Book Review: Smart Tribes by Christine Comaford

Note: This review was published in the July 2013 edition of Strategic Finance. Many thanks to the editors at IMA/Strategic Finance for spending time to review and edit it.

Smart TribesWhat are the biggest challenges faced by rapidly growing companies? Ask the CEO of any such company and chances are that establishing a growth-oriented culture, where employees are self-motivated, loyal, can perform to their fullest potential, and are passionate about the company’s shared goals, would be at or near the top of the list.

Typically, such companies are characterized by rapidly shifting internal and external priorities, frequently changing business models, unclear directives and accountability structures, and/or the lack of alignment within the leadership team. As a natural response to such situations, employees fall into a “fight/flight/freeze mode.” In her book, Smart Tribes: How Teams become Brilliant Together, Christine Comaford refers to this as the “critter state.” People in the critter state are driven by fear, individual safety, and survival rather than collective success. Instead of focusing on real issues that impede growth, they’re emotionally disengaged, don’t collaborate, and spend time and resources on solving problems that either don’t exist or aren’t important. When management decision-making and behavior is driven by the critter state, it’s nearly impossible for companies to move up to the next level of growth.

In Smart Tribes, Comaford, an applied neuroscience expert and a New York Times best-selling author, presents a recipe to move employees out of the critter state. When in the critter state, decision-making is driven by the most primitive part of the brain, which is a stimulus response system focused on survival. Instead, employees need to be in the “smart state,” where decision-making is driven by the pre-frontal cortex, a more evolved part of the brain that enables us to plan, innovate, solve complex problems, and think abstract thoughts. Employees in the smart state are focused, accountable, collaborative, loyal, and imbued with a passion to solve problems. With their creativity, innovation, and passion unleashed, they not only outsmart the competition but do it consistently, again and again.

Employing well-researched neuroscience and behavioral science techniques, Comaford proposes a very structured approach to move from the critter state to the smart state. She recommends the following five accelerators that can help the transition:

  • Focus: Be aware of what is important and delegate, defer, or ditch everything else.
  • Clarity: Be aware of why you do what you do.
  • Accountability: Make accountability a part of the company’s DNA by having clear expectations, owner’s agreement, and well-defined rewards and consequences.
  • Influence: Be able to understand, empower, and motivate people.
  • Sustained results: Have energy to enjoy your work and avoid burnout.

Interspersed with numerous real life cases and examples, Smart Tribes is a very well-written book. Comaford follows a “do it yourself approach,” using assessment questions, resources, and actions plans at the end of each section, making it a very engaging and interactive read. Another highlight is that it’s backed by rigorous scientific research, making it very credible and trustworthy.

The issues Comaford raises in the book are extremely critical for success in the contemporary business environment. Smart Tribes is a great read for anyone managing a team in a fast-paced and dynamic environment.

PS: Copyright 2013 by IMA®, Montvale, N.J.,, used with permission.

Awesome: History of E=MC^2

Just came across this awesome video – “Einstein’s Big Idea” which tracks down key events in the history of physics leading to the discovery of arguably the most important equation in the history of science – E=MC^2.

Best thing about the video is that things are presented in a wonderfully easy to understand language without complicating with jargons. Discussions which Einstein is having with his wife Keep Reading…

Is there a Truth Gene – Why are some people more honest than others?

Is honesty genetic? Can ones genetic makeup determine ones tendency to be honest/dishonest?

Some cultures/countries/societies/tribes are more honest than others – it is due to their genes? Or is it just the shared environment? Or a combination?

And if it is all genetic – can people be made more honest clinically (may be by gene therapy – activating the truth gene by some chemical agent)?

Can (or Should?) genetic screening help select/reject right people for key positions (politics/judges/police etc.)?

The kind of world we are living in, there are economic/social benefits of dishonesty. Given this, and the concept of natural selection, will the truth gene(s), gradually become extinct?

Anyone has any insights, research, data, etc. to help answer these questions?

Book Review – Radioactivity : A History of a Mysterious Science

Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science, written by Marjorie C Malley, is a non-fiction detailing the history of Radioactivity and how it captivated the imagination of the scientific community as well as the industry, politicians, and the general public.

Radioactivity was not just another scientific phenomenon. It created a new branch of study in itself, had a profound impact on the society, international politics, war, business and industry and medical sciences.

This is a very geeky book with lots of scientific jargon which a non-technical person may not be able to understand without considerable effort. However, readers who have relevant technical background will find it a good and interesting read.

I loved the portions of the book which contained the stories of the researchers, even more than the technical stuff. I was interesting to know  Keep Reading…

Why Engineers are Good at Analytics

This study done by jointly by University of Amsterdam, Jacobs University Breman, and University of Groningen analyzes the influence of feelings related to romance and sex on creative and analytical capabilities.

The study proves that thinking about romance increases long term focus and improves creativity. The reasoning given is that that when in love, people typically focus on a long-term perspective, which enhances holistic thinking and thereby creative thought.

On the other hand while thinking of sex boosts up your analytical capabilities. While thinking of sex the focus is totally on what is there right now (short term focus), resulting in better analytical capabilities.

So, while going for an analytical test -you know what should you be thinking about. BTW, now I fully understand why all engineers are good at analytics!

InnoCentive – A Case Study on the Open Innovation Model

About Open Innovation

Open Innovation, i.e. the practice of being open to external sources for fulfilling ones R&D requirements, has been identified as an important management innovation of the past decade and it is also accepted to be a key trend which can influence business and management in the coming decade. Open Innovation is a more efficient, effective and fair way of innovating. It is faster, cheaper and more efficient. Big companies like P&G. Nestle, Orange, Tesco, GSK, Eli Lilly, Virgin, etc. have embraced this model. Some of them have even come up with successful products like P&G (Olay Packaging, Oral B Pulsonic Toothbrushes) and GSK (Aquafresh White Strips)

Open Innovation approach to managing innovation calls for a paradigm shift in the way R&D divisions work. Keep Reading…

Waterless Washing

A company Xeros have developed a system to wash laundary using less than 10% of the amount of water as compared to currently available methods. This is done by the use of small polymer beads. These beads pull off stains from clothes and lock them into its molecular structure. Moreover, these beads can be used again and again … upto hundreds of washes. This process was invented by University of Leeds scientist Stephen Burkinshaw. The technology on which the process is based is explained in this published patent application.

Not only clothes, there are now products in market which allow “waterless shampooing of hair”. Details can be found here.


Open Innovation Model: A Collaborative Approach to Managing Innovation


No matter who you are, most of the smartest people work for someone else‘ 

 – Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems

You cannot hire all the smart people – there will always be some who are not working for you. When it comes to innovation, loosing out on these smart people can make a lot of difference.

How to tap on the potential of these smart people? How to develop a strategy that will ensure that good and innovative business ideas from these people are used to the benefit of your business? How about the case when some of these people have already developed a solution to the problem you are looking at? How to involve and collaborate with these people?

The answer lies in ‘Open Innovation’ – a business model characterized by encouraging people outside your organization to innovate and generate solutions for your specific problems, acquiring these solutions, and using them as if they were generated internally by your R&D team. Keep Reading…