Thursday 6th May 2021
  • Why the "velvet hammer" is a better way to give constructive criticism

    Have something difficult to say? These are the exact words you should use.

    It's time to bag the sandwich method of delivering bad news. You know, the technique where you say something nice, then drop in the criticism, and the end with something nice. It's not like the person won't notice that the center of the sandwich is terrible; the method is really designed to make it easier on the giver.

    "When you communicate something to somebody, it's irreversible and irretrievable," says Joy Baldridge, author of The Joy in Business: Innovative Ideas to Find Positivity (and Profit) In Your Daily Work Life. "You can't take it back, and it can be difficult to know what words to say in order to approach somebody and give them feedback. Whether you need to say they did or didn't do or something, it feels uncomfortable."

    The old methods of feedback can have a ripple effect with your team, resulting in people calling in sick, getting upset, or even quitting. But conflict avoidance isn't the answer. Instead, Baldridge suggests using her "velvet hammer" method, which is soft like velvet but packs a punch.

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  • Eliminate Strategic Overload

    How to select fewer initiatives with greater impact

    As companies respond to intensifying competitive pressures and challenges, they ask more and more of their employees. But organizations often have very little to show for the efforts of their talented and engaged workers.

    By selecting fewer initiatives with greater impact, companies can make their strategies more powerful. A strategic initiative is worthwhile only if it does one or more of the following:

    - It creates value for customers by raising their willingness to pay. As your company finds ways to innovate or to improve existing products, the maximum price people will be willing to pay for the offering rises.
    - It creates value for employees by making work more attractive. Offering better jobs lowers the minimum compensation that you have to offer to attract talent to your business.
    - It creates value for suppliers by reducing their operating cost. As suppliers' costs go down, the lowest price they would be willing to accept for their goods falls.

    As companies expand the total amount of value created for their customers, employees, and suppliers, they position themselves for enduring financial success.

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  • Lost touch: how a year without hugs affects our mental health

    Humans are designed to touch and be touched - which is why so many who live on their own have suffered during the pandemic. Will we ever fully recover?

    There's only so much a dog can do, even if that is a lot. I live alone with my staffy, and by week eight of the first lockdown she was rolling her eyes at my ever-tightening clutch. I had been sofa-bound with Covid and its after-effects before lockdown was announced, then spring and summer passed without any meaningful touch from another person. I missed the smell of my friends' clothes and my nephew's hair, but, more than anything, I missed the groundedness only another human body can bring. The ache in my solar plexus that married these thoughts often caught me off guard.

    The need for touch exists below the horizon of consciousness. Before birth, when the amniotic fluid in the womb swirls around us and the foetal nervous system can distinguish our own body from our mother's, our entire concept of self is rooted in touch.

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  • How Long Can We Live?

    New research is intensifying the debate - with profound implications for the future of the planet.

    In 1990, not long after Jean-Marie Robine and Michel Allard began conducting a nationwide study of French centenarians, one of their software programs spat out an error message. An individual in the study was marked as 115 years old, a number outside the program's range of acceptable age values. They called their collaborators in Arles, where the subject lived, and asked them to double-check the information they had provided, recalls Allard, who was then the director of the IPSEN Foundation, a nonprofit research organization. Perhaps they made a mistake when transcribing her birth date? Maybe this Jeanne Calment was actually born in 1885, not 1875? No, the collaborators said. We've seen her birth certificate. The data is correct.

    Calment was already well known in her hometown. Over the next few years, as rumors of her longevity spread, she became a celebrity.

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  • The secretary who turned Liquid Paper into a multimillion-dollar business

    Bette Nesmith Graham invented one of the most popular office supplies of the 20th century. Today, she's largely been forgotten.

    On a warm Texas night in 1956, Bette Nesmith - later known as Bette Nesmith Graham - sat in a garage surrounded by buckets of white tempera paint, empty nail polish bottles, and handmade labels.

    She didn't know it then, but she was on the brink of something magical.

    The product she would eventually create - Liquid Paper, a white correction fluid used to conceal handwritten or printed typos - would become one of the world's most popular and enduring office supplies.

    Graham wasn't a chemist or an engineer. She was a single mom from Texas who had a brilliant idea while working a 9-to-5 job as a secretary.

    But she was also a budding product marketing genius: Over several decades, she identified a need in the market, organically grew her business, staved off competition, and bootstrapped her way to a $47.5m exit - $173m in today's money.

    And she did it all during a time when women were discouraged from pursuing business ventures.

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  • Is Your C-Suite Equipped to Lead a Digital Transformation?

    The Covid-19 pandemic dramatically accelerated technology adoption across all industries. According to one survey, 77% of CEOs reported that the pandemic sped up their companies' digital transformation plans, and as Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella noted in the early days of the crisis, "We've seen two years' worth of digital transformation in two months." A study conducted by Twilio found that Covid-19 accelerated companies' digital communications strategies by an average of six years.

    Historically, success rates for digital transformation efforts are dismally low. Many organizations rush to boost headcount and budget, hiring teams of talented engineers, data scientists, and cybersecurity experts.

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  • Control the Negotiation Before It Begins

    Focus on four preliminary factors that can shape the outcome.

    Countless books and articles offer advice on avoiding missteps at the bargaining table. But some of the costliest mistakes take place before negotiators sit down to discuss the substance of the deal.

    That's because they often take for granted that if they bring a lot of value to the table and have sufficient leverage, they'll be able to strike a great deal. While negotiating from a position of strength is certainly important, many other factors influence where each party ends up.

    This article presents four factors that can have a tremendous impact on negotiation outcomes and provides guidance on what negotiators should be doing before either side starts worrying about offers, counteroffers, and bargaining tactics.

    Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra advises negotiators to resolve process before substance, set expectations, map out the negotiation space, and control the frame. By following those steps, managers position themselves for success at the bargaining table.

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  • The future of social media is sharing less, not more

    We may never leave social media completely. But we will control which aspects of our identities we share, and with whom

    The emergence of Facebook has been significant in how we conceive of social media. Almost every platform we use encourages us to share as much of our personal lives as possible, incentivising us with more features, filters and monetisation tools. Instead of the conscious curation that characterised social networks of the past, these platforms continue promising users that if they simply post more about themselves and their friends, they can have more fulfilling social experiences.

    In recent years, however, public conversations around the darker elements of social media platforms - from data collection and privacy issues to fake news and propaganda - have led to more thinking on how we should use them (or if they should even be used at all). In the next decade, as we reassess our relationship with social media - and by extension, the Big Tech companies that run them - we will see more people leave public platforms entirely, sticking instead to small communities and friendship groups on more private platforms like WhatsApp, Telegram or Signal.

    But this will be a luxury only few will be able to choose.

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  • What Makes a Happy Country?

    When governments around the world introduced coronavirus restrictions requiring people to stand two meters apart, jokes in Finland started circulating: "Why can't we stick to the usual four meters?"

    Finns embrace depictions of themselves as melancholic and reserved - a people who mastered social distancing long before the pandemic. A popular local saying goes, "Happiness will always end in tears."

    But for four consecutive years, Finland has been named the happiest country in the world by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which publishes an annual report evaluating the happiness of people around the world.

    The latest report, published last month, has led some Finns to ask: Really?

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  • The new fuel to come from Saudi Arabia

    Green hydrogen is taking off around the globe - its supporters say it could play an important role in decarbonisation, but sceptics question its safety and practicality.

    On the edge of the Saudi Arabian desert beside the Red Sea, a futuristic city called Neom is due to be built. The $500bn (£380bn) city - complete with flying taxis and robotic domestic help - is planned to become home to a million people. And what energy product will be used both to power this city and sell to the world? Not oil. Instead, Saudi Arabia is banking on a different fuel - green hydrogen. This carbon-free fuel made is from water by using renewably produced electricity to split hydrogen molecules from oxygen molecules.

    This summer, a large US gas company, Air Products & Chemicals, announced that as part of Neom it has been building a green hydrogen plant in Saudi Arabia for the past four years. The plant is powered by four gigawatts of electricity from wind and solar projects that sprawl across the desert. It claims to be the world's largest green hydrogen project - and more Saudi plants are on the drawing board.

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