Archive for August, 2015

Skillful and Unskillful

smile pleaseI used to believe others were responsible for my problem, now I believe I am responsible.  The turning point came when I was struggling with a stressful situation a friend gave me some simple advice.  He said “Look inside.”  For some reason, that was enough for me to start my transformation.

I used to compare myself to others.  It caused me great pain because I judged myself as inferior.  Over time I learned that others compared themselves to me and felt the same way.  Also, I learned that success brings problems of its own, namely worry and anxiety around losing what “success” has brought.  Though I still sometimes feel inferior, I’ve learned to recognize the symptoms, and once I call them by name, I can move forward.

I used to care too much about money.  Though I still care about money, I care more about time.

I used to wrestle with the past and worry about the future.  Now I sit in the present, and I like it better.   I still slip sometimes, but I catch myself pretty quickly.

I used to be largely unaware of my lack of awareness.  Now that I’ve learned to be more aware of it, I’m closer to the people I care about.  And I’m aware that I’m just getting started.

I used to want more of everything.  Now I have enough and I want to enjoy it.

I used to want to climb the corporate ladder, now I want to do amazing work.

I used to judge my younger self though my older self’s eyes.  That was unskillful.  I’ve realized that as a younger person my intensions were good, just as they are today.  And, I’ve learned that perfection is an unattainable goal and that sometimes I forget.

I used to think that I had to do everything myself.  Now I get great joy from helping others do things they thought they couldn’t.

I used to think of myself as a steamroller and I was proud of it.  Now I’m a behind-the-scenes conductor who is far more effective and much happier.

I used to be afraid to share my inner thoughts and feelings, but I’m getting better at that.

Image credit – Jai Kapoor

Accountability is not the answer.

Emaciated SiddharthaPeople have a natural bias toward doing what was done last time.  The behavior is the result of untold generations that evolved to serve a single objective – to survive.  Survival is about holding onto what is – protecting the family, providing food and waking up the next morning.  In survival mode any energy spent on activities even partially unrelated to food, water and shelter is wasted energy.  Any deviation from the worn path creates newness and uncertainty which causes adrenaline to flow and increases caloric burn rate.  In survival mode the opportunity cost of those extra calories is larger than the potential benefit of a new experience.

Today, calories are readily available for most and survival is no longer the objective, yet the bias persists.  Today, the bias is not driven by a culture of survivability.  It’s driven by a culture of accountability.  Accountability forces its own singular focus – make the numbers – and, like survivability, tightly links the consequences of mistakes and shortcomings to the individual.  Spend your calories any way you want just don’t miss the numbers.

In a culture of accountability there is no time to rest and recharge.  Like the predator that never sleeps, metrics continually keep a hungry eye on the human prey.  And like with food and water, any deviation from the worn path of increased throughput and profit is unsafe behavior.

But when the watering hole dries up and the fruit has been picked from the trees, the worn path isn’t the safest path.  Frantic foraging is the only real option, but it’s not much safer and certainly no way to go through life.   Paradoxically, a culture of accountability, with its intent of reducing the risk of missing the numbers can create far more dangerous failure modes.  Where over fishing depletes the fish population and over farming makes for a dust bowl, over reliance on what worked last time can create failure modes that jeopardize survival.

To break the bias and help people do new things, measure new things and talk about new things.  Start the next meeting with a review of what’s different.  The team will feel energized.  And after the discussion, adjourn the meeting because everything else is the same.  At the next status meeting, talk only about the surprising insights.  With the next email, send praise about the new learning.  At team meetings, acknowledge the inherent uncertainty of doing new things and praise it over the potentially catastrophic consequences of over extending the tried-and-true.  And for metrics, stop measuring outcomes.

Image credit — Applied Nomadology

Innovation isn’t a thing in itself.

Im pretty sure I can do a high wire tooInnovation isn’t a thing in itself, and it’s not something to bolster for the sake of bolstering.

Innovation creates things (products, services, business models) that are novel, useful and successful.  It’s important to know which flavor to go after, but before that it’s imperative to formalize the business objective.  Like lean or Six Sigma, innovation is a business methodology whose sole intention is to deliver on the business objective.  The business objective is usually a revenue or profit goal, and success is defined by meeting the objective.  Successful is all about meeting the business objective and successful is all about execution.

There are a lot of things that must come together for an innovation to be successful. For an innovative product here are the questions to answer:  Can you make it, certify it, market it, sell it, distribute it, service it, reclaim it?  As it happens, these are the same questions to answer for any new product.  In that way, innovative products are not different.  But because innovation starts with novel, with innovative products the answers can be different.  For an innovative product there are more “no’s” and for each no there’s a reason that starts with a C: constraint, capacity, capability, competitor, cooperation, capital.  And the business objective cannot be achieved with closing the gaps.

After successful, there’s useful.   Like any work based on a solid marketing methodology, innovation must deliver usefulness to the customer.  Innovation or not, strong marketing is strong marketing and strong marketing defines who the customer is, how they’ll use the new service, and how they’ll benefit – the valuable customer outcome (VCO.)  But with an innovative service it’s more difficult to know who the customer is, how they’ll use the service and if they’ll pay for it.  (That’s the price of novelty.)  But in most other ways, an innovative service is no different than any other service.  Both are successful because they deliver usefulness customers, those customers pay money for the usefulness and the money surpasses the business objective.

Innovation is different because of novelty, but only in degree.  Continuous improvement projects have novelty.  Usually, it’s many small changes consistently applied that add up to meaningful results, for example waste reduction, improved throughput and product quality.  These projects have novelty, but the novelty is the sum of small steps, all of which stay close to known territory.

The next rung on the novelty ladder is discontinuous improvement which creates a large step change in goodness provided to the customer.  (Think 3X improvement.)  The high degree of novelty creates broader uncertainty.  Will the customer be able to realize the goodness?  Will the novelty be appealing to a set of yet-to-be-discovered customers?  Will they pay for it?  It is worth doing all that execution work?  Will it cannibalize other products?  The novelty is a strong divergence from the familiar and with it comes the upside of new customer goodness and the downside of the uncertainty.

The highest form of novelty is no-to-yes.  No other product on the planet could do it before, but the new innovative one can.   It has the potential to create new markets, but also has the potential to obsolete the business model.  The sales team doesn’t know how to sell it, the marketers don’t know how to market it and the factory doesn’t know how to make it.  There new technology is not as robust as it should be and the cost structure may never become viable.  There’s no way to predict how competitors will respond, there’s no telling if it will pass the regulatory requirements.  And to top it off, no one is sure who the customer is or if anyone will it.  But, if it all comes together, this innovation will be a game-changer.

Innovation is the same as all the other work, except there’s more novelty. And with that novelty comes more upside and more uncertainty.  With novelty, too much of a good thing isn’t wonderful.  Sufficient novelty must be ingested to meet the business objective, and a bit more for the long term to stay out in front.

Be clear about business objectives, deliver usefulness to customers and use novelty to make it happen.  And call it whatever you want.

Image credit – Agustin Rafael Reyes 

There is no control. There is only trust.

trustControl strategies don’t work, but trust strategies do.

Nothing goes as planned.  Trying to control things tightly is wasteful.  It takes too much energy to batten down all the hatches and keep them that way every-day-all-day.  Maybe no water gets in, but the crew doesn’t get enough oxygen and their brains wither.

Trust on the other hand, is flexible and far more efficient.  It takes little energy to hire a pro, give them the right task and get out of the way.  And with the best pros it requires even less energy because the three-step becomes a two-step – hire them and get out of the way.

When both hands are continuously busy pulling the levers of contingency plans there are no hands left to point toward the future.  When both arms are clinging onto the artificial schedule of the project plan there are no arms left to conduct the orchestra.  Control strategies make sure even the piccolo plays the right notes at the right time, while trust strategies let the violins adjust based on their ear and intuition and even let the conductors write their own sheet music.

Control is an illusion, but trust is real.  The best statistical analyses are rearward-looking and provide no control in a changing environment. (You can’t drive a car by looking in the rear view mirror.) Yet, that’s the state-of-the-art for control strategies – don’t change the inputs, don’t change the process and we’ll get what we got last time.  That’s not control.  That’s self-limiting.

Trust is real because people and their relationships are real.  Trust is a contract between people where one side expects hard work and good judgment and the other side expects to be challenged and to be given the flexibility to do the work as they see fit.  Trust-based systems are far more adaptable than if-then control strategies.  No control algorithm can effectively handle unanticipated changes in input conditions or unplanned drift in decision criteria, but people and their judgement can.  In fact, that’s what people are good at, and they enjoy doing it.  And that’s a great recipe for an engaged work force.

Control strategies are popular because they help us believe we have control.  And they’re ineffective for the same reason.  Trust strategies are not popular because they acknowledge we have no real control and rely on judgment.  And that’s why they’re effective.

When control strategies fail, trust strategies are implemented to save the day.  When the wheels fall off a project, the best pro in the company is brought in to fix what’s broken.   And the best pro is the most trusted pro.  And their charge – Tell us what’s wrong (Use your judgement.), tell us how you’re going to fix it (Use your best judgement for that.) and tell us what you need to fix it. (And use your best judgement for that, too.)

In the end, trust trumps control. But only after all other possibilities are exhausted.

Image credit – Dobi.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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