Point of View is Worth 80 IQ Points

During the years I worked at Apple, Alan Kay, a creative visionary, was also there.  Kay’s wise memes were often quoted.  One of my favorites, “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points,” is a constant guiding consideration for me.  It comes to mind when I convene groups or organize advisory boards for companies:  Is there a diverse mix of thinkers, personalities, and expertise represented?  It’s on my mind when I organize dinner parties.  In the years I spent working at Apple and Microsoft, it was on my mind when I made hiring decisions and assembled teams to work on any type of project.

In December, I ran into Chris Young, and as we caught up with each other, he related a fascinating, “point of view is worth 80 points,” story.    The story, Milk in Kenya, is below.

Milk in Kenya

For over two years, a group of engineers, scientists, and inventors had labored over a problem posed by a client. The client, a wealthy philanthropist, was deeply concerned about global health issues and poverty in Africa.  In particular, he had noticed that if the milk spoilage problem in Kenya and Uganda could be solved, it might be possible to break the cycle of poverty for small hold dairy farmers. Small hold dairy farmers typically own 2-3 cows, and milk is the primary source of their income.  Farmers wind up losing income because as much as half the milk their cows produce spoils before they can get it to the market where it can be sold.

The working assumption was this:  We need to prevent milk from spoiling.  This can be done through heating to achieve pasteurization.  However, this then requires that the milk either be refrigerated immediately, or specially processed and packaged in sterile packaging.

In conventional pasteurization, the milk is heated as briefly as possible, 30 minutes or less; just long enough to kill bacteria that would cause illness and not so long that it would compromise the fresh flavor of milk.   Along with the assumptions above, there was an additional, unquestioned assumption:  The milk needed to taste “fresh,” not cooked.

The engineers on the team investigated exotic technological solutions to refrigeration, thermal processing and sterile packaging.  After a comprehensive review of existing first world technologies, the engineers began to assess how to do ultra-high temperature pasteurization and sterile packaging in a new way.  Ultra-high temperature pasteurization, or UHT, conventionally requires steam injection, vacuum assisted cooling, and elaborate aseptic packaging that, then, yields packaged milk that doesn’t require refrigeration.

The team of engineers settled on an exotic technology that came out of the computer chip manufacturing industry:  the Tuckerman heat exchanger.  This is incredibly efficient and solved a lot of complexities.  There was just one problem.  Milk isn’t water.  As soon as the milk got hot, it fouled and ruined the heat exchanger.  Permanently.  Everyone involved was skeptical they could do sterile packaging a cost effective way.  The future of the project was in jeopardy.

Chris Young was asked to meet with the team.  Young, a mathematician, biochemist and chef, is a guy who wants everyone to love their food, and wonders why people like some things and not other things. He’s curious and playful, both in and out of the kitchen. Young and a collaborator had just finished a book and he had a little time free before publication.  Young’s boss suggested, “You really don’t know anything about this problem or project, but you do know a few things about milk, so go see if you can contribute something.”

The team asked Young to look at solving the milk-fouling problem for the heat exchanger.  The engineers were excited about the technology, and figured that if Young could make it work with milk, they’d have a solution.

Young had no pre-conceived ideas. He joined the team with an open, curious, and exploring state of mind, not attached to a particular outcome. He was not limited by what was known, and was able to hold what he did know, lightly:  maybe things are this way and maybe they’re not.

During a meeting with the team, when they were reporting on a trip to Kenya, one researcher mentioned that, in Kenya, people don’t drink milk by the glass.  People boil the milk, then add tea, and sugar.  The engineers and consulting dairy scientists had all assumed that milk needed to have a “fresh” taste.

Young wondered, is the “fresh” flavor really important?  If the milk tastes “cooked,” is that a bad thing?  Young decided to test the flavor; he cooked milk for longer periods of time and tested batches.  To him, the cooked milk tasted sweeter.

There was no scientific literature on the safety of holding milk hot.   However, Young knew that chefs around the world have cooked things at these temperatures for days at a time without spoilage or health risks.  Sous vide, a popular modernist cuisine food preparation technique, holds foods hot for hours or days. There was no reason to assume it would be unsafe.  Sure enough, when they tested the microbiological safety, it was better than that. It made the milk safer.

Young’s idea:  Why not just cook the milk sous vide, instead of pasteurizing it?  This process is less complex and less energy is consumed.

The team conducted sensory tests and those results are in.  Most Kenyans actually prefer the taste of hot held milk.  The solution is cheap – as cheap or cheaper than the current practices; and certainly far cheaper than exotic first world approaches, like the Tuckerman heat exchanger technology.

Chris Young was free to see an easy solution, in a situation where the experts had hit a dead end.

How can we think differently about team composition or about the challenges before us, taking into account Alan Kay’s wisdom:  “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points?”




Published by Linda Stone

I coined the phrases continuous partial attention, email apnea, and screen apnea. I write about attention and our relationship to technology.

80 thoughts on “Point of View is Worth 80 IQ Points

  1. Great story!
    I believe that while the value of diversity of teams is increasingly recognized, the recognition of the value of multidisciplinary individuals is not. I especially like your (and/or Chris’) emphasis on the value of openness, curiosity and a willingness to explore ideas without attachment to outcomes. One of the concerns I have about the relentless emphasis on efficiency in many organizations is the prospect of crowding out the time and space required for these essential traits to be effectively exercised.

  2. I did a workshop last week in New Zealand based partly on that quote! I’d heard it for the last couple decades, but only recently began recognizing just what it meant to me. (I ended up showing a ten-minute clip of Kay.)

    More and more these days I am finding that reconsidering the “what problem are we REALLY trying to solve” is everything. We can struggle for years in the weeds when a shift in perspective and boom! The fog clears, patterns emerge, resolution soars, and noise plummets.

    But all too often, we simply ignore the POV (and the person offering it) that’s even a tiny step beyond the one we’ve already declared The Way It Is. I realize that a lot of creativity/innovation/brainstorming techniques are based entirely on surfacing fresh perspectives, but I keep finding that the time between stumbling upon a new lens and actually taking it seriously is loooooong. Years, even.

    Wondering how to speed that up. I am trying a few things, but also realizing that even with my OWN “new” perspectives, it takes several years before I take myself seriously 🙂

    In any case, I am finding answers to my current challenges in what Alan Kay was talking about in the ’70’s and ’80’s. I think of all those early Parc folks and, wow, what must it be like for THEM to wait such a long time to see the realization of what they imagined/knew. And sad to consider where they thought we would be by now, so far in the “future”…

    Absolutely love the milk story. Thank you.

    1. I love the allusion to fog clearing and noise plummeting upon achieving a more effective perspective on a problem.

      I was just reading an interview with Eric Topol, author of “The Creative Destruction of Medicine” in Salon, where he was sharing some insights and experiences – as a physician – with innovation and conservatism. Point of view is heavily influenced by incentive structures … and while reading the article, I was reminded of Upton Sinclair’s famous observation “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it”.

      Here are a few excerpts from the interview that speak to the issues of innovation and incentives.

      If you go back to 1816 when the stethoscope was invented, it took 20 years before doctors would use them. The average time it takes for a medical innovation to come into daily practice is 17 years, which is just horrible.

      Medicine on a planetary basis, on a global basis, is very conservative and resistant to change. But there are some specific examples where there’s a real gradient or heterogeneity, a real marked difference in cultures. In the U.S. the adoption of technology can be stymied because of reimbursement issues. In other countries where there’s no fee-for-service private practice, there’s been remarkable adoption of certain technologies. A great example of that is the portable ultrasound; I haven’t used a stethoscope now in two years. I use this pocket ultrasound device so I can see everything in the heart rather than listen to the heart’s sound. In the U.S., hardly any doctors are using that because they can’t get reimbursed; they much prefer to send the patient to get a cardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart, or an ultrasound of the abdomen or whatever the ultrasound is. Whereas in India, Brazil, China, this is one of the hottest new technologies because it saves costs dramatically and there are no issues with respect to reimbursement.

      BTW, Linda: Eric is speaking at Town Hall Seattle tonight.

  3. Wonderful story, Linda, about pre-conceived ideas and what happens when you put into the mix people who come to other people’s problems without “knowing” it’s either unsolvable or very hard with current solutions.

    Just saw a patient who had a 20 year fear of using toilets on board planes, partly because she had been told if you use it on the ground it leaks to the tarmac! She used her belly breathing plus new awareness to create new way of “seeing” the loo. Loved Kathy S’s follow up too! How proud Kay must have been to see how S. Jobs applied his ideas from Parc.

  4. Nice story indeed! however the concept of boiling milk for many hours isn’t anything new. In India, almost all the sweets are made out of milk boiled for hours and they taste really great 🙂

  5. What an incredible story! When I’m teaching classes, I always utilize small-group activities for this very reason: diverse members of a group bring with them their diverse filters, or perspectives. It makes the “whole” so much stronger!

  6. Great story, and so typical of what I run into when working with clients of my writing and communications consulting business. So often they claim that some creative idea “can’t” be done, because they only know one way to do it (if that.) It’s too bad we can’t teach this open-minded thinking at a young age to students. I teach college as an adjunct, have for many years, and my students for the most part are so indoctrinated into some kind of “correct” or one-way thinking that it’s almost impossible at times to get them to just step back and let their minds see things in a new way. Will be looking forward to reading more of your blog. Thanks for the insights!

  7. Excellent post; and I really like that quote, “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points.” We all have unique perspectives and have something to offer each other. This is an important concept for every business team to remember and act on. 🙂 Thanks for posting.

  8. Great post. This story could also be seen as another way that making assumptions about others is often erroreous. Assuming diverse cultures would share taste preferences was a huge roadblock that the chef overcame. Thanks for sharing the story, and congrats on being FP!

  9. What a great reminder that thinking out of the box is important. Also that when thinking of solutions to problems in the third world, assumptions need to be evaluated because many may not be relevant to the context!
    Thought provoking post, thanks (:

  10. What I like about this story is that it shows how a fresh and brilliant perspective can lessen global poverty issues. What I love about this story is that the philosophy can be applied to our every day and enhance the depth in our every day. Thanks for sharing.

  11. This is brilliant. It lends itself to a variety of areas. At my current place of employment we work rotating 8 hour shifts. A recent consultant called it the worst shift schedule he had seen in 30 years. So we are now looking at a change. I am all for it but some of the “lifers” that work there are not sure. They can’t see the benefits of an outside perspective.

    I’ll be using this example in my next presentation about the proposed shift change.



  12. Awesome post, but I view it differently. The need for a diversity of disciplines to solve intractable problems is kinda beyond debate.

    Instead, my take-away from this is that assumptions can be confining and destructive.

    Thank you for sharing!

  13. I’m not completely sure we can–after all, we always have preconceptions. The trick, I think, is to acknowledge those and then look at ways around them. If the researchers had looked at their hang-ups and seen that needing milk to taste fresh was the biggest one, they might have found this solution themselves.

    Thanks for the story–it was quite interesting.

  14. It’s the old “think outside the box” concept. I love the idea that you consciously choose different types of people to discuss problems. New ideas can be generated by brain storming still holds true, but I can see the power is in the contributors and in creative problem solving.
    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  15. Very interesting 🙂 Links to the project would make it more quoteable 🙂

    Reminds me of a statement heard often “The Americans spent a million dollars to make a pen that wrote in space. The Russians took a pencil”. Not sure if it is true though – but then why let facts interfere with a good quote 🙂

    1. Just to clear a misconception, pencils don’t work in space because if (when) the nib breaks it floats around in many tiny pieces and gets into everything…

      And I love this story, I wouldn’t call it thinking outside the box, but lateral thinking… you can see examples of this in every field, and I try to practice it as often as I can in software.

      As another example (and from another chef no less), check out Heston Blumenthal’s Mission Impossible series, particularly the submarine episodes – also similarly, he used Sous vide to help with food spoilage on board an operational military submarine that can stay at sea for several months at a time.

      Also I would add to that, if you watch the series, his style (and occasionally mine) is to try things that are obviously not going to work (haute cuisine on a submarine?). It’s part of the creative process, and by learning WHY it doesn’t work you can more easily cut to the chase. This pushing the boundaries attitude is the secret to success for many people, in many fields.

  16. Great story and great quote. Also very true about the marketing of professional services firms where a point of view on an industry’s challenges, a client’s opportunities (or problems, for those so-inclined) is essential. Not just insights, point of view. Something strong you can bring to the table that causes someone see a thing in a new way.

  17. I looooved your example. So many times people with good intentions try to come in as the expert. We often try to apply our western way of thinking to other countries problems when we should be looking to them as the expert. Thanks for sharing!

  18. “How can we think differently about team composition or about the challenges before us, taking into account Alan Kay’s wisdom: ”Point of view is worth 80 IQ points?””

    In problem solving, it’s helpful to try to include artists, craftspeople, end users, or at the very least, generalists. It disturbs me that liberal arts educations are being poo-poohed nowadays and we’re raising generations of specialists. That’s all well and good when you’ve identified a task, but actually identifying the tasks needs broad thinkers.

    Architects are devilish examples. They care primarily about how the outside looks, not whether the interior is particularly versatile or functional. (Yes, architects, I know, there are exceptions.)

  19. The message is important and is applicable to so many situations. My fourth grade gifted students have really grown in their ability to turn problems upside down and inside out.It’s like the tomato story where they couldn’t ship tomatoes safely and worked on packaging strategies until they realized they needed to grow tomatoes with thicker skins.

  20. I never heard that meme before, but I know that in writing fiction, point of view is worth a minimum of 80 points. Great story, well told and with sound advice. Thank you.

  21. Great post. Thank you for writing that.

    The part about engineers liking the more complicated technology especially rang true. I used to work as an engineer and remember a project where another engineer was spending months designing a communications board for a larger project. At one of the team meetings, an engineering supervisor who happened to sit in that meeting and focused on the “time is money too” and “how many potential problems will this create for us down the road?” points of view as much as “best design for the job”, finally said “Why not get a commercial off-the-shelf modem? We’ve already spent far more money in terms of this engineer’s time than we can possibly have saved with a custom communications board, and with a custom communications board if it breaks down in the future we’ll either have to have an in-house design document (that’s been tracked and filed), or we’ll have to have a future engineer reverse-engineer the thing. So let’s just go with the commercial off-the-shelf modem.”

    That same engineering supervisor had a rule of thumb for meetings: considering benefits, overhead, wages, cubicle space, computer equipment, etc. an engineer’s burn time was about $100/hr; so multiply the number of engineers in a meeting times the hours of the meeting and if whatever you’re discussing is worth less money than that, you’ve probably already lost money by holding the meeting. I’ve found that to be a very useful point of view.

    1. Yes – so many technical people (scientists as well as engineers) will spend 200 person-hours arguing over why a 2 hour experiment will not work. And often the experiment does work. I just wish it were easier to identify the people who can not only think outside the box, but yank the box off.

  22. I really like this story. I kept thinking in my head to see if I could find the mystery solution with a changed perspective. I did not have the same solution, still it worked to have me try to think outside of the box. I will try to let this simmer in my mind a bit and will share it on my facebook page to “eternalize it” and to let others simmer on it too! THANK YOU!

  23. The truly illustrative point about this story is that the ‘tude is the problem; they didn’t bring someone in like Young from the beginning but waited until the engineers had fired all their guns at it and missed the target, and the battle was nearly lost. The attitude of Young’s boss appears to be part arrogance, part “what the hell, we have nothing to lose” when he says “You (a mathematician, biochemist and chef) really don’t know anything about this problem or project, but you do know a few things about milk, so go see if you can contribute something.”

    Obviously a mathematician worth his salt has at least as much math as any engineer and should quickly be able to get up to speed on applied physical problems where math is used – i.e., all of engineering; heat exchange should be a piece of cake for Young. A biochemist surely knows about protein denaturation, the proximate cause of the fouling, and yes, a chef knows about cooking, and milk. A no-brainer to include him from the get-go, but they didn’t until they were desperate.

    Amazingly, nobody there or on this board suggested the obvious solution: do what dairy-producing cultures have been doing with surplus fresh milk for millennia (although apparently not in Kenya?) culture it! Make yogurt, butter, buttermilk, and cheese.

  24. Interesting POV. I, too, wonder why the inquiring minds ignored making the usual products from surplus milk. But even more interestingt is how a person can join a team which is suffereing mindset and keep a clear POV.

  25. Nice story which beautifully illustrates how we can all mistakenly assume how other people see things.

  26. I loved this piece. It reminds me why some of the most innovative discoveries are made outside the fields in which they are most applicable. Maybe that is why those who respond to the ‘you can’t do/say/be that’ often prevail, because they really can, just those who think they know better can’t hear them.

  27. Thank you for giving me something to think about his morning. Straight and to the point, this story says a lot. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  28. Reblogged this on ÏƞƒiƞiƭƠ and commented:
    ‘Milk in Kenya” is good lesson for a young professional like me, to believe always that each one of us has a unique potential, setting us apart from rest of the world. What I absolutely love about this story is that it emphasizes on open- mindedness and a little variation in perspective to tackle simple problems, only seeming to be supremely complex because of indoctrinated one- way thinking. Kudos to Linda Stone for such an inspirational post!

  29. As an aspiring writer, I always tend to think of p.o.v. as a literary tool. Is the story written in first or third person? From whose eyes are we viewing the story? Can the point of view change? It is easy to forget that can also be a change in perspective in how one solves a problem, which is also very useful to writing and story telling. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks.

  30. Working in the graphic design world, P.O.V. is good example of why the best ideas come out of the blue. The most unexpected source of inspiration can spark an idea that solves a creative challenge, coming at it sideways, instead of head-on. I have found that my first ideas are often not the right solution. But its equally important to get those ideas out of the mind, onto paper or spoken, so then new ideas can start to percolate.

  31. Group think can reduce the collective IQ by 80 points. Hard to believe it took them two years to finally consult someone outside the discipline, but as it turned out the chef, though an outsider, had insider knowledge.

  32. I really enjoyed the last comment as well as this blog. It is a great point that “Colleen Moore” made and i think it shows she is an amazing person. Point of view changes so dramatically in life and depending upon where you stand at that very moment it can be so many different things. Every spectrum of emotion and any level of good to bad. Your blog is fantastic in that not only does it stand valid but it also seems to be bringing out the best in so many people as I can see by the wonderful comments. Keep on blogging! Thanks for sharing of yourself today with me (all of us!)

  33. OK, now that I’m back from memory lane, this article is so timely, considering just 2day, our world is conceding that going green is far too expensive & we have no choice than to resign our civilization to use fossil fuels to the end (see http://www.npr.org/2012/04/26/151456840/countries-losing-steam-on-climate-change-initiatives), where ever that turns out to be & which is absolutely UNACCEPTABLE!!! This article is the perfect example of how to tackle this “challenge” & to stop looking at it as if it’s a problem. “Problems” cost money. Challenges only cost concentration, creativity & a willingness to imagine something kooky every now & then. After all, that’s what the camera, lite bulb & the electric car were at 1 time. Corporations have proven themselves to not be ‘people’ afterall, since they’re unable to innovate & imagine. It’s time we ‘real people’ start doing this w/out ‘faux’ people authorizing us to…

  34. There are a lot of so-called “professionals” who need to read this article, and realize that all their training is meaningless if they are not willing to look at a problem from all angles. AND, to recognize the need for outside opinions. Simple often works best.

    1. Here HERE!!! Very nice comment on an OUTSTANDING article. Now only if we can get this piece to the attention of some of those ‘so-called’ professionals, sitting on their ‘so-called’ “expertise”…

  35. Excellent post.
    This is really a good work. I appreciate your efforts behind that. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  36. This is very interesting. Youtube, NASA, and Lenovo partnered up will conduct a mission in space that anyone under 18 could have submitted. Steven Hawking is the judge. This is interesting because these kids had novel ideas that could be tested in a no gravity environment. There were simple experiments, which reflects your idea of point of view where a students wants to test microevoloution of spiders predating in a low gravity environment, and if the spider will adapt differently to catching prey. Again, all about point of view, something simple yet quite elegant.

  37. I love this story…it reminds me of a prior life- Long before I was a prof dog trainer, I was a project manager.
    Our favorite saying was that “It’s not a matter of getting the right answers, it’s a matter of asking the right questions.”

  38. I would like that phrase (“Point of View…) tattooed on me please. As someone who works in a large, mothership organization where it’s common to have 15 people on a call and still not talk about anything, this is genius.

  39. Finally! Here is an article on Freshly Pressed that is worth reading. I’m definitely going to try to keep Chris Young and the cooked milk in mind when I am problem solving from how on. Thanks for this needed lesson on point of view.

  40. Wow this is a great story/ lesson (congrats on the FP!)
    I definitely think that diversity in background and in the way of thinking is a necessity now a days for businesses with very global outreaches.

  41. It has not much to do with the story and the point of this post, but while I was reading the UHT milk problem I could only think: “why don’t they just go and see how small milk companies?”. As a curious thing, http://spanishsabores.com/2012/04/27/crica-farm-organic-milk-in-valladolid-spain/. 90% of Spaniards drink UHT milk. You go to the big supermarket once a month to do the “big monthly shopping” then you buy 12 bricks of milk, or 24 -depending on the family. Almost nobody drinks the milk directly from the tetra-brick. You heat it, then you add sugar, coffee, cola-cao () or cereals. The fact is, the taste of Spanish UHT milk is not good.
    The first time I left Spain I went to Ireland to stay with a host family. I will never forget the first time I tried real, fresh Irish milk -I was 16 years old.
    I understood so many things -starting with the American comedies where you see people drinking super white milk.

    Just a funny note. Loved the perspective and completely share the fact of getting people of many backgrounds as possible. During my time as an interpreter in the courts I had the chance to meet owners of flying academies, prostitutes, retired golfers, … That is why changing jobs to a completely different thing is bad for no one, isn’t it?

  42. Incredible story! As an aspiring architect its not unfamiliar to us that collaboration is essential in creating innovative architectures. We drive our inspirations from all parts of life- from nature to art to philosophy to language. The possibilities are endless. We don’t realize it sometimes but death to humanity and innovation is truly and simply single mindedness.

  43. Loved reading this! I think what you’ve discussed here is also the reason why we sometimes ask if we can help someone with a problem and when their reply is, “Nah, you won’t be able to solve it”, we are even more eager to try. I think we’re aware that a fresh pair of eyes and a contribution from someone who is isn’t deeply involved in the task can bring something new and surprising to the equation. Not always, but often enough to make it worth while trying.

  44. This story is about diversity management and it’s so important. I just hope it’s additional 80 IQ points 🙂 Truth be told different point of view can be worth not only 80 IQ points but also lots of $$ as we can see on FB and big G example.

  45. Wat a wonderful reminder to always keep an open mind, no matter what! Nothing worse than being closed off, it only creates more problems. This can relate to so many things in life! Teamwork can be beautiful. Thanks!!

  46. Reblogged this on Searching for my truth… and commented:
    I don’t want to get into the habit of simply reblogging other posts, but this is a good reminder to relax and not get locked into a viewpoint. I can do that sometimes, so recognizing when I’ve done it is important for corrections.

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