Author Archives: Philippe Silberzahn

How mental models block innovation: The case of Alzheimer’s disease

No progress has been made to cure Alzheimer’s disease since it was first discovered in 1906. Why? Not for lack of investment, but because doctors remain stuck in wrong mental models.

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Should you encourage your employees to take risk to innovate?

General management’s injunction to employees to take more risks to innovate usually has no effect. This is because what blocks innovation is not lack of risk taking but counter-productive mental models.

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Building the Organization for Uncertainty: Lessons from The German Army’s Prewar Leadership Model

[version en français ici]

How can an organization not only protect itself from uncertainty, but more importantly take advantage of it? The question is a hot one these days. It preoccupies many strategists, jumping from one crisis to another in a world that has become highly unstable and full of surprises. One source of inspiration, perhaps unexpected, is the German army, which built, from the end of the 19th century, a very powerful leadership model from which we can learn a lot.

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Assessing the Potential of ChatGPT: Lessons from the History of Innovation

[Version in French here]

Unless you’ve been living on Mars for the past few weeks, you couldn’t escape news about ChatGPT, the artificial intelligence tool that answers all your questions: summarizing an article, informing you about the economic crisis, writing a poem, etc. As with any new technology, it is presented as revolutionary by some and futile, useless, or even dangerous by others. While it will take time for the dust to settle, we can nevertheless avoid some of the pitfalls, and above all, the clear-cut positions, by relying on the history of innovation, which offers at least seven lessons for a more nuanced approach to the debate.

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Why I like Elon Musk (anyway): vices and virtues of authoritarian business leaders

It’s a tough time for tech companies. Amazon, Meta (Facebook’s parent company) and Twitter are laying off people en masse. After Meta’s difficult week, which saw its market capitalization drop considerably, Twitter found itself in the spotlight after its takeover by Elon Musk. Both bring back the never-ending question of what good corporate leadership is. Is Musk the villainous leader portrayed in the media, an overbearing entrepreneur with an inflated ego, who is destroying Twitter? Not so sure. Because behind the apparent madness, there is a method, even if it is a debatable one.

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Is Meta the new Kodak? Eight history lessons on the necessity and risks of big innovation bets

Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is doing badly. The announcement of its poor results was very badly received by the stock market. The company lost 25% of its value in one day. The weakness of Facebook and the doubts about the relevance of the colossal investment made in the metaverse, a system creating a virtual world, question the strategy of the company. The weakness of the legacy activity, and the difficulty to launch a new activity, the situation of Meta is not unlike that of Kodak twenty years ago. A look at the history of the major bets made by companies to launch or renew themselves is useful to better understand the issues facing Meta and avoid hasty judgments.

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How declining organizations get used to mediocrity

[version en Français ici]

Companies rarely collapse all at once. The collapse is often only the visible phase of a decline that started long before and developed insidiously. Like the famous frog that does not react when the temperature of the water in which it is placed rises, this slowness makes it more difficult to react: the signs of decline seem disparate and it is difficult to link them together to build a picture of danger. At the heart of this difficulty is the silence about the situation within the organization, and the tacit acceptance of mediocrity.

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Innovation: why the distinction between exploration and exploitation is problematic

In the field of innovation, the distinction between exploration and exploitation is universal. It is clear, it seems obvious, and it has become gospel in the world of innovation. Yet it is counter-productive, as it rests on questionable assumptions. It illustrates how the way we formulate a problem, i.e. our mental model, determines our ability to solve it. The wrong mental model locks us in, while the right one opens up possibilities. It’s time to let go the exploration/exploitation distinction.

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Challenging Cassandra – The two risks of prediction for the decision-maker

We live in a time of great uncertainty, where many predictions and strongly held beliefs have been brutally disproved by the facts, especially in the last three years. And yet, we continue to make predictions. This seems rational: we want to protect ourselves against bad surprises and prepare for the worst. But this preparation comes at a significant cost.

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The performance of organizations is a societal issue – My new piece on the Drucker Forum blog

Business performance is often perceived as having no societal impact. It seems to be a strictly financial matter and to concern only its shareholders, and nobody else, and as such is even morally suspect for some. We are happy for the company that has good results, and we may suspect that is at done at the expense of society. Yet, the performance of businesses, and more generally that of organizations, is a major societal issue, an observation made by Peter Drucker, and still relevant today.

Read the rest of the piece on the Global Peter Drucker Forum’s blog here.