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How Will You Measure Your Life?

This article is originally printed in Harvard Business Review and I am compelled to share it here as well.

How Will You Measure Your Life?

by Clayton M. Christensen

Editor’s Note: When the members of the class of 2010 entered business school, the economy was strong and their post-graduation ambitions could be limitless. Just a few weeks later, the economy went into a tailspin. They’ve spent the past two years recalibrating their worldview and their definition of success.
The students seem highly aware of how the world has changed (as the sampling of views in this article shows). In the spring, Harvard Business School’s graduating class asked HBS professor Clay Christensen to address them—but not on how to apply his principles and thinking to their post-HBS careers. The students wanted to know how to apply them to their personal lives. He shared with them a set of guidelines that have helped him find meaning in his own life. Though Christensen’s thinking comes from his deep religious faith, we believe that these are strategies anyone can use. And so we asked him to share them with the readers of HBR. To learn more about Christensen’s work, visit his HBR Author Page.

Before I published The Innovator’s Dilemma, I got a call from Andrew Grove, then the chairman of Intel. He had read one of my early papers about disruptive technology, and he asked if I could talk to his direct reports and explain my research and what it implied for Intel. Excited, I flew to Silicon Valley and showed up at the appointed time, only to have Grove say, “Look, stuff has happened. We have only 10 minutes for you. Tell us what your model of disruption means for Intel.” I said that I couldn’t—that I needed a full 30 minutes to explain the model, because only with it as context would any comments about Intel make sense. Ten minutes into my explanation, Grove interrupted: “Look, I’ve got your model. Just tell us what it means for Intel.”

I insisted that I needed 10 more minutes to describe how the process of disruption had worked its way through a very different industry, steel, so that he and his team could understand how disruption worked. I told the story of how Nucor and other steel minimills had begun by attacking the lowest end of the market—steel reinforcing bars, or rebar—and later moved up toward the high end, undercutting the traditional steel mills.

When I finished the minimill story, Grove said, “OK, I get it. What it means for Intel is…,” and then went on to articulate what would become the company’s strategy for going to the bottom of the market to launch the Celeron processor.

I’ve thought about that a million times since. If I had been suckered into telling Andy Grove what he should think about the microprocessor business, I’d have been killed. But instead of telling him what to think, I taught him how to think—and then he reached what I felt was the correct decision on his own.

That experience had a profound influence on me. When people ask what I think they should do, I rarely answer their question directly. Instead, I run the question aloud through one of my models. I’ll describe how the process in the model worked its way through an industry quite different from their own. And then, more often than not, they’ll say, “OK, I get it.” And they’ll answer their own question more insightfully than I could have.

My class at HBS is structured to help my students understand what good management theory is and how it is built. To that backbone I attach different models or theories that help students think about the various dimensions of a general manager’s job in stimulating innovation and growth. In each session we look at one company through the lenses of those theories—using them to explain how the company got into its situation and to examine what managerial actions will yield the needed results.

On the last day of class, I ask my students to turn those theoretical lenses on themselves, to find cogent answers to three questions: First, how can I be sure that I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure that my relationships with my spouse and my family become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? Though the last question sounds lighthearted, it’s not. Two of the 32 people in my Rhodes scholar class spent time in jail. Jeff Skilling of Enron fame was a classmate of mine at HBS. These were good guys—but something in their lives sent them off in the wrong direction.

As the students discuss the answers to these questions, I open my own life to them as a case study of sorts, to illustrate how they can use the theories from our course to guide their life decisions.

One of the theories that gives great insight on the first question—how to be sure we find happiness in our careers—is from Frederick Herzberg, who asserts that the powerful motivator in our lives isn’t money; it’s the opportunity to learn, grow in responsibilities, contribute to others, and be recognized for achievements. I tell the students about a vision of sorts I had while I was running the company I founded before becoming an academic. In my mind’s eye I saw one of my managers leave for work one morning with a relatively strong level of self-esteem. Then I pictured her driving home to her family 10 hours later, feeling unappreciated, frustrated, underutilized, and demeaned. I imagined how profoundly her lowered self-esteem affected the way she interacted with her children. The vision in my mind then fast-forwarded to another day, when she drove home with greater self-esteem—feeling that she had learned a lot, been recognized for achieving valuable things, and played a significant role in the success of some important initiatives. I then imagined how positively that affected her as a spouse and a parent. My conclusion: Management is the most noble of professions if it’s practiced well. No other occupation offers as many ways to help others learn and grow, take responsibility and be recognized for achievement, and contribute to the success of a team. More and more MBA students come to school thinking that a career in business means buying, selling, and investing in companies. That’s unfortunate. Doing deals doesn’t yield the deep rewards that come from building up people.

I want students to leave my classroom knowing that.

Create a Strategy for Your Life

A theory that is helpful in answering the second question—How can I ensure that my relationship with my family proves to be an enduring source of happiness?—concerns how strategy is defined and implemented. Its primary insight is that a company’s strategy is determined by the types of initiatives that management invests in. If a company’s resource allocation process is not managed masterfully, what emerges from it can be very different from what management intended. Because companies’ decision-making systems are designed to steer investments to initiatives that offer the most tangible and immediate returns, companies shortchange investments in initiatives that are crucial to their long-term strategies.

Over the years I’ve watched the fates of my HBS classmates from 1979 unfold; I’ve seen more and more of them come to reunions unhappy, divorced, and alienated from their children. I can guarantee you that not a single one of them graduated with the deliberate strategy of getting divorced and raising children who would become estranged from them. And yet a shocking number of them implemented that strategy. The reason? They didn’t keep the purpose of their lives front and center as they decided how to spend their time, talents, and energy.

It’s quite startling that a significant fraction of the 900 students that HBS draws each year from the world’s best have given little thought to the purpose of their lives. I tell the students that HBS might be one of their last chances to reflect deeply on that question. If they think that they’ll have more time and energy to reflect later, they’re nuts, because life only gets more demanding: You take on a mortgage; you’re working 70 hours a week; you have a spouse and children.

For me, having a clear purpose in my life has been essential. But it was something I had to think long and hard about before I understood it. When I was a Rhodes scholar, I was in a very demanding academic program, trying to cram an extra year’s worth of work into my time at Oxford. I decided to spend an hour every night reading, thinking, and praying about why God put me on this earth. That was a very challenging commitment to keep, because every hour I spent doing that, I wasn’t studying applied econometrics. I was conflicted about whether I could really afford to take that time away from my studies, but I stuck with it—and ultimately figured out the purpose of my life.

Had I instead spent that hour each day learning the latest techniques for mastering the problems of autocorrelation in regression analysis, I would have badly misspent my life. I apply the tools of econometrics a few times a year, but I apply my knowledge of the purpose of my life every day. It’s the single most useful thing I’ve ever learned. I promise my students that if they take the time to figure out their life purpose, they’ll look back on it as the most important thing they discovered at HBS. If they don’t figure it out, they will just sail off without a rudder and get buffeted in the very rough seas of life. Clarity about their purpose will trump knowledge of activity-based costing, balanced scorecards, core competence, disruptive innovation, the four Ps, and the five forces.

My purpose grew out of my religious faith, but faith isn’t the only thing that gives people direction. For example, one of my former students decided that his purpose was to bring honesty and economic prosperity to his country and to raise children who were as capably committed to this cause, and to each other, as he was. His purpose is focused on family and others—as mine is.

The choice and successful pursuit of a profession is but one tool for achieving your purpose. But without a purpose, life can become hollow.

Allocate Your Resources

Your decisions about allocating your personal time, energy, and talent ultimately shape your life’s strategy.

I have a bunch of “businesses” that compete for these resources: I’m trying to have a rewarding relationship with my wife, raise great kids, contribute to my community, succeed in my career, contribute to my church, and so on. And I have exactly the same problem that a corporation does. I have a limited amount of time and energy and talent. How much do I devote to each of these pursuits?

Allocation choices can make your life turn out to be very different from what you intended. Sometimes that’s good: Opportunities that you never planned for emerge. But if you misinvest your resources, the outcome can be bad. As I think about my former classmates who inadvertently invested for lives of hollow unhappiness, I can’t help believing that their troubles relate right back to a short-term perspective.

When people who have a high need for achievement—and that includes all Harvard Business School graduates—have an extra half hour of time or an extra ounce of energy, they’ll unconsciously allocate it to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments. And our careers provide the most concrete evidence that we’re moving forward. You ship a product, finish a design, complete a presentation, close a sale, teach a class, publish a paper, get paid, get promoted. In contrast, investing time and energy in your relationship with your spouse and children typically doesn’t offer that same immediate sense of achievement. Kids misbehave every day. It’s really not until 20 years down the road that you can put your hands on your hips and say, “I raised a good son or a good daughter.” You can neglect your relationship with your spouse, and on a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem as if things are deteriorating. People who are driven to excel have this unconscious propensity to underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers—even though intimate and loving relationships with their families are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.

If you study the root causes of business disasters, over and over you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification. If you look at personal lives through that lens, you’ll see the same stunning and sobering pattern: people allocating fewer and fewer resources to the things they would have once said mattered most.

Create a Culture

There’s an important model in our class called the Tools of Cooperation, which basically says that being a visionary manager isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It’s one thing to see into the foggy future with acuity and chart the course corrections that the company must make. But it’s quite another to persuade employees who might not see the changes ahead to line up and work cooperatively to take the company in that new direction. Knowing what tools to wield to elicit the needed cooperation is a critical managerial skill.

The theory arrays these tools along two dimensions—the extent to which members of the organization agree on what they want from their participation in the enterprise, and the extent to which they agree on what actions will produce the desired results. When there is little agreement on both axes, you have to use “power tools”—coercion, threats, punishment, and so on—to secure cooperation. Many companies start in this quadrant, which is why the founding executive team must play such an assertive role in defining what must be done and how. If employees’ ways of working together to address those tasks succeed over and over, consensus begins to form. MIT’s Edgar Schein has described this process as the mechanism by which a culture is built. Ultimately, people don’t even think about whether their way of doing things yields success. They embrace priorities and follow procedures by instinct and assumption rather than by explicit decision—which means that they’ve created a culture. Culture, in compelling but unspoken ways, dictates the proven, acceptable methods by which members of the group address recurrent problems. And culture defines the priority given to different types of problems. It can be a powerful management tool.

In using this model to address the question, How can I be sure that my family becomes an enduring source of happiness?, my students quickly see that the simplest tools that parents can wield to elicit cooperation from children are power tools. But there comes a point during the teen years when power tools no longer work. At that point parents start wishing that they had begun working with their children at a very young age to build a culture at home in which children instinctively behave respectfully toward one another, obey their parents, and choose the right thing to do. Families have cultures, just as companies do. Those cultures can be built consciously or evolve inadvertently.

If you want your kids to have strong self-esteem and confidence that they can solve hard problems, those qualities won’t magically materialize in high school. You have to design them into your family’s culture—and you have to think about this very early on. Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.

Avoid the “Marginal Costs” Mistake

We’re taught in finance and economics that in evaluating alternative investments, we should ignore sunk and fixed costs, and instead base decisions on the marginal costs and marginal revenues that each alternative entails. We learn in our course that this doctrine biases companies to leverage what they have put in place to succeed in the past, instead of guiding them to create the capabilities they’ll need in the future. If we knew the future would be exactly the same as the past, that approach would be fine. But if the future’s different—and it almost always is—then it’s the wrong thing to do.

This theory addresses the third question I discuss with my students—how to live a life of integrity (stay out of jail). Unconsciously, we often employ the marginal cost doctrine in our personal lives when we choose between right and wrong. A voice in our head says, “Look, I know that as a general rule, most people shouldn’t do this. But in this particular extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK.” The marginal cost of doing something wrong “just this once” always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t ever look at where that path ultimately is headed and at the full costs that the choice entails. Justification for infidelity and dishonesty in all their manifestations lies in the marginal cost economics of “just this once.”

I’d like to share a story about how I came to understand the potential damage of “just this once” in my own life. I played on the Oxford University varsity basketball team. We worked our tails off and finished the season undefeated. The guys on the team were the best friends I’ve ever had in my life. We got to the British equivalent of the NCAA tournament—and made it to the final four. It turned out the championship game was scheduled to be played on a Sunday. I had made a personal commitment to God at age 16 that I would never play ball on Sunday. So I went to the coach and explained my problem. He was incredulous. My teammates were, too, because I was the starting center. Every one of the guys on the team came to me and said, “You’ve got to play. Can’t you break the rule just this one time?”

I’m a deeply religious man, so I went away and prayed about what I should do. I got a very clear feeling that I shouldn’t break my commitment—so I didn’t play in the championship game.

In many ways that was a small decision—involving one of several thousand Sundays in my life. In theory, surely I could have crossed over the line just that one time and then not done it again. But looking back on it, resisting the temptation whose logic was “In this extenuating circumstance, just this once, it’s OK” has proven to be one of the most important decisions of my life. Why? My life has been one unending stream of extenuating circumstances. Had I crossed the line that one time, I would have done it over and over in the years that followed.

The lesson I learned from this is that it’s easier to hold to your principles 100% of the time than it is to hold to them 98% of the time. If you give in to “just this once,” based on a marginal cost analysis, as some of my former classmates have done, you’ll regret where you end up. You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.

Remember the Importance of Humility

I got this insight when I was asked to teach a class on humility at Harvard College. I asked all the students to describe the most humble person they knew. One characteristic of these humble people stood out: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about who they were. We also decided that humility was defined not by self-deprecating behavior or attitudes but by the esteem with which you regard others. Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of humility. For example, you would never steal from someone, because you respect that person too much. You’d never lie to someone, either.

It’s crucial to take a sense of humility into the world. By the time you make it to a top graduate school, almost all your learning has come from people who are smarter and more experienced than you: parents, teachers, bosses. But once you’ve finished at Harvard Business School or any other top academic institution, the vast majority of people you’ll interact with on a day-to-day basis may not be smarter than you. And if your attitude is that only smarter people have something to teach you, your learning opportunities will be very limited. But if you have a humble eagerness to learn something from everybody, your learning opportunities will be unlimited. Generally, you can be humble only if you feel really good about yourself—and you want to help those around you feel really good about themselves, too. When we see people acting in an abusive, arrogant, or demeaning manner toward others, their behavior almost always is a symptom of their lack of self-esteem. They need to put someone else down to feel good about themselves.

Choose the Right Yardstick

This past year I was diagnosed with cancer and faced the possibility that my life would end sooner than I’d planned. Thankfully, it now looks as if I’ll be spared. But the experience has given me important insight into my life.

I have a pretty clear idea of how my ideas have generated enormous revenue for companies that have used my research; I know I’ve had a substantial impact. But as I’ve confronted this disease, it’s been interesting to see how unimportant that impact is to me now. I’ve concluded that the metric by which God will assess my life isn’t dollars but the individual people whose lives I’ve touched.

I think that’s the way it will work for us all. Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people. This is my final recommendation: Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.

Clayton M. Christensen (cchristensen@hbs.edu) is the Robert and Jane Cizik Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

Seven hours the magic number for sleep

Originally from news.com.au:

Seven hours the magic number for sleep

By Karin Zeitvogel in Washington
From: AP August 02, 2010 1:08PM

PEOPLE who sleep more or fewer than seven hours a day, including naps, are increasing their risk for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the US, a study published today shows.

Sleeping fewer than five hours a day, including naps, more than doubles the risk of being diagnosed with angina, coronary heart disease, heart attack or stroke, the study conducted by researchers at West Virginia University’s (WVU) faculty of medicine and published in the journal Sleep says.

And sleeping more than seven hours also increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, it says.

Study participants who said they slept nine hours or longer a day were one-and-a-half times more likely than seven-hour sleepers to develop cardiovascular disease, the study found.

The most at-risk group was adults under 60 years of age who slept five hours or fewer a night. They increased their risk of developing cardiovascular disease more than threefold compared to people who sleep seven hours.

Women who skimped on sleep, getting five hours or fewer a day, including naps, were more than two-and-a-half times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease.

Short sleep duration was associated with angina, while both sleeping too little and sleeping too much were associated with heart attack and stroke, the study says.

A separate study, also published in Sleep, showed that an occasional long lie-in can be beneficial for those who can’t avoid getting too little sleep.

In that study, David Dinges, who heads the sleep and chronobiology unit at the University of Pennsylvania school of medicine, found that 142 adults whose sleep was severely restricted for five days – as it is for many people during the work week – had slower reaction times and more trouble focusing.

But after a night of recovery sleep, the sleep-deprived study participants’ alertness improved significantly, and the greatest improvements were seen in those who were allowed to spend 10 hours in bed after a week with just four hours’ sleep a night.

“An additional hour or two of sleep in the morning after a period of chronic partial sleep loss has genuine benefits for continued recovery of behavioral alertness,” Mr Dinges said.

In the study about sleep and cardiovascular disease, researchers led by Anoop Shankar, associate professor at WVU’s department of community medicine, analysed data gathered in a national US study in 2005 on more than 30,000 adults.

The results were adjusted for age, sex, race, whether the person smoked or drank, whether they were fat or slim, and whether they were active or a couch potato.

And even when study participants with diabetes, high blood pressure or depression were excluded from the analysis, the strong association between too much or too little sleep and cardiovascular disease remained.

The authors of the WVU study were unable to determine the causal relationship between how long a person sleeps and cardiovascular disease.

But they pointed out that sleep duration affects endocrine and metabolic functions, and sleep deprivation can lead to impaired glucose tolerance, reduced insulin sensitivity and elevated blood pressure, all of which increase the risk of hardening the arteries.

The American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends that most adults get about seven to eight hours of sleep each night.

Professor Shankar suggested that doctors screen for changes in sleep duration when assessing patients’ risk for cardiovascluar disease, and that public health initiatives consider including a focus on improving sleep quality and quantity.

Sleep is a peer-reviewed scientific journal published by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and the Sleep Research Society.

For analysts, ‘sales’ is not a dirty five-letter word

I joined a discussion with fellow analysts in one of the LinkedIn groups that I belong to. It started off by the original poster attaching a link to an interview on television, which promotes ‘analyst’ as the profession to be as there is a scarcity of good analysts in the market at the moment. The discussion evolves to analysts bemoaning the fact that Senior Management fail to understand them and provide the necessary support.

Although it is true that many members of the Senior Management, even in large corporations, fail to understand analytics and what analysts do, I also see that analysts often fail to sell themselves to the greater part of the company. Other departments may see analysts as genius number-crunching geeks who are experts in their respective patch of the woods – and as a source of ad-hoc data providers. Even love affair can turn stale – so after years of number crunching and dealing with the same issues, analysts can feel unloved and left-out of the bigger picture, move on to another corporation and repeat the same cycle all over again.

I experienced that as well in my previous career steps and have identified some actions that can be done by the analysts themselves to accelerate the process:

  1. Let’s face it – not everybody loves numbers and data like we do. We have to translate our passion for information, data and numbers into a way that is easily understood by the greater population. We have to write a pop-version of the analysis. Focusing on the methods, eigenvalue, and other analytical jargons and concepts will only alienate your audience. Start with the end, why does your analysis or area matter for the whole of the business?
  2. United we stand, divided we fall. Some techniques that the Risk Management guys have mastered over the years may be useful for Marketing Analysts, and while you are tearing your hair out trying to do a Factor Analysis on your data, there may be a Factor Analysis guru hidden in the Finance Department. Work together, acquaint yourself with other analysts in the organisation and start collaborating. Protecting your own area may mean that you’re losing out on great collaborative work and learning new skills. There’s wisdom in analyst crowds! For an interesting view on the wisdom of crowds, have a read of James Surowiecki’s 2005 book The Wisdom of Crowds.
  3. Everybody loves a story so sell yours. Analysts still tend to write reports as if they were computer or car specifications. Yes, they have their place in the workplace, but let’s face it, people enjoy glossier page with easier to digest information. ‘Sell’ your work and analysis (i.e. package your analysis into a ‘story’), connect them to the bottom line and how you actually impact the bottom line of the company by the size of the business that you help save, or generate, and get an audience with the Senior Management. Always ask yourself the ‘So what?’ question – how would your analysis affect the business.
  4. Learn new skills. In order to tell a story authoritatively, you need new skills. Don’t shun away if there is a course on sales techniques. You need to sell your analysis too, as mentioned previously. Learn leadership skills, know more about the business operations and what is happening out there in the market and expand your horizon! It may mean that you need to step out of your comfort area and learn or do things that you are not really comfortable with, but push yourself and enjoy the new challenges!
  5. It’s not the vehicle, it’s how to arrive at the big picture. Similar to our fascination with numbers, we often focus on analytical tools and technologies that may cost the company thousands of dollars, before we convince them that we are an integral part of the whole team. Develop a proof of concept, work with available tools and data if necessary and share your limitation! Before long, you may find yourself authorised to purchase the tool that you need to do your job better! (I once commented to my manager, when I had to work with Excel again to do the bulk of my analysis, that it was like filleting a fish with a spatula. I downloaded an evaluation version of a popular analytical tool, and worked together with an analyst from a different department, and gained an hour of the Senior Management’s time. They could not believe that such ‘sexy’ analysis could be done with the data (they were always told that the data were dirty and that nothing could be done with them). I was authorised to purchase a full version not soon after!).

Of course, Senior Management are also responsible to support and cultivate analytical culture in the company. Microsoft Excel has its use and limitation, but if you insist in having your analysts create complicated behaviour models using an outdated Excel version, you may need to adjust your expectations. For some enlightening read, check out Thomas Davenport’s 2007 book Competing on Analytics or his new book Analytics at Work. You may need to catch up with the rest of your competitors!

How Brands Grow

As a marketing practitioner and analyst for the last fifteen years, I was part of the crowds who believed about customer loyalty and the need to cultivate and nurture it. However, the concepts could not satisfactorily answer a couple of fundamental questions that were thrown at me by a senior management in an organisation that I was a part of.

“Do customers become loyal because they have more products with us, or are they loyal in the first place, so they have more products with us?”

“If our customers are so satisfied and our service is that good, how come we are still losing a lot of customers every time?”

I received the answers and the alternative way of looking at the issue after I joined the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science. Fortunately, for those of you who are not thinking of joining the academic circle or cannot possibly learn it directly from the Institute, there is hope. The knowledge has now been shared into the market. Byron Sharp, the Director of the Institute, has just published a new book called How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know. With contributions from other academics, he covers 11 Marketing Laws that are based from solid data (empirically based and empirically generalisable).

Just like the scientists of old when they debunked the myth that the earth is flat, the findings covered in the book refute a lot of the myths that are circulating within the marketing circle. Similarly, just like the yesteryears, there are other marketing practitioners who may disagree with the new ways of looking at marketing issues. Marketing is no longer an airy-fairy field, it has become an area of science. ‘Common sense’, ‘rule of thumb’ or opinions (or heuristics, if you like) can no longer be used to reliably explain the phenomenons in the market.

The book is very easy to read and the implications of the laws that are covered are easy to implement and communicate. Best of all, as mentioned previously, they are not based on the opinions of big-name-marketing-gurus, but on solid research findings and backed by data from various markets and product categories. Large corporations like Coca Cola, Colgate, and Mars Food also support and participate in the research, so the findings are legit and practical across industries and markets (or as the academics would say, generalisable).

I must warn you though – you may feel a sense of embarrassment when you read through and remember the analysis or course of actions that you have done that are contrary to the findings of solid research. The books are available through amazon or amazon.co.uk.

Note: As for the answer for the second question, it lies within the realm of the law of Retention Double Jeopardy: “all brands lose some buyers; this loss is proportionate to their market share (i.e. big brands lose more customers; though these represent a smaller proportion of their total customer base).” You will need to read the book for the answer to the first question!

Spare me the violin

Judge: Tell me about your childhood.

Possible response 1:
Contestant: My
[mum|dad|granddad|grandma] passed away when I was [enter age]. [He|she] always loved it when I [sing|dance|cook]. Oh, I can’t believe I’m so emotional about this still. I’m doing this for you, [mum|dad|granddad|grandma]!

Possible response 2:
Contestant: I was always considered as an outcast. I got bullied a lot when I was at school … [singing|cooking|dancing] was my way of coping with the situation.

Tugging viewers’ emotional string is one of the extra ingredients that make reality shows useful. It awakens our instinct to empathise with them and it also makes us willing to invest our emotions and interest with them throughout their journey in the competition. When Paul Potts wowed the jury on Britain’s Got Talents in 2007, the whole world tuned in and invested their emotions on him. Similarly, when Susan Boyle reached her high notes with Les Miserables’ I Dreamed A Dream in Britain’s Got Talents in 2009, everybody took notice. While they are both talented performers, one of the reasons why every man and his dog wanted them to win was because they heard the story about their troubled years. Their stories made us interested in them and they also made us want to follow their journey. This, for advertisers and television programmers, equates big dollars.

Unfortunately, now every reality show seems to emphasise this aspect – almost too much. It’s like when you discover that putting a little bit of cinnamon does wonder in your hot chocolate or coffee, now you insist on putting a pinch of cinnamon in every beverage that you make, whether it works or not.

I am getting sick of the sad stories whenever I switch the channel to MasterChef Australia. All these talks and discussions about cooking their uncle’s-late-postman’s-grandfather’s favourite dish, or that cooking is their reason to live (with tears streaming down their face). It is charming the first few times around, but if the same formula is repeated over and over again, we realise that we are being duped. We are being emotionally manipulated. It was similar when I watched So You Think You Can Dance earlier this year – all the sorry stories about troubled childhood and teenage years. Whilst I sympathised with them, but if nearly all of the contestants had troubled childhood, is there a place for a dancer who had a perfect upbringing?

Don’t get me wrong – I still love programmes such as Find My Family or Who Do You Think You Are? that deals with emotional issues and yet carefully skirts around manipulative techniques. Taking advantage of viewers’ engagement and emotional involvement is an art. You cannot over-replicate and overuse the same formula, there needs to be different nuances to each iteration. We don’t like being taken for a ride.

Spare me the violin, shut up and [sing|dance|cook].

Sydney beats Melbourne in world’s top cities league

This is from Sydney Morning Herald, Wednesday, May 26, 2010:

Sydney beats Melbourne in world’s top cities league

May 26, 2010 – 10:39AM

Most liveable ... Vienna is ranked number one. Photo: Reuters

Sydney has retained its spot in the top ten of the world’s most liveable cities – beating Melbourne by eight places.

Sydney remains stable in tenth place in the global survey, scoring 106.3 points and overshadowing Melbourne, which ranks 18th on 104.8 points.

Australia’s other state capitals are out of the world’s top 20, but still in the top 40, with Perth ranked 21st, Canberra 26th, Adelaide 32nd and Brisbane 36th.

But all Australia’s major cities were beaten by the Kiwis, with Auckland taking out fourth position, equal with Vancouver, Canada.

New Zealand’s capital also did well, with Wellington holding its 12th position from last year.

The 2010 Mercer Quality of Living Survey is based on 39 criteria, including political, socio-economic, environmental, health, education, and transport.

The survey covered 221 cities and compared them to New York as the base city, which was ranked in 49th position with an index score of 100.

It found the most liveable city in the world is Vienna, Austria, with 108.6 points, while Switzerland’s Zurich and Geneva followed in second and third position respectively.

Baghdad in Iraq is ranked last with just 14.7 points, coming in below Bangui in the Central African Republic and N’Djamena in Chad.

Mercer says Australian and New Zealand cities continue to boast world-class quality of living standards and remain attractive destinations for overseas expatriates.

In Mercer’s eco-city ranking list, Calgary in Canada has taken out the top spot followed by Honolulu in the United States.

The only Australian city to make the top ten in the eco-city rankings is Adelaide in seventh position.

Criteria for the eco-city ranking include air pollution, traffic congestion, water availability, waste removal and sewage treatment.


Here’s the link to the ranking table from the 2010 Mercer Quality of Living. It’s good to know that Adelaide is featured in the Top 50 on both lists!

SA Tourism Cellar Door Campaign

South Australia and Adelaide in particular, can never compete with Queensland or Sydney in packaging excitement and variety into their advertising. If ads on South Australia or Adelaide are focused on fast interspersing images of the city, the ‘exciting lifestyle’, the beach, the outback, those from the interstate or those who know Adelaide intimately will probably spot the campaign’s phoney-ness. Life in Adelaide and in South Australia is genteel and idyllic – one may argue that it is boring and slow – however, it is la dolce vita nevertheless. So, if the promotions fit with the actual ‘brand’ image, the result is definitely very effective.

Many years ago before ‘A Brilliant Blend’ campaign started, I adored the campaigns that take advantage of the nostalgic qualities of Adelaide – that you return to your childhood and the simple things in life when you visit Adelaide and South Australia. I tried so hard to locate the ads as I wanted to share them with my friends all over the world, if possible. I couldn’t find any, alas. Not long after the launch of ‘A Brilliant Blend’, I attended a presentation delivered by somebody from the marketing department of the tourism bureau. I made a comment about the nostalgic ads and the difficulty in finding them to share with my friends over the internet. The lady who presented didn’t share my enthusiasm unfortunately – she curtly mentioned that that particular campaign was successful in attracting more visitors, and that if I wanted to share the ads over the Internet, I would have to fill in some forms and gained approval before I could forward them. I wonder if she had ever known about ‘viral marketing’ and the power of word of mouth marketing. Ads circulate around in YouTube and other channels long after the actual campaigns finish on television, when people forward them to their friends and families.

When I saw the latest ‘Cellar Door’ campaign from SA Tourism, I had a big smile. It perfectly captures the Adelaide and the South Australia that I know and live in. It has that nostalgic elements as well as the gentility of the lifestyle here. I found out that Scott Hicks is the director behind the campaign – no wonder! It is so beautifully directed and captured. I applaud the sensibility of the marketing team as well for finally making it easy for people to share about the ad online.

If curiosity merely kills the cat, bureaucracy suffocates it. I hope SA Tourism will learn that the power has now been given to the viewers and the consumers to be the extensions of the brand owners and to be the brand advocates to their friends and family.



Neat website: Many Eyes

One of the key tasks of researchers and analysts is to present information in an easy to digest manner. Tables, charts and numbers should each tell a story, so that when a reader looks at your document, there is a clear storyline and a plot to follow. Having Microsoft Excel dominating the spreadsheet market means that almost all of the charts and tables look the same – which can be hideous. Websites like Many Eyes help analysts and researchers to present the data in a more interesting manner.

The visualisations go beyond the plain vanilla pie charts, bar charts and column charts and into something more aesthetic to look at. Of course, one can’t go overboard with visualisation as it may actually detract from the message that needs to be conveyed. One ‘disadvantage’ of the website is that you need to upload the data file which will then expose it as well as the result to other Many Eyes’ visitors. One way around this is to upload the data, create the visualisation as required and then delete the data and visualisations that you create.

One of my personal favourite is the Word Cloud feature, being a ‘quantie’ (quantitative analyst), I find it helpful to display text or verbatim comments in a word cloud, which shows words that are frequently mentioned larger and more prominently compared to others not as popular. There are other visualisation gems in the website.

Go forth and visualise!

This is just the beginning

I wrote my first blog on the 20th of July 2006 on my site jacatra.com which was intended to chronicle my trips to Northern Europe. The site evolves into a traditional blog which is the gatekeeper of my experiences, thoughts and anything in between – which includes a little bit of poetry, movie reviews and anything that I feel like sharing to whoever cares to read them.

From time to time, I feel compelled to write about the state of the world, or just to write some commentaries on the business landscape, analytical and insights practices or any aspects of my career that seem out of place in my personal blog. This is the starting point from which View from the 80th Floor departs. I will share some reviews on books or any websites that have helped me in my career and academic life. I will also welcome your contributions or thoughts which hopefully develop into some robust discussions here.

As you are reading this, you may wonder why I name the website View from the 80th Floor - as a matter of fact, my current office is just located on the fifth floor of a building overlooking one of the main thoroughfare in Adelaide with some bleak looking railway lines and gumtrees in the background. 80 is a number that I sometimes use to replace my name in my emails. If you spell my initials ‘AT’, you will get why I do so.

With this, I start my View from the 80th Floor and I hope that you will enjoy the view and any details along the way!

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