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March 2022 Menlo Bits


Edison, Soup, Salt & Friends

In the last issue of The Menlo Bits, we shared a fun story of how Thomas Edison used a simple approach to make a decision about potential new hires. He'd take them out to lunch, order a rare and delicious soup for them and watch what happened next... if they salted their soup before tasting, no offer of employment would be made with the theory being, they weren't using actual data before making decisions (in this case, was the soup actually in need of salt?).

Turns out, as popular as the story is on the internet, there is no basis in fact that this ever actually happened. It may simply be urban legend.

One of Menlo's great friends is Dr. Paul Israel, who leads The Edison Papers project at Rutgers University. Paul is one of the leading experts on Edison in the world and is a regular reader of the Menlo Bits, and he had this to say:


I hope you are doing well.  I got my email copy of Menlo Bits today and read the article Thomas Edison's Weird Job Interview Trick Is Actually Backed by Modern Science which linked to https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/hiring-job-interviews-thomas-edison.html. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the story about Thomas Edison making job applicants eat soup in front of him is true. The earliest and only published source for the story appears to be the 1974 book Actor, The Life and Times of Paul Muni by Jerome Lawrence, who claims that Muni told the following story (which he paraphrases rather quotes): "Edison would invite the job candidate to dinner and serve a rare and delicious soup. If the guest poured salt in the soup before he tasted it Edison would not hire him." Muni was born in 1895 and his early acting career was in the Yiddish theater.  He began acting in English on Broadway in 1926 and became a film actor in 1929.  it is highly unlikely he would have met Edison in a context where Edison would have been hiring him or someone else.  Perhaps this is a story Muni heard from someone else but there is no other published source for this story although it later appeared in other books beginning in the 1990s without any attribution. Unfortunately, it has now spread far too widely via the internet.

Best wishes,


It is wonderful to have friends like Paul who appreciate what we are doing at Menlo Innovations and care enough to point out when we are making mistakes.

Thank you Paul for your lasting friendship, encouragement, wisdom and knowledge!


How to Control Your Emotions During a Difficult Conversation
Interrupt your "fight or flight" response

Author Amy Gallo describes the different emotions we feel during difficult conversations, and how our natural 'fight or flight" response can inhibit the part of the brain responsible for rational thinking. She details 5 tactics to interrupt this physical response, manage your emotions, and clear the way for a productive discussion.

  • Breathe
  • Focus on your body
  • Try saying a mantra
  • Acknowledge and label your feelings
  • Take a break
Amy also has a TEDx talk on conflict, detailing how to see the conflict from the other person's perspective and imagine the most generous interpretation of their behavior. When in the middle of conflict, try not to take it personally, rather, look at exactly what is in disagreement and focus on that. 

Read the full article here!


Resuming Soon: In-Person Tours / Workshops
We'd love to meet your team!

Looking to bring your team in for a tour or workshop? Reach out to us at experience@menloinnovations.com to start the conversation! You can see our full list of offerings here.


Press 3 for a pep talk from kindergartners
A new hotline gives you options for joy

In light of recent events, who couldn't use a little joy from some of the most positive people on the planet? A new hotline aims to do just that with encouraging words from kindergarteners. Peptoc, as the free hotline is called, is a project from the students of West Side Elementary, a small school in the town of Healdsburg, California

Callers are met with a menu of options: 
If you're feeling mad, frustrated or nervous, press 1.
If you need words of encouragement and life advice, press 2.
If you need a pep talk from kindergartners, press 3.
If you need to hear kids laughing with delight, press 4.
For encouragement in Spanish, press 5.

So the next time you need a little boost, dial Peptoc at 707-998-8410! Read the full article here.


SQUACK to Improve Feedback: The deceptively simple formula for hearing and giving actionable, motivational, and understandable feedback

Author: Julie Jensen

Recommended by: Michelle Pomorski, Project Manager, High-Tech Anthropologist ®

Giving and receiving feedback, in any context, can be difficult.  Not only can it be a challenge to clearly communicate the feedback, but it can be equally difficult to accept the feedback and then know what to do with it. Especially when feedback is expressed as a feeling or emotion lacking any clear actionable step. I remember early in my career UX leaving the Show and Tell meeting (Menlo’s weekly check in with our client) feeling rather depleted after having shared a design concept and feeling inundated with feedback from a variety of sources. “Here’s the thing,” my colleague and mentor shared, “everyone has an opinion about design. That’s the power of it because it gives everyone a shared visual to discuss.” Over the years, I have validated (and appreciated) the accuracy in that statement. That being said, while all feedback should be heard and considered, it is not appropriate to act on all of it.
The SQUACK method (Suggestion, Question, User Signal, Accident, Critical, Kudos) can provide a framework for both giving and receiving feedback effectively. What intrigued me the most about this method is that it requires accountability on both ends of giving and receiving feedback. It requires those providing the feedback to essentially filter their thoughts through the framework, making it less likely the feedback is only coming from a place of feelings or emotions and more likely that what is being delivered is actionable. For those receiving the feedback, it acts as a prioritization tool helping to discern which points should be addressed and in what order of importance.
I found this to be a quick read and while it did primarily focus on using this method for UX design, there were some examples included of how the method could be used in other scenarios, such as requesting a clinician focus on highlighting the difference between “Criticals” and “Suggestions” for change when receiving an overwhelming health diagnosis or using the framework to communicate more effectively with a spouse during a home remodeling project.
As Menlo is in the process of continuing to refine our process for providing team member feedback, I was inspired at the thought of utilizing aspects of the SQUACK method as an inspiration to help develop a feedback process less focused on feelings and opinions and more clearly framed as actionable thoughts. Perhaps my favorite idea out of the framework is intentionally including the “Kudos” as providing positive reinforcement is equally important to opportunities for improvement.

Get a copy for yourself here!

Team Member 1x1's With Rich & James

Most experiments at Menlo start out trying to solve a specific problem. One of the challenges we've experienced with our mostly remote workforce over the last two years is that there have been only small opportunities for casual conversations between the founders (James and Rich) and individual team members. During our first 18 and a half years, these kinds of conversations were easy to have in our open workspace just by the normal bumping into one another during the course of a day. With mostly remote work, however, these serendipitous conversations were almost non-existent.

This experiment is to schedule Rich & James to have lunch with team members one by one. There are usually one to two of these per week, and the experiment has started with the newest team members, many of whom have yet to meet Rich or James in person. These are agenda-free conversations and often involve asking questions about life stories and anything else they wish to talk about. There have been some great ideas that have come out of these casual chats. More importantly, we have been able to start the process of really getting to know one another.

Some of the ideas that came out of these conversations:

- Mario suggested we start paying parking for all employees to make it easier for those experimenting with returning to the office. We started that new policy on January 1st.

- Antonio wanted to know if we were making any marketing swag available to new employees. Hailey designed and ordered new shirts for all team members.

- Jenny thought it would be appropriate to level the playing field between those attending standup remotely and those in the office, to balance who gets to go first. Now we regularly change our standup to have either the office team members or the remote team members start standup.

- Joe thought there were some good team building opportunities for our developers to discuss different architecture strategies for current client projects. Joe will be helping us lead that effort.

We're looking forward to continuing these conversations and hearing the ideas that come out of them!



Menlo Bits

The Menlo Bits is Menlo's monthly newsletter, filled with all the latest in science and technology trends as well as what's been happening at Menlo.