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Break It Down – So YOU Don’t Break Down!

By Shlomo Maital

Dave Scott

Dave Scott

Dave Scott won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon six times!   And at age 40, he came a close second! Nearly winning for a record 7th time.

How do you complete this near-impossible event: 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, a 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order and without a break.   Hours and hours of non-stop effort?  

   Dave Scott has a recipe.

   Break it down. So that YOU don’t break down.

   Don’t think about the 8 or 10 or more hours of effort, some of it very painful, all of it utterly exhausting.

   Think about the next mile. I’m going to get to that next bend in the road. Break it down into pieces.  

   I think this is great wisdom for life. Tackle really big challenges. Don’t be afraid. Then break them down into pieces. And tackle them, and achieve them, piece by piece. If you think about 26 miles, 2.4 miles, 112 miles, well…it’s daunting. Arouses fear.

   But if you think about one more mile, …. One more step. You can do it. Writing a book? 100,000 words!! Impossible. But, one page a day, 3 hours a day? Do-able. I know of a crime writer who has written 52 books… by writing for 3 hours a day, EVERY day…

   Suppose you’re a careful writer, and you do only 500 words, or two pages, in those 3 hours.   Over a year, that adds up to 500 x   365 or    187,500 words – roughly two books worth.  

   Break it down. One step at a time. One page at a time. And… it’s done! I did it! I’m crossing the finish line.    



Words Do Matter!  Start Your Startup With A Story

By Shlomo Maital


   Three on-line courses are currently ‘live’ on Coursera, that I and my Technion colleagues created, on startup entrepreneurship. I’m greatly enjoying the discussion forums. My student Antoni Baszczeski has drawn my attention to a framework by Chris Plachy, offered on Coursera:

   The discussion hinges on the importance of words. Antoni quoted G B Shaw, a great writer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925, for his “idealism and humanity, his stimulating satire…”   I noted to Antoni that Shaw was a great creator, but in the end created just words. Antoni responded that words come between feelings and action, and perhaps spur action. And I certainly agreed.

     I’m currently developing a startup entrepreneurship module based on ‘narrative entrepreneurship’. The idea is simple. Entrepreneur:   Build your story!   Shape your story (events, timeline, conflict, people, characters, things, challenges, ups and downs), built around your startup, and how you create it…tell your story in past tense, even though it unfolds in the future.   Use your story to inspire others, and yourself, to aspire to greatness, and as a roadmap. Use all the powerful techniques of great fiction to shape it…and then make it come true.

     This, by the way, has strong foundations in cognitive psychology, developed by the late Jerome Bruner (see my blog on his narrative approach). We understand reality through stories.   Perhaps, then, we can SHAPE reality by creating stories…and then living them. The better the story, the closer you get to effective successful action!

   Perhaps, as Antoni notes, words are indeed a powerful bridge between feelings (the passion that drives startups) and the deeds and actions that make them happen.

     Thanks, Antoni!






Common Innovation: Ordinary People Have Ideas

By Shlomo Maital


Peter Swann is emeritus Professor of Industrial Economics at Nottingham University Business School.  Previously he was Professor of Economics and Management of Innovation at Manchester Business School.   He has been researching and teaching the economics of innovation since 1980 and is the author of 8 books and over 100 articles, chapters and reports.

   His latest book is about a wonderful subject: “Common Innovation”, or, innovation by ordinary people, in everyday life, far removed from the industrial R&D departments of huge companies. * The Wealth of Nations does not come solely from Apple, Google and Intel. It comes from you and me, claims Swann, and from our creative ideas.

   I have not read it. But I intend to very soon. Here is how his publisher, E. Elgar, describes it:

     Common innovation is the contribution of ordinary people to innovation and the wealth of nations. Innovation and wealth creation are not merely the monopoly of business. While Schumpeter described business innovation as a, ‘perennial gale of creative destruction’, common innovation is more a, ‘gentle and benign breeze’. This book analyses some illustrations of the destructive side of business innovation, and provides numerous examples of the ‘benign breeze’ of common innovation.  It builds on the pioneering work of von Hippel, but takes that a step further. In common innovation, the ordinary citizen is centre stage and business can be quite peripheral.

   Swann carried out many studies for government departments and international agencies including DTI, BIS, Cabinet Office, Home Office, OECD and EU.    He was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2005, “for services to business and economic policy”.

     * G. M.P. Swann. Common Innovation: How We Create the Wealth of Nations. Edward Elgar: UK, 2016.


Entrepreneurship: How to Overcome Barriers

By Shlomo Maital


     Antoni Baszczeski, from Poland, has been taking one of my courses on Coursera, the on-line platform. (3 courses are currently running there, comprising a Startup Entrepreneurship specialization). In one of the Discussion Forums, Antoni notes:

“Some time ago, I participated in a “Design New Learning Environment” (DNLE) course project at the Venture Lab Edu platfom (@ Stanford University) :   Rethinking Vocational Education in the State of Massachusetts:An Entrepreneurship Imperative for the 21st Century.

   We tried to identify Barriers to Entrepreneurship, and It looks that a majority of them are driven by cultural / mindset / attitude components. And they are root causes of the problems with creativity and innovation.

  1. Internal :
  • lack of self-confidence •lack of critical thinking skills •fear of failure •passivity•lack of experience with fundraising and managing money •ack of credibility among adults that would fund the venture, due to the young age of entrepreneur
  1. External : •education  •schools are providing exam preparation courses today and kill kids/students creativity and desire to innovate •entrepreneurship is not taught nor promoted in schools •there is a lack of understanding of the important role entrepreneurship has for future generations at the level of decision makers – Ministry of Education and Superintendents of Education •cultural – society (including parents and teachers) is not tolerant of young people who think differently than those that have gone before them. • bureaucratic and administrative – including lack of transparency •financing is difficult to acquire due to the lack of faith in the youths’ ability to execute the ideas

   Antoni asks Forum participants about their own countries, and the barriers they perceive to young people starting and growing businesses.

   So blog readers: What about your country? What do you think are the main 3 obstacles that keep young people from becoming startup entrepreneurs? What are the obstacles that keep YOU personally from doing so? How can these obstacles be overcome?

   Thank you Antoni!

Marucci as Bat Man: Great Oak (Bats)

From Little Acorns Grow

By Shlomo Maital


   There are two major lessons we learn from the story of Jack Marucci and his sports equipment company. Lesson One: Just do it – start small, create value, make a prototype…and see what happens. Lesson Two: Even if you create a great huge global company – keep doing whatever you were doing in your day job, if you truly love it. You don’t HAVE to become a tycoon/manager.

     Lesson One: In 2002 Marucci’s little boy Gino, 8 years old, needed a baseball bat. He wanted a wood bat, but no company made wood bats for kids, only for adults. Kids’ bats were all aluminum. Marucci had learned how to use a wood lathe in high school. So he bought a used lathe, got some maple (best for bats) and made a bat for Gino. It took a few tries, but he soon got the idea. Soon Gino’s friends wanted wood bats too. So Marucci made them ones. Eduardo Perez, the son of Hall of Fame St. Louis Cardinal baseball player Tony Perez, got one. He told his dad. Perez in turn told Albert Pujols, future Hall of Famer, about the bats..and Pujols loved them!   Soon Marucci was in the bat business, producing high-quality maple bats, with obsessive attention to quality, for Major League baseball players. Eventually his company expanded into other types of equipment, with two retired ballplayers as partners. Marucci Maplewood bats are used today by more than 35 per cent of all the players in Major League Baseball!

     See a need? If you can – make a prototype. If it’s great, who knows what will happen.

     Lesson Two:   Marucci has a day job, as Director of Athletics at Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge, Louisiana.   He loves this job. Despite the success of Marucci’s bat company, he has decided to keep his day job, and still holds an interest in the sports equipment company.

       So, what do we learn?   If you see a need, see if you can satisfy it, preferably with your own two hands. Amazing things may follow if your product is truly great. And if you have a day job and truly love it, hang on to it and let your partners build and grow your business.  


Innovator: Learn from Fermi!

By Shlomo Maital


Enrico Fermi 1901-1954

   One of the key problems innovators encounter is validation. You have an idea. You love it! You’re full of passion to implement it. But, hold it. Take a moment or more, and make sure you’re meeting a real unmet need. Validate the need. Don’t be like so many entrepreneurs who “fill a much-needed gap”.

   But how? How to validate? Talk to people? Sure. But will chatting with 1, 2 or even 10 people do the trick?

   I’ve just learned about an interesting method that may help. (See: Philip Tetlock, Dan Gardner, Superforecasting: Crown, 2015; see Fermi-ize Your Problem). It comes from the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, who died young at 53; he was an exceptional scholar, both a theoretical and experimental physicist (very rare to do both), and invented the first nuclear reactor, Chicago-Pile 1, in Chicago. He won the Nobel Prize in 1938, and has an element named after him. (Fermium, element 100, symbol Fm).

   Here is how Fermi taught his students to tackle tough problems. I’ve slightly changed the context.

   Suppose you want to create an Android app for tuning pianos. Suppose you want to sell it in Chicago. How can you validate the need? How can you predict how many you will sell?

   Size of market: How many piano tuners are there in Chicago?

   No possible way I can find that number on the Internet. Impossible task. Dead end.

     Not according to Fermi.   Take a hard question. Break it down into pieces. And this will enable you to come up with a very good guess that will be surprisingly accurate.

For instance: 1. How many pianos are there in Chicago?   Well, the population of Chicago is 2.5 million. Let’s say, one person in 100 has a piano. (about 1 household in 25 or 30). That means: 25,000 pianos. But schools, etc. also have pianos. That could be, say, another 25,000 pianos. So there are 50,000 pianos. 2. How often are pianos tuned? Let’s say, once a year. Reasonble, right? 3. How long does it take to tune a piano? Roughly, two hours. Remember: each note has to be played, tested, checked. And a piano has 88 keys, 52 white and 36 black. 4. How many hours per year does a piano tuner work? Let’s say, 40 hours a week, for 50 weeks, or 2,000 hours. But take off 20 per cent for travel time: so, 1,600 hours.

     Final calculation: Total piano tuning time: 50,000 pianos times 2 hours =   100,000 hours per year. Divide by 1,600 hours per tuner:   You get about 60 or so piano tuners.

     Does that comprise a sufficient market for your app? Chicago alone, no. So you need to be nationwide or global. Can you be? How will they know about your app?

     This is called Fermi-ize Your Problem. Take a really hard problem. Break it down into pieces. Tackle each piece.

     What if your assumptions are wrong? Well – if you’ve written them down, you can check them. So – instead of giving up from the outset when tackling a hard question, you break it into pieces and tackle each piece,   and when you solve each piece, you chalk up progress and gain momentum. And move one step closer to an answer.

     Innovator: Try to Fermi-ize your problem. Fermi did this regularly with his students. I think it helped him win a Nobel Prize. If you get good at Fermi-izing, you become more willing to tackle really tough problems..and change the world. And you may avoid investing years solving a problem no one really cares about.

Which Creative Idea Will Succeed? Can We Predict It?

By Shlomo Maital   

bad idea1

     Can you predict which creative ideas will succeed and which will fail?   There is a great deal of research on how to foster creative ideas – but much too little on implementation and choosing good ideas and dumping bad ones. A recent article in Administrative Science Quarterly, latest issue (2016),   the leading organizational behavior journal, sheds light on this. [1]

     Here are the main findings:

  • Using both a field study of 339 professionals in the circus arts industry and a lab experiment, I examine the conditions for accurate creative forecasting, focusing on the effect of creators’ and managers’ roles.
  • In the field study, creators and managers forecasted the success of new circus acts with audiences, and the accuracy of these forecasts was assessed using data from 13,248 audience members. Results suggest that creators were more accurate than managers when forecasting about others’ novel ideas, but not their own.

This is a crucial finding. Entrepreneur: You are NOT not good at forecasting the success of your own ideas.   Get help. Get feedback. Validate, validate, validate. Your own passion about your change-the-world idea is often misleading.   Check it out.

  • Results from the lab experiment show that creators’ advantage over managers in predicting success may be tied to the emphasis on both divergent thinking (idea generation) and convergent thinking (idea evaluation) in the creator role, while the manager role emphasizes only convergent thinking.

   In our (Ruttenberg and Maital) model of creativity, “zoom out” (divergent thinking) and “zoom in” (convergent thinking) must be used together, sequentially. Managers use mainly zoom-in. And hence, according to Berg, they often get it wrong. Creators use both.

     One conclusion?   Innovation managers must cultivate more zoom-out thinking. Open the windows, and the doors, managers!   The nature of your job is such that you tend to keep them closed, and lose crucial information and make bad decisions as a result.

   This helps explain why creative thinking is hard to sustain. As organizations grow, they become ‘convergent’…focused, narrowly.   And they lose innovative spark. Solution? Open the windows!

[1] Balancing on the Creative Highwire: Forecasting the Success of Novel Ideas in Organizations, by Justin M. Berg

Will Paul Romer Be the Cat Among the World Bank Pigeons?

By Shlomo Maital  


Paul Romer – New World Bank Chief Economist

      The World Bank was created in July 1944, at Bretton Woods, NH, and has as its goal spurring growth among poorer countries by helping them  borrow capital for infrastructure projects. Repeatedly, the modern relevance of the World Bank has been questioned, when, in a globalized world, nations that run their economies well can access world capital markets by themselves – and nations that do not won’t get World Bank funding anyway.

     The relevance of the World Bank depends on understanding what are the underlying factors that drive growth. For years, economists simply did not know. Here is what The Economist says:

     Prevailing models of growth assigned an important role to technological change, but lacked a convincing explanation for how it came about. Instead, the models treated new ideas a bit like manna from heaven, arriving in a mysterious and unpredictable manner.

   Prof. Paul Romer had a different theory.  

   Mr Romer sought to change that. His work made the development of new ideas “endogenous”, meaning that it sought to account for them, rather than writing them off as “exogenous” surprises. In his “endogenous growth” theory, new ideas materialise as firms invest in physical capital or research and development, creating knowledge that spills over to the rest of the economy. That suggests that open economies, with institutions that encourage investment in physical and human capital, ought to do best.

   The importance of the quality of institutions and of the dissemination of innovation led Mr Romer to focus on urban areas, which are often hotbeds for the creation and transmission of ideas. That focus, in turn, sparked a radical notion of economic development oriented around “charter cities”. Poor countries, he argued, should create new cities and give them leeway to experiment with daring economic and political reforms.

I know Romer is right. Israel has startup cities, like Tel Aviv, that are vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystems. Berlin is one; so is Silicon Valley (a region, not a city); Research Triangle (N. Carolina); Cambridge, UK, and so on.

Will Paul Romer change the thinking of that Old Lady, World Bank, with its old-fashioned stodgy theories? Will he leverage the World Bank’s lending power to foster entrepreneurship in poorer nations?

Stay tuned!


Creativity Capital: We’re Destroying Billions of Dollars Worth!

By Shlomo Maital

money burning

   What is “capital”? For most people, capital is something tangible, like money, houses, or other assets. But for economists, capital is somewhat abstract – it is the summed present value of a stream of future benefits.  

   For instance, a bond pays interest for 10 years or 25 years, and its value is the summed p.v. of those interest payments plus the principal.

   People, too, comprise capital. When you improve your skills, the summed present value of the added income from those added skills is also capital and can be calculated – this is “human capital”.

     I believe there is a kind of capital that we are constantly destroying, rather than building as we should. It is “creativity capital”.

     Here is a small story. The daughter of a close friend drew a picture in elementary school. The teacher said that it was utter rubbish. Even though the young girl’s mother was a skilled artist, and even though she herself had talent – she never again drew a picture.   Perhaps the world lost an important artist; but more important, she herself lost an activity that could have given her enormous pleasure.

     This one case is creativity capital that was destroyed, because a stupid teacher was insensitive and failed to understand that her role is to encourage and empower, not destroy. How many other such cases are there? How many readers have encountered similar massive destruction of their creativity capital?

     How do we get schools to stop destroying massive amounts of creativity capital? What if we tried to put some numbers on ‘creativity capital’ and more important, investment in it (the additions to Creativity Capital)?   What if we tried to measure schools not by students’ scores on stupid mechanical tests, but by the extent to which their students excel in, say, the Torrance Creativity Test?  

     What if teachers’ job definition changed radically, from teaching test-taking skills to fostering ability to come up with wild ideas and then implement them?  

     But – how in the world can we make this happen?  We need creative ideas to create Creativity Capital.

Stories: They CAN (and do) Change Lives

By Shlomo Maital


As a Ph.D. student I was taught that serious academic research involves either a mass of mathematical equations (theory) or a database with at least 50 subjects, generating tables, T-tests, least-square regressions and other such stuff.

   It took me a long time to understand that truth often lies not in N=50 but in N equals one, or less than one – in a powerful story.   Here is an example.

     In 2009 Michelle Obama, on her first trip as First Lady, visited London with Barak Obama. She visited Elizabeth Garrett Anderson School, a London state (or public) school for girls, about three-quarters of whom are eligible for free school meals.

   According to The Economist she told the girls:

“I’m standing here…because of education,” Mrs Obama said. “I thought being smart was cooler than anything in the world.” And unlike many luminaries asked to rouse pupils, the First Lady kept in touch. Mrs Obama invited the girls to see her again in 2011 when she visited Oxford University. There, she told pupils: “All of us believe that you belong here.” One year later a dozen pupils flew over to the White House.

       Her message seems to have worked. In a paper published on July 1st, Simon Burgess, an economist at the University of Bristol, analysed the school’s exam results in the years after Mrs Obama’s visits. The 15- or 16-year-olds sitting their GCSEs did much better than girls in the previous year. From 2011 to 2012, for example, the boost was equivalent to each pupil moving from 8 C to 8 A grades. Those improvements were much bigger than the average increases in performance across London state schools, suggesting that the effects were specific to Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.”

          So my advice to countries, school systems and even parents:   Tell stories. Find role models your kids admire. Tell their stories, if you can’t bring them in person. When people understand that the impossible is actually possible, because other ordinary people like them have done it, they become inspired.  

         Great aspirations begin with individuals believing that they can. Stories of others who did   are helpful in instilling this belief, as Michelle Obama and the London school show.

   And by the way – I (and many others?) have the strong feeling that Michelle should have been elected President, rather than her husband.

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital