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We’ve all been there. A speaker, possibly even a famous one, steps up on stage. They start out interestingly, but after a while they seem to… skip. After a while, you realize that the speech doesn’t really hang together, and is rather like three different talks, stitched together into a Frankenspeech. Depending on your personality, you’re either bemused, annoyed, or angry. Afterwards, you want to talk about this with someone, so you open up about how annoying it is when speakers just skip around and don’t stick to a theme. The person you’re telling this to looks at you and goes: “Oh. Well, I thought it was great!”. …


(If you are dead tired of preambles that remind you that there’s been a crisis and all that, and want to get to the point quicker, skip the first two paragraphs.)

I write this as the crisis of 2020 (no additional explanation needed) is both calming down and speeding up. Depending on where in the world you live, the crisis is either getting more acute and overwhelming the healthcare system, or seems to be almost petering out. I have lived the era of the crisis in Denmark, where life has been very close to normal for a while now. Gyms and pools have been open for a while, and although there are still some reminders of social distancing around, life goes on much like before the crisis — if with much more emphasis on the cleaning of hands. If you live where I do, you might even think that the crisis is over, and we’re now dealing with the aftermath. …


This text was originally written for a somewhat slapdash edited volume on entrepreneurial passion, and as is at times my way I procrastinated with my chapter. When I finally submitted it, I made a cheeky little comment along the lines of “well, small-minded people might think I’m late, when I’m really just being quite fashionable”, mainly as I submitted it to a dear friend who was one of the editors. The other editors, having rather limited capabilities when it comes to colloquial English, took umbrage at this and I was summarily kicked out of the book. So here it is, for a more general public, slightly rewritten so as not to make too many strange cross-references. If any errors or odd references to the book this did not go into remain, I apologize. Anyway, know that this was written as a somewhat critical piece for an edited volume built on the rather insipid insight that sometimes entrepreneurs are passionate, and trying to make this into a remarkable discovery of great importance. …


In standup comedy, the expression “working blue” refers to using language and imagery (and sometimes, if rarely, props) that can offend a more sensitive audience, and which is particularly unsuitable for children. Wikipedia helpfully defines it as “comedy that is off-color, risqué, indecent or profane, largely about sex”, or as some would call it, good comedy. In the business, there is often a fairly clear separation between blue comics, clean comics, and comics who can work both blue and clean. Many of the greatest standup heroes have been blue comics, with icons such as Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin (as well as Moms Mabley, Red Foxx, and many more) primarily remembered for their raunchy material. Today, quite a few of the top comedians like Frankie Boyle and Sarah Silverman (just to mention two of my favorites) primarily work blue. However, this does not mean that working blue is the only thing people in the business respect. Quite the contrary. Comedians who only work clean, such as Jim Gaffigan and Jerry Seinfeld, are held in very high regard, even by most blue comics. To some, having success whilst only working clean can even be seen as the greater accomplishment, as one loses a lot of potential material when one consciously avoids a number of topics and tropes. …


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Our society tends to narrate innovation in triumphalist and only triumphalist ways. As we, particularly in the West but increasingly as a global society, have collectively embraced the notion of innovation as something always already good, always already right, always already the one prime thing to aim for and desire, this should come as no surprise. Tales of innovation tend to be tales of heroes and progress, better lives and happy customers, with a promise of greater things yet to come. Why not sing the praises of a thing that seems like such a horn of plenty? Yet this is a very narrow and blinkered way to talk about innovation. Every child knows that for every innovation that conquers the world, there is a plethora that falter and fail, for various reasons. For this reason alone we should pay at least as much attention to those cases where an innovation stumbles and falls as we do to these who succeed, but we do not. This is a shame, for this is part of why we fail to see many of the cracks in the valorized edifice of innovation, the many issues hidden from us as we stare intently at only the visible, successful top of the innovation iceberg. In the following I will present not a full attempt to rectify this situation, but merely a sketch of a singular instance of innovation failure, to show what can be learnt from this. It will be a requiem for a robot, but this sad funeral dirge isn’t just about remembering what has passed — it is a reminder that just because something is called an innovation, or might even be seen as an innovation, this doesn’t mean that what we missed was a great, good thing. …


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How much should a (keynote) speaker research the client and the audience before giving a speech? This might sound like an innocuous question, as well as one where the correct answer would be some variation of “as much as possible, within reason”. I will argue that particularly the latter isn’t true and that limiting the knowledge one has about one’s client and the audience can have positive effects. In other words, this is yet another post (the first in a while) that almost certainly will have some speakers protesting wildly, whilst simultaneously giving unwarranted succor to others in the field.

The reason I say this is because background research is one of those things that really divide the field, with some ignoring it completely and others being complete fiends for it. What I will contend is that there isn’t only the obvious issue of marginal utility at play here — at some point doing more background research simply doesn’t pay off any more — but also that doing too much background research can hinder you from reaching excellence in speaking. The reason that this is a contentious claim is that background research is one of the things that many speakers see as setting apart true professionals and mere dabblers, so claiming that one should limit it could be interpreted as me promoting unprofessional behavior in keynote speaking. …


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A Note for the Reader: There’s just the tiniest chance that the text below is written tongue firmly in cheek. I say that, as the outlet that I wrote it for (to promote my book Innovation for the Fatigued) declined to publish it, as they feared a) it might be taken seriously, b) that people lack a sense of humor. Not sure if they’re right, but here we are…

So you want to become an innovation guru? That’s OK, I understand. There’s a lot to like about being one. The well-paid consulting. The adoring crowds. The sense of being ahead of the curve, and above mere mortals. The assumption that it might help you on the dating scene… Well, let me tell you, today is your lucky day! I’m here, as a bona fide specialist, to teach you how to be an innovation guru. If you want to become one, this is self-evidently helpful, but it might also help those who wish to hire such people. The truth of the matter is, there is no association that confers the title upon you. Anyone can portray themselves as an innovation guru, and quite a few do. …


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(This is merely the start of a longer piece on solutions and innovation I am planning, but thought it would be good to outline it here. It is very rough, at this point.).

Even though we talk about innovation as one concept, this is of course a huge simplification, not to mention a potentially dangerous generalization. We use the same word for the tiniest incremental change, and for huge, revolutionary leaps, which is one of the key reasons people have started to doubt the concept and consider it more a buzzword than a useful analytical concept. Whilst the discussion regarding innovation has tried to address this by introducing concepts such as “incremental innovation”, “radical innovation” and “disruptive innovation”, the challenge still remains that these are not clearly delineated, and it is incredibly difficult to know exactly when an innovation shifts from incremental to radical. To this comes the problem that as good as all attempts to create typologies of it all are rooted in the problematic assumption that innovation is always a good, positive, praiseworthy thing. This, as anyone who has paid any attention to the often ludicrous things created in the name of innovation (talking trashcans, anyone?), …


Notes On the Thanatonomy, From One About To Enter It

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Colleagues, students, random gawkers, I wish I could say that I’m happy to see you here today, but I am not. In fact, I do not want to give this lecture at all, and particularly not as I do it because I am dying. To paraphrase the old Woody Allen-quote, I do not want to achieve immortality through my work, I want to achieve it by not dying. And just like Mr. Allen, I’m not afraid of death, but I do not want be there when it happens. But it seems I won’t, and I will.

Now, my university is aware of this, and in their usual sensitive way has realized that they might be able to cash in on me shuffling off my mortal coil. Not content with the fact they’ll now save on my salary and be able to replace me with some adjunct or robot or other, they have insisted I give this last lecture, which they will record and try to monetize over social media. Seeing as there seems to be quite a few people who enjoy watching Randy Pausch and his epigones, my university immediately though that getting professors to give a final lecture would be a nice little earner. They may be craven, but you can’t fault their business logic. …


Lausunto Eduskunnan tulevaisuusvaliokunnalle 2017

“Beware of flat-pack futures.”
— Scott Smith

Raportteja ja alustuksia tulevaisuudesta tulisi aina lukea epäillen ja varauksin. Näin, koska tiedämme tulevaisuudesta oikeastaan vain yhden asian: Mitä tahansa kuvittelemme siitä, juuri se tuskin tapahtuu. Raportit tulevaisuudesta ovat nimittäin ennen kaikkea raportteja siitä mitä tapahtuu nykypäivässä, ja myös ihmisyyden ylimielisyyden peilejä. Jos historia on opettanut meille jotain, niin ainakin sen että ihminen on aina hellyyttävän varma siitä että juuri hän on kykenevä nähdä tulevaisuuteen, vaikka kaikki sukupolvet ennen häntä on tässä epäonnistunut.

Väittämät tulevaisuudesta, esimerkiksi liiketalouden tulevaisuudesta, ovatkin tästä syystä usein kovin ongelmallisia. Ennen kaikkea ne peilaavat niitä päähänpinttymiä jotka vallitsevat juuri sen hetken yhteiskunnassa, ja sitä miten käsitteistä ja kertomuksista voi tulla kauppatavaraa ideoiden markkinapaikalla. Kun “kaikki” 1980-luvulla tiesi että tulevaisuus olisi Japanin, tämä kannusti puhumaan Japanista, kirjoittamaan kirjoja Japanista, ja rakentamaan kertomusta siitä miltä tulevaisuus joka olisi Japanin määrittelemä näyttäisi. Tämän lisäksi se kannusti myös niitä jotka eivät suoranaisesti pyrkineet hyötymään tästä kerronnasta olemaan samaa mieltä, koska on aina turvallisempaa olla samaa mieltä tulevaisuudesta kuin muut. …

About

Alf Rehn

Professor of management, speaker, writer, and popular culture geek. For more, see many.link/alfrehn

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