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Help old habits die easier

Innovation isn’t just a matter of rolling out groundbreaking products; it includes reinventing routines, questioning assumptions, and finding new approaches to old problems. This process of shedding old organizational structures has been termed unlearning by some researchers.

People are creatures of habit, and getting them out of their comfort zone to “unlearn” something isn’t easy — especially when things already seem to be going well. This difficulty appears regularly in the workplace, where managers and employees are loath to tinker with proven formulas or processes, going by the mantra “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

People are creatures of habit, and getting them out of their comfort zone to ‘unlearn’ isn’t easy.

But in this fast-paced business landscape, yesterday’s best practices can quickly become today’s outdated thinking, and plenty of big-name companies have gone bankrupt by staying too long in their comfort zone.

Take Kodak. Top management famously failed to appreciate the game-changing nature of digital photography, and by the time company executives tried to unlearn their core business models and existing assumptions about film, it was too late. Similarly, Blockbuster Video turned down a partnership offer from a then-emerging Netflix, preferring to stick with a focus on the rental video market rather than experiment with a new strategy — a move that contributed to the company’s collapse in 2010.

How can companies break out of the comfort zone and start the unlearning process? A new study provides managers with a framework to help their companies intentionally discard obsolete, or soon-to-be obsolete, knowledge and processes, and introduce a “stop-doing” culture. Over a two-year period (2016–17), the authors conducted in-depth interviews with department heads, team leaders, and rank-and-file employees at 10 different firms, supplemented with firm data. In 2018, the researchers also interviewed consultants to get an outside perspective on the organizations’ unlearning efforts.

The authors identified resistance to changing the status quo as one of the biggest barriers to establishing an unlearning culture — and not just in the executive suite. After all, many employees invest significant time (and emotion) in carving out a safe, productive place at work. The pressure of daily routines is also a hindrance to unlearning established patterns: Keeping up with the inbox isn’t often conducive to innovative thinking.

Indeed, unlearning occurs most commonly when firms face internal or external crises, forcing them to confront their entrenched ways. But a more valuable stop-doing culture takes root when times are good, the authors suggest, enabling firms to identify and arrest problems before they spread. To that end, they identified four ways managers can promote and foster unlearning practices at their firms.

1. Create situational awareness. Employees must be encouraged to look skeptically at the structures in place and identify irrelevant or outmoded knowledge and systems. This prompting typically (and unfortunately) comes from the top down, the authors found, when managers deliberately rupture routines, create a sense of urgency, or construct an artificial crisis, thereby giving employees a chance to reflect and improve on their patterns.

It’s crucial for employees to feel involved in the unlearning process so that changes don’t just happen from the top down, but rather grow from the bottom up. Leaders must help employees see breaks with entrenched processes in a positive, exciting light.

2. Provide space to disengage from routine. To break with old routines, employees must be given the time and space to work without established protocols. Indeed, many companies known for innovation are also famous for offering employees game rooms to help them relax, flexible work schedules so they can pursue stimulating activities, and other perks to keep them from falling into a rut.

But companies don’t need to put ping-pong tables in every conference room to help employees unlearn: One firm in the study has its employees clean their desks once a week and encourages them to throw away old documents or anything that counts as “mental weight.” (Employees confirmed to the authors that this practice helped them keep a fresh perspective.) Another firm holds bimonthly “developer days,” in which R&D personnel can pitch new ideas in a conference-like setting away from the daily grind. One furniture manufacturer decided to upend its design strategy by sending its employees to work in startups, coworking spaces, and business incubators, instructing them to adopt the outlook of an entrepreneur.

3. Forgive mistakes. Just as employees need space to rethink their routines, they must also be given room to fail. Asking employees to dispense with tried-and-true methods inevitably involves some trial and error. Introducing an error-forgiving culture, the authors suggest, allows for the exploration and exploitation of new ideas without employees having to worry about upsetting a manager, or worse, having failure count against them in a performance review.

One consultant told the researchers about a firm that had trouble shaking up established hierarchies and introducing a looser, less formal culture. Instead of punishing workers who weren’t falling in line with the new way of doing things, managers took a symbolic stand: They banned suits and ties. Their message immediately came through and workers began unlearning their rigid ways of working.

4. Don’t let bad habits resurface. Keeping employees from lapsing into old routines is a big challenge for managers. Sometimes they need to get rid of stimuli that trigger employees’ former impulses, by, for example, rearranging desks, blocking certain procedures, or nixing terms or phrases that are associated with the old way of doing things.

The authors relate the story of a firm whose founding CEO exerted a lasting influence on the business even after he retired. The new management team finally invited in consultants for advice on how to unlearn all the established protocols. The consultants were struck by the fact that pictures of the founder still loomed over workers’ shoulders, seemingly continuing to watch over them and judge their ideas. Removing these artifacts was the first step in breaking the employees’ mental bond with the past.

“What we should stop doing is just as essential for future success as what we should not forget or continue to do,” the authors write. “Especially when situated in a dynamic environment, unlearning enables organizations to adapt quickly to market environments, customer demands, and trends.” Equipped with the four steps to move out of the comfort zone of embedded routines and ideas, companies can be sure that best practices don’t turn into obsolete thinking.

Source: “Introducing a ‘stop-doing’ culture: How to free your organization from rigidity,” by Adrian Klammer, Thomas Grisold, and Stefan Gueldenberg (University of Liechtenstein), Business Horizons, August 2019, vol. 62, no. 4

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Why lakes and rivers should have the same rights as humans | Kelsey Leonard

Water is essential to life. Yet in the eyes of the law, it remains largely unprotected — leaving many communities without access to safe drinking water, says legal scholar Kelsey Leonard. In this powerful talk, she shows why granting lakes and rivers legal “personhood” — giving them the same legal rights as humans — is the first step to protecting our bodies of water and fundamentally transforming how we value this vital resource.

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To help solve global problems, look to developing countries | Bright Simons

To address the problem of counterfeit goods, African entrepreneurs like Bright Simons have come up with innovative and effective ways to confirm products are genuine. Now he asks: Why aren’t these solutions everywhere? From password-protected medicines to digitally certified crops, Simons demonstrates the power of local ideas — and calls on the rest of the world to listen up.

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A guide to collaborative leadership | Lorna Davis

What’s the difference between heroes and leaders? In this insightful talk, Lorna Davis explains how our idolization of heroes is holding us back from solving big problems — and shows why we need “radical interdependence” to make real change happen.

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Intel has publicly revealed pay data showing most top executives are white men

But so far, none of the other big tech companies have committed to matching the chipmaker’s transparency about employee pay data.

Microsoft said in an emailed statement that it “does not have anything more to share at this time,” while noting it is committed to equal pay. Google said it “had nothing more to share specifically” on the government data “at the moment” but highlighted other diversity statistics. Facebook said it will continue to publish government data about its workforce demographics, but did not plan to release the pay data.

Apple, Amazon, Adobe, Dell, HP and IBM offered no immediate response on releasing their data.

Several experts said Intel’s voluntary release of the confidential data is unlikely to produce a groundswell of followers.

“It’s unlikely to be widespread unless there’s some kind of external pressure for it,” said Donald Tomaskovic-Devey, a professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst who studies employment data. Not only might employers be concerned that the data will be misunderstood or paint them in a poor light, but the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has said it plans to shelve the rule requiring the pay data collection.

Under an Obama-era rule, the EEOC asked all employers with 100 or more employees to supply data about the racial and gender makeup of their U.S. workforce across 10 broad job categories — the EEO-1 form that has been required for decades — as well as provide additional data breaking down those categories by pay band.

Pay advocates said collecting the data was intended to help reveal potential pay disparities. But some business leaders said the data did not reflect actual employee positions and was burdensome and costly to collect. In September, the EEOC said it planned to shelve the program, citing costs to employers and its “unproven utility.” (Facebook cited this decision in its statement, noting it is “keeping abreast of the department’s recommendations for further reporting should that materialize.”)

James Paretti, an attorney with Littler Mendelson who was a former chief of staff for EEOC Commissioner Victoria Lipnic, who voted against the rule, said he has not been having conversations with clients about releasing the data. “I doubt this will be indicative of a strong trend,” he said, noting “the conversations I’ve had most with my clients are about what an incredible amount of time, money and energy is going into” this.

Companies may also choose not to release the data, knowing the EEOC is planning to drop the rule. “I think when you tell employers you’re not going to do it anymore, it discourages them not only from reporting it but doing so publicly,” said Jocelyn Frye, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who worked on former first lady Michelle Obama’s staff.

Intel Chief Diversity Officer Barbara Whye said in a statement that the company released the data because “transparency and open sharing of our data enable us to both celebrate our progress and confront our setbacks.” She said the company wants to “lead the industry in this space by raising the transparency bar for ourselves and, as a result, raising it for others.”

She also said the company knows it “needs better female and underrepresented male representation in leadership positions in the United States and worldwide. There is a gap in progression for women and underrepresented populations from senior management into our director and executive level ranks. These drops are preventable, and we are doubling down on our inclusion efforts, including a re-evaluation of leadership progression to make sure women and underrepresented groups are advancing within the company.”

Many employers are hesitant to release their traditional EEO-1 form, which collects only U.S. demographic data, not pay. When The Washington Post asked the 15 largest U.S. banks to share that form, only two produced the form in its entirety for all three years requested.

The Center for Investigative Reporting’s Reveal project asked 211 of the largest technology companies for the original forms; it said in 2018 that only 30 had made them public for any year.

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India’s bill purporting to help refugees really seeks to hurt Muslims

The Supreme Court should strike it down


THE IDEA seems anodyne, even laudable. India is amending its laws to make it easier for refugees from neighbouring countries to gain citizenship. The problem is in the fine print. While Hindus, Parsis, Jains, Sikhs, Buddhists and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan will be put on a fast track to naturalisation, Muslims, Jews and atheists will receive no such benefit. That defeats the point of the change, since minority Muslim sects and secularists are among the most persecuted groups in those countries. Worse, it is a calculated insult to India’s 200m Muslims. And most alarming of all, the change undermines the secular foundations of Indian democracy.

The Lok Sabha or lower house of the Indian parliament, where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) enjoys a large majority, approved the relevant changes to the law on citizenship on December 9th. The bill passed through the upper house two days later, despite impassioned objections from across the political and social spectrum. The law has already been challenged in the Supreme Court. In the interest of social stability, of India’s reputation as a liberal democracy and of preserving the ideals of India’s constitution, the court should speedily and unequivocally reject it.

After all, Article 14 of the constitution reads: “The State shall not deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India.” To accept religion as a basis for speedier citizenship is to cock a snook at India’s own founding fathers, who proudly contrasted their vision of an open, pluralist society against the closed, Islamic purity of next-door Pakistan.

The government justifies its exclusion of Muslim refugees by saying they cannot be persecuted by states that proclaim Islam as their official religion. This is nonsense. Just ask the Ahmadis, a Muslim sect whose members have been viciously hounded in Pakistan as heretics, or the Shia Hazaras who are routinely murdered by the Taliban in Afghanistan. Also excluded are the Muslim Rohingyas fleeing mostly Buddhist Myanmar and the 100,000-odd Hindu Tamils who fled to India to escape civil war in Sri Lanka, a self-declared Buddhist state. And even as the government claims a wish to salve human misfortune, in parliamentary debate it brusquely rejected a proposal to extend the bill’s embrace to all immigrants fleeing persecution.

The best explanation for the bill is politics. The BJP is the offspring of a larger family of Hindu-nationalist groups, whose long-term objective is indeed to subvert India’s secular constitution by redefining the country as an explicitly Hindu state. Politically speaking, the BJP has long profited from driving a wedge between India’s sects, with the aim of consolidating the Hindu vote in its own camp. The citizenship bill would be bad enough on its own, but combined with another initiative being energetically pursued by the BJP, the compilation of a National Register of Citizens, it could be explosive.

In the state of Assam the government recently determined that 1.9m out of 33m residents are not pukka Indians, largely because they have no papers, as is common in poor countries. To the chagrin of Hindu chauvinists who demanded the citizenship checks in Assam, many of those who failed to prove Indian roots turned out not to be Muslims, but Hindus of Bangladeshi origin. The new citizenship rules will allow these people to be naturalised, leaving only the Muslims to be stripped of rights, shunted into camps or expelled. The government has budgeted an initial $1.7bn to extend this process nationwide.

Not surprisingly, Muslims across the rest of India now fear that they, too, will be singled out and obliged to dig up generations of tattered family documents to prove their Indianness. Already, there are calls for civil disobedience to resist such humiliation. It is easy to see how violence might follow. Seldom has apparent magnanimity disguised such malevolence.

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “India’s bill purporting to help refugees really seeks to hurt Muslims”

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Trump, impeachment and American democracy

ON DECEMBER 10TH the House Judiciary Committee formally accused President Donald Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It was a solemn moment, and the prelude to Mr Trump becoming only the third president to be impeached. It was also entirely predictable. Mr Trump will now almost certainly be indicted by the House and cleared in a trial by the Senate. If a single legislator crosses party lines, it will be news. That enough to convict him will do so is inconceivable.

Mr Trump’s behaviour forced on Congress an invidious choice. He deserves to be removed for attempting to tip the 2020 election. But the impeachment that has unfolded over the past three months will leave Republicans unswayed, voters divided and Mr Trump in office. That is bad for America.

The main facts are not in dispute. Mr Trump ordered $391m of military aid to be temporarily withheld from Ukraine, which is fighting a Russian-backed uprising (see article). Using back channels, Mr Trump also promised Volodymyr Zelensky, Ukraine’s new president, a coveted meeting in the Oval Office if he announced investigations into Ukraine’s role in the 2016 American election and, more important, into whether Joe Biden, a potential rival to Mr Trump in the 2020 election, had corruptly protected his son, Hunter. Mr Trump’s claim was that Mr Biden, when he was vice-president, had prevented a Ukrainian prosecutor looking into a gas company that had Hunter on its board.

The law is clear, too. Impeachment involves “high Crimes and Misdemeanours”, threats to the state and violations of public trust that need not be crimes in themselves (see Briefing). Mr Trump’s manipulation of a foreign government to smear his opponent is the sort of election-rigging that bothered the Framers. So much the worse that the president was also acting against the national interest by endangering an ally.

Instead, the arguments have been about what Mr Trump intended. The president’s defenders insist that he was not smearing Mr Biden. He had a legitimate concern about corruption, and was conducting relations with the new government in Kyiv in his own way—as is his right. Ukraine’s president, they say, did not even know about the delay to the $391m, which in any case was mostly disbursed eventually. They note that Mr Zelensky denies that the aid depended on his investigations—and no wonder, because Mr Trump never intended such a quid pro quo.

Intentions are hard to get at, especially with a man like Mr Trump who routinely contradicts himself. But this defence does not ring true. Ukrainian officials did in fact know about the delay, and Mr Trump released the money only after a whistleblower had complained about his behaviour. Mr Zelensky’s statement is open to doubt, as he has everything to lose from getting mixed up in an impeachment while Mr Trump remains in power.

Moreover, Mr Trump did not take the Ukrainian allegations seriously. If he had wanted the Bidens investigated, the proper course would have been to refer the matter to the FBI, not to use a foreign government. Before charging ahead, Mr Trump could have asked whether the allegations were substantial. They were not. A Russia expert once on his own staff has warned that the story about Ukrainian meddling in 2016 was a Russian propaganda campaign. The Ukrainian prosecutor pushed out by Mr Biden was shielding corrupt firms: the father was not protecting his son, but exposing him to investigation by a new prosecutor.

“Shall any man be above justice?” George Mason asked when drafting the impeachment clause. “Shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?” Mr Trump wanted to tilt the 2020 election in his favour by tainting Mr Biden. Given a free hand, his illegal efforts to cling to power might continue from the Oval Office. That is why Mr Trump should be removed.

But he won’t be. To expel him, the Senate needs to vote against the president with a two-thirds majority. The Democrats, with 47 of 100 seats, would count it a victory to win a simple majority. Public support for impeachment jumped in September when it was announced, to a little under 50%, but all the investigations and hearings since then have not shifted it. Only 21 states have a majority in favour of impeachment (see our Graphic detail page).

Democrats argue that this is because the White House has refused to let staff testify, or to release documents to Congress, the basis for that charge of obstruction of Congress. Republicans, they say, abetted by Fox News and others, have thrown sand in voters’ eyes by mounting shifting and inconsistent defences.

The Democrats are right. The Republican refusal to take any allegations against Mr Trump seriously has been contemptible. In private, many Republican senators abhor Mr Trump and his methods. But they will not risk their careers by breaking with him in the national interest.

The key to shifting them is public opinion—and it still has the potential to move against Mr Trump. Pollsters report that a third of independent voters are undecided; some of those opposed to impeachment appear willing to reconsider. But the White House will not let the public hear from the witnesses closest to Mr Trump, such as John Bolton, a former national security adviser, and Mick Mulvaney, his acting chief of staff. Sworn testimony from the inner circle could have contained facts and insights with a unique power to change minds.

Democrats could have asked the courts to compel them to testify and turn over documents. If Mr Trump defied the judges, Republican senators would be under severe pressure to break with him. However, rather than submit to the grinding wheels of the law, the Democrats have settled for a vote simply to get it out of the way. They argue that they have already accomplished a lot. They have shown that the president did wrong, they say. Because the House has sole power over impeachment, they do not need the courts to prove obstruction. Even if they fail to remove Mr Trump, impeachment is deterrent enough.

That is a counsel of despair. Nobody can say how long the courts would take. Democratic leaders cite the months needed to force witnesses to testify in other cases but, mindful of the electoral timetable, the judges could just as well choose to proceed swiftly. While they deliberate, the impeachment inquiry will hang over Mr Trump. That will do more to restrain him from further abuse than a rushed process that is done and dusted early next year. Even if time ran out, the impeachment lapsed and Mr Trump was re-elected, the case might be revived and he might be removed from office. Democrats, however, are focused on the risk that their party will suffer in next year’s elections.

They are entitled to put their own electoral calculations first. The Republicans certainly have. But the Democrats should be clear that, even if their party benefits, America will bear the cost.

Mr Trump is getting off lightly. When the Senate absolves him next year he will claim to have been vindicated. On the evidence, he is guilty of abusing his office. Instead, he will stay—possibly for another term. There is little doubt that his sense of impunity will be further redoubled.

Impeachment was designed to be a last solemn resort, not another partisan tool. Settling for today’s doomed indictment ushers in tomorrow’s. Impeachment’s deterrent effect will erode, because it will be seen as a political gesture. The barrier to removal will rise because breaking with your party will be harder. Oversight will be weaker; the presidency more imperial. As the Senate trial draws near, America has nothing to celebrate.

Source: Leaders
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New troublemakers emerge

SO MUCH TALK of “crisis” has surrounded NATO’s 70th-birthday year that it has been easy to forget there are reasons to celebrate. Not only has the alliance proved remarkably durable by historical standards, but since 2014 it has responded aptly to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, refocusing on its core mission of collective defence. It has deployed multinational battlegroups into the three Baltic states and Poland and committed to improved readiness. Goaded by criticism from President Donald Trump, its members have raised their spending on defence. Though many countries, notably Germany, still fall short of their promises, NATO now estimates that between 2016 and 2020 its European members and Canada will shell out an extra $130bn.

This new money helps explain one welcome development at the meeting of NATO leaders in Britain this week. Mr Trump, previously the disrupter-in-chief, who used to call the organisation “obsolete” and caused consternation at a summit in Brussels in 2018 by threatening to withdraw if Europeans failed to take on a fairer share of the burden, has—however briefly—become a defender. In London this week he blasted President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of the alliance as “nasty” and “disrespectful”. He made no sign of blocking stern words on Russia or the reiteration of Article Five of NATO’s treaty, the cornerstone of the alliance. America’s commitment will be on display next year, when some 20,000 of its troops are to practise reinforcing Europe in an exercise called Defender 2020.

The bad news is that other disrupters have emerged. The viscerally anti-NATO Jeremy Corbyn could conceivably become prime minister of one of its leading members after next week’s British general election. Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has caused consternation by buying a Russian anti-aircraft system, obstructing NATO’s decisions on eastern Europe and invading northern Syria without regard for his allies’ interests. He responded with personal insults to a suggestion by Mr Macron that, given Turkey’s actions in Syria, it might not be able to count on the mutual defence enshrined in Article Five.

The most surprising troublemaker, and the reason relations have turned ugly, is Mr Macron himself. In a recent interview with The Economist he said that NATO was experiencing “brain-death”. He champions a stronger European defence, which Europe needs, and on December 4th insisted that this would “not be an alternative to NATO but one of its pillars”. But there is lingering suspicion of his intentions among other allies. That is partly because of his enthusiasm for a “strategic dialogue” with Russia. He has emphasised the threat of terrorism over the task of defending against Vladimir Putin’s aggression. Mr Macron is taking a long view and is seeking to stimulate fresh thinking, but most of his allies understandably hear his words as a threat to the progress of the past five years (see article). Russia’s actions, not just in Ukraine but also on NATO territory (including by sending assassins to Salisbury in Britain and, possibly, Berlin’s Tiergarten), call for a strong response. Any desire for concessions will be seen in Moscow as weakness.

In Britain NATO papered over the cracks. The summit’s declaration affirmed its members’ commitment to Article Five and proclaimed that “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security”. That is welcome, but the alliance needs to find a new strategic coherence. Even if Mr Trump remains in favour, America’s focus is shifting ineluctably to its rivalry with China in Asia and beyond. Exercises and increasing readiness will cement the alliance at a military level—and this will endure while the politicians come and go. Work on newish areas such as space and cyberwarfare will help, too. Eventually, a strategic dialogue with Russia might make sense. But to thrive NATO also needs a greater common purpose. Once the impetus came from America. Mr Macron was right to point out that in future Europe will have to play a larger part.

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Wheels Up CEO on partnering with Delta to combine private air fleet

Delta Air Lines is taking a minority stake in private aviation start-up Wheels Up, in a move that establishes one of the world’s largest operated fleets of private aircraft. Wheels Up co-founder and CEO Kenny Dichter joins “Squawk Box” to discuss.

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Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian on partnership with Wheels Up

Delta Airlines is taking a minority stake in private aviation start-up Wheels Up, in a move that establishes one of the world’s largest operated fleets of private aircraft. Delta Air Lines CEO Ed Bastian joins CNBC’s Phil LeBeau to discuss.

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