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Archive for June 11th, 2015

Getting People to Believe in Something They Can’t Yet Imagine

October 10, 2014

What would you do if you had a working prototype of a revolutionary tablet computer that was receiving rave reviews well before Apple came out with its iPad?

Cancel further funding for the project in favor of developing an updated version of an existing company product?

In hindsight that seems crazy, but it’s exactly what Microsoft did with its prototype “Courier” tablet.

Similar fates often befall innovations within large companies.

It is not enough to come up with next great idea. To turn that idea into a reality you have to influence people and gain their support.

You must do that in the face of vast forces arrayed against innovation within an established organization, which include inertia, resistance to change, fear of failure, financial disincentives, and the tendency of people and organizations to favor what has worked in the past.

Then there’s what might be the biggest hurdle of all, people’s inability to envision something that is truly different.

Gaining support for an idea for which people have no point of reference is a huge challenge for innovators.

It is hard to win over someone who cannot see what you see. Traditional influencing theory — as expounded, for example, by Robert Cialdini in Influence: The Psychology of Persuasionoffers “invoking authority” as a way to persuade others to support things that are new to them.

If you are a recognized expert in the field, your audience may trust that you know what you are talking about even if they don’t exactly understand it themselves.

Often, however, truly groundbreaking innovation comes from people that do not yet have a track record of success. What then?

We have been conducting a series of interviews with individuals who have successfully championed innovation in large organizations and traditional settings, overcoming resistance and inertia within those organizations, in order to identify the commonalities in their efforts.

Our research suggests that these influencing approaches offer innovators a possibility of success:


Incremental improvement which can be readily understood is not considered nearly as threatening as groundbreaking innovation.

So in some cases the best course of action is to present what you’re doing as simply building on current practice, keeping the truly innovative aspects hidden under the radar until it is so far along, and showing sufficient promise, as to make it impossible to shut down.

George Petsching, who led the incubation of the Courier tablet at Microsoft, told us that he attributes its demise to the research team’s product plans being “leaked” to the media. That gave the project a much higher profile, leading many at Microsoft to try to become part of it — which may have played into then CEO Steve Ballmer’s decision to abandon the project in favor of devoting resources to improving existing product lines. It hadn’t stayed under the radar.

When Instinet launched the first electronic trading system for automated buying and selling of securities in 1983 it introduced the system to brokers and exchanges as an incremental improvement rather than as the transformative innovation that it turned out to be, former Executive Vice President David Manns told us.

Manns described the approach as “getting to breakthrough innovation indirectly by letting the end users get comfortable incrementally until you have achieved a critical mass that cannot be reversed.”


It is difficult for people who have never experienced the benefits of a particular innovation to recognize its value.

That is why a demonstration can have a far greater impact in terms of gaining support than data or studies showing why the innovation makes sense.

Gary Starkweather, the inventor of the Xerox 9700, the high-speed laser printer that revolutionized the printing industry, initially had to work on it his spare time behind a black curtain because his superiors thought it was a silly idea.

After he threatened to leave for IBM, Starkweather was transferred to Xerox’s newly opened Palo Alto Research Center, where he did get the resources to build a prototype. But Xerox management remained skeptical — it was only after Starkweather was able to demonstrate the superiority of his prototype in a competition pitting it against incremental product innovations that management thought were more promising that he began to break through the resistance.


Another of the major methods of persuasion outlined by Robert Cialdini is the “principle of consistency.”

That is, once we have taken an action, we experience personal and social pressure to behave consistently with it. Those pressures will cause us to respond in ways that justify our earlier decision. This principle can be applied to gain support for an innovative idea.

When additional support or resources are needed to develop your innovation, and simply keeping your work under the radar will not suffice,  proposing an innovation as research or as a pilot project that does not require a major commitment can garner support. Once managers have committed to the research or pilot project, it becomes difficult for them not to support the implementation that naturally follows from its success.

For example, after demonstrating that his high-speed laser printer prototype outperformed the alternatives, Starkweather still faced internal resistance in bringing it to market.

He and his boss came up with the idea of grafting lasers onto older, excess inventory printers, turning them into working laser printers at minimal cost, and offering them for free to several good customers to test. The response to these first laser printers was overwhelmingly positive, spawning a multi-billion dollar business for Xerox.


When an industry is changing rapidly, it opens the door to obtaining support for an innovative idea that, in a more stable business environment, management might not consider. Particularly when coupled with one of the above techniques, such as under the radar or the pilot project, it can be effective to argue that since change is inevitable the organization ought to get ahead of it.

The choice then becomes either support the proposal now and exert control over how the business evolves, or be forced to accept changes later on others’ terms.

Colin Foster described to us how, in 2008, when he was the head of online and internal communications at drug-maker Novartis, he was able to overcome strong resistance to employing social media to engage customers.

The company’s lawyers and its top management, to the extent they understood social media, opposed its use because of their inability to control the content. So Foster arranged a meeting with the company’s president, bringing along an expert from IBM to explain social media.

At the start of the meeting Foster opened his computer and typed “Novartis” into a Twitter search, stating “We’ll get back to this later.”

About an hour later, as the meeting was ending, Foster turned back to his computer. Over 600 tweets mentioning Novartis had been generated, all without any participation from the company. The president seemed to suddenly recognize that the company was going to be the subject of social media conversation regardless of what it did, and directed Foster to form a high-level team to examine how the company should use social media.

The more successful an organization, the more likely it will continue to do what has made it successful in the past and resist breakthrough innovations.

Leaders can, and often do, try to make corporate cultures more receptive to innovation.

However, providing innovators with the influencing tools needed to gain support for their ideas within the prevailing corporate culture, whatever that culture may be, will likely have a greater impact.

Lee E. Miller and Kathleen Hays Onieal

Lee E. Miller is the Managing Director of Advanced Human Resources LLC and an adjunct professor at Columbia University and the Seton Hall University School of Management.

Patsy Z  shared this link

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Four ways to push an idea through resistance.

Is the Middle East Falling Apart to a point of no return?

Warning:  All points that the US/Israel/England strategy in the Middle-East is mainly focused on dismembering Syria, the most strategic State in the Middle-East facing Israel expansionist policies.

If the strategy of weakening the current Syrian State institutions materializes,  then Jordan will fall, the Palestinians will start their 5th Intifada, all the Israeli colonies bordering Jordan will be reoccupied by Palestinians living in Jordan, Saudi monarchy will disappear, Egypt will face a long period of instability and Europe will brace itself for a long period of terror and instability.

Philip Gordon,  senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC, published:

As news out of the Middle East goes from bad to worse—the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, Libya’s disintegration, the fall of Ramadi to ISIL, take your pick—the inevitable American tendency, especially in the political season, is to attribute all these developments to U.S. policy choices.

Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in May the United States has “no Middle East Strategy at all,”

The Washington Post editorial page explains the fall of Ramadi not as the result of an Iraqi dynamic but as a consequence of U.S. strategy and Republican candidates are of course tripping over each other to attribute the region’s unraveling to the “weakness” and lack of resolve of the Obama administration.

Negative outcomes certainly require critical examination of policy choices, and no one in their right mind would suggest the outcomes in the Middle East today are anything but negative.

What most of the current critiques have in common are an assumption that U.S. policy is the most relevant variable in explaining what is going on—it’s not—and an utter failure to present an alternative approach that would work.

The harsh reality is that the Middle East today is going through a period of tectonic and destructive change.

If I took away anything from two years as the White House’s coordinator for Middle East policy, it’s that U.S. policy is not the main source of this change and the U.S. has no good options for dealing with it.

Some of the proposed remedies for the region’s woes, such as U.S. military intervention in an effort to “transform” or “remake” the region or simply to impress our foes, would likely make things worse.

This should be clear from the U.S. effort to do so in Iraq just over a decade ago. The lessons of that war seem to have been bizarrely forgotten by many today (though almost all the Republican presidential candidates seem to want to disown the results of the Iraq war while embracing the policy approach that produced it).

Whereas in other fields of human endeavor—take medicine, for example—we seem to accept that there are certain problems and challenges that we did not create and cannot entirely resolve (and that trying to do so sometimes makes things worse), the U.S. policy debate about the Middle East suffers from the fallacy that there is an external, American solution to every problem—even when decades of experience, including recent experience, suggest that this is not the case.

Accepting that the United States is not to blame for, and cannot resolve, every problem in the Middle East is not a prescription for inaction or resignation.

The United States remains the world’s most important power and has unique capabilities that give it an unmatched ability and responsibility to play a key role in a region where critical US interests are at stake.

Unfortunately, we cannot master the historical forces that probably mean the region will be plagued by instability for years or even decades to come.

But we can and should manage this instability as best we can and protect our core interests, which include defending our allies, preventing regional war, keeping sea lanes open, avoiding nuclear proliferation and preventing a terrorist safe haven from which the United States or its allies could be attacked.

Such an approach might not sound like a path to presidential glory and it does not make for much of a campaign bumper sticker.

But it’s both the least and the most we can do. We should know by now that trying to do much more would likely come at great human and financial cost, produce unintended consequences and fail to work.

The Great Unravelling

What explains the historic disorder we’re seeing in the Middle East today?

Four interrelated trends are most relevant.

What we should understand is that the United States is not primarily responsible for any of them and can do little to reverse their course.

The collapse of state authority and erosion of borders.

For nearly 100 years, the modern Middle East has been organized around a state system put in place by the Western powers after the Ottoman Empire collapsed. The borders of new states like Iraq, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon made little sense, but they were internationally recognized, and—for all the new states’ internal tensions—for many decades they remained intact.

These states were relatively stable; they had agreed upon territories (save for some border disputes), flags, anthems, and authoritarian leaders, some of whom (Mubarak, Assad, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Ben Ali, Saleh, etc.) stayed around for a very long time.

That post-Ottoman order is now falling apart—largely due to the consequences of the Arab Spring, when Arab publics finally rose up in protest against this artificial division.

The United States embraced the Arab Spring, but it certainly did not create it, and it had little to do with the democratic trends, rise in political awareness or frustration with the failed governance that led to the revolt.

In that sense I always found it strange when some critics complained about our “throwing Mubarak under the bus,” as if the United States just one day decided to change Egypt’s leadership, or could have prevented it when the Egyptian public decided to do so.

In any case, the result of this revolution has not been the increased freedoms many hoped to see but rather the collapse of state authority and the unraveling of national borders. The state called “Syria” no longer corresponds to its official borders and likely never will again.

A real map of Syria today—like the ones produced on a regular basis for policymakers—would show something more like “Assadistan,” “ISISstan,” “Nusrahstan,” “Kurdistan,” etc., but not a political entity called “Syria.”

The state of Iraq has also essentially broken apart, and Baghdad has little sway in the Kurdish region or in the Sunni-majority Anbar or Ninewa provinces.

The state structures of Libya and Yemen no longer exist and may not ever be put back together again.

This particular trend is captured well in an only slightly exaggerated recent headline in The Onion: “Everyone in Middle East Given Own Country in 317,000,000-state solution.” We’re not there yet. But as much as we can and should try to avoid it, it’s now more likely that other states will collapse than it is that the now-broken states will be put back together again.

The Sunni-Shia split.

The Sunni-Shia split is hardly a new trend—it’s been going on since the 7th century, when the Prophet Mohammad’s followers failed to agree on his rightful successor. Nor it is necessarily worse than ever—the tensions today still fall short of periods like the late 18th century, when Wahhabi tribes from the Arabian Peninsula were sacking Shia cities like Kerbala and Najaf in today’s Iraq.

But there is no question that this historic phenomenon that has risen and fallen in intensity over the years has entered a new and particularly dangerous phase. The latest escalation started with the 1979 revolution in Iran and the subsequent Iran-Iraq war, but it was given its real near-term emphasis by the 2003 Iraq war, which put the majority Shia back in charge in Baghdad and thus tipped the sectarian balance in the region.

(Ironically, this was one of the few major trends we did have a major role in producing.) By doing so, it both spurred and allowed the development of extremist ­Sunni groups like al-Qaeda in Iraq and its successor ISIL, whose attacks on Shia only reinforce this literally vicious circle.

The Arab Spring in 2011, and the collapse in state authority it produced, further exacerbated sectarianism: As insecurity rose in the post-authoritarian chaos, people have gravitated to their kin—producing the horrible sectarian violence we now see in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The growing Sunni-Shia divide—and the growing Sunni fear of Shia Iran—is summed up by the narrative heard by any traveler to parts of the Sunni world that Iran and the Shia now control “four Arab capitals”—Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut and Sana’a—and are looking to control more.

The narrative is exaggerated (The Sunnis have not called the shots in Damascus and Beirut for a long time) but reflects a genuine fear of Iranian (Shia) hegemony, that the Sunnis are determined to resist—as we see in the Sunni coalitions now at war directly or indirectly in Syria, Iraq and Yemen.

The Saudi-led intervention in Yemen—supported (rhetorically) by all the Sunni states in the region—is best seen not as a plan to bring peace to Yemen but simply to put down a marker to Iran. The Sunni world will not tolerate further Shia encroachment in the region.

The Sunni-Sunni Split.

Most of the focus in the region has understandably been on the real divide between Sunni and Shia, but the Sunni-Sunni split may be just as important.

Al Qaeda, after all, and now ISIL, are Sunni groups who target the Sunni regimes they believe are beholden to the West and not true to Islam.

The Sunni regimes are thus fighting back, including by bombing ISIL in Syria and Libya.

In Sunni countries that do not have large Shia populations, such as Egypt and Jordan, it’s not the “Shia threat” but the Sunni-Sunni split that has leaders and populations worried.

An even more significant Sunni-Sunni split is a growing ideological battle between the region’s Sunni regimes and the Sunni version of political Islam.

The al-Sisi regime in Egypt, for example, backed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, views the (Sunni) Muslim Brotherhood as a mortal enemy—one it is determined to crush at all costs.

Other Sunni states, however—Turkey and Qatar—are sympathetic to the Brotherhood, and thus entirely at odds with their Sunni brethren in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. They opposed Sisi’s takeover in Egypt (a takeover Turkey still refuses to recognize) and support rival Islamist groups in Libya and Tunisia that the Saudis and Emiratis see as adversaries.

The resulting sets of alliances across the region is thus hugely complicated, but if you’re following this at home: In places divided among Sunni and Shia (like Syria, Iraq or Yemen) the Sunni states (including Turkey and Qatar) all line up in a coalition against the Shia.

But where there are no or few Shia, like in Egypt or Libya, the Sunni harmony breaks down, and the Sunnis are deeply divided amongst themselves.

Because of this, Qatar and Turkey are fighting a sort of cold war with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the UAE.

In March 2014, those three Gulf countries withdrew their ambassadors from Doha to protest what they considered to be Qatar’s support for threatening Islamist movements, including through Doha’s hosting of the Al Jazeera broadcast network and its support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

The ambassadors have since returned, but deep tensions remain, as do the violent proxy conflicts in Libya and Egypt. Such conflicts are hard enough to manage when there is unity among outside powers or at most an external sectarian divide—they become almost impossible when the Sunni states themselves are divided.

The Collapsing Prospects for Middle East Peace. (It was meant to be collapsing at any cost?)

A fourth trend, different from the others, deserves to be mentioned in any assessment of the current or future Middle East disorder: the fading prospect of peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

For two decades, the goal of both the United States and the parties was a negotiated solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict based on the 1993 Oslo accords. The parties were within reach of an agreement in 2000, close again in 2008, and Secretary of State John Kerry made Herculean efforts last year to try again, but he was unable to close big gaps on all the key issues.

The prospect of a negotiated solution now seems exceedingly remote.

There are now over 350,000 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank and they are dispersed in such a way as to make a contiguous Palestinian state virtually impossible—even setting aside the even more complicated question of East Jerusalem, where Israelis continue to build. Israel has just elected the most right-wing government in its history, made up of parties committed to further settlement growth and in several cases opposed to the very concept of a two-state solution.

Even putting aside the pre-election controversy of his remarks appearing to rule out a two-state solution, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear he does not believe there is a chance to negotiate one anytime soon.

On the other side, President Mahmoud Abbas has largely given up on the prospect of a negotiated peace. With his legitimacy in question—for failing to deliver peace, halt Israeli settlement growth or hold a long overdue election—he would be unable to impose an agreement on his people even if he could negotiate one (which he knows he can’t).

Eighty-years-old and with little to lose, Abbas has already begun to pursue international recognition—through membership in the United Nations General Assembly, the International Criminal Court, and other international bodies—as an alternative to pursuing peace negotiations with Israel. And this is to say nothing about Gaza, where last summer’s brutal war—which killed over 2,000 Palestinians and saw indiscriminate rocket and tunnel attacks against Israeli cities—foreshadowed what could still be to come.

The collapse of the Palestinian Authority and a full reoccupation of the West Bank—which is where things seem to be headed—would not only threaten Israel’s future but fuel Arab extremism and further destabilize a region already in free fall.

What the USA Can Do and What We Cannot

A large number of Americans look at these trends and want to give up.

They conclude the region is just too complicated and too dysfunctional, and we should just get out. These feelings came home to me most clearly in the summer of 2013, when the Obama administration proposed using force to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons.

For all the talk of the need for bold action or leadership in Congress and among other critics, the overwhelming public—and Congressional—response was an absolute refusal to support even limited strikes. The arguments we heard—and the percentages of people opposed to intervention, as indicated by public polling and reported calls to Congressional offices—were reminiscent of the isolationism of the 1930s.

The mindset was that we tried intervention before, the region is not worth it and we should just stay out.

While the public mood has since shifted somewhat in response to concerns about the threat from ISIL, there is still a strong feeling that any involvement in the Middle East is too much. I understand this view, but it goes too far.

Other Americans take the opposite approach—increasingly so as memories of the 2003 Iraq war recede and the perceived threat from ISIL rises.

These increasingly vocal critics argue that U.S. restraint is part of the problem and call for a more interventionist approach that would include more troops in Iraq, air strikes or even ground forces against Assad in Syria, and potentially the use of force to destroy the Iranian nuclear program.

Just listen to the next forum for Republican presidential candidates—let alone even more hawkish voices like Senators John McCain, Lindsey Graham or the neoconservatives who supported the war in Iraq—and you’ll hear a vigorous appeal for a more “muscular” and interventionist approach.

Given the stakes, the desire to “do something” is understandable but this approach is potentially even more dangerous than walking away.

Only recently, we saw that U.S. interventions in the region (Iraq) can be enormously costly ($1 trillion, 5,000 U.S. lives, half-a-million Iraqi lives and the United States’ global reputation) and only bring unintended consequences—like the exacerbation of the Sunni-Shia divide and the creation of ISIL.

Using force to get rid of Assad is a noble goal and no doubt would remove one real problem—but it would surely create many others, including potentially even more instability and sectarianism in Syria, as well as creating genuine U.S. ownership of the problem.

The notion that limited airstrikes would lead Assad to abandon power—and turn leadership over to moderates—would be a particularly egregious case of placing hope over experience.

When implying the United States can “fix” Middle Eastern problems if only it “gets it right” it is worth considering this: In Iraq, the U.S. intervened and occupied, and the result was a costly disaster.

In Libya, the U.S. intervened and did not occupy, and the result was a costly disaster.

In Syria, the U.S. neither intervened nor occupied, and the result is a costly disaster. This record is worth keeping in mind as we contemplate proposed solutions going forward.

So what to do? There is no simple answer.

There are historic, tectonic changes going on that will take a generation or generations to play out. But this does not mean we can or should give up, either.

I would propose that the United States identify its core interests in the region and focus on goals it (and often only it) can reasonably accomplish.

My list, not in any particular order, would include the following:

1. Deterring regional war and protecting our allies.

We cannot stop civil wars, but we can still prevent inter-state war—and have largely done so successfully for decades.

Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait was the exception that proved the rule—and the decisive U.S. response reinforced deterrence since.

Pulling out our 36,000 troops and major air bases in the region would diminish our ability to do this and make the region safe for major war—which would dwarf in intensity even the current disorder. At the recent Camp David summit with Gulf leaders, President Obama was right to commit to use all elements of our power to protect our partners against external aggression. And this commitment obviously applies to Israel as well; whatever our differences over Iran and the peace process, the U.S. commitment to Israel’s security and “qualitative military edge” helps to prevent intra-state conflict.

2. Keep sea lanes open.

We must also maintain our military presence in the region and commitment to preserve commercial freedom. More than 20 percent of the world’s oil supply (and more than 30 percent of oil shipped by sea) passes through the Strait of Hormuz, which without American military power would be under constant threat. Even with growing U.S. energy independence, the fungibility of global energy markets means a closure of Middle East sea-lanes would have a devastating impact on the U.S. economy. Only the United States has the power to do this, and it should do so out of self-interest and collective interest as well.

3. Preventing nuclear proliferation.

As bad as things are in the region, they would be unimaginably worse if multiple countries, or even one (Iran) had nuclear weapons. If Iran got a nuclear weapon others in the region would likely eventually move in that direction as well, increasing the possibility of an actual nuclear war.

Even an Iranian nuclear weapon alone would be a threat, not because Tehran is likely crazy enough to actually use it, but because our ability to contain and deter Iranian aggression in the region would be severely limited if Iran had a nuclear deterrent. The best way to achieve this goal—as I have written previously in POLITICO—is the sort of long-term, verifiable agreement blocking all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb.

4. Preventing a terrorist safe haven.

We cannot kill or capture every terrorist in the Middle East. But we can and must prevent the creation of a terrorist safe haven from which terrorists could plot and execute mass-destruction attacks against the United States and its allies.

That is why the United States is right to be leading a coalition and conducting airstrikes (which it has an unparalleled ability to do) against ISIL in both Syria and Iraq, while also working to cut off the group’s finances, discredit its ideology, stop foreign fighters and bolster the Iraqi government.

Critics are right to say our ability to destroy ISIL is limited by the lack of U.S. or other ground forces, but they don’t explain how the presence of such forces would work out any better than they did when we went into Iraq.

We also need to bolster regional partners—Jordan, Tunisia, the Gulf States—that are at risk from ISIL and can be more effective partners in the fight against it. If the breeding ground for terrorism is fertile due to ineffective, unresponsive and corrupt governance, all the military force in the world will not contain it.

5. Avoiding Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The United States has an interest in a stable and secure Israel and a stable and secure Palestinian state. While we can do little immediately to bring about a two-state solution, we should at least try to preserve its prospects for when conditions might be ripe.

That might mean supporting a U.N. Security Council resolution with balanced and fair parameters for a diplomatic solution.

It certainly means trying to preserve the viability of a Palestinian entity that eschews violence, recognizes Israel and respects past agreements, as well as trying to persuade Israel—its public, if the current government is out of reach—that there is no way it can remain a secure Jewish and democratic state—at peace with its neighbors—if it tries to govern the millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

This may not seem like an ambitious or particularly glorious list. It is not a “silver bullet” and will never sound as compelling a promise to “transform” or “remake” the Middle East. But, for all of the reasons explained above, the Middle East disorder is likely to persist for years and decades to come.

We can’t make that reality go away, but we can preserve our core interests, try to contain and limit the damage, avoid missteps that would lead to unintended consequences and harbor our precious human, military and financial resources for strength at home and other great challenges abroad. A focus on core U.S. interests is not a perfect solution for the Middle East—but it is better than all the alternatives.

Philip Gordon is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington DC.
From 2013-15 he was Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East North Africa and the Gulf Region.
As the most senior White House official focused on the greater middle east, his responsibilities included the Iranian nuclear program, Middle East peace negotiations, the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, US relations with the Gulf States, Democratic transitions in North Africa and bilateral relations with Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon. 
Andrew Bossone and Erin Cunningham shared this link
June 8, 2015

As news out of the Middle East goes from bad to worse—the humanitarian disaster in Yemen, Libya’s disintegration, the fall of Ramadi to ISIL, take your pick—the inevitable American tendency, especially in the political season, is to attribute all…|By Philip Gordon

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June 2015

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