Archive for the ‘New Thinking’ Category

The Fear of Being Judged

Punk Culture“Here – I made this.”  Those are courageous words.  When you make something no one has made and you show people you are saying to yourself – “I know my work will be judged, but that’s the price of putting myself out there.  I will show my work anyway.”  I think the fear of being judged is enemy number one of creativity, innovation, and living life on your own terms.  If I had ten dollars of courage in my pocket I’d spend it to dampen my fear of being judged.

No one has ever died from the fear of being judged, but right before you show your new work, share your inner feelings or show your true self, is sure feels like you’re going to be the exception.  The fear of being judged is powerful enough to generate self-limiting behavior and sometimes can completely debilitate.  It’s vector of unpleasantness is huge.

At a lower level, the fear of being judged is the fear someone will think of you differently than you want them to.  It’s a fear they’ll label you with a scarlet letter you don’t want to own.  This mismatch is the gradient that drives the fear.  If you reduce the gradient you reduce the fear and the self-censorship.

No one can label you without your consent, and if you don’t consent there is no gradient.  If you think the scarlet letter does not fit you, it doesn’t. No mismatch.  When someone tries to hand you a gift and instead of taking it from them you let it drop to the floor, it’s not your gift.  If you don’t accept their gift there is no gradient.  But there is a gradient because you think the scarlet letter may actually fit and the gift may actually be yours.  You create your fear because you think they may be right.

In the end it’s all about what you think about yourself.  If your behavior is skillful and you know it, you will not accept someone else’s judgment and there’s no fear-fueling gradient .  If your approach is purposefully thoughtful, you will not consent to labeling.  If you know your intentions are true, there can be no external mismatch because there is no internal mismatch.

No one can be 100% skillful, purposeful, thoughtful and intentional.  But directionally, behaving this way will reduce the gradient and the fear.  But the fear will never go away, and that’s why we need courage.  Be skillful and afraid and do it anyway.  Be thoughtful and scared and do what scares you.  Be true to your heart’s intention and just courageous as you need to be to wrestle your fears to the ground.

Image credit – Paul Townsend

Strategic Planning is Dead.

Looking into the futureThings are no longer predictable, and it’s time to start behaving that way.

In the olden days (the early 2000s) the pace of change was slow enough that for most the next big thing was the same old thing, just twisted and massaged to look like the next big thing.  But that’s not the case today.  Today’s pace is exponential, and it’s time to behave that way.  The next big thing has yet to be imagined, but with unimaginable computing power, smart phones, sensors on everything and a couple billion new innovators joining the web, it should be available on Alibaba and Amazon a week from next Thursday.  And in three weeks, you’ll be able to buy a 3D printer for $199 and go into business making the next big thing out of your garage.  Or, you can grasp tightly onto your success and ride it into the ground.

To move things forward, the first thing to do is to blow up the strategic planning process and sweep the pieces into the trash bin of a bygone era.  And, the next thing to do is make sure the scythe of continuous improvement  is busy cutting waste out of the manufacturing process so it cannot be misapplied to the process of re-imagining the strategic planning process.  (Contrary to believe, fundamental problems of ineffectiveness cannot be solved with waste reduction.)

First, the process must be renamed.  I’m not sure what to call it, but I am sure it should not have “planning” in the name – the rate of change is too steep for planning.  “Strategic  adapting” is a better name, but the actual behavior is more akin to probe, sense, respond.   The logical question then – what to probe?

[First, for the risk minimization community, probing is not looking back at the problems of the past and mitigating risks that no longer apply.]

Probing is forward looking, and it’s most valuable to probe (purposefully investigate) fertile territory.  And the most fertile ground is defined by your success.  Here’s why.  Though the future cannot be predicted, what can be predicted is your most profitable business will attract the most attention from the billion, or so, new innovators looking to disrupt things.  They will probe your business model and take it apart piece-by-piece, so that’s exactly what you must do.  You must probe-sense-respond until you obsolete your best work.  If that’s uncomfortable, it should be.  What should be more uncomfortable is the certainty that your cash cow will be dismantled.   If someone will do it, it might as well be you that does it on your own terms.

Over the next year the most important work you can do is to create the new technology that will cause your most profitable business to collapse under its own weight.  It doesn’t matter what you call it – strategic planning, strategic adapting, securing the future profitability of the company – what matters is you do it.

Today’s biggest risk is our blindness to the immense risk of keeping things as they are.  Everything changes, everything’s impermanent – especially the things that create huge profits.  Your most profitable businesses are magnates to the iron filings of disruption.  And it’s best to behave that way.

Image credit – woodleywonderworks

Are you doing innovation?

Bizarro SupermanIf you’re not thinking differently, you’re thinking the same. And if you’re thinking the same, you’re going to get the same. Same may feel safe, and at some level it is. But when sameness festers into staleness, too much of a good thing isn’t wonderful.

In our fast moving Bizzaro World, safe is dangerous; repeatable is out and remarkable is in; improving what is is displaced by creating what isn’t; more capacity is outlawed and new capability is the only way; growing existing markets is wasteful because it gets in the way of creating new ones.

Ask your company leaders if they’re doing innovation, and the answer is yes. It’s a loaded question, and nothing good can come of it. “No, we don’t do innovation.” is a career-limiting response. Here are two better questions: What are you doing that’s different? What are you doing differently? These questions are effective because they require answers that are relative – relative to what you used to do. And because innovation starts with different, these questions are a good start.

Our assembly process is different and we increased productivity 0.3%; our product design is different and we made it stronger by 2.1%; our customer service tools are different and we decrease waiting time by 1.7%; our plastics are different and we reduced product cost by 0.6%. The difference is clear, but it didn’t really make a difference. Innovation starts with different, but all different isn’t created equal. Instead of shades of gray, think binary, think black to white, think no to yes.

Here are some better questions:

  • Have we stopped distracting ourselves by focusing on growth of our biggest markets?
  • Did we change the value proposition with our new product?
  • Have we increased sales people in the undeveloped markets at the expense of sales people in our biggest markets?
  • Do our new technologies change the argument?
  • Are we working on the new products that will obsolete our most profitable product?
  • Does the new product do less of anything so it can do more of something else?
  • Are we working on the technologies so we can sell into Africa?
  • Are we hiring experts in mobile technology?
  • How about experts in data science?

There’s no hard and fast definition of what makes for the right no-to-yes thinking but their telltale sign is their wake of oblique problems. If your organization doesn’t know how to do something, then it could be an indication of powerful no-to-yes behavior. For example, if your translations group doesn’t know how to translate into a new language requested by sales, it could be because a new region of the world is now important. If your sales managers want to use a new search firm because your longstanding one can’t find the right new candidates, it may be because your new product demands a new flavor of sales people. If your compensation structure doesn’t let you make an acceptable offer to an engineer you really need, it could be because you need to hire for new specialties from different industries with radically different compensation norms.

“Are you doing innovation?”, as a question, is not skillful.  Instead, do the work so you must sell where you haven’t sold; use materials you’ve never used; use technologies you’ve never heard of; hire people you never had to hire; and create problems related to new geographies and new languages.  And when someone asks “Are you doing innovation?”, tell them you used to, but you’ve found something better.

Image credit – JD HANCOCK PHOTOS

Prototypes Are The Best Way To Innovate

Protype of first mouseIf you’re serious about innovation, you must learn, as second nature, to convert your ideas into prototypes.

Funny thing about ideas is they’re never fully formed – they morph and twist as you talk about them, and as long as you keep talking they keep changing. Evolution of your ideas is good, but in the conversation domain they never get defined well enough (down to the nuts-and-bolts level) for others (and you) to know what you’re really talking about. Converting your ideas into prototypes puts an end to all the nonsense.

Job 1 of the prototype is to help you flesh out your idea – to help you understand what it’s all about. Using whatever you have on hand, create a physical embodiment of your idea. The idea is to build until you can’t, to build until you identify a question you can’t answer. Then, with learning objective in hand, go figure out what you need to know, and then resume building. If you get to a place where your prototype fully captures the essence of your idea, it’s time to move to Job 2. To be clear, the prototype’s job is to communicate the idea – it’s symbolic of your idea – and it’s definitely not a fully functional prototype.

Job 2 of the prototype is to help others understand your idea. There’s a simple constraint in this phase – you cannot use words – you cannot speak – to describe your prototype. It must speak for itself. You can respond to questions, but that’s it. So with your rough and tumble prototype in hand, set up a meeting and simply plop the prototype in front of your critics (coworkers) and watch and listen. With your hand over your mouth, watch for how they interact with the prototype and listen to their questions. They won’t interact with it the way you expect, so learn from that. And, write down their questions and answer them if you can. Their questions help you see your idea from different perspectives, to see it more completely. And for the questions you cannot answer, they the next set of learning objectives. Go away, learn and modify your prototype accordingly (or build a different one altogether). Repeat the learning loop until the group has a common understanding of the idea and a list of questions that only a customer can answer.

Job 3 is to help customers understand your idea. At this stage it’s best if the prototype is at least partially functional, but it’s okay if it “represents” the idea in clear way. The requirement is prototype is complete enough for the customer can form an opinion. Job 3 is a lot like Job 2, except replace coworker with customer. Same constraint – no verbal explanation of the prototype, but you can certainly answer their direction questions (usually best answered with a clarifying question of your own such as “Why do you ask?”) Capture how they interact with the prototype and their questions (video is the best here). Take the data back to headquarters, and decide if you want to build 100 more prototypes to get a broader set of opinions; build 1000 more and do a small regional launch; or scrap it.

Building a prototype is the fastest, most effective way to communicate an idea. And it’s the best way to learn. The act of building forces you to make dozens of small decisions to questions you didn’t know you had to answer and the physical nature the prototype gives a three dimensional expression of the idea. There may be disagreement on the value of the idea the prototype stands for, but there will be no ambiguity about the idea.

If you’re not building prototypes early and often, you’re not doing innovation. It’s that simple.

Ratcheting Toward Problems of a Lesser Degree

20140827-212110.jpg

Here’s how innovation goes:
(Words uttered. // Internal thoughts.)

That won’t work. Yes, this is a novel idea, but it won’t work. You’re a heretic. Don’t bring that up again. // Wow, that scares me, and I can’t go there.

Yes, the first experiment seemed to work, but the test protocol was wrong, and the results don’t mean much. And, by the way, you’re nuts. // Wow. I didn’t believe that thing would ever get off the ground.

Yes, you modified the test protocol as I suggested, but that was only one test and there are lots of far more stressful protocols that surely cannot be overcome. // Wow. They listened to me and changed the protocol as I suggested, and it actually worked!

Yes, the prototype seemed to do okay on the new battery of tests, but there’s no market for that thing. // I thought they were kidding when they said they’d run all the tests I suggested, but they really took my input seriously. And, I can’t believe it, but it worked. This thing may have legs.

Yes, the end users liked the prototypes, but the sample size was small and some of them don’t buy any of our exiting products. I think we should make these two changes and take it to more end users. // This could be exciting, and I want to be part of this.

Yes, they liked the prototypes better once my changes were incorporated, but the cost is too high. // Sweet! They liked my design! I hope we can reduce the cost.

I made some design changes that reduce the cost and my design is viable from a cost standpoint, but manufacturing has other priorities and can’t work on it. // I’m glad I was able to reduce the cost, and I sure hope we can free up manufacting resources to launch my product.

Wow, it was difficult to get manufacturing to knuckle down, but I did it, and my product will make a big difference for the company. // Thanks for securing resources for me, and I’m glad you did the early concept work when I was too afraid.

Yes, my product has been a huge commercial success, and it all strarted with this crazy idea I had. You remember, right? // Thank you for not giving up on me. I know it was your idea. I know I was a stick-in-the-mud. I was scared. And thanks for kindly and effectively teaching me how to change my thinking. Maybe we can do it again sometime.
________________

There’s nothing wrong with this process; in fact, everything is right about it because that’s what people do. We’ve taught them to avoid risk at all costs, and even still, they manage to walk gingerly toward new thinking.

I think it’s important to learn to see the small shifts in attitude as progress, to see the downgrade from an impossible problem to a really big problem as progress.

Instead of grabbing the throat of radical innovation and disrupting yourself, I suggest a waterfall approach of a stepwise ratchet toward problems of a lesser degree. This way you can claim small victories right from the start, and help make it safe to try new things. And from there, you can stack them one on top of another to build your great pyramid of disruption.

And don’t forget to praise the sorceres and heretics who bravely advance their business model-busting ideas without the safety net of approval.

Do The Work No One Is Asking For

boredWe spend too much time on the mundane. Every day people come to work, turn on their PCs, and the mundane magically happens on its own accord. Email gets sent, phones get answered, mail gets delivered, and processes get followed. And after lunch, the hamster wheel spins back up and the mundane consumes the rest of our day. Yet there’s no need because that stuff runs on its own. It’s time to leave it alone and manage the mundane by exception. If there’s a hiccup, give it a drink of water, and otherwise leave it alone. It’s time to recognize the massive opportunity cost of the mundane – mundane comes at the expense of meaningful.

But when the mundane withers and there’s finally time for meaningful, there’s another chasm to cross – no one asks for meaningful work. Because meaningful work makes a difference and making a difference threatens the legacy of success, no one asks you for it. Because it’s considered impossible, there’s no request to do it. And because it’s considered a strength of your business, no one suggests you dismantle it. Crazy, but it’s time to stop the mundane so you can start doing work no one is asking you to do.

But it’s not any old work no one is asking for, it’s a special flavor, a flavor that meets a tight set of criteria.

Don’t do it unless it will make a difference. But not any old difference, a difference of epic proportions. If you explain the concept to the customer and they want to buy ten, you’re on the right track. If after you show the prototype the customer won’t give it back to you with a wrestling match, that’s the right work. If you present the concept to the core business unit and they immediately try to scuttle it, you’re on to something.

Don’t do it unless it resonates with you, personally. As subject matter expert, it must make your hair stand on end. As the inventor who must swim against the tide of “you can’t do that”, it must fill your deep need to help others. As the pariah who threatens the success of the company, it must be more than an idea – it must be part of you.

Leaders – it’s time to ask your people to work on things that are meaningful to them. Give them four hours a week and ask for an informal fifteen minute presentation every other week. They’ll make extreme progress and amaze you. Magically, because they’ll be so charged up, there will be time for all the work. Morale will skyrocket, the best folks will ask to work on your team, and you’ll have working prototypes for all the things you should have asked for.

Occam’s Razor For Innovation

big sundialThere are many flavors of innovation – incremental, disruptive, and seven flavors in between. And there is lots of argument about the level of innovation – mine’s radical and yours isn’t; that’s just improving what we already have; that’s too new – no one will ever buy it. We want to label the work in order to put it in the right bucket, to judge if we’re doing the right work. But the labels get in the way – they’re loaded with judgments, both purrs and snarls.

Truth is, innovation work falls on a continuum of newness and grouping them makes little sense. And, it’s not just newness that matters – it’s how the newness fits (or doesn’t) within the context of how things happen today and how customers think they should happen tomorrow. So what to do?

Customers notice the most meaningful innovations, and they notice the most meaningful ones before the less meaningful. Evaluate the time it takes a customer to notice the innovation and there may be hope to evaluate the importance of the innovation.

The technology reduces cost, and at the end of the month when the numbers are rolled up the accountants can see the improvement. This is real improvement, but there’s a significant lag and the people doing the work don’t see it as meaningful. This one’s a tough sell – buy this new thing, train on it, use it for three months, and if you keep good records and do some nifty statistics you’ll see an improvement.

The technology reduces scrap, and at the end of the week the scrap bin will be half full instead of fully full. Scrap is waste and waste reduction is real improvement. This is an easier sell – buy it and train on it and at the end of the week you’ll notice a reduction in scrap. This is important but only to those who are measured on scrap. And today the scrap is emptied every week, now we can empty it every other week. The time to notice is reduced, but the impact may not be there.

The technology increases throughput, and at the end of the shift the bins will be fuller than full. Here – try it for a shift and see what you think. If you like it, you can buy it. I’ll be back tomorrow with a quote. This is noticeable within eight hours. And at the end of eight hours there are more things that can be sold. That’s real money, and real money gets noticed.

The technology makes the product last two hours instead of one. Here – try it for a couple hours. I’ll go get a coffee and come back and see what you think. You won’t have to stop the machine nearly as often and you’ll put more parts into finished goods inventory. The technology gets noticed within two hours and the purchase order is signed in three.

Where the old technology was load, this is quiet. Don’t bother with ear protection, just give it a go. Pretty cool, isn’t it. Go get your boss and I’ll sell you a couple units right now. This one shows its benefits the end user right away – first try.

The most meaningful innovations get noticed instantly. Stop trying to label the innovation and simply measure how long it takes your customer to notice.

Experiment With Your People Systems

Battle_of_Waterloo_1815It’s pretty clear that innovation is the way to go. There’s endless creation of new technologies, new materials, and new processes so innovation can create new things to sell. And there are multiple toolsets and philosophies to get it done, but it’s difficult.

When doing new there’s no experience, no predictions, no certainty. But innovation is no dummy and has come up with a way to overcome the uncertainty. It builds knowledge of systems through testing – build it, test it, measure it, fix it. Not easy, but doable. And what makes it all possible is the repeatable response of things like steel, motors, pumps, software, hard drives. Push on them repeatably and their response is repeatable; stress them in a predictable way and their response is predictable; break them in a controlled way and the failure mode can be exercised.

Once there’s a coherent hypothesis that has the potential to make magic, innovation builds it in the lab, creates a measurement system to evaluate goodness, and tests it. After the good idea, innovation is about converting the idea into a hypothesis – a prediction of what will happen and why – and testing them early and often. And once they work every-day-all-day and make into production, the factory measures them relentlessly to make sure the goodness is shipped with every unit, and the data is religiously plotted with control charts.

The next evolution of innovation will come from systematically improving people systems. There are some roadblocks but they can be overcome. In reality, they already have been overcome it’s just that no one realizes it.

People systems are more difficult because their responses are not repeatable – where steel bends repeatably for a given stress, people do not. Give a last minute deliverable to someone in a good mood, and the work gets done; give that same deliverable to the same person on a bad day, and you get a lot of yelling. And because bad moods beget bad moods, people modify each other’s behavior. And when that non-repeatable, one-person-modifying-another response scales up to the team level, business unit, company, and supply chain, you have a complex adaptive system – a system that cannot be predicted. But just as innovation of airliners and automobiles uses testing to build knowledge out of uncertainty, testing can do the same for people systems.

To start, assumptions about how people systems would respond to new input must be hardened into formal hypotheses. And for the killer hypotheses that hang together, an experiment is defined; a small target population is identified; a measurement system created; a baseline measurement is taken; and the experiment is run. Data is then collected, statistical analyses are made, and it’s clear if the hypothesis is validated or not. If validated, the solution is rolled out and the people system is improved. And in a control chart sense, the measurement system is transferred to the whole system and is left to run continuously to make sure the goodness doesn’t go away. If it’s invalidated, another hypothesis is generated and the process is repeated. (It’s actually better to test multiple hypotheses in parallel.)

In the past, this approach was impossible because the measurement system did not exist. What was needed was a simple, mobile data acquisition system for “people data”, a method to automatically index the data, and a method to quickly process and display the results. The experimental methods were clear, but there was no response for the experiments. Now there is.

People systems are governed by what people think and feel, and the stories they tell are the surrogates for their thoughts and feelings. When an experiment is conducted on a people system, the stories are the “people data” that is collected, quantified, and analyzed. The stories are the response to the experiment.

It is now possible to run an experiment where a sample population uses a smart phone and an app to collect stories (text, voice, pictures), index them, and automatically send them to a server where some software groups the stories and displays them in a way to see patterns (groups of commonly indexed stories). All this is done in real time. And, by clicking on a data point, the program brings up the story associated with that data point.

Here’s how it works. The app is loaded, people tell their stories on their phone, and a baseline is established (a baseline story pattern). Inputs or constraints are changed for the target population and new stories are collected. If the patterns change in a desirable way (statistical analysis is possible), the new inputs and constraints are rolled out. If the stories change in an undesirable way, the target population reverts back to standard conditions and the next hypothesis is tested.

Unbiased, real time, continuous information streams to make sense of your people systems is now possible. Real time, direct connection to your employees and your customers is a reality, and the implications are staggering.

Thank you Dave Snowden.

The Complexity Conundrum

ConfusedIn school the problems you were given weren’t really problems at all. In school you opened the book to a specific page and there, right before you in paragraph form and numbered consecutively, was a neat row of “problems”. They were fully-defined, with known inputs, a formal equation that defined the system’s response, and one right answer. Nothing extra, nothing missing, nothing contradictory. Today’s problems are nothing like that.

Today’s problems don’t have a closed form solution; today’s problems don’t have a right answer. Three important factors come into play: companies and their systems are complex; the work, at some level, is always new; and people are always part of the equation.

It’s not that companies have a lot of moving parts (that makes them complicated); it’s that the parts can respond differently in different situations, can change over time (learn), and the parts can interact and change each others’ response (that’s complex). When you’re doing work you did last time, there’s a pretty good chance the system will perform like it did last time. But it’s a different story when the inputs are different, when the work is new.

When the work is new, there’s no precedent. The inputs are new and the response is newer. Perturb the system in a new way and you’re not sure how it will respond. New interactions between preciously unreactive parts make for exciting times. The seemingly unconnected parts ping each other through the ether, stiffen or slacken, and do their thing in a whole new way. Repeatability is out the window, and causal predictability is out of the question. New inputs (new work) slathers on layers of unknownness that must be handled differently.

Now for the real complexity culprit – people. Companies are nothing more than people systems in the shape of a company. And the work, well, that’s done by people. And people are well known to be complex. In a bad mood, we respond one way; confident and secure we respond in another. And people have memory. If something bad happened last time, next time we respond differently. And interactions among people are super complex – group think, seniority, trust, and social media.

Our problems swim with us in a hierarchical sea of complexity. That’s just how it is. Keep that in mind next time you put together your Gantt chart and next time you’re asked to guarantee the outcome of an innovation project.

Complexity is real, and there are real ways to handle it. But that’s for another time. Until then, I suggest you bone up on Dave Snowden’s work. When it comes to complexity, he’s the real deal.

Image credit – miguelb.

How Things Really Happen

The conductor behind it all.

From the outside it’s unclear how things happen; but from the inside it’s clear as day. No, it’s not your bulletproof processes; it’s not your top down strategy; and it’s not your operating plans. It’s your people.

At some level everything happens like this:

An idea comes to you that makes little sense, so you drop it. But it comes again, and then again. It visits regularly over the months and each time reveals a bit of its true self. But still, it’s incomplete. So you walk around with it and it eats at you; like a parasite, it gets stronger at your expense. Then, it matures and grows its voice – and it talks to you. It talks all the time; it won’t let you sleep; it pollutes you; it gets in the way; it colors you; and finally you become the human embodiment of the idea.

And then it tips you. With one last push, it creates enough discomfort to roll over the fear of acknowledging its existence, and you set up the meeting.

You call the band and let them know it’s time again to tour. You’ve been through it before and you all know deal. You know your instruments and you know how to harmonize. You know what they can do (because they’ve done it before) and you trust them. You sing them the song of your idea and they listen. Then you ask them to improvise and sing it back, and you listen. The mutual listening moves the idea forward, and you agree to take a run at it.

You ask how it should go. The lead vocalist tells you how it should be sung; the lead guitar works out the fingering; the drummer beats out the rhythm; and the keyboardist grins and says this will be fun. You all know the sheet music and you head back to your silos to make it happen.
In record time, the work gets done and you get back together to review the results. As a group you decide if the track is good enough play in public. If it is, you set up the meeting with a broader audience to let them hear your new music. If it’s not, you head back to the recording studio to amplify what worked and dampen what didn’t. You keep re-recording until your symphony is ready for the critics.

Things happen because artists who want to make a difference band together and make a difference. With no complicated Gantt chart, no master plan, no request for approval, and no additional resources, they make beautiful music where there had been none. As if from thin air, they create something from nothing. But it’s not from thin air; it’s from passion, dedication, trust, and mutual respect.

The business books over-complicate it. Things happen because people make them happen – it’s that simple.

The Ladder Of Your Own Making

Your LadderThere’s a natural hierarchy to work.  Your job, if you choose to accept it is to climb the ladder of hierarchy rung-by-rung. Here’s how to go about it:

Level 1. Work you can say no to – Say no to it. Say no effectively as you can, but say it. Saying no to level 1 work frees you up for the higher levels.

Level 2. Work you can get someone else to do – Get someone else to do it. Give the work to someone who considers the work a good reach, or a growth opportunity. This isn’t about shirking responsibility, it’s about growing young talent. Maybe you can spend a little time mentoring and the freed up time doing higher level work. Make sure you give away the credit so next time others will ask you for the opportunity to do this type of work for you.

Level 3. Work you’ve done before, but can’t wiggle out of – Do it with flair, style, and efficiency; do it differently than last time, then run away before someone asks you to do it again. Or, do it badly so next time they ask someone else to do it. Depending on the circumstance, either way can work.

Level 4. Work you haven’t done before, but can’t wiggle out of – Come up with a new recipe for this type of work, and do it so well it’s unassailable. This time your contribution is the recipe; next time your contribution is to teach it to someone else. (See level 2.)

Level 5. Work that scares others – Figure out why it scares them; break it into small bites; and take the smallest first bite (so others can’t see the failure).  If it works, take a bigger bite; if it doesn’t, take a different smallest bite.  Repeat, as needed. Next time, since you’ve done it before, treat it like level 3 work. Better still, treat it like level 2.

Level 6. Work that scares you – Figure out why it scares you, then follow the steps for level 5.

Level 7. Work no one knows to ask you to do – You know your subject matter better than anyone, so figure out the right work and give it a try.  This flavor is difficult because it comes at the expense of work you’re already signed up to do and no one is asking you to do it. But you should have the time because you followed the guidance in the previous levels.

Level 8. Work that obsoletes the very thing that made your company successful – This is rarified air – no place for the novice. Ultimately, someone will do this work, and it might as well be you.  At least you’ll be able to manage the disruption on your own terms.

In the end, your task, if you choose to accept it, is to migrate toward the work that obsoletes yourself. For only then can you start back at level 1 on the ladder of your own making.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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