On the Road in Sweden

Greetings from Sweden. Those of you who follow this blog or have read “The Necessity of Strangers” know that I regard travel as one of the most remarkable ways to learn new things and stretch our thinking about how to reach our full potential as individuals and organizations. So during the next couple of weeks I will try to share some ideas, insights, and observations from my latest visit to the land of Vikings, Volvo, Skype, Spotify, and marinated fish. But before I get started it is worth noting that not everyone here in Sweden is blonde. Granted there are a lot of blonde Swedes, but many Swedes who have been here for countless generations have dark hair and there are a growing number of immigrants moving here from a wide range of not particularly blonde places. People who are bringing with them new ideas as well as new traditions, languages, religious preferences, music, foods, spices, and ways of doing business. It is simply becoming a more diverse place which poses challenges but also brings many new possibilities.

Swedes are really into technology and are innovators in many areas including IT and the internet, telecommunications, transportation, energy efficiency, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, and even defense and aerospace. I use the word “even” in referring to defense and aerospace because Sweden has long prided itself on being a neutral country–a neutral country that creates and provides weapons to lots of non-neutral countries. And the Swedes also have a reputation for being quite concerned with automotive safety. They accomplish this in two ways. One, by engineering cars to be as safe as possible. In fact, for several decades Swedish automakers Volvo and Saab were widely regarded as the safest car brands. And two, by having strict societal pressure and significant penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol. As a result, a percentage of party-goers are automatically designated as non-drinking (alcohol that is) drivers who take on responsibility for driving their beverage-consuming family and friends home. And the hosts of parties throughout the country often provide a variety of special non-alcoholic drinks to make their experience a bit more palatable. On the engineering side the list of Swedish automotive safety advances is particularly long and includes three-point seat belts, side impact protection, car crumple zones, integrated child safety seats, and pedestrian detection systems. And I was struck by two interesting features of my 2015 Volvo xc60 rental car. It turns out that the car has a camera specifically designed to read every speed limit sign and to instantly post the speed limit clearly on the car’s speedometer the second that it changes. This helps drivers to stay continuously focused on the speed limit without having to remember the last sign that they passed. It also has self-adjusting high beams that turn themselves on and off when (a) another car is approaching or (b) the lighting environment changes (i.e., when driving into a town or city). This is pretty cool and makes it easier to focus on driving without having to continually be on the alert to turn off the high beams before blinding an oncoming driver. And there are probably a bunch of other things the car can do that I simply haven’t discovered yet. It is also worth noting that the highway department in Sweden has the ability to preempt every car radio to provide information to drivers on accidents or road closings along their way.

road-sign-recognition-keeps-you-aware-of-speed-limits-and-potential-hazards

We win in business and in life when we are continually innovating in ways that matter. And when we are all focused on traveling and driving as safely as possible.

Cheers!

Sweating for Fun and Profit

Greetings.  It has been six days without power and air conditioning at home and the office and we're really beginning to sweat.  Six days in which the temperature has ranged from 98 to 104 degrees.  And all because of a freak storm with a highly unusual scientific name that seemed to catch everyone by surprise.  Even Ella, our trusty canine family member, is beginning to "sweat like a dog" which is no small feat given that dogs don't actually sweat.  Fortunately, I'm not panting like a dog yet–but when I do you'll be the second to know.  And that could happen any day now given the less-than stellar track record of Pepco, our electric utility.  In fact, I can say with almost total certainty, after multiple calls to their outsourced help desk located in some distant part of America where the weather is probably cool and pleasant, that I have no idea when our power will be restored.  Though their best estimate is Sunday at 11:00 p.m. which would mean nine days without power, air conditioning and many of the other creature comforts that we tend to take for granted.

But rather than get even more overheated by writing about life in the territory of our nation's poorest performing electric company, the one that paid its CEO $18 million last year (no doubt as a reward for poor performance), I thought it might be fun to talk about science and the science of sweating–because as we all know one person's energy meltdown is another person's business opportunity.  

As it turns out, up to 20% of Americans–and presumably people in other countries around the globe–experience a condition that is known as axillary hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating.  It's a condition that affects them even when the temperature isn't 100 degrees and they have a more competent utility company than Pepco.  And it's also a condition that has attracted the attention of some very thoughtful scientific and entrepreneurial minds.  At the top of the list are the folks are Miramar Labs who have figured out a way to use microwave technology to eliminate excessive underarm sweat.  And you thought that microwave technology could only be used in the fields of radar, telecommunications, energy development and cancer treatment.

But now, for a mere $3,000–which is roughly my annual bill from Pepco–you can render your electric utility obsolete through a simple and slightly painful procedure that literally zaps the sweat right out of you by eliminating your sweat glands.  A procedure that sounds totally natural (not exactly), has been approved by the FDA and probably won't win the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Armpit-Excessive-Sweating 

We win in business and in life when we don't sweat the things we can't control.  Or when we figure out how to help people to stop sweating completely.

Cheers and stay cool!  

Of Mice and Men

Greetings.  It is time once again for the latest Nobel Prizes to be awarded and a chance to celebrate the innovators in many fields who are pushing the bounds of human knowledge.  It's also a great time to think about the power of collaboration as these awards are often given to two or more people working together over time and geography to ask questions, test hypotheses, solve problems and put together pieces of a puzzle that really matter.

The latest award for medicine is a great case in point.  The three winners–Ralph Steinman (a Canadian working at Rockfeller University in New York City), Bruce Beutler (an American currently at the Scripps Research Institute in California) and Jules Hoffmann (a Luxembourg-born scientist working in France)–were honored for breakthroughs on how the immune system works.  Their research spans four decades of studying fruit flies, mice and humans.  And while they were each working on different problems and in different places, the joining of their insights provides a different way of thinking about collaboration and suggests the value of scanning the world for other parts of the solutions to our own puzzles.  

It turns out there are two types of immune responses that, at their best, protect us and other animals from an attack by bacteria and other microorganisms.  These responses are "innate" immunity which is our first line of defense in battling the bad guys.  Our innate immunity creates a protective barrier and triggers inflammation that blunts their abilities.  When this fails our "adaptive" immunity kicks in, producing antibodies and killer cells that destroy our infected cells.  Then our adaptive immunity remembers the intruders so we can create a more powerful response the next time these microorganisms invade our bodies.  This insight is fundamental to ongoing research that might someday enable us to stop the spread of many intractable diseases.  Though unfortunately we are not quite there.  In a sad note, Dr. Steinman died from pancreatic cancer three days before receiving his award…though he had tried to adapt his Nobel-winning insights into therapies in the fight against his own cancer.

Three faces in the crowd–or is that three faces in three slightly different crowds.  

Working on three different parts of a very important puzzle.

Nobel_winners_2

We win in business and in life when we work together for the good of others.  And when we find the other pieces to a puzzle worth solving. 

Cheers!

The First Day of School

Greetings.  It's the end of August and most school systems across the U.S. and the rest of the world have already begun their new year.  It's a time of great hope and anticipation as students of all ages meet new teachers, take on new subjects, make new friends and find their clear voices in a wide range of new and exciting "extracurricular" activities.  And, hopefully, expand their horizons as learners, thinkers, creators, innovators, collaborators and individuals in an annual ritual filled with unlimited possibilities.

All based on the simple notion that "change" is a good thing.  Changing teachers, changing subjects, changing classmates, changing lockers, changing approaches to learning and sometimes even changing schools.  All intended, in an ideal world, to unlock the real genius in every student.

And then when our days in school end, we enter a world that lacks in this regular commitment to change.  This annual ritual of thoughtfully stirring the pot.  That instead views change as a bad thing or a necessary evil.  The former embodied by the plodding and incremental nature of change that occurs in most companies–companies committed to maintaining business as usual for as long as possible. And the latter embodied by companies that try to improve their fortunes through a series of abrupt and often radical changes–determined to shake things up in the hope that a sudden and severe burst of "different" will produce a way different and better result.  Different strategy.  Different leaders.  A different organization with different rules and incentives. 

With neither approach appreciating the power of regular and thoughtful change that mirrors the magic of the first day of school.

So this year when you see students and busses on their way to school, why not try to imagine what it would be like to begin a new and more compelling year at your company or organization.  To engage your employees with just the right amount of exciting and nurturing change.  To create your very own annual ritual of energizing your workplace and all of its promise.

School bus

We win in business and in life when we make change the natural order of things.  And when we realize that, at our very best, we will always be students filled with possibilities.

Cheers!