Oprah Winfrey: Media Mogul

14 April, 2015

Orpah Winfrey (not a mis-spelling) was born into poverty and hardship in 1954 and rose to become both a celebrity phenomenon and a business magnate. Along the way she made many astute decisions. One of the first was to change her name, recognising that if too many people mis-pronounced Orpah as Oprah, then she may as well go with the flow. Part of her skill has been an adept assessment of the direction of flow.

Oprah Winfrey

Short Biography

There is far more biographical detail available about Oprah Winfrey than most other of our management thinkers, so let’s stick to summarising a few of the facts most relevant to our theme, and leave the more vibrant details to other sources. Many of them have been revealed on her TV shows and in her books – others have emerged through unauthorised tabloid revelations.

Winfrey’s early years in rural Mississippi with her grandmother, urban Wisconsin with her mother, and Tennessee. She experienced much hardship and poverty, including serious abuse, teenage pregnancy, and bereavement.

It was while living with her father for a second time that she started to succeed at school, enter Tennessee State University and land a news job on the local radio station, WVOL in Nashville. This led to a news anchor role at the local TV station, WTVF-TV (then WLAC-TV). She was a television natural and had evident star quality. In 1976, she moved to Baltimore as a news co-anchor at WJZ-TV, which didn’t work out well for her, but the senior executive at the station suggested she co-host a chat show instead.

Although she was reluctant at first, and both she and the station considered it a risk, this was her defining moment: the audience loved her and the show’s ratings rose rapidly. In 1984, she took on a new role as host of WLS-TV’s prime morning talk show, AM Chicago, broadcast head-to-head with the top-rated talk-show, hosted by Phil Donahue. Within a month, it was Winfrey who rated number one.

In 1985, she co-starred in Steven Spielberg’s multi-Oscar-nominated movie, The Color Purple, winning an Oscar nomination herself as best supporting actress. The following year she launched her nationally syndicated show, The Oprah Winfrey Show. Her style of being open and honest with her emotions made her a national hit with many millions of viewers.

Two years later, her astute business sense became evident, as she bought the rights to her own show, set up a production company (Harpo – Oprah backwards), and build a $20m studio in Chicago. After Mary Pickford and Lucille Ball, Winfrey was the third woman to own a major US studio. Hwer business life continued and continues to be a huge success, making her a multi-billionaire.

What Business Lessons can we Learn from Oprah Winfrey?

It is easy to think of Winfrey as a media celebrity: her TV chat show is the foundation of her business empire and she has 22 credits as an actress. But she is producer on half as many again films and TV shows and she is owner of a huge portfolio of media assets including TV networks, production companies, and magazines.

I think there are three principal lessons that any business person or manager can learn from her:

  1. The value of sheer grit and determination. Yes, Oprah surely has talent, but to triumph over the hardships she faced, Winfrey needed hard work and persistence. Throughout her life, she struggled with setbacks, but has always pushed forward.
  2. Recognise your strongest assets, and take control of them. From her earliest exploitation of her talents as a speaker when she went to a local radio station to collect a prize for winning the Miss Black Tennessee beauty pageant, Winfrey has spotted her opportunities well and taken control. The best example is her decision to buy out the rights to her TV show and become its producer. This was a big risk and most hosts are content to stay just that: Winfrey was not. This is what made her a media mogul, rather than a media celebrity.
  3. When rivals start to challenge you, shift ground to differentiate yourself. In the early 1990s, the Oprah Winfrey Show was a huge success and therefore, inevitably, widely copied by other producers. Everyone was interviewing anyone with a tale of woe, and the more salacious the better. Amid this race to the tabloid bottom, Winfrey took a step upwards. She started to produce uplifting shows that she started to call ‘change your life TV’. Instead of wallowing in people’s misery, she offered audiences a choice of improvement… which they loved. In transforming her show, she charted her way to where she sits now as a celebrity: a champion for highbrow self-help (and, to be fair, some practitioners offering advice that is less than empirically validated).

In 2003, Michael Moore wrote that Oprah should run for US President. That would be a shift, and it would take grit too. Will she do it?

Hear Oprah Winfrey in her own words

For more about her career and her advice to listen to your instincts, here is an interview (c.65 min) she gave at Stanford’s Business School in 2014.

 


Bruce Tuckman: Group Development

7 April, 2015

Bruce Tuckman developed a model of group development which is among the most viewed management models on The Management Pocketblog. We cannot wait any longer: we must take a look at his life and work with a wider perspective.

Bruce Tuckman

 

Brief Biography

Bruce Tuckman was born and grew up in New York, gaining his bachelor’s degree in psychology from the Renesselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1960, and his MA and PhD from Princeton, in 1962 and 1963 respectively.

From Princeton, he joined the Naval Medical Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, as a research psychologist. Here, he joined a group of researchers that was researching the the behaviours of small groups, thinking about getting the best team working on small crewed naval vessels. His supervisor gave him a stack of fifty research papers, telling him to see what he could make of them. His analysis resulted in the developmental sequence that was to make him famous:

  1. Forming – orientation, relationship building
  2. Storming – conflict
  3. Norming – developing cohesion and behavioural norms
  4. Performing – team inter-dependence and collaboration

Tuckman subsequently acknowledged that it was the choice of rhyming names for the stages that he used in his published paper (1965) ‘which probably account for the paper’s popularity’. The terms are certainly memorable and evocative.

From 1965, when he moved to his first academic post, at Rutgers, Tuckman started to focus on Educational Pyschology. In 1978, he moved to City University of New York and then to Florida State University in 1983. In 1998, he moved to Ohio State University, as Professor of Educational Psychology, where he remained until his retirement.

Developmental Sequence in Small Groups

The group development model for which Tuckman is best-known has been well covered in the Mangement Pocketblog already; so much so that we took the unusual step of creating a portal blog to guide readers to the various articles, at: Bruce Tuckman’s Group Development Model. You can also read Tuckman’s original paper, Developmental Sequence in Small Groups.

In 1977, Tuckman was invited to review his original work and, with Mary Ann Jensen (at the time a Doctoral student at Rutgers, with Tuckman, and now a psychologist in private practice in Princeton, New Jersey), produced a review paper (Stages of Small-Group Development Revisited) that validated the original work, and added a fifth stage, Adjourning, ‘for which a perfect rhyme could not be found’ said Tuckman. Many practitioners (this author included) prefer to use the term ‘mourning’ – not because it rhymes, but because it reminds us of the emotional impact of separation and therefore of the role of the team leader in ensuring the team acknowledges the loss.

Procrastination

Tuckman’s work on procrastination looks excellent. I was going to look it up but…

As an educational psychologist, most of Tuckman’s work is of limited interest to a management audience. But one topic stood out for me: the bane of many managers’ lives… procrastination. We all do it.

In 1991, while Professor of Educational Psychology at Florida State Univesity, Tuckman published a self evaluation tool to measure tendency to procrastinate. This was a core part of his research into students’ self-motivation in studying. This became a a key plank in much later research which he applied very directly at Ohio State University, where he founded the University’s Dennis Learning Center. They still teach workshops and courses based on Tuckman’s research. All the research related to the learning centre listed on its website is Tuckman’s.

Here’s the research paper that caught my eye: at the American Psychological Association meeting in 2002, Tuckman presented a paper that showed how procrastinators get significantly poorer grades in class. What I wonder is this: is it reasonable to generalise that result to the workplace? I suspect it is.

The message would be clear: ‘just get on with it!’

 


 

For more on Tuckman’s model of group development…

… and for more on teams in general:

 


David Brent: Renaissance Manager

1 April, 2015

We apologise for the one day delay in the publication of this blog. Its subject, David Brent, is such a massive thought leader in the management arena, we wanted to be sure we had chacked our fects, spoted all tipographic errers, and sourced each quote with precision.

The Editor, 1/4/2015


In a few short years, one manager transformed the attitudes of a nation about what management can mean, and the true value of openness, inspirational leadership, and humility. That manager – the ‘manager’s manager’ if you will, is David Brent.

David Brent

Short Biography

Little is known about David Brent’s life story. Much of it has to be pieced together or fabricated from fragments of myth and legend, so great is this icon of management. He was born in 1961 in Slough, England, and attended school there, gaining ‘good’ O levels, and following it up with attendance at The University of Life.

What is known for sure is that his talents were spotted early and he was promoted through the ranks of Slough-based paper merchant Wernham Hogg, to become Regional Manager. In 2002, he left Wernham Hogg and moved back into sales for a short time, before launching a music career, fronting the band, Foregone Conclusion. When leaving Wernham Hogg, Brent was recorded as saying: ‘My world does not end within these four walls, Slough’s a big place. And when I’ve finished with Slough, there’s Reading, Aldershot, Bracknell, you know I’ve got to-Didcott, Yately.’

Emblematic of his management style, in an interview with speaker agency Cooper & Webb, Brent described his particular expertise as ‘motivation, leadership and having a laugh’. Brent is known to be resentful of the makers of a BBC documentary, The Office, which he feels showed him in a bad light.

Management Lessons from David Brent

Like some of the world’s greatest thinkers, such as Wittgenstein and the Buddha, Brent often spoke in short but profound aphorisms. Here are some of the most thought-provoking. Rather like Zen koans, some demand hours of meditation before true enlightenment of the depth of their meaning will strike you.

Therefore, just as the Zen that is spoken is not the Zen, I offer these meditations without comment. They don’t need it. Brent’s wisdom speaks for itself.

‘You just have to accept that some days you are the pigeon, and some days you are the statue.’

‘I don’t live by “The Rules” you know, and if there’s one person who has influenced me in that way of thinking, someone who is a maverick, someone who does ‘that’ to the system then it’s Ian Botham.’

‘Trust, encouragement, reward, loyalty… satisfaction. That’s what I’m… you know. Trust people and they’ll be true to you. Treat them greatly, and they will show themselves to be great.’

‘They’re malleable, and you know that’s what I like really, you know. I don’t like people who come here: ‘Ooh, we did it this way, we did it that way’. I just wanna go do it this way. If you like. If you don’t… Team playing-I call it team individuality, it’s a new, it’s like a management style. Again guilty, unorthodox, sue me.’

‘When people say to me: would you rather be thought of as a funny man or a great boss? My answer’s always the same, to me, they’re not mutually exclusive.’

‘The thing is though, no-one’s dispensable in my book, because we’re like one big organism, one big animal. The guys upstairs on the phones, they’re like the mouth. The guys down here, the hands.’

‘Does a struggling salesman start turning up on a bicycle? No, he turns up in a newer car – perception, yeah?’

 


Anita Roddick: Ethics Sells

24 March, 2015

Anita Roddick transformed cosmetics retailing in the UK with one simple idea: it was time for overtly ethical retailing. Her legacy was one of political, social, medical and environmental campaigning.

Anita Roddick

Short Biography

Anita Perilli was born and grew up on the South Coast of England in the Sussex town of Littlehampton.After college, she did many jobs, including spells with The International Herald Tribune and the United Nations. She also travelled the world, including a visit to South Africa, from where she was deported under the then Apartheid race laws. When she returned to Littlehampton, she married Gordon Roddick and they started a family. They also opened a small hotel and a restaurant. When her husband decided to embark on a travel adventure, Roddick used the hotel to fund her first cosmetics shop, which she opened in the fashionable town of Brighton, in 1976.

Her vision was to sell products with natural ingredients, ethically sourced, and simply packaged. Early on, she offered refillable bottles. She made no hyperbolic claims for her products, nor advertised. It turns out she didn’t need to. She quickly took a business partner, Ian McGlinn, to fund her second shop, in Chichester. By 1978, with her husband back in England, the Body Shop was growing so fast that they started franchising the business to create more shops across the UK, and then across Europe and globally. Many of her early franchisees were women, making many Body Shop stores unusual in a time when most retail shops were owned and run by men.

In 1984, Body Shop was publicly listed  and had around 1,800 shops world-wide. Roddick continued to run the business until 1998, when she stepped down to focus on writing and campaigning. Her books include:

In 2003, Roddick was made a Dame in the New Year’s Honours and then – a bombshell for many of the business’s supporters, Body Shop was sold to L’Oréal.

In 2007, Anita Roddick died of a brain tumour linked to Hepatitis C, which she contracted from a blood transfusion during one of her pregnancies.

What Managers can Learn from Anita Roddick

In reading about Roddick and her story, six lessons come to mind, for both entrepreneurs and managers launching new products, services or businesses within a larger organisation (intrapreneurs).

  1. Start small and simple
    Roddick started with the core of an idea. She had a minimal stock range (15 items, I have read) and the simplest of packaging. Focus on that core, and then…
  2. Make the simple idea a strength
    Roddick kept a lot of the pragmatic simplicity of the early days and made it a feature of the Body Shop’s offering.
  3. React nimbly to opportunities
    The Body Shop idea worked, so Roddick went with the flow and grew the business organically, but quickly.
  4. Be prepared to give up a lot to make it work
    Roddick sold half her business for £4,000 in 1977 (to Ian McGlinn). This is around £25,000 (or US$40,000) in today’s money. But if she had not done so, Body Shop could not have opened its second store – or certainly not for several years. Put simply: 50% of millions beats 100% of thousands!
  5. Stick to your ethics
    Roddick found a market for ethical products and stuck to it: not for her customers’ sakes, but because she believed in it. And that, in turn, is what delivered the customer faith in her brand.
  6. Ethics sells
    There will always be a market for ethically sourced, carefully made, environmentally sensitive and socially responsible products and services. If there is no competitor offering this in your market place, then there must surely be an opportunity.

Frederick Herzberg: KITA versus Enrichment

17 March, 2015

Frederick Herzberg was a clinical psychologist who saw a gap in the research on workplace psychology and filled it with his convictions about what gives people a sense of wellbeing. This places him amongst other great humanistic psychologists, from Maslow to McGregor. His work was widely influential and his keystone Harvard Business Review article, ‘One More Time: How do you motivate employees?’ remains one of the most widely read of that publication’s reprints.

Frederick Herzberg

Short Biography

Frederick Herzberg was born in Massachusetts in 1923 and grew up in New York, where he attended the City College of New York, initially studying history. Incidentally, Maslow also attended City College. Although he loved history, he found the way it was taught too impersonal and overly-focused on events, so he transferred to psychology. But before he completed his course, he enlisted in the US Army, where he served with distinction as an infantry sergeant. He was among the liberators of the Dachau concentration camp which must have affected him profoundly, not least because he was a Jew whose family had come to the US as emigrants from Lithuania.

After the war, he returned to New York to complete his degree and went on to earn a masters degree and a PhD at the University of Pittsburg. In the mid-1950s, Herzberg worked at the US Public Health Service where he started to become interested in workplace psychology. After surveying all of the existing literature and finding it wanting, he conducted his own research, interviewing over 200 engineers. This work led, in 1959, to his first book, with Bernard Mausner and Barbara B. Snyderman, Motivation to Work. He followed this with his 1966 book, Work and the Nature of Man, in which he extends the same ideas in a more philosophical direction, adopting the metaphor of the characters Adam and Abraham from the Bible.

Herzberg’s earlier academic work was done at Case Western Reserve University, from where he moved to the University of Utah in 1972. He remained there up to his retirement. He died in January 2000.

Herzberg’s Contribution

Our earlier post, What Motivates your Team Members?, summarises Herzberg’s Hygeine and Motivation theory. He discovered that the things that leave us dissatisfied at work are different from those which satisfy us. Fixing the dissatisfiers (or ‘hygiene factors’) will only stop us being grumpy. Other things motivate us positively and Herzberg argued that employers should stop trying to use the granting and withholding of hygiene factors (which he colourfully described in his HBR article as giving employees a Kick in the Ass – KITA) and start working on the positive, aspirational motivators that enrich our lives. He was an early advocate of engaging employees and bringing the best out of them.

Indeed, Herzberg catalogued what he saw as essential in bringing out creativity and innovation from your team:

  1. intelligence
  2. expertise
  3. an unconventional viewpoint
  4. effectiveness in ambiguity
  5. self awareness
  6. separating motivation from hygiene factors
  7. controlling anxiety
  8. suppressing over-concern for advancement
  9. accessing intuition
  10. passion

Ultimately, Herzberg had an individualistic view of workplace success, ascribing more significance to personal talents and attitudes than to team efforts. He drew a balance between the attitudes and talents that eschewed simplistic egalitarianism, in favour of offering primacy to individuals with more relevant knowledge and expertise. But he also wanted to create a balance between a focus on data and fact on the one hand, with passion and experience on the other.

He taught us, as much or more than anyone else, that the simple approach of carrot and stick brings little more than ‘okay’ performance out of people. It is virtuous behaviours that enrich a workplace, which create great results.


Edward de Bono: Thinking

10 March, 2015

I have already declared my interest as a fan of Edward de Bono in the 2012 blog: The Fertile Mind of Edward de Bono, which I followed up with Six times Four: More de Bono. Now it is time for a slightly wider survey of the work of the man who introduced the term ‘lateral thinking’ and who has been trying to teach business people, governments, student and their teachers to think for nearly half a century.

Edward de Bono

Short Biography

Edward de Bono was born in Malta in 1933, the second of four sons of a doctor father and journalist mother, and was an exceptionally bright pupil at his Malta boarding school. He was three years younger than his class-mates when he got his degree in medicine from Malta University and went off to study psychology and physiology at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, where he also earned a DPhil in medicine. This was followed by slew of further degrees and academic appointments, that leave him, technically, Dr Dr Dr Dr (Dr) de Bono. I may have mis-counted and I have bracketed his first qualification as a medical doctor, as that was not an academic doctorate. I think we can conclude that Edward de Bono is both intelligent and academically motivated.

In 1967, he published the first of his popular books on thinking, the now out of print The Use of Lateral Thinking. This book introduced the world to his idea of ‘lateral thinking’ – a term that de Bono coined. His books now number around 60, of which the current most popular are:

De Bono has also created online thinking skills programmes and the CoRT (Cognitive Research Trust) programme for teaching thinking to school-age children.

De Bono’s Contribution to Managers and Business Professionals

I think this is where de Bono has clearly been at his best and least controversial. Many of his techniques and training programmes have provided business people, public service managers and other professionals with practical and helpful tools to enhance their critical thinking and creative thinking skills. Like any creative powerhouse, de Bono has produced easily as many ideas that have not gained widespread use as he has lasting ideas. But we should judge him on the latter.

Lateral Thinking

This term is now so widely used that de Bono’s original meaning has been largely subsumed into the wider context of ‘creative thinking’. By ‘Lateral Thinking’, I believe de Bono originally meant perceiving the world in different ways, so that your thinking about a problem can pursue lateral branches, rather than following the main route that is obvious to it. It therefore means looking for new starting points for addressing a problem – an implicit assumption that existing patterns of thought rarely solve new problems effectively.

Provocation

A central theme of a lot of de Bono’s books on creative thinking is the idea that provocative assertions stimulate lateral jumps in our thinking. De Bono crystallised this idea in his (now out of print) book Po: Beyond Yes and No. By analysing the provocation (or ‘Po’), we can reach new and possibly fruitful insights.

PMI Analysis

Another key theme of de Bono’s work, including Po, is that the dichotomies of yes versus no, or right versus wrong, or good versus bad, lead us into linear thinking that is poor at identifying new ideas or thinking in a rich and subtle way. Arguably de Bono’s single most powerful tool is PMI analysis, which can get you over that problem.

It takes its inspiration from Kurt Lewin’s force field analysis approach (which, incidentally, leads directly to SWOT Analysis). But instead of looking at the driving and restraining forces, or the strengths and weakness alone, PMI analysis asks us to look at the Pluses, the Minuses and the things that are Interesting about a situation, option or challenge. This third dimension opens your mind to the subtleties and to new ideas.

Six Thinking Hats

We covered this idea more fully in an earlier blog, but the essence of the concept is simple: that there are different ways to think and that we will solve problems more effectively and make more robust decisions, when we apply multiple modes of thinking, rather than a single, favourite style. The six thinking hats represent six modes: analytical, risk-averse, constructive, imaginative, emotional, and procedural thinking (white, black, yellow, green, red and blue hats respectively).

Controversies

De Bono’s work is not without its critics – even his ‘mainstream’ contributions. Many cognitive scientists have critiqued the lack of evidence base for the efficacy of his methods and programmes – which matters deeply where the teaching of children is concerned, as for his CoRt programme. However, I am not qualified to assess these arguments. It does seem to me that there is a dichotomy here between the theoretical/academic assessment and the practical/utilitarian usage. His ideas as an addition to other training and teaching make a useful contribution to thinking skills for many people. There is plenty of testimony to support that assertion, even if the rigorous evidence base is lacking.

So, as with so much else in the world of management ideas, the proof is in the practical application: take de Bono’s ideas out for a test drive, and decide whether they are for you. If they help you: use them. If they do not: consign them to the bookshelf, and take them to the charity shop, next time you are passing. Maybe, if you donate one of de Bono’s books that I don’t own, I may well buy it!

 

 


Rita Gunther McGrath: Transient Advantage

3 March, 2015

The commercial world is unpredictable, with societies shifting, technology evolving and competitors bringing new products and services to market rapidly. The old world of a long-term competitive advantage is pretty much over. Now we see short periods of a new product securing a competitive advantage, before it is supplanted by the next.This is the thesis of Rita Gunther McGrath, a Columbia Business School professor, who has also been developing tools and methodologies for planning and strategising in this shifting landscape.

Rita Gunther McGrath

(Very) Short Biography

Rita Gunther McGrath was born in 1959 and grew up in New Haven, Connecticut. She earned a BA in Political Science and History at Barnard College in 1981 and a Masters in Public Administration from Columbia University in 1982. She then spent eight years in senior roles at The City of New York, before entering a PhD programme at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania. Here she collaborated extensively with Ian MacMillan, with whom she co-wrote three books.

  1. The Entrepreneurial Mindset: Strategies for Continuously Creating Opportunity in an Age of Uncertainty (2000)
  2. Marketbusters: 40 Strategic Moves That Drive Exceptional Business Growth (2005)
  3. Discovery-Driven Growth: A Breakthrough Process to Reduce Risk and Seize Opportunity (2009)

Completing her PhD in 1993, she joined the faculty of Columbia University Business School, but continued her collaboration with MacMillan.

Discovery-Driven Planning

McGrath came to the business world’s attention with a Harvard Business Review article (co-written with MacMillan) that has become one of the magazine’s best-selling reprints. In ‘Discovery-Driven Planning’ the authors note the obvious: that strategic ventures are risky. For a business to launch a substantively new product or service, it must set off into the unknown. Unlike other, less uncertain endeavours, therefore, it is not possible to define a full plan, because the web of assumptions on which you need to base that plan would be too tenuous.

Instead, the authors suggest a process by which the plan evolves as new evidence and data are uncovered and assumptions can be tested and either validated or replaced. This is ‘discovery-driven planning’. To manage risk, resources are allocated incrementally, at milestones where further certainty is locked in.

The methodology the authors spell out includes five ‘disciplines’ and four inter-connected tools, or documents.

The Five Disciplines

  1. Specify the outcome for the initiative, and specify what your business will look like, at maturity
  2. Scope the market and identify benchmark parameters against which you can measure your success
  3. Specify what your initiative will deliver to the organisation
  4. Document your assumptions and constantly test them
  5. Create milestones for when you are going to crystallise what you have learned to date in revised assumptions and plans, and then release resources for the next period

The Four Tools

  1. Reverse income statement
    This models the  economics of the business
  2. Pro forma operations specifications
    These set out what operational processes you will needed to run the business
  3. Key assumptions checklist,
    Use this to ensure that your assumptions transparent and constantly under review
  4. Milestone planning chart
    This specifies the assumptions to be tested at each project milestone.

As your venture unfolds and you uncover new data, update each of the documents.

Competitive Advantage under Uncertainty

McGrath’s latest book – and her first written on her own – is End of Competitive Advantage: How to Keep Your Strategy Moving as Fast as Your Business (2013). In this book, she demonstrates the nature of contemporary competitive advantage as a transient state. But the source of that competitive advantage came out clearly from her research. In surveying 4,793 publicly traded companies (every company with a market capitalization of at least $1 billion), she looked for those that had grown their net income by 5% or more in every year from 2000 to 2009. There were only ten.

When she compared each of these ten to their top three competitors, she found a clear differentiator. They were ‘pursuing strategies with a long term perspective on where they wanted to go, but also with the recognition that whatever they were doing today wasn’t going to drive their future growth’. They were not following any sustainable competitive advantages; but rather, temporary ones.

McGrath advocates a simple cycle of:

  • Innovation
  • Develop the innovative product or service to maximise its commercial potential
  • Exploit your transient advantage
  • Disengage resources from that old strategy and reinvest them in the next

McGrath at Campus London

Campus London is a Google event for UK Entrepreneurs. Here is McGrath speaking about The End of Competitive Advantage in 2013.


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