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April 14, 2014
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April 8, 2014
Steve Levin
From Steve Levin

Investor & Advisor at Bioformix, LLC
Cincinnati Area

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Truths for Our Daughters

May 10, 2013

Truths for Our Daughters: “

As a senior professional in financial services — an industry with comparatively few women in the executive ranks — Ive spent a lot of time thinking about why there aren’t more women at the top-most levels of companies. I’ve read the studies and heard the theories that women don’t network well; don’t have the ‘vision thing’; communicate too passively; don’t ask for bigger jobs and the top clients; and have fewer sponsors who are willing to use political capital to advocate for them the way they do for their male colleagues. There’s a lot of agreement and repetition when talking about the problem. It’s when discussing solutions that things get quieter.

As a mother watching her 18-year old college freshman daughter contemplate her summer job options and future career, I want her to be exposed to success stories — not to what women lack or havent done or cant do — because I know these successes exist and we need to share more of them. If young women everywhere went into the workforce steeped not only in the message that ‘you cant have it all’ and inundated not only with data on the lack of senior women, but armed instead with all the accumulated advice and wisdom of experienced women who have thrived in and enjoyed their careers, then they — and the organizations theyre joining — would be much better served.

Here is the advice Ill give my daughter — and all young women like her eagerly anticipating building a career — as she starts to make decisions about her life. These are some truths that I know now, twenty-plus years into my career, but wish someone had told me earlier. And though I didnt always follow these guidelines, my career has been more successful — and I got to where I am today — because of them. Maybe my daughter will embody these early on and be ahead of the game.

  • Be confident. I’ve watched you approach multivariable calculus class this semester with coolness and calm. Bring that spirit into the workforce with you. (For the record: I can’t think of a single thing I’ve done in my entire career that approaches the complexity of multivariable calculus).
  • You don’t need to ‘know it all’ on day one. And neither does anyone else, including that very confident-sounding guy in the cube next to you. Even CEOs ask questions.
  • Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It took me about a decade, if not longer, to figure this one out. It’s easy to hold yourself back by thinking there is someone else out there who is more talented, more experienced, more skilled. You won’t grow in your career if you won’t venture beyond what you already are comfortable doing.
  • You have no idea where your career will lead you longer-term so think of it in smaller, manageable stages. Opportunities will come along. Be fearless, take them, and don’t worry so much about what’s next.
  • Speak twice as loudly as you think you need to. I really wish someone had said this to me before my first presentation in a corporate boardroom — when someone actually asked me to ‘speak up’.
  • Be prepared. Practice. Know the numbers inside and out. Great business judgment develops with time, but even on day one, you can have the facts — and this is powerful.
  • Find that person who believes in you — and then listen to them, even if you dont like what theyre saying. You will look back and be thankful that you did.
  • Draw lines in the sand. Know what it is you absolutely won’t give up and stick to it. No one will thank you for not having a life outside of work, never taking vacation. The most successful people I know weave their lives and work together throughout the week. This gives them both career longevity and life fulfillment.
  • You will frequently feel like you are not giving your 100% best anywhere — either at home, at work, with friends, with other outside interests. I feel like this all the time — and its okay. High achievers always strive to do more at work, with family and friends, with your other outside commitments and interest.
  • Pay it forward and good things happen. Take the call or the meeting request when friends and colleagues reach out for business or career advice and connect them with others who may be helpful. They will remember and it’s an easy and genuine way to expand your network.
  • Be ready — for anything.
  • Its time for us to change the narrative of why there arent more women at the top. Can we simply whip up a ‘how to’ and change the trends we all see? Likely not — because there is no Secret Formula X for success. We each bring a varying mix of talents, ideas and experience to the equation, as well as differing life circumstances. Thats why we need to start sharing our success stories, instead of focusing on all the reasons why women opt out or dont live up to their potential in the workforce. On this Mothers Day, share your story with someone who needs to hear it.


    How Intelligent Constraints Drive Creativity

    January 30, 2013

    How Intelligent Constraints Drive Creativity: “

    Not long ago, Teresa Amabile revealed in an HBR blog post that while she had spent much of her career as a research psychologist showing how constraints can undermine creativity, she had discovered that the right sort of constraints can in fact ‘stoke the innovation fire.’

    Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer offered the same opinion writing for Businessweek in 2006: ‘Constraints shape and focus problems, and provide clear challenges to overcome as well as inspiration. Creativity loves constraints, but they must be balanced with a healthy disregard for the impossible.’

    The idea that boundaries and limits can produce boundless and limitless thinking seems counterintuitive and paradoxical. But if we further examine the mechanisms at work when we face constraints, perhaps we can identify which kinds best promote, rather than diminish, creativity.

    A starting point is to acknowledge that although many activities traditionally considered creative, from the arts to design to athletics, all seem to be free-form in nature, in reality they are anything but. Each has its own set of limits that governs the performance.

    Take comedy improvisation. It is the audience that sets the initial limits by throwing out suggestions (often surprising and contradictory ones) to the performers. The actors then perform with no further planning, and the skit emerges with help from a new, simple rule: accept without question what is given to you by your fellow performers. Every line you produce must build on one that came before, and you can never second-guess that line.

    This is a daunting constraint, because you cannot plan, prepare or in any way rehearse. Your only choice is to remain focused and attuned to everything that is happening on stage, ready to react. But this limit makes for nearly infinite possibility and actually frees the performer to be even more imaginative.

    That’s anecdotal evidence that well-designed constraints lead to creative success. But there’s academic research data on this phenomenon too. For example, a study conducted at the University of Amsterdam’s Department of Social Psychology proved that tough obstacles can prompt people to open their minds, look at the ‘big picture,’ and make connections between things that are not obviously connected. This is an ability is called ‘global processing,’ which is the hallmark of creativity.

    Participants in the study played a computer maze game. One group played a version that had an obstacle blocking one of the routes, which significantly limited options and made it much harder to discover an escape. A second group had an easier maze with no obstacles. Both groups were then given a standard creativity test containing what psychologists call remote associates puzzles. Three words appeared on the screen (for example, ‘plate,’ ‘shot,’ and ‘broken’) and the subjects were asked to find a fourth word that connected them all.

    Those who had played the harder maze game solved 40 percent more of the remote associates puzzles than those whose mazes had not contained obstacles. The constraint had forced members of the former group into a more creative mindset; their imaginations benefited from struggling in the first task. (The answer, by the way, is ‘glass.’)

    An intelligent obstacle or constraint is one laden with creative tension, whether stated in the form of a well-defined problem (‘How might we simultaneously decrease both inventory and backorders?’) or a challenging goal (NASA’s 1990s mission to land a rover on Mars in half the time and a tenth the budget of the previous mission). An intelligent constraint informs creative action by outlining the ‘sandbox’ within which people can play and guides that action not just by pointing out what to pursue but perhaps more importantly what to ignore.

    The pressing question for managers here is this: Are constraints preventing or propelling your innovation efforts? There is only one right answer.


    Why Do Great Ideas Take So Long to Spread?

    November 30, 2012

    Why Do Great Ideas Take So Long to Spread?: “

    Just because a new fact or idea seems right, doesnt mean it will spread like wildfire. Evolution, hand washing in hospitals, the inevitability that personal computers were the future of technology — none of these ideas were accepted immediately, even though they seem obvious today. Change takes time. But why?

    The short answer is we’re intellectually stubborn. We don’t always weigh all the evidence before we make a decision, and this is especially true if a change of opinion requires a wholesale overhaul of our worldview. Usually, we’re defensive in the face of change, spouting alternative theories and contradictory data. Although this type of resistance can help keep everyone honest, it can also produce very bad effects.

    Just take Ignaz Semmelweis — a physician who recommended doctors clean their hands prior to delivering babies — who was ignored and essentially driven mad by his colleagues refusal to accept the truth. But eventually, in the face of overwhelming evidence, the majority will generally accept the new theory, before their recalcitrance becomes too counterproductive.

    Shifting from an old view to a new one is never a clean and seamless process. As numerous scientists have experienced, trying to get a new idea accepted is usually a messy process — and a long one. In fact, it could take until the retirement or death of the holdouts and the influx of younger and more open minds for the new idea to become accepted. The physicist Max Planck seems to have summed up the issue with this maxim: ‘New scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’

    This seems intuitively obvious. Since science and business are human affairs, we can’t expect the old stalwarts to change their minds when a new idea comes along. We just have to wait for them to die. Seems rational enough.

    But here’s the thing: Planck’s Principle turns out to be wrong.

    Consider Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. Several decades ago, a study (PDF) examined sixty-seven British scientists from Darwin’s time and found that only about three quarters of them had accepted Darwinian evolution ten years after On the Origin of Species was first published in 1859. So evolution was not the rapid change we thought it might have been.

    Why? If events had unfolded according to Plank’s principle, then young scientists would have rapidly accepted Darwin’s ideas while older scientists would have resisted them. But it didn’t happen that way. Although it’s true that those who accepted evolution were younger on average than those who still rejected it after ten years, age explained only 5% of the variation of acceptance or rejection of this theory. The younger scientists didn’t necessarily accept it rapidly; they accepted it at a rate similar to the older scientists who accepted it, over the course of a decade.

    So it turns out we can’t even rely on common sense for understanding how this factual inertia works. This is encapsulated in the work of Duncan Watts, a principal researcher at Microsoft Research. Watts has demonstrated, in numerous studies that explore everything from how certain songs become popular to how marketing works, that we are very good at telling stories to ourselves that sound true (e.g. Plank’s Principle). But when we subject our ‘common sense’ to the rigors of quantitative analysis, it doesn’t always pan out. So while our factual inertia is a big problem, we need to be cautious when we hear good stories about how it actually works.

    Clearly, science and business, and others fields of knowledge are not abstract ventures. They’re human affairs, so they’re prone to passions and biases. Scientific discovery, in particular, occurs through hunches and chance recognition of relationships, and is enriched by spirited discussion and debate around the lab. But science is also subject to our baser instincts. Data are hoarded, scientists refuse to collaborate, and grudges can play a role in peer review. There’s a lot at play.

    So new ideas take time to be accepted. And how they are accepted is far from common sense. But one thing’s for sure: Don’t write off the old folks. They have a lot to teach us.


    Have the Courage to Be Direct

    November 14, 2012

    Have the Courage to Be Direct: “

    There are many situations where nuance, subtlety, and carefully crafted diplomacy in communications are critical. But most of the time, plain directness can go a long way.

    Tsun-yan Hsieh, a long-time counselor to corporate leaders and one of my co-authors on the book Heart, Smarts, Guts, and Luck, once surveyed a group of global CEOs and senior executives about whether they thought their meetings met the intended objectives. Only about 40% of the meetings did. How can this be? The answer lies at least in part in the human tendency to avoid or massage the delivery of difficult or conflict-causing topics. Unfortunately, these are precisely the moments where directness is most needed.

    Being self aware about the types of conversations and meetings that demand increased frankness is a starting point for more efficient and effective communications — and, most importantly, mutual respect. Here are some principles to aid in this quest:

    1. Know the why. Are you clear on the reason for the conversation or meeting? Have you made that objective immediately and absolutely clear to your meeting counterpart? I vividly remember the first time this lesson struck me in the face. I was meeting with a senior executive from IBM some years ago when I was running an Internet advisory and services firm. Within the first two minutes, just after the requisite pleasantries, he asked: ‘What do you hope to accomplish with this meeting, and how much time do we have?’ I was at first taken aback as I realized I was not clear on my own objectives. I had thought more about how to run the meeting than the ‘why’ of the meeting. When I thought about it, I realized I had simply wanted to use the time to get to know each other in the hopes of discovering possibilities for collaboration. But I could have made it more concrete by saying, for example, that my end goal was to see if there is a partner deal opportunity between our firms. The executives simple question created permission for positive assertiveness. Try asking at the beginning of more of your meetings some variant of the question, ‘What do we hope to accomplish here?’ Another helpful tip is to recognize that almost all meetings fit into one of three buckets — gaining input, informing (e.g. ‘level-setting’), or requesting approval. Always be clear which sort of meeting you’re calling.

    2. Don’t sandwich bad news. When you are delivering feedback (which happens in a meeting or conversation that fits in the ‘informing’ bucket), avoid the too-common practice of mixing good news with bad news. This can often send a mixed message. The classic feedback ‘sandwich’ goes like this: good news, followed by bad news, ending with good news. Eating a sandwich with good bread, but bad meat in the middle, isn’t too enjoyable. And while giving someone feedback in a considerate, contextualized, and balanced manner is of course good practice, you need to be very clear and direct on the poor performance part. It is often the most important aspect of a feedback session, and sadly tends to get muddled.

    3. Go ahead and ask. My venture-capitalist colleagues and I are accustomed to receiving pitches. But we are surprised by the number of times the ask is not clear or is made as a thinly veiled subterfuge towards a different ask. For example, when an entrepreneur says, ‘I would love for you to just give feedback on our business plan,’ but the real ask is ‘I would love for you to write a check for our business.’ When you have an ask, it is best for all parties that it be clear and transparent. It is much better just to say: ‘I would love to see if you might be interested in investing in our concept, but even if you’re not, I really want your feedback.’ The takeaway: when you have an ask, just ask.

    When we avoid conflict or try to skirt directness, it does a disservice to all involved, and often just plain wastes time. Consider the potential outcomes if you avoid directness:

    • People leave the meeting thinking it was a good session, but they are not actually aligned, or
    • People leave a little foggy as to the purpose and next steps.

    Both outcomes lead to confusion, and often passive-aggressiveness ensues. And things often only get worse people then seek resolution through email and texts — such communication methods with have a tendency to spiral in the wrong direction.

    Being assertive and direct does not need to mean being cold and hard. The tone you use and the words you choose (e.g. in the ‘investment ask’ example above) matter a lot. But you will likely get more respect from being direct than by overthinking the positioning of a message or meeting.

    Diplomacy is a great virtue but so is clarity, and diplomacy without our clarity is just undiplomatic B.S. Have the courage to be direct.


    The List of Real Life Cheat Codes:Part 2

    August 17, 2011

    The List of Real Life Cheat Codes:Part 2: “

    Collected by AskReddit

    35. If you have crushing chest pain, call 911 first.Then chew some aspirin.I work in cardiology.Then ask someone to help get the anvil off your chest.I work at ACME.If you see someone with an anvil on their chest, don’t help; they want to eat you.Beep at them and run away.I am a roadrunner.

    36. Secretaries, tech support and janitors are the true power in office buildings.Make friends, remember birthdays and you can get anything you need or go anywhere you need.Janitor here, I got so many fucking master keys I don’t know how to keep them all straight.So the main boss at work one day starts freaking out and demanding an audit of who has what keys and all key assignments have to be justified, etc. (by Tuesday afternoon) and he starts to give a rash of shit to the guy that been there forever and starts to badger him why he has the keys that he does.These we not masters by any stretch, but keys to parts of the building and remote sites that he needed.So of course the gruff ancient guy comes back with the whole ‘janitors have master keys and they live here and sleep here after hours’ but when that wasn’t getting him anywhere he finally came back with: ‘Listen, I’ve been here for 15+ years now, I already stole everything that needed!’Better advice would be that being nice is only on a by person basis. Also, Purchasing and HR.

    37. When receiving a call from a solicitor, simply press 9; the call will be dropped and your phone number is then put on the companies do not call list.95% of companies support this feature.I love it.

    38. To get through tech support quickly with an ISP, choose the option for becoming a new customer.Then when you get there ask to transfer to tech support.Usually they won’t put you on hold because they see the number coming from the new customer line.That works just about everywhere.Especially well with airlines.In what situation would you want to call the airline’s tech support?Probably not a situation you want to be in.”hello? Yes…I’m cruising at 32k feet and noticed the left engine fell off…is it possible to change flights?”"Hello? Hi. Yes, there appears to be something on the wing. Can I speak to tech support?”"Sir, please turn your cell phone off while in flight”

    39. I know this works in California, so I call upon you to test it out elsewhere: If you receive a parking ticket and it has been less than an hour since it was administered, immediately call the number on the ticket to contest it. The call will go through a series of automated questions – you want to answer these questions based on the premise that your car had overheated, and that you only parked where you did out of necessity. Then go to either a convenience store of a gas station or an automotive shop of any kind (has to be one of these two) and by a bottle of water. When you submit your formal petition via mail, include the receipt for the water that you bought and explain that your car had overheated. The ticket will be waived. It has worked for me every time.

    40. Easy splinter removal: dip the splintered body part in some Elmer’s glue, let it dry, remove glue with splinter.Easy lawn care: Pour “beer” (Bud Light, Coors, etc) on the lawn.Fermented sugars make great fertilizer.Easy broken glass clean up: Get the tiny pieces up with a piece of bread, the consistency and texture picks up even the smallest shard.

    41. If you need to briefly turn the light on at night and don’t want to completely lose your night vision, keep one eye closed.Same reason pirates wore an eyepatch!Arrgh.A pirate walks into a bar and the bartender says, “Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. What happened, you look terrible!”"Arrh – Not at ‘tall.” the pirate replies, “I be fine.” The bartender says, “But what about that wooden leg? You didn’t have that before.”"Arrh!,” says the pirate, “We were in a battle at sea and a cannon ball hit me leg. But the surgeon fixed me up, and I be fine, really.”"Yeah,” says the bartender, “But what about that hook? Last time I saw you, you had both hands.”"Aye,” says the pirate, “We were in another battle and we boarded the enemy ship. I was in a sword fight and me hand was cut off. But the surgeon fixed me up with this hook, and I be feeling great, really.”"Oh,” says the bartender, “What about that eye patch? Last time you were in here you had both eyes.” “Arrh,” says the pirate, “One day when I was swabbing me deck, some gulls were flying over the ship. I looked up, and one of them–arrgh, he, pooped–in me eye.”"So?” replied the bartender, “what happened? You couldn’t have lost an eye just from that!”"‘Twas me first day with me hook.”

    42. Try to put yourself in as many socially awkward situations as possible.You will be desensitized to it which makes you more outgoing.

    43. Sprinkle some salt on your napkin coaster at the bar..your beer won’t stick to it EVERY FUGGIN TIME….Girls hate a guy who can’t keep his napkin coaster shit in order.Waitresses hate a guy who sprinkles salt all over the table.

    44. Don’t announce that you are having a kid till the second trimester.This is certainly good advice for friends and acquaintances, but I think it’s perfectly acceptable to share that information with your family and very close friends.If you do happen to lose it, they are going to be the ones to help you get through it.And you always should tell the father, if he’s still around.

    45. Probably nobody will see this, but anyway…If you get brain freeze from eating something cold too quickly, press your tongue against the roof of your mouth as hard as you can.Voila, instant brainfreeze relief.

    46. and are the cheatcodes for studying/working without distraction.A friend of mine told me about a better one! Give it a try.I recommend None on the first, Bonfire, Ocean, Rain and Thunder on the others.

    47. Have confidence.Chicks dig confidence.And if you have no confidence, fake it.It won’t take long to see that it works and then your fake confidence becomes real.Ah, the magic of bullshit.Best Advice right here.This is exactly how I turned my life around 10 years ago. I woke up one day and decided to pretend to be confident. I looked everyone in the eye and spoke a bit louder and smiled a lot. I stopped breaking eye contact with girls and I promoted my achievements at work. In that first years I met a new woman who became my wife, got a great job that I am still loving, moved from a tiny two room apartment to a 3000 sq foot house. I have great kids and a happy life.I was borderline suicidal when I started the experiment.I don’t even think about it now. I became what I pretended to be. Confident and happy. I don’t have to fake it anymore.This is why I pretend to be a tiger.This is exactly how I turned my life around 10 years ago. I woke up one day and decided to pretend to be a tiger. I walked on all fours and growled and ate a few people. I stopped talking to girls and quit going to work. Now I have a great life on the savannah that I am still loving.I was borderline normal when I started the experiment. I don’t even think about it now. I became what I pretended to be. Also I can type with my paws.

    48. Never bring anything in to work.That way, when you leave (ie, earlier than usual) it doesn’t look like you’re leaving for the day.

    49. socks are lube for pants.Bunch sock onto thumbs, then pull sock onto feet as women do stockings.

    50. never renew your car insurance with the price offered…… your provider and say you will leave if it is not reduced further.

    51. If you rear a bear from birth you can walk through dark alleys without fear in 4-5 years.Then you die from high-fives and hugs.Better than .45s and thugs.This is already sounding like the best rap song I’ve heard.Not because you own a 5-year-old bear, but because after rearing a bear, you won’t be afraid of anything.Or because cleaning up after that goddamn bear for the last five years has made you crave the sweet release of death.

    52. In the UK: Dial 0118 999 881 999 119 7253 for emergency services.

    53. 1st Date Cheat Code for MEN: Never tell a girl where you’re going or how to dress. Instead, tell her to “dress for a first date with a guy she really likes”. Now, pick three places you’d like to go: someplace fun and active (bowling, pool, mini golf, go-kart racing, ballgame, etc), something romantic and classy (nice restaurant, upscale lounge, art gallery opening) and something in between (nice bar, coffee shop, comedy club). Now, when you pick her up, let the way she’s dressed decide which you’re going to do: If she’s wearing something sexy and revealing (dress, high heels, low cut top, etc.) than she wants to go somewhere classy and romantic. If she’s sporting some jeans, tennis shoes or flip-flops, and a tee, the bowling ally or pool hall may be a good bet. If she’s wearing jeans, high heeled boots, and nice top or blouse, than she’s not really jonesing for the super romance treatment, and she put in more effort than mini golf deserves (eighteen holes of mini golf in heels… seriously?), so a comedy club or some place with live music is a good choice. And never, EVER, do a movie on the first date! EDIT: Men: You’re going to wear a pair of CLEAN, NEAT jeans, a pressed stylish LONG sleeve button down shirt, nice shoes or boots (try to avoid tennis shoes of sneakers). Works for ANY occasion!This might be the best dating advice I’ve ever read.It’s such a creative way to manage figuring out what to do on a first date.Too bad I’m over 550 lbs and can’t use my legs IRL.(Are you really?According to Wolfram Alpha that’s the weight of 3.4 men.)Yeah, really.My friends torture me by getting me blazed and placing 5 large stuffed cheese pizzas just out of reach.I struggle for hours in an attempt to reach it, burning over 500 calories in the process.However, it’s counterbalanced by the 30,000 calories of stuffed pizza I eat when I finally get them.Appendix 1:Old jeans and college sweater – sports bar followed by a house party. Vintage clothing – Faux dive bar and tattoo parlor Miniskirt and leggings – quiet cafe that turns into a wine bar after 4pm Short black wig, man’s white shirt and cocaine in her purse – 1950s theme diner Cocktail dress with a small handgun tucked into her garter – Opening night at a casino, challenge her to playful game of high-stakes baccarat. Blood-stained clown costume – Chuck E Cheese Tank top, sweat pants and tells you to help yourself to some ice tea while she is in the bathroom – Get out of there, Chris Hansen is around the corner.Tank top, sweat pants and tells you to help yourself to some ice tea while she is in the bathroom – Get out of there, Chris Hansen is around the corner…and sheriff’s deputies in the rose bushes outside.You’re screwed already.

    54. Dual blind date cheat code:Dad tells a story of he and a buddy taking two nursing students on a dual blind date to a drive-in movie. Eventually the girls say they’re going to go to the bathroom, naturally to compare notes. The guys offer to go first and make sure there aren’t any creeps hanging around the bathroom. The guys go have a look, smoke a cigarette, and head back to the car. “The coast is clear.” The girls then go off to the ladies’ room.The guys then listen to the tape recorder hidden under the seat of the car.Edit: Not everyone understood where the recorder was hidden. (You flunk spy school.)WOW.Both inspiring and creepy at the same time…

    (Via VentureWeek.)


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