Generation of Greatness

The following is a lecture from the founder and President of Polaroid, Edwin Land. Land presented this in 1957 at MIT. The title was “The Idea of a University in an Age of Science”.

Beyond his deep respect for the members of M.I.T.’s faculty and administration, your speaker brings to this review two primary ideas — love of science and faith in youth.

In the two weeks during which I was your guest here at M.I.T., I have had some twenty meetings with groups of the faculty and with groups of undergraduates. I have been to dinner at a Fraternity house. I have had graduate students and undergraduates come to dinner with me. I have seen the remarkable Survey of Scholastic Enthusiasm conducted by undergraduates in recent years, and I have had the advice of a student group of the Arthur Dehon Little Lecture Committee.

Nothing which I saw changed the latent conviction that I brought with me, that the freshmen entering our American universities have a potential for greatness which we have not learned how to develop fully by the kind of education we have brought to this generation from the generations of the past.

Everything that I saw strengthened this conviction. Everywhere I went there was the deep concern of the faculty and administration for doing the teaching job better. And everywhere I could sense a deep feeling in the undergraduates I met: none of them dared to express it, but every one of them felt, in his heart, that if a way could be found of nurturing the timid dream of his own potential greatness which he brought from his family and school, if somehow he could tie on to the greatness in the faculty and the administration, then his dream might be coming out differently.

The Age of Greatness

What do I mean by greatness as I have used it in the title of this lecture? What do I mean by the Generation of Greatness?

I mean that in this age, in this country, there is an opportunity for the development of man’s intellectual, cultural, and spiritual potentialities that has never existed before in the history of our species. I mean not simply an opportunity for greatness for a few, but an opportunity for greatness for the many.

I believe that each young person is different from any other who has ever lived, as different as his fingerprints: that he could bring to the world a wonderful and special way of solving unsolved problems, that in his special way, he can be great. Now don’t misunderstand me. I recognize that this merely great person, as distinguished from the genius, will not be able to bridge from field to field. He will not have the ideas that shorten the solution of problems by hundreds of years. He will not suddenly say that mass is energy, that is genius. But within his own field he will make things grow and flourish; he will grow happy helping other people in his field, and to that field he will add things that would not have been added, had he not come along.

I believe there are two opposing theories of history, and you have to make your choice. Either you believe that this kind of individual greatness does exist and can be nurtured and developed, that such great individuals can be part of a cooperative community while they continue to be their happy, flourishing, contributing selves — or else you believe that there is some mystical, cyclical, overriding, predetermined, cultural law — a historic determinism.

The great contribution of science is to say that this second theory is nonsense. The great contribution of science is to demonstrate that a person can regard the world as chaos, but can find in himself a method of perceiving, within that chaos, small arrangements of order, that out of himself, and out of the order that previous scientists have generated, he can make things that are exciting and thrilling to make, that are deeply spiritual contributions to himself and to his friends. The scientist comes to the world and says, “I do not understand the divine source, but I know, in a way that I don’t understand, that out of chaos I can make order, out of loneliness I can make friendship, out of ugliness I can make beauty.”

I believe that men are born this way — that all men are born this way. I know that each of the undergraduates with whom I talked shares this belief. Each of these men felt secretly — it was his very special secret and his deepest secret — that he could be great.

But not many undergraduates come through our present educational system retaining this hope. Our young people, for the most part — unless they are geniuses — after a very short time in college give up any hope of being individually great. They plan, instead, to be good. They plan to be effective, They plan to do their job. They plan to take their healthy place in the community. We might say that today it takes a genius to come out great, and a great man, a merely great man, cannot survive. It has become our habit, therefore, to think that the age of greatness has passed, that the age of the great man is gone, that this is the day of group research, that this is the day of community progress. Yet the very essence of democracy is the absolute faith that while people must cooperate, the first function of democracy, its peculiar gift, is to develop each individual into everything that he might be. But I submit to you that when in each man the dream of personal greatness dies, democracy loses the real source of its future strength.

Idea of the University

I want to talk now about the ways in university life that seem, to someone looking at it a little from the side, to be the right ways in this generation. Let us consider together what university life should be like, to fulfill its function in this age.

The thing that we cannot realize in university life is the extent to which our natural concern with the past in what we teach has tied us to the past in how we teach. It is essential for the faculties of our universities to realize that we have not created this problem, we have inherited it.

De Toqueville enjoyed pointing out a peculiar characteristic of American democracy: it solves the problems that occur, as they come along, in a new way. What new ways, right for this generation, would we like to see in university life?

Attitude Toward the Undergraduate

My first proposal concerns the attitude of the university towards the undergraduate.

We find that in other areas in modern life, the attitude toward individuals is changing very, very rapidly. Thus, coming into a university from industry, one is surprised to see that entering pupils are treated as young and immature. To anybody on the outside it is self-evident that these boys coming in are not boys. It is self-evident that these men coming in are men. These are the ones who, at seventeen, would have been fighting the bears in the caves of old: who, at seventeen, would have been diverting the streams that came to flood their nomadic valleys.

The fact that civilization is becoming more intricate must not mean that we treat men for a longer period as immature. Does it not mean, perhaps, the opposite: that we must skillfully make them mature sooner, that we must find ways of handling the intricacy of our culture?

Now this error in attitude — mistaking these men for boys — permeates the whole scholastic domain, permeates it so thoroughly that it is hard for anyone within the domain to recognize it.

What do I mean by saying that a man is treated as a boy? I mean that he is told, the moment he arrives, that his secret dream of greatness is a pipe-dream; that it will be a long time before he makes a significant, personal contribution — if ever.

He is told this not with words. He is told this in a much more convincing way. He is shown, in everything that happens to him, that nobody could dream that he could make a significant, personal contribution.

He is given courses, he is instantly given tests, and he is given examinations. Now I ask you, if this is preparation for life, tell me where, where in the world, where in the relationship with our colleagues, where in the industrial domain, where ever again, anywhere in life, is a person given this curious sequence of prepared talks and prepared questions, questions to which the answers are known? Where again is he ever marked in this way? Where again is a structure of authoritarianism masked by the genuine friendliness of the democratic people who are his leaders? Where ever again is a person brought to the day of judgment every single week?

One may be inclined to say: After all, it’s just part of a system. But consider this: The first thing a mark tells you is whether what you said is true. When the professor says, “Hand back what I said,” the professor is telling the student that what he, the professor, said is true. Now the role of science is to be systematic, to be accurate, to be orderly, but it certainly is not to imply that the aggregated, successful hypotheses of the past have the kind of truth that goes into a number system.

If we wonder why so few pupils survive the university system in the country today — survive to come out asking the right questions, feeling free to question the authority of science although they have mastered the techniques — I suspect it starts here.

I say that our system of tests and grades, as it now exists, is one source of the low yield of great men from our universities. The marking system is a traumatic experience from which most students emerge with a deep determination never to get into a situation where they can be marked again. They just won’t ever again take a chance.

Another example of the attitude toward these incoming men is the honor system. In this survey of scholastic enthusiasm that I mentioned earlier, there is a good deal of discussion of the honor system, of its use in other colleges, and of whether or not we ought to have it at M.I.T. Is it too much to hope that an inspired undergraduate body would need no policing system, even that of its own “honor”?

One feels, when among our young students, that they are honest and honorable and full of ideals, that they come to the door of our universities with the dream of being our colleagues; that if we could provide them intimate leadership there would be no discipline to which they would not subject themselves and no task so arduous in the pursuit of knowledge and science that they would not devote themselves fully to it. But if we imply, as I believe we do by our present attitude, that we do not have this kind of faith in them, then their own strength wanes and they cannot believe the best of themselves. What then should our attitude be, and how might we express it?

The Usher

I would dream that when a freshman enters the university, he would become at once a member of a small group, perhaps of about ten men. He would be associated at once with a mature, established scholar whose first interest is the education — I use the word in its broadest sense — of this incoming group and of the ten who came in the year before. The functions of these scholars will appear as I go along. Let me just refer to him, for our present purposes, as an usher — someone who leads you through the door — and describe him as a scholar who has a warm feeling for teaching, has succeeded enough in his field so that he is emerging from the fast-flowing part of the stream of his career, past the exciting rocks and chasms of his earlier years, and entering onto the pleasant, broad part of the river where he can relax a bit.

One of these ushers would greet each group of ten men as they came to the university. He would associate them with him as his colleagues — junior colleagues, to be sure, but as men capable at once of behaving as men, capable of the greatness that I have described.

He would help these young colleagues look over the university, talk over the professors, talk over the courses; he would start them reading, and then start them going to some lectures.

And he would start each one on a personal research project.

The Personal Project

I believe each incoming freshman must be started at once on his own research project if we are to preserve his secret dream of greatness and make it come true.

I believe, indeed, that the scientific experience should come earlier than the first year of college. I would urge that just as democracy initially meant the right of man to defend himself, to have a sword, and then meant the right to write, and then meant the right to read — so, now, democracy means the right to have the scientific experience.

This does not mean that everybody is a scientist in the professional sense. It does not mean that, any more than that everyone who can write is a writer in the professional sense. But just as an English teacher in the high school can give an assignment to write an original theme, so a science teacher in the high school should give an assignment to do an original piece of scientific work. I hope to convince you that this is feasible, that it is as normal for the young pupil in high school, or even in grade school, to carry out an original scientific investigation as it is for him to write his paper about what happened to the black and white horse out in the barn.

The proper kind of respect for distinguished people and distinguished accomplishments can be acquired only by actual participation in scientific research — what was valid in their spirit and their facts — what was necessarily of transient importance — how they related themselves to nature — and how any scientist must relate himself to nature and nature to himself. None of this can be understood except by a person who has himself been a scientist. A contemporary man who has not participated intimately in actual work in science is, in my opinion, not a modern man. I believe that this experience in science should come early in the life of all of our pupils.

Now, I expect you to say that it is inconceivable that we could provide enough experiments for all these students. That objection, I think, arises from the fact that the teachers in a great university are distinguished people. They are in fields that have come a long way. They are in fields of great current importance. Each is working out at the farthest end of one predominant line within his field. Now, for a young man to catch up with all the distinguished workers along that line, to pass them, and to make a contribution is indeed an almost unthinkable thing. The ordinary tendency, then, of a distinguished person in any field is to feel that no matter how much he admires and respects the young man, he cannot impose on him the requirements of contribution in that line where so many great men are working.

What I would like to urge is then in between all of these major lines of scientific investigation there are vast areas as yet unexplored. What would be one? Consider the recent work of Von Frisch, which shows that bees find their way by the polarized light of the sky. Von Frisch’s work suggests the kind of project our young man could undertake.

We suggest to the entering freshman: Von Frisch has found that bees find their way by polarized light. Your problem is to find out what, if anything, in the bee’s eye, is the analyzer for that polarized light? Immediately, the first day the man starts on that problem, he is the world’s authority on it. No one else is working in his domain; he is on his way; he is a self-respecting individual; he is motivated in a hundred different ways; he is our colleague. Similarly he could have been the one to find out how bees talk to one another, how they take ordinary drones and somehow convert them into scouts that go out and find new sites for the hive and come back and tell the hive about them. He could find out what happens in the town meetings of the bees when the scouts come back and the hive votes on which scout to believe.

Thus it is apparent that there are areas where untrained people may work effectively and with limited equipment. Our pupil doesn’t need a big laboratory to do this, he needs freedom; he needs encouragement.

Introductory Courses

The next proposal I wish to make concerns the nature of the courses through which entering students are introduced to the various disciplines.

It seems to me that the introductory courses which are designed, supposedly, to teach the whole freshman class about chemistry, and physics, and mathematics, to serve as background in these fields, have instead a tendency to be given as survival courses. That is, a man who is inherently a chemist will survive an introductory course in chemistry; a man who is not inherently a chemist will not want to hear of chemistry again.

Similarly, I think a physicist, looking at a student, does not ask, “How can I help this boy become a great man in some field?”, but “Is this boy potentially a great physicist who will some day work in my field? Is he someone with whom I might identify myself, and to whom I would be proud to pass on what I know?” While this is an understandable attitude, it doesn’t solve the problem of how we make chemists and mathematicians have a deep feeling for physics. I think the “school science” approach does; and I think the general education course at its best does also — where by the best we mean the brilliant presentation of the most precisely delineated ideas, and I think we must say this to each department: “Sharpen up the edges of ideas for the students in fields other than your own. They will not have years in which to find out what you meant, years during which they might achieve a sense of rich insight into your domain. But they are intelligent, they are earnest in their own department; they will profit all their lives from one year of brilliant teaching.”

Now this takes time, patience, and talent, and the question immediately arises: How can we find the time?

One proposal that interests me is to take the good lecturers at the moment when they are most excited about a new way of saying something, or at the moment when they have just found something new, and make moving pictures of them right in class. “Can the lecture with the vitamins in!”

Although I have not been in a university all my life, most of my friends have, and many a wonderful evening has been spoiled because a friend had to go home to do his lecture over. The same lecture? Yes, the same lecture. Why did he have to do it over? Because he had a little new insight. And so he redid that part, and became excited, and when he gave his lecture the next morning, everybody saw that he was excited, and the lecture was wonderful. (Actually, when he redid his lecture, he dropped out the idea he was excited about the previous year, which was just as important — but he couldn’t get excited about it again.)

With the movie we can capture the excitement, as well as the substance, of the best lectures. The lecturer can be freed of much of the burden of the total review of his field every year. He can devote himself to what he is excited about this year; to the new discovery, to the increment in knowledge, to correcting what he said before, to a fresh statement about an extensive new area.

When our new, mature freshman comes in, then, to the new regenerated university of the 1960’s, he will find a building which combines a series of movie theaters with a storehouse of great lectures. In these theaters, groups of students see many of the lectures that today must be given, in person, by their professors. Later, each student can see these lectures over again, whenever he wants to.

As you watch these movies we are about to show, you will find, I think, that in several respects the movie can actually be better than the lecturer in person. One can see, in the movie close-ups, what actually occurs in his demonstration.

You will also observe in yourself a curious objectivity. In an actual lecture, there is often a high and somewhat irrelevant emotional content, one way or the other, positive or negative; either one is too sensitive to the teacher or one is too insensitive; either one is too wide awake or one is too sleepy. One senses the presence of the man, in addition to, and outside of, anything that he has to say about the subject of the lecture. I think you will find in these movies that while you can feel the warmth of the personality of the lecturer, you can at the same time retain a relaxed objectivity that should speed the learning process.

These movies represent three different experiments. In one, Professor Hans Mueller, a very popular and effective lecturer, talks in his field of optics about the scattering of light. In this experiment, the movie camera was brought in while he was giving his lecture. Just a fragment of the lecture is shown.

The second film is of Professor Ernst Guillemin. He has just described how an abrupt truncation of the band width affects the transmission of a signal and he is about to describe how this effect may be minimized.

The third was prepared by Professor Jerrold Zacharias and Professor Tom Jones as part of their school science work. It is a complete lecture-demonstration about the pressure of light.

The movies were then shown and Dr. Land proceeded to his concluding remarks.

In our reconstitution of the university of the future, we have made these proposals:

  • The university would accept the young men coming to it as men, and in the course of doing so, it would discard the present grading system in favor of one which would enable the student to check his accomplishment but would not encumber the relationship between the student and his professor.
  • It would cherish and nurture the dream of greatness that these young men bring with them when they come to the university, in particular by giving each of them, from the start, a research project of his own.
  • It would introduce them to the several fields of science through courses designed nor to screen out nonspecialists, but rather to give them the essential insights and ideas in these fields.
  • It would give them, in their introductory courses and in all of their courses, the best teaching of the best lecturers, by preserving and multiplying these lectures in motion pictures.
  • It would give them intimate association, from the first, with a mature colleague — the usher.

The Function of the Usher

I have saved till last my discussion of the usher.

Why do we need the usher? What do these ushers do? What are they like?

Their function is to take these young men as they come to the university and see that they become, during the first two years, sophisticated in science generally, and sophisticated in the world of literature and the arts generally. They would see that these first two years are dedicated to a deliberate program of induction into mental maturity.

Just as the ages of five, six, and seven are when a child learns languages quickly, the years from seventeen to nineteen are peculiarly the years in which a man reaches out to try and understand the universe in every possible way.

The ushers encourage this reaching out, stimulate and guide it. As they acquire insight into the personality and the needs of the incoming man, they open the doors of the university to him…the right doors, at the right time. They build, with each man, a program of reading, of lectures, of seminars. When the usher feels his group of students is ready to talk with a great professor, he arranges for the meeting, seeing to it that the students are prepared ahead of time to ask the right questions.

We have already seen the usher starting his men on their personal research projects. As each man pursues his investigation, his usher is the trusted and trusting friend, the master whose criticism he can ask for and take without losing face; he is the senior colleague who knows his way around in all of the fields that the investigation will inevitably come to involve.

But perhaps the usher’s greatest contribution is merely to be what he is — when he is not being consciously and explicitly a guide and counselor. The usher, remember, is a great man in his field. He has not dropped his career. He is actively engaged in his own field, contributing to it through his own first-rate research.

Can we find such men? For a university of the size of M.I.T., we would need ninety of them. Could we find enough of these great men to go around? I think we could.

I think that there comes a point in each career where a man begins to get as deep satisfaction from bringing younger men along as he gets from making scientific contributions to his field. There comes an age when suddenly this, too, seems to be fun. It comes, I think, about the time that presbyopia sets in. At that moment, the things to which he has been devoting all his life — the finding of a great law, the isolation of the compound, the working out of the structure, having more and more graduate students, working for one academy after another and then for the Nobel Prize — all of that is very important, but instead of seeming of cosmic importance, it seems important only if he can do it in a happy, healthy world, only in a world in which he is deeply concerned about people.

You will find these ushers, I would say, by searching among the great scientists who have arrived at this stage.

These ushers would be well paid. Because they would be well paid, they would only have to take those consulting jobs that appealed to them. They could be made exempt from serving on committees.

In thinking about what the human animal might have gone through in the evolutionary process, have you wondered how some of the small changes which must have occurred could have had survival value? Haven’t you wondered how they could have survived, when, in all of our experimental work every small change we make dies? I think that each of us, in each of our fields, has come to this conclusion: that every once in a while, after we have tried a multitude of little changes, each of which dies, we make a little change that gives an important result in terms of the whole. We make a little change in one of the independent variables that gives an enormous change in a dependent variable that controls the behavior of the whole structure.

How many changes must have occurred in the human eye, occurred and died, before one change came along — an apparently trivial change like a little red-sensitivity in the retina along with the black-and-white sensitivity — that gave the whole animal a significant increase in its power to perceive and hunt down its enemies and find its food. This is the kind of change that survives.

In my opinion, neither organisms nor organizations evolve slowly and surely into something better, but drift until some small change occurs which has immediate and overwhelming significance. The special role of the human being is not to wait for these favorable accidents but deliberately to introduce the small change that will have great significance.

To treat young men like men; to use modern recording techniques to capture the moment of exciting teaching; to gather ninety great men out of our one-hundred and seventy million — these, in retrospect, will seem like small changes indeed if they succeed in building a generation of greatness.

Ethnography – Get Close to Customers

Ethnography is common practice within anthropology. Anthropologists often live with and study groups or societies for long periods of time, forming close and intimate connections with the target group that allow for insights that could not be gained from one-on-one interviews or group discussions. These immersive observations and interviews often result in powerful and unexpected findings.

The objective of applying ethnography to market research is to get inside the customer’s head and understand them in their environment. Sharing these visits can provide coworkers deep insight into how customers live, how they use the product, and what problems they are experiencing. You also uncover details of their lives not typically found during one-on-one interviews (e.g., what car they drive, what food they eat, the brand of clothes they wear). These findings are valuable for effective new product development, positioning, messaging, and developing winning sales and marketing tactics.

You typically conduct visits in the locations where customers use the product (e.g., home, school, business). The visit often lasts several hours (or days), allowing a deep understanding of who the customer is and various aspects of their lives (e.g., what other products they own, what media they consume, foods they eat, brands they respect), how they use the product, and what problems they encounter when using the product. A few hours or several days with customers in their environment can provide amazing insights to drive new ways to message customers, position a product, or develop products for untapped markets.

During the visit, focus on the environment. Take in the physical setting to gain a holistic understanding of the environment, not just what the individual says (Gray, 2011). What sounds and smells do you notice? What do you see around the area (e.g., pictures on the walls, items in the garage, types of furniture)? What’s on their desk? How does the person react to certain questions? What key phrases or words do they consistently use? How do they spend their free time? What is important to them?

The more you listen and observe, the more information you will gather that can provide new ways to differentiate a product or uncover new methods to engage with customers. Remember, you are going to build a story, so make sure you gather multiple insights to communicate the small nuances that quantitative data cannot provide.

Conducting ethnographic research requires great listening skills—being empathetic, but dispassionate. You are there to watch, listen, and understand the customer, not to get involved or influence their behavior. Continually ask probing questions to fully understand the customer and their interactions with the product, service, or process. It is recommended that you record the visits.

If coworkers cannot get out of the office and participate in the visits, a video story is the next best thing. Develop a video story that brings the customer to life. You should be able to show people back in the office who the actual customer is: the person on whom you all must focus, the person who keeps the organization in business.

Now that you have preliminary information regarding your MR topic, it is often helpful to conduct several focus groups to ensure that what you’ve learned applies to a larger subset of the sample population. Avoid starting your exploratory research with focus groups, though, because they are expensive and take a lot of planning and preparation. It is more effective and efficient to conduct focus groups after gathering some initial qualitative data.

Market Research Training


Like with most skills, it is helpful to study and attend training classes to accelerate their learning. MR includes multiple specialties and requires a variety of skills (e.g., designing questionnaires, interviewing, creating reports, moderating focus groups). The more you can improve your MR skills, the greater insights you will uncover to make better decisions. Also, a team that can conduct high-level MR will gain increased market understanding compared to that obtained through a third-party vendor that is not familiar with your products or industry.

A successful MR practitioner must have a strong foundational understanding of the science behind MR and of what drives a successful MR project. Study the following MR topics to improve your skills (you can only learn so much from a book or a YouTube video).

  • Designing questionnaires
  • Interviewing
  • Moderating
  • Understanding key statistical tools (e.g., correlation, multiple regression)
  • Gathering and analyzing data
  • Creating research reports

The more you understand MR fundamentals, the better you will be at conducting Do-It-Yourself (DIY) research. Also, you will gain valuable knowledge and increased confidence when working with third-party MR vendors to ensure any outsourced project succeeds. It is not always feasible to conduct DIY research (e.g., resource constraints, lack of specific skills, lack of time), but understanding MR will ensure you and your vendors create successful projects. Regardless of whether you insource or outsource MR, a deep understanding and hands-on experience will increase the probability of a successful project.

Use multiple resources to improve your MR skills. In-person courses from the Burke Institute or RIVA Training Institute are excellent for learning in an interactive environment. Online course providers such as Udemy or are also excellent sources of continued learning. No matter which method you use to increase your MR skills, keep learning and practicing; make continuous learning a lifelong habit.

The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions

It is probably a good idea for everyone to revisit Abraham Lincoln’s words from January 27, 1838. The address was before the Young Men’s Lyceum of Springfield, Illinois.

As a subject for the remarks of the evening, the perpetuation of our political institutions, is selected.

In the great journal of things happening under the sun, we, the American People, find our account running, under date of the nineteenth century of the Christian era.–We find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Their’s was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

I hope I am over wary; but if I am not, there is, even now, something of ill-omen, amongst us. I mean the increasing disregard for law which pervades the country; the growing disposition to substitute the wild and furious passions, in lieu of the sober judgment of Courts; and the worse than savage mobs, for the executive ministers of justice. This disposition is awfully fearful in any community; and that it now exists in ours, though grating to our feelings to admit, it would be a violation of truth, and an insult to our intelligence, to deny. Accounts of outrages committed by mobs, form the every-day news of the times. They have pervaded the country, from New England to Louisiana;–they are neither peculiar to the eternal snows of the former, nor the burning suns of the latter;–they are not the creature of climate– neither are they confined to the slave-holding, or the non-slave- holding States. Alike, they spring up among the pleasure hunting masters of Southern slaves, and the order loving citizens of the land of steady habits.–Whatever, then, their cause may be, it is common to the whole country.

It would be tedious, as well as useless, to recount the horrors of all of them. Those happening in the State of Mississippi, and at St. Louis, are, perhaps, the most dangerous in example and revolting to humanity. In the Mississippi case, they first commenced by hanging the regular gamblers; a set of men, certainly not following for a livelihood, a very useful, or very honest occupation; but one which, so far from being forbidden by the laws, was actually licensed by an act of the Legislature, passed but a single year before. Next, negroes, suspected of conspiring to raise an insurrection, were caught up and hanged in all parts of the State: then, white men, supposed to be leagued with the negroes; and finally, strangers, from neighboring States, going thither on business, were, in many instances subjected to the same fate. Thus went on this process of hanging, from gamblers to negroes, from negroes to white citizens, and from these to strangers; till, dead men were seen literally dangling from the boughs of trees upon every road side; and in numbers almost sufficient, to rival the native Spanish moss of the country, as a drapery of the forest.

Turn, then, to that horror-striking scene at St. Louis. A single victim was only sacrificed there. His story is very short; and is, perhaps, the most highly tragic, if anything of its length, that has ever been witnessed in real life. A mulatto man, by the name of McIntosh, was seized in the street, dragged to the suburbs of the city, chained to a tree, and actually burned to death; and all within a single hour from the time he had been a freeman, attending to his own business, and at peace with the world.

Such are the effects of mob law; and such as the scenes, becoming more and more frequent in this land so lately famed for love of law and order; and the stories of which, have even now grown too familiar, to attract any thing more, than an idle remark.

But you are, perhaps, ready to ask, “What has this to do with the perpetuation of our political institutions?” I answer, it has much to do with it. Its direct consequences are, comparatively speaking, but a small evil; and much of its danger consists, in the proneness of our minds, to regard its direct, as its only consequences. Abstractly considered, the hanging of the gamblers at Vicksburg, was of but little consequence. They constitute a portion of population, that is worse than useless in any community; and their death, if no pernicious example be set by it, is never matter of reasonable regret with any one. If they were annually swept, from the stage of existence, by the plague or small pox, honest men would, perhaps, be much profited, by the operation.–Similar too, is the correct reasoning, in regard to the burning of the negro at St. Louis. He had forfeited his life, by the perpetration of an outrageous murder, upon one of the most worthy and respectable citizens of the city; and had not he died as he did, he must have died by the sentence of the law, in a very short time afterwards. As to him alone, it was as well the way it was, as it could otherwise have been.–But the example in either case, was fearful.–When men take it in their heads to day, to hang gamblers, or burn murderers, they should recollect, that, in the confusion usually attending such transactions, they will be as likely to hang or burn some one who is neither a gambler nor a murderer as one who is; and that, acting upon the example they set, the mob of to-morrow, may, and probably will, hang or burn some of them by the very same mistake. And not only so; the innocent, those who have ever set their faces against violations of law in every shape, alike with the guilty, fall victims to the ravages of mob law; and thus it goes on, step by step, till all the walls erected for the defense of the persons and property of individuals, are trodden down, and disregarded. But all this even, is not the full extent of the evil.–By such examples, by instances of the perpetrators of such acts going unpunished, the lawless in spirit, are encouraged to become lawless in practice; and having been used to no restraint, but dread of punishment, they thus become, absolutely unrestrained.–Having ever regarded Government as their deadliest bane, they make a jubilee of the suspension of its operations; and pray for nothing so much, as its total annihilation. While, on the other hand, good men, men who love tranquility, who desire to abide by the laws, and enjoy their benefits, who would gladly spill their blood in the defense of their country; seeing their property destroyed; their families insulted, and their lives endangered; their persons injured; and seeing nothing in prospect that forebodes a change for the better; become tired of, and disgusted with, a Government that offers them no protection; and are not much averse to a change in which they imagine they have nothing to lose. Thus, then, by the operation of this mobocractic spirit, which all must admit, is now abroad in the land, the strongest bulwark of any Government, and particularly of those constituted like ours, may effectually be broken down and destroyed–I mean the attachment of the People. Whenever this effect shall be produced among us; whenever the vicious portion of population shall be permitted to gather in bands of hundreds and thousands, and burn churches, ravage and rob provision-stores, throw printing presses into rivers, shoot editors, and hang and burn obnoxious persons at pleasure, and with impunity; depend on it, this Government cannot last. By such things, the feelings of the best citizens will become more or less alienated from it; and thus it will be left without friends, or with too few, and those few too weak, to make their friendship effectual. At such a time and under such circumstances, men of sufficient talent and ambition will not be wanting to seize the opportunity, strike the blow, and overturn that fair fabric, which for the last half century, has been the fondest hope, of the lovers of freedom, throughout the world.

I know the American People are much attached to their Government;–I know they would suffer much for its sake;–I know they would endure evils long and patiently, before they would ever think of exchanging it for another. Yet, notwithstanding all this, if the laws be continually despised and disregarded, if their rights to be secure in their persons and property, are held by no better tenure than the caprice of a mob, the alienation of their affections from the Government is the natural consequence; and to that, sooner or later, it must come.

Here then, is one point at which danger may be expected.

The question recurs, “how shall we fortify against it?” The answer is simple. Let every American, every lover of liberty, every well wisher to his posterity, swear by the blood of the Revolution, never to violate in the least particular, the laws of the country; and never to tolerate their violation by others. As the patriots of seventy-six did to the support of the Declaration of Independence, so to the support of the Constitution and Laws, let every American pledge his life, his property, and his sacred honor;–let every man remember that to violate the law, is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the character of his own, and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles on her lap–let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in Almanacs;–let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation; and let the old and the young, the rich and the poor, the grave and the gay, of all sexes and tongues, and colors and conditions, sacrifice unceasingly upon its altars.

While ever a state of feeling, such as this, shall universally, or even, very generally prevail throughout the nation, vain will be every effort, and fruitless every attempt, to subvert our national freedom.

When I so pressingly urge a strict observance of all the laws, let me not be understood as saying there are no bad laws, nor that grievances may not arise, for the redress of which, no legal provisions have been made.–I mean to say no such thing. But I do mean to say, that, although bad laws, if they exist, should be repealed as soon as possible, still while they continue in force, for the sake of example, they should be religiously observed. So also in unprovided cases. If such arise, let proper legal provisions be made for them with the least possible delay; but, till then, let them, if not too intolerable, be borne with.

There is no grievance that is a fit object of redress by mob law. In any case that arises, as for instance, the promulgation of abolitionism, one of two positions is necessarily true; that is, the thing is right within itself, and therefore deserves the protection of all law and all good citizens; or, it is wrong, and therefore proper to be prohibited by legal enactments; and in neither case, is the interposition of mob law, either necessary, justifiable, or excusable.

But, it may be asked, why suppose danger to our political institutions? Have we not preserved them for more than fifty years? And why may we not for fifty times as long?

We hope there is no sufficient reason. We hope all dangers may be overcome; but to conclude that no danger may ever arise, would itself be extremely dangerous. There are now, and will hereafter be, many causes, dangerous in their tendency, which have not existed heretofore; and which are not too insignificant to merit attention. That our government should have been maintained in its original form from its establishment until now, is not much to be wondered at. It had many props to support it through that period, which now are decayed, and crumbled away. Through that period, it was felt by all, to be an undecided experiment; now, it is understood to be a successful one.–Then, all that sought celebrity and fame, and distinction, expected to find them in the success of that experiment. Their all was staked upon it:– their destiny was inseparably linked with it. Their ambition aspired to display before an admiring world, a practical demonstration of the truth of a proposition, which had hitherto been considered, at best no better, than problematical; namely, the capability of a people to govern themselves. If they succeeded, they were to be immortalized; their names were to be transferred to counties and cities, and rivers and mountains; and to be revered and sung, and toasted through all time. If they failed, they were to be called knaves and fools, and fanatics for a fleeting hour; then to sink and be forgotten. They succeeded. The experiment is successful; and thousands have won their deathless names in making it so. But the game is caught; and I believe it is true, that with the catching, end the pleasures of the chase. This field of glory is harvested, and the crop is already appropriated. But new reapers will arise, and they, too, will seek a field. It is to deny, what the history of the world tells us is true, to suppose that men of ambition and talents will not continue to spring up amongst us. And, when they do, they will as naturally seek the gratification of their ruling passion, as others have so done before them. The question then, is, can that gratification be found in supporting and maintaining an edifice that has been erected by others? Most certainly it cannot. Many great and good men sufficiently qualified for any task they should undertake, may ever be found, whose ambition would inspire to nothing beyond a seat in Congress, a gubernatorial or a presidential chair; but such belong not to the family of the lion, or the tribe of the eagle. What! think you these places would satisfy an Alexander, a Caesar, or a Napoleon?–Never! Towering genius distains a beaten path. It seeks regions hitherto unexplored.–It sees no distinction in adding story to story, upon the monuments of fame, erected to the memory of others. It denies that it is glory enough to serve under any chief. It scorns to tread in the footsteps of any predecessor, however illustrious. It thirsts and burns for distinction; and, if possible, it will have it, whether at the expense of emancipating slaves, or enslaving freemen. Is it unreasonable then to expect, that some man possessed of the loftiest genius, coupled with ambition sufficient to push it to its utmost stretch, will at some time, spring up among us? And when such a one does, it will require the people to be united with each other, attached to the government and laws, and generally intelligent, to successfully frustrate his designs.

Distinction will be his paramount object, and although he would as willingly, perhaps more so, acquire it by doing good as harm; yet, that opportunity being past, and nothing left to be done in the way of building up, he would set boldly to the task of pulling down.

Here, then, is a probable case, highly dangerous, and such a one as could not have well existed heretofore.

Another reason which once was; but which, to the same extent, is now no more, has done much in maintaining our institutions thus far. I mean the powerful influence which the interesting scenes of the revolution had upon the passions of the people as distinguished from their judgment. By this influence, the jealousy, envy, and avarice, incident to our nature, and so common to a state of peace, prosperity, and conscious strength, were, for the time, in a great measure smothered and rendered inactive; while the deep-rooted principles of hate, and the powerful motive of revenge, instead of being turned against each other, were directed exclusively against the British nation. And thus, from the force of circumstances, the basest principles of our nature, were either made to lie dormant, or to become the active agents in the advancement of the noblest cause–that of establishing and maintaining civil and religious liberty.

But this state of feeling must fade, is fading, has faded, with the circumstances that produced it.

I do not mean to say, that the scenes of the revolution are now or ever will be entirely forgotten; but that like every thing else, they must fade upon the memory of the world, and grow more and more dim by the lapse of time. In history, we hope, they will be read of, and recounted, so long as the bible shall be read;– but even granting that they will, their influence cannot be what it heretofore has been. Even then, they cannot be so universally known, nor so vividly felt, as they were by the generation just gone to rest. At the close of that struggle, nearly every adult male had been a participator in some of its scenes. The consequence was, that of those scenes, in the form of a husband, a father, a son or brother, a living history was to be found in every family– a history bearing the indubitable testimonies of its own authenticity, in the limbs mangled, in the scars of wounds received, in the midst of the very scenes related–a history, too, that could be read and understood alike by all, the wise and the ignorant, the learned and the unlearned.–But those histories are gone. They can be read no more forever. They were a fortress of strength; but, what invading foeman could never do, the silent artillery of time has done; the leveling of its walls. They are gone.–They were a forest of giant oaks; but the all-resistless hurricane has swept over them, and left only, here and there, a lonely trunk, despoiled of its verdure, shorn of its foliage; unshading and unshaded, to murmur in a few gentle breezes, and to combat with its mutilated limbs, a few more ruder storms, then to sink, and be no more.

They were the pillars of the temple of liberty; and now, that they have crumbled away, that temple must fall, unless we, their descendants, supply their places with other pillars, hewn from the solid quarry of sober reason. Passion has helped us; but can do so no more. It will in future be our enemy. Reason, cold, calculating, unimpassioned reason, must furnish all the materials for our future support and defence.–Let those materials be moulded into general intelligence, sound morality, and in particular, a reverence for the constitution and laws: and, that we improved to the last; that we remained free to the last; that we revered his name to the last; that, during his long sleep, we permitted no hostile foot to pass over or desecrate his resting place; shall be that which to learn the last trump shall awaken our WASHINGTON.

Upon these let the proud fabric of freedom rest, as the rock of its basis; and as truly as has been said of the only greater institution, “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Hey Japan Inc., It’s Time To Wake Up


Japan has had a few years of minimal growth, though it shrunk in the first quarter of 2018, the country is still entrenched in another potential lost decade. Rising unemployment, stagnant GDP, and a terrible demographic future, the country that dominated the 1960s through 1980s has forgotten the source of its success.

Old ways die hard, and a reluctance to change may keep Japan stuck in another decade of minimal growth. The problem with Japan is the same problem that happened to the U.S., arrogance and a focus on profits rather than quality and customers.

Prior to WWII, U.S. products were known around the world for high quality and meeting customer needs. Things changed after WWII. As the only major country which emerged post WWII with industry still intact, the U.S. was able to sell anything it produced; there was barely any competition. Corporate executives changed the focus from quality to sell, sell, sell. As the Americans pumped out low quality products the Japanese were setting the stage for phenomenal success. Based on the teachings of Dr. W. Edwards Deming, Japan was able to change the country’s reputation as a producer of low-quality junk, to creating high-quality products and services that exceeded customer expectations.

Deming arrived in Japan in 1950. The country was in ruin and had a global reputation for producing low-quality products. Deming showed Japanese industry leaders that a focus on quality and customers could change the reputation of Japanese products in 5 years. Deming told the leaders to not focus on costs and profits, just focus on quality and providing customers with products and services they truly needed. Profits would follow. The Japanese followed Deming’s teachings and changed the country in 4 years – one year earlier than predicted.

Decades of success resulted in high levels of arrogance. Just like the Americans before them, the Japanese forgot the importance of quality and customer focus, and focused on cost-cutting and “paper profits” – profits only on planning documents. Then the bubble burst.

The result has been ongoing product recalls, boring product designs all led by unskilled management. A corporate culture of unquestioning obedience to superiors has resulted in “me too” products, lack of creativity and innovation, and employees who only do what they are told. The world has changed but Japan Inc. has remained stuck in the 1960s.

So why this rant? I have lived and worked in Japan, worked for Japanese companies in the U.S. for over 20 years and just got back from two weeks traveling the country. I have a close relationship to the country and an insiders’ perspective on how things are run. And things are not good. Executives and management, who still feel they are the best in the world, refuse to learn new methods of business, and continue to develop products based on constraints rather than market needs. The days of kaizen are long past. Corporate cultures refuse to learn and improve. Employees are out for themselves rather than the good of the company.

The only way for Japan to stimulate long-term growth is to look in the mirror and be honest with itself. As the Americans finally learned after 2008, quality products that meet customer needs and wants are what drive profitability, not false planning numbers. Japanese leaders need to relearn Deming teachings. They need to embrace new ideas from all levels of the organization and move from an inside-out mentality of product development and design, to an outside-in culture driven by the market and consumers.

Japan can easily do this. The country has a highly educated workforce, world-class research institutes, and leading manufacturing technology. All it takes is strong leadership that is willing to change and accept new ideas. Japan did it in the 1950s and the Americans started doing it again about 10 years ago. It can be done, but when arrogance overrides daily business practice, failure is imminent.

As the Japanese population declines, the youth become more-and-more disillusioned, and incumbent corporations hold-on to long-held but failed management policies, Japan Inc. must act. If you think you know more than the enemy and think you are better than the enemy, you are going to lose.

Japanese business leaders need to encourage continuous education and adopt modern business practices. They need to accept outside ideas to free-up resources and meet market demands faster. The solution is simple, but having the will to commit to change is much harder. I hope they wake up before it is too late.

Creating a Fact-based Mindset


The world seems like a pretty crazy place lately. “Fake news” is an ongoing buzzword, causing people to question everything they read, hear, and see. Or worse, too many people are not questioning what they hear. The lack of critical thinking is a serious issue. The widespread and persistent ignorance needs to be addressed. It is time to stand-up and change your corner of the world.

Problems are exaggerated, claims are exaggerated, and true issues are misjudged. Intuitive, emotional judgements are preferred over reason. The use of distortions, exaggerations, or lies remains unchallenged. Too many people present ridiculous arguments based on zero evidence and unsubstantiated claims.

Too many people blindly believe anything they hear. Most people go through life with unsubstantiated beliefs and driven by biases and emotions. It is time to start changing how you interpret the world and become a disciplined and critical thinker.

If you are like me and are frustrated by the poor thinking habits of co-workers it is time to change (the media and politicians are really frustrating, but I can’t change them, yet). It is time for a revolution. It must start with you. Change yourself, first. Recognize bad arguments and learn how to construct good arguments. Understand unconscious cognitive biases that influence how we make decisions. Improve your reasoning.

Watch the Joe Rogan podcast, listen to the Argument Ninja Academy by Kevin deLaplante and watch his videos, and read books like Factfulness by Hans Rosling or Applying Scientific Reasoning to the Field of Marketing by Terry Grapentine.

Use fact-based understanding and data-driven arguments. Keep the following points in mind:

  • Ask reporter questions (who, what, where, when, why, and how)
  • Don’t generalize
  • Look for differences and similarities across (and within) groups
  • Don’t blindly follow the majority
  • Always stay open to possibilities
  • Don’t assume people are idiots
  • Beware of vivid examples
  • Don’t focus on being right
  • Avoid jumping to conclusions – stay calm, be patient
  • Test opinions against data

Improve yourself, learn how to properly consume media, and identify over-exaggerations. Be humble, curious, and realistic about the extent of your knowledge. Do not be embarrassed if you make a mistake or if you do not know something. Be open to new information, actively seek out disconfirming evidence, and realize that things can be both good and bad.

Once you improve yourself, then share the thinking tools with co-workers and help them improve their arguments. Hunt out ignorance within your organization and demonstrate the value of data, evidence, testing and experimentation. Embrace ongoing discussions, arguments, and collaboration between cross-functional teams; the different perspectives, talents, and knowledge will strengthen decisions and improve your business.

And if someone still uses poor logic, or emotions to argue their belief, challenge them. And if they think the world is flat, or the environment is not warming, just tell them to make sure their doctor does not bother to wash her hands the next time you go into surgery. Ignaz Semmelweis would be proud.

The Myths of Creativity

Many of us believe that only certain people can be creative or creativity happens serendipitously (i.e., it just happens). Yes, some people are more creative than others are, but everyone can be more creative. Creativity is a skill. Like any other skill (e.g., skiing, guitar playing, painting), the more you learn and practice, the better you will become. With the right tools, techniques, and regular practice anybody can become more creative and innovative.

Creativity is about gathering information, letting it incubate inside your brain, and then allowing the unrelated “dots” to connect. This process allows the raw pieces of information to reform into creative ideas. Creativity does not just happen. It is the result of multiple experiences and perspectives, and the long, hard effort of learning and understanding new topics.

Several myths often restrict people from developing new, productive and innovative ideas. Remember, creativity is a skill. Just like playing the piano, juggling, or riding a motorcycle, you get better through practice. Anyone can do it. Ignore the following myths.

The Eureka Myth states creativity happens by chance, serendipitously. Yes, a creative idea often “appears” when you are not thinking about it. This idea usually appears as the information regarding the problem “incubates.” As you avoid thinking about the problem, the various unconnected pieces of information develop into patterns, unconsciously. Then, “Eureka” a new idea pops into your mind; usually when you are not thinking about the problem (e.g., in the shower, while hiking).

The idea did not just happen. It happened due to the past research, study, and investigation; all the previous thinking you did on the subject (Kramer, 1987). It was your hard work and effort finally coming to fruition (and the series of “sparks” which slowly build upon each other) (Sawyer, 2007).

The Expert Myth is one of the most popular excuses for not being creative. The myth states only people with the “creative gene” are creative. This myth has been popularized by the assumption that “creative celebrities” such as Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk, are very different from most people. The problem with this myth is it ignores all the research, hard work, and practice each of these people did to achieve their famous innovations (and all the previous work from many individuals and groups) (Sawyer, 2007). Many leaders think only certain areas of the organization are creative.

Do not believe that the only creatives work in research and development (R&D) or marketing (i.e., typical “creative” departments). This narrow-mindedness results in missed opportunities in all departments and all levels of the organization. You can uncover new, valuable ideas in accounting, finance, logistics, information technology (IT), and other “non-creative” departments. Creative ideation only requires focus, an open-mind, and hard work (along with effective tools and techniques). Creative thinking must happen in all areas of the organization; continuously, every day.

Yes, some people are more creative than others. These “natural creatives” typically can “connect the dots” of unrelated items easier than most people or identify trends early. However, creativity is a skill, and you can get much better at it using a deliberate and systematic process, along with regular practice. Also, most ideas become valuable innovations through teams, not an individual. It is typically not just one person that creates innovative new products and solutions but a team.

The Reward Myth states the only way to develop good ideas is to incentivize people. Often leaders will challenge teams to innovate with extra vacation time, financial rewards, or job promotions. Yes, incentives could stimulate ideation, but the real influence is typically internal (i.e., inside of you). Incentives only work short term. For long-term creative projects, the inner drive, fortitude, and desire are what compels someone to work day and night, month after month, to create amazing new products or services, improve existing processes, make impactful decisions, or solve complex problems.

Similar to the Expert Myth, the Lone Wolf Myth wrongly assumes that one person, locked away in a laboratory, shed, or garage, develops innovative products or solutions. The truth is that teams develop the majority of great ideas, inventions, and innovations. Thomas Edison had a large team working on many different problems and developing multiple solutions simultaneously. Edison was a great showman, and most people thought he created everything himself; actually, Edison developed the first product incubator which had multiple teams working on various projects until the problems were solved (i.e., the original Silicon Valley; just located in New Jersey). Possibly Edison’s greatest achievement was designing work environments where teams could collaborate, fail, learn, and create amazing innovations (Johnson, 2014). The majority of great innovations are the result of collaboration, with multiple perspectives focused on the same goal. Remember, it was not one person who got the astronauts to the moon. Individuals often develop new ideas, but teams typically refine ideas into innovative solutions.

The Start-up Myth states that only small, flexible organizations can innovate. These agile organizations with few rules allow employees the freedom to develop creative ideas and build innovative new products. Too many people believe large, bureaucratic organizations cannot innovate. Do not believe the myth. Any organization, no matter the size can develop an army of creative innovators. All it takes is support from upper management, training, and an environment that focuses on managing risk, embracing failure, and continuously experimenting.

Apple, Ford, Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble, and other large organizations prove that it is not about the size, it is about leadership and organizational culture. Creativity is about thinking differently. A creative organization encourages people to think differently and continually improve (Zaltman, 2003). Ignore these myths.

Focus on learning and practicing the proven tools and techniques within this section. Develop new creative ideas and turn them into innovative solutions. Anyone can be more creative. Just like any skill, becoming more creative takes time, patience, and lots of hard work and failure. Never accept someone telling you something is impossible. The effort, desire, skill building, daily practice, and lifelong learning will allow you to do amazing things. You need to be committed.

Statistical Significance vs. Practical Significance

A key driver of statistical significance is sample size. One issue with statistical significance is that with a large population, you will most likely determine statistical significance (i.e., any difference or any correlation will be significant). The differences between any sample means will be significant if the sample is large enough. However, when conducting real-world research, statistical significance does not always equate to practical significance (or vice versa). You need to ask the question, “Can you use the statistically significant (or insignificant) results in a practical, real-world application?”

Significance tests are not always valid due to faulty data collection, outliers, or other variables that might invalidate your data. You typically use costs, timing, skills, resources, or your research objectives to determine practical significance. Just because your results indicate statistical significance (i.e., the p-value is lower than the significance level (a)), the data might not be valuable for decision-making.

A statistically significant result only determines your evidence against the null hypothesis, not necessarily if the results apply to real-world decision making. Statistical significance does not guarantee practical significance. A few questions to ask when determining the applicability of results is:

  • How much significance does the difference have statistically and practically?
  • How will the results affect the business?
  • Is the difference large enough to be valuable in the organization?
  • Are the differences between samples big enough to have real-world meaning?
  • Can you afford to make changes based on the findings?
  • Can you afford not to make changes based on the findings?

For example, you set your significance level at 0.01. The resulting p-value is 0.015. This p-value is not statistically significant (0.015 > 0.01), and you do not reject the null hypothesis. However, the difference between 0.015 and 0.01 is not excessive regarding your research topic. For practical application, you determine to use the findings (i.e., reject the null hypotheses). The result is not statistically significant, but can still be practical in addressing your real-world research objective.

Moreover, the opposite can also be true. Your results can be statistically significant, but not practical. For example, you want to know if targeting college students between the ages of 18 and 21 years will increase sales. Your p-value demonstrates a statistical significance; however, you decide the effort and cost to pursue these potential target customers is not practical. The possibility of a 3% increase in sales does not greatly affect profitability regarding the effort and costs of acquiring these customers.

Even though the data resulted in a statistical significance, it is not practical to pursue. Do not let your statistical results drive your decision-making. You must take a holistic view of the data, along with subject-matter knowledge, intuition, and your exploratory research findings to make practical decisions that will allow you to achieve your research objectives.

Why Brainstorming Does Not Work

Sorry to burst your bubble, but brainstorming is not very effective for developing new ideas. Most research on idea generation has shown brainstorming typically does not result in valuable ideas (Schirr, 2012). Most brainstorms are usually just a group of people haphazardly sharing ideas (Jones, 1995). Even with all the research on the flaws of brainstorming, it is still widely used in most organizations (Sutton & Hargadon, 1996).

The majority of research has shown brainstorming is not effective in generating quality ideas, as group brainstorming typically inhibits creative thinking (Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 2010). Research confirms individuals develop a higher quantity of quality ideas individually rather than in a group (Mullen, Johnson, & Salas, 2010). Research has also shown brainstorming is less effective than individual ideation.

Advertising legend Alex Osborn developed brainstorming in the late 1930s. The goal was to generate a large number of ideas to create new advertisements. Osborn felt brainstorming would lower individuals’ inhibitions, reduce self-criticism, and eliminate criticism from others, creating an open environment that allows people to ideate freely. Unfortunatley, most people only use the popularized four main rules for effective brainstorming (Osborn, 1963).

  1. Generate as many ideas as possible
  2. Focus on original or unusual ideas
  3. Do not criticize any ideas

Combine and refine the best ideas. Another aspect is people often organize a brainstorm to push their ideas or agendas deceptively through the group exercise (Isaksen & Gaulin, 2005). The main negativity of brainstorms is the cost. The cost of brainstorming regarding time spent and individual dollars per hour can be the same as throwing money in the trash. There are much better ways to develop new, creative ideas.Unfortunately, most brainstorms are a “one and done” without further follow-up and without continued refinement and implementation of ideas. To develop optimal solutions, you need to modify and refine ideas continually. You typically cannot move through the creative process in a single meeting (Cho, 2013). Most people only learn Osborne’s four rules and ignore his other guidelines for effective brainstorming.

When led by an experienced facilitator with a focused topic, brainstorming can provide some value. It can be a fun way to share ideas, stimulate ideation, and motivate individuals to compete against co-workers to develop the best idea (Furnham, 2000). However, brainstorms often go off topic and result in a large number of useless ideas (e.g., low value, low quality).

So why do so many business leaders still rely on brainstorming to develop new ideas or solve problems? Even when a 1958 study conducted by Yale University and Osborn showed that students working alone developed twice as many ideas than groups (Bailis, 2014). An easy answer is “it just feels right.” Intuitively, it makes sense that a group of people sharing ideas should generate high quality, original, and diverse ideas; unfortunately, this is not the case (Kohn & Smith, 2011). Unfortunately, many of us feel that “two heads are better than one” and collaboration allows you to bounce ideas off each other (Bailis, 2014). Also, managers feel brainstorming is a fair way to allow everyone to contribute ideas and leverage buy-in of decisions (de Bono, 1992). Unfortunately, this attempt at consensus building wastes valuable time and resources. It is much better to allow everyone to ideate individually (using proven tools and techniques), then meet as a group to evaluate and refine the best ideas (i.e., convergent thinking).

Most inefficiencies during a brainstorm session are due to individuals dominating the discussion (i.e., the loudest voice wins), redundant ideas, cognitive uniformity where individuals feel pressure to support other ideas, members giving up on the group, and fear of having ideas evaluated or judged (i.e., the fear of looking stupid) (Isaksen & Gaulin, 2005). Early ideas also tend to have a disproportionate influence on the rest of the discussion (Greenfield, 2014). Also, brainstorming results in high levels of productivity loss and impediments to ideation due to waiting to speak, listening to others, or other aspects of group interaction. (Sutton & Hargadon, 1996). Unfortunately, brainstorms often end in a list of ideas with no closure (Furnham, 2000).

The goal of creative thinking is to develop useful ideas to drive new product concepts, adapt current products for new uses, revise internal processes, or solve complex problems. (Stam, de Vet, Barkema, & De Dreu, 2013). Forming a group and telling everyone to brainstorm will not work and is inconsistent with Osborn’s suggestions (Isaksen & Gaulin, 2005). It is best to ideate individually and then meet as a group to analyze and review ideas, then converge on the best choices using proven and effective tools (Stam, de Vet, Barkema, & De Dreu, 2013).