Blinded by Risk. A small illustration of how this happens to all of us.

This post is a story about how a simple game gave us insight into something quite profound; the blinding effect of seemingly innocuous negative information.   

A number of years ago, we designed a small exercise to demonstrate the idea of how a company can have beliefs about business “truths” that prevent them from seeing important opportunities.

The example that got us thinking was the squeezable ketchup bottle. Heinz had dominated the market in ketchup sales.  When approached by the inventors of the plastic bottle, they dismissed it. They believed their traditional glass bottle and the ritual of coaxing the thick ketchup out by tapping the bottle was iconic of their brand and important to their customers, and therefore a key factor in maintaining their position.

We all know what happened.  Hunts picked up on the plastic bottle and stole a large portion of Heinz’s market share.   Although Heinz now has the plastic bottle, they lost critical dominance for a long time.  Now, nearly all condiments are available in plastic bottles. We started listing other radical ideas which had become important eventually but which were at first rejected by leading industries. The SUV, digital photography, the personal computer and even the television, were radical ideas at the time of invention. We ended up with 10 stories.

We realized that each of these stories has six components: 

  1. The idea itself.
  2. The reasons why it’s a good idea from the point of view of the company that adopted it.
  3. The reasons why the idea is not needed, too risky, or a violation of the product’s image from the point of view of the company that rejected it.
  4. The name of the company that avoided the idea and their market position at the time
  5. The name of the company that embraced the idea and their market position at the time.
  6. The eventual outcome financially for both companies.

We put the six elements of each story on a separate card and arranged them in a series to show how easy it would be to miss important ideas.  Given that we then had a set of 60 cards, we had the idea of color coding each of the six types just to keep them straight.  The reasons for not adopting the new innovation happened to be “red” cards.  The value of the idea was on a green card. The outcomes were on yellow cards, a description of the idea itself was on a blue card, and so on.

This small puzzle made it easy to see the point, but it also showed us something else.  Sometimes we asked people to complete the series and try to match the product with its story elements.

We noticed that when people started their series with the red card, it took them much longer to complete the sets. 

A little later, while giving a talk at a major university’s MBA program, we broke the audience into two teams.  So they wouldn’t know they were working with the same cards, we asked one group to arrange all the red cards vertically and add the matching cards from left to right in order to complete the 10 stories.  We asked the other team to do the same beginning with the green cards.  The “green team” finished in about 7 or 8 minutes. The “red” team never finished.  At the time this was very embarrassing for the participants and a little disconcerting to us, but it also intrigued me.

Starting your thinking with the reasons not to do something clearly had an impact, evenwhen you don’t know what the idea is yet (this was on the blue cards) and it’s not even your industry.    In groups, this effect turned out to be much worse.  We started doing this two-team exercise with groups before a presentation or a speech in order to illustrate how the starting point of a discussion can influence the whole outcome. We had to stop because after numerous tries we realized that no groupwho began with red cards ever finished their sets and this was very upsetting for them. 

What does this mean?

The original idea was to demonstrate the phenomenon philosophers refer to as “shared meaning”, which is specific to our species.  In other words, we participate with other people in common activities and as a result, eventually share their world view.  This happens on a very large scale – at one time everyone believed the earth was flat – or on a micro-cultural level, such as a group of friends having the same world-view. In the same way, people who work for the same company can come to share a common “truth” about the business they are in and what is possible.

But what we observed here was much more powerful and potentially much more disturbing. Even when people do not know each other, know anything about the innovation, or even work for the same company, the manner in which they are introduced to a common task can have a profound impact. A card with four lines indicating the risks of an idea caused them to be completely blinded. They literally could not find the cards that went logically with these risks but rather believed them as self-evident truths that cannot be challenged.  Conversely, the same kinds of teams of strangers who began with the positive outcomes of an idea—an idea that they also did not yet have knowledge of – had a smooth path to see not only the opportunities, but also to finding the card that described the risks, even though they turned out to be unfounded.

It is possible that we tapped into a fundamental cognitive mechanism. Beginning with a positive outcome may not only allow innovation to be recognized, but also put the risks in perspective.  In other words, it might actually be a more objective way to see the whole picture. 

But more to the point of this article, these two paths can happen easily, instantly, out of context and can be very hard to change once turned on.   A small starting thought may literally determine what you can see next in the landscape of information, even when solving a small card puzzle.

Fortunately, it can also be undone easily, instantly and out of context, but that’s the subject of my next post……

|FollowLia DiBello| President and CEO at WTRI

How to Squeeze Workouts Into Your Business Trip

[Original Article]

Whether you love traveling for work (When else do you get a free hotel room all to yourself?) or hate it, one thing’s for certain: Traveling wreaks havoc on your schedule.

This is especially true when it comes to your fitness routine — when you’re trying to stay on top of emails between those all-day meetings and client dinners, it can be hard to find the time to work out.

The good news is, with a few key supplies and a bit of planning, you can easily bring your workout with you. Here’s your three-step plan for staying healthy on the road.

Pack the Right Tools

First things first: If you’re going to have any chance of exercising while you are traveling, you’ll need to have the right tools with you. Here’s what I always make sure to bring:

  • Attire: Start by packing your exercise outfit. That’s right — you only need one. Choose lightweight workout clothes that will dry fast. That way, you can hand wash them in the sink, and they’ll be dry by morning. Also, pack your running shoes (though sometimes, when I am trying to squeeze everything into a carry-on for a short trip, I just skip the running shoes and plan to do a yoga or Pilates workout barefoot).
  • Yoga Mat: Pack a thin yoga mat that weighs no more than two pounds and folds into a small square. It takes up hardly any room in your suitcase, and I guarantee it will be more sanitary than a hotel room floor.
  • Resistance Band: You obviously don’t want to pack weights, but a resistance band will allow you to do an endless number of strength exercises. A band with handles in a resistance that will challenge you will give you the most variety.

Make a Plan

Plotting out when you’ll actually fit in your workout (and what you’ll do) ahead of time is the key to making sure it happens. So, when you’re on the plane, take a few minutes to review your schedule and find time for your workout each day. Maybe you could hit the gym on a long lunch break between meetings, or, if you have a couple of days that are back-to-back, make time in the morning to go for a run before things get started. I encourage you to add it as an appointment in your calendar.

As far as what to do, there are more options than you might think while you are on the road. Check and see if your hotel has a fitness center or pool. (If not, you can always run the stairs; pretty much every hotel in America has a staircase.) If you’re a member of a large national chain gym, there might even be a location close to where you are staying. Or, if you’re a runner, try a scenic run and see some sights while you exercise.

If you don’t have access to a gym or are crunched for time, you can still get a great workout in your hotel room. There are lots of online video-based programs that you can do with just the internet. My site, Tailored Fitness, helps you build a workout that is tailored to your goals, schedule, and preferences, just like you’d build an iTunes playlist. Some of my other favorites are StreamFit, The Daily HIIT and My Yoga Online.

Be Active

If you feel like your daily workouts aren’t quite enough to counteract all that sitting you’re doing, try to incorporate extra activity in other ways.

For example, walk as much as you can. Rather than sitting and waiting for your plane to board, walk back and forth through the airport. On breaks or after your workday, explore the area surrounding your hotel on foot. And unless you are lugging your suitcase, try to take the stairs instead of the elevator or escalator whenever possible.

A great way to track your activity and keep yourself motivated is to wear a pedometer or other activity tracking device, like Fitbit or Nike Fuel Band. Set a goal to reach 10,000 steps each day.

That’s it — a three-step plan to help you stay fit on the road. Just like any exercise routine, it will take some planning ahead and discipline, but keep the benefits in mind. Staying active will help you combat jet lag and feel better throughout your trip. Plus, when you arrive home, you won’t have missed a beat in your fitness routine.

Want to plan your workouts on the road? Try a free 30-day trial of Tailored Fitness. Sign up now or try a free workout (by clicking the link you agree to our Terms of Use).

Image: Psoup216/Flickr

This article originally published at The Muse here