Mihali Csikszentmihalyi’s (tip you pronounce his surname as chicks-send-me-high) 1975 diagram (below) provides a neat picture of how we get into Flow, that state where everything seems to click and time passes faster than we expect. 

Sportsmen call it being in the zone – that state when nothing can go wrong. Tennis balls look bigger and golf balls magically get pulled towards holes. 

Other ways of knowing when we are or have been in flow are when:

  • People ask us how we do something and we cannot explain it to them.
  • We have more energy at the end of the task than when we started.
  • We feel exhilarated.
  • Time flies past.
  • We see connections easily and effortlessly to keep us moving forward
His diagram is also useful for identifying the causes of worry and anxiety, when we have a challenge that is beyond our skill level;
Or boredom and apathy when we are over qualified for the challenge with more skills than are needed. 
Optimally we move towards the yellow zones of Arousal, Control and Flow.

Mihali Csikszentmihalyi's diagram showing the optimal balance between skill and challenge and how that leads to flow













Image soure: http://bit.ly/humanflow

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The purpose of fear

Fear keeps us alive. 

Neanderthal cavemen knew to climb a tree when the feeling deep inside them alerted them to buffalo about to stampede.

Today, we know to pay more attention when driving at 100 miles an hour than when we are driving through the mall.

However we do not always see the fear that holds us back from taking the next step in our business or personal endeavours.

Fear’s purpose is very simple, it is an emotion that says, ‘pay attention you could get hurt here.’

We often focus on the second part of that and ignore the first. 

The purpose of fear is to make us cautious, not to paralyse us. 

To keep calm, acknowledge the fear and keep going.  

Paralysed cavemen did not last very long.

Keep calm and carry on even if you are feeling fearful













Image source: http://bit.ly/XHbOmu

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Luck and skill

Michael Mauboussin’s book The Success Equation describes how you distinguish skill from luck. 

“There’s a quick and easy way to test whether an activity involves skill; ask whether you can lose on purpose. In games of skill, it’s clear that you can lose intentionally but when playing roulette or the lottery you can’t lose on purpose.”

This is a good initial rule of thumb but is too simple when it comes to business. Usually there is a healthy dose of both luck and skill involved. Ask Alan Greenspan or Jack Welch.

Typically our biases convince us that it was skill when we succeed and bad luck when we fail.  

To what can I attribute my success? Skill or Luck








Image source: http://bit.ly/V6PwQ9

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Overcoming bias

One of the best ways to overcome bias is to open up your thinking to the scrutiny of others. 

Of course this means you have to be prepared to put aside your ideas. This is hard for most of us. Harder for the A-type personalities that tend to gravitate to the tops of organisations.

These people think they are making rational decisions. Who doesn’t?

And that is the problem with bias, we can recognise them so easily in everyone except ourselves.

An example is the sunk cost bias which happens on many strategic projects that should be cancelled because they are failing. The people involved often push on in the hope that a little more cost will make it all worth while. It seldom does. Mostly more money is wasted before the project fails properly.

From the outside it is so easy to see but that is not the point.

The point is what are your blind spots and biases and what are doing to spot them in your strategic thinking?

Sometimes others see things more clearly than we do











Image source: http://bit.ly/VaAeXJ

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Looking and seeing are not the same thing

Looking and seeing are not the same thing. The choice of what we see is active, looking can be passive. 

You and I can look at the same event and see different things.

Our lenses, influenced by a lifetime of nature and nurture influence what we choose to see.

And we can choose to see different things from the same experience, just ask a couple in the process of a divorce. In this scenario there are usually three versions of the truth, what each of the former partners said and what really happened. 

Here is another example. What are five words you associate with ‘Bank’?

Seriously – list the five words before reading on…






If I asked the same question to a group of fly fisherman as they set off for the day I would no doubt get different answers.

Context is just one aspect that biases what we choose to see.

There are of many many biases (see pic) that afflict us?

What do you think yours are?

List of common biases that affect our decision making (source Incredible Strategies by Dale Williams)











Original image 

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Being scared

It happens every day. Some of us call it procrastination. Others create more elaborate schemes where we need a few more ingredients before we can move forward.

What’s really happening is we are scared.

We are scared of what happens after we do whatever it is we are avoiding doing. 

Something changes if we do it. And change can be scary.

How it is now is comfortable. At least we know the comfort. After the change it may not be so comfortable.

The question is, ‘Will it continue to be comfortable if I don’t make the change?’

Facing fears while walking the tightrope








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Google Course Asks Employees to Take a Deep Breath – NYTimes.com

Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond. Google’s Search Inside Yourself (SIY) internal course has already educated 1,000 of their employee’s on mindfulness. The New York Time’s takes us through some of the in’s and out’s of the approach. Eckhart Tolle would be proud. 

Google Course Asks Employees to Take a Deep Breath – NYTimes.com

Dilemma’s of decision making

We assume that if someone can make a decision they can also tell us why they have made that decision. In the video below from Malcolm Gladwell he points out our naivety in this assumption and from it we could make the case, that the exploration of why we make decisions is best done by somebody objective and outside of the decision making process. We aren’t the best judges of our own decisions.

The psychology of being wrong

WrongPerhaps it is the financial crises or the fact that despite our incredible advances we are realising more and more each day that there are lots of things we do not fully understand (Google ‘scientific consensus‘ or read the Wired Article on the ‘What we don’t know‘) but somehow there seems to be a lot more introspection even, in unlikely places like the business world.

Harvard Professor Rita McGrath has written a couple of articles on the topic, covering Tata’s scheme to incentivise failure and Google’s willingness to get it wrong (a lot). Kathryn Schulz’s TED talk ‘On being wrong‘ sums up the issues very well. It is worth a watch.

The world of strategy if famously littered with ‘wrongness’, some we see immediately and at other times we have to wait a while before we cannot believe how wrong things have gone.

Scenario planning when used as part of the strategy process ensures that as Steward Brand said, rather than being exactly right, we are more importantly, not wrong.

In fact right and wrong is perhaps too simple. Carveth Read in 1898 probably said it best when he said “It is better to be vaguely right than exactly wrong.”

To get to the point of not being wrong we do need to embrace the fact that wrong is an option.

Confirmation bias is the tendency to avoid information which doesn’t suit our worldview. Unless we are able to embrace being wrong (even a little bit) when designing strategies we are not looking at the full picture and are likely to be surprised.

Without introspection and challenging our blindspots we are unlikely to find complete solutions to our strategic thinking challenges.

We often believe more analysis and better information leads to better strategies. This is not the case. Strategic thinking is more dependent on the psychology of the people creating the strategies, and their ability to be both right and wrong in their thinking.

Facebook vs MySpace – The writing’s on the wall

Looks like MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta ran out of options. I think if I was him I may have run out too.

Inside News Corp (who own MySpace) he has less room to move than independent Mark Zuckenberg of Facebook (who have sold only 1.6% of their business to Microsoft).

Earlier this week Jon Miller (the Newscorp Chief Digital Officer) fired Van Natta in favour of his two more recent appointees COO Mike Jones and Chief Product Officer Jason Hirschhorn.

But that’s all boardroom maneuvers of an obviously troubled company which is showing stagnant growth compared to its main competitor Facebook. (The stats tell the story http://bit.ly/b5IU2l)

Besides the stats, there are a number of key strategic reasons why Facebook will make MySpace more and more irrelevant:

  1. MySpace within a corporate will never be as hungry as independent Facebook
  2. Facebook makes it easier for others to write applications for users
  3. The user demographic of FB has more legs (older and more professional)
  4. The FB user interface is more understandable (although less creative)
  5. Big gets bigger much much easier than small gets bigger

Crucially the advertising deal that MySpace has with Google is up for renewal in Aug 2010 and based on performance is likely to dramatically change and reduce revenues.

Will this cause another loop in the death spiral of MySpace? And what of Google’s Buzz launched last week?

Jeremy Owyang did a useful analysis of the situation.