Whether at work or home, there are highs and lows. And you’re not getting special treatment, that’s how it is for everyone. And it’s a powerful fundamental, so don’t try to control it, ride it.
When the sailing is smooth, at some point it won’t be – the winds change, that’s what they do. And when you’re suddenly buffeted from a new direction, you take action. But what action? More sail or less? Port or starboard? Heave the anchor or abandon ship? It depends.
Your actions depend on your why. Regardless of wind or tide, your why points where it points and guides your actions. Much like magnetic north doesn’t move if you spin your compass, your long term why knows where it points. If the storm on the horizon is dead ahead, you go around it. But it’s a balance – deviate to skirt the storm, but do it with your long term destination in mind. If you know your long term why, the best course heading is clear.
Often you set sail without realizing you don’t have your why battened down and stowed. When you sail where you sailed last time, you know the landmarks and use them to navigate. You can unknowingly leave your why at the pier and still get to your destination. But when you’re blown out to sea and can no longer see the landmarks, your moral compass, your long term why, is the only way to tack and jibe toward your destination.
Before you set sail, it’s best to know why you’re in the boat.
Productivity generates profit. No argument. But it has two sides – it can be achieved through maximization by increasing output with constant resources (machines and people) or through minimization with constant output and decreasing machines and people. And the main pillars of both flavors are data, tools, and process.
Data is used to understand how things are going so they can be made more productive. Process output is measured, yields are measured, and process control charts are hung on the wall like priceless art. Output goes up and costs go down. And the two buckets of cost – people and machines – are poured out the door. But data on its own doesn’t know how to improve anything. The real heroes are the people that look at the data and use good judgment to make good decisions.
You can pull the people out of the process to reduce costs, but you can’t pull the judgment out productivity improvement work. And here’s the difference – processes are made transactional and repetitive so people can be removed, and because judgment can’t be made into a transactional process, people are needed to do productivity improvement work. People and their behavior – judgment – are the keys.
Tools are productivity’s golden children. Better tools speed up the work so more can get done. In the upswing, output increases to get more work done; in the downturn, people leave to reduce cost. Tools can increase the quality (maximize) or reduce the caliber of the people needed to do the work (minimize). But the tools aren’t the panacea, the real panacea are the people that run them.
Any analytical tool worth its salt requires judgment by the person that runs it. And here’s where manufacturing’s productivity-through-process analogy is pushed where it doesn’t belong. Companies break down the process to run the tools into 6000 to 7000 simple steps, stuff them into a 500 page color-coded binder, provide a week of training and declare standard work has saved the day because, now that the process has been simplified and standardized, everyone can run the tool at 100% efficiency. But the tool isn’t the important part, neither is the process of using it. The important part is the judgment of the people running it.
Productivity of tools is not measured in the number of design cycles per person or the number of test cases run per day. This manufacturing thinking must be banished to its home country – the production floor. The productivity of analytical tools is defined by the goodness of the output when the time runs out. And at the end of the day, measuring the level of goodness also requires judgment – judgment by the experts and super users. With tools, it’s all about judgment and the people exercising it.
And now process. When the process is made repetitive, repeatable, and transactional, it brings productivity. This is especially true when the process lets itself to being made repetitive, repeatable, and transactional. Here’s a good one – step 1, step 2, step 3, repeat for 8 hours. Dial it in and watch the productivity jump. But when it’s never been done before, people’s judgment governs productivity; and when the process has no right answer, the experts call the ball. When processes are complex, undefined, or the first of their kind, productivity and judgment are joined at the hip.
Processes, on their own, don’t rain productivity from the sky; the real rainmakers are the people that run them.
Today’s battle for productivity is overwhelmingly waged in the trenches of minimization, eliminating judgment skirmish by skirmish. And productivity’s “more-with-less” equation has been toppled too far toward “less”, minimizing judgment one process at a time.
Really, there’s only one pillar of productivity, and that’s people. As everyone else looks to eliminate judgment at every turn, what would your business look like if you went the other way? What if you focused on work that demanded more judgment? I’m not sure what it would look like, other than you’d have little competition.
There’s a lot buzz around reinvention and innovation. There are countless articles on tools and best practices; many books on the best organizational structure, and plenty on roles and responsibilities. There’s so much stuff that it’s tough to define what’s missing, even when what’s missing is the most important part. Whether its creativity, innovation, or doing new, the most important and missing element is your behavior.
Two simple rules to live by: 1) Look inside. 2) Then, change your behavior.
To improve innovation, people typically look to nouns for the answers – meeting rooms, work spaces, bean bag chairs, and tools, tools, tools. But the answer isn’t nouns, the answer is verbs. Verbs are action words, things you do, behaviors. And there are two behaviors that make the difference: 1.) Take new action. 2) Speak new ideas.
To take new action, you’ve got to be perceptive, perceptive about what’s blocking you from taking new action. The biggest blocker of new action is anxiety, and you must learn what anxiety feels like. Thought the brain makes anxiety, it’s easiest to perceive anxiety in the body. For me, anxiety manifests as a cold sinking feeling in my chest. When I recognize the coldness, I know I’m anxious. Your task is to figure out your anxiety’s telltale heart.
To learn what anxiety feels like, you’ve got to slow down enough to actually feel. The easiest way for overbooked high performers to make time to slow down is to schedule a recurring meeting with yourself. Schedule a recurring 15 minute meeting (Daily is best.) in a quiet place. No laptop, no cell phone, no paper, no pencil, no headphones – just you and quiet sitting together. Do this for a week and you’ll learn what anxiety feels like.
To take new action, you’ve got to be receptive, receptive to the anxiety. You’ll naturally judge anxiety as bad, but that’s got to change. Anxiety isn’t bad, it’s just unpleasant. And in this case, anxiety is an indicator of importance. When you block yourself from taking an important action, you create anxiety. So when you feel anxiety, be receptive – it’s your body telling you the yet-to-be-taken action is important.
After receptive, it’s time to be introspective. Look inside, turn toward your anxiety, and understand why the task is important. Typically it’s important because it threatens the status quo. Maybe it would dismantle your business model, or maybe it will unglue the foundation of your company, or maybe something smaller yet threatening. Once you understand its importance, it’s time to use the importance as the forcing function to start the task first thing tomorrow morning.
The second magic behavior is to speak new ideas. To speak new ideas, you’ve got to be perceptive to the reason you self censor. Before you can un-censor, you’ve got to be aware you self censor. It’s time to get in touch with your unsaid ideas. Now that you no longer need the 15 minute meeting for taking new action, change the agenda to speaking new ideas. Again, no laptop, cell phone, and headphones, but this time it’s you and quiet figuring out what if feels like right before you self-censor.
In your meeting, remember back to a brainstorming session when you had a crazy idea, but decided to bury it. Get in touch with what your body felt like as you stopped yourself from speaking your crazy idea. That’s the feeling you want to be aware of because it’s a leading indicator of your self censoring behavior.
Next, it’s time to be receptive, receptive to the idea that just as you choose to self censor, you can choose to stop your self censorship, and receptive to the idea that there’s a deep reason for your behavior.
Now, it’s on to introspective. When you have a crazy idea, why do you keep your mouth shut? Turn toward the behavior and you may see you self censor because you don’t want to be judged. If you utter a crazy idea, you may be afraid you’ll be judged as crazy or incompetent. Likely, you’re afraid saying your idea out loud will change something – what other people think of you.
There are a couple important notions to help you battle your fear of judgment. First, you are not your ideas. You can have wild ideas and be highly competent, highly valued, and a good person. Second, other people’s judgment is about them, not you. They are threatened by your idea, and instead of looking inside, they protect themselves by trying to knock you down.
There’s a lot of nuance and complexity around creativity and innovation, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Really, it comes down to four things: own your behavior, look inside, take new action, and speak new ideas. It’s that simple.
When there’s a big job, you’re taught to break it into a series of sub tasks, sequence them, and go after them with vigor. When there are different types of work within a job, you’re taught to break down the work into related bits of work, assign specialists, and take them on with the utmost efficiency. When there’s a big problem, you’re taught to break it into mini problems, solve them one at a time, and then recombine. This works sometimes, but more often than not, it doesn’t. The world is complex; everything’s interconnected; and the improvement itself can change the system and create a new and more powerful dilemma. Though we know this, divide and conquer is still the favorite first choice.
Okay, it works sometimes, and it’s reasonable to use it with projects and problems, but it doesn’t work on all things. And by far, the most egregious misuse of the separation principle is when it’s used on people.
Mind and body are parts of an inseparable whole, but in practice, that’s not how it goes. Exercise for the body improves the mind, but exercise is not mandatory. And in the long term, exercise is preventive maintenance for body and the mind – lower healthcare costs, happier people, more productivity, and better work. Our machines get preventive maintenance but our people don’t. For some reason, we think it’s possible to separate the mind from the body.
Home life and work life are two parts of a single, integrated, whole life, but in practice, they’re considered two independent elements. Much like the old magician’s trick, we’re sawed in half yet expected to function as a whole person at work. Too much work and the family suffers; and when the family suffers, the work suffers. It’s that simple. Not enough sleep at home, the work suffers. (And, maybe some sleep at work.) Crisis at home and no time off to take care of it, work suffers. Time away from the kids, the work suffers. The best way to create resentment and bad attitudes is to saw people’s lives in half. We have only one life, and it can’t be parsed into independent elements. The magician’s trick isn’t real. It’s a trick.
When accountability is demanded without the authority, resources, tools, training or time, it’s a cardinal misuse of the separation principle. Here, resources are subtracted from the problem and the solution is no longer part of the equation. This one causes your best people to apply herculean effort and rip their lives apart trying to achieve success where it’s not possible.
We don’t run our machines without oil; we don’t run them at twice the recommended speed; we don’t expect them to run without electrical power or compress air; and we don’t expect them to do their work without the tooling. Yet we expect people to do their work without the resources. We religiously perform preventive maintenance on our machines; we schedule downtime; we fix them when they break; and we buy the best replacement parts to keep them in top form. For people, however, we don’t mandate exercise; we ask them to work through their vacation; and we ask them to work at unsustainable speeds.
Today’s environment is strange. People are broken into parts and expected to perform like well oiled machines; and machines are given all they need to get their work done, and people are not.
It’s time to treat problems like problems, machines like machines, and people like people.
The early explorers had maps, but they were wrong – sea monsters, missing continents, and the home country at the center. Wrong, yes, but the best maps of their day. The early maps weren’t right because the territory was new, and you can expect the same today. When you work in new territory, your maps are wrong.
As the explorers’ adventures radiated further from home, they learned and their maps improved. But still, the maps were best close to home and diverged at the fringes. And over the centuries the radius of rightness grew and the maps converged on the territory. And with today’s GPS technology, maps are dead on. The system worked – a complete map of everything.
Today you have your maps of your business environment and the underlying fundementals that ground them. Like the explorers you built them over time and checked them along the way. They’re not perfect (more right close to home) but they’re good. You mapped the rocks, depths, and tides around the trade routes and you stay the course because the routes have delivered profits and they’re safe. You can sail them in your sleep, and sometimes you do.
But there’s a fundamental difference between the explorers’ maps and yours – their territory, the physical territory, never changed, but yours is in constant flux. The business trade winds shift as new technologies develop; the size of continents change as developing countries develop; and new rocks grow from the sea floor as competitors up their game. Just when your maps match the territory, the territory changes around you and diverges from your maps, and your maps become old. The problem is the maps don’t look different. Yes, they’re still the same maps that guided you safely along your journey, but they no longer will keep you safely off the rocks and out of the Doldrums.
But as a new age explorer there’s hope. With a healthy skepticism of your maps, frequently climb the mast and from the crow’s nest scan the horizon for faint signs of trouble. Like a thunder storm just below the horizon, you may not hear trouble coming, but there’ll be dull telltale flashes that flicker in your eyepiece. Not all the crew will see them, or want to see them, or want to believe you saw them, so be prepared when your report goes unheeded and your ship sales into the eye of the storm.
Weak signals are troubling for several reasons. They’re infrequent and unpredictable which makes them hard to chart, and they’re weak so they’re tough to hear and interpret. But worst of all is their growth curve. Weak signals stay weak for a long time until they don’t, and when they grow, they grow quickly. A storm just over the horizon gives weak signals right up until you sail into gale force winds strong enough to capsize the largest ships.
Maps are wrong when the territory is new, and get more right as you learn; but as the territory changes and your learning doesn’t, maps devolve back to their natural wrongness. But, still, they’re helpful. And they’re more helpful when you remember they have a natural half-life.
My grandfather was in the Navy in World War II, though he could never bring himself to talk about it. However, there was one thing he told me, a simple saying he said kept him safe:
Red skies at night, sailor’s delight; red skies in morninng, sailor takes warning.
I think he knew the importance of staying aware of the changing territory.
Top 40 Innovation Bloggers just announced.
Blown away to be in the top 5! Proud to be part of such an amazing group!
FROM INNOVATION EXCELLENCE — After two weeks of torrid voting and much passionate support, along with a lot of gut-wrenching consideration and jostling during the judging round, I am proud to announce your Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2013:
- Jeffrey Baumgartner
Jeffrey Baumgartner is the author of the book, The Way of the Innovation Master; the author/editor of Report 103, a popular newsletter on creativity and innovation in business. He is currently developing and running workshops around the world on Anticonventional Thinking, a radical new approach to achieving goals through creativity — and an alternative to brainstorming.
- Paul Hobcraft
Paul Hobcraft runs Agility Innovation, an advisory business that stimulates sound innovation practice, researches topics that relate to innovation for the future, as well as aligning innovation to organizations core capabilities.
- Gijs van Wulfen
Gijs van Wulfen leads ideation processes and is the founder of the FORTH innovation method. He is the author of Creating Innovative Products & Services, published by Gower.
- Jeffrey Phillips
Jeffrey Phillips is a senior leader at OVO Innovation. OVO works with large distributed organizations to build innovation teams, processes and capabilities. Jeffrey is the author of Relentless Innovation and the blog Innovate on Purpose.
- Mike Shipulski
Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.
Click here for the whole list.
Doing the impossible doesn’t take a long time, starting does. More precisely, what takes a long time is getting ready to start. Getting ready is the gating item. So what’s in the way?
The big deal about starting is other people will see you do it and they’ll judge you. Your brain tells stories about how people will think you’re silly or incompetent for trying the outrageous. It takes a long time to build the courage to start. But where starting is scary, getting ready is safe and comfortable. Getting ready is done in the head – it’s a private process. And because you do it in your head, you can do it without being judged, and you can do it for as long as you like. And you can take comfort in getting ready because you rationalize you’re advancing the ball with your thinking. (Hey, at least you’re thinking about it.) But the real reason for staying in the getting ready domain is starting the fear around being judged for starting.
After you finally mustered the courage to start, you’ll get welcomed with all sorts of well-intentioned, ill-informed criticism. The first one – We tried that before, and it didn’t work. Thing is, it was so long ago no one remembers what was actually tried. Also, no one remembers how many approaches were tried, and even fewer know why it didn’t work. But, everyone’s adamant it won’t work because it didn’t work. Your response – That was a long time ago, and things have changed since then. There are new technologies to try, new materials that may work, new experimental methods, and new analytical methods to inform the work.
Now that you dismissed the we-already-tried-that’s, the resource police will show up at your door. They’ll say – That’s a huge project and it will consume all our resources. You can’t do that. Your response – Well, I’m not eating the whole enchilada, I only taking the right first bite. And for that, I don’t need any extra resources. You see, my friends and I really want to do this and we pooled our resources and narrowly defined the first bite. So, as far as resources, I’m all set.
Now the alignment officers will find you. They’ll say – Your off-topic mission impossible will confuse and distract our organization and we can’t have that. You know there’s no place for passion and excitement around here. Can you imagine engineers running around doing things that could disrupt our decrepit business model? We’ll no longer have control, and we don’t like that. Please stop. Your response – Let’s set up a meeting with the CEO who’s on the hook to create new businesses, and you can deliver that message face-to-face. You want me to set up the meeting?
Lastly, the don’t-rock-the-boaters will nip at your heels. They’ll say - Things are going pretty well. Did you hear we’re laying off fewer people this quarter? And, we’re losing less money this quarter. Things are looking up. And here you are trying something new, and scaring everyone half to death. You’ve got to stop that nonsense. Your response – Though it may be scary, I have a hunch this crazy stuff could create a whole new business and help secure the company’s future. And I have kids going to college in a couple years, and the company’s future is important to me.
When doing the impossible, the technical part is the easy part. Once you decide to try, what you thought impossible comes quickly. What’s difficult is the people part. Doing the impossible is unpredictable, and it cuts across grain of our culture of predictability. For years it’s been well defined projects with guaranteed profits and completion dates etched in stone. And after years of predictability injections people become the antibodies that reject the very work the company needs – the work that delivers the impossible.
No kidding – once you start the impossible, your organization will make it difficult for you. But, that’s nothing compared to the difficulty of getting ready because in that phase, you must overcome the most powerful, sly, dangerous critic of all – yourself.
What’s a new market worth without a new technology to capture it? The same as a new technology without a new market – not much. Technology and market are a matched set, but not like peanut butter and jelly, (With enough milk, a peanut butter sandwich isn’t bad.) rather, more like H2 and O: whether it’s H2 without O or O without H2 – there’s no water. With technology and market, there’s no partial credit – there’s nothing without both.
You’d think with such a tight coupling, market and technology would be highly coordinated, but that’s not the case. There’s a deep organizational chasm between them. But worse, each has their own language, tools, and processes. Plain and simple, the two organizations don’t know how to talk to each other, and the result is the wrong technology for the right market (if you’re a marketer) or the right technology for the wrong market (if you’re a technologist.) Both ways, customers suffer and so do business results.
The biggest difference, however, is around customers. Where marketers pull, technologists push – can’t be more different than that. But neither is right, both are. There’s no sense arguing which is more important, which is right, or which worked better last time because you need both. No partial credit.
If you speak only French and have a meeting with someone who speaks only Portuguese, well, that’s like meeting between marketers and technologists. Both are busy as can be, and neither knows what the other is doing. There’s a huge need for translators – marketers that speak technologist and technologists that talk marketing. But how to develop them?
The first step is to develop a common understanding of why. Why do you want to develop the new market? Why hasn’t anyone been able to create the new market? Why can’t we develop a new technology to make it happen? It’s a good start when both sides have a common understanding of the whys.
To transcend the language barrier, don’t use words, use video. To help technologists understand unmet customer needs, show them a video of a real customer in action, a real customer with a real problem. No words, no sales pitch, just show the video. (Put your hand over your mouth if you have to.) Show them how the work is done, and straight away they’ll scurry to the lab and create the right new technologies to help you crack the new market. Technologists don’t believe marketers; technologists believe their own eyes, so let them.
To help marketers understand technology, don’t use words, use live demos. Technologists – set up a live demo to show what the technology can do. Put the marketer in front of the technology and let them drive, but you can’t tell them how to drive. You too must put your hand over your mouth. Let them understand it the way they want to understand it, the way a customer would understand it. They won’t use it the way you think they should, they’ll use it like a customer. Marketers don’t understand technology, they understand their own eyes, so let them.
And after the videos and the live demos, it’s time to agree on a customer surrogate. The customer surrogate usually takes the form of a fully defined test protocol and fully defined test results. And when done well, the surrogate generates test results that correlate with goodness needed to crack the new market. As the surrogate’s test results increase, so does goodness (as the customer defines it.) Instead of using words to agree on what the new technology must do, agreement is grounded in a well defined test protocol and a clear, repeatable set of test results. Everyone can use their eyes to watch the actual hardware being tested and see the actual test results. No words.
To close the loop and determine if everyone is on the same page, ask the marketers and technologist to co-create the marketing brochure for the new product. Since the brochure is written for the customer, it forces the team use plain language which can be understood by all. No marketing jargon or engineering speak – just plain language.
And now, with the marketing brochure written, it’s time to start creating the right new market and the right new technology.
Photo credit – TORLEY.
Denial exists because seeing things as they are is scary. Denial prevents you from seeing problems so you can protect yourself from things that are scary. But the dark consequence of its protection is you block yourself from doing new things, from doing innovation. Because you deny the truth of how things are, you don’t acknowledge problems; and because you don’t admit there’s a problem, there’s no forcing function for doing the difficult work of innovation.
Problems threaten, but problems have power. Effectively harnessed, problems can be powerful enough to bust through denial. But before you can grab them by the mane, you have to be emotionally strong enough to see them. You have to be ready to see them; you have to be in the right mindset to see them; and because your organization will try to tear you down when you point to a big problem, you have to have a high self worth to stand tall.
Starting an innovation project is the toughest part and most important part. Starting is the most important because 100% of all innovations projects that don’t start, fail. Those aren’t good odds. And because starting is so emotionally difficult, people with high self worth are vital. Plain and simple: they’re strong enough to start.
Denial helps you stay in your comfort zone, but that’s precisely where you don’t want to be. To change and grow you’ve got to breach the wall of denial, and climb out of your comfort zone.
Hypothesis is a charged word – It has a scientific color; it smacks of sterility; it is thought to be done by academics; and it’s sometimes classified as special class of guessing. In thought and action, hypothesis is misunderstood.
We twist the word so it doesn’t apply in our situation; we label it to distance ourselves; we tag it with snarl connotations to protect ourselves. We do this because we’re afraid of the word’s power.
Replace hypothesis with “I think this will happen – [fill in the blank.]” and it’s clear why we’re afraid. Hypothesis, as an activity, has the power to make it clear to everyone that you really don’t know what’s going on. Hypothesis demands you speculate based on your knowledge, and the fear is when you’re wrong (and you will be) people will think your knowledge (and you) is of a meager kind. Hypothesis demands you put yourself out there for the world to see. And that’s why it’s rarely done. And since it’s rarely done, its benefits are not understood.
Innovation is all the rage these days, and innovation is all about learning. And where necessity is the mother of invention, hypothesis is the father of learning. Hypothesis breeds learning by providing a comparison between what you thought would happen and what happened. The difference is a measure of your knowledge; and how the difference changes over time is a measure of your learning. If the difference widens over time, you’re getting cold; if it stays constant, you’re treading water; and if it converges, you’re learning.
Like a good parent, hypothesis knows which rules can be bent and which won’t be compromised. In the hypothesis household clarity and honesty are not optional – clarity around the problem at hand; clarity around how you’ll test and measure; and honesty around the limits of your knowledge.
Learning is important – no one can argue – and learning starts with a hypothesis. More strongly, learning is so important you should work through your fear around hypothesis and increase your learning rate.
Really, hypothesis isn’t the stern parent you think. Hypothesis will make time to teach you to ride your bike without training wheels, and be right there to bandage your skinned knees.
And, like a good parent, if you ask hypothesis for help, I think this will happen – [you’ll learn more and learn faster.]
Last year is gone, and going forward things will be different. Last year’s you is gone, and going forward you will be different. That’s the thing – everything changes. Regardless if last year was enjoyable or terrible, no matter. This year will be different. You can try to hold on to it, but all you’ll get is rope burns. Or, you can take comfort in the impermanence.
Your company is different; your competitors are different; your customers are different. In fact, everything is different. And what you did last year won’t get the same response today. Yet we hold on. It’s difficult to see things as they are when there’s so much comfort in seeing things as they were. Even if things weren’t so good last year, there’s comfort in seeing things as they were.
Toughest of all is to see yourself as you are. (I’m not talking about the body stuff – older, grayer, more wrinkles – that’s easy to see. I’m talking about the inside stuff.) On the inside, you are not what you were last year. You don’t have to know how you are different; just take comfort that you are different. Take comfort that right here, right now, as you sit, you are different, and so is everything else.
It’s difficult to plan out how things will go this year; and it’s impossible to predict how you’ll grow. Things will change; you will change; and putting yourself in that frame of mind can be helpful.
At the New Year, take time to celebrate the upcoming impermanence that will surely find you.
Photo from free HDR Photos – www.freestock.ca