Archive for April, 2010

Don’t Be A Bystander. Act.

April 27th, 2010

bystander-effectI don’t know about you but I am disgusted by yet another example of the bystander effect.   Surveillance video from April 18th made public this week reveals the full extent of our inhumanity as Hugo Alfredo Tale-Yax, a homeless man in Queens, was left dying in the street as people just walked on by.  Hugo was stabbed while trying to save a woman from an attacker.  Seven people walked by the dying man in the hour and twenty minutes it took for first responders to react. Most just gawked, one snapped a picture on his mobile phone, and one person even turned Hugo’s body over exposing his wounds before walking away.  Are you kidding me?  Are we that oblivious and unwilling to get involved that we leave a man to die in the street while walking on by?  Apparently we are.  Psychologists have labeled this the bystander effect.  What ever it is called it is disgusting.

The bystander effect is psychobabble for the phenomenon where individuals do not offer help in an emergency situation when other people are present.  The theory is that the probability of help is inversely proportional to the number of bystanders.  The greater the number of bystanders the less likely any of them will help.  The bystander effect became widely recognized due to the Kitty Genovese case in 1964 that was sensationalized by an article in the New York Times (before YouTube and cell phone pictures).   The Genevese case is similar to Tale-Yax in that they both took place in Queens and involved a stabbing in full view of bystanders that chose not to act to help the victim.  In the Genevese case the perpetrator actually left the scene with Kitty unconscious and came back ten minutes later to finish the job while neighbors did nothing to help.  Amazing.  These cases are haunting and leave me thinking about the diffusion of responsibility within a crowd or within the community. Read more

Backwards Field Trip

April 22nd, 2010

902-field-trip-pic-11Field trip!  What child doesn’t get excited when a teacher proclaims these magic words?  The permission slip is the first thing out of the backpack.  I remember counting down the days until the day finally arrived. You can probably still remember those school adventures like they were yesterday.  Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to get out of the boring classroom and to experience the real world?   The destination doesn’t matter.  Anywhere out of the classroom works. The enthusiasm and student energy is palpable whether the destination is the zoo, aquarium, museum, or a historical reenactment. Experience beats a boring lecture every time. With all of today’s technology why can’t we make every day in the classroom feel like a field trip?

An article in the New York Times this morning, Museums Take Their Lessons to the Schools, caught my attention.  Apparently with school budgets in a death spiral, field trips are a luxury that many school districts can no longer afford.  Field trips to the Boston Museum of Science are off 30% since 2007.  As someone who drove my three kids crazy with incessant trips to this very science museum I am troubled by any reduction in school field trips. No problem, the museum has figured out how to take the museum’s science experience to the classroom.  They have created fourteen programs that can travel to the classroom including an inflatable planetarium so kids can gaze at the galaxy, Animal Adaptations, Cryogenics, and the kindergarten favorite, Dig Into Dinosaurs.  These traveling programs are so popular the museum expects to visit 1,000 classrooms next year.  Katie Slivensky, an educator from the museum, refers to these travel programs as “backwards field trips”.  Great idea.  Bring the real world experiential learning opportunity in to the classroom.  We need more backwards field trips. Read more

Force Majeure, Stuff Happens

April 20th, 2010

images4How many times have you signed a contract barely scanning its force majeure clause? You know the paragraph, the one with all the legalese that basically lets both parties out of their obligations due to an extraordinary event like the outbreak of a civil war or an act of God such as an earthquake.  You don’t read the clause because you never ever expect it to take effect.  These things don’t happen, at least not to you.  Or do they?  Just in the last three months alone we have witnessed a catastrophic earthquake in Haiti killing an estimated 230,000 people and leaving 1,000,000 homeless, over 9 inches of rain causing the worst flooding in 200 years in my home state of Rhode Island, and of course Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull (I couldn’t resist getting this great name in to a blog post) volcano erupting for the first time in 190 years opening up a 2000 foot fissure spewing ash across Europe bringing air travel and the continent to its knees. No one expected any of these events to happen. It seems force majeure is not so rare.  Maybe we need to get better at expecting the unexpected.  Stuff happens. Read more

Belly Button Theory of Innovation

April 8th, 2010

images3Unleashing the power of innovation to solve the big social challenges of our time including health care, education, and energy is as simple and plain as our belly buttons.  In the spirit of navel gazing I think a lot about how to simplify the innovation narrative, make it more inclusive, and become more experimental. I offer a belly button theory of innovation and its three constructs: one belly button at a time, from innies to outies, and beyond navel gazing.

One Belly Button at a Time

For starters we need a shared definition for innovation.  Our rhetoric is all over the place and innovation has become a buzzword.  Everything is an innovation and everyone is an innovator and of course when that happens nothing and no one is.  We conflate invention with innovation. They are not the same.  A simple definition: Innovation is a better way to deliver value.  It is not an innovation until value is delivered one belly button at a time. Often we don’t have to invent anything new to deliver value or solve a problem.  We have to get better at reconfiguring and recombining existing capabilities and technologies in order to deliver value. We have more technology available to us than we know how to absorb or deploy. It is not technology that gets in the way of innovation it is stubborn humans and organizations that resist change. Read more

Rooting for Da’Sean Butler

April 7th, 2010

dbutler01_0March Madness turning in to Spring Fever unleashes a Pavlovian optimism. I love this time of year.  It is a luxury of riches for many sports nuts like me who can’t curb their enthusiasm as winter fades away replaced by nice weather, budding trees, and perennial sports favorites including the NCAA basketball tournament, opening day of baseball season, and the start of the Masters.  With all the great sports images to choose from there is one from this season that is haunting me. (No, It isn’t Tiger Woods. Just play golf for heaven’s sake. I don’t care about what Tiger does off the golf course.) I can’t get the image of Da’Sean Butler writhing in pain out of my head.  This is a human story that is about more than sports.

There was Da’Sean laying on the court for what seemed like an eternity late in the Duke-West Virginia semi-final NCAA tournament game.  It wasn’t supposed to happen.  I mean really, there were only 9 minutes left in a game that was all but over with West Virginia’s Mountaineers down by 15 points. No one told that to Da’Sean as he drove to the hoop as if the outcome of the game and his career was at stake.  He planted his left foot with determination in an effort to will his way around a giant.  No exaggeration, he was trying to get by Brian Zoubek the Duke center who is 7’1″ 260 lbs. (Just ask the Butler Bulldogs how hard it is get around Brian.) I swear you could hear Da’Sean’s knee blow out as he crashed to the court, just lying there in obvious pain, as the entire stadium went ominously silent.  Anyone who knows basketball knew immediately that it was serious and that we had just witnessed a promising NBA career get destroyed.  How sad. Read more