A critical analysis of the existence of Santa Claus

  1. No known species of reindeer can fly. BUT there are 300,000 species of living organisms yet to be classified, and while most of these are insects and germs, this does not COMPLETELY rule out flying reindeer which only Santa has ever seen.
  2. There are 2 billion children (persons under 18) in the world. BUT since Santa doesn’t (appear to) handle the Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Buddhist children, that reduces the workload to 15% of the total – 378 million according to Population Reference Bureau. At an average (census)rate of 3.5 children per household, that’s 91.8 million homes. One presumes there’s at least one good child in each.
  3. Santa has 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 822.6 visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household with good children, Santa has 1/1000th of a second to park, hop out of the sleigh, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings, distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks have been left, get back up the chimney, get back into the sleigh and move on to the next house. Assuming that each of these 91.8 million stops are evenly distributed around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false but for the purposes of our calculations we will accept), we are now talking about .78 miles per household, a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not counting stops to do what most of us must do at least once every 31 hours, plus feeding etc. This means that Santa’s sleigh is moving at 650 miles per second, 3,000 times the speed of sound. For purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle on earth, the Ulysses space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second – a conventional reindeer can run, tops, 15 miles per hour.
  4. The payload on the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming that each child gets nothing more than a medium-sized Lego set (2 pounds), the sleigh is carrying 321,300 tons, not counting Santa, who is invariably described as overweight. On land, conventional reindeer can pull no more than 300 pounds. Even granting that “flying reindeer” (see point #1) could pull TEN TIMES the normal anoint, we cannot do the job with eight, or even nine. We need 214,200 reindeer. This increases the payload – not even counting the weight of the sleigh – to 353,430 tons. Again, for comparison – this is four times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth.
  5. 353,000 tons traveling at 650 miles per second creates enormous air resistance – this will heat the reindeer up in the same fashion as spacecrafts re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 QUINTILLION joules of energy. Per second. Each. In short, they will burst into flame almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them, and create deafening sonic booms in their wake.The entire reindeer team will be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second. Santa, meanwhile, will be subjected to centrifugal forces 17,500.06 times greater than gravity. A 250-pound Santa (which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of his sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force.
In conclusion

If Santa ever did deliver presents on Christmas Eve, he’s dead now.

— Author unknown

Want to build a better innovation pipeline? Build a better team

Experimenting with ideas is the inflection point between a creative product and an innovative one. Creativity requires a well-defined problem (or opportunity) space, novel thought, and a workable solution. Innovation requires bringing that solution to an increasingly wider range of people who find value in it (scale) or a select few who will apply it in a very specific context (impact). This can happen with a marketing plan, or a variety of ways of rolling out a product or service. A solution can have just enough unique value that the earliest adopters sell it to their social networks, affording the producer fresh resource to mature it. However it occurs, the degree to which it changes behavior is the compelling factor for innovation. In order for there to be innovation, there must be a tipping point – a moment in time in which a product or service tangibly affects the status quo.

So how do you innovate?

We cannot begin to innovate until we understand what makes something novel and useful. An idea needs a context. We need to find a gap between what is and what could be that inspires us to make something better. Somewhere between conjuring up a way to make something better and then actually doing it, and then being able to do it again, is where we move from creative outcome to innovation.

Teamwork makes the dream work

When we develop empathy for others, we move from conflict to creative tension. Conflict is demotivating to a team in that it turns professional problems into personal ones, while creative tension is a type of friction that builds better solutions. So when we know where people prefer to spend their time problem solving or collaborating, there is greater potential for insight into how to align on the same problem. Alignment moves a team from an assembly of talented people to a single entity whose whole is greater than the sum of its individual members.

Katzenbach & Smith define a team as “a small number of people … committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.” Agile teams take this a step further in that they are intended to be self-directed; given a prioritized backlog (goals), the team decides who will complete which tasks, and how (methods).

The core questions any team must ask itself are:

  • What is our purpose? What are we expected to accomplish as a team?
  • How willing are we to align and engage to achieve our purpose?

Everything a team or its individual members is tasked to do is ultimately an exercise in problem solving. Whether writing code, sweeping floors, or replacing a flat tire – in short, if you’re employed, you are expected to solve a problem for someone. The role you now hold was created to speak specifically to addressing a challenge or opportunity you or your employer faces. If you work on a team, your purpose is to pool your collective resources to overcome that challenge or meet that opportunity.

Regardless of whom the consumer of their work may be, an effective team exists to solve problems on behalf of its customers and stakeholders. In service to that purpose, team members bring a variety of skills, capabilities, and personalities to bear on problem solving.

Research in Creative Problem Solving show teams untrained in a collaborative process struggle with:

  • productivity
  • enjoying the collaborative process
  • being accepting of others and others’ ideas
  • deliberately harnessing their creative resources
  • effective teaming (International Center for Studies in Creativity, 2014 Bus Study)

The consequences for businesses are substantial: lost opportunity (revenue), wasted resources, lower morale. For team dynamics to contribute to effective problem solving, teams need to have both a shared understanding of their purpose and an established collaborative process to follow. The more purposeful a team (doing the right work) and the more effectively they apply a common process (doing the work right), the better the outcome and anticipated team dynamic. So it should not sound crazy to say a team without a clarity of outcome or a process to get there will likely suffer from any number of team dysfunctions, and at minimum will suffer productivity loss.

The three things a team can control

Within every team lies a specific purpose, process, and dynamic. These are the three organizational variables over which teams have ultimate influence and autonomy. Although in an Agile context one might say the iteration practices constitute a process, even the most rigorous and effective process must be driven by a shared understanding of purpose or mission. So without a cohesive understanding of why your team exists, your dynamic will have a negative impact on your team’s Agile rituals and ceremonies. The more your team has a shared understanding of its purpose, the more potential it will have for effective self-direction and work product that makes it proud of its efforts.

Team dynamics influenced by purpose and process consist of effective communication; participative safety and trust; and creative abrasion or tension. In Agile teams we can see strong linkages to the core Agile values of trust, openness, respect, empathy, and courage. Courage speaks to the communication dimension of team dynamic; the more empowered a team is by its process and purpose, the more likely team members will exhibit courage in holding the whole team accountable for its outcomes. Even more, a truly dynamic Agile team will explore their courage boundaries by pushing the limits of what is possible to accomplish. In our experience, teams with a strong collaborative dynamic are willing to take more risks because they are confident in — and therefore trust — one another’s abilities.

Where does trust like this originate? No self-directed Agile team works out of ignorance of its purpose. And no effective team operates outside a well-known, well-trained, rigorous process. The “why” of mission and “how” of process are the two oars driving a rowboat: without both teams will end up going in circles over time. The dynamic of that experience speaks for itself.

Immediate takeaways for any team

The best Agile teams rely on more than their practices and rituals as a framework for executing tasks and managing their backlog. Their strength is not in the Agile framework alone, but in the way the team sources ideas, and plans and delivers its backlog. Strong team process requires strong team empathy that allows teams to embrace creative tension.

How any team, anywhere can innovate anytime

Recently I had the pleasure of presenting to an Agile community Coaching Agile Journeys. Coaching Agile Journeys was gracious enough to share my charts and talk and a couple goodies that are valuable tools for understanding collaborative preference in the wild. And most recently, Open Camps hosted a similar talk. Thanks to both!

Until I start breaking it all down here, you can go there to find out more about the keys to breakthrough teams and how teams can cultivate a deliberate culture of innovation.

Primal leadership styles

The business case for driving results through effective leadership is compelling: the primal leadership model does, in fact, demonstrate how leadership styles affect behavior, which in turn affect results.

The six leadership styles, as articulated by Daniel Goleman, reflect the varying nature of leadership, based on the environment and the business climate. Although there is no “wrong” style, several are far more effective over time than others.

The styles are as encapsulated as follows:

  • Commanding: “Do as I say.”
  • Pacesetting: “I set high standards.”
  • Affiliative: “People come first.”
  • Democratic: “We all have an equal voice.”
  • Coaching: “Personal development is key.”
  • Visionary: “Come with me.”

Knowing your team, the business climate, and the current situation takes emotional intelligence. To resonate in any circumstance requires a fluency of leadership style.

Defer *this*

The dread of criticism is the death of genius – William Gilmore Simms

The notion of deferring judgment is a highly underrated, extremely powerful tool in the change leader’s toolkit. It is also highly underutilized.

It works something like this:

  • What if I were to refrain from censoring my own ideas long enough to inventory my options? (personal application)
  • What if I were mature enough to not need to hear my own voice in response to someone else’s thoughts on how to solve a problem? (interpersonal application)

We all succumb to any number of self-inhibitors when trying to think up novel ideas. Sometimes the inhibitors are so strong, we don’t even try to think; it is a struggle merely to be. the shame of it is, a nation of survivors does little to innovate, grow, or enhance the culture around us; much less cultivate our own personal mental space.

Statistics indicate most children are creative until they reach kindergarten or 1st grade. The corollary statistic says most adults are no longer creative. The ratio is something as obscene as 85:15.

The conundrum of processing judgment instantly rather than deferring it for a time is that we fear we will not be heard, or that we are somehow inviting others to walk all over us and our ideas as though we were a doormat. So we choose the path of pre-emptive verbal strikes. Typically long-winded and varying in degrees of “on-topic”, they help us scope out our territory, be heard (or at least be verbal, if not simply be loud), and prevent others from taking all the credit for an idea that is not our own. Or, at least, prevent them from poking holes in our thoughts because they are too busy holding their breath, attempting to get a #$*!$&!! word in at all.

This doctrine works equally well when talking ourselves out of an idea. Note the irony of an original thought being crowded out by our habitual mental defenses. For demonstration purposes, when was the last time you had a novel, potentially useful idea? What was your first mental or verbal response to it: positive or negative? What was your response the the last time someone else shared an original thought?

It is easier to resist in the beginning than in the end – Leonardo da Vinci

Studies further show students require a praise-to-criticism ratio of 4:1 just to maintain current behavior. To actually alter (read, improve) it, the ratio shoots up to 8:1.

Conclusion: we are far more likely to be negative than positive. Negative, judgemental thought is habitual to the point of going unnoticed in us. The routine of crushing, killing, stomping out or otherwise destroying others’ ideas will do that to a person, because we are so used to having our own novel thoughts crushed, killed, stomped out or otherwise destroyed.

Immediate takeways for any team

The downward spiral can be broken. What if, instead of critiquing someone else’s “bad” idea or our own “stupid” thought, we were to draw out the value and find the good or great potential?

Change leaders bear an extra burden to turn the tides of meaningful change on behalf of those they wish to lead.

Emotionally intelligent teams require emotionally intelligent leaders

In order to succeed, an organization must achieve measurable results. These are only as “good” over time as the teams that produce them; and in order to produce at continually high levels, those teams must serve within a climate that induces them to (want to) continue to succeed.

There is a business case to be made not only for attracting and retaining top talent, but also for getting results once you have landed them. Knowing how to recruit, then place people in the right positions to excel and drive successful business returns, is all about knowing first what makes a person tick, then understanding how best to integrate their skills, talents and goals into the greater organizational value proposition.

Put another way, to effectively capture the heart and mind of the free agent, a leader must know what motivates them.

Within the context of primal leadership, the ability to leverage one’s emotional self-awareness and respond empathically to others is key to motivating followers to respond in positive, self-affirming ways that resonate in their hearts and minds.

Immediate takeways for any team

EI leaders recognize what drives their people from within, and they connect with that emotional reservoir to provide value both to the follower and the organization at large. Because there is no externally motivating factor that taps a follower’s inner drive, EI leaders are only successful in leading when they identify with their people’s internal passion.

What Agile has taught me about team synergy

My experience with Agile teams suggests there is a formula for realizing the potential in teams — and we know how to identify it.

Teams can most grow in their collaborative capacity when team members are aware of their differences of perspective in approaching challenges, and learn how to deliberately leverage those preferences to overcome individual and collective blind spots. When teams learn how to turn energy gaps into collaborative strengths, they tend to move from adopting Agile practices to embodying an Agile mindset at a much faster rate. It is the insight into collaborative preference that helps break down team barriers and opens the door to accessing creative potential.

There is ample research, and there are many case studies, showing teams who are preference-aware and trained in a process to yield creative outcomes outperform teams that are not. Further, they are known to produce more and higher quality ideas and enjoy working with their team more than untrained, unaware teams.

While Agile is an effective framework for producing value sooner, its fullest value is not generally realized without a mechanism for creatively feeding and managing the backlog. All of the collaborative preferences I have measured within teams routinely point to Agile practices needing to grow in maturity/fluency. The sooner teams see these gaps and overcome them with a creative process, the faster they move from mastering practice (efficiency) to generating real value (effectiveness and impact).

Teams are the human equivalent of data; they are the latent source of creative potential waiting to be properly mined for customer value. If that potential is encapsulated in the fundamental question, “how do we get better?”, then the technique best suited to discovering team potential is found in the followup question: “where do we need improvement?”

Research in synergistic teaming shows breakthroughs come when teams have alignment on purpose; a creative process to engage their collaborative strengths; and a vibrant team dynamic (communication, safety, trust, creative abrasion). The quicker teams close their learning feedback loops, the sooner they can begin tapping into their unrealized potential. Coupled with creative problem solving training, I have seen great opportunity to speed up the time to value creation.

Research in creativity strongly supports drawing out the creative best in a self-directed team by putting people’s strengths together to form a greater whole, and to train for deliberate creative outcomes. This research reinforces the literal definition of kaizen: to resist the plateau of arrested development.

Immediate takeways for any team

How does your team get better in areas where it does not know it needs to get better?

The alignment of agile and innovation

Innovation is the natural outcome of an Agile culture. Or it should be. When well-structured teams adhere to both the practices and principles of Agile, they are engaging in a structured ritual of collaboration. That structure offers an opportunity for novelty, inquiry, and investigation of new ideas that can lead to breakthrough outcomes.

The Agile iteration begins with a planning session that leads to a user story backlog. These are raw ideas of a sort, generated to answer specific problems or challenges or address new opportunities. As they are assembled in a backlog they undergo sizing and scheduling exercises, to determine if they are the right work to do, how and when the work will be done, and what the sense of its impact will be.

Once sized and prioritized, user stories are committed to and managed in a rigorous pipeline of work. Only so many items can be opened and in progress at a time, to maximize focus and complete each story. As stories are completed according to their respective ‘done’ conditions and acceptance criteria, new stories move from the backlog to “work in process” until an iteration is complete. It is only at the completion of an iteration that items are stories are assessed in retrospect for their results:

  • Did we achieve what we set out to accomplish?
  • Do the stories appropriately speak to the challenges we were addressing?
  • Were the needs of our customers and end users properly met?
  • Did we succeed in delighting our consumers?
  • Are we working well as a team in our delivery?

While many of the questions may be answered in the affirmative, the retrospective ritual demonstrates how teams can always be more in tune with their customers and themselves in providing quality deliverables. So as new questions arise out of the results, new stories fill the backlog in an attempt to improve quality and value. And so the discovery begins anew.

The rhythms and rituals of Agile are remarkably similar to those of breakthrough thinking. If the meaning of life was viewed as a series of problems, challenges or opportunities to be discovered and engaged, then finding our life purpose consists of a similar pattern: understanding the challenges before us; conjuring novel thoughts and ideas to meet those challenges; fashioning a plan; and carrying it out to completion – or rather, until we assess our results and see how they measure up – and starting anew, until we reach a breakthrough. The greater the breakthrough, the more likely we have expressed innovation: that mythical end state of doing things in a novel, impactful manner.

If in our course of discovery and delivery we find a new method of achieving our goals, a more exciting or efficient way of creating value, we open up for ourselves an even broader array of challenges and opportunities to explore and engage. From a macro view, Agile presents itself as a marvelously effective mechanism for applying human ingenuity to a rigorous framework and producing tremendous value. From a micro view, the value created is found in the who infinitely more than the how.

The best expression of innovation in an Agile context, therefore, lies within the team structure.

Immediate takeways for any team

What does innovation look like? How are your teams structured to unleash it?