Archive for the ‘Clarity’ Category

If nine out of ten projects projects fail, you’re doing it wrong.

For work that has not been done before, there’s no right answer.  The only wrong answer is to say “no” to trying something new.  Sure, it might not work.  But, the only way to guarantee it won’t work is to say no to trying.

If innovation projects fail nine out of ten times, you can increase the number of projects you try or you can get better at choosing the projects to say no to.  I suggest you say learn to say yes to the one in ten projects that will be successful.

If you believe that nine out of ten innovation projects will fail, you shouldn’t do innovation for a living.  Even if true, you can’t have a happy life going to work every day with a ninety percent chance of failure.  That failure rate is simply not sustainable.  In baseball, the very best hitters of all time were unsuccessful sixty percent of the time, yet, even they focused on the forty percent of the time they got it right.  Innovation should be like that.

If you’ve failed on ninety percent of the projects you’ve worked on, you’ve probably been run out of town at least several times.  No one can fail ninety percent of the time and hold onto their job.

If you’ve failed ninety percent of the time, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’ve failed ninety percent of the time, you’ve likely tried to solve the wrong problems.  If so, it’s time to learn how to solve the right problems.  The right problems have two important attributes: 1) People will pay you if they are solved. 2) They’re solvable.  I think we know a lot about the first attribute and far too little about the second. The problem with solvability is that there’s no partial credit, meaning, if a problem is almost solvable, it’s not solvable. And here’s the troubling part: if a problem is almost solved, you get none of the money.  I suggest you tattoo that one on your arm.

As a subject matter expert, you know what could work and what won’t.  And if you don’t think you can tell the difference, you’re not a subject matter expert.

Here’s a rule to live by: Don’t work on projects that you know won’t work.

Here’s a corollary: If your boss asks you to work on something that won’t work, run.

If you don’t think it will work, you’re right, even if you’re not.

If it might work, that’s about right. If it will work, let someone else do it. If it won’t work, run.

If you’ve got no reason to believe it will work, it won’t.

If you can’t imagine it will work, it won’t.

If someone else says it won’t work, it might.

If someone else tries to convince you it won’t work, they may have selfish reasons to think that way.

It doesn’t matter if others think it won’t work. It matters what you think.

So, what do you think?

If you someone asks you to believe something you don’t, what will you do?

If you try to fake it until you make it, the Universe will make you pay.

If you think you can outsmart or outlast the Universe, you can’t.

If you have a bad feeling about a project, it’s a bad project.

If others tell you that it’s a bad project, it may be a good one.

Only you can decide if a project is worth doing.

It’s time for you to decide.

“Good example of Crossfit Weight lifting – In Crossfit Always lift until you reach the point of Failure or you tear something” by CrossfitPaleoDietFitnessClasses is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What It Takes

Speak up.  Your ideas can’t see daylight unless others know about them.

Be wrong. When you’re wrong, you sharpen the rightness.

Be right. When you’re right in the face of wrongness, everyone wins, except for you.

Stand tall. Stand behind your decisions, but you can’t be responsible for their outcome.

Be truthful, but not hurtful.

Be overwhelmed.  This is difficult.

Give it away. When things go well, delegate credit to the up-and-coming.  They’ll remember.

Support others. When someone’s in the bucket, pull them out. They’ll remember.

Pay it forward. A kind soul gave it to you, and it’s time to give it to someone else. They’ll remember.

Say “thank you.” And mean it.

Be quiet. When things are on the right track, there’s no need to derail.

Take the heat. When there’s a mistake, own it so the young don’t have to. They’ll remember.

Make room for others. Nothing blocks their growth like your career aspirations.

Say nothing negative, unless you can’t. And if you must, say it in private.

Praise publicly, loudly, and often.

Set up others for success. And when accused of doing so, plead ignorance.

Share your frustrations, but sparingly. Done skillfully, it’s a compliment.

Be human.  People will notice.

“Uncomfortable Fisher” by DaveFayram is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Trust-Based Disagreement

When there’s disagreement between words and behavior, believe the behavior.  This is especially true when the words deny the behavior.

When there’s disagreement between the data and the decision, the data is innocent.

When there’s agreement that there’s insufficient data but a decision must be made, there should be no disagreement that the decision is judgment-based.

When there’s disagreement on the fact that there’s no data to support the decision, that’s a problem.

When there’s disagreement on the path forward, it’s helpful to have agreement on the process to decide.

When there’s disagreement among professionals, there is no place for argument.

When there’s disagreement, there is respect for the individual and a healthy disrespect for the ideas.

When there’s disagreement, the decisions are better.

When there’s disagreement, there’s independent thinking.

When there’s disagreement, there is learning.

When there’s disagreement, there is vulnerability.

When there’s disagreement, there is courage.

When there’s disagreement, there is trust.

“Teamwork” by davis.steve32 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Good Coaches Do

Good coaches listen to you.  They don’t judge, they just listen.

Good coaches continually study the game.  They do it in private, but they study.

Good coaches tell you that you can do better, and that, too, they do in private.

Good coaches pick you up off the floor. They know that getting knocked over is part of the game.

Good coaches never scream at you, but they will cry with you.

Good coaches never stop being your coach. Never.

Good coaches learn from you, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t compromise. Ever.

Good coaches have played the game and have made mistakes. That’s why they’re good coaches.

Good coaches do what’s in your best interest, not theirs.

Good coaches are sometimes wrong, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t care what other people think of them, but they care deeply about you.

Good coaches are prepared to be misunderstood, though it’s not their preference.

Good coaches let you bump your head or smash your knee, but, otherwise, they keep you safe.

Good coaches earn your trust.

Good coaches always believe you and perfectly comfortable disagreeing with you at the same time.

Good coaches know it’s always your choice, and they know that’s how deep learning happens.

Good coaches stick with you, unless you don’t do your part.

Good coaches don’t want credit. They want you to grow.

Good coaches don’t have a script. They create a custom training plan based on your needs.

Good coaches simplify things when it’s time, unless it’s time to make things complicated.

Good coaches aren’t always positive, but they are always truthful.

Good coaches are generous with their time.

Good coaches make a difference.

How To See What’s Missing

With one eye open and the other closed, you have no depth perception. With two eyes open, you see in three dimensions.  This ability to see in three dimensions is possible because each eye sees from a unique perspective.  The brain knits together the two unique perspectives so you can see the world as it is. Or, as your brain thinks it is, at least.

And the same can be said for an organization.  When everyone sees things from a single perspective, the organization has no depth perception.  But with at least two perspectives, the organization can better see things as they are.  The problem is we’re not taught to see from unique perspectives.

With most presentations, the material is delivered from a single perspective with the intention of helping everyone see from that singular perspective.  Because there’s no depth to the presentation, it looks the same whether you look at it with one eye or two.  But with some training, you can learn how to see depth even when it has purposely been scraped away.

And it’s the same with reports, proposals, and plans. They are usually written from a single perspective with the objective of helping everyone reach a single conclusion.  But with some practice, you can learn to see what’s missing to better see things as they are.

When you see what’s missing, you see things in stereo vision.

Here are some tips to help you see what’s missing.  Try them out next time you watch a presentation or read a report, proposal, or plan.

When you see a WHAT, look for the missing WHY on the top and HOW on the bottom. Often, at least one slice of bread is missing from the why-what-how sandwich.

When you see a HOW, look for the missing WHO and WHEN.  Usually, the bread or meat is missing from the how-who-when sandwich.

Here’s a rule to live by: Without finishing there can be no starting.

When you see a long list of new projects, tasks, or initiatives that will start next year, look for the missing list of activities that would have to stop in order for the new ones to start.

When you see lots of starting, you’ll see a lot of missing finishing.

When you see a proposal to demonstrate something for the first time or an initial pilot, look for the missing resources for the “then what” work.  After the prototype is successful, then what?  After the pilot is successful, then what?  Look for the missing “then what” resources needed to scale the work.  It won’t be there.

When you see a plan that requires new capabilities, look for the missing training plan that must be completed before the new work can be done well. And look for the missing budget that won’t be used to pay for the training plan that won’t happen.

When you see an increased output from a system, look for the missing investment needed to make it happen, the missing lead time to get approval for the missing investment, and the missing lead time to put things in place in time to achieve the increased output that won’t be realized.

When you see a completion date, look for the missing breakdown of the work content that wasn’t used to arbitrarily set the completion date that won’t be met.

When you see a cost reduction goal, look for the missing resources that won’t be freed up from other projects to do the cost reduction work that won’t get done.

It’s difficult to see what’s missing.  I hope you find these tips helpful.

“missing pieces” by LeaESQUE is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

How To Grow Leaders

If you want to grow leaders, meet with them daily.

If you want to grow leaders, demand that they disagree with you.

If you want to grow leaders, help them with all facets of their lives.

If you want to grow leaders, there is no failure, there is only learning.

If you want to grow leaders, give them the best work.

If you want to grow leaders, protect them.

If you want to grow leaders, spend at least two years with them.

If you want to grow leaders, push them.

If you want to grow leaders, praise them.

If you want to grow leaders, get them comfortable with discomfort.

If you want to grow leaders, show them who you are.

If you want to grow leaders, demand that they use their judgment.

If you want to grow leaders, give them just a bit more than they can handle and help them handle it.

If you want to grow leaders, show emotion.

If you want to grow leaders, tell them the truth, even when it creates anxiety.

If you want to grow leaders, always be there for them.

If you want to grow leaders, pull a hamstring and make them present in your place.

If you want to grow leaders, be willing to compromise your career so their careers can blossom.

If you want to grow leaders, when you are on vacation tell everyone they are in charge.

If you want to grow leaders, let them chose between to two good options.

If you want to grow leaders, pay attention to them.

If you want to grow leaders, be consistent.

If you want to grow leaders, help them with their anxiety.

If you want to grow leaders, trust them.

If you want to grow leaders, demonstrate leadership.

“Mother duck and ducklings” by Tambako the Jaguar is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

The truth can set you free, but only if you tell it.


Your truth is what you see.  Your truth is what you think.  Your truth is what feel.  Your truth is what you say. Your truth is what you do.


If you see something, say something.

If no one wants to hear it, that’s on them.


If your truth differs from common believe, I want to hear it.

If your truth differs from common believe and no one wants to hear it, that’s troubling.


If you don’t speak your truth, that’s on you.

If you speak it and they dismiss it, that’s on them.


Your truth is your truth, and no one can take that away from you.

When someone tries to take your truth from you, shame on them.


Your truth is your truth. Full stop.

And even if it turns out to be misaligned with how things are, it’s still your responsibility to tell it.


If your company makes it difficult for you to speak your truth, you’re still obliged to speak it.

If your company makes it difficult for you to speak your truth, they don’t value you.


When your truth turns out to be misaligned with how things are, thank you for telling it.

You’ve provided a valuable perspective that helped us see things more clearly.


If you’re striving for your next promotion, it can be difficult to speak your dissenting truth.

If it’s difficult to speak your dissenting truth, instead of promotion, think relocation.


If you feel you must yell your dissenting truth, you’re not confident in it.

If you’re confident in your truth and you still feel you must yell it, you have a bigger problem.


When you know your truth is standing on bedrock, there’s no need to argue.

When someone argues with your bedrock truth, that’s a problem for them.


If you can put your hand over mouth and point to your truth, you have bedrock truth.

When you write a report grounded in bedrock truth, it’s the same as putting your hand over your mouth and pointing to the truth.


If you speak your truth and it doesn’t bring about the change you want, sometimes that happens.

And sometimes it brings about its opposite.


Your truth doesn’t have to be right to be useful.

But for your truth to be useful, you must be uncompromising with it.


You don’t have to know why you believe your truth; you just have to believe it.

It’s not your responsibility to make others believe your truth; it’s your responsibility to tell it.


When your truth contradicts success, expect dismissal and disbelief.

When your truth meets with dismissal and disbelief, you may be onto something.


Tomorrow’s truth will likely be different than today’s.

But you don’t have a responsibility to be consistent; you have a responsibility to the truth.


image credit — “the eyes of truth r always watching u” by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Without a problem there can be no progress.

Without a problem, there can be no progress.

And only after there’s too much no progress is a problem is created.

And once the problem is created, there can be progress.


When you know there’s a problem just over the horizon, you have a problem.

Your problem is that no one else sees the future problem, so they don’t have a problem.

And because they have no problem, there can be no progress.

Progress starts only after the calendar catches up to the problem.


When someone doesn’t think they have a problem, they have two problems.

Their first problem is the one they don’t see, and their second is that they don’t see it.

But before they can solve the first problem, they must solve the second.

And that’s usually a problem.


When someone hands you their problem, that’s a problem.

But if you don’t accept it, it’s still their problem.

And that’s a problem, for them.


When you try to solve every problem, that’s a problem.

Some problems aren’t worth solving.

And some don’t need to be solved yet.

And some solve themselves.

And some were never really problems at all.


When you don’t understand your problem, you have two problems.

Your first is the problem you have and your second is that you don’t know what your problem by name.

And you’ve got to solve the second before the first, which can be a problem.


With a big problem comes big attention. And that’s a problem.

With big attention comes a strong desire to demonstrate rapid progress. And that’s a problem.

And because progress comes slowly, fervent activity starts immediately. And that’s a problem.

And because there’s no time to waste, there’s no time to define the right problems to solve.


And there’s no bigger problem than solving the wrong problems.

Love Everyone and Tell the Truth

If you see someone doing something that’s not quite right, you have a choice – call them on their behavior or let it go.

In general, I have found it’s more effective to ignore behavior you deem unskillful if you can.  If no one will get hurt, say nothing. If it won’t start a trend, ignore it. And if it’s a one-time event, look the other way.  If it won’t cause standardization on a worst practice, it never happened.

When you don’t give attention to other’s unskillful behavior, you don’t give it the energy it needs to happen again. Just as a plant dies when it’s not watered, unskillful behavior will wither on the vine if it’s ignored. Ignore it and it will die. But the real reason to ignore unskillful behavior is that it frees up time to amplify skillful behavior.

If you’re going to spend your energy doing anything, reinforce skillful behavior.  When you see someone acting skillfully, call it out.  In front of their peers, tell them what you liked and why you liked it.  Tell them how their behavior will make a difference for the company. Say it in a way that others hear. Say it in a way that everyone knows this behavior is special.  And if you want to guarantee that the behavior will happen again, send an email of praise to the boss of the person that did the behavior and copy them on the email.  The power of sending an email of praise is undervalued by a factor of ten.

When someone sends your boss an email that praises you for your behavior, how do you feel?

When someone sends your boss an email that praises you for your behavior, will you do more of that behavior or less?

When someone sends your boss an email that praises you for your behavior, what do you think of the person that sent it?

When someone sends your boss an email that praises you for your behavior, will you do more of what the sender thinks important or less?

And now the hard part. When you see someone behaving unskillfully and that will damage your company’s brand, you must call them on their behavior. To have the most positive influence, give your feedback as soon as you see it.  In a cause-and-effect way, the person learns that the unskillful behavior results in a private discussion on the negative impact of their behavior.  There’s no question in their mind about why the private discussion happened and, because you suggested a more skillful approach, there’s clarity on how to behave next time.  The first time you see the unskillful behavior, they deserve to be held accountable in private. They also deserve a clear explanation of the impacts of their behavior and a recipe to follow going forward.

And now the harder part. If, after the private explanation of the unskillful behavior that should stop and the skillful behavior should start, they repeat the unskillful behavior, you’ve got to escalate. Level 1 escalation is to hold a private session with the offender’s leader. This gives the direct leader a chance to intervene and reinforce how the behavior should change. This is a skillful escalation on your part.

And now the hardest part. If, after the private discussion with the direct leader, the unskillful behavior happens again, you’ve got to escalate.  Remember, this unskillful behavior is so unskillful it will hurt the brand. It’s now time to transition from private accountability to public accountability.  Yes, you’ve got to call out the unskillful behavior in front of everyone. This may seem harsh, but it’s not.  They and their direct leader have earned every bit of the public truth-telling that will soon follow.

Now, before going public, it’s time to ask yourself two questions. Does this unskillful behavior rise to the level of neglect? And, does this unskillful behavior violate a first principle? Meaning, does the unskillful behavior undermine a fundamental, or foundational element, of how the work is done?  Take your time with these questions, because the situation is about to get real.  Really real. And really uncomfortable.

And if you answer yes to one of those two questions, you’ve earned the right to ask yourself a third. Have you reached bedrock?  Meaning, your position grounded deeply in what you believe. Meaning, you’ve reached a threshold where things are non-negotiable. Meaning, no matter what the negative consequences to your career, you’re willing to stand tall and take the bullets.  Because the bullets will fly.

If you’ve reached bedrock, call out the unskillful behavior publicly and vehemently.  Show no weakness and give no ground.  And when the push-back comes, double down. Stand on your bedrock, and tell the truth. Be effective, and tell the truth. As Ram Dass said, love everyone and tell the truth.

If you want to make a difference, amplify skillful behavior. Send emails of praise. And if that doesn’t work, send more emails of praise.  Praise publicly and praise vehemently. Pour gasoline on the fire. And ignore unskillful behavior, when you can.

And when you can’t ignore the unskillful behavior, before going public make sure the behavior violates a first principle. And make sure you’re standing on bedrock. And once you pass those tests, love everyone and tell the truth.

Image credit —

The Toughest Word to Say

As the world becomes more connected, it becomes smaller.  And as it becomes smaller, competition becomes more severe. And as competition increases, work becomes more stressful.  We live in a world where workloads increase, timelines get pulled in, metrics multiply and “accountability” is always the word of the day. And in these trying times, the most important word to say is also the toughest.

When your plate is full and someone tries to pile on more work, what’s the toughest word to say?

When the project is late and you’re told to pull in the schedule and you don’t get any more resources, what’s the toughest word to say?

When the technology you’re trying to develop is new-to-world and you’re told you must have it ready in three months, what’s the toughest word to say?

When another team can’t fill an open position and they ask you to fill in temporarily while you do your regular job, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re asked to do something that will increase sales numbers this quarter at the expense of someone else’s sales next quarter, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re told to use a best practice that isn’t best for the situation at hand, what’s the toughest word to say?

When you’re told to do something and how to do it, what’s the toughest word to say?

When your boss asks you something that you know is clearly their responsibility, what’s the toughest word to say?

Sometimes the toughest word is the right word.

Image credit –Noirathse’s Eye

When The Wheels Fall Off

When your most important product development project is a year behind schedule (and the schedule has been revved three times), who would you call to get the project back on track?

When the project’s unrealistic cost constraints wall of the design space where the solution resides, who would you call to open up the higher-cost design space?

When the project team has tried and failed to figure out the root cause of the problem, who would you call to get to the bottom of it?

And when you bring in the regular experts and they, too, try and fail to fix the problem, who would you call to get to the bottom of getting to the bottom of it?

When marketing won’t relax the specification and engineering doesn’t know how to meet it, who would you call to end the sword fight?

When engineering requires geometry that can only be made by a process that manufacturing doesn’t like and neither side will give ground, who would you call to converge on a solution?

When all your best practices haven’t worked, who would you call to invent a novel practice to right the ship?

When the wheels fall off, you need to know who to call.

If you have someone to call, don’t wait until the wheels fall off to call them. And if you have no one to call, call me.

Image credit — Jason Lawrence

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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