Battling the Dark Arts of Productivity and Accountability

warlockHow did you get to where you are?  Was it a series of well-thought-out decisions or a million small, non-decisions that stacked up while you weren’t paying attention? Is this where you thought you’d end up?  What do you think about where you are?

It takes great discipline to make time to evaluate your life’s trajectory, and with today’s pace it’s almost impossible.  Every day it’s a battle to do more than yesterday.  Nothing is good enough unless it’s 10% better than last time, and once it’s better, it’s no longer good enough.  Efficiency is worked until it reaches 100%, then it’s redefined to start the game again.  No waste is too small to eliminate. In business there’s no counterbalance to the economists’ false promise of never-ending growth, unless you provide it for yourself.

If you make the time, it’s easy to plan your day and your week. But if you don’t make the time, it’s impossible.  And it’s the same for the longer term – if you make the time to think about what you want to achieve, you have a better chance of achieving it – but it’s more difficult to make the time.  Before you can make the time to step back and take look at the landscape, you’ve got to be aware that it’s important to do and you’re not doing it.

Providing yourself the necessary counterbalance is good for you and your family, and it’s even better for business.  When you take a step back and slow your pace from sprint to marathon, you are happier and healthier and your work is better.  When scout the horizon and realize you and your work are aligned, you feel better about the work and, therefore, you feel better about yourself.  You’re a better person, partner and parent.  And your work is better.  When the work fits, everything is better.

Sometimes, people know their work doesn’t fit and purposefully don’t take a step back because it’s too scary to acknowledge there’s a problem.  But burying your head doesn’t fix things.  If you know you’re out of balance, the best thing to do is admit it and start a dialog with yourself and your boss.  It won’t get better immediately, but you’ll feel better immediately.  But most of the time, people don’t make time to take a step back because of the blistering pace of the work.  There’s simply no time to think about the future.  What’s missing is a weapon to battle the black arts of productivity and accountability.

The only thing powerful enough to counterbalance the forces of darkness is the very weapon we use to create the disease of hyper-productivity – the shared calendar (MS Calendar, Google Calendar).  Open up the software, choose your day, choose your time and set up a one hour weekly meeting with yourself.  Attendees: you.  Agenda: take a couple deep breaths, relax and think.  Change your settings so no one can see the meeting title and agenda and choose the color that makes people think the meeting is off-site.  With your time blocked, you now have a reason to say no to other meetings.  “Sorry, I can’t attend. I have a meeting.”

This simple mechanism is all you need.

No more excuses.  Make the time for yourself.  You’re worth it.

image credit :jovian (image modified)

The Yin and Yang of Work

yin and yangDo good work and people will notice.  Do work to get noticed and people will notice that too.

Try to do good work and you’ll get ahead. Try to get ahead and you won’t.

If the work feels good while you’re doing it, it’s good work.  If it doesn’t, it’s not.

If you watch the clock while you work, that says nothing about the clock.

When you surf the web at work, you’re not working.  When you learn from blog posts, podcasts and TED talks, you are.

Using social media at work is good for business, except when it isn’t.

When you feel you don’t have the authority, you don’t.  If you think you need authority, you shouldn’t.

When people seek your guidance you have something far more powerful than authority, you have trust.

Don’t pine for authority, earn the right to influence.

Influence is to authority as trust is to control.

Personal relationships are more powerful than org charts.  Work the relationships, not the org chart.

There’s no reason to change right up until there’s a good reason.  It may be too late, but at least you’ll have a reason.

Holding on to what you have comes at the expense of creating the future.

As a leader don’t take credit, take responsibility.

And when in doubt, try something.

Image credit — Peter Clark

Patents are supposed to improve profitability.

wrong AnswerEveryone likes patents, but few use them as a business tool.

Patents define rights assigned by governments to inventors (really, the companies they work for) where the assignee has the right to exclude others from practicing the concepts described in the patent claims.  And patent rights are limited to the countries that grant patents.  If you want to get patent rights in a country, you submit your request (application) and run their gauntlet.  Patents are a country-by-country business.

Patents are expensive.  Small companies struggle to justify the expense of filing a single patent and big companies struggle to justify the expense of their portfolio.  All companies want to reduce patent costs.

The patent process starts with invention.  Someone must go to the lab and invent something.  The invention is documented by the inventor (invention disclosure) and the invention is scored by a cross-functional team to decide if it’s worthy of filing.  If deemed worthy, a clearance search is done to see if it’s different from all other patents, all products offered for sale, and all the other literature in the public domain (research papers, publications).   Then, then the patent attorneys work their expensive magic to draft a patent application and file it with the government of choice. And when the rejection arrives, the attorneys do some research, address the examiner’s concerns and submit the paperwork.

Once granted, the fun begins.  The company must keep watch on the marketplace to make sure no one sells products that use the patented technology.  It’s a costly, never-ending battle.  If infringement is suspected, the attorneys exchange documents in a cease-and-desist jousting match.  If there’s no resolution, it’s time to go to court where prosecution work turns up the burn rate to eleven.

To reduce costs, companies try to reduce the price they pay to outside law firms that draft their patents.  It’s a race to the bottom where no one wins.  Outside firms get paid less money per patent and the client gets patents that aren’t as good as they could be.  It’s a best practice, but it’s not best.  Treating patent work as a cost center isn’t right.  Patents are a business tool that help companies make money.

Companies are in business to make money and they do that by selling products for more than the cost to make them.  They set clear business objectives for growth and define the market-customers to fuel that growth.  And the growth is powered by the magic engine of innovation.  Innovation creates products/services that are novel, useful and successful and patents protect them.  That’s what patents do best and that’s how companies should use them.

If you don’t have a lot of time and you want to understand a patent, read the claims.  If you have less time, read the independent claims.  Chris Brown, Ph.D.

Patents are all about claims.  The claims define how the invention is different (novel) from what’s tin the public domain (prior art).  And since innovation starts with different, patents fit nicely within the innovation framework. Instead of trying to reduce patent costs, companies should focus on better claims, because better claims means better patents.  Here are some thoughts on what makes for good claims.

Patent claims should capture the novelty of the invention, but sometimes the words are wrong and the claims don’t cover the invention.   And when that happens, the patent issues but it does not protect the invention – all the downside with none of the upside.  The best way to make sure the claims cover the invention is for the inventor to review the claims before the patent is filed.  This makes for a nice closed-loop process.

When a novel technology has the potential to provide useful benefit to a customer, engineers turn those technologies into prototypes and test them in the lab.  Since engineers are minimum energy creatures and make prototypes for only the technologies that matter, if the patent claims cover the prototype, those are good claims.

When the prototype is developed into a product that is sold in the market and the novel technology covered by the claims is what makes the product successful, those are good claims.

If you were to remove the patented technology from the product and your customer would notice it instantly and become incensed, those are the best claims.

Instead of reducing the cost of patents, create processes to make sure the right claims are created.  Instead of cutting corners, embed your patent attorneys in the technology development process to file patents on the most important, most viable technology.  Instead of handing off invention disclosures to an isolated patent team, get them involved in the corporate planning process so they understand the business objectives and operating plans.  Get your patent attorneys out in the field and let them talk to customers.  That way they’ll know how to spot customer value and write good claims around it.

Patents are an important business tool and should be used that way.  Patents should help your company make money.  But patents aren’t the right solution to all problems.  Patent work can be slow, expensive and uncertain.  A more powerful and more certain approach is a strong investment in understanding the market, ritualistic technology development, solid commercialization and a relentless pursuit of speed.  And the icing on the top – a slathering of good patent claims to protect the most important bits.

Image credit – Matthais Weinberger

You probably don’t have an organizational capability gap.

mind the gapThe organizational capability of a company defines its ability to get things done.  If you can’t pull it off, you have an organizational capability problem, or so the traditional thinking goes.

If you don’t have enough people to do the work, and the work is not new, that’s not a capability gap, that’s an organizational capacity gap. Capacity gaps are filled in straightforward ways. 1.) You can hire more people like the ones who do the work today and train them with the people you already have. Or for machines – buy more of the old machines you know and love.  2.) Map the work processes and design out the waste.  Find the piles of paper or long queues and the bottleneck will be right in front.  Figure out how to get more work through bottleneck.  Professional tip – ignore everything but the bottleneck because fixing a non-bottleneck will only make you tired and sweaty and won’t increase throughput.  3.) Move people and machines from the work to create a larger shortfall.  If no one complains, it wasn’t a problem and don’t fix it.  If the complaints skyrocket, use the noise to justify the first or second option.  And don’t let your ego get in the way – bigger teams aren’t better, they’re just bigger.

If your company systematically piles too work on everyone’s plate, you don’t have an organizational capability problem, you have a leadership problem.

If you’re asked to put together a future state organization and define its new capabilities, you don’t have an organizational capability gap.  A capability gap exists only when there’s a business objective that must be satisfied, and a paper exercise to create a future state organization is not a business objective.  Before starting the work, ask for the company’s growth objectives and an explanation of the new work your team will have to do to achieve those objectives.  And ask how much money has been budgeted (and approved) for the future state organization and when you can make the first hire.  This will reduce the urgency of the exercise, and may stop it altogether. And everyone will know there’s no  “organizational capability gap.”

If you’re asked to put together a project plan (with timeline and budget) to create a new technology and present the plan to the CEO next week, you have an organizational capability gap.  If there’s a shortfall in the company’s growth numbers and the VP of business development calls you at home and tells you to put together a plan to create a new market in a new country and present it to her tomorrow, you have an organizational capability gap.  If the VP of sales takes you to a fancy restaurant and asks you to make a napkin sketch of your plan to sell the new product through a new channel, you have an organizational capability gap.

Real organizational capability gaps are rare.  Unless there’s a change, there can be no organizational capability gap.  There can be no gap without a new business deliverable, new technology, new partnership, new product, new market, or new channel.  And without a timeline and an approved budget, I don’t know what you have, but you don’t have organizational capability gap.

Image credit – Jehane

Your Words Make All The Difference.

universal thank you noteSometimes people are unskillful with their words, and what they say can have multiple interpretations.  But, though you don’t have control over their words, you do have control over how you interpret them. And the translation you choose makes all the difference.  On the flipside, when you choose your words skillfully they can have a singular translation. And that, too, makes all the difference.  Here are some examples.

It can’t be done.  Translations: 1) We’ve never tried it and we don’t know how to go about it.  2) We know you’ll not give us the time and the resources to do it right, and because of that, we won’t be successful.  3) Wow. I like that idea, but we’re already so overloaded. Do you think we can talk about that in the second half of the year?

We tried that but it didn’t work.  Translations: 1) Twelve years ago someone who made a prototype and it worked pretty well.  But, she wasn’t given the time to take it to the next level and the project was abandoned.  2) We all think that’s a wonderful idea and really want to work on it, but we’re too busy to think about that. If I come clean, will you give me the resources to do it right?

Why didn’t you follow the best practice? Translations: 1) I’m afraid of the uncertainty around this innovation work and I’ve heard best practices can reduce risk.  2) I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but this seems like a safe question to ask without tipping my hand.  3) I want to make a difference at the company, but I’ve never been part of a project with so much newness. Can you teach me?

That’s not how we do it. Translations: 1) I’ve always done it that way, and thinking about doing it differently scares me.  2) Though the process is clunky, we’ve been told to follow it.  And I don’t want to get in trouble. 3) That sounds like a good idea, but I don’t have the time to think through the potential implications to our customers.

What are you working on? Translation: I’m interested in what you’re working on because I care about you.

Can I help you? Translation: You’ve helped me in the past and I see you’re in a tough situation.  I care about you.  What can I do to help?

Good job. Translation: I want to positively reinforce your good work in front of everyone because, well, you did good work.

That’s a good idea. Translation: I think highly of you, I like that you stuck out your neck, and I hope you do it regularly.

I need help. Translation: I know you are highly capable and I trust you. I’m in a tight spot here.  Can you help me?

Thank you.  Translation: You were helpful and I appreciate it.  Thank you.

How you choose your words and how you choose to assign meaning to others’ words make all the difference.  Choose skillfully.

image credit — woodleywonderworks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You don’t find the next new thing, it finds you.

MagnetonDoing something new is harder than it looks.

The first step to doing new is to realize you have no interest in doing what was done last time.  Profitable or not, the same old recipe just doesn’t do it for you.  You don’t have to know why you don’t want to replay the tape, you just have to know you don’t want to. So don’t.

But it’s not enough to know what you don’t want to do, you’ve got to know what you do want to do.  To figure that out, you’ve got to stop doing.  The focused, churning mind isn’t your friend here because it thinks of ideas that are too closely related to what it knows.   This is the job for the idle mind.  The idle mind has nothing to focus on, so it doesn’t.  It runs in the background imagining the impossible and considering the absurd.  And since it runs without your knowledge, you can’t get in its way.  So do nothing.  Turn off your electronics and sit.  Feel uncomfortable.  Give your mind no place to go so it can go where it wants.  Read a biography about an important historical figure.  Travel to their century so while you’re visiting your subconscious can figure out what to do.

You don’t figure out what’s next.  What’s next finds you while you’re not looking for it.  And the best way to do that is to do nothing.

Doing nothing is a lot of work.  And it’s difficult to do.   My advice – start with 15 minutes of nothing.  Anything more is too much.  Take your mobile phone out of your pocket, put it on your desk (or throw it at the floor and stomp on it) and walk to a quiet place and sit.  Close your eyes, sit and watch.  You’ll see your monkey mind search for the next big thing and not find it.  Then you’ll see it think about something that scares you and you’ll get scared.  Then you’ll see it think about an old argument and you’ll jump back into it and relive it.  Then, after a while, you’ll realize you’re not watching, you’re reliving.   Then you’ll see your mind try again in vain to find the next thing to do.  And after 15 minutes of this nonsense, you’re done with your first session of nothing.

Repeat this process over 5 days and a good idea will find you.  You may be sleeping, showering, eating or reading, but no worries, it will find you.  Something will click and you’ll put together two things that aren’t meant to be together but, once together, make a lot of sense – like a strange Ben and Jerry’s flavor you taste for the first time and eat the whole pint.

The new idea isn’t the new thing itself, it’s the first step toward finding the next thing to do.  But, you’ve started wandering down a crazy new path that’s no longer crazy, and you’re on your way.

Resume your daily 15 minute sessions of nothing and, in between, mix in some small experiments to test, refine or invalidate your next new thing. Repeat, as needed.

And don’t stop until what you’re looking for finds you.

Image credit – Figure Focus.

Creating a brand that lasts.

chillinOne of the best ways to improve your brand is to improve your products.  The most common way is to provide more goodness for less cost – think miles per gallon.  Usually it’s a straightforward battle between market leaders, where one claims quantifiable benefit over the other – Ours gets 40 mpg and theirs doesn’t.   And the numbers are tied to fully defined test protocols and testing agencies to bolster credibility.  Here’s the data.  Buy ours

But there’s a more powerful way to improve your brand, and that’s to map your products to reliability.  It’s far a more difficult game than the quantified head-to-head comparison of fuel economy and it’s a longer play, but done right, it’s a lasting play that is difficult to beat.  Run the thought experiment:  think about the brands you associate with reliability.  The brands that come to mind are strong, lasting brands, brands with staying power, brands whose products you want to buy, brands you don’t want to compete against.  When you buy their products you know what you’re going to get.  Your friends tell you stories about their products.

There’s a complete a complete tool set to create products that map to reliability, and they work.  But to work them, the commercialization team has to have the right mindset.  The team must have the patience to formally define how all the systems work and how they interact. (Sounds easy, but it can be painfully time consuming and the level of detail is excruciatingly extreme.)  And they have to be willing to work through the discomfort or developing a common understanding how things actually work. (Sounds like this shouldn’t be an issue, but it is – at the start, everyone has a different idea on how the system works.)  But more importantly, they’ve got to get over the natural tendency to blame the customer for using the product incorrectly and learn to design for unintended use.

The team has got to embrace the idea that the product must be designed for use in unpredictable ways in uncontrolled conditions. Where most teams want to narrow the inputs, this team designs for a wider range of inputs.  Where it’s natural to tighten the inputs, this team designs the product to handle a broader set of inputs.  Instead of assuming everything will work as intended, the team must assume things won’t work as intended (if at all) and redesign the product so it’s insensitive to things not going as planned.  It’s strange, but the team has to design for hypothetical situations and potential problems.  And more strangely, it’s not enough to design for potential problems the team knows about, they’ve got to design for potential problems they don’t know about. (That’s not a typo.  The team must design for failure modes it doesn’t know about.)

How does a team design for failure modes it doesn’t know about? They build a computer-based behavioral model of the system, right down to the nuts, bolts and washers, and they create inputs that represent the environment around the system.  They define what each element does and how it connects to the others in the system, capturing the governing physics and propagation paths of connections. Then they purposefully break the functions using various classes of failure types, run the analysis and review the potential causes.  Or, in the reverse direction, the team perturbs the system’s elements with inputs and, as the inputs ripple through the design, they find previously unknown undesirable (harmful) functions.

Purposefully breaking the functions in known ways creates previously unknown potential failure causes.  The physics-based characterization and the interconnection (interaction) of the system elements generate unpredicted potential failure causes that can be eliminated through design.  In that way, the software model helps find potential failures the team did not know about.  And, purposefully changing inputs to the system, again through the physics and interconnection of the elements, generates previously unknown harmful functions that can be designed out of the product.

If you care about the long-term staying power of your brand, you may want to take a look at TechScan, the software tool that makes all this possible.

Image credit — Chris Ford.

Selling New Products to New Customers in New Markets

yellow telephoneThere’s a special type of confusion that has blocked many good ideas from seeing the light of day.  The confusion happens early in the life of a new technology when it is up and running in the lab but not yet incorporated in a product.  Since the new technology provides a new flavor of customer goodness, it has the chance to create incremental sales for the company.  But, since there are no products in the market that provide the novel goodness, by definition there can be no sales from these products because they don’t yet exist.  And here’s the confusion.  Organizations equate “no sales” with “no market”.

There’s a lot of risk with launching new products with new value propositions to new customers.  You invest resources to create the new technologies and products, create the sales tools, train the sales teams, and roll it out well. And with all this hard work and investment, there’s a chance no one will buy it.  Launching a product that improves on an existing product with an existing market is far less risky – customers know what to expect and the company knows they’ll buy it.  The status quo when stable if all the players launch similar products, right up until it isn’t.  When an upstart enters the market with a product that offers new customer goodness (value proposition) the same-old-same-old market-customer dynamic is changed forever.

A market-busting product is usually launched by an outsider – either a big player moves into a new space or a startup launches its first product.  Both the new-to-market big boy and the startup have a far different risk profile than the market leader, not because their costs to develop and launch a new product are different, but because they have not market share.  For them, they have no market share to protect any new sales are incremental.  But for the established players, most of their resources are allocated to protecting their existing business and any resources diverted toward a new-to-market product is viewed as a loss of protective power and a risk to their market share and profitability.   And on top of that, the incumbent sees sales of the new product as a threat to sales of the existing products.  There’s a good chance that their some of their existing customers will prefer the new goodness and buy the new-to-market product instead of the tried-and-true product.  In that way, sales growth of their own new product is seen as an attack no their own market share.

Business leaders are smart.  Theoretically, they know when a new product is proposed, because it hasn’t launched yet, there can be no sales.  Yet, practically, because their prime directive to protect market share is so all-encompassing and important, their vision is colored by it and they confound “no sales” with “no market”.  To move forward, it’s helpful to talk about their growth objectives and time horizon.

With a short time horizon, the best use of resources is to build on what works – to launch a product that builds on the last one.  But when the discussion is moved further out in time, with a longer time horizon it’s a high risk decision to hold on tightly to what you have as the market changes around you.  Eventually, all recipes run out of gas like Henry Ford’s Model T.  And the best leading indicator of running low on fuel is when the same old recipe cannot deliver on medium-term growth objectives.  Short term growth is still there, but further out they are not.  Market forces are squeezing the juice out of your past success.

Ultimately, out of desperation, the used-to-be market leader will launch a new-to-market product.  But it’s not a good idea to do this work only when it’s the only option left.  Before they’re launched, new products that offer new value to customers will, by definition, have no sales.  Try to hold back the fear-based declaration that there is no market.  Instead, do the forward-looking marketing work to see if there is a market.  Assume there is a market and build some low cost learning prototypes and put them in front of customers.  These prototypes don’t yet have to be functional; they just have to communicate the idea behind the new value proposition.

Before there is a market, there is an idea that a market could exist.  And before that could-be market is served, there must be prototype-based verification that the market does in fact exist.  Define the new value proposition, build inexpensive prototypes and put them in front of customers.  Listen to their feedback, modify the prototypes and repeat.

Instead of arguing whether the market exists, spend all your energy proving that it does.

Image credit — lensletter

Doing New Work

first rideIf you know what to do, do it.  But if you always know what to do, do something else.  There’s no excitement in turning the crank every-day-all-day, and there’s no personal growth.  You may be getting glowing reviews now, but when your process is documented and becomes standard work, you’ll become one of the trivial many that follow your perfected recipe, and your brain will turn soggy.

If you want to do the same things more productively, do continuous improvement.  Look at the work and design out the waste.  I suggest you look for the waiting and eliminate it.  (One hint – look for people or parts queueing up and right in front of the pile you’ll find the waste maker.)  But if you always eliminate waste, do something else.  Break from the minimization mindset and create something new.  Maximize something. Blow up the best practice or have the courage to obsolete your best work.  In a sea of continuous improvement, be the lighthouse of doing new.

When you do something for the first time, you don’t know how to do it. It’s scary, but that’s just the feeling you want.  The cold feeling in your chest is a leading indicator of personal growth.  (If you don’t have a sinking feeling in your gut, see paragraph 1.) But organizations don’t make it easy to do something for the first time.  The best approach is to start small.  Try small experiments that don’t require approval from a budget standpoint and are safe to fail.  Run the experiments under the radar and learn in private.  Grow your confidence in yourself and your thinking.  After you have some success, show your results to people you trust.  Their input will help you grow.  And you’ll need every bit of that personal growth because to staff and run a project to bring your new concept to life you’ll need resources.  And for that you’ll need to dance with the most dangerous enemy of doing new things – the deadly ROI calculation.

The R is for return.  To calculate the return for the new concept you need to know: how many you’ll sell, how much you’ll sell them for, how much it will cost, and how well it will work.  All this must be known BEFORE resources can be allocated. But that’s not possible because the new thing has never been done before.  Even before talking about investment (I), the ROI calculation makes a train wreck of new ideas.  To calculate investment, you’ve got to know how many person-hours will be needed, the cost of the materials to make the prototypes and the lab resources needed for testing.  But that’s impossible to know because the work has never been done before.  The ROI is a meaningless calculation for new ideas and its misapplication has spelled death for more good ideas than anything else known to man.

Use the best practice and standardize the work. There’s immense pressure to repeat what was done last time because our companies prefer incremental growth that’s predictable over unreasonable growth that’s less certain.  And add to that the personal risk and emotional discomfort of doing new things and it’s a wonder how we do anything new at all.

But magically, new things do bubble up from the bottom. People do find the courage to try things that obsolete the business model and deliver new lines of customer goodness.  And some even manage survive the run through the ROI gauntlet.  With odds stacked against them, your best people push through their fears cut through the culture of predictability.

Imagine what they will do when you demand they do new work, give them the tools, time and training to do it, and strike the ROI calculation from our vocabulary.

Image credit – Tony Sergo

Finding Your Full Potential

The Brain ShowIf you’re all sad or anxious, you’re not operating at full potential.

If you’re sad, you’re thinking about the past.  You’re remembering what happened and wishing it went differently.  You’re compromising the present by spending emotional energy on something that cannot change.  The past is gone, never to return.  Can’t unwind it, can’t undo it. Let it go.  Bring your mind back to your body.  It’s time to realize your potential, and the only way to do that is to live in the present.

If you’re anxious or afraid, you’re thinking about the future.  You’re thinking about what may happen and imagining that it’s not going to go your way.  You’re practicing failure in the future.  It’s not possible to control the future, so don’t try.  And don’t worry about problems that haven’t happened yet because they may not happen at all. Grab your mind and reattach it to your body because the future is not made in the future, it’s made in the present.  And that’s just where you’ll find your full potential.

You operate at your full potential when you apply your full attention to the present.  In the present, all your internal resources are applied to the situation at hand.  If you are in a conversation with a friend, you are fully engaged and practicing full-body listening.  If you are working on a problem, each hemisphere sees it from its own perspective all-the-while discussing it with its better half.  Point is, you’re all-in. Point is, all of you is in the present.

When you find your mind wandering in the past, take a breath and bring it back to the present so you can get back to living at your potential.  When you find your mind worrying in the future, take two breaths and head back to the home of your full potential.

Whether you find it in the past or future, just bring your mind back to the present.  There’s nothing wrong with a mind that wanders.  Minds wander.  That’s their nature.  That’s what they do. Don’t be sad and don’t worry.  Just bring it back.

Image credit – TEDxPioneerValley2012

Don’t mentor. Develop young talent.

youre not supposed to look like youre lostYour young talent deserves your attention.  But it’s not for the sake of the young talent, it’s for the survival of your company.

Your young talent understands technology far better than your senior leaders.  And they don’t just know how it works, they know why people use it.  And it’s not just social media.  They know how to code, they know how to prototype (I think the call it hacking, or something like that.) and they know how things fit together.  And they know what’s next.  But they don’t know how to get things done within your organization.

Mentoring isn’t the right word.  It’s a tired word without meaning, and we’ve demonstrated we care about it only from a compliance standpoint and not a content standpoint.  The mentorship checklist – set up regular meetings, meet infrequently without an agenda, lie it die a slow death and then declare compliance.  Nurturing is a better word, but it has connotations of taking care.  Parenting captures the essence of the work, but it doesn’t fit with the language of companies.  But that may not be so bad, because the work doesn’t fit with the operations companies.

In the short term it’s inefficient to spend precious leadership bandwidth on young talent, but in the long run, it’s the only way to go.  Just as the yardwork goes more slowly when your kids help, the next time it’s a bit faster.  But the real benefit, the unquantifiable benefit, is the pure joy of spending time with irreverent, energetic, idealistic young people. Yes, there’s less productivity (fewer leaves raked per hour), but that’s not what it’s about.   There’s growth, increased capability and shared experience that will set up the next lesson.

The biggest mistake is to come up with special “mentorship projects”.  Adding work for the sake of growing talent is wrong on so many levels.  Instead, help them with the work they’re expected to do.  Dig in.  Help them. Contribute to their projects.  Go to their meetings.  Provide technical guidance.  Look ahead for potential problems and tell them they are looming over the horizon.  Let them make the decisions.  Let them choose the path, but run ahead and make sure they negotiate the corner.  If they’re going to make it, let them scoot through without them seeing you.  If they’re going to crash, grab the wheel and negotiate the corner with them.  Then, when things have calmed down, tell them why you stepped in.

Your children watch you.  They watch how you interact with your spouse; they watch how you handle stressful situations; they watch how you treat other children; they listen to what you say to them; they listen to how you say it.  And when the words disagree with the unsaid sentiment, they believe the sentiment.    Your children know you by your actions.  You are transparent to them.  They know everything about you.  They know why you do things and they know what you stand for.  And young talent is no different.

There is nothing more invigorating than a bright, young person willing to dig in and make a difference.  Their passion is priceless.  And as much as you are helping them, they are helping you.  They spark new thinking; they help you see the implicit assumptions you’ve left untested for too long and then naively stomp on them and give you a save-face way to revisit your old thinking.  When the toddler learns to walk, even the grandparents spring to life and spryly support them step-by-step.

Don’t call it parenting, but behave like one.  Take the time to form the close relationships that transcend the generational divide.  Make it personal, because it is.  And when you have too much to do and too little time to invest in young talent, do it anyway.  Do it for them or do it for the company, but do it.

But in the end, do it for the right reason, the selfish reason – because it the best thing for you.

Image credit – mliu92

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
Subscribe via Email

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner