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Recent View from the Prairie Articles

October 2017

Internet of (Vulnerable) Things

In Nature documentaries, we can watch penguin colonies raise their chicks. We can watch the adults come and go. All the while, right off shore, the sharks are swimming, waiting for a meal, knowing that the adults and chicks will swim right into range.
Currently, there is a mad rush into the Internet of Things. Yes, the opportunities are huge. But the spread of unsafe devices is putting all of us at risk.

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Ignore Stuff

The human body is receiving a huge amount of data every second, most of which we ignore. Our eyes are processing every second and send the data to the brain on a network of about a million nerve cells. We toss away most of this information. In management, often we need to ignore certain things. Much can be safely ignored but there are some that should not be.

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September 2017

Google's Research on Effective Teams

Over the years, people have wondered what makes the difference between a group of workers selected at random to work together and those special teams that get so much done. Google has researched the issue and reported on their findings. The important point is that rather than having high skills in any one person, people on the most effective teams were psychologically safe.

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Cultural Tensions

In the 900's, the Scandinavian economy had three major sections; farming and fishing, raiding, and trade. Of the three, trade gets the least notice, but may have been the most consistent source of wealth. Each produces stress on society and we see the same stresses today in corporate cultures. We know most about the Viking Raiders but economically, they were in the same position as people who win the lottery: The money gets spent quickly and the raiders are soon in need of more cash.

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August 2017

Modern Data and Corporations are Fragile

In 410 AD, the Roman army pulled out of Britain. The collapse of the Roman society in Britain was fast and pronounced. In less than 50 years, Roman Britain was a faint memory and former Roman towns were being farmed with nobody living there. The prior widespread trading was gone. The Roman society in Britain had totally collapsed. It was far more fragile than nearly anywhere else in the Roman Empire. We, too, live in a fragile society and businesses are at risk from both internal and external fragility. Our society is quite fragile and the speed at which we discard technologies and move on to the new is part of the fragility.

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Break the rules!

If you want to make a significant change in your business, break the Rules. We operate with a bunch of rules in our head that can hold us back. By breaking the rules, we can see how to improve things and get significant results. While we can argue about whether Uber and Lyft can be profitable companies, there is no question that they have been breaking rules right and left. In many cases, Uber moves into a town without any permissions and breaks many laws to get started. However, when breaking rules, make sure that you are following the data.

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July 2017

Power in the Unseen

On those hot, muggy, sticky days, have you ever wondered just how much moisture actually is in the air? Someone at the USGS decide to look at how much moisture was being carried from the warm ocean up to the coast of California. He figured that each day, that "river in the air" was transporting more than the volume of water put in the ocean by the Amazon river in a year. There can be a lot of power in the stuff that we don't see but is all around us. This is also true in business. There are a number of things that are not easily measured that have a significant impact on our business.

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It was Too Fragile

Scientists were wondering why Bird Flu spread so quickly through chicken farms when only a few people caught it. By digging into the DNA of that flu virus, they were able to identify that the virus is too fragile to be able to spread between people. We see the same thing with a lot of new products and services: they are just too fragile to spread rapidly through the general public. Only a few people will be able to use those products or services.

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June 2017

Are You Solving the Right Problems?

It is so common when we are trying to get out the door after a long day of problems only to get caught near the door by yet another person with yet another problem. It is so easy to jump in to solve that one more problem. But, is that really the best way to handle the situation? We can so easily get distracted from our real job by all the problems. Our job is to direct others so that they can solve the problems. We need to recognize which details and problems are important and which need to be delegated. We must not get too busy to lead.

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How are you hiring?

Over time, businesses have gotten far more selective in hiring and many have dropped their training programs. We hear about the labor shortage, but the normal response to a labor shortage is not happening. In general, businesses are expecting others to do all the training that they used to do. The businesses that are still hiring on attitude and training new employees are still finding workers. When we are hiring properly, there isn't a major labor shortage.

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May 2017

Telling Stories Around the Fire

Studying other cultures can help identify what people are actually doing in the office culture. In many cultures, much time is spent sitting around the fire telling stories instead of working. We see a similar action with many a corporate meeting. But, we can do better. Meetings need to do only those things that can't be done any other way. The best meetings are those where multiple minds see a better solution to the problem.

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Pivot or Mutating?

We can learn a lot from some far-flung science. For example, in studying viruses, it turns out that the rapid mutation of a virus is an important factor in how lethal a virus is. The viruses that mutate faster are better at killing the host animal or human. This can be a metaphor for companies also. The companies that "mutate" faster are better able at "killing their targets" in the marketplace.

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