Archive for the ‘Seeing Things As They Are’ Category

No Time for the Truth

Company leaders deserve to know the truth, but they can no longer take the time to learn it.

Company leaders are pushed too hard to grow the business and can no longer take the time to listen to all perspectives, no longer take the time to process those perspectives, and no longer take the time to make nuanced decisions. Simply put, company leaders are under too much pressure to grow the business.  It’s unhealthy pressure and it’s too severe.  And it’s not good for the company or the people that work there.

What’s best for the company is to take the time to learn the truth.

Getting to the truth moves things forward.  Sure, you may not see things correctly, but when you say it like you see it, everyone’s understanding gets closer to the truth.  And when you do see things clearly and correctly, saying what you see moves the company’s work in a more profitable direction.  There’s nothing worse than spending time and money to do the work only to learn what someone already knew.

What’s best for the company is to tell the truth as you see it.

All of us have good intentions but all of us are doing at least two jobs. And it’s especially difficult for company leaders, whose responsibility is to develop the broadest perspective.  Trouble is, to develop that broad perspective sometime comes at the expense of digging into the details. Perfectly understandable, as that’s the nature of their work. But subject matter experts (SMEs) must take the time to dig into the details because that’s the nature of their work. SMEs have an obligation to think things through, communicate clearly, and stick to their guns.  When asked broad questions, good SMEs go down to bedrock and give detailed answers. And when asked hypotheticals, good SMEs don’t speculate outside their domain of confidence. And when asked why-didn’t-you’s, good SMEs answer with what they did and why they did it.

Regardless of the question, the best SMEs always tell the truth.

SMEs know when the project is behind. And they know the answer that everyone thinks will get the project get back on schedule. And the know the truth as they see it. And when there’s a mismatch between the answer that might get the project back on schedule and the truth as they see it, they must say it like they see it.  Yes, it costs a lot of money when the project is delayed, but telling the truth is the fastest route to commercialization. In the short term, it’s easier to give the answer that everyone thinks will get things back on track. But truth is, it’s not faster because the truth comes out in the end.  You can’t defy the physics and you can’t transcend the fundamentals.  You must respect the truth. The Universe doesn’t care if the truth is inconvenient.  In the end, the Universe makes sure the truth carries the day.

We’re all busy.  And we all have jobs to do. But it’s always the best to take the time to understand the details, respect the physics, and stay true to the fundamentals.

When there’s a tough decision, understand the fundamentals and the decision will find you.

When there’s disagreement, take the time to understand the physics, even the organizational kind. And the right decision will meet you where you are.

When the road gets rocky, ask your best SMEs what to do, and do that.

When it comes to making good decisions, sometimes slower is faster.

Image credit — Dennis Jarvis

Words To Live By


What people think about you is none of your business.

If you’re afraid to be wrong, you shouldn’t be setting direction.

Think the better of people, as they’ll be better for it.

When you find yourself striving, pull the emergency brake and figure out how to start thriving.

If you want the credit, you don’t want to make a difference.

If you’re afraid to use your best judgment, find a mentor.

Family first, no exceptions.

When you hold a mirror to the organization, you demonstrate that you care.

If you want to grow people and you invest less than 30% of your time, you don’t want to grow them.

When someone gives you an arbitrary completion date, they don’t know what they’re doing.

When the Vice President wants to argue with the physics, let them.

When all else fails, use your best judgment.

If it’s not okay to tell the truth, work for someone else.

The best way to make money is not the best way to live.

When someone yells at you, that says everything about them and nothing about you.

Trust is a result. Think about that.

When you ask for the impossible, all the answers will be irrational.

No one can diminish you without your consent.

If you don’t have what you want, why not try to want what you have?

When you want to control things, you limit the growth of everyone else.

People can tell when you’re telling the truth, so tell them.

If you find yourself watching the clock, find yourself another place to work.

When someone does a great job, tell them.

If you have to choose between employment and enjoyment, choose the latter.

If you’re focused on cost reduction, you’re in a race to the bottom.

The best way to help people grow is to let them do it wrong (safely).

When you hold up a mirror to the organization, no one will believe what they see.

If you’re not growing your replacement, what are you doing?

If you’re not listening, you’re not learning.

When someone asks for help, help them.

If you think you know the right answer, you’re the problem.

When someone wants to try something new, help them.

Whatever the situation, tell the truth, and love everyone.

Image credit — John Fife

When It’s Time to Defy Gravity

If you pull hard on your team, what will they do? Will they rebel? Will they push back? Will they disagree? Will they debate? And after all that, will they pull with you? Will the pull for three weeks straight? Will they pull with their whole selves? How do you feel about that?

If you pull hard on your peers, what will they do? Will they engage? Will they even listen? Will they dismiss? And if they dismiss, will you persist? Will you pull harder? And when you pull harder, do they think more of you? And when you pull harder still, do they think even more of you? Do you know what they’ll do? And how do you feel about that?

If you push hard on your leadership, what will they do? Will they ‘lllisten or dismiss? And if they dismiss, will you push harder? When you push like hell, do they like that or do they become uncomfortable, what will you do?  Will they dislike it and they become comfortable and thankful you pushed? Whatever they feel, that’s on them. Do you believe that? If not, how do you feel about that?

When you say something heretical, does your team cheer or pelt you with fruit? Do they hang their heads or do they hope you do it again?  Whatever they do, they’ve watched your behavior for several years and will influence their actions.

When you openly disagree with the company line, do your peers cringe or ask why you disagree? Do they dismiss your position or do they engage in a discussion? Do they want this from you? Do they expect this from you? Do they hope you’ll disagree when you think it’s time? Whatever they do, will you persist? And how do you feel about that?

When you object to the new strategy, does your leadership listen? Or do they un-invite you to the next strategy session?  And if they do, do you show up anyway? Or do they think you’re trying to sharpen the strategy? Do they think you want the best for the company? Do they know you’re objecting because everyone else in the room is afraid to? What they think of your dissent doesn’t matter.  What matters is your principled behavior over the last decade.

If there’s a fire, does your team hope you’ll run toward the flames? Or, do they know you will?

If there’s a huge problem that everyone is afraid to talk about, do your peers expect you get right to the heart of it? Or, do they hope you will? Or, do they know you will?

If it’s time to defy gravity, do they know you’re the person to call?

And how do you feel about that?

Image credit – The Western Sky

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 — RamDass.org

Stop, Start, Continue the Hard Way

The stop, start, continue method (SSC) is a simple, yet powerful, way to plan your day, week and year. And though it’s simple, it’s not simplistic. And though it looks straightforward, it’s onion-like in its layers.

Stop, start, continue (SSC) is interesting in that it’s forward-looking, present-looking, and rearward-looking at the same time. And its power comes from the requirement that the three time perspectives must be reconciled with each other. Stopping is easy, but what will start? Starting is easy, unless nothing is stopped. Continuing is easy, but it’s not the right thing if the rules have changed. And starting can’t start if everything continues.

Stop. With SSC, stopping is the most important part. That’s why it’s first in the sequence. When everyone’s plates are full and every meeting is an all-you-can-eat buffet, without stopping, all the new action items slathered on top simply slip off the plate and fall to the floor. And this is double trouble because while it’s clear new action items are assigned, there’s no admission that the carpet is soiled with all those recently added action items.

Here’s a rule: If you don’t stop, you can’t start.

And here’s another: Pros stop, and rookies start.

With continuous improvement, you should stop what didn’t work. But with innovation, you should stop what was successful. Let others fan the flames of success while you invent the new thing that will start a bigger blaze.

Start. With SSC, starting is the easy part, but it shouldn’t be. Resources are finite, but we conveniently ignore this reality so we can start starting. The trouble with starting is that no one wants to let go of continuing. Do everything you did last year and start three new initiatives. Continue with your current role, but start doing the new job so you can get the promotion in three years.

Here’s a rule: Starting must come at the expense of continuing.

And here’s another: Pros do stop, start, continue, and rookies do start, start, start.

Continue. With SSC, continue is underrated. If you’re always starting, it’s because you have nothing good to continue. And if you’ve got a lot of continuing to do, it’s because you’ve got a lot of good things going on. And continuing is efficient because you’re not doing something for the first time. And everyone knows how to do the work and it goes smoothly.

But there’s a dark side to continue – it’s called the status quo. The status quo is a powerful, one-trick pony that only knows how to continue. It hates stopping and blocks all starting. Continuing is the mortal enemy of innovation.

Here’s a rule: Continuing must stop, or starting can’t start.

And here’s another: Pros continue and stop before they start, and rookies start.

SSC is like juggling three balls at once. Just as it’s not juggling unless it’s three balls at the same time, it’s not SSC unless it’s stop, start, continue all done at the same time. And just as juggling two balls at once isn’t juggling, it’s not SSC if it’s just two out of the three. And just as dropping two of the three balls on the floor isn’t juggling, it’s not SSC if it’s starting, starting, starting.

Image credit – kosmolaut

Strategy, Tactics, and Action

When it comes to strategy and tactics, there are a lot of definitions, a lot of disagreement, and a whole lot of confusion. When is it strategy? When is it tactics? Which is more important? How do they inform each other?

Instead of definitions and disagreement, I want to start with agreement.  Everyone agrees that both strategy AND tactics are required. If you have one without the other, it’s just not the same. It’s like with shoes and socks: Without shoes, your feet get wet; without socks, you get blisters; and when you have both, things go a lot better.  Strategy and tactics work best when they’re done together.

The objective of strategy and tactics is to help everyone take the right action.  Done well, everyone from the board room to the trenches knows how to take action. In that way, here are some questions to ask to help decide if your strategy and tactics are actionable.

What will we do? This gets to the heart of it.  You’ve got to be able to make a list of things that will get done. Real things. Real actions. Don’t be fooled by babble like “We will provide customer value” and “Will grow the company by X%.” Providing customer value may be a good idea, but it’s not actionable. And growing the company by an arbitrary percentage is aspirational, but not actionable.

Why will we do it? This one helps people know what’s powering the work and helps them judge whether their actions are in line with that forcing function. Here’s a powerful answer: Competitors now have products and services that are better than ours, and we can’t have that. This answer conveys the importance of the work and helps everyone put the right amount of energy into their actions. [Note: this question can be asked before the first one.]

Who will do it? Here’s a rule: if no one is freed up to do the new work, the new work won’t get done. Make a list of the teams that will stop their existing projects before they can take action on the new work. Make a list of the new positions that are in the budget to support the strategy and tactics. Make a list of the new companies you’ll partner with. Make a list of all the incremental funding that has been put in the budget to help all the new people complete all these new actions.  If your lists are short or you can make any, you don’t have what it takes to get the work done.  You don’t have a strategy and you don’t have tactics.  You have an unfunded mandate.  Run away.

When will it be done? All actions must have completion dates.  The dates will be set without consideration of the work content, so they’ll be wrong.  Even still, you should have them. And once you have the dates, double all the task durations and push out the dates in your mind.  No need to change the schedule now (you can’t change it anyway) because it will get updated when the work doesn’t get done on time. Now, using your lists of incremental headcount and budget, assign the incremental resources to all the actions with completion dates. Look for actions and budgets as those are objective evidence of the unfunded mandate character of your strategy and tactics. And for actions without completion dates, disregard them because they can never be late.

How will we know it’s done? All actions must call out a definition of success (DOS) that defines when the action has been accomplished. Without a measurable DOS, no one is sure when they’re done so they’ll keep working until you stop them.  And you don’t want that.  You want them to know when they’re done so they can quickly move on to the next action without oversight. If there’s no time to create a DOS, the action isn’t all that important and neither is the completion date.

When the wheels fall off, and they will, how will we update the strategy and tactics? Strategy and tactics are forward-looking and looking forward is rife with uncertainty.  You’ll be wrong.  What actions will you take to see if everything is going as planned? What actions will you take when progress doesn’t meet the plan? What actions will you take when you learn your tactics aren’t working and your strategy needs a band-aid? What will you do? Who will do it? When will it be done? And how will you know it’s done?

Image credit: Eric Minbiole

What it Takes to Do New Work

 

What it takes to do new work.

 

Confidence to get it wrong and confidence to do it early and often.

Purposeful misuse of worst practices in a way that makes them the right practices.

Tolerance for not knowing what to do next and tolerance for those uncomfortable with that.

Certainty that they’ll ask for a hard completion date and certainty you won’t hit it.

Knowledge that the context is different and knowledge that everyone still wants to behave like it’s not.

Disdain for best practices.

Discomfort with success because it creates discomfort when it’s time for new work.

Certainty you’ll miss the mark and certainty you’ll laugh about it next week.

Trust in others’ bias to do what worked last time and trust that it’s a recipe for disaster.

Belief that successful business models have half-lives and belief that no one else does.

Trust that others will think nothing will come of the work and trust that they’re likely right.

Image credit — japanexpertna.se

28 Things I Learned the Hard Way

  • If you want to have an IoT (Internet of Things) program, you’ve got to connect your products.
  • If you want to build trust, give without getting.
  • If you need someone with experience in manufacturing automation, hire a pro.
  • If the engineering team wants to spend a year playing with a new technology, before the bell rings for recess ask them what solution they’ll provide and then go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have the resources, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, let someone else do it.
  • If you want to make a friend, help them.

 

  • If your products are not connected, you may think you have an IoT program, but you have something else.
  • If you don’t have trust, you have just what you earned.
  • If you hire a pro in manufacturing automation, listen to them.
  • If Marketing has an optimistic sales forecast for the yet-to-be-launched product, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you don’t have a project manager, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, teach someone else how to do it.
  • If a friend needs help, help them.

 

  • If you want to connect your products at a rate faster than you sell them, connect the products you’ve already sold.
  • If you haven’t started building trust, you started too late.
  • If you want to pull in the delivery date for your new manufacturing automation, instead, tell your customers you’ve pushed out the launch date.
  • If the VP knows it’s a great idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you can’t commercialize, you don’t have a project.
  • If you know how it will turn out, do something else.
  • If a friend asks you twice for help, drop what you’re doing and help them immediately.

 

  • If you can’t figure out how to make money with IoT, it’s because you’re focusing on how to make money at the expense of delivering value to customers.
  • If you don’t have trust, you don’t have much
  • If you don’t like extreme lead times and exorbitant capital costs, manufacturing automation is not for you.
  • If the management team doesn’t like the idea, go ask customers how much they’ll pay and how many they’ll buy.
  • If you’re not willing to finish a project, you shouldn’t be willing to start.
  • If you know how it will turn out, it’s not innovation.
  • If you see a friend that needs help, help them ask you for help.

Image credit — openDemocracy

Use less, make more.

If you use fewer natural resources, your product costs less.

If you use recycled materials, your product costs less.

If you use less electricity, your product costs less.

If you use less water to make your product, your product costs less.

If you use less fuel to ship your product, your product costs less.

If you make your product lighter, your product costs less.

If you use less packaging, your product costs less.

If you don’t want to be environmentally responsible because you think it’s right, at least do it to be more profitable.

Image credit — Sandrine Néel

The Five Hardships of Success

Everything has a half-life, but we don’t behave that way.  Especially when it comes to success.  The thinking goes – if it was successful last time, it will be successful next time.  So, do it again. And again.  It’s an efficient strategy – the heavy resources to bring it to life have already been spent. And it’s predictable – the same customers, the same value proposition, the same supply base, the same distribution channel, and the same technology. And it’s dangerous.

Success is successful right up until it isn’t. It will go away. But it will take time.  A successful product line won’t fall off the face of the earth overnight. It will deliver profits year-over-year and your company will come to expect them.  And your company will get hooked on the lifestyle enabled by those profits. And because of the addiction, when they start to drop off the company will do whatever it takes to convince itself all is well.  No need to change.  If anything, it’s time to double-down on the successful formula.

Here’s a rule: When your successful recipe no longer brings success, it’s not time to double-down.

Success’s decline will be slow, so you have time.  But creating a new recipe takes a long time, so it’s time to declare that the decline has already started. And it’s time to learn how to start work on the new recipe.

Hardship 1 – Allocate resources differently. The whole company wants to spend resources on the same old recipes, even when told not to.  It’s time to create a funding stream that’s independent of the normal yearly planning cycle.  Simply put, the people at the top have to reallocate a part of the operating budget to projects that will create the next successful platform.

Hardship 2 – Work differently. The company is used to polishing the old products and they don’t know how to create new ones. You need to hire someone who can partner with outside companies (likely startups), build internal teams with a healthy disrespect for previous success, create mechanisms to support those teams and teach them how to work in domains of high uncertainty.

Hardship 3 – See value differently. How do you provide value today? How will you provide value when you can’t do it that way? What is your business model? Are you sure that’s your business model? Which elements of your business model are immature? Are you sure? What is the next logical evolution of how you go about your business? Hire someone to help you answer those questions and create projects to bring the solutions to life.

Hardship 4 – Measure differently. When there’s no customer, no technology and no product, there’s no revenue.  You’ve got to learn how to measure the value of the work (and the progress) with something other than revenue.  Good luck with that.

Hardship 5 – Compensate differently. People that create something from nothing want different compensation than people that do continuous improvement. And you want to move quickly, violate the status quo, push through constraints and create whole new markets. Figure out the compensation schemes that give them what they want and helps them deliver what you want.

This work is hard, but it’s not impossible. But your company doesn’t have all the pieces to make it happen.  Don’t be afraid to look outside your company for help and partnership.

Image credit — Insider Monkey

Where is petroleum consumed?

In last week’s post, I provided a chart that describes the sources of electricity for the United States.  Coal is the largest source of electricity (38%) and natural gas is the next largest (25%).  The largest non-carbon source is nuclear (22%) and the largest renewable sources are wind (6%) and solar (5%). The data from the chart came from Otherlab who was contracted by the Advanced Research Project Agency of the Department of Energy (ARPA-e) to review all available energy data sources and create an ultra-high resolution picture of the U.S. energy economy.

Using the same data set, I created a chart to break out the top ten categories for petroleum consumption for the United States.

 

The category Light-Duty Vehicles (cars, light trucks) is the largest consumer at 20% and is more than the sum of the next two categories – Single-Family Homes (10%) and Chemicals (9%).

When Light-Duty Vehicles at 20% are combined with Freight Trucks (think eighteen-wheelers) at 7%, they make up 27% of the country’s total consumption, making the Transportation sector the thirstiest. The most effective way to reduce petroleum consumption is to replace vehicles powered by internal combustion engines with electric vehicles (EVs). But there’s a catch.

As internal combustion engines diminish and EVs come online, petroleum consumption will drop and will help the planet. But, as EVs come online the demand for electricity will increase, making it even more important to replace coal and natural gas with zero-carbon sources of electricity: nuclear, hydro, wind and solar.

To save the planet, here’s what you can do.  Vote for political candidates who will end federal subsidies for coal and natural gas.  That single change will accelerate the adoption of wind and solar, as it will increase the existing cost advantage of wind and solar.  And if that freed-up money can be reallocated to federally-funded R&D to improve the controllability of electrical grids, the change will come even sooner.

And at the state and local level, you can vote for candidates that want to make it easier for wind and solar projects to be funded.

And, lastly, you can buy an EV. You will see a much larger selection of new electric vehicles over the next year and the driving range continues to improve. Over the next year, most new EV models will be high performance and high cost, lower-cost EVs should follow soon after.

Image credit – NASA Goodard Flight Center

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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