares.  The reason:  It proves the company knuckles under to shareholder pressure (bad sign), and proves the company has no other imagination or vision for using scarce resources.  

   And one more tip:  Beware of the accounting numbers.  Boeing apparently can book profits computed according to “average projected cost”  (using the learning curve) rather than the actual cost of planes at the moment.   This is highly dubious.  And Boeing has used this method for ages.   Where are the audit board and the auditors?  



Financial Trading: They’re Still Ripping Us Off

By Shlomo  Maital

 Sarao Sarao – The Guardian sketch

Navinder Singh Sarao

  With the indictment in London’s Westminster Magistrate’s Court of Navinder Singh Sarao, we again become aware that financial traders and speculators are still ripping us off.

   A criminal complaint filed against Sarao cites a practice known as “spoofing”, used to manipulate prices and make profits.  Spoofing  involves placing orders to move the price of a financial asset.  When the price moves (up), the trader sells the asset, then cancels the original (fake) order.  Apparently this practice is widely used by some high-frequency trading firms (i.e. firms that use super-computers to spot profit opportunities and buy and sell in a micro-second, faster than a human trader can spot them). 

     The spoofing method was apparently used in 2010, May 6, to move the Dow-Jones, which plunged some 1,000 points in moments and caused huge disarray in financial markets.

     One of the markets in which spoofing occurs is the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where traders can remain anonymous.

     The information above is reported by Nathaniel Popper, in the New York Times.

     Ordinary citizens are ripped off, because when asset prices are manipulated,  the traders doing the manipulation take the profits at our expense, as we pay more for the assets we buy than we should.

     There seems to be no end to the sleeze and crookedness in financial trading, and it is small comfort to hear they are ‘fringe crackpots’.   The problem is, nobody knows how widespread these practices are, because there is almost no way to tell, especially with anonymous trading.

     Why not end anonymous trading?   It won’t end spoofing, but at least it will increase the risk the spoofers take.   There is no crime in placing an order and then cancelling it.  But when this is done systematically,  it becomes suspicious.  Proving criminal intent is super difficult.  The only solution is,  financial traders who don’t cheat.  But, why not cheat, if enormous profits result from it?   


Starbucks & Howard Schultz:

He’s For Real

By Shlomo   Maital  


 Is Howard Schultz for real?  Are his pro-social activities and investments genuine?  Or is it all an act, to promote Starbucks?

   Writing in the New York Times, columnist Joe Nocera answers:  He’s for real.   Schultz grew up poor in Canarsie, Brooklyn, housing projects,  bought a small coffee chain in Seattle and turned it into…Starbucks.  He was CEO until 2000,  turned over management to someone else, Starbucks quickly crashed, and Schultz returned to the CEO job in 2008.  Starbucks’ market value rose from $5.3 billion at the time, to today’s $72 billion.  Clearly, Schultz knows something about managing and growing businesses.

    But what Nocera particularly stresses is Schultz’s social vision. Here are some of his projects:

  • In 2011, he called for a boycott on political contributions, until the two parties Democrat and Republican began to work together
  • He began a project to make loans to small businesses, partly with money from the Starbucks Foundation, when the economy was struggling.
  • He co-authored a book about the plight of American military veterans, and donated $30 m. to this cause from his family’s foundation.
  • He has launched a medica company, with Rajiv Chandrasekaran, that will use storytelling to tackle important social issues.
  • He started, last month, Starbucks’ Race Together campaign… including 10 forums for Starbucks’ employees to discuss race issues.
  • He has promised to hire 10,000 youths who are neither in school nor in the work force.
  • He will open Starbucks stores in disadvantaged neighborhoods, including Ferguson, Mo.   Personally, I think Starbucks coffee is ..well, yuck.   It is Robusta, rather than Arabica, because Robusta is cheaper. But heck, let’s give Schultz credit. He knows how to manage, and he also has a highly pro-active conscience.   We need more Howard Schultz’s.    
  •           Schultz’s vision is to re-establish the American Dream, which he himself lived. As one scholar pointed out, it is not just the inequality in wealth and income that is disturbing, in America, but the lack of social mobility, the ability to move from lower deciles to upper ones, as Schultz did. The American Dream has become the American Myth. Schultz wants to rebuild it.

How to be an Evangelist:

From Guy Kawasaki

By Shlomo   Maital  

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki is the legendary marketing guru for the Macintosh computer.  Apple hired him, even though he was in the jewellery business at the time, had a psychology degree from Stanford, and knew next to nothing about personal computers. 

  Why did Apple hire him?  Because – he believed.  He felt that MS-DOS, and Microsoft in general,  were “crimes against humanity”.   He felt that “Bill Gates brought darkness to the world.”  He set out “to right a wrong”.    He was in his words – an evangelist. 

    The Greek roots of the word evangelist mean “one who brings or proclaims good news”.  The word has come to mean someone who preaches the Christian gospels. 

    Kawasaki became a VC (, and how is Chief Evangelist for Canva, a startup whose mission is to democratize design.  In the latest issue of Harvard Business Review, Kawasaki sets out the rules for becoming an evangelist.  Here they are:

  1. Schmooz. Build social connections. It’s easier to evangelize people you know.
  2. Get out of your cubicle. Network. Talk to people.
  3. Ask questions. Initiate a conversation, then – shut up and listen.
  4. Follow up. Make sure that you follow up on a meeting, within a day.
  5. E-mail effectively: Optimize your subject lines, and shorten your text. Always respond quickly.
  6. Make it easy to get in touch.
  7. Do favors. If you do things for others, they are more receptive to listen to you.
  8. Public speaking: An evangelist must master the art of public speaking.  Kawasaki says it took him 20 years to master the art and get comfortable. 
  9. Deliver quality content. 80% of the battle is having something worthwhile, interesting, perhaps novel,  certainly meaningful, to say.  It is NOT just about how you say it, but what you say. 
  10. Omit the sales pitch. If people think you are pitching, you’re dead. Don’t.
  11. Customize. Use the first few minutes to directly address the audience, show them you’ve done your homework, know who they are and what they seek.
  12. Focus on entertaining. If people are entertained, they are more receptive to the information you bring.
  13. Tell stories. Make it personal. Tell stories about yourself and others, that support your message.
  14. Circulate in the audience beforehand. Make contact with them, especially with those in the front rows.
  15. Control what you can. Try to speak at the beginning of an event; choose a small room, if you can. A packed room is better than a half-empty one.
  16. Practice. You need to give  a speech 20 times to get good at it.


Rules for Social Media:

  1. Offer value. Share good stuff – of four kinds:   information, analysis, assistance, entertainment.
  2. Be interesting.
  3. Take chances. Don’t be afraid to take strong stands, express feelings.
  4. Keep it brief.
  5. Be a mensch.
  6. Add drama.
  7. Tempt with headlines. How to…   top 10, etc.
  8. Use hashtags.
  9. Stay active: 3-20 different posts a day. 

  “Evangelism is not about self-promotion. It’s aobut sharing the best of what you, your team and your organization produce with others who can benefit. “

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
May 2015
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