The only way to battle uncertainty is to increase diversity. Bringing together people with diverse experiences lets us see things from multiple perspectives so we can better navigate uncertain terrain. But increasing your personal diversity helps too. Giving yourself new knowledge from diverse fields helps you broaden your perspective and makes you better at handling the uncertainty that comes with life.
The hard part about podcasts is deciding which ones to listen to. In my work to increase my diversity, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts. Some were interesting and inspiring and others weren’t.
Below are some of my favorite podcast episodes. There’s a short description of each one, along with what I learned from them. Click the link to take you to the episode and you can listen to each one. No need to download. Just find the play button and click it.
9-Volt Nirvana (Radiolab) — I learned about how the brain works and how it can be supercharged (with a 9-volt battery) to learn faster. I listened to this one on a long car ride with my daughter. She doesn’t like podcasts, but she was captivated by this one.
The Living Room (Love and Radio) — A story about how things can look differently than they are, especially when looking from the outside. I learned how our assumptions and the stories we tell ourselves shape how we see the world. This one is emotionally gripping.
Guided by Voices (Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything) — How Kant and Kepler both tried (and failed) to record the universal harmonies Pythagoras once heard. They struggled to make peace with the irrationality and disharmony of nature. I learned disharmony is natural and to embrace it. There’s a segment in the middle that’s not about Kant and Kepler that you may want to skip. To skip that segment, listen from the beginning and at 9:30 skip to 23:07 and listen to the end.
Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (On Being) — I love Eckhart’s voice and his chuckle. I learned how I am not my emotions; I am the space for my emotions. And I learned about the Pain Body. That, on its own, was worth it. Krista Tippett is a brilliant interviewer.
Belt Buckle (Mystery Show) — A story about a long-lost belt buckle and its journey home. I learned how we attach meaning to objects, and that can be a good thing.
The Wrath of the Khans 1 (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History) — This is a riveting story of Genghis Khan. Dan Carlin is wonderful – he sits you right in the middle of history. (Listen for two minutes and you’ll feel it.) I learned the power of personal will and how history changes over time. To skip Dan’s wonderful introduction and get a feel for the Great Khan, start at 19:00 and listen for 10 minutes. If you like what you hear, keep listening. This podcast is long almost 2 hours and it’s the first of a series of five on the Great Khan. This is one of my most favorite favorites.
image credit — mpclemens
Agree or not, companies think they have to grow to survive. (I don’t believe it.) For companies of all sizes and shapes, growth is the single most important forcing function. Is has tidal wave power, and whether you’re a surfer, sailor or power-boater, it’s important to respect it. More than that, when push comes to shove, it’s the only wave in town.
Companies’ recipe for growth is simple: make more, sell more. And some keep it simpler: sell more.
The best growth: sell new products or provide new services to new customers; next best: sell new to the same customers; next next best: sell more of the same to the same customers. The last flavor is the easiest, right up until it isn’t. And once it isn’t, companies must come up with new things to sell. That works for a while, until it doesn’t. Then, and only then, after exhausting all other possibilities, companies must create real newness and try to sell it to strangers.
The model works well as long as everyone in the industry follows it. But when an up-start outsider enters the market back-to-front, the wheels fall off. When they develop useful newness before you and sell it to your customers (new customers for them), that’s not good. And that’s why it’s so important to start with different — right now.
To help your company do more work that’s different, start with an inventory of your novelty. Novel work is work that creates difference, and that difference can be defined only in comparison with the state-of-the-art (what is, or the baseline system). Start with a functional analysis of your state-of-the-art. Create a block diagram of your business model, your most successful product and the service that defines your brand. Take a look at your technology and new product development projects and flag the ones that will create things that aren’t on your three functional analyses. (Improvement projects, because they improve what is, cannot be flagged as novel.)
Put all your novelty on one page and decide if you like it. (No way around it, how you respond to the level and type of novelty in your quiver is a judgment call.) If you like what you see, keep going. If you don’t, stop some improvement projects and start some projects that create useful novelty. The stopping will not come easy. Existing projects have momentum and people have personal attachment to them. The only thing powerful enough to stop them is the all-powerful growth objective. If company leaders learn the existing projects won’t meet the growth objective, the tidal wave will sweep away some lesser projects to make room for new ones.
There will be great internal pressure to add projects without stopping some, but that won’t work. Everyone is fully booked and can’t deliver on additional projects even if you tell them to. If you’re not willing to stop projects, you’re better off staying the course and waiting until you finish one before you start a project to increase your novelty score.
Novelty is good because there’s more upside potential, and improvement is good because there’s more certainty. One is not better than the other. You need both.
In the end, you’re going to have to judge if you’re happy with what you’ve got. That’s a difficult task that no one can make easier for you. But it is possible to use your judgment better. If you can clearly call out what’s novel and what’s not, you’re on your way.
Image credit – s3aphotography (image cropped)
An open, honest disagreement can be a positive learning experience for both. If your intensions are good, everything works out well. I’m not sure why, but when your pockets are full of good intensions, the universe is kind to you.
But the universe’s kindness doesn’t manifest in the outcome you want. It’s a better teacher than that. The universe has been around a long time and has seen it all. It understands context. And it has a good memory. It uses both as input for its outputs. And to keep things lively, it often exercises its dry sense of humor. But more than anything, the universe is a good judge of character. And that’s how it decides how things should go.
A situation has no inherent emotional component. Any emotion attached to the situation is attached by you. If you feel fear, it’s not the situation. You’re afraid. Things aren’t scary, you make them scary. Situations don’t hold you back, you do.
Fear is a protection mechanism. But from what? If you hold back because you’re afraid what others will think, you are protecting yourself from judgement. At the surface it looks like you are afraid of being judged by others, but that’s not it. You are afraid of being judged by you. But if your intensions are good, the universe will give you what you deserve. There’s nothing to fear. Yet, you block yourself.
You’re not afraid others will judge you as second class. You want to avoid the discomfort of judging yourself as second class. You don’t put yourself out there because you don’t want to be reminded that you don’t feel good about yourself. People and situations can’t knock you down a rung, only you can. You have control over how much love you give yourself. And it’s time to give yourself more.
This may sound silly, but it’s not – if you make a little time every day to wish yourself kindness, happiness and peace you will have more peace and happiness. You will attach less fear to situations judge yourself less and block yourself less.
Give it a try. You’re worth it.
The biggest blocker of company growth is your successful business model. And the more significant it’s historical success, the more it blocks.
Novelty meaningful to the customer is the life force of company growth. The easiest novelty to understand is novelty of product function. In a no-to-yes way, the old product couldn’t do it, but the new one can. And the amount of seconds it takes for the customer to notice (and in the case of meaningful novelty, appreciate) the novelty is in an indication of its significance. If it takes three months of using the product, rigorous data collection and a t-test, that’s not good. If the customer turns on the product and the novelty smashes him in the forehead like a sledgehammer, well, that’s better.
It’s difficult to create a product with meaningful novelty. Engineers know what they know, marketers know what they market, and the salesforce knows how to sell what they sell. And novelty cuts across their comfort. The technology is slightly different, the marketing message diverges a bit, and the sales argument must be modified. The novelty is driven by the product and the people respond accordingly. And, the new product builds on the old one so there’s familiarity.
Where injecting novelty into the product is a challenge, rubbing novelty on the business model provokes a level 5 pucker. Nothing has the stopping power of a proposed change to the business model. Novelty in the product is to novelty in the business model as lightning is to lightning bug – they share a word, but that’s it.
Novelty in the product is novelty of sheet metal, printed circuit boards and software. Novelty in the business model is novelty in how people do their work and novelty in personal relationships. Novelty in the product banal, novelty in the business model is personal.
No tools or best practices can loosen the pucker generated by novelty in the business model. The tired business model has been the backplane of success for longer than anyone can remember. The long-in-the-tooth model has worn deep ruts of success into the organization. Even the all-powerful Lean Startup methodology can’t save you.
The healing must start with an open discussion about the impermanence of all things, including the business model. The most enduring radioactive element has a half-life, and so does the venerable business model, even the most successful.
Where novelty in the product is technical, novelty in the business model is emotional. And that’s what makes it so powerful. Sprinkling the business model with novelty is scary at a deeply personal level – career jeopardy, mortgage insecurity and family volatility are primal drivers. But if you can push through, the rewards are magical.
Your business model has shaped you into an organization that’s optimized to do what it does. You can’t create new markets and sell to new products to new customers without changing your business model. Your business model may have been your secret sauce, but the world’s tastes have changed. It’s time to put your success behind you.
Image credit — MandaRose
Companies don’t need more ideas, they need ideas that are more meaningful. Companies have plenty ideas because they measure and track the number of new ideas generated. Enter your idea on the company’s open innovation web portal, and you’re done. Let the record show that a new idea was added to the hopper. Increment the counter and update the metrics. One new idea for the good guys. It’s a good day to be alive.
For some reason leaders are comforted by a large number of new ideas in the hopper even though there’s no hope of working on them. Maybe they think there’s value in a backlog of ideas they can fall back on if the existing work doesn’t pan out. If that’s the case, they probably think the ideas in the hopper have good potential. But because the ideas are not graded on their potential, that’s simply wishful thinking.
The only thing good about counting the number of new ideas is that the number of new ideas is easy to count. The good thing about grading ideas on their level of meaningfulness is it causes the most meaningful ideas to rise to the top. The bad thing about grading ideas is that it requires judgement. And today, judgment is in short supply. If you use your judgement poorly your career suffers, but if you avoid using your judgement no one notices. Here’s a rule: If you never you use your judgement, you can never use it poorly.
For a select few, any work that doesn’t require judgment doesn’t rise to the level of work worth doing. For them, only the most meaningful work will do, and rolling the dice on their career is simply the cost of doing business. For them, it’s judgement or bust.
If you use your judgement and choose to work on a meaningful idea, be prepared for the loneliness. Meaningful ideas are, by definition, understood by a few and misunderstood by the rest. It’s lonely to advance an idea that most don’t understand. And prepare to be misjudged for your actions because your steadfast pursuit of the idea will also be misunderstood. Your vigor and aliveness will be seen as aggressiveness, anger, negativity, closemindedness, or political incorrectness. But this misjudgment comes with the territory. There’s no way around it. It’s just how it goes. It’s not personal.
But just as the trivial many will try to tear you down, there are a vital few who will praise you, support you and bolster you. These are the special people in your organization. You know who I’m talking about. You have a personal relationship with them. You know about their families. You’ve been through tough times together. They’ve seen you struggle, stumble and tumble, and they’ve seen you get up and move forward. They’ve seen you run into a brick wall and helped you back to your feet. Don’t dismiss their praise and don’t feel guilty about accepting help from them. They don’t want credit for helping you, they want you to succeed.
You don’t know this, but those special people want to help you because you’ve already helped them. Some time ago you unknowingly helped them through a tough time, or were kind to them. Or, you invested in them or believed in them. More than likely, though, you inspired them.
Keep moving forward. Keep pushing. And take comfort from the special people that believe in you.
Image credit – Ice Man
Every idea that’s worth its salt will be rejected out of hand. That’s just how it is. You can get angry because you didn’t get the support you think you deserve or you can accept the fact that their negative reaction is about them. The first way you shut down and your idea dies on the vine. The second way you let their negativity pass right through you and continue your uphill slog until your idea is commercialized. Either way, it’s your choice.
It’s difficult to let others’ negativity pass though you. It may be easier to flip the situation on its head.
When confronted with an exceptional idea, people generate a negative response. The underlying feeling is fear, but usually manifests as aggressive dismissal. Instead of reacting with anger, maybe you can learn to see their fear-based reaction as a signifier of significance. When you have a tooth with a cavity and you drink cold water, your tooth creates a reactionary zing of electrical energy, a tell-tale sign of the underlying decay. The zing signifies the significance. Just as the cold water elicits an electrical response from the cavity, the exceptional idea elicits a negative response from the person. Don’t worry about the negative response, revel in it.
The only thing better than an idea that is so good it threatens is an idea that’s so good no one can understand. These ideas are so deep, no novel, so twisted they conflict with conventional wisdom. These ideas confuse everyone, especially the experts. At first the experts aren’t threatened because they don’t yet understand. They chuckle and take pity on you for thinking such strange thoughts. Just as a negative reaction indicates significance, their chuckles and pity are leading indicators of significance. Don’t let their reactions deter you, let them inspire you. As your unconventional wisdom seeps into them and they begin to understand, their chuckles will morph into aggressive dismissal. This tell-tale sign makes it clear you’re on to something.
If your idea doesn’t get a negative reaction, you’re not trying hard enough. Think bigger. If your idea doesn’t threaten your most profitable product, come up with one that does. If your idea doesn’t shake the fillings out of your business model, go away and don’t come back to you have one that does.
Companies don’t need more ideas, they need ideas that are more creative. They don’t need more continuous improvement, they need more discontinuous improvement. And they don’t need ideas that build on success, they need ideas that dismantle it.
If your ideas don’t threaten, don’t bother.
Image credit — Ed Schipul
Today marks six years of blog posts published every Wednesday evening. 300 weeks in a row and I haven’t skipped, forgot, or repeated. All written without an editor, though you knew that by the typos and grammar stumbles.
It’s a challenge to write every week, but it’s worth it. Writing demands thinking things through, which can be difficult especially if you want to write clearly, but thinking things through creates knowledge. Deep knowledge.
Over the last year I wrote a lot about self-awareness, mindfulness and intentions. I’m better for my meditations, and through osmosis, so are some of the people closest to me. I expect you’ll hear more on these themes over the next year.
I’ve put myself out there with my writing. With some posts I’m afraid to hit the publish key, and those are the posts that matter. My fear is the signal there’s something important in the post. I hope to write more of those.
I strive to write clearly and densely and avoid buzzwords. Innovation is the buzzword that trips me up. But like He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named, I’ll see if I can avoid calling it by name. (And never three times in the same post.) And my call-to-arms will be clearer, plainer, denser.
I’m not sure what next year will bring, but I hope it will be 52 more posts.
Thanks for reading.
Image credit – Bart.
What you think of yourself colors everything you do. When someone challenges your ideas, your response makes it clear how you see yourself. Regardless of your response, you tip your hand. Regardless of your response, everyone can see your cards.
When you have a terrible poker hand like, say, a king high, you can respond three ways. You can fold and let the challenger go unchallenged. You can check and kick the can down the road. Or you can bluff and go toe-to-toe with the challenger. With the fold you see things as they are and behave accordingly. The fold is an admission you have a lesser hand. And sometimes that’s difficult to do. The check says you don’t want others to know you have a terrible hand but you thing things will turn around. With the bluff you pretend things are different than they are and you pretend accordingly. You may fool the unseasoned player on your right, but make no mistake, the card shark on your left knows you’re bluffing. And deep down, you know too.
With a middle-of-the-road hand like the full house you have the same options. The fold is less likely because your hand is stronger. You fold only when you sense a strong challenge and the pot is large. No sense going head-to-head with a player with swagger when the stakes are high. There’s no harm in folding. The check says you’re not sure of yourself, or, you are and your hand is neither special nor terrible. The bluff is still risky but less so. If you think you can survive getting caught and are okay with the follow-on judgement, there’s a larger probability you’ll try.
With four aces you call the shots. The fold is reserved for those special situations where you want to preserve the status of players you care about. Or, when you have enough chips and you want others to get the glory. Either way it’s too little used. Few have the self-worth, generosity and thoughtfulness to play things that way. The check is equally generous. The check says you’re comfortable with your cards and how the hand is going. No need to flex your muscles. When you have the winning cards the bluff is counterproductive. Playing bigger than your hand pushes everyone away and they fold. You may with the pot, but next hand they’ll go after you. Embarrassing the other players is no way to play.
Really, though, your cards don’t matter. Regardless of your cards, don’t take a challenge personally. Regardless of your cards, respond like you hold all of them – all the aces, face cards, and all the wild cards.
It relatively easy to behave this way when the professional challenges your ideas because they don’t challenge you, they challenge your ideas. And you are not your ideas. Look deeply and honestly at the ideas and leave your self out of it. But it’s more difficult with the hack. Under the banner of challenging your ideas, the hack will try to challenge you. Here’s where you’ve got to hold onto a fundamental truth – no one can challenge you without your consent. Here’s where you’ve got to remember this truth applies to everyone – those with a four-of-a-kind, those with a full house, and those with a pair of twos. Here’s where you’ve got to remember that your cards don’t matter. The best way I know how to do that is to visualize your self as a screen door and let their hot air pass through you.
The challenges don’t matter and neither does the hand you were dealt. All that matters is your response. Respond with your heart’s best intentions and everyone will split the pot and they’ll want you to deal every hand.
Image credit – lawrence
Our unhealthy fascination with ever-increasing shareholder value has officially gone too far. In some companies dishonesty is now more culturally acceptable than missing the numbers. (Unless, of course, you get caught. Then, it’s time for apologies.) The sacrosanct mission statement can’t save us. Even the most noble can be stomped dead by the dirty boots of profitability.
Though, legally, companies can self-regulate, practically, they cannot. There’s nothing to balance the one-sided, hedonistic pursuit of profitability. What’s needed is a counterbalancing mechanism of equal and opposite force. What’s needed is a new role that is missing from today’s org chart and does not have a name.
Ombudsman isn’t the right word, but part of it is right – the part that investigates. But the tense is wrong – the ombudsman has after-the-fact responsibility. The ombudsman gets to work after the bad deed is done. And another weakness – ombudsman don’t have equal-and-opposite power of the C-suite profitability monsters. But most important, and what can be built on, is the independent nature of the ombudsman.
Maybe it’s a proactive ombudsman with authority on par with the Board of Directors. And maybe their independence should be similar to a Supreme Court justice. But that’s not enough. This role requires hulk-like strength to smash through the organizational obfuscation fueled by incentive compensation and x-ray vision to see through the magical cloaking power of financial shenanigans. But there’s more. The role requires a deep understanding of complex adaptive systems (people systems), technology, patents and regulatory compliance; the nose of an experienced bloodhound to sniff out the foul; and the jaws of a pit bull that clamp down and don’t let go.
Ombudsman is more wrong than right. I think liability is better. Liability, as a word, has teeth. It sounds like it could jeopardize profitability, which gives it importance. And everyone knows liability is supposed to be avoided, so they’d expect the work to be proactive. And since liability can mean just about anything, it could provide the much needed latitude to follow the scent wherever it takes. Chief Liability Officer (CLO) has a nice ring to it.
[The Chief Do-The-Right-Thing Officer is probably the best name, but its acronym is too long.]
But the Chief Liability Officer (CLO) must be different than the Chief Innovation Officer (CIO), who has all the responsibility to do innovation with none of the authority to get it done. The CLO must have a gavel as loud as the Chief Justice’s, but the CLO does not wear the glasses of a lawyer. The CLO wears the saffron robes of morality and ethics.
Is Chief Liability Officer the right name? I don’t know. Does the CLO report to the CEO or the Board of Directors? Don’t know. How does the CLO become a natural part of how we do business? I don’t know that either.
But what I do know, it’s time to have those discussions.
Image credit – Dietmar Temps
Business processes and operating plans don’t get things done. People do. And the true blocker of progress is not bureaucracy; it’s the lack of clarity of people. And that’s why mentorship is so important.
My definition of mentorship is: work that provides knowledge, support and advocacy necessary for new people to get things done. New can be new to company, new to role, or new to new environments or circumstances.
Mentorship is about helping new people recognize and understand unwritten rules on how things are done; helping them see the invisible power dynamics that generate the invisible forcing function that makes things happen; and supporting them as they navigate the organizational riptide.
The first job of a mentor is to commit to spending time with a worthy mentee. Check-the-box mentorship (mentorship for compliance) does not take a lot of time. (Usually several meetings will do.) But mentorship done well, mentorship worthy of the mentee, takes time and emotional investment.
Mentorship starts with a single page definition of the projects the mentee must get done. It’s a simple spreadsheet where each project has its own row with multiple columns for the projects that define: what must get done by the end of the year, and how to know it was done; the major milestones (and dates) along the way; what was done last month; what will be done this month. After all the projects are listed in order of importance, the number of projects is reduced from 10-20 down to 3-4. The idea is to list on the front of the page only the projects that can be accomplished by a mere mortal. The remaining 16-17 are moved to the back, never to be discussed again. (It’s still one page if you use the back.)
[Note: The mentee’s leader will be happy you helped reduce the workload down to a reasonable set of projects. They knew there were too many projects, but their boss wanted them to sign up for too much to ensure there was no chance of success and no time to think.]
Once the year-end definition of success is formalized for each project, this month’s tasks are defined. Using your knowledge of organizational dynamics and how things actually get done, you tell them what to do and how to do it. For the next four weekly meetings you ask them what they and help them get the tasks done. You don’t do the tasks for them, you tell them how to do it and how to work with. Over the next months, telling morphs to suggesting.
The learning comes when your suggested approach differs from their logical, straightforward approach. You explain the history, explain the official process is outdated and no one does it that way, suggest they talk to the little-known subject matter expert who has done similar work and introduce them to the deep-in-the-org-chart stalwart who can allocate resources to support the work.
Week-by-week and month-by-month, the project work gets done and the mentee learns how to get it done. The process continues for at least one year. If you are not willing to meet 40-50 times over the course of a year, you aren’t serious about mentorship. Think that’s too much? It isn’t. That’s what it takes. Still think that’s too much? If you meet for 30 minutes a week, that’s only 20-25 hours per year. At the end of a year, 3-4 projects will be completed successfully and a new person will know how to do 3-4 more next year, and the year after that. Then, because they know the value of mentorship, they become a mentor and help a new person get 3-4 projects done. That’s a lot of projects. Done right, success through mentorship is geometric.
Companies are successful when they complete their projects. And the knowledge needed to complete the projects is not captured in the flowcharts of the official business processes – it’s captured in the hearts and minds of the people.
New people don’t know how things get done, but they need to. And mentorship is the best way to teach them. It’s impossible to calculate the return on investment (ROI) for mentorship. You either believe in mentorship or you don’t. And I believe in it.
My mentorship work is my most meaningful work, and it has little to do with the remarkable business results. The personal relationships I have developed through my mentorship work are some of the most rewarding of my life.
I urge you, for your own well-being, to give mentorship a try.
Image credit — Bryan Jones
The first question is usually – What’s the best practice? And the second question is – Why aren’t you using it? In the done-it-before domain this makes sense. Best practices are best when inputs are tightly controlled, process steps are narrowly defined, and the desired output is known and can be formally defined.
Industry loves best practice because they are so productive. Like the printing press, best practices are highly effective when it’s time to print the same pages over and over. It worked here, so do it there. And there. And there. Use the same typeface and crank it out – page by page. It’s like printing money.
Best practices are best utilized in the manufacturing domain, until they’re not. Which best practice should be used? Can it be used as-is, or must it change? And, if a best practice is changed, which version is best? Even in the tightly controlled domain of manufacturing, it’s tricky to effectively use best practices. (Maybe what’s needed is a best practice for using best practices.)
Best practices can be good when there’s strong commonality with previous work, but when the work is purposefully different (think creativity and innovation), all bets are off. But that doesn’t stop the powerful pull of productivity from jamming round best practices into square holes. In the domain of different, everything’s different – the line of customer goodness, the underpinning technology and the processes to make it, sell it, and service it. By definition, the shape of a best practice does not fit work that has yet to be done for the first time.
What’s needed is a flexible practice that can handle the variability, volatility, and uncertainty of creativity/innovation. My favorite is called – Try It. It’s a simple process (just one step), but it’s a good one. The hard part is deciding what to try. Here are some ways to decide.
No-to-yes. Define the range of inputs for the existing products and try something outside those limits.
Less-with-far-less. Reduce the performance (yes, less performance) of the very thing that makes your product successful and try adolescent technologies with a radically lower cost structures. When successful, sell to new customers.
Lines of customer goodness. Define the primary line of customer goodness of your most successful product and try things that advance different lines. When you succeed, change all your marketing documents and sales tools, reeducate your sales force, and sell the new value to new customers.
Compete with no one. Define a fundamental constraint that blocks all products in your industry, try new ideas that compromise everything sacred to free up novel design space and break the constraint. Then, sell new products into the new market you just created.
IBE (Innovation Burst Event). Everything starts with a business objective.
There is no best way to implement the Try It process, other than, of course, to try it.
Image credit — Alland Dharmawan.