Archive for February, 2014

A Singular Pillar of Productivity

human pillar of productivityProductivity 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.

Look Inside, Take New Action, Speak New Ideas.

Look InsideThere’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.

You Can’t Saw People in Half

It's a trickWhen 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 Half-Life of Our Maps

4082547180_b664f5f55a_zThe 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 of 2013!

Top 40 Innovation Bloggers of 2013Top 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:

  1. Jeffrey Baumgartner
    Jeffrey BaumgartnerJeffrey 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.

  2. Paul Hobcraft
    Paul HobcraftPaul 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.

  3. Gijs van Wulfen
    Gijs van WulfenGijs 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.

  4. Jeffrey Phillips
    Jeffrey PhillipsJeffrey 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.

  5. Mike Shipulski
    Mike ShipulskiMike 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.


Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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