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Recent View from the Prairie Articles

December 2017

Trusting Data

We have all heard customer support people tell us "that is what the computer says" even when we knew that the computer was wrong. Computer data is often trusted when it shouldn't be and not trusted when it should be. Computers and data need to cross a "trust boundary" and things go wrong at that boundary. We face liars and out dated information all the time. We need to have a good process for letting data inside that trust boundary.

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Costs of Speedups

In the Large Hadron Collider, the second run was designed to run at a rate of one burst every 25 nanoseconds. To put that in perspective, in 25 nanoseconds, light travels only about 8 feet. There was tremendous costs and effort to be able to get some information when things are happening that fast. In business, we are all being pushed to speed up processes.

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November 2017

Antifragility

When software is first written, often it is "fragile"; users can find keystroke combinations or inputs that "crash" the program. Many a web page has been hacked by people who have discovered ways to break the normal behavior. It takes a lot of work to build the software so that it is able to gracefully handle bad input or aggressive attacks. We need systems that are not fragile. The same is true with corporate systems. We need antifragile corporations.

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Turn the Problem Around

Many times, when we can get stuck on a problem, it helps to turn the problem around and look at it from another viewpoint. Turning a problem around is a common solution technique in the physical sciences and in sales. We can "solve" a problem from one viewpoint and then, when looking at the problem from the other side, see a totally different solution that is often far better.

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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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