Archive for July, 2012

Thoughts on Vacation

Some thoughts on vacation:

Take fewer longer vacations at the expense of shorter ones.

Work hard, but on something else.

On route to your destination, throw your cell phone from a moving vehicle.

Forget about your work so you can do it better when you return.

Don’t check in at work – that undoes all the relaxation.

Vacation with kids, and take your cues from them.

Mindset for Doing New

The more work I do with innovation, the more I believe mindset is the most important thing.  Here’s what I believe:

Doing new doesn’t take a lot of time; it’s getting your mind ready that takes time.

Engineers must get over their fear of doing new.

Without a problem there can be no newness.

Problem definition is the most important part of problem solving.

If you believe it can work or it can’t, you’re right.

Activity is different from progress.

Thinking is progress.

In short, I believe state-of-the-art is limited by state-of-mind.

The Dark Art of Uncertainty

Engineers hate uncertainty. (More precisely, it scares us to death.) And our role in the company is to snuff it out at every turn, or so we think.

To shield ourselves from uncertainty, we take refuge in our analyses. We create intricate computer wizardry to calm our soles. We tell ourselves our analytic powers can stand toe-to-toe with uncertainty. Though too afraid to admit, at the deepest level we know the magic of our analytics can’t dispatch uncertainty. Like He-Who-Should-Not-Should-Be-Named, uncertainty is ever-present and all-powerful. And he last thing we want is to call it by name.

Our best feint is to kill uncertainty before it festers. As soon as uncertainty is birthed, we try slay it with our guttural chant “It won’t work, it won’t work, it won’t work”. Like Dementors, we drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around a new idea. We suck out every good feeling and reduce it to something like itself, but soulless. We feed on it until we’re left with nothing but the worst of the idea.1

Insidiously, we conjure premonitions of mythical problems and predict off-axis maladies. And then we cast hexes on innovators when they don’t have answers to our irrelevant quandaries.

But our unnatural bias against uncertainty is misplaced. Without uncertainty there is no learning. Luckily, there are contrivances to battle the dark art of uncertainty.

When the engineering warlocks start their magic, ask them to be specific about their premonitions. Demand they define the problem narrowly – between two elements of the best embodiment; demand they describe the physical mechanisms behind the problem (warlocks are no match for physics); demand they define the problem narrowly in time – when the system spools up, when it slows down, just before it gets hot, right after it cools down. What the warlocks quickly learn is the problem is not the uncertainty around the new idea; the problem is the uncertainty of their knowledge. After several clashes with the talisman of physics, they take off their funny pointy hats, put away their wands, and start contributing in a constructive way. They’re now in the right frame of mind to obsolete their best work

Uncertainty is not bad. Denying it exists is bad, and pretending we can eliminate it is bad. It’s time to demonstrate Potter-like behavior and name what others dare not name.

Uncertainty, Uncertainty, Uncertainty.

 1 Remus Lupin

On Independence

Independence for a country is about choice. A country wants to be able to make choices to better itself, to control its own destiny. A country wants to feel like it has freedom to do what it thinks is right. Hopefully, a country thinks it’s a good to provide for its citizens in a long term sense. We can disagree what is best, but a good country makes an explicit choice about what it think is right and takes responsibility for its choices. For a country, the choices should be grounded in the long term.

Independence for a company is about choice. Like a country, a company wants control over its own destiny. A company wants to feel like it has freedom to do what’s right. A company wants to decide what’s right and wants the ability to act accordingly. There are lots of management theories on what’s right, but the company wants to be able to choose. Like it or not, the company will be accountable for its choices, as measured by stock price or profit.

And with children, independence is about choice. Children, too, want control over their own destiny, but they score low on the responsibility scale. And that’s why children earn responsibility over time – get a little, don’t get hurt, and get a little more. They don’t know what’s good for them, but don’t let that get in the way of wanting control over their own destiny. That’s why parents exist.

Independence is about the ability to choose. But there’s a catch. With independence comes responsibility – responsibility for the choice. With children, there’s insufficient responsibility because they just don’t care. And with employees in a company, there’s insufficient responsibility for another reason – fear of failure. I’m not sure about countries.

Independence is a two way street – choice and responsibility. And independence is bound by constraints. (There are unalienable rights, but unconstrained independence isn’t one of them.) For more independence, push hard on constraints; for more independence, take responsibility; for more independence, make more choices (and own the consequences).

Happy Independence Day.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner