If you had to make a bet on which team could perform a certain task better between a group of kindergartners, or a group of business students amongst some of the top elite schools in the United States and abroad. Who would you bet on?
Peter Skillman, an engineer, put together a competition to answer this question. The task was simple. He assembled groups of four people at several colleges and universities. Their task was to see who which group could build the tallest possible structure using the following items:
- twenty pieces of uncooked spaghetti
- one yard of transparent tape
- on yard of string
- one standard size marshmallow
The contest had one rule. The marshmallow had to be the final thing on top of the tower.
Who did you bet on?
The students took the approach of first tossing ideas back and forth. They asked questions to each other. They looked at several different options. It was very strategic and professional. They then decided on an approach. Divided up the tasks and started building.
The kindergartners did something different. They didnt strategize. They did not analyze anything or generate any ideas, or banter back and forth. Nope they stood amongst each other. Grabbed the materials and started building. No plan. No strategy. They started putting things together, and as they got in to it. They would say to each other. “Lets try this”. “No, here”. “Lets put that here.”
So who did you bet that would build the taller structure?
If you bet on the business school students, you are wrong. In dozens of trials, kindergartners built structures that average twenty-six inches tall, while the students from these universities average structure was about ten inches tall.
Teams of kindergartners not only consistently outperformed business school students, but they also conducted these same trials with lawyers and CEO’s. The lawyers averaged fifteen inch structures and the CEO’s averaged twenty-two inches structures.
So how is it? and Why is it? That kindergartners could outperform all of these highly educated and skilled groups of people?
The simple answer is that kindergartners:
- Don’t have any egos.
- They are not trying to prove their intelligence
- They are not trying to be in charge.
- They aren’t scared to speak up because they may be wrong.
- They are not afraid to say no to each other.
- They are not trying to adapt to any social norms.
Nope. The kindergarteners are just looking at a task that they have been asked to do and just doing it. Although the research doesn’t mention this, but maybe the kindgartners also have a better imagination. They are not trying to put limits on themselves and say what can’t be done. Instead, they just try to do things. This by itself leads to better outcomes, because if you aren’t willing to fail, which it doesn’t even cross the minds of these kindergartners, than you will never know what truly could be done.
In today’s world, probably as you are reading this. You are on your way to work where either you, or someone you will work with today, will be trying to solve a problem. Instead of trying to decide who is boss. Or who should be doing this or that. I would encourage you to instead take the same approach as the kindergartners did in this research and determine what is the best way to do this and forget everything else.
I know this is a hard ask. But if we would all approach issues at work, or in our own personal lives this way, we would accomplish a lot more. There would be less tension and conflict amongst our peers and in our own personal relationships. And we would just be happier altogether.
See if you can approach life-like a kindergartner today and see how it works out for you.
To your success and your future.
You can watch the TED talk on this research here as well.
I speak to many leaders and owners of companies that tell me projects are not getting completed as quickly as they should. It could be a variety of different things that are slowing them down. Things such as lack of communication, ego, no sense of urgency, to just having the wrong people on the team.
However, recently I started sharing another thing that could be preventing their teams from accomplishing the goal. And it doesn’t have to do anything with the personalities of the team. It is instead the distance of the team from each other while working on the project.
At the height the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union both, had teams of engineers working on multiple projects trying to develop and create more more weapon systems and satellite systems. Between the government projects and private enterprise projects, teams of engineers spent countless hours working trying to develop something that had never been done before.
And like in most organizations, there were teams that consistently outperformed other teams in developing and implementing new things and completing projects. The government commissioned a study to determine why some teams were just better at doing this than other teams. So they called on Thomas Allen who was a MIT Professor.
Allen started off his research by locating what he called “twin projects”, which was when two or more organizations, either private firms and the government were both working on the same problem. Or it could have been two groups with the government or two groups of private firms. Allen then measured the quality of their solutions and came up with a list of success factors that two teams had in common for completed projects.
What Allen determine pretty quickly was that the most successful projects were driven by individuals in groups that were very good communicators. After determining this, he wanted to see where these good communicators learned the skill. Did they all go to the same school? Did they have more experience? Were they better at basic leadership skills? Were they just smarter IQ? Did they know each other better? Allen looked at all of these factors and none of them gave any significance to being the reason for their superior communication skills.
Then he discovered something unique about where and how the teams of engineers were placed in their working environment. At first Allen didn’t think proximity of these teams had anything to do with their ability to get the jobs completed. But after looking at it further he determined that the most successful teams worked closer together physically.
“The ability to see each other everyday” Allen said, “is more important than you think.”
After determining this Allen researched it further by looking at the frequency of the communication between the teams. They started looking at this across all teams and determined something very interesting. The further away people worked from each other, the frequency of their communication rapidly decreased. Allen said “It is really a serious thing, if you’re on a different floor in some organizations, you may as well be in a different country.”
Allen plotted the frequency of interactions against distance, and he ended up with a line that resembled a steep hill. It was almost vertical at the top and flat at the bottom. This became known as the Allen Curve.
As you can see by the curve that the steepness starts right at the eight meter mark. At eight meters or less that communication rises off the charts.
In today’s world with digital communications research has also found that teams still obey the Allen Curve. One study found that workers who shared a location emailed one another four times as often as workers who did not, and as result they completed their projects 32 percent faster (Daniel Coyle; The Culture Code, Bantam Books 2018).
As a trainer I work with organizations daily on the importance of communication in the workplace and how do it more effectively. One of the biggest things I will now share with them is the importance of proximity amongst the team.
The fact is that if we see each other and we know we have to face each other, we will communicate more effectively and more often, these two things determine success on projects and in the workplace.
To your success and your future.
Notes: I originally read about the Allen Curve in Daniel Coyles book The Culture Code. I highly recommend this book to anybody who wants to create a better working team. Proximity matters. Google has also understood the importance of this and have designed all of their facilities accordingly to create the most opportunities for teams to collaborate and work together.
This is a question that I have been asked many times by people. You most likely have a strong opinion on this question as well. Can people really change? Especially if they are more experienced (older) and more stuck in their ways.
As a leader for well over twenty years now, a full-time corporate trainer and speaker the last five years. I have come across lots of people in a variety of different environments. I have also studied human behaviors for the last ten years or so. When I say study, I mean not only through observation, I have been doing that for my entire life. I mean studying the research that has been conducted and collected by some of the experts in the field of human behavior since the beginning of time.
One of the best books I have read on the study of human behavior, and specifically on the question of whether or not humans can Change, is a book titled Change or Die, The Three Keys to Change at work and in Life.
In the book, the authors look at research conducted by doctors on people who were diagnosed with severe heart issues. Some of the participants in the study even have had open heart surgery to other heart related surgeries. The question was simple. When faced with death, would the patients change their behaviors to prevent future heart related issues.
What do you think they found? Did people change their behaviors?
The study concluded that after one year after the diagnosis, or the surgery, that well over 50% of the patients had stopped taking the medication they were supposed to be taking. At after two years, well over 90% were back to the same behaviors and lifestyles they had before the surgery or diagnosis.
This example says a lot about change doesn’t it? It says that even when faced with death, change is very hard. Luckily most of us are not in position at this moment that we have to make a life or death decision, and our willingness to change determines what the outcome will be.
However, many people are in situations where making some changes could greatly impact their career and success. The question is, are they willing to make the changes necessary. As the book would tell you, most people aren’t. But the book, also shares many stories on where people did make changes and how they did it. And in my business, I see the same thing.
From my observations through meeting thousands of people in my training seminars and courses, I have watched people significantly change to get better outcomes in their life and their business. But there are some conditions and questions that must be answered for those changes to occur in those people.
First, the person must have a need to make a change. As my mentor said, we make changes for two reasons. We are either inspired or desperate. Obviously, both situations lead to change. I just prefer to make the changes before I am desperate to have to make the change.
For example: Lets says I am an employee at a company. I have been there for five years. I know my business pretty well. So well, that I don’t listen to feedback very well. Matter of fact, I dismiss most suggestions people make. In addition to being dismissive I am kind of known as a jerk that nobody likes to work around.
This person could become inspired to make changes, because they realize the impact they are having on the coworkers around them. Or they could be sat down by their manager and told how they are perceived, and if they don’t change it they will no longer work there anymore.
In either case, a need has been identified, but the better path is to become aware of the change yourself and start to make shift.
My experience tells me that people who do make changes see the need.
The second piece to change is the want. Do they want to make the change. Again, it comes down to motivation. How motivated are you to want to make the change. If you are about to lose your job, you may be highly motivated, however, are you sold on the concept? You could fake it for a while, but eventually it will come out on whether or not you really want to change.
In my observations, the people who really see the need and then really want to change are the ones who can make the changes. And I know it isn’t that simple. The environment has to be right, and then the right support has to be there as well, but when the need and the want are strong by the individual, change will occur.
The third piece to making a change is a question the person will ask themselves. Can I change? The simple answer is, Yes, they can change. But it is the follow-up question that is more important. Will I change? We can all change, it is just whether or not will we change. These two questions, have to be asked and answered with a yes.
To answer the question I posed at the beginning. Can people change? Yes, I whole heartedly believe people can change. They must answer the four questions above though.
Do they see a need to change, however the need is presented to them. Either they see the need or someone shows the need to them. Do they want to change? And then lastly, do they think they can, and will they do whatever it takes to make the changes. When these four questions are answered, and how they are answered, you will know whether or not someone will make a change.
Once these four questions are answered, and answered correctly, the person is willing to do whatever it takes to make whatever the change is. Then they must get in to the right system or program to make the changes. This is where it can get complicated. What is the best system. I’ll keep it generic on my suggestions as far as what the right system is. I will just tell you what I believe the system must include.
First the system, must have a singular focus. It must be focused on whatever the change the person is trying to make is.
Secondly, it must have daily accountability of some kind, that requires the person who is making the change to have to be accountable to.
Thirdly, they must receive some kind of coaching along the way.
Lastly, it must be at least a year-long process with accountability and follow-up. This is by far one of the most critical things. The bottom line is change is hard, we know this. People would rather die than change, as the book validates. And this kind of change doesn’t happen over night, it takes at least a year to make sustainable changes to a behavior that we have had for a long time.
I have watched people in my training courses make significant changes in their behaviors over the years. Whether it is a leader that changes the way they interact with their employees and peers. Or the sales person that has to change their work behaviors to make more sales.
These people were able to make these changes, because they not only answered the four questions. They had a need, they wanted to make the change, and the sad they Can and they said that they will. But they also found the right system, with a singular focus, with daily accountability and coaching, and they were committed to at least a certain period of time to work in the system to make the changes. They haven’t always been year-long processes, but they were lengthy periods of time.
Here is the question for you. Can you change? Are you willing to make a change?
I know the answer to the question. People can change. Will you?
To your success and your future.
If you haven’t heard of Robert Shiller before, then my guess is you haven’t been watching the news or anything related to money or economics.
Shiller is the economist that predicted the housing bubble in 2006 that sent the world as we knew it into a tail spin for the next five years and I am not sure if everyone has yet to recover from it.
Shiller and his team did something ridiculously simple, yet effective. Shiller simply looked at U.S. housing prices dating back to 1890, stripping away inflation. He “benchmarked” the 1890 prices at a value of 100 and tracked relative housing costs through the lens of inflation-adjusted dollars.
Here is what they found:
- A house in 1897 cost the same as a house in 1997, adjusted for inflation.
- If you benchmark 1890 prices at a value of 100, you’ll notice that U.S. housing prices have stayed within the 100-120 range over the past century.
- In 1950, for example, the index stood at 105; in 1996 the index stood at 106. Real estate didn’t make any gains (other than inflation) during that 46-year timespan.
- Starting in 1997, an unprecedented bubble began forming.
- Every housing ‘peak,’ or bubble, is followed by a tragic, painful, ugly fall.
Shiller and his team have created the Case Shiller Home Price Index. Below is the image of the current one. This index is created quarterly. If you look at the most recent spike. Right before the recession hit. You can now see why he was able to predict the housing bubble. What is even scarier. Is that you can see a current one is being formed as I type this.
So you are saying right now Brian, you are silly. A home is an investment. Over time, this appreciable asset can be sold for more money. Everybody makes money on real estate.
Well, let me tell you a few other reasons why I will never buy a home again as my primary residence. First of all, I own five homes. They are all rented out and make money each money. Matter of fact they are very profitable. But I rent where I live. And here are some other reasons why I will always rent, other than the fact as you can see by the chart above it isn’t a very good investment.
The only time I will not rent is the day I can write a check for the place I want to live in. Meaning I don’t take out a loan.
My other reasons.
Mobility: I don’t plan on staying put. I stayed put in my hometown from birth until age 38. I am not doing that anymore. I want to move. I want to see the world. I want to see the United States. My plan is to move at least every three or four years or so, or maybe sooner. Look, I get bored easily. I like new things. I want to move around and see new things and be in new areas.
Assets vs. Liability: The lie you have been sold is that a home is an asset. Its not. It is a liability. It doesn’t make you money every month. It costs you money every month. I know, so does rent. And unless you plan on staying in a house for more than five years, and depending on price, it doesn’t make sense to buy a home unless you plan on staying in it over five years. Which is not the case for a lot of people.
An asset is something that can provide you cash flow. If it doesn’t provide you cash flow, then it is not an asset. Simple definitions, an asset makes you money every month. A liability costs you money every month.
But I am getting the gains from appreciation? What is the point of appreciation if you can’t do anything with the money?
Costs: The average down payment of a $150,000 home should be, $30,000, 20%. If you invest that $30,000 into a home, you have to think about opportunity costs associated with that 30K. Which means, since you invested your 30K into this home, it means you can’t invest it into something else. Like a mutual fund, a business, or some other kind of asset that can provide you a return. So this money is tied up.
I, like you have been sold the “American Dream”, whatever that is. I think most would say, home ownership is the “American Dream”. I subscribed to that thinking growing up as well.
But to me the “American Dream” is “Ultimate Freedom.” Freedom from doing anything I don’t want to do. Freedom from any debts or obligations to others. Freedom to come and go as I please. Freedom to live off of my own assets that I have accumulated. Freedom to travel and live where I want to live. Freedom to get up on a Sunday and not have to worry about cutting the grass.
If you like to cut the grass, good for you. I don’t. Life is too short to spend one hour a week cutting grass. I have better things I want to do.
In 2006, I bought my first rental property. It was a $175,000 dollar duplex. At the time, I was renting a great apartment/duplex in the best area (in my opinion) in my city at the time. That duplex gave me cash flow every single month that helped me establish a love for real estate and a love for seeking pure freedom in my life. I am closer today to this goal than I was then. And I get closer every single day.
If you are not sold, I would encourage you to do your own research instead of just taking my word for it.
At age 21, I bought my first house. To live in. At that time, that was considered to be the biggest achievement one could make, at least in my circles at that time. Hey, I am not discounting it if that is what you want to do. If this is one of your goals, and you do it, then good for you. I am glad you set a goal and accomplished it.
But for me, ultimate freedom is the goal. And conventional and traditional ways of thinking have never got anyone I know to this goal.
Also, if you looked at the above chart, this should be a concern if you plan on selling your home over the next few years. We could be at the top of the bubble.
To your success and your future.