Monthly Archives: March 2011

The Myth Of Impossibility

Innovations throughout history are sometimes viewed as literally impossible by the people who didn’t create them and have most to lose from their success:

In 1830 when the French King sent an engineering expert to observe the fast British steam train the Rocket, he declared it impossible, not understanding the developments in boiler design. (source Tony Judt’s book Memory Chalet)

According to Electronista the makers of the Blackberry thought “The iPhone “couldn’t do what [Apple was] demonstrating without an insanely power hungry processor, it must have terrible battery life,” “Imagine their surprise [at RIM] when they disassembled an iPhone for the first time and found that the phone was battery with a tiny logic board strapped to it.”

Just as we have trouble assessing risk, we also have problems assessing what is within the realm of possibility, especially when it conflicts with our own interests.

The Importance of Timezones

As much as the world is shrinking, timezones still matter. The chart below shows what proportion of the world lives in which time zone (with 0 as GMT/London). It’s a view of the world I wasn’t able to find, so I created it.

Rapid Hotel Construction

Impressive video of a hotel being built in China in about 2 days. Shown using time lapse photography.

Analysis Of Government IT Project Failure

Old, but still relevant analysis of government IT project failure here on HBR. The six themes are familiar:

  • Poor governance
  • Lump sum funding
  • Waterfall development
  • Scope creep
  • Automating too early
  • Doing data cleanup too late.

It’s not a bad list, although I’m surprised to see waterfall development on there. There’s nothing inherently wrong with waterfall, and I suspect the issues relate more to scope creep rather than the methodology choice.

Better Communication As a Project Manager

Listen More – As a project manager, you don’t “know” the status of the project, you merely hear it from all those working it, record and playback a snapshot. If you’re not listening you won’t understand if anything important has changed. Any opportunity to communicate, is an opportunity to listen.

Talk Less – If your status report is over a page, it’s probably too long. Your goal is to know the detail of the project, but only so that you can simply it to its key components for your audience.

Know Your Audience – Everyone’s needs are unique. If you find you’re giving the same presentation to more than one group of people, then you’re probably not tailoring it enough.

Sharing Bad News On Project Success

A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology showed much lower willingness to share negative information on a project as it got closer to completion. The study was done on undergraduate students with reference to a fictional project. If the project was only 10% complete then at least 6 out of 10 people would share negative information on the project. However at 90% completion fewer than 2 out of 10 people were willing to share bad news on the project.


  1. Supports the idea that many people are not comfortable sharing bad news.
  2. If people are going to share bad news, they will be more likely to do it earlier in a project, than when it’s closer to completion.

Actions You Can Take In Light Of This

  • Do everything you can to encourage sharing of all information, not just the positive. This may take more time and prompting, but it will improve project success.
  • Knowing that as projects progress, people will be reluctant to share bad news, probe on potential problems and risks early in the life of the project, and then set up ways to monitor them.

Innovation – Sno Bikes

An interesting innovation, after skiing and snow boarding comes the sno bike. I saw one on the slopes recently, although I believe commercial production ceased in 2008.

What Is Strategy?

Useful and  under 2 minute video clip from Michael Porter on what strategy is and isn’t. Many businesses do not use the term strategy in the way that Porter defines it, but as he argues there are costs to the approach of confusing strategy with tactics. Arguably this is the central insight upon which Porter has built his career.

Book Review – The Memory Chalet

This is a compact collection of essays from a post war historian. Most impressive about the book is the tragic context in which it was written, the author was “effectively quadriplegic at the time of writing” .  Tony Judt, who died on in August last year, had a motor neuron disorder (Lou Gehrig’s disease) which he described as “progressive imprisonment without parole” and wrote the book via dictation arranging his thoughts using a chalet as a mnemonic device to organize his ideas, initially the work was just something occupy the author’s mind rather than a text for publication. Nonetheless, the book stands in its own right as a solid collection of autobiographical reflections and insights into the twentieth century. In addition, perhaps because the author is dying the text contains brutal honesty throughout.

The topics range eclectically from New York to Midlife Crises to Intellectualism, but the essays are connected by Judt’s crisp writing style and most contain interesting insight. For example, “Just because you grew up on bad food, doesn’t mean you lack nostalgia for it.” and “Love… is that condition in which one is most contentedly oneself.”

It’s a short book but those with an interest in post-war Britain, the evolution of capital cities or intellectual thought will likely enjoy it.