Those Magnificent Men and Their Thinking Machines – Part 2

Jose del Millan robotics Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne

Robotics thought leader Jose del Millan from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne; Photo: Alain Herzog / EPFL

At the recent TEDx conference in Zurich, another thought leader in robotics, Jose del Millan from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, introduced the audience to a different type of robot from Davide Scaramuzza’s flying machine.

Dr Millan’s robot is controlled only by the mind, as he demonstrated with a fellow researcher on stage in Zurich. With wires and electrodes taped to his head, the researcher voluntarily modulated his brain signals to think about a particular direction, and the ”brain robot” moved that way — hundreds of miles from Zurich in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Transferring thoughts remotely into brain machines may sound like a scene from a Brave New World, but the futuristic technology has arrived and is waiting to be commercialized.

In the meantime, how effective are you at projecting your thoughts and ideas remotely to employees who live and work far away from the ”mother ship”? Have you mastered the art of long-distance communication? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Related Post: Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines – Part 1

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Those Magnificent Men and Their Flying Machines – Part 1

davide scaramuzza at tedx zurichNot many conference presentations require the presenters to get clearance from the local airport control tower, but one of the demonstrations at the recent TEDx Zurich conference did.

Davide Scaramuzza, a thought leader in robotics from the University of Zurich, brought a small, vision-controlled autonomous flying robot to the innovation event for ”show and tell.” Because it was literally a flying machine, the Zurich Airport control had to give it clearance to fly around the stage at the event.

The audience was amazed by the technology that will allow the robot to conduct search and rescue operations by ”sight” rather than using lasers or GPS. The visual system gives the robot more accuracy in finding survivors and avoiding dangerous hurdles to reaching them.

flying robot at tedx zurich

At TEDx behind the “safety net.” Can you spot the object in flight?

Are you as a business leader relying only on others to bring you the information you need or are you using your own ”vision system” to see for yourself what is being reported? Can you clearly see the obstacles in the way? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

See related post: Insights on Networks and Nodes at TEDx Zurich 2012

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Insights on Networks and Nodes at TEDx Zurich 2012

insights on networks and nodes at tedx zurich 2012

I took my yearly ”intellectual vacation day” on 25 October to attend the third annual TEDx Zurich conference. With 500 people in attendance and about the same number viewing the event live, TEDx provided food for thought and discussion and a chance to hear from and network with some mighty impressive thought leaders in their chosen fields.

As I did last year, I’ll try to give you a few highlights of the conference and focus on the innovative ideas I heard that apply to business today.

The first couple of segments of the conference were more generally thought provoking and inspiring. With compelling graphics and animation, the opening film illustrated how winning the war on poverty begins with educating girls across the globe and networking them together.

Then Mikael Colville-Andersen, an urban mobility expert from Denmark, asked the audience to clap their hands to a rhythm of 96 beats a minute to illustrate the number of people who die every minute in car accidents around the world. Building better networked bike paths in urban areas was one solution he offered for this problem.

The third speaker was more directly connected to the world of business. James Glatterfelder compared the organizing principles of our economy to nodes of firms in a complex system of ownership networks.

He pointed out the systemic risk in a ”network of global corporate control.” The 43,000 transnational companies (TNCs) who control the world make up 36% of the world’s corporations but create 95% of the value.

Out of those transnational companies, the top 337 companies can control 80% of their total value of these TNCs, and 146 of the key players have the potential to control 40% of their total value. With an estimated 13 million ownership relations shared among the TNCs, this network is too connected to fail.

How does your company measure up in this global world of connectivity? Are you too connected to fail? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

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Never-Ending Stories–The Green Screen, Walt Disney, and Your Own Organization’s Cultural Lore

Walt Disney Storyteller Statue

The beginnings of a legendary company: the “Storytellers” statue at Disney California Adventure Park tells millions of visitors the story of young Walt Disney’s humble arrival to California in 1923.
Photos by: Loren Javier on Flickr

Once upon a time, in the early 1990s, long before Harry Potter was even a twinkle in the mind’s eye of J.K. Rowling, there was a popular children’s fantasy film called “The Never-Ending Story.”  My then pre-teen nieces were huge fans of the movie; so I took them and their mom to see the studio where the film had been made in Munich, my home at that time.

I vividly remember their bewilderment and disappointment when they found that the star of the film, a furry beast, couldn’t really fly; but that the illusion was created with special effects on a green screen. It was somewhat a “coming of age” moment when they learned that appearances are often deceiving and reality may actually be camouflaged by “smoke and mirrors.”

In my family, that chapter in my nieces’ youth is a “never-ending story,” one that is oft repeated and part of our family lore. It’s part of the rich tapestry of our shared family experiences. Now that they’ve grown up, the details of that trip have faded; but the lesson learned will be passed on to the next generation. Aunt Connie will make sure that happens.

In your ”business family,” are there stories that are often retold because they capture the so-called Zeitgeist of a particular time? As with The Walt Disney Company, do these stories demonstrate truths that your people have discovered or reflect clearly your company’s culture and spirit? Are you–or your communications teams or your company historian or archivist–recording these stories and legends for posterity? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Remembering Stephen Covey: The Right Time Left for Thinking

stephen covey

Stephen Covey: reflecting on his important (or urgent?) legacy

Tributes for noted business strategist Stephen Covey, who died in late July, could be found not just in business publications, but also in mass media. That indicates the broad popularity of this inspiring businessman, who authored a series of Seven Habits books and launched a multinational franchise of time management products and services.

I worked several years for a rival spin-off company, Franklin Quest Consulting Group, which eventually was folded back into Covey’s vast empire. We were fortunate to be exposed closeup to the strategic concepts, tools and applications of the Seven Habits model.

Our job title, ”productivity experts,” didn’t exactly nail down the broad range of lessons we hammered out with drug development teams around the world. Part of the small group of European consultants in Scientific Services, we worked globally to bring rigor and discipline to the writing process used by pharmaceutical companies that were submitting drug applications to regulators. We also helped them prototype the regulatory documents and find the most compelling messages to persuade the health authorities to approve the drugs.

As you can imagine, the techniques we used, although based on the Seven Habits concepts, had to be tailored for the specific situation of filing new drug applications.  When handling such a large amount of data — some dossiers included a quarter of a million pages of background documentation — with rapidly approaching deadlines, it was critical to be able to distinguish between the urgent and the important.

Knowing how to identify and then manage ”the urgent” and ”the important” is an important skill for a good thought leader. This central tenet of the Seven Habits methodology promotes effective time management and always, always allows time for contemplation.

Do you practice Stephen Covey’s healthy business habits? Do you possess the right skill set to manage ”the urgent” and “the important” and still have time left for “the thinking”  in your daily schedule? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.


Four Colorful Leadership Lessons from the 2012 Olympics Opening Ceremony

For the last in this series of blogs on the Olympics, I wanted to share some thought leadership lessons I saw on display during the opening ceremony.

London olympics opening ceremony

Leadership is the difference between teams working in chaos and those working in concert.
Photo by Shimelle Laine on Flickr

Lesson 1: Motivate individuals with impressive team goals

Picture Danny Boyle as the CEO of a small company with 7,500 volunteers. How did he inspire them to “work” an average of 150 hours each? We can only speculate, but perhaps having seen other Olympic opening ceremonies, the participants knew that their individual part would make an important contribution to the whole. Are you as a thought leader helping your teams see the bigger picture and understand how they are involved in a worthy cause?

Lesson 2: Recognize all the people who make successes possible

Those who helped to build the monumental Olympic Stadium were invited to take part in the opening ceremony, too, and donned hard hats to stand sentry at the entrance to the field. Are you as a thought leader aware of the contribution others have made to your success? Do you give credit where credit is due? Do you publicly praise and reward behind-the-scenes workers?

Lesson 3: Be prepared to give direction immediately, in real time

Comedian Rowan Atkinson, with his finger on one piano key and his mind apparently elsewhere, paid little attention to what the conductor or the rest of the orchestra did. The results were predictable but comic. Many of the other performers, even the children bouncing on beds, appeared to be wearing earpieces that allowed their leaders to give them real-time feedback and direction. Are you as a thought leader ”in people’s ears” and helping employees improve their performance just in time?

Lesson 4: Understand and use the power of humor

Arguably one of the most memorable moments of the show was the video of James Bond and Queen Elizabeth. She clearly demonstrated one lesson for all leaders: Don’t take yourself too seriously. In her acting debut, the Queen exuded a sense of fun and captured the spirit of the moment well. But she then entered the royal box with a grand sense of ceremony and great aplomb. Do you as a thought leader know when it’s an appropriate time for humor and when it isn’t?

Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help.

SIWW 2012 Quotable Quotes: Ideas and observations from the world’s leading water thought leaders

Attendees at Singapore International Water Week find it is easy to understand why the event has grown into one of the world’s premier forums for the technology innovators, business leaders, and policy makers in water. Following are just a sampling of “Quotable Quotes” from SIWW 2012 that were first published as tweets by PUB, the Singapore national water agency, and by Global Water Intelligence, a leading trade journal in the water industry. I also published a total of 8 blogs for Black & Veatch, which can be found on the site. Continue Reading…

Blue and Gold and Green Matters: The Colors of Water at SIWW 2012

Plenary session Singapore International Water Week 2012 SIWWWhy should you as a thought leader in another industry care about what’s happening at a water conference in Singapore?

Singapore’s vital water industry makes it one of the world’s most important and influential Hydro Hubs, a reputation enhanced by its sponsorship of the successful Singapore International Water Week, now in its fifth year. With the goal of 11,000 jobs in the water industry in 2015, Singaporeans will benefit from the expected S$1.7 billion that the water industry will add to the GDP by that date.

Read more: Thoughtleaderzone’s Quotable Quotes from Singapore International Water Week (doc)

So water may be blue, but the water industry certainly has a golden touch. There’s money to be made in a field where demand continues to rise and supplies are limited. There’s ”blue gold” in using water more efficiently in any industry to save money and to preserve natural resources, which makes sense if you’re trying to be green. And you are trying to be green, aren’t you?

The second highest consumer of water, following agriculture, is industrial water, which accounts for about 25% of global water demand. Oil and gas, food and beverage, mining and chemical industry sectors contribute to that large statistic. If industrial water users lowered their water footprint every year, if agricultural users lowered theirs, and domestic users went on a ”water diet,” we could secure our water future.

Are you aware of your water footprint at work and at home? Are you reducing it year after year? Are you looking for ways to become a model thought leader of a water-wise company that focuses on environmental, economic and social issues, the ”triple bottom line”? Ask, assess, then act. We’re here to help!

Are Boring CEOs the Best?

are boring CEOs better performers or thought leaders?

One of the best business writers today, Lucy Kellaway, stirred up interesting debate on the topic of being boring in a recent column in the Financial Times (or read at She believes that if CEOs are boring, their businesses might go more smoothly and uses the example of GE’s leader Jeff Immelt to prove that point.

Quoting a recent study by Stephen Kaplan from the Chicago Booth School of Business and a Harvard Business Review blog by Joel Stein, Kellaway proposes that dull CEOs tend to be determined, detail oriented and hard working. She warns against associating the word “boring” with “bad” and calls for a re-branding of the boring CEO, whose success may be based on simplicity and innate happiness.

Boring CEOs aren’t stupid; but they have narrow interests and hone in on the small things in life, the small things that fill every working day. She says they are good at what Jim Collins calls “rinsing your cottage cheese” and cites two more role models for boring CEOs: John D. Rockefeller and Bill Gates.

Despite the hype about being boring, I’m not convinced that most thought leaders can “pull off” being boring. Kellaway’s exceptional exceptions fail to persuade me that the majority of CEOs should strive to be boring – that seems too low a hurdle for all of you energetic, charismatic thought leaders.

Are you a boring CEO? Do you want to be? Would you prefer to be a thought leader who’s interested and interesting? Ask, assess, then act.

Two unique formats help to showcase thought leaders at the 2012 Global Water Summit

Rome, Italy, known as the City of Fountains, was an appropriate host city for this year’s Global Water Summit, sponsored by the publication Global Water Intelligence. As the publisher Christopher Gasson pointed out in his speech to the CEOs gathered for a dinner the night before the event, Ancient Romans had aqueducts and viaducts — they even had a Goddess of the Sewers named Cloacina.

Rome’s historical tradition of being progressive is continuing, according to Jerome Douziech of Nuove Acque SpA, who explained that their water/wastewater concession had reduced energy consumption by 25% in ten years. However, a statistic they should be less proud of is that Italy consumes the most bottled water in the world — about 200 litres per capita.

At the Rome Global Water Summit 2012Format #1 – A Pecha Kucha-style format with immediate feedback: Douziech was one of the five candidates for the Water Performer of the Year award (click here for a list of all Global Water Award winners). Each presenter in the session had the opportunity to show 20 slides for 20 seconds each, like a Pecha Kucha format, and then the audience used voting machines that showed the results immediately. The winner pictured here was from Armenia.

Award winners: Global Water Summit 2012

Format #2 – The “Rapid Roundtable” Session: Another effective conference format to show industry thought leaders in action was the rapid roundtable session. During the two one-and-a-half hour workshops, about 75 presenters held half-hour mini-roundtables on their area of expertise. Click here to read coverage of one of the other compelling presentations, this one on the future of toilets by the Gates Foundation.

Throughout the conference, a live Twitter feed of quotable quotes kept the audience, the media and subscribers informed about the content highlights of the event.

Are you as a thought leader finding the right conference venues, prestigious forums and creatively structured events to showcase your ideas? Ask, assess, then ask.


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