Archive for December, 2013

Gifts Are For The Giver

giveI’ve read emails from engineering students telling me I whipped them into a fervor over engineering.

I’ve received notes from engineering leaders that, based on a single line of a post, reinvented the cost signature of their products.

I’ve been sent messages from folks who were stuck in a rut, and after reading my post, were able to work through their self-imposed constraints.

My inbox has let me know a reader, after thinking about my thinking, tried something that truly scared them.

They all thanked me for what I gave them, but, really, I want to thank them for what they gave me.

They listened; they thought; they changed their behavior.  There can be no bigger gift.

I know not everyone celebrates my holiday, but, nonetheless, I want to share it with you.

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your gifts.

Weak Signals And The Radical Fringe

We strive to get everyone on the same page, to align the crew in a shared direction. The thinking goes – If we’re all pulling in the same direction, we’ll get there faster and more efficiently. Yes, the destination will come sooner, but what if it’s not there when we get there?

There’s implicit permanence to our go-forward travel plans. We look out three years and plan our destination as if today’s rules and fundamentals will still apply. We think – That imaginary tropical vacation spot will be beautiful in three years because it looks beautiful through the kalidascope of today’s success. But as the recent natural disasters have taught us, whole islands can be destroyed in an instant. But still, the impermenance of today’s tried-and-true business models is lost on us, and we see the unknowable future as statically as the unchangeable map of the continents.

Thing is, all around us there are weak indications the fundamental tradewinds have started to shift – weak signals of impermenance that may invalidate today’s course heading. But weak signals are difficult to hear – the white noise of yesterday’s success drowns out the forward-looking weak signals.  And more problematic, once heard, weak signals are easily dismissed because their song threatens the successful status quo.

You feel weak signals in your chest. It could be a weak signal when your experience tells you things should go one way and they actually go another. Martin Zwilling (Forbes) has some great examples. (Thanks to Deb Mills-Scofield [@dscofield] for retweeting the article.)

100% alignment reduces adaptability because it deadens us to weak signals, and that’s a problem in these times of great impermanence. To counter the negative elements of alignment, there must be a balancing injection of healthy misalignment.  This is an important and thankless task falls on the shoulders of a special breed – the radical fringe.  They’re the folks smart enough to knit disjointed whispers into coherent ideas that could unravel everything and brave enough to test them.

Disruptive movements and revolutions build momentum quietly and slowly.  But if you can recognize them early, there’s a chance you can get into position to ride their tsunami instead of being ambushed and scuttled by it.  But you’ve got to listen closely because these young movements are stealthy and all they leave in their wake are weak signals.

Tracking Toward The Future

Rusty TrainIt’s difficult to do something for the first time. Whether it’s a new approach, a new technology, or a new campaign, the mass of the past pulls our behavior back toward itself.  And sadly, whether the past has been successful or not, its mass, and therefore it’s pull, are about the same.  The past keeps us along the track of sameness.

Trains have tracks to enable them to move efficiently (cost per mile), and when you want to go where the train is heading, it’s all good. But when the tracks are going to the wrong destination, all that efficiency comes at the expense of effectiveness.  Like we’re on rails, company history keeps us on track, even if it’s time for a new direction.

The best trains run on a ritualistic schedule.  People queue up at same time every morning to meet their same predictable behemoth, and take comfort in slinking into their regular seats and turning off their brains.  And this is the train’s trick. It uses its regularity to lull riders into a hazy state of non-thinking – get on, sit down, and I’ll get your there – to blind passengers from seeing its highly limited timetable and its extreme inflexibility.  The train doesn’t want us to recognize that it’s not really about where the train wants to go.

Trains are powerful in their own right, but their real muscle comes from the immense sunk cost of their infrastructure. Previous generations invested billions in train stations, repair facilities, tight integration with bus lines, and the tracks, and it takes extreme strength of character to propose a new direction that doesn’t make use of the old, tired infrastructure that’s already paid for. Any new direction that requires a whole new infrastructure is a tough sell, and that’s why the best new directions transcend infrastructure altogether.  But for those new directions that require new infrastructure, the only way to go is a modular approach that takes the right size bites.

Our worn tracks were laid in a bygone era, and the important destinations of yesteryear are no longer relevant. It’s no longer viable to go where the train wants; we must go where we want.

It Can’t Be Innovation If…

Riding Backward

Companies strive for predictability, yet if it’s predictable, it cannot be innovation.

We seek comfort in our work, but if it’s comfortable it can’t be innovation.

Businesses like to grow by selling more to the customers we have, but if existing customers can recognize it, it can’t be innovation.

We want to meet year end numbers, but if the project will generate profit in the year it begins, it can’t be innovation.

We love our standardized processes, but if it’s standard, it cannot be innovation.

If there’s consensus, it’s not innovation.

If the project isn’t wreaking havoc with your organizational norms, it can’t be innovation.

If the market already exists, it can’t be innovation.

If you’ve done it before, it can’t be innovation.

If you are following a best practice, it can’t be innovation.

If there’s a high probability it will work, it can’t be innovation.

If people aren’t threatened, it can’t be innovation.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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