Posts Tagged ‘Success’

Success Strangles

Success demands people do what they did last time.

Success blocks fun.

Success walls off all things new.

Success has a half-life that is shortened by doubling down.

Success eats novelty for breakfast.

Success wants to scale, even when it’s time to obsolete itself.

Success doesn’t get caught from behind, it gets disrupted from the bottom.

Success fuels the Innovator’s Dilemma.

Success has a short attention span.

Success scuttles things that could reinvent the industry.

Success frustrates those who know it’s impermanent.

Success breeds standard work.

Success creates fear around making mistakes.

Success loves a best practice, even after it has matured into bad practice.

Success doesn’t like people with new ideas.

Success strangles.

Success breeds success, right up until the wheels fall off.

Success is the antidote to success.

“20204-roots strangle bricks” by oliver.dodd is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Will you be remembered?

100% agreement means there’s less than 100% truth.  If, as a senior leader, you know there are differing opinions left unsaid, what would you do? Would you chastise the untruthful who are afraid to speak their minds? Would you simply ignore what you know to be true and play Angry Birds on your phone? Would you make it safe for the fearful to share their truth? Or would you take it on the chin and speak their truth? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Best practice is sometimes a worst practice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is putting immense pressure put on the team to follow a best practice, yet the context requires a new practice, what would you do? Would you go along with the ruse and support the worst practice? Would you keep your mouth shut and play tick-tack-toe until the meeting is over? Would you suggest a new practice, help the team implement it, and take the heat from the Status Quo Police? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Truth builds trust. If, as a senior leader, you know the justification for a new project has been doctored, what would you do? Would you go along with the charade because it’s easy? Would call out the duplicity and preserve the trust you’ve earned from the team over the last decade? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

The loudest voice isn’t the rightest voice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is using their positional power to strong-arm the team into a decision that is not supported by the data, what would you do? Would you go along with it, even though you know it’s wrong? Would you ask a probing question that makes it clear there is some serious steamrolling going on? And if that doesn’t work, would you be more direct and call out the steamrolling for what it is?  As a senior leader, I’d do the last two.

What’s best for the company is not always best for your career. When you speak truth to power in the name of doing what’s best for the company, your career may suffer. When you see duplicity and call it by name, the company will be better for it, but your career may not. When you protect people from the steam roller, the team will thank you, but it may cost you a promotion. When you tell the truth, the right work happens and you earn the trust and respect of most everyone.  As a senior leader, if your career suffers, so be it.

When you do the right thing, people remember. When, in a trying time, you have someone’s back, they remember. When a team is unduly pressured and you put yourself between them and the pressure, they remember. When you step in front of the steamroller, people remember. And when you silence the loudest voice so the right decision is made, people remember. As a senior leader, I want to be remembered.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who played Angry Birds or advocated for those too afraid to speak their truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who doodled on their notepad or spoke truth to power?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who kept their mouth shut or called out the inconvenient truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who did all they could to advance their career or someone who earned the trust and respect of those they worked with?

In the four cases above, I choose the latter.

“cryptic.” by dfactory is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Just start.

You’re not missing anything. It’s time to start.

Afraid to fail? Start anyway.

Don’t have the experience? Well, you won’t be able to say that once you start.

Just start. It’s time.

Don’t have the money? Start small. And if that won’t work, start smaller.

Start small, but start.

Worried about what people might say? There’s only one way to know, so you might as well start.

You’re not an imposter. It’s time to start.

Waiting isn’t waiting, it’s a rationalization to block yourself from starting.

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

The only thing in the way of starting is starting.

The fear of success is the strongest stopper of starting.  Be afraid of success, and start.

There’s never a good time to start, but there’s always a best time – now.

Worried about the negative consequences of starting? Be worried, and start.

Don’t think you have what it takes? The only way to know for sure is to start.

There’s no way around it. Starting starts with starting.

“Golfland start” by twid is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Foundation of Leadership Development — Work Products

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes too much is just that – too much.

When your best isn’t good enough, how do you feel? When your best isn’t good enough, what do you do? But more importantly, when your best isn’t good enough, what does that say about you?

If your best used to be good enough and now it isn’t, there are four possible explanations. 1.) Expectations increased and your performance is unchanged. 2.) Expectations increased and your performance increased less.  3.) Expectations increased and your performance decreased.

If expectations of your performance haven’t increased over last year, I want to work where you work because your company is an oasis (and an aberration).  Since nearly all industries and occupations are governed by the unnatural mindset of growth-year-on-year-no-matter-what, it’s highly likely your performance expectations have increased. There’s no need to review this scenario.

In scenario one, your performance is unchanged. Why? Well, you may have tried to increase your performance but issues unrelated to work have consumed huge amounts of your emotional energy, and this new drain on your emotional energy consumed the energy you needed to increase your performance.  A list of such issues includes global warming, deforestation, plastic in our water supply, COVID, political unrest, and the regular issues such as medical care for aging parents, death of your parents, inevitable health issues related to your aging. What does that say about you?

In scenario two, your performance increased, but the increase was insufficient. Maybe your performance would have increased quite a bit, but the special cause issues (COVID, etc.) along with the common cause issues (you and your parents get older every year) impacted your performance in a way that lessened the increase in your performance.  Without the special causes, you would have met the increased expectations, but because of them, you did not. What does that say about you?

In scenario three, even though expectations increased, your performance decreased. In this case, it could be that political unrest and the other special causes teamed up with the common causes (stress of everyday life) to reduce your performance. What does that say about you?

In thermodynamics, there’s a law whose implications make it certain that there’s a limit to the amount of matter (stuff) you can put in a control volume (a defined volume that has a limit).  That means that if every year you add air to a balloon, eventually it pops. Even the strongest ones. And when you extend this notion to people, it says that no matter how much pressure you apply to people, there’s a limit to what they can achieve.  And if you apply pressure that overcomes their physical limit, they pop.  Even the strongest ones. Or, maybe, especially the strongest ones because they try to take on more than their share.

People have a physical limit, and people cannot indefinitely support a mindset of growth-every-year-no-matter-what.  No matter what, people will pop. It’s not if, it’s when. And add in the special causes of COVID, political unrest, and environmental problems and people pop sooner and cannot do what they did last year, no matter what.

And what does all this say about you? It says you are trying harder than ever. It says you are strong. It says you are amazing.

And what does it say about growth-every-year-no-matter-what? It says we should stop with all that, at least for a while.

Image credit — Judy Schmidt

The Next Prime Directive – Software-Based Recurring Revenue

If you know how what the system wants to be when it grows up, you can work in this line of evolution with 100% impunity.  In that way, the key to success is learning how to see what the system wants to be when it grows up; learning to see where it wants to go; learning to see what it likes to do; learning to see what it wants to achieve; learning its disposition.

What do systems want?  Well, for business systems, here’s a hint: Business systems seek top-line growth (increased sales revenue).

When you align your work with what the system seeks (top-line growth) roadblocks mysteriously remove themselves out of the way. No one will know why, but the right things will happen. Don’t believe me that roadblocks will disappear? For your next proposal, build it around top-line growth and use “top-line growth” in the title, and see what happens.  I bet I know what will happen and I bet you will get approval.

Assess the system to learn what is missing. Then, create a proposal to fill the vacuum. Or, better yet, fill the vacuum.  Do you need to ask for permission? No. Do you need formal approval? No. Is it okay to work outside your formal domain of responsibility? Yes. Is it okay if you encroach on other teams’ areas of responsibility? Yes.  Is it okay if people disagree? Yes. And why is that? Because the vacuum is blocking the path to top-line growth. And why is that a big deal? Well, because the Leadership Team is measured on top-line growth and they think it’s skillful to unblock the path to Nirvana.  And why is that?  Well, because they are judged on and compensated for top-line growth. And, because they told the Board of Directors they’d deliver top-line growth. And if there’s one thing a Leadership Team doesn’t want to do is to break a commitment to the Board of Directors.

Here’s a rule: When your work creates top-line growth, you don’t need to ask for approval.  You just need to go faster.

Here’s another rule: When you help the Leadership Team deliver on its commitment to the Board of Directors to deliver top-line growth, your career will thank you.

There are different flavors of top-line growth, but the best flavor is called “recurring revenue”. This is when customers commit to a monthly payment. Regardless of what happens, they make the monthly payment.  Think Netflix and Amazon Prime. Month in and month out, customers pay every.  And you can plan on it. And the revenue you can count on is much more valuable than the revenue that may come or may not.  And though they don’t know how, this is why companies want to do software as a service (SaaS). And for those that don’t can’t figure out how to do SaaS, the next megatrend will be hardware as a service (HaaS). It won’t be called HaaS, rather it will be called RaaS (Robotics as a Service), machines as a service (Maas), and AaaS (Automation as a Service).  But, since AaaS sounds a lot like ASS, they’ll figure out a different name.  But you get the idea.

And the new metric of choice will be Time to Recurring Revenue (TtFRR). It won’t be enough to create recurring revenue. Projects will be judged by the time to create the first dollar of recurring revenue.  And this will make software only projects more attractive than projects that require hardware and far more attractive than projects that require new hardware.  Hardware becomes a necessary evil that companies do only to create recurring software revenue.

All this comes down to Situation Analysis or Situational Analysis (SA). On a topographic map, SA is like knowing the location of the hills so you can march around them and knowing where the valleys are so you can funnel your competitors toward them to limit their ability to maneuver.  It’s a lot more nuanced than that, but you get the idea.  It’s about understanding the fitness landscape so you can speculate on dispositional or preferential paths that the system wants to follow in its quest for top-line growth.

If you don’t know how the system wants to generate top-line growth, figure it out. And, next, if you don’t know what the system needs to achieve to fulfill its desire for top-line growth, figure that out.  And once you identify the vacuum created by the missing elements, fill it and fill it fast.

Don’t ask for permission; just do the work that makes it possible for the system to achieve its Prime Directive – software-based recurring revenue to create top-line growth.

Image credit — JD Hancock

Are you doing what you did last time?

If there’s no discomfort, there’s no novelty.

When there’s no novelty, it means you did what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, you don’t grow.

When you do what you did last time, there’s no learning.

When you do what you did last time, opportunity cost eats you.

If there’s no discomfort, you’re not trying hard enough.

 

If there’s no disagreement, critical thought is in short supply.

When critical thought is in short supply, new ideas never see the light of day.

When new ideas never see the light of day, you end up doing what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, your best people leave.

When you do what you did last time, your commute into work feels longer than it is.

When you do what you did last time, you’re in a race to the bottom.

If there’s no disagreement, you’re playing a dangerous game.

 

If there’s no discretionary work, crazy ideas never grow into something more.

When crazy ideas remain just crazy ideas, new design space remains too risky.

When new design space remains too risky, all you can do is what you did last time.

When you do what you did last time, managers rule.

When you do what you did last time, there is no progress.

When you do what you did last time, great talent won’t accept your job offers.

If there’s no discretionary work, you’re in trouble.

 

We do what we did last time because it worked.

We do what we did last time because we made lots of money.

We do what we did last time because it’s efficient.

We do what we did last time because it feels good.

We do what we did last time because we think we know what we’ll get.

We do what we did last time because that’s what we do.

 

Doing what we did last time works well, right up until it doesn’t.

When you find yourself doing what you did last time, do something else.

 

Image credit — Matt Deavenport

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

No Time for the Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image credit — Dennis Jarvis

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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