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Innovation Blog

Mommy, Daddy, Tell Me A Story – Forget It, I’ll Tell My Own! 

By Shlomo Maital






Daniel Kahneman


    “What matters in life is not what happens to you but what you remember and how you remember   it.” ~ Gabriel Garcia Marquez

    Almost a year ago, on Nov. 4, 2009, I wrote a blog with the title “Mommy, Daddy, Tell Me a Story!”,  that began thus:

  Do you want to build a powerful business innovation? I ask my students.  If you do — tell me a story.  Build a powerful narrative that has real people in it, a plot, conflict, a story line, and above all, a happy end.   These are all elements of  every great children’s book, stories we all grew up on,   Good Night, Moon,    Where the Wild Things Are,  and so on.  Children make meaning out of the world through stories.  So do we adults, it seems.   War and Peace, Anna Karenina — great novels are all great stories

   Writing in an Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, [1] journalist Ron Pressler describes pathbreaking work by Nobel Prize Laureate Daniel Kahneman, a cognitive psychologist who won the Economics Nobel Prize in 2002.  Kahneman has for many years been studying how we remember our everyday experiences.   He has shown that there are two separate selves, “the experiencing self” and the “remembering self”.  The second is utterly different from the first.   The remembering self remembers key high points, and ignores many dull moments the experiencing self goes through.  The remembering self constructs a plot, a key part of which is the end.  “…The story we construct is usually influenced by one or several things on which we focus, and on whose importance we tend to exaggerate.”  A major thing is the end, whether it is happy or sad.

     I personally have experienced this dual phenomenon.  And I have applied it. Often, in experiencing an activity or event, I ask myself, how will I remember this in 5 years?  I try very hard to shape a happy end so that it will be remembered positively instead of traumatically.

     Innovator:  As you work on your innovation, think about the script you are writing.  Think about the high points.  Tell yourself the story as you are living it.  Make sure it is as positive as you can make it.  Even if it fails, you can still shape your story as one to be remembered positively – for example, dramatic all-night efforts to rescue a failing project.  

     Tell your own story, innovator.   Shape it as you are living it.   It is quite possible to transform a traumatic failure into a heroic drama while it is ongoing.  Bad memories can be forestalled, good ones can be strengthened.  

    The film-maker and storyteller Shekar Kapur once said, “We are the stories we tell ourselves.”  I would strengthen that.  “We are the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves.”

     Innovator:  What stories do you tell about yourself, to yourself?   Do you like these stories? Are they good, strong, energizing, positive, inspiring?  If not – rewrite the old ones, and reshape the new ones you are living at present.  And as you live them, think about the script you are writing and will remember.  In 10 years, you will be grateful you did. 

[1] “Living the moment, remembering the high points”, by Ron Pressler.  Haaretz Weekly Magazine, Friday Sept. 17, 2010.


Global Crisis Blog

Benchmark Estonia:  It’s Run Like a Business

By Shlomo Maital

   Little Estonia, population 1.3 m., will dump its currency and join the 16 countries in the Euro bloc next January.   This has become near-certain following the EU announcement that Estonia has met the Masstricht fiscal preconditions for Euro membership, noting that “Estonia stands out… fulfilling the criteria clearly”.  The European Commission was far less upbeat about several other large Eastern European countries waiting to adopt the euro, such as Poland and Hungary.  The last nations to join the euro were Slovenia in 2007 (another smart small country with about 2 m. people),  Cyprus and Malta in 2008 and Slovakia in 2009. 

   Estonia has been hard hit by the global crisis, and by the EU recession; it has 18 per cent unemployment. But despite this, its budget deficit is modest (less than 3 per cent) and it has a Balance of Payments current account surplus.   By embracing the euro, Estonia integrates its capital markets with the EU and trashes all the many problems related to having a weak unstable currency. 

   Some years ago,  I brought a group of Israeli managers to Talinn on a benchmarking trip. We were amazed.  Estonia has first-rate IT capabilities. It is even one of the first countries to run elections on-line.  And you can file your annual income tax report on-line, too, in 20 minutes, and most people do.  Cabinet meetings are held electronically, with absent or travelling ministers joining through their webcams.   Estonia has closely integrated its economy with Finland, acting as a kind of off-shore “China” for that country. 

    Recently, NYT columnist Tom Friedman quoted an expert who said that it is hard to compete with China, because that country “is run like a business”.  Estonia, too, is run like a business, by its clever political leaders.  Let Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic,   Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Sweden – the remaining countries struggling to fulfill Masstricht requirements – study Estonia carefully. Let them try to run their countries properly, as businesses. 

Innovation Blog

  Innovation Management: Still Sub-Par

By Shlomo Maital

  A 2007 survey of global executives by McKinsey Global Research on innovation reveals a paradox that most managers keenly understood already:  As the importance of innovation grows, the quality of innovation management remains low and perhaps even declining.

    Notes the McKinsey survey:

1.    Innovation leadership is weak; though leaders seek breakthrough ideas, nonetheless innovation efforts are focused on products and services:

   “ ….companies often seem to isolate innovation projects within business units, even when they see bigger opportunities. When asked where change would produce the greatest improvement in performance, for example, top managers rank product and service innovations much lower than breakthrough ideas.  Yet a majority also say innovation at their organizations is primarily focused on developing products or services and that dedicated teams within business units are the most common way they develop and commercialize new ideas (Exhibit 2). Less than half of top managers say they frequently define themes for breakthrough innovations.

 2.   Innovation leaders  are not an integral part of the innovation process in their organizations.

 “… top managers indicate that they are isolated from the innovators within their companies. Most often, top managers get their new ideas from informal, external sources (such as discussions with peers and interactions with consumers), not from the business units or formal teams where innovation tends to occur

 Three years later, in 2010, after a global crisis, the question arises:  Has the innovation management process been repaired?  In particular, does the organization’s leadership truly lead and drive the innovation process?    I am skeptical.  The paradox remains. Innovation’s importance grows day by day.  Innovation management remains highly flawed. 


Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital
September 2010
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