Archive for July, 2010

The Emotional Constraint

“Constraint” is most often an excuse rather than a constraint. In fact, there are very few true constraints, with most of them living in the domain of physics.

A constraint is when something cannot be done. It’s not when something is difficult, complex, or unknown. And, it’s not when the options are costly, big, or ugly. There are no options with a true constraint. Nothing you can do.

The Physical Constraint
If your new product requires one of its moving parts to go faster than the speed of light, that’s a physical constraint (and not a good idea). If your new technology requires a material that’s stronger than the strongest on record, that’s a constraint (and, also, not a good idea). If your new manufacturing process consumes more water than your continent can spare, that’s a constraint. (This may not be a true constraint in the physics sense, but it’s damn close.) Don’t try to overpower the physical constraint – you can’t beat Mother Nature. The best you can do is wrestle her to a tie, then, when you tire, she pins you.

The Legal Constraint
If your approach violates a law, that’s a legal constraint. Not a true constraint in a physical sense, as there are options. You can change your approach so the law is not violated (maybe to a more costly approach), you can lobby for a law change (may take a while, but it’s an option), or you can break the law and roll the dice. To be clear, I don’t recommend this, just wanted to point out that there are options. Options exist when something is not a constraint, though the consequences can be most undesirable, severe, and may not fit with who we are.

The Emotional Constraint
If a person in power self-declares something as a constraint, decides there are no options, that’s an emotional constraint. Not a true constraint in a physical sense, but it’s the most dangerous of the triad. When there is no balance in the balance of power, or the consequences of pushing are severe, the self-declared emotional constraint stands – there are no options. Like with the speed of light, where adding energy cannot overcome the speed constraint, adding reasoning energy cannot overcome the emotional constraint. I argue that most constraints are emotional.

Physical and legal constraints are relatively easy to see and navigate, but the emotional constraint is something different altogether. Difficult to see, difficult to predict, and difficult to overcome. Person-based rather than physics or law-based.

Strategies to overcome emotional constraints must be based on the particulars of the person declaring the constraint. However, there is one truism to all successful strategies: Just as the person in power is the only one who can convince himself something is a constraint, he is also the only one who can convince himself otherwise.

What comes first, the procedure or the behavior?

It’s the chicken-and-egg syndrome of the business world.  Does procedure drive behavior or does behavior drive procedure?

Procedures are good for documenting a repetitive activity:

  1. Pick up that part.
  2. Grab that wrench.
  3. Tighten that nut.
  4. Repeat, as required.

This type of procedure has value – do the activity in the prescribed way and the outcome is a high quality product.  But what if the activity is new? What if judgment and thinking govern the major steps?  What if you don’t know the steps?  What if there is no right answer? What does that procedure look like?

Try to modify an existing procedure to fit an activity your company has not yet done.  Better yet, try to write a new one.  It’s easy to write a procedure after-the-fact.  Just look back at what you did and make a flow chart.  But what about a procedure for an activity that does not exist? For an old activity done in a future new way?  Does the old procedure tell you the new way? Just the opposite. The old procedure tells you cannot do anything differently. (That’s why it’s called a procedure). Do what you did last time, or fail the audit.  Be compliant.  Standardize on the old way, but expect new and better results.

Here is a draft of a procedure for new activities:

  1. Call a meeting with your best people.
  2. Ask them to figure out a new way.
  3. Give them what they ask for.
  4. Get out of the way, as required.

When they succeed, lather on the praise and positivity. It will feel good to everyone. Create a procedure after-the-fact if you wish.  But, no worries, your best people won’t limit themselves by the procedure.  In fact, the best ones won’t even read it.

How to Make an American Job Before It’s Too Late: Andy Grove

An amazing article by Andy Grove, co-founder of Intel, that puts things in perspective.  A country’s economy must be based on manufacturing and the jobs it creates.  It’s not about the designing and developing.  It’s about the manufacturing (and the jobs).  End of story.

This one’s worth the read.

Link to complete article

Please pass this one around.

A Parallel Universe of Positivity

That behavior was not appropriate; you did not finish that project on time; you made a mistake; you did not do it right; you did not build consensus; you did not do enough. Create an improvement plan, eliminate the shortfall, make up lost ground, re-attain the schedule. All negative, all day. I could scream.

We dissect people, identify areas for improvement, and put together plans to  improve weaknesses. How depressing. How demoralizing. How de-energizing. We demand folks become more of what they aren’t at the expense of what they are. And, to top it off, it takes a lot of our energy to manage this systematized negativity. We spend all our time on the folks who didn’t, can’t, or won’t. This is crazy.

Now, imagine a parallel universe of positivity. All positive, all day. Say nothing negative is the mantra. Ignore the negative and let it wither. Strengthen strengths. Help folks be more of what they are. Focus on the best performers. Ignore the can’ts, don’ts, and won’ts. This is a respectful universe, a supportive universe, a happy universe, but also a highly profitable and productive one. A good place to work and a great place to make money. Is this crazy?

It may be crazy. But do an experiment and see for yourself. Next time you feel the urge to snuff out bad behavior, ignore it. And instead, stoke the blaze of fabulous behavior. Throw diesel on it, throw gas on it, do all you can to make it spread. Send the fire trucks to draw a crowd. Roast marshmallows. You’ll have fun and it’ll feel good. I guarantee you’ll get more fabulous behavior. And the bad behavior? Who cares.  Let it wither.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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