Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions

By Angela Noel

July 9, 2018

More than once I’ve been dead wrong about the reality of a situation for one simple reason: Instead of asking questions, I made assumptions. Though I detest this in myself, my sphere of influence is relatively small. Thus, I can do little harm. But, the same cannot be said for others in positions of power. Their failures to question assumptions can lead to disasters, as illustrated by Ken Burns’ documentary on the Vietnam War.

In the documentary, James Willbanks, an army strategist, said of Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, “When McNamara wants to know what Ho Chi Minh is thinking he interviews himself.” I found Willbanks’ words chilling. Continue reading “Avoid Catastrophe, Make Fewer Assumptions”

Women and Leadership: Stop Talking. Start Doing

By Angela Noel

May 13, 2018

I want Amy Jean Kramer Brenengen in the room when tempers flare. She’s the cheerleader I want on my team when I’m afraid I may lose. She’s the leader I want in my ear when the stakes are high. But she’s also the woman I want to have a huge glass of wine with to either celebrate our victories, or strategize on how best to learn from our defeats.

Though passionate about many things including, family, working, running (kind of), and the arts, a constant and persistent interest tells much about this woman’s story and her contribution to the world.

This interest, this love, recently drove her to issue a public challenge.
Continue reading “Women and Leadership: Stop Talking. Start Doing”

I Have a Problem with Pedestals

By Angela Noel

April 29, 2018

I’ve been traveling quite a lot lately, which has afforded me excellent opportunities to both learn stuff and share stuff I’m learning. Air travel however comes with drawbacks. One of them is security lines. But security lines after a massive snowstorm when the airport closed down the night before and everyone is a little extra unhappy provide the curious mind with a perfect Petri dish for observation. Continue reading “I Have a Problem with Pedestals”

Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question

By Angela Noel

April 5, 2018

Questions without easy answers abound. But we humans hate that. Our brains like certainty. Tough, complex problems without clear solutions make us very unhappy indeed. In these situations, particularly where public pressure exists to find a fast and clean answer, we’re susceptible to a type of brain elf, Daniel Kahneman, author of Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls substitution. He writes, “If a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not found quickly, System 1 (our fast-thinking brain) will find a related question that is easier and will answer it.”

Since being sure of something is our preferred condition, our brains tend to do a lot to help us feel that way. I wrote about our search for certainty before, and how hard we fight to preserve our version of events even when we know it’s wrong. But, this time we’re talking about certainty from another angle. This time, we’re talking about onions. Continue reading “Peel the Onion: Why We Answer the Wrong Question”

Cognitive Bias Series: Taming the Elves in Our Brains

By Angela Noel

November 16, 2017

Certain four-letter words get a lot of attention. I won’t write them here because you already know what I’m talking about. These words have power. Some studies have shown that cussing actually tempers the pain response in the brain. Preliminary theories tell us swear words trigger a “fight” response, helping the body dull sensations of pain.

But I want to talk about a different four-letter word: bias. The word itself won’t lesson pain. Its power comes from describing a whole host of unconscious actions governing our responses to all kinds of sensations and experiences. Saying the word out loud won’t increase or decrease pain, but bias operating in our lives just might. Continue reading “Cognitive Bias Series: Taming the Elves in Our Brains”

Five Essential Qualities of Everyday Leadership

By Angela Noel

October 16, 2107

Bosses make our lives better or worse with the simplest of inconsequential acts. A “good job” can mean the world. A well-placed critique can change a career. But a thoughtless comment will damage any relationship, never more so than when one person has the ability to terminate the other’s livelihood. Worse, a pattern of ego-driven blindness can turn a leader into an employee’s personal Satan. Continue reading “Five Essential Qualities of Everyday Leadership”

Why Dragons are Terrible Role Models for Humans

By Angela Noel

August 10, 2017

Dragons, according to some myths, hoard gold and shiny things. They gather the stuff up into a big pile and sleep on it. They can’t spend it. They’re giant flying serpents for heaven’s sake. If they wanted something they could take it, no need for a wallet or coin purse. Why would a giant, powerful creature feel the need to find, store, and jealously guard shiny things it cannot ever use?

Then again, why do people hoard things like compliments? Why do humans find it so difficult at times to offer genuine praise or admiration? Or to accept it graciously when offered?Could dragons and humans suffer from the same affliction: protecting things we cannot possibly make use of because of some fear that without that thing we’ve lost our power? Continue reading “Why Dragons are Terrible Role Models for Humans”

Why We Should Stop Being Polite

By Angela Noel

March 16, 2017

I was in college when the first Real World by MTV crashed into our living rooms.  What happens “. . . when people stop being polite and start getting real?” the show asked.

Interesting question . . . only I don’t think they ever answered it. In thirty-two (and counting) seasons, have we seen a whole lot of “real?”

Drama. Yes. But, real? Continue reading “Why We Should Stop Being Polite”

Technology, Leadership, and Life

By Angela Noel

February 9, 2017

“If this program succeeds, you’ll all be proud of it,” Komal Solanki told her team. The long days and constant pressures to meet the deadline took a toll on everyone involved in the huge program. Engineers, business teams, consultants, vendors, project managers, and leaders hunkered down for two years to implement an important technology project. Teamwork was critical to its success.

Laptop always in hand, Komal had to ask her team for more effort and more hours. With grace and poise, she advocated for her people while working closely with the project managers and senior leaders in charge of setting the direction and timeline. When the members of her team felt low, she reminded them of the pride they would feel when the work was done, and done well. Neither she nor her team are superhuman, but they seemed that way at times–and still do.

Cultivating a successful team requires clear vision and the ability to focus on results, no matter what the circumstances of the present moment may be. In work, as in life, the way things have always been done may not be the way things should always be. Komal, balancing tradition and innovation, knows this better than most. Continue reading “Technology, Leadership, and Life”

The Makings of an Innovation Commando

by Angela Noel

October 27, 2016

Galileo Galilei disrupted the status quo, challenging the beliefs of some of the most powerful people of the day — including more than one Pope. Considering Galileo lived during the time of the inquisition, ticking off the Vatican was kind of a big deal.

Along with pushing scientific boundaries, he developed mathematical instruments to either sell to the military or for uses in engineering. Solving problems and posing theories using observation, data, hard work, communication, rhetorical argument, and grit made Galileo a successful entrepreneur. Running afoul of the prevailing authorities of the day, the Catholic Church, made his story into a cautionary tale for all those who would speak truth to power.

Dipanjan Chatterjee could be the intellectual descendant of Galileo. He and others like him, hired by corporations to be an EiR or Entrepreneur in Residence, must find the courage to speak truth to their “corporate overlords” without losing their heads. They must bring new products and processes into systems fundamentally designed to reject anything that challenges the comfortable stability of the past in order to drive progress. Though the modern day Inquisitor is less likely to wear a robe, and more likely to shop at Brooks Brothers, EiRs face many of the same troubles Galileo did 400 years ago.

For example, Pope Urban VIII initially liked Galileo, supporting his ideas overall while asking him to go easy on the whole “earth revolves around the sun” thing. Unfortunately for Galileo, when his resulting book came out, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, the Pope found reason to be offended, hauling Galileo to Rome to defend himself. Dipanjan, as far as I know, hasn’t been called on the carpet by a religious official, but he continually faces the Sisyphean task of attempting to convince huge corporations to try something new without losing his job or his mind.

Luckily, he’s been preparing for this job all his life.

Continue reading “The Makings of an Innovation Commando”