Archive for the ‘Seeing Things As They Are’ Category

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

Regardless of the problem, the solution lives inside you.

If you want things to be different than they are, you have a problem. And if you want things to stay the same, you also have a problem. Either way, you have a problem. You can complain, you can do something about it, or you can accept things as they are.

Complaining can be fun for a while, then it turns sour. Doing something about it can take a lot of time and energy, and it’s difficult to know what to do. Accepting things as they are can be a challenge because that means it’s time to change your perspective. But it’s your choice.  So, what do you choose?

What does it look like to accept things as they are AND do something about it?

If you want someone to be different than they are, you have a problem.  And if you want them to stay the same, you have a different problem. Either way, you have a problem. You can complain about them, you can do something about it, or you can accept them as they are.

Complaining about people can be fun, but only in small doses. Doing something about it, well, that’s difficult because people will do what they want to do, not what you want them to do. Accepting people as they are is difficult because it means you have to look inside and change yourself. But it’s your choice.  So, what do you choose?

What does it look like to accept people as they are AND to do something that makes things better for all?

If you have a problem with things changing, the solution lives inside you. Things change. That’s what they do. And if you have a problem with things staying the same, the solution lives inside you. Things stay the same. That’s what they do.  Either way, the solution lives inside you, and it’s time to look inside.

How would it feel to own your problem and look inside for the solution?

If you have a problem because you want people to be different, the solution lives inside you. People behave the way they want to behave, not the way you want them to behave.  And if you have a problem because you want people to stay the same, the solution lives inside you.  People change. That’s what they do. Either way, the problem is you, and it’s time to look inside for the solution.

How would it feel to accept people as they are and look inside to solve your problem?

Bi Focal by Vox Efx is licensed under CC BY 2.0

When your company looks in the mirror, what does it see?

There are many types of companies, and it can be difficult to categorize them.  And even within the company itself, there is disagreement about the company’s character.   And one of the main sources of disagreement is born from our desire to classify our company as the type we want it to be rather than as the type that it is.

Here’s a process that may bring consensus to your company.

For all the people on the payroll, assign a job type and tally them up for the various types.  If most of your people work in finance, you work for a finance company.  If most work in manufacturing, you work for a manufacturing company.  The same goes for sales, engineering, customer service, consulting.  Write your answer here __________.

For all the company’s profits, assign a type and roll up the totals.  If most of the profit is generated through the sale of services, you work for a service company. If most of the profit is generated by the sale of software, you work for a software company. If hardware generates profits, you work for a hardware company. If licensing of technology generates profits, you work at a technology company.  Which one fits your company best? Write your answer here _________.

For all the people on the payroll, decide if they work to extend and defend the core offerings (the things that you sell today) or create new offerings in new markets that are sold to new customers. If most of the people work on the core offerings, you work for a low-growth company.  If most of the people work to create new offerings (non-core), you work for a high-growth company.  Which fits you best – extend and defined the core / low-growth or new offerings / high growth? Write your answer here __________ / ___________.

Now, circle your answers below.

We are a (finance, manufacturing, sales, engineering, customer service, consulting) company that generates most of its profits through the sale of (services, hardware, software, technology). And because most of our people work to (extend and defend the core, create new offerings), we are a (low, high) growth company.

To learn what type of company you work for, read the sentences out loud.

“Grace – Mirror” by phil41dean is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Discomfort Around Diversity of Perspective

When your organization doesn’t want to hear your truth because it contradicts a decision they’ve already made, that’s a sign of trouble.  It’s a sign they’re going to do what they’re going to and they don’t care all that much about you. But, what if they’re wrong?  And what if your perspective could snatch victory from the flames of an impending train wreck?  As someone who cares about the company and thinks it would benefit from hearing what you have to say, what do you do?

When you have a culture that makes it clear it’s not okay to share divergent perspectives, you have a big problem.

In domains of high uncertainty, increasing the diversity of perspective is the single most important thing we can do to see things more clearly.  In these situations, what matters is the diversity of culture, of heritage, of education, of upbringing, and of experiences. What matters is the diversity of perspective; what matters is the level of divergence among the collective opinions, and what matters most is listening and validating all that diversity.

If you have the diversity of culture, heritage, education, and experience, congratulations. But, if you’re not willing to listen to what that diversity has to say, you’re better off not having it.  It’s far less expensive if you don’t have it and far fewer people will be angry when you don’t listen to them. But, there’s a downside – you’ll go out of business sooner.

When you have a perspective that’s different than the Collective’s, share it. And when there are negative consequences for sharing it, accept them.  And, rinse and repeat until you get promoted or fired.

“A Sense of Perspective” by dolbinator1000 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Illusion of Control

Unhappy: When you want things to be different than they are.

Happy: When you accept things as they are.

 

Sad: When you fixate on times when things turned out differently than you wanted.

Neutral: When you know you have little control over how things will turn out.

Anxious: When you fixate on times when things might turn out differently than you want.

 

Stressed: When you think you have control over how things will turn out.

Relaxed: When you know you don’t have control over how things will turn out.

 

Agitated: When you live in the future.

Calm: When you live in the present.

Sad: When you live in the past.

 

Angry: When you expect a just world, but it isn’t.

Neutral: When you expect that it could be a just world, but likely isn’t.

Happy: When you know it doesn’t matter if the world is just.

 

Angry: When others don’t meet your expectations.

Neutral: When you know your expectations are about you.

Happy: When you have no expectations.

 

Timid: When you think people will judge you negatively.

Neutral: When you think people may judge you negatively or positively.

Happy: When you know what people think about you is none of your business.

 

Distracted: When you live in the past or future.

Focused: When you live in the now.

 

Afraid of change: When you think all things are static.

Accepting change: When you know all things are dynamic.

 

Intimidated: When you think you don’t meet someone’s expectations.

Confident: When you know you did your best.

 

Uncomfortable: When you want things to be different than they are.

Comfortable: When you know the Universe doesn’t care what you think.

 

“Space – Antennae Galaxies” by Trodel is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

What do you want?

If you want a promotion, do the right thing.

If you do the right thing, be prepared to be misunderstood.

If you want the credit, you don’t want the best outcome for all.

If you want to have focus, spend time outside.

If you want to have more control, give it away.

If you want to be happy, want what you have.

If you want to be praised, ask yourself why.

If you want to have focus, get your sleep.

If you want fame, once you get it you probably won’t.

If you want more influence, spend the next decade helping others.

If you want to make progress, demonstrate a healthy disrespect for the Status Quo.

If you want to make a difference, say thank you.

If you want to do what you love, maybe you should consider loving what you do.

If you want to have focus, get your exercise.

If you want to feel better about yourself, help someone who has a problem.

If you want to be more productive, it’s better to be more effective.

If you want to make change, point to the biggest problems and solve them.

If you want to be right, don’t.

If you want loyalty, take responsibility for the bad stuff.

If you want to be successful, same some of your energy for your family.

If you want to make progress, start where you are.

If you want to be happy, you have to decide that what you have is enough.

If you want to preserve your legacy, develop young talent.

If you want respect, be kind.

If you want to be understood, you may not do what’s right.

If you want to do better work, work fewer hours.

If you want to work on great projects, say no to good ones.

“That is the Question” by cogdogblog is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Musings on Skillfulness

Best practices are good, but dragging projects over the finish line is better.

Alignment is good, but not when it’s time for misalignment.

Short-term thinking is good, as long as it’s not the only type of thinking.

Reuse of what worked last time is good, as long as it’s bolstered by the sizzle of novelty.

If you find yourself blaming the customer, don’t.

People that look like they can do the work don’t like to hang around with those that can do it.

Too much disagreement is bad, but not enough is worse.

The Status Quo is good at repeating old recipes and better at squelching new ones.

Using your judgment can be dangerous, but not using it can be disastrous.

It’s okay to have some fun, but it’s better to have more.

If it has been done before, let someone else do it.

When stuck on a tricky problem, make it worse and do the opposite.

The only thing worse than using bad judgment is using none at all.

It can be problematic to say you don’t know, but it can be catastrophic to behave as if you do.

The best way to develop good judgment is to use bad judgment.

When you don’t know what to do, don’t do it.

“Old Monk” by anahitox is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What will they see?

When people look back on your life, what will they see?

When you’re dead and gone, what stories will your kids tell about you?

What stories will your coworkers tell?

How about your bosses?

Will they see your disagreement as mischievous or skillful?

Will they see your frustration as disruptive or caring?

Will they see your vehemence as disrespectful or passionate?

Will they see your divergent views as contrarian or well-intentioned?

Will they see your withholding as passive-aggressive or as the result of exhausting all other possibilities?

Will they see your tears as sadness for yourself or the company you care about deeply?

Will they see your “no’s” as curmudgeonly given or brave?

Will they see your dissent as destructive or constructive?

Will they see your frustration as immaturity or as others falling short of your high expectations?

Will they see your unpopular perspective as troublemaking or as the antidote to groupthink?

Will they see your positivity as fake or as the support that everyone needs to do their best work?

Here’s the thing: What matters is not what it looks like from the outside, but your intentions.

And another thing: Anyone that knows you knows your intentions.

Now, go out and do what you think is right. And do it like you mean it. And don’t look back.

And here’s a mantra: What people think about you is none of your business.

What should we do next?

Anonymous: What do you think we should do next?

Me: It depends.  How did you get here?

Anonymous: Well, we’ve had great success improving on what we did last time.

Me: Well, then you’ll likely do that again.

Anonymous: Do you think we’ll be successful this time?

Me: It depends.  If the performance/goodness has been flat over your last offerings, then no.  When performance has been constant over the last several offerings it means your technology is mature and it’s time for a new one.  Has performance been flat over the years?

Anon: Yes, but we’ve been successful with our tried-and-true recipe and the idea of creating a new technology is risky.

Me: All things have a half-life, including successful business models and long-in-the-tooth technologies, and your success has blinded you to the fact that yours are on life support.  Developing a new technology isn’t risky. What’s risk is grasping tightly to a business model that’s out of gas.

Anon: That’s harsh.

Me: I prefer “truthful.”

Anon: So, we should start from scratch and create something altogether new?

Me: Heavens no. That would be a disaster. Figure out which elements are blocking new functionality and reinvent those. Hint: look for the system elements that haven’t changed in a dog’s age and that are shared by all your competitors.

Anon: So, I only have to reinvent several elements?

Me: Yes, but probably fewer than several.  Probably just one.

Anon: What if we don’t do that?

Me: Over the next five years, you’ll be successful.  And then in year six, the wheels will fall off.

Anon: Are you sure?

Me: No, they could fall off sooner.

Anon: How do you know it will go down like that?

Me: I’ve studied systems and technologies for more than three decades and I’ve made a lot of mistakes.  Have you heard of The Voice of Technology?

Anon: No.

Me: Well, take a bite of this – The Voice of Technology. Kevin Kelly has talked about this stuff at great length.  Have you read him?

Anon: No.

Me: Here’s a beauty from Kevin – What Technology Wants. How about S-curves?

Anon: Nope.

Me: Here’s a little primer – Beyond Dead Reckoning. How about Technology Forecasting?

Anon: Hmm.  I don’t think so.

Me: Here’s something from Victor Fey, my teacher. He worked with Altshuller, the creator of TRIZ – Guided Technology Evolution.  I’ve used this method to predict several industry-changing technologies.

Anon: Yikes! There’s a lot here. I’m overwhelmed.

Me: That’s good!  Overwhelmed is a sign you realize there’s a lot you don’t know.  You could be ready to become a student of the game.

Anon: But where do I start?

Me: I’d start Wardley Maps for situation analysis and LEANSTACK to figure out if customers will pay for your new offering.

Anon: With those two I’m good to go?

Me: Hell no!

Anon: What do you mean?

Me: There’s a whole body of work to learn about. Then you’ve got to build the organization, create the right mindset, select the right projects, train on the right tools, and run the projects.

Anon: That sounds like a lot of work.

Me: Well, you can always do what you did last time. END.

“he went that way matey” by jim.gifford is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Foundation of Leadership Development — Work Products

Leadership development is a good idea in principle, but not in practice. Assessing a person against a list of seven standard competencies does not a leadership development plan make. Nor does a Meyers-Briggs assessment or a strengths assessment. The best way I know to describe the essence of leadership development is through a series of questions to assess and hire new leaders.

Here’s the first question: Is this person capable of doing the work required for this leadership position?  If you don’t start here, choose the person you like most and promote (or hire) them into the new leadership position. It’s much faster, and at least you’ll get along with them as the wheels fall off.

Next question: In this leadership position, what work products must the leader create (or facilitate the creation of)? Work products are objective evidence that the work has been completed.  Examples of work products: analyses, reports, marketing briefs, spreadsheets, strategic plans, product launches, test results for new technologies. Here’s a rule: If you can’t define the required work products, you can’t define the work needed to create them.  Here’s another rule: If you can’t define the work, you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to do that work. And if you can’t assess a candidate’s ability to the work, you might as well make it a popularity contest and hire the person who makes the interview committee smile.

Next question: Can the candidate show work products they’ve created that fit with those required for the leadership position? To be clear, if the candidate can show examples of all the flavors of work products required for the position, it’s a lateral move for the candidate.  That’s not a bad thing, as there are good reasons candidates seek lateral positions (e.g., geographic move due to family or broadening of experience – new product line or customer segment). And if they’ve demonstrated all the work products, but the scope and/or scale are larger, the new position, the new position is a promotion for the candidate. Here’s a rule: if the candidate can’t show you an example of a specific work product or draw a picture of one on the whiteboard, they’ve never done it before.  And another rule: when it comes to work products, if the candidate talks about a work product but can’t show you, it’s because they’ve never created one like that. And talking about work products in the future tense means they’ve never done it. When it comes to work products, there’s no partial credit.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has shown us, are they relevant? A candidate won’t be able to show you work products that are a 100% overlap with those required by the leadership position. The context will be different, the market will be different, and the players will be different.  But, a 50-70% overlap should be good enough.

Next question: For the relevant work products the candidate has shown us, do they represent more than half of those required? If yes, go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate has not demonstrated, has the team done them? If the team has done a majority of them, that’s good.  Go to the next question.

Next question: For the work products the candidate or team has not demonstrated, can we partner them with an expert (an internal one, I hope) who has? If yes, hire the candidate.

Leadership development starts with the definition of the new work the leader must be able to do in their next position. And the best way I know to define the work is to compile a collection of work products that must be created in the next position and match that against the collection of work products the leader has created. The difference between the required work products and the ones the leader has demonstrated defines the leadership development plan.

To define the leadership development plan, start with the work products.

And to help the leader develop, think apprenticeship.  And for that, see this seminal report from 1945.

When is it innovation theater?

When you go to the cinema or the playhouse you go you see a show. The show may be funny, it may be sad, it may be thought-provoking, it may be beautiful, and it may take your mind off your problems for a couple of hours; but it’s not real.  Sure, the storyline is good, but it came from someone’s imagination.  And because it’s a story, it doesn’t have to bound by reality. Sure, the choreography is catchy, but it’s designed for effect. Yes, the cinematography paints a good picture, but it’s contrived. And, yes, the actors are good, but they’re actors. What you see isn’t real. What you see is theater.

If you are asked to focus on the innovation process, that’s theater.  Innovation doesn’t care about process; it cares about delivering novel customer value. The process isn’t most important, the output is. When there’s an extreme focus on the process that usually means an extreme focus on the output of the process would be embarrassing.

If you are tasked to calculate the net present value of the project hopper, that’s theater. With innovation, there’s no partial credit for projects you’re not working on. None. The value of the projects in the hopper is zero. The song about the value of the project hopper is nothing more than a catchy melody performed to make sure the audience doesn’t ask about the feeble collection of projects you are working on. And, assigning a value to the stagnant project hopper is a creative storyline crafted to hide the fact you have too many projects you’re not working on.

If you are asked to create high-level metrics and fancy pie charts, that’s innovation theater.  Process metrics and pie charts don’t pay the bills. Here’s innovation’s script for paying the bills: complete amazing projects, launch amazing products, and sell a boatload.  Full stop.  If your innovation script is different than that, ball it up and throw it away along with its producer.

If the lame projects aren’t stopped so better ones can start, if people aren’t moved off stale projects onto amazing ones, if the same old teams are charged with the innovation mandate, if new leaders aren’t added, if the teams are measured just like last year, that’s innovation theater. How many mundane projects have you stopped? How many amazing projects have you started? How many new leaders have you added? How many new teams have you formed? How will you measure your teams differently? How do you feel about all that?

If a return on investment (ROI) calculation is the gating criterion before starting an amazing project, that’s innovation theater.  Projects that could create a new product family with a fundamentally different value proposition for a whole new customer segment cannot be assigned an ROI because no one has experience in this new domain. Any ROI will be a guess and that’s why innovation is governed by judgment and not ROI.  Innovation is unpredictable which makes an ROI is impossible to predict. And if your innovation process squeezes judgment out of the storyline, that’s a tell-tale sign of innovation theater.

If the specifications are fixed, the resources are fixed, and the completion date is fixed, that’s innovation theater.  Since it can be innovation only when there’s novelty, and since novelty comes with uncertainty, without flexibility in specs, resources, or time, it’s innovation theater.

If the work doesn’t require trust, it’s innovation theater. If trust is not required it’s because the work has been done before, and if that’s the case, it’s not innovation.

If you know it will work, it’s innovation theater.  Innovation and certainty cannot coexist.

If a steering team is involved, it’s innovation theater.  Consensus cannot spawn innovation.

If more than one person in charge, it’s innovation theater.  With innovation, there’s no place for compromise.

And what to do when you realize you’re playing a part in your company’s innovation theater? Well, I’ll save that for another time.

“Large clay theatrical mask, Romisch-Germanisches Museum, Cologne” by Following Hadrian is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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