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How Sen’s Capabilities can Provide Focus for Poverty Alleviation

27 Oct

The fields of philanthropy, international development, and social enterprise usually serve the poor. Without a clear definition of what poverty is, efforts can lack direction or even be harmful. Clarifying the issue can give focus to charitable programs.

Arguably the most influential thinker in this area is Amartya Sen, whose theories led to the UN’s chosen poverty metric, the Human Development Index. According to Sen, a person is impoverished if they lack the ability to determine the direction of their life. I can eat several full meals each day while a child in Ghana might only have access with enough food to survive.

Sen defined five areas that deserve attention:

  • Political freedoms,
  • Economic facilities,
  • Social opportunities,
  • Transparency guarantees, and
  • Security protections.


Each of these allow individuals to expand their lives and improve their circumstances. In addition, they provide ideational seeds for possible programs. A social innovator can ask, “How can I widen economic opportunities for self-employed people in Sub-Saharan Africa?” or, “Is there a way I can improve transparency in local businesses?”

The end aim of social programs is to help impoverished persons better their lives. Amartya Sen’s contributions allow professionals to understand their mission better and amplify its impact.


What is Knowledge Management?

20 Apr
happily collaborating, celebrating businesspeople


Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, suggested that the main ingredient behind successful innovation was not a clever way of thinking or brainstorming. Instead, it was a place where people could share ideas, let them bump into each other, and in so doing, evolve into new, more powerful forms. The coffee-shops of Paris served this purpose during the Enlightenment, allowing for fantastic new scientific and philosophical concepts to be born.

The Japanese, during the 70s, applied this concept to businesses. How, they asked, does knowledge flow, and how can managers and business leaders help? Philosopher Ikujiro Nanaka and others developed a model of knowledge creation that captures all the ways knowledge moves and morphs within a network, and the one main technique that managers can use to encourage its development.

The SECI Model Explained

The model suggested by Nanaka’s team details the ways that knowledge changes hands and transforms. To begin, he divides knowledge into two types: Explicit Knowledge, which can be described with numbers, science, or manuals, and Tacit Knowledge, the emotional, difficult-to-describe variety. Both kinds of knowledge are necessary, both for everyday living and for business ventures. These two kinds of knowledge interact with four processes: Socialization, Externalization, Combination, and Internalization (SECI).

SECI Model displayed, socialization, externalization, combination, internalization, tacit and explicit knowledge

The SECI Model


Socialization is the process where tacit knowledge it transmitted between people. Because tacit knowledge is rarely successfully expressed, socialization simply involves spending time with coworkers, enjoying their company and conversation until you learn how they think feel. You learn how they look at their tasks, their perspectives. It’s possible – and necessary – to do this with your customers, too. Those who are in a position to interact with the customers directly need to learn the skills needed to see how they think and feel, and through the other processes in the model, transmit that model to other parts of the organization.


This process allows tacit knowledge to be morphed into explicit knowledge. Through interaction between an individual and other groups in the organization, the individual’s tacit knowledge is expressed through whatever terms are possible, such as metaphors and stories. Effective communication skills are a necessity; developing these and increasing opportunities for externalization are the main ways managers can encourage this process.


Through teams, or a creative individual, the explicit knowledge injected into the organization is transmuted through the process of Combination. Knowledge throughout the organization is collected and compiled into a more effective form of explicit knowledge, allowing the more refined forms to be distributed throughout the organization. An example would be a team in a tech firm whose job is to publish reports of successful products made throughout the company.


Internalization is where the model comes full circle: as we started with an individual sharing tacit knowledge, it ends with the same individual converting the explicit knowledge supplied either by the firm or outside sources into personally applicable tacit knowledge. An HR official runs through this process when he reads the company’s training manual for conflict resolution, then puts it into practice. Internalization doesn’t just refer to an individual; the collective tacit knowledge of the organization is morphed from its explicit knowledge through internalization.

Ba and Encouraging Knowledge Flow

Now that we understand the main mechanisms whereby knowledge moves throughout an organization, the only piece missing is this: What are we, as managers, supposed to do about it? How can we apply this information? Here, we return with Nanako to the introduction of this article: a space that encourage the flow of ideas, that can allow all the SECI processes to occur. Nanako introduces a concept from Japanese, called Ba, which generally translates as “Place of _______.”

Ba or Tokoro, Kanji, Japanese Character

Ba: “Place of _______”

Ba, when applied to business, refers to the concept of having a place for knowledge processes to occur. This place can be physical, virtual, or mental (such as a shared perspective or set of values). Managers’ main purpose in knowledge management is to provide this Ba, and to tailor the characteristics of each Ba to the processes it’s meant to encourage. For example, if one is trying to encourage Socialization, it would be counterproductive to encourage virtual interaction. Why? Socialization requires face-to-face interaction, as the very act of an individual expressing his/her tacit knowledge transmutes it to explicit knowledge, making it Externalization instead of Socialization. Considerations such as these should become vital to a manager’s strategy.

Ba is a powerful tool, and regulated or not, it’s an integral component in a company’s culture. When underutilized, Ba will develop independent of a manager’s direction, and will likely be counterproductive to the company’s goals. However, when used properly, Ba can encourage the flow of ideas throughout an organization, and as such, allow for greater innovation and creativity. Enjoy, and good luck, Changemakers!

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Where in your workplace can you see Ba in action? How can you utilize Ba to help your company’s effectiveness?

Understand Customers, Understand Yourself: Means-End Analysis applied to Habit Substitution

19 Apr


Hello, Changemakers! Today, we talk about one of the most valuable theories in marketing research, and look at its implications in our own lives, especially with regard to strengthening our own personal habits.

Gutman’s Means-End Chain

In 1981, Jonathan Gutman proposed a new method for understanding consumer behavior. Called the Means-End Chain, its basic assumption is that when an individual uses a product, it’s not for the product itself. It’s rare that we get a car just to have it. Usually, the product is a means to an end: certain features of the product allow us to achieve something that is important to us. Gutman’s model suggests that the benefits each product feature gives are important to us because they feed a set of personal values we have. If we were to apply the Means-End Chain to our car, then, we would see that the car has a Feature of traveling quickly and easily, giving us a Benefit of getting to far-away places with little effort, feeding into our Value of convenience.

The Means-End Model

The Means-End Model

This model allows for many different applications in the field of marketing. Once a successful Chain has been discovered, usually through extensive market research, it can be stressed in advertisements to influence consumer behavior. Understanding the Chains behind consumers choosing the competition can allow a company to deliberately undermine those Chains, slipping their product in as a suitable substitute to feed those same values. It’s that very idea behind product substitution that allows us to transfer the Means-End Model to personal habits.

Analyzing our Own Motives

Do you remember when we looked at the basic structure of habits? We mentioned that all habits have a basic structure of Cue-Routine-Reward. The Means-End Model allows us to look at the underlying relationship between the Routine and the Reward. Why is the Routine important to us? What, precisely, is the Reward we’re given? There are many ways to find out, but the Means-End Model gives us a chance to see what we really want.

For example, let’s apply this method of analysis to a simple habit we want to stop: say, snacking when we feel hungry. What are the Features, Benefits, and Values affected by this Routine? Our first step would be to ask ourselves some key questions, such

  • What do I like most about snacks?
  • What benefits do I get when I snack?
  • Why are those benefits important to me?

This could be one result, though the answer will be different for each person.

One possible Snacking Means-End Chain

One possible Snacking Means-End Chain

Now that we have the Chain for this particular activity, we’re equipped to substitute another activity in that will feed those same Benefits and Values. Note: The further down the Chain your substitution goes, the easier it will be to switch. That is, a substitution will be easier to implement if it satisfies the same Benefits and has the same Features instead of simply satisfying the Values in question. In our snacking example, it would be easier to switch to healthier snacks than to resting with a book and blanket. While the rest may give you comfort and distraction, the part of your brain used to the full stomach will still be pulling you towards the snacks.

Once you’ve found an effective substitute, make it your personal determination to use it instead of your unhealthy habit. There will be resistance, but depending on how well-chosen your substitute was, the resistance will die in time. Hold fast, and use this to give yourself some good habits along the way! Enjoy, Changemakers!

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What habits do you need to change? What habits do you wish you had? How can you use substitution and Means-End Analysis to help?

The Grid: Analysis of Selling Strategies

17 Apr

Well, Changemakers, here’s one of my favorite techniques from the sales books I’ve been reading. Though I’ve forgotten the title and author, one of them concerned a new way to look at the assumptions governing both salesman and customer behavior. This is based on a pair of graphs: two graphs, one representing the salesman and one representing the customer, each using the same scale.

The Sales Grid

Here, we look at a graph of all the different ways a salesman can look at sales. The grid is laid out on two axes: the horizontal, representing the salesman’s concern for making the sale; and the vertical, showing the concern for the customer. Each axis is measured on a scale from one to nine. While there are a near infinite number of combinations here, we will only look at five, residing at the (1,1), (1,9), (9,1), (5,5), and (9,9) points.

The Sales Grid: where are you?

The Sales Grid: where are you?

Take it or Leave it

This salesman is absolutely careless, not in lack of attention, but lack of emotional investment. They care neither for the customer nor the sale, leaving little reason to put much effort in the sale. Regardless of the situation, this salesman is unlikely to provide value for himself, the customer, or the company.

Pushover Salesman

Here, the salesman is consumed with caring for the customer and their feelings. Their sales style is filled with flattery, concessions, and attempts at ensuring the customer thinks well of them. They even view sales less about selling products as selling themselves. While this salesman may possibly make more sales than (1,1) or (9,1), they rarely will actually benefit the customer, and it is even less likely to benefit the company.

Hardball Salesman

This sales style is full of distrust of, and contempt for, the customer. They believe that the customer must always be bullied into a sale, and any compromises are losses. This salesman may make a sale, but their unnecessarily tough tactics make it unlikely, and they will rarely benefit the customer or ensure repeat purchases.

Technique Salesman

Based on equal concern for the customer and the sale, this salesman bases his sales on selling techniques. In an effort to half-help both in a false compromise, they rely on proven techniques and processes to make a sale. In all the strategies mentioned so far, this one is most likely to ensure repeat purchases, and has the best set of sales ethics associated with it.

Solutions Salesman

Just as the Pushover Salesman bases his sales on selling himself, the Solutions Salesman bases his sales on selling Solutions. They believe in their heart that there is a possibility for a supreme Win-Win, where both the customer and company gets everything they need. The Solutions Salesman still uses some well-known techniques, like capitalizing on objections and soft closes, but bases most actions on on-the-moment growths from his Solutions mentality. This mentality succeeds against all customer mentalities, and helps customer and company with equal effectiveness.

The Customer Grid

The Customer Grid: Where is your buyer?

The Customer Grid: Where is your buyer?

Each of these positions roughly corresponds to the same point on the Sales Grid. For example, the Avoidance Customer (1,1) despises salesmen and purchases alike. When confronted with a salesman, they make make a hasty purchase just to get rid of the perceived assailant. The Pushover Customer (1,9) will do anything to make the salesman approve of him, while the Defensive Customer (9,1) distrusts all salesmen, and pushes his own opinions relentlessly (often doing themselves a disservice in the process). A Reputation Customer (5,5) understands that the best compromise is to base purchases on the information about the company gathered from outside sources, but the Solutions Customer (9,9) sees that a Solution exists where both salesman and customer are satisfied.

These grids allow for two keen advantages: one, self-diagnosis as a salesman, which allows us to focus our self-development efforts; and, more importantly, analysis of the customer’s mentality and the choice of appropriate sales style. There is a general rule suggested by the second use of the grids:

Given a customer style on the customer grid, the salesman is most likely to profit with any strategy that is closer to the (9,9) point than the customer.

That is, if the customer is a Pushover, the salesman would do well to value the customer just as much as the customer values him, but emphasize the goals of the company so as to do the employers and salesman justice. A Defensive Customer is put at rest when the salesman cares as much for the purchase as they do, but is willing to listen to their needs. Obviously, the best possible position to take for any customer is the (9,9) Solutions Strategy, but assuming that few salesmen are able to consistently uphold this strategy, this rule allows the salesman to always mount a successful reprisal to each customer style.

Where are you on the Sales Grid? As a customer, where are you on the Customer Grid, and how will you benefit from moving towards being a Solutions Customer?

Variable Ratio Reinforcement: Gambling for Healthy Habits

10 Apr

via Photocase

In our last post, we discussed some of the best ways to influence our behavior for the better. One of these techniques, Changing the Reward, deals with altering the habit’s consequences. This can be done through punishments or rewards, all seeking to trick the brain into enjoying the activity further. Today’s post will deal with making positive reinforcement as effective as possible.

When behavioral psychologists study the effects of consequences on routines, they have to consider the details of the relationship. Do you reward yourself after a certain amount of time, or after you perform the routine a specific number of times? Do you have to make sure it’s exactly the same every time, or is some variation okay? While they found a near infinite number of these “reinforcement schedules,” they decided they can be classified into four major categories. These can be shown on a 2×2 matrix, with one axis reflecting whether the reward is based on an amount of time or a number of performances, and the other representing whether the reward is absolutely certain or not.

Schedule Matrix

If we look at these four possibilities, we can start to see where natural patterns in our lives fall in these categories. Fixed Interval is the most common: whenever we see an hourly pay rate, we see a certain reward based on an amount of time. Whenever a salesman is given a commission for every nth sale, a Fixed Ratio schedule is at work. Variable Interval is the least common, and even less useful: perhaps when a son is given a pay rate for mowing the lawn, and the time is approximated, this schedule is at work. However, the real strength lies in the bottom-left quadrant, an area not found in nature, except for one place: gambling.

The Magic of the Variable Ratio

Variable Ratio schedules are the most successful possible. It refers to when you may have to perform an activity once, maybe six times, before the reward comes. This category is the most powerful reinforcement schedule in the matrix. When the routine to be performed implies the payment of money, governments make it illegal due to the ease with which the one who controls the rewards can keep the money coming. This schedule can even be addictive in its nature; gambling addiction is one of the most common, and most aren’t even aware that they have them.

The real question is, how can we use this schedule to reinforce our desired habits, or discourage unhealthy ones? The other schedules are already used, with the exception of Variable Interval. Sometimes we decide that after an hour of studying, we can go to a movie; after three conversations with a drifting client, we can buy a treat. But if we remain in the Fixed area of the matrix, we give up the power that lies in the lower left. How can gambling be applied? I would like to propose a solution, utilizing a new system for rewarding the good and punishing the bad: The D20 System.


The D20 System

A d20 is a die with twenty sides. While normally used for games such as Dungeons and Dragons, it can be a powerful tool, easily found online or in local gaming stores. Here are the basics for the D20 System:

  1. List the behaviors you want to alter, either by encouraging or discouraging them.
  2. Assign each a number: the lower the number, the easier it is for you to perform a goal. A 3-Goal is a goal you have less trouble with than a 7-Goal.
  3. Find two things: a reward, and an activity you enjoy that you already do.
  4. Whenever you perform a Behavior of Interest, roll the die. If you roll below the number you’ve chosen, do one of two things: if you want to encourage the behavior, give yourself the reward: if you want to discourage the behavior, deny yourself the activity you enjoy as a gentle punishment.
  5. Weekly, review your goals and their rank. If you’re now having an easier time with one of your 9-Goals, move it to a 6-Goal. If you’re having problems with a 2-Goal, make it a 5-Goal. The idea is to eventually wean yourself off of the d20 for goals you no longer need to manipulate.

This system can provide some of the strongest motivation for changing your behaviors. There are only two extra considerations required to help it work. First, resist the temptation to reroll the d20. The entire point is to provide a link between the activity and the variable hope for reward. If you really want that reward, do another one of your Goals, perhaps one with a higher rank to increase your chances.

Premack’s Principle

The next consideration is that of choosing reinforcements. We may have difficulty choosing: “There’s nothing I really want to do that’s actually feasible for a frequent reward.” There is, however, a principle in behavioral psychology, Premack’s Principle, which can open your mind. Simply put, it says that any activity you’d rather be doing can be a reward. If you’re studying, and you find yourself in a twisted way wanting to do dishes as a means of escape, that can be a reward. Anything can be a reward, so long as it’s more desirable than what you’re trying to reinforce.

A reward? Maybe! via

In sum, the D20 System can be one of the best tools you can use to motivate yourself. Make it into a game, and your life has just become a powerful, productive casino! Hope you enjoy it, Changemakers: thanks for reading!

How else can we reinforce good habits?

The Science of Habits and Changing Them

9 Apr

via Keeper of the Home

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

No matter how noble or successful a single action proves to be, it will always be infinitely more so if it becomes a habit. Most actions are only useful as habits: one jogging run does next to nothing for us, just as once brushing our teeth is generally worthless. Cultivating good habits is an important part of learning to be an effective individual. On the other hand, many habits we already have are time-, energy-, and health-draining; these habits we try to cut off or change. Much of life is consumed with our own internal battles between good and bad habits. It’s incredibly important, especially for Changemakers, to learn how habits work and how to influence them, so as to tip the battle in our favor.

The generally accepted model of habits and their formation comes from behavioral psychology. This is the Antecedent-Process-Consequence model, a simple cause-and-effect flowchart that’s driven the theories behind much of cognitive and behavioral theories today.

Behavioral Model

Charles Duhigg, author of the bestseller, “The Power of Habit,” simplified this terminology to the Cue-Routine-Reward model.

Charles Duhigg Model

The idea is simple: first, a stimulus, or cue, occurs. This can be anything from entering a room, meeting a person, or getting stressed over money. Once the brain is aware of the cue, it immediately triggers an urge to follow through with a process, or routine, like smoking a cigarette or surfing the web. This routine triggers some sort of reward, which, if it’s good enough, will tell the brain that this routine is a good one, and to keep linking it with the cue. For example, if you surf the web when you’re stressed about money, you may become more relaxed. This tells your brain that you become more relaxed when you surf the web, and so it remembers to do it again.

Whether your goal is to encourage a good habit or destroy a bad one, knowing this cycle and understanding how to change it is a powerful tool. This model suggests three separate ways to deal with habits, each based on changing one of these elements. This post will proceed from least to most effective, and will hopefully give Changemakers the tools they need to live a happier, more productive life.

Changing the Cue

One of the least-discussed methods of changing behavior is that of dealing with the trigger that causes it. Behavioral psychology calls this practice “stimulus control,” and suggests many helpful techniques for influencing this part of the habit model. The simplest example of stimulus control is simply avoiding the stimulus: if you simply have to smoke every time you see a pack on your counter, make sure there aren’t any there! However, this usually doesn’t solve the problem completely, as most stimuli can’t be completely avoided. Desensitization involves repeatedly exposing yourself to steadily greater levels of the stimulus without performing the routine, so your brain disassociates it with the cue. Sensitization is the opposite: establishing a different link in your brain between a cue and an undesirable response. One extreme example I’ve heard used is linking the drinking of wine with vomiting, ensuring that the brain stays as far away from liquor as possible. While it’s not the most effective, Changing the Cue is still an impressive technique that can greatly augment the effectiveness of others.

Changing the Reward

The reward is where the majority of behavioral psychology focuses. An example of reward manipulation is the now-classic example of Pavlov’s dogs, who, having been provided with a repetitive reward each time a bell was rung, began expecting the reward when the bell was heard. Many programs exist, including the current trend of “gamification,” which seek to either provide incentives for good behavior or punish bad practices. Most incentive programs in companies work this way, as well. Examples of applying Changing the Reward to your personal lives include rewarding yourself with half an hour of web-surfing when you exercise well, or snapping a rubber band against your wrist whenever you behave inappropriately.

Changing the Routine

Changing the Routine is, in general, the most effective of the three techniques, and is the one which Charles Duhigg himself detailed most in his book. The idea of Changing the Routine involves finding a routine that can be performed when the cue happens, and gives the same reward. Most behavioral psychologists call this “substitution,” as it substitutes a healthy habit for a bad one while keeping the other variables the same. A classic example would include smokers switching to fruit or sunflower seeds each time they wanted a smoke (or perhaps more effectively, using nicotine gum). While finding a successful replacement for the old routine can be difficult, as the rewards for most routines differ by just enough to be ineffective, if one is found, it can prove to be the single most effective and least mentally traumatic way to both end bad habits and encourage good ones.

As a Changemaker, we seek to change the world in important, meaningful ways. In order to do so, however, we must first change the ineffective parts of ourselves. These techniques represent some of the best ways to do so. Take these and use them to make yourself a better Changemaker, and a better person.

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What habits do you want to change or start?

Leaders and the Networked Organization

6 Apr

Lately, I’ve been reading Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age, a book detailing the effects of the Internet revolution on social activism. The author, Allison Fine, explains that the increased connectivity brought about by the digital revolution has not only empowered previously marginalized groups, but has changed the nature of practical organization structure and employee/customer engagement. The capacity to build and leverage networks has become one of the most powerful skills in the modern world.

Allison Fine isn’t the first to suggest that networks have become the new expressions of power today. A network-centric trend has started and gained momentum through the 21st century, professing that networks, and organizations centered around them, are far more effective. Mrs. Fine explains that the Department of Defense has adopted a network-centric structure below the initial department heads. John Husband, on his blog, refers to this transition from a traditional, top-down power structure to a networked, distributed power structure as moving from “hierarchy to wirearchy.”


To facilitate this change, Mrs. Fine supports the creation of, maintenance of, and continued interaction with a community centered around the organization. The community would be given as much information as possible, in line with the growing push towards organizational transparency. Their opinions would also be vitally important to organization decisions, and the organization would respect and, when possible, use their considerable power.

This sounds lovely, but where would this leave the role of the leader? Mrs. Fine addresses this, and suggests that the leader’s new role is that of facilitating the community’s organization. This can be done through four separate functions: listening, leveraging, knowing how and when to make decisions, and being curious.


According to a recent study by the Harvard Business Review, serial entrepreneurs, while strong in several key skills, are usually lacking in empathy. Honestly listening to the opinions, perspectives, and feelings of others, is far more important in today’s age than before. One of the best paradigms for listening comes from an Ashoka series on developing empathy. They suggest that one of the best words to describe healthy listening is the verb, absorb. When leaders focus on “absorbing” all the emotions and ideas placed before them, they’ll be better equipped to facilitate healthy interaction.


Good network leaders respect and utilize the power inherent in social networks. Mrs. Fine compares social networks to the ideal power grid: instead of weakening as they spread and are used, networks grow stronger. Understanding this and using it can help organizations conduct market research, raise funds, or petition a lawmaker.

Knowing How and When to Make a Decision

There will be times when, instead of leaving the decision to the network, it will be wiser to make a decision yourself. John Adams, one of America’s founding fathers and the principle author of the Constitution, stated in his Federalist Papers that one of the purposes behind the structure of the US government was to protect against when the masses were actually wrong. Leaders will have to use their authority when what the majority wants is either in conflict, taking too long for practical action, or is actually headed in a harmful direction.

Being Curious

Curiosity can be one of the greatest boons of a leader. If the head of an organization is intensely curious about current events in the world, organization, and network, he will be in a better place to facilitate helpful, honest, conscious communication.

While the change may take significant effort, the results reaped will far exceed any cost. Ceding our pretended authority as leaders will grant tremendous power and resources to the organization. I look forward to implementing these practices in my own efforts later in life!

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