Archive for the ‘Uncertainty’ 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

Certainty or novelty – it’s your choice.

When you follow the best practice, by definition your work is not new. New work is never done the same way twice.  That’s why it’s called new.

Best practices are for old work. Usually, it’s work that was successful last time.  But just as you can never step into the same stream twice, when you repeat a successful recipe it’s not the same recipe. Almost everything is different from last time.  The economy is different, the competitors are different, the customers are in a different phase of their lives, the political climate is different, interest rates are different, laws are different, tariffs are different, the technology is different, and the people doing the work are different. Just because work was successful last time doesn’t mean that the old work done in a new context will be successful next time.  The most important property of old work is the certainty that it will run out of gas.

When someone asks you to follow the best practice, they prioritize certainty over novelty.  And because the context is different, that certainty is misplaced.

We have a funny relationship with certainty.  At every turn, we try to increase certainty by doing what we did last time.  But the only thing certain with that strategy is that it will run out of gas.  Yet, frantically waving the flag of certainty, we continue to double down on what we did last time.  When we demand certainty, we demand old work.  As a company, you can have too much “certainty.”

When you flog the teams because they have too much uncertainty, you flog out all the novelty.

What if you start the design review with the question “What’s novel about this project?” And when the team says there’s nothing novel, what if you say “Well, go back to the drawing board and come back with some novelty.”?  If you seek out novelty instead of squelching it, you’ll get more novelty.  That’s a rule, though not limited to novelty.

A bias toward best practices is a bias toward old work.  And the belief underpinning those biases is the belief that the Universe is static.  And the one thing the Universe doesn’t like to be called is static.  The Universe prides itself on its dynamic character and unpredictable nature.  And the Universe isn’t above using karma to punish those who call it names.

“Stonecold certainty” by philwirks is licensed under CC BY-ND 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

The Dark Underbelly of Success

Best practice – a tired recipe you recycle because you think the world is static.
Emergent practice – a new way to work created from whole cloth because the context is new.

Worst practice – a best practice applied to a world that has changed around you.
Novel practice– work that recognizes the world is a different place but is dismissed out-of-hand because everyone wants to live in the comfortable past.

Continuous improvement – when you try to put a shine on a tired, old process that worked ten years ago.
Discontinuous improvement – work that is disrespectful to the Status Quo and hurts people’s feelings.

Grow the core – when you do what you did in 2010 because you don’t know what else to do.
Obsolete your best work – when you do work that makes it clear to your customers that they should not have purchased your most successful product.

Reduce operating expense – what you do when you don’t know how to grow the top line and want to eliminate the flexibility to respond to an uncertain future.
Grow the top line – when you launch a new product that causes your customers to happily throw away the product they just bought from you.

A PowerPoint slide deck that defines your strategic plan – an electronic work product that distracts you from the reality of an ever-changing future.
A new product that is radically better than your last one – what you should create instead of a PowerPoint slide deck that defines your strategic plan.

MBA – a university degree that gives you a pedigree so companies hire you.
Ph.D. – a university degree that teaches you to learn, but takes too long.

Return On Investment (ROI) – a calculation that scuttles new work that would reinvent your business.
Imagination – thinking that will help you navigate an uncertain future, but is knee-capped by the ROI calculation.

Standard work – a process you used last time and will use next time because, again, you think the world is static.
Judgment – thinking that creates a whole new business trajectory to address an uncertain future but can get you fired if you use it.

A sustainable competitive advantage – a relic of a slow-moving world.
Continual change – the only way to deal with an ever-accelerating future.

Success – profits from work done by people who retired from your company some time ago.
Success – the thing that blocks you from working on the unproven.

Success – what pays the bills.
Success – what jeopardizes your ability to pay the bills in five years.

Success – why people think old practices are best practices.
Success – why new work is so difficult to do.

Success – why continuous improvement carries the day.
Success – why discontinuous improvement threatens.

Success – the mother of complacency.

“dark underbelly” by JoeBenjamin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Innovation Mantra

We have an immense distaste for uncertainty. And, as a result, we create for ourselves a radical and unskillful overestimation of our ability to control things. Our distaste of uncertainty is really a manifestation of our fear of death. When we experience and acknowledge uncertainty, it’s an oblique reminder that we will die. And that’s why talk ourselves into the belief we can control thing we really cannot.  It’s a defense mechanism that creates distance between ourselves and from feeling our fear of death.  And it’s the obliquity that makes it easier to overestimate our ability to control our environment.  Without the obliquity, it’s clear we can’t control our environment, the very thing we wake up to every morning, and it’s clear we can’t control much. And if we can’t control much, we can’t control our aging and our ultimate end.  And this is why we reject uncertainty at all costs.

Predictable, controllable, repeatable, measurable – overt rejections of uncertainty. Six Sigma – Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control – overt rejection of uncertainty.  Standard work – rejection of uncertainty. Don’t change the business model – a rejection of uncertainty. A rejection of novelty is a rejection of uncertainty. And that’s why we don’t like novelty. It scares us deeply. And it scares us because it reminds us that everything changes, including our skin, joints, and hairline. And that’s why it’s so challenging to do innovation.

Innovation reminds us of our death and that’s why it’s difficult?  Really? Yes.

Six Sigma is comforting because its programmatic illusion of control lets us forget about our death? Yes.

The aging business model reminds us of our death and that’s why we won’t let it go? Yes.

That’s crazy! Yes, but at the deepest level, I think it’s true.

I understand if you disagree with my rationale. And I understand if you think my thinking is morbid. If that’s the case, I suggest you write down why you think it’s so incredibly difficult to create a new business model, to do novel work, or to obsolete your best work. I’ll stop for a minute to give you time to grab a pen and paper. Okay, now put your pen to paper and write down why doing innovation (doing novel work) is so difficult. Now, ask yourself why that is. And do that three more times. Where did you end up? What’s the fundamental reason why doing new work (and the uncertainty that comes with it) is so difficult to do?

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you tell everyone that innovation is difficult because it reminds them that they’ll die. I explained my rationale to give you an idea of the magnitude of the level of fear around uncertainty so that, when someone is scared to death of novelty, you might help them navigate their fear.

Trying something new doesn’t invalidate what you did over the last decade to grow your business, nor will it replace it immediately, if it all.  Maybe the new work will add to what you’ve done over the last decade. Maybe the new work will amplify what’s made you successful. Maybe the new work will slowly and effectively migrate your business to greener pastures. And maybe it won’t work at all. Or, maybe your customers will make it work and bury you and your business.

With innovation, start small.  That way the threat is smaller.  Run small experiments and share the results, especially the bad results.  That way you demonstrate that unanticipated results don’t kill you and, when you share them, you demonstrate that you’re not afraid of uncertainty. Try many things in parallel to demonstrate that it’s okay that everything doesn’t turn out well and you’re okay with it.  And when someone asks what you’ll do next, tell them “I don’t know because it depends on how the next experiment turns out.”

When you’re asked when you’ll be done with an innovation project, tell them “I don’t know because the work has never been done before.” And if they say you must give them a completion date, tell them “If you must have a completion date, you do the project.”

When you’re running multiple experiments in parallel and you’re asked what you’ll do next, tell them you’ll do “more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” And if they say “that’s not acceptable”, then tell them “Well, then you run the project.”

We don’t have nearly as much control as our minds want to us believe, but that’s okay as long as we behave like we know it’s true. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing.

If people aren’t afraid, there can be no uncertainty. And if there’s no uncertainty, there can be no novelty. And if there’s no novelty, there can be no innovation. If people aren’t afraid, you’re doing it wrong.

As a leader, tell them you’re afraid but you’re going to do it anyway.

As a leader, tell your team that it’s natural to be afraid and their fear is a leading indicator of innovation.

As a leader, tell them there’s one thing you’re certain about – that innovation is uncertain.

And when things get difficult, repeat the Innovation Mantra: Be afraid and do it anyway.

“Mantra” by j / f / photos is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Regardless of the question, trust is the answer.

If you want to make a difference, build trust.

 

If you want to build trust, do a project together.

If you want to build more trust, help the team do work they think is impossible.

If you want to build more trust, contribute to the project in the background.

If you want to build more trust, actively give credit to others.

If you want to build more trust, deny your involvement.

 

If you want to create change, build trust.

 

If you want to build trust, be patient.

If you want to build more trust, be more patient.

If you want to build more trust, check your ego at the door so you can be even more patient.

 

If you want to have influence, build trust.

 

If you want to build trust, do something for others.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that keeps them out of trouble.

If you want to build more trust, do something for others that comes at your expense.

If you want to build more trust, do it all behind the scenes.

If you want to build more trust, plead ignorance.

 

If you want the next project to be successful, build trust.

 

If you want to build trust, deliver what you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise.

If you want to build more trust, deliver more than you promise and give the credit to others.

 

If you want deep friendships, build trust.

 

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback.

If you want to build more trust, give reinforcing and correcting feedback in equal amounts.

If you want to build trust, give reinforcing feedback in public and correcting feedback in private.

 

If you want your work to have meaning, build trust.

 

“[1823] Netted Pug (Eupithecia venosata)” by Bennyboymothman is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Goals, goals, goals.

All goals are arbitrary, but some are more arbitrary than others.

When your company treats goals like they’re not arbitrary, welcome to the US industrial complex.

What happens if you meet your year-end goals in June? Can you take off the rest of the year?

What happens if at year-end you meet only your mid-year goals? Can you retroactively declare your goals unreasonable?

What happens if at the start of the year you declare your year-end goals are unreasonable? Can you really know they’re unreasonable?

You can’t know a project’s completion date before the project is defined.  That’s a rule.

Why does the strategic planning process demand due dates for projects that are yet to be defined?

The ideal future state may be ideal, but it will never be real.

When the work hasn’t been done before, you can’t know when you’ll be done.

When you don’t know when the work will be done, any due date will do.

A project’s completion date should be governed by the work content, not someone’s year-end bonus.

Resources and progress are joined at the hip.  You can’t have one without the other.

If you are responsible for the work, you should be responsible for setting the completion date.

Goals are real, but they’re not really real.

“Arbitrary limitations II” by Marcin Wichary is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Say no to say yes.

If the project could obsolete your best work, do it.  Otherwise, do something else.

But first, makes sure there’s solid execution on the turn-the-crank projects that pay the bills.

If you always say yes to projects, you never have the bandwidth to do the magical work no one is asking for.

When was the last time you used your discretion to work on a project of your choosing? How do you feel about that?

If you’re told to stop the project by the most successful business unit, stomp on the accelerator.

The best projects aren’t the ones with the best ROI. The best projects are the ones that threaten success.

If you’re certain of a project’s ROI, there is no novelty.

If the project has novelty, you can’t predict the ROI. All you can do is decide if it’s worth doing.

There’s a big difference between calculating an ROI and predicting the commercial success of a project.

If your company demands certainty, you can be certain the new projects will be just like the old ones.

If the success of a project hinges on work hasn’t been done before, you may have a winner.

Say yes to predictability and you say no to novelty.

Say no to novelty and you say no to innovation.

Say no to innovation and you say no to growth.

Say no to growth and the game is over.

Say no to good projects so you can say yes to the magical ones.

Say no to ROI so you work on projects that could reinvent the industry.

If the project doesn’t excite, just say no.

Image credit – Lucie Provincher

Feel It All

In these trying times, when 30% of Americans cannot pay their rent or mortgage, is it okay to put hard limits on the amount of work we do or to take good care of ourselves or to feel good about taking a vacation?

With remote work, we commute less, which should give us more time to take care of ourselves.  But, do you have more time?  If you do, what do you do with your freed-up time?  Do you work more? Do you exercise? Do you worry? Do you take the time to feel grateful that you have a job?

When you work from home do you stop and make time to eat lunch?  Do you shut off the work and just eat? Or, do you eat while you work? Do you take more time than when you are (or were) in the office or less? If you take more time to eat than when at the office, do you feel good that you’re taking care of yourself? Or, if you take less, do you feel good you’re doing all you can to prevent layoffs?  Or, are you simply thankful you still have healthcare benefits?

When you work at home do you attend too many Zoom meetings? If so, what happens to all the work you can’t get done? Do you attend half-heartedly and multitask (work on something else)? Multitasking is disrespectful to the Zoom meeting and the other work, but do you have a choice? To get the work done, do you extend your workday to include your non-commute time?  Or, do you decline Zoom meetings because other work is more important? Is it okay to decline a Zoom meeting?

Do you feel good when you set limits to preserve your emotional well-being? Do you preserve your well-being or do you do all you can to keep your job?

And now the tough one. Do you feel good when you go on vacation or do you feel sad because so many citizens have lost their jobs?

Thing is, it’s not or. It’s and.

It’s not that we must feel bad when we work during our non-commute time or feel good when we take care of ourselves or feel thankful for our jobs or feel bad because so many have lost theirs. It’s not or, it’s and. We’ve got to hold all these feelings at once. Tough to do, but we can.

It’s not that we feel bad when we work through lunch or feel good when we go for a walk or feel happy when we do all we can to prevent layoffs or we are thankful we have a job at all.  It’s and.  We’ve got to handle it all at once.  We do what we can to prevent layoffs and take care of ourselves. We feel it all and make the choice.

We attend Zoom meetings and decline them and multitask. We process the three potential realities and choose.  The bad ones we decline, the good ones we attend wholeheartedly, and for the others we multitask.

We feel great when we go on vacation and feel sad that others are in a bad way.  We feel both at the same time.

Or, as word, is binary, black and white. But today’s realities are not black and white and there is no best way.

If you’re looking for some relief during these trying times, give “and” a try. Feel happy and sad.  Feel grateful and scared. Feel it all and see what happens.

I hope it brings you peace.

Image credit — David

Wrong Questions to Ask When Doing Technology Development

I know you’re trying to do something that has never been done before, but when will you be done? I don’t know.  We’ll run the next experiment then decide what to do next.  If it works, we’ll do more of that.  And if it doesn’t, we’ll do less of that. That’s all we know right now.

I know you’re trying to create something that is new to our industry, but how many will we sell? I don’t know. Initial interviews with customers made it clear that this is an important customer problem. So, we’re trying to figure out if the technology can provide a viable solution.  That’s all we know right now.

No one is asking for that obscure technology. Why are you wasting time working on that?  Well, the voice of the technology and the S-curve analyses suggest the technology wants to move in this direction, so we’re investing this solution space.  It might work and it might not.  That’s all we know right now.

Why aren’t you using best practices? If it hasn’t been done before, there can be no best practice.  We prefer to use good practice or emergent practice.

There doesn’t seem like there’s been much progress.  Why aren’t you running more experiments? We don’t know which experiments to run, so we’re taking some time to think about what to do next.

Will it work?  I don’t know.

That new technology may obsolete our most profitable product line.  Shouldn’t you stop work on that? No. If we don’t obsolete our best work, someone else will. Wouldn’t it be better if we did the obsoleting?

How many more people do you need to accelerate the technology development work? None.  Small teams are better.

Sure, it’s a cool technology, but how much will it cost?  We haven’t earned the right to think about the cost.  We’re still trying to make it work.

So, what’s your solution? We don’t know yet.  We’re still trying to formulate the customer problem.

You said you’d be done two months ago.  Why aren’t you done yet? I never said we’d be done two months ago. You asked me for a completion date and I could not tell you when we’d be done.  You didn’t like that answer so I suggested that you choose your favorite date and put that into your spreadsheet. We were never going to hit that date, and we didn’t.

We’ve got a tight timeline.  Why are you going home at 5:00? We’ve been working on this technology for the last two years.  This is a marathon.  We’re mentally exhausted.  See you tomorrow.

If you don’t work harder, we’ll get someone else to do the technology development work.  What do you think about that? You are confusing activity with progress.  We are doing the right analyses and the right thinking and we’re working hard.  But if you’d rather have someone else lead this work, so would I.

We need a patented solution.  Will your solution be patentable? I don’t know because we don’t yet have a solution. And when we do have a solution, we still won’t know because it takes a year or three for the Patent Office to make that decision.

So, you’re telling me this might not work?  Yes. That’s what I’m telling you.

So, you don’t know when you’ll be done with the technology work, you don’t know how much the technology will cost, you don’t know if it will be patentable, or who will buy it? That’s about right.

Image credit — Virtual EyeSee

Mutual Trust, Intuitive Skill, and Center of Emphasis

Mutual Trust. Who do you trust implicitly? And of that shortlist, who trusts you implicitly? You know how they’ll respond. You know what decision they’ll make. And you don’t have to keep tabs on them and you don’t have to manage them. You do your thing and they do theirs and, without coordinating, everything meshes.

When you have mutual trust, you can move at lightning speed. No second-guessing. No hesitation. No debates. Just rapid progress in a favorable direction. Your eyes are their eyes. Their ears are your ears. One person in two bodies.

If I could choose one thing to have, I’d choose mutual trust.

Mutual trust requires shared values. So, choose team members with values that you value. And mutual trust is developed slowly over time as you work together to solve the toughest problems with the fewest resources and the tightest timelines. Without shared values, you can’t have mutual trust. And without joint work on enigmatic problems, you can’t have mutual trust.

Mutual trust is a result. And when your trust-based relationships are more powerful than the formal reporting structure, you’ve arrived.

Intuitive Skill. In today’s world, decisions must be made quickly. And to make good decisions under unreasonable time constraints and far too little data requires implicit knowledge and intuitive skill. Have you read the literature? Have you studied the history? Have you drilled, and drilled, and drilled again? Did you get the best training? Have you honed your philosophy by doing the hard work? Have you done things badly, learned the hard lessons, and embossed those learnings on your soul? Have you done it so many times you know how it will go? Have you done it so many different ways your body knows how it should respond in unfamiliar situations?

If you have to think about it, you don’t yet have intuitive skill.  If you can explain why you know what to do, you don’t have intuitive skill. Make no mistake.  Intuitive skill does not come solely from experience.  It comes from study, from research, from good teachers, and from soul searching.

When your body starts doing the right thing before your brain realizes you’re doing it, you have intuitive skill.  And when you have intuitive skill, you can move at light speed.  When it takes more time to explain your decision than it does to make it, you have intuitive skill.

Center of Mass, Center of Emphasis. Do you focus on one thing for a week at a time? And do you wake up dreaming about it? And do you find yourself telling people that we’ll think about something else when this thing is done? Do you like doing one thing in a row? Do you delay starting until you finish finishing? Do you give yourself (and others) the flexibility to get it done any way they see fit, as long as it gets done? If the answer is yes to all these, you may be skilled in center-of-emphasis thinking.

The trick here is to know what you want to get done, but have the discipline to be flexible on how it gets done.

Here’s a rule.  If you’re the one who decides what to do, you shouldn’t be the one who decides the best way to do it.

Yes, be singularly focused on the objective, but let the boots-on-the-ground circumstances and the context of the moment define the approach. And let the people closest to the problem figure out the best way to solve it because the context is always changing, the territory is always changing, and the local weather is always changing. And the right approach is defined by the specific conditions of the moment.

Build trust and earn it. And repeat. Practice, study, do, and learn. Hone and refine. And repeat. And choose the most important center of emphasis and let the people closest to the problem choose how to solve it. And then build trust and earn it.

This post was inspired by Taylor Pearson and John Boyd, the creator of the OODA loop.

Image credit – Andy Maguire

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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