Establishing a causal relationship is hard. Evaluating a causal claim isn’t as difficult.

Dr. Brian Anderson

In a recent WSJ column, Christopher Mims borrows from behavioral economics to offer an explanation for “Why the world seems worse than it is.” The details of the column aren’t important for this post, but a passage caught my attention…

Sometimes known as the availability heuristic, this bias is one reason parents are afraid to let children play unsupervised, though it’s never been safer to be a child in America.

Briefly, the availability bias/heuristic posits that the more recent a piece of information, and particularly information where a person can easily recall the consequences of that information (such as frightening news), the more salient the information is, and the more likely a person is to rely on that information—irrespective of its veracity—to inform a future decision. Mr. Mims posits that the availability heuristic, heightened by the nonstop barrage of information online, is the mechanism for the quote above and also “why people are afraid of shark attacks, even though they’re more likely to drown at the beach.”

Lets leave aside whether the availability heuristic is a true causal mechanism that explains why parents are afraid to let children play unsupervised, and just assume that it is possible. If we were to lay out the causal chain, it might look something like this…

Exposure to Frightening News→Increased Parent Supervision

How might we go about evaluating whether we should put much stock in Mr. Mims’ causal claim, without using sophisticated causal inference frameworks like the Rubin casual model or structural causal modeling?

Start with a thought experiment

One approach is to use a thought experiment to imagine different variables and manipulations for the predictor variable, in this case, exposure to frightening news. For example, we might say that the frightening news was an attempted abduction of a child. To a parent, this is truly horrific, and so it is easy to conclude that a normal reaction would be to increase parent supervision.

Now consider another example, recently in the news, about a parent receiving a visit from child protective services for allowing her 8-year old daughter to take a dog for a walk by herself. To one parent, a visit from protective services might be truly frightening, and so his or her response is to increase parental supervision. But to another parent—and judging by the social media reaction to the story—some might react to the news by decreasing supervision, perhaps in a form of protest.

The key point is that because we can imagine a realistic scenario in which exposure to frightening news does not always increase parent supervision, there is the possibility that meaningful contextual factors, or boundary conditions, are necessary to fully understand when frightening news leads to parental supervision, and when does may not. That is, there might be another important predictor out there—one that might change the nature of the impact frightening news has on parental supervision. If that’s the case, even without knowing what that specific predictor or contextual factor is, we should be a bit skeptical about the strength of the claim and its applicability.

Consider the assumptions

Another approach is to think through the assumptions. Mr. Mims posits that the availability heuristic causes increased parental supervision, “though it’s never been safer to be a child in America.” The implication seems to be that parents are cognizant that it’s very safe today to be an American kid, but despite that knowledge, exposure to frightening news increases supervision, which may not be needed because America is so safe today.

Lets use this assumption that people are aware that it much safer today for American kids than in the past. It seems plausible that people may associate increased supervision with increased safety; after all, the frightening event could be a situation in which a child’s safety may have increased if parental supervision would have been present. In the aggregate then, we would expect knowledge of America being safer for kids not necessarily as an assumption, but as a logical consequence of increased supervision. So in reality, our causal chain may look something like this…

Exposure to Frightening News→Increased Parent Supervision→Kids Are Safer

In this case, one of the assumptions underlying the strength of the causal claim that exposure to frightening event causes increased supervision despite knowing that America is safer for kids today is not nearly as strong if parents are also aware that increasing supervision, in the aggregate, causes America to be safer.

Of course, we are still assuming causality here between exposure to frightening news and increased supervision, but it’s not nearly as strong—increased supervision is simply the mechanism, or mediator, that connects exposure to frightening news to the more important outcome variable, kids being safe. When we put this possibility together with the possibility of contextual factors at play, our skepticism about the causal claims made in the column should increase.

Alternate explanations

Another way to question causal claims is to think about alternate explanations. An alternate explanation is a different causal variable that explains the observed outcome. Lets keep going with the assumption that people are aware that America is safer today, and that they assume that increased parental supervision improves kid safety. Mr. Mims also posits that “it’s never been safer to be a child in America.” The implication is that, in the past, America was less safe for kids, and considering our earlier assumptions, it is reasonable also that parents are aware that in the past America wasn’t as safe.

If we take a step back, time seems to be an important part of Mr. Mims’ argument. In the past, America wasn’t as safe for kids. Parents recognized that America wasn’t as safe, so they increased parental supervision. The net result is that kids are safer today.

So lets put together a new causal model based on parents knowing that America wasn’t as safe in the past, and that they assume increasing supervision increases safety.

Kids Safety in the Past→Increased Parent Supervision→Kids Safety Today

What doesn’t appear in the causal chain? Exposure to a frightening event.

In the model above, assuming similar conditions by Mr. Mims, parents are aware that America wasn’t as safe before, so they decide to increase supervision as a result, which then causes safety to improve. This is an alternate causal model, one that is equally plausible given the same observations about parental supervision and kids safety Mr. Mims uses in the column, but explains a change in parent supervision without exposure to a frightening event as a causal mechanism.

Of course, the original causal model could be accurate; but so could our alternate models.

When you put together the likelihood of boundary conditions, assumptions that weaken the causal claims, and now alternate causal explanations, we are rightly skeptical about the causal claims in the column.

So what to do?

I really do not mean to criticize Mr. Mims column, and his thesis may well be valid. But as we have shown, his thesis may also be invalid. The hard reality is that establishing causal relationships is devilishly difficult, and in the social sciences sphere, truly, exceptionally, challenging.

Truth be told, I think the most useful part of the column comes near the end, where Mr. Mims quotes psychology professor Steven Pinker…

I’m always skeptical of now-more-than-ever observations that are not backed up by time-series data, since they themselves can be products of the availability heuristic and may be inaccurate.

So true. To Dr. Pinker’s point I would add that even with time-series data, absent taking steps to eliminate alternate explanations and confounding factors, skepticism is the safe response to these kind of causal claims.

“First rule of leadership: everything is your fault.” Hopper, A Bugs Life

Dan Stifter, MBA

Everyone looks in the mirror and think they’re looking at a natural born leader with all the best attributes of Captain America and Wonder Woman. But according to Gallup, 82% of managers are pretty much complete failures. Less than 1 out of 10 are really qualify as “leaders.” While “managing” is different than “leading,” it’s a close enough proxy to demonstrate that there are very, very few good, much less great leaders out there.

“The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality. The last is to say thank you. In between, the leader is a servant.” — Max DePree

Want to be a better leader? I strongly believe in Jack Welch’s perspective that “if the rate of change on the outside exceeds the rate of change on the inside, the end is in sight.” In other words, if you’re not changing as a leader, the continuously changing environment will sneak up behind you like a vampire that doesn’t look anything like Edward and suck the life out of you.

Many people think desirable leadership behaviors are things like aggression, extroversion, self-confidence and competence. Yet study after study shows that the two most important leadership behaviors are sensitivity and being articulate. Look at the Max DePree quote – defining reality really doesn’t take up much time, most of leadership is about communicating and executing the plan. Communicating and guiding the vision and helping your team achieve more is the essence of leadership.

What’s the solution? Personal insight and growth. When you were 12 years old you probably wanted to be a “leader” so that you could just tell everyone what to do. Unfortunately, the real world is nothing like that. Autocratic bosses are so North Korea, and that’s clearly not a winning strategy. The first true step of leadership is understanding yourself, how others perceive you, and learning how to use your skills effectively. And you may not like doing it, but that all starts with a journey of personal reflection and growth.

Know Thyself

There are a ton of on-line tools out there to help you figure out your Emotional Intelligence. EQ has four components: self-awareness, social awareness (empathy), self-management, and relationship management (social skill.) Self-awareness must come first. “Know thyself” isn’t about being master of your domain, it’s about truly understanding how your behaviors are perceived by others. Want to be an effective leader? Find out how others see you.

Steve Jobs notoriously lacked self-awareness. It literally got him kicked out of the company he founded. He never became great at managing his EQ, but he had to get better to be successful and ultimately of course he personally grew enough to get to the point where he took Apple from being a relatively small niche company to the most valuable company the world has ever seen.

Becoming a leader is a lifelong pursuit; it is not an event, it’s a process. Start processing.

A Recent Graduate’s Reflections on the Executive MBA Experience

Since 2015, a student from each graduating class has been invited to write an entry into the Bloch Executive MBA Legacy Journal reflecting on their journey and offering advice to future students. Thomas Kepka, Director of Marketing at U.S. Engineering Company Holdings, prepared the following reflection for the Class of 2018.

“It’s August 2016, and I’m walking parallel to Brush Creek on the Plaza. Approaching Seasons 52, the sun is bright above the western horizon. People crowd the sidewalk, some moving with purpose to destinations awaiting them. Others meander without any apparent target in mind. Each seemingly unaware of the story that is unfolding for the person next to him or her. I am among the purpose-driven. I have a specific destination in mind, but as I reach for the door, I momentarily pause to acknowledge the sounds that would soon be muffled. The traffic, the splashing fountain, the conversations. I pass through the threshold, and I am briefly blinded by the darkness. This is definitely a different world than the one I had just left. It is quiet; the rush of dinnertime has not yet arrived. But that rush will assuredly come, and as I navigate my way through the empty restaurant, I question how this will go.”

The paragraph above was adapted from the reflection paper I submitted during the Leadership Residency. I confess that because this is my first tip: If you’ve written something in one class that works for another, repurpose it. You’re busy, and you have to manage your time. It doesn’t happen all that often, but when it does, embrace it.

That said, I deliberately reach back to that moment because that team meeting at Seasons 52 was a very important one in my EMBA experience. Entering the program, I was a little unsure whether I belonged. Perhaps you feel that way right now too. Or perhaps you’re beaming with confidence. Either way, at Seasons 52 during the Leadership Residency, I sat at a table with a group of people that were essentially strangers. We got to know each other. We sized each other up. We began the process of acclimating to the grind of the EMBA and the people that would share that experience. Maybe you’re wondering if these people are going to compete with you or try to help you. In my experience, classmates are your support system, not your rivals.

For me, I realized that I belonged in that seat. And while I didn’t realize it at the time, the people that sat at that table—as well as the rest of the cohort—became the most important part of the EMBA experience. The people are the experience. You’ll have wonderful times as well as painful ones with classmates. You’ll be amazed by people in both good and bad ways. You’ll grow. You’ll see others grow. You’ll develop great friendships. You’ll learn so much from them. You’ll teach them as well. Of course, it’s OK to mute the group chat that’s buzzing through the night, especially if you’re trying to sleep in Washington D.C. while others are still learning about what the nation’s capital has to offer.

In addition to the people, the program presents unique opportunities that I will always cherish. Obviously, the residencies away from Kansas City stand out. Our class went to Central Europe, visiting Budapest and Prague. The class before us went to Vietnam, and the class after us appears to be headed to Portugal. It’s incredible to experience the cultures, talk with local people, learn from international business people, and witness how classmates interact outside of Kansas City. By the way, if the letters “SSSS” are printed on your boarding pass, expect special attention from airport security.

For me, much of my success in the program is because of the support system at home. Clearly, if you have a family, the EMBA is an investment and a commitment from more than just you. While I understand everyone has a different situation, and this might not be applicable to you, I wanted to give my wife a platform to share her thoughts on how we were able to get through the program as a family. She is a saint who has incredible patience and strength, and I owe much of my success to her.

Dear EMBA adventurer,

Congratulations on the 2-year journey upon which you are embarking. I am the spouse of a recently graduated student and was asked to share my perspective. Though the journey was foggy on my end, I have just a few items of advice:

Keep the communication open and honest about expectations on a weekly, if not daily basis. Start in the very beginning. If you are holding a full-time job during this time, you will basically be unavailable. It was incredibly helpful for Thomas to put in expected study/school times in our shared Apple calendar, including actual class time and homework time during the evenings/weekends. It helped keep things balanced, as much as it can be (we have two young and involved children). Communication also includes making each other aware of how grateful you are for each other’s hard work and dedication to your goals. Verbalize the gratitude constantly. It’s simple and offers daily saving graces.

Share experiences. Any of them. It helps guarantee face-to-face time and eliminates the alienation of your spouse. Talk about frustrations, successes, classmates you enjoy, classmates you have trouble with, fascinating teachers, anxieties and especially things that you will undoubtedly learn about yourself throughout the grind.

Towards the end, I remember a simple conversation that describes the last couple of weeks. It went like this: Spouse: “I have some work to do, is there anything you need first?” Me: “NO! Just go get it all done!” (This ship was sinking.)

It’s not about grand gestures. If you find you have five or ten minutes of free time, you can save the ship by simply asking that very question – what can I do before I disappear again? Doing seemingly small tasks frequently is exceptionally helpful and maintains your awareness of each other’s struggles.

Blessings and Good Luck!

Again, your experience and situation will be different. I just encourage you to make efforts to give time to those you care about. You will have a life, by the way. You’ll just have to manage it well. The workload does ebb and flow. Enjoy the summer, and just keep pushing when you get back for Year 2.

I’m actually writing this in July, which means I have had a couple months beyond graduation to reflect. The first thing I’ve noticed since graduation reiterates what I have said earlier. When you graduate, you’ll miss those friends you gained along the way. Keep in touch with them. I’m not very good at keeping in touch, but I’m going to be deliberate in doing so. I suggest you do too.

However, while you miss the people, I have not found a single person that has missed the work. There was a lot of energy at that table in Seasons 52, but eventually it turned into a grind, and the enthusiasm turned to surviving the marathon. To be clear, everyone I have talked to is glad they took this journey (even the vocal complainers), but everyone was ready to move on by the end.

Except, of course, when it’s all done, you might find something is missing or you might be asking yourself, “Now what?” My wife tells the story of the first marathon she ran. She trained for months; she worked her ass off. Then she finally ran the race, and she did great. The only problem was that all the work she had done culminated in this one moment and now it was over. She likened it to postpartum depression. I don’t have the qualifications to make that kind of comparison, but there have certainly been mixed emotions since May. There’s the joy of being done. There’s the satisfaction and pride of the accomplishment. There’s also the question of what’s next. There might be a void because something that was so integral in your life is now gone.

I’ve drawn the parallel to a marathon a couple times, so in concluding this entry, I will stay on the theme. Completing a marathon is just about taking steps. That’s easy. You can take steps. Likewise, there’s no task in the EMBA that is too difficult for you. You can do everything the EMBA has to throw at you. The trick is to do it over and over again over a two-year period. You can do it, and you will be better for it. You will have a lot of fun, and you will have frustration, but just keep stepping.

Good luck on your journey. You’ll be glad you took it.

Three things I am doing to improve my writing

Dr. Brian Anderson

This article resonated with me. It talks about the difference between what literary critics regard as preeminent American literature, and what Americans enjoy reading. Kirsch writes…

Another way of putting it is that when Americans read, we mostly read for story, not for style. We want to know what happens next, and not to be slowed down by writing that calls attention to itself. According to one familiar indictment of modern literature, today’s literary writers are unpopular precisely because they have lost interest in telling stories and become obsessed with technique. In the 20th century, the argument goes, literature became esoteric, self-regarding and difficult, losing both the storytelling power and the mass readership that writers like Balzac, Dickens and Twain had enjoyed.

I couldn’t help but think about the parallels to academic writing. I’m a big fan of Helen Sword’s work, and her books are go-to resources for my PhD students and in my own work as an editor. Sword makes an analogous argument as Kirsch about academic writing, and I couldn’t agree more with her perspective. Most academic writing—including my own—is darn hard to read. Not because of complicated concepts, but because the writing does not engage the reader. It is almost as if we (professors) write to hear ourselves talk!

In the last year or so I’ve made a conscious effort to improve my writing. The main goal is to make my writing more approachable and more enjoyable to read. When I say enjoyable, I am not trying to make an academic paper read like Jurassic Park. My enjoyable metric is a reader who is a) not exhausted by reading something I wrote; and b) finds what I wrote useful.

So here are three things I’m doing to improve my writing…

Keep the (normal) reader in mind

I often use complicated language, jargon, and phrasing in my writing. What I’ve found is that the more complicated my writing, the less clarity I have in my mind about what I want to say. If it isn’t clear to me it won’t be clear to my reader, and complicated writing reflects less clarity of thought. I’m not the first writer to stumble on this concept.

One trick that I’m having some success with is, well, talking to myself. I imagine that I am talking to another professor—an academic, but one not familiar with my topic. What do I say? How do I say it? Then I write down what I’ve said, and start a new round of questions—is that what I meant to say? Am I being clear? Would “other me” believe my argument? It’s an internal dialogue, going back and forth between writer and reader. As an aside, this technique has also helped me make what I write more useful—at least that is the goal!

Use software

I haven’t yet found the silver bullet software tool for grammar and sentence construction. I usually write in R markdown and Google Docs, and neither of those platforms have native grammar tools. But I do have a collection of indispensable tools.

The first is The Writer’s Diet from Helen Sword. I like the simple “diagnosis” of a writing sample, and to be able to see where I need to focus to make it better. For example, the first draft of this post “needs toning” (and it still does because of all the darn verbs!).

The second tool I use is Hemingway Editor. I have an adverb problem, and the tool flags my problem areas. I also like the passive voice flag, and the suggestions for simpler alternatives.

My third tool, and one reason MS Word still has a place on laptop, is the native grammar and style checker. Again, it’s not a silver bullet, but that little blue squiggly line remains a helpful tool to identify grammatical errors. The MS Word grammar tool is how I learned to write in active voice, and I often tell students not to turn in a deliverable if it still has a blue squiggly!

Be my own merciless editor

The last one was the hardest for me to adopt but was also the most helpful. Drawing inspiration from Stephen King, I put myself in the position of being the harshest, most relentless editor I can imagine. No paragraph is sacrosanct; no sentence untouchable; no phrase beyond reproach. Sometimes I hit the delete key. Sometimes I hit Cmd+A, then delete. Sometimes I keep what I wrote as a reference, but usually I start over.

The idea is to avoid getting so attached to a pithy insight that you cannot make it better. I also find that being stubborn about keeping a paragraph or sentence negatively covaries with keeping the reader in mind—the more I want to keep something I wrote, the less useful the words are to the reader. This takes a lot of humility in your writing, but humility is a trait we can all use more of.

By no stretch am I a good writer. I do think I am a better writer today than I was 2-3 years ago, and want to be a better writer 2-3 years from now than I am today. One of the best parts about being a professor is thinking and writing for a living—and we can improve both skills with commitment and practice!

Originally published on August 9. 2018 on Dr. Anderson’s blog

The Grand Theory of Entrepreneurship Fallacy

Dr. Brian Anderson

Periodically, I have a conversation where the topic turns to entrepreneurship researcher’s inability to answer—with precision—why some ventures succeed, some fail, some become zombies, and some become unicorns. Similar conversations surround the topic of startup communities and clusters, and the role of research universities in supporting entrepreneurial ecosystems. Often someone bemoans that we have study after study that addresses only one small piece of the puzzle, or that one study may be contradictory to another study, or that a study is simply too esoteric to be useful.

My response is, well, that’s social science.

I am a social scientist, and proud to be one. I think across the social science domain, including management and entrepreneurship research, we have much to offer the students, businesses, governments, and other stakeholders we serve. But the one thing we aren’t particularly good at is humility. Humility in the sense that when we talk about our research and what we can offer, we’re aren’t always very good at acknowledging the limitations of our work.

Think about predicting the weather. The cool thing about the weather is that it’s governed by the laws of physics, and we know a lot about physics. But even with our knowledge, computational power, and millions of data points, there remains considerable uncertainty about predicting the weather over the next 24, 48, and 72 hours. Part of the reason is that interactions between variables in the environment are difficult to account for, difficult to model, and especially difficult to predict. Meteorologists are exceptionally good forecasters, but are far from perfect. This is in a field where the fundamental relationships are governed by underlying law-like relationships.

The hard reality is that establishing unequivocal causal relationships in the social sciences is extremely hard, let alone forecasting specific cause and effect sizes. We don’t deal with law-like relationships, measuring latent phenomenon makes error always present, eliminating alternate explanations is maddeningly complex, and, well, we’re humans (that not-being-perfect-thing). Interactions among social forces and social phenomena are not only difficult to model, but in many ways are simply incomprehensible.

One technique we use as social scientists is to hold many factors that we cannot control and cannot observe as constant, and to build a much simpler model of a phenomenon than exists in reality. It helps us make sense of the world, but it comes at the cost of ignoring other factors that may be important, or even more important, than what we are trying to understand. It also means that our models are subjective—the answer provided by one model may not be the answer provided by another. In a sense, models are equally right and equally wrong.

Where stakeholders who are not social scientists get frustrated with us is the desire for simple, unequivocal answers. What is also troublesome is that some social scientists—despite knowing better—are more than happy to tell the stakeholder that “yes, I’ve got the answer, and this is it.” When that answer turns out not to work as advertised, the search begins again, although this time with the stakeholder even more frustrated then before.

Making the matter even more complicated are statistical tools and methodologies that seem to provide that unequivocal answer; the effect of x on y is z—when x changes by a given amount, expect y to change by z amount. It seems so simple, so believable, that it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that the numbers produced by a statistics package represent truth, when the reality of that number is, well, far from ‘truth’.

In conversations which turn to wanting simple, unequivocal answers about entrepreneurship—what I call the grand theory of entrepreneurship fallacy—telling the weather analogy helps. But it’s also easy to say that there simply aren’t simple answers. I can’t answer the question because there isn’t an answer; you are trying to solve an unsolvable problem. The best that I can provide, and the best that entrepreneurship data science can provide, is an educated guess. That guess will have a credibility interval around it, and will be narrowly applicable, and be subject to update as new data comes in and new relationships between variables emerge. That’s the best we can do, and be extremely wary of the researcher who says he or she can do better!

We characterize our human experience with uncertainty and with variance. Don’t expect anything better from data science on that human experience.

Originally published on August 9. 2018 on Dr. Anderson’s blog

Bloch Student Team Places Second at CSBS Competition

A team of five Bloch School undergraduate students – Alison Irwin, Justin Loerts, Mason Paulus, Tristan Perkins, and Conrad Schrof – took the second-place prize at the 2018 Community Bank Case Study Competition sponsored by the Conference of State Bank Supervisors (CSBS).

The student team, advised by Finance Faculty Members Bill Keeton and Forest Myers, analyzed how community banks are using technology to streamline processes and better serve their customers. Each team in the competition produced a paper and video based on interviews with management of a partner bank and other experts. The Bloch team advanced to the finals through two rounds of judging, competing against 50 other teams from 44 universities nationwide.

The Bloch team partnered with Citizens Bank & Trust, which provided vital insights and connected the students with the CEO of Jack Henry and Associates and other leadership.

“This year’s competition has been very exciting due to sheer volume and the high quality of case studies,” said CSBS Senior Executive Vice President Michael Stevens. “It is a wonderful way to highlight student work and gain insights to how banks are deploying technology.”

Each student on the Bloch School team will receive a $500 CSBS scholarship. The team’s paper will also appear in the Journal of Community Bank Studies, a journal published by the CSBS to showcase the work of the top three undergraduate teams.

“The CSBS competition has been a great opportunity for Bloch School students to get out of the ivory tower and learn about real-world banking, said faculty adviser,” Bill Keeton.  “It’s just one example of the synergies possible between the Bloch School and the vibrant financial services sector in Kansas City.”

People are Not Problems to be Solved

Many leaders are promoted to leadership because they are amazing problem solvers as individual contributors. In fact, when asked, no fewer than half of all leaders say that they are rewarded for problem solving even in their current roles. The challenge with this disposition to problem solving is that people are not problems to be solved.

Ron Heifetz, author and expert in this area, helps leaders approach people challenges — including the ways in which we communicate — in “adaptive” ways. This change in mindset is important because when seeking to improve the way teams communicate, leaders have to use different methods than the ones employed with technical challenges like problem solving. As we look to handle more difficult conversations, we have to honor basic human dynamics such as internal biases, emotional triggers, different approaches to conflict and communication in general.

In the difficult conversations session at Bloch, we will discuss ways to approach conversation issues that are not always easily identified. We will also explore how to use some conventional tools (that we know about but don’t always use) to stay engaged in difficult conversations. Choosing to do otherwise is wrought with consequences for our organizations and for us as individuals.

Adaptive challenges like improving the ways you and others communicate does not come with the Cliff Notes manual. It will take time. It will take practice. It will require evaluating your beliefs and some of the underlying beliefs (mental models) of others in order to move the needle in this space for us collectively.

We can start by working on our ability to have these difficult conversations. There are some tools for talking when the stakes are high. Joseph Grenny, Susan Scott and Byron Katie have shared many of them with us.

Come and explore why we avoid using those tools and ways to overcome those obstacles.


About the Author:

Nicole Price, M.A., understands that if leadership is anything, it is personal, and that everyone can be a great leader. So she gets personal. Nicole’s transparency allows others to learn from her mistakes and helps them avoid the same pitfalls. Through leadership development, coaching, consulting, keynotes, and other resources, Nicole encourages and enables others to live their lives in excellence. Her energetic and engaging sessions leave participants with strategies and specific tools that they can apply right away.

6 Tips to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the ability to be aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others, then use the information to manage yourself to build strong relationships. While you need to be technically proficient at what you do — whether you are an architect, attorney, engineer or business executive — it’s your emotional intelligence skills that will boost your ability to be successful. Oh, and it can help you improve relationships with family and others.

Here are 6 practical tips to improve your EQ:

1. Be “in the moment”

It’s so easy in our over-scheduled, high tech world to continually multi-task. Research is showing that we can become addicted to looking at our cell phones constantly.  How often do you look at your phone when you are with others?  Are you really “in the moment?”  Ignore the urge to multi-task and stay tuned in with what you are doing NOW.  Be there with others using all your senses and your brain.  It might be surprising what you learn!  You may find that conversations go more quickly when you are tuned in rather than distracted – thereby actually saving yourself time!

2. Recharge during the day

Find a way to take a break during your day and get away from the meetings and your office.  This may mean going for a 10-minute walk outside.  Maybe it’s just walking around the office and talking with people about non-work related topics.  Or perhaps its closing your office door and closing your eyes to meditate and relax.  Figure out what works for you and make it a daily habit.  It can help calm and re-energize you for what you face the rest of the day.

3. Pause

Before speaking, particularly in an emotionally or frustrating situation at work, simply pause or count to ten.  Allowing yourself some space may avoid an emotional outburst and instead give you a chance to craft a more productive response.

4. Do a 360 assessment

A 360 assessment allows you to receive feedback from your subordinates, your peers, and your boss.  These ratings can be compared to your self-rating to identify areas of consistency as well as outliers.  You can identify strengths and also areas for improvement.  This will give you insight into how others perceive you in order to build your self- awareness, the foundation of EQ.

5. Be Grateful

This sounds corny yet when you are grateful it puts you in a positive mind-set.  Try it… write down three things you are grateful for each morning, or prior to attending a meeting.  It is nearly impossible to then be stressed out and on edge once you do this.  This calming influence can help you control negative emotions thought the day and help you handle adversity.

6. Smile and Laugh More

Neurotransmitters called endorphins and the chemicals dopamine and serotonin are released when you smile. These are triggered by the movements of the muscles in your face, which is interpreted by your brain, which in turn releases these chemicals. Endorphins are responsible for making us feel happy, and they also help lower stress levels.  The release of endorphins reduces the level of the stress hormone cortisol.  So have fun and get benefits in return!

These tips seem simple, yet when used can be quite powerful.  Incorporate some or all of these into your workday and you may find that you are calmer and better able to manage your emotions in a productive way!

 


About the Author:

Joni Lindquist, MBA, CFP®, is a Principal and Career/Financial Coach at KHC Wealth Management.  After 20+ years in corporate America, Joni transitioned to a career focused on helping others advance in their business, career and life.  Through executive coaching, career coaching and financial planning; Joni assists corporate executives and their families in achieving their goals.

Brain over Belly: Experiments for Decision Making

America’s leading companies have been moving away from decisions based on intuition and towards data for more than a decade. Amazon, Google, Netflix and Facebook are constantly running experiments in an effort to make better decisions. Experiments are no longer the sole domain of scientists in labs. Today’s leading enterprises employ and master the science of experimentation to improve the art of decision-making.

The familiar scene has played out in 100s if not 1000s of television and cinematic performances:  the sage executive ponders strategic alternatives, running each meticulously through their “gut” filter. After a long pause, and some serious hand-wringing, the executive elects to go with their intuition. Cut to the next scene — a victory celebration — the “hunch” paid off and the company is reaping the financial benefits of the executive’s instincts.

Unfortunately, our business reality does not come with a team of screenplay writers and deterministic outcomes.  As managers and leaders, you are regularly positioned to make decision with uncertain outcomes. On many occasions our gut — which is really a heuristic model composed of a lifetime of decisions — is the only voice in the conversation. But what if there was another way? What if decisions could be informed by what a customer thinks instead of what you think?  What if there was a way to make better decisions?

Why Experiment?

Experiments connect decision-makers with actual customer behavior. Instead of sitting in an office guessing how customers will react to a change, experiments provide real client feedback. One of the greatest advantages to this approach is the ability for companies to fail small and succeed big!

Experiment Where

Companies have varying needs so there is no one single experiment that all companies need to try. That said, there are three areas all companies could experiment — and immediately improve the precision of their decision-making.

  1. Customer acquisition: Developing strategies to acquire new customers can be a frustrating process. Experiments can reduce frustration and improve an executive’s confidence the new strategy led to acquisition. For example, when Capital One wanted to test the ability of a free transfer promotion to acquire new credit card clients they used an experiment. Capital One randomly selected prospects, sent half the free transfer promotion offer and the other half the standard offer. The free transfer offered worked, they scaled to all prospects and the rest is history.
  2. Process improvement: For many businesses customers do not differentiate between service delivery and product quality. For entertainment giants like Netflix, this is most definitely the case. If the video stream is slow or interrupted, the product (movie or tv show) is diminished. To continuously improve Netflix continually attempts to improve the technology of video delivery. With each adjustment they run experiments that allow them to assess whether or not the adjustment has improved the customer experience.
  3. New product development: The problem with any new product is that is new and thus unproven. Experiments provide a tool to test a new product with customers, without leveraging the financial future of the business. Amazon has a long history of this approach to innovation.  In fact, many of these innovations have failed like Amazon auctions. Yet Amazon continues to grow and prosper because experiments enable Amazon to test the viability of an idea before sinking too many resources into its operation. This fail small approach allows them to test more innovations than most companies, which also allows them to win big more than most companies.

Lightbulb hangs in the foreground with more bulbs blurred in backgroundDon’t Lament…Experiment

Think about your work in the three areas above — customer acquisition, process improvement and new product development. How are you making decisions in each area currently? Have you had an experience where customer intelligence would have made for a better decision in each of these areas? Start small, select one tactical decision and design a simple experiment. You are sure to see how the decisions you make have increased precision.

Scott has spent the last several years working with nonprofit organizations, assisting them with program evaluation, market research, commercialization, business planning, strategic planning and board training. His primary research focus is social entrepreneurship and his work in this area has led to publication and several presentations at international and national academic conferences.

 


About the Author:

Scott Helm, director of the Bloch Executive MBA program, has spent the last several years working with nonprofit organizations, assisting them with program evaluation, market research, commercialization, business planning, strategic planning and board training. His primary research focus is social entrepreneurship and his work in this area has led to publication and several presentations at international and national academic conferences.