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Deborah Mills-scofield's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)
Thursday
Apr172014

The fallacy and hubris of “market attractiveness”

This appears on Smartbrief's Smartblogs for Leadership! Thank you!! 

"How many times have you heard or even said, “Is that market attractive to us”? We look at the markets we’re in, the markets our competitors are in, maybe even some that are new and wonder if they are/could be good for our business. We may even think of creating or segmenting in a new way." read on...

Tuesday
Apr152014

The Energy Efficiency of Trust & Vulnerability

Note: Carl & I met at BIF9. As usually happens, a beautiful friendship and collaboration ensued.  Our conversations are like jazz...live, interactive, impromptu.  Eavesdrop on one here... 

Photo: Stephanie Alvarez Ewens

DMS: At BIF, you performed before an audience of over 400 people with two musicians you’d barely met before.  It was fabulous – resulting in BIF’s first encore!  The three of you had a common goal – a great performance.  You had aligned incentives – to create great music and not make fools of yourselves. This got us talking about trust – trusting people because of who they are personally vs. who they are professionally.

CS: Yes, I didn’t need to trust them personally, just professionally. If I’m going to fly, I have to trust the airline to have sane, sober, skilled, alert pilots.  We also need to trust systems.  If I have to go to the ER, perhaps a bad one is better than none.  If the alternative is worse, we might opt for no trust.  How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in; the more information and/or experience we have, the better we can decide whether or not to trust.  Trust is a tool to assess and manage (reduce and/or increase) risk, depending on the situation.

How much we need to trust others depends on the context, but also on how much we trust ourselves, our own resources and our ability to understand the context we are in

DMS: Trusting someone implies making oneself more vulnerable and finally it seems the world is recognizing that is what it takes to create great leaders.  Trust has big implications on our resources, as you’ve said.  When we don’t trust, we exert a lot of energy to keep up our guard, to continually assess and verify.  This uses a lot of energy and time.  When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

Photo: Stephanie Alvarez EwensCS: Absolutely.  When we trust, we reduce hassles, bargaining and redundancy.  The more information and/or experience we have, the fewer buffers we need around our decisions and the more we can focus on the scope and achievement of our goals. Being vulnerable is a way to preserve energy.  Basically, we are saying, “I won’t use resources on this because the pain of being vulnerable ‘costs’ less than the cost of NOT applying my resources elsewhere.”  For instance, choosing an instrument (or a profession) is a kind of vulnerability. No instrument can play everything.  To create great music you need an ensemble — a trio, quartet,  basically a team of players with complementary strengths, skills and vulnerabilities and a willingness to listen to each other and a common goal.

When we trust, we re-allocate that energy and time to getting things done and making an impact.  As we let ourselves be vulnerable, we also leave ourselves more open to new ideas, new ways of thinking which leads to empathy and innovation.

DMS: Trust and vulnerability are keys to “Energy Management”. Not to sound too 19th or 20th Century, but trusting is efficient….and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness…impact.  Energy Management raises the issue of perfection. If we are working together, we need to agree on the meaning of ‘done’.  When are we done, what does that look like? And that’s in the eye of the customer/audience.  So we need to understand customers’ needs and how well we can meet those.   We need to recognize that ‘good enough’ can really be good enough.  The Lean Startup movement encourages a Minimal Viable Product (MCP), building what’s critical and leaving the non-critical for a later.  My daughter says, “Don’t let perfection be the enemy of accomplishment.” Growing up in Bell Labs, I saw the need to know and control everything hold us back from realizing value.  Your wife’s phrase, “Control is for Beginners” is so a propôs.

CS: Knowing when to stop is key.  Strategic sloppiness is a way to preserve energy.  Don’t line up the boxes, disregard the typo’s, narrow the scope – Simplify!  The use of shared references is a big part of this.  Build on the same shared mental models (e.g., Peter Senge); use the same language (e.g., Hanna McPhee: Design & Science); make sure we hear and see the same thing (reduce buffers around our response); allow for larger margins of error in our response and our acceptance of others. This is especially true when we are working in real-time, where higher perfection slows down the tempo.  We have to eliminate anything that slows us down, which forces choices in real time. Think of when we’ve been on a stage giving a presentation (or running out of a burning building).  If we can´t think of a specific word, we skip it and make something up — we lower the bar as much as we can.  Being live forces us to be flexible, like a nerf ball instead of a steel ball. If we are too hard, we are still vulnerable because we will crack, not bend and flex and live.

DMS: We can’t minimize the need to be effective.  So much of the 20thcentury’s focus on efficiency over effectiveness ended up being inefficient!  If the outcome didn’t meet customers’ need, who cares how efficiently it was made?  Efficient systems are great at dealing with complicated things – things that have many parts and sequences, but they fall flat dealing with complex systems, which is most of world today. At BIF8, Brandon Barnettgave a great story about the difference between complicated and complex. Effective solutions to wicked problems rarely come about through efficient and linear thinking.  It’s usually messy… and increasingly effective.

CS: The Industrial Revolution was based on achieving efficiency by scale through replication – a frozen goal in a static context.  This led to managing people and machines as one and the same — striving for uniformity/conformity, precision, low deviance, repetition, predictability and static, strict standards.  Things could be complicated but not complex (because they were static and not interconnected).  Now, easy, repetitive tasks are being de-bundled and out-sourced or automated which speeds things up, from months to weeks to minutes. Add to this that more and more interfaces are standardized and subjected to competition (per Clay Christensen) and we are seeing an emerging alphabet — components that can be assembled in endless combinations as manifestations of unique ideas.  As the ability to replicate something has become more of a commodity, we are increasingly seeing that complex interactions are the way to create ‘value from difference’ (as opposed to ‘value from sameness’).  But again, the complex interactions require judgment, intuition, data, timing and experience.  Technology does not do much in a complex interaction (per McKinsey´s articles on interaction).

Trusting is efficient and effective.  It lets us reallocate our resources to what matters and utilize our skills and those around us to increase effectiveness

DMS: Which is why ‘soft-skills’ are so critical in our complex world.  The ability to look at things from many different perspectives, to discover, uncover, understand and empathize is critical.  While everyone says the Millennials are forcing businesses to focus on meaning and purpose for work (outcomes) instead of just money and profit (outputs), I think we’ve always wanted this, just haven’t vocalized them for a variety of reasons. This brings us full circle back to trust and vulnerability.  When we have a common goal of WHY we want to do something, we are better able to trust.

CS: That’s why complex interaction workers are the fastest growing and the best paid part of the labor force.  The Jazzcode governs how we can improve the effectiveness of these workers.  When we never do the same thing or have the same conversation twice, it becomes much more important to figure out why and what we do than how we do it (process, which is a given).  Personal leadership and character become more important.  As work moves from executing scripts to interactive conversations, the need for active listening and presence in the moment is increasing.  We have to challenge the industrial culture in our work places to enable people to have better interactions. Only then can we get the true potential for original ideas and real collaboration.  It is in the give and take of a conversation, which is needed in complexity, that understanding happens.  Just like playing jazz.

DMS: And, just like jazz, the conversation continues…

This originally appeared in Switch and Shift.

Sunday
Apr132014

From the Best Bosses Ever: 4 Vital Early-Career Leadership Lessons

SavvyIntern shares a post about the lessons I learned from best bosses I ever had (originally published in HBR). Are these lessons familiar to you? Can you make them real for your organization? Give it a try! Thank you YouTern for sharing this!

Monday
Apr072014

When Did Accountability Become Passé?

From customers’ and suppliers’ viewpoint, Company X is fast growing, exciting, and high-energy. Inside, though,Diamantini & Domeniconi and designed by Tak Cheung  it’s a tornado. Fighting fires, arguing over who committed to what, why it didn’t happen, and noticing things that fell through the cracks in just enough time is normal.

How can this happen when they have weekly departmental meetings, keep track of action items, and post projects and timelines everywhere? Easily! There is no accountability. They don’t hold each other accountable for commitments. They’ve seen what happens when you fail, and it isn’t pretty, which undermines individual commitment. Requesters frequently change their minds, reprioritize, or create new, more urgent projects without ever really closing the loop on the old ones.

The Bell Labs culture I grew up in had a strong sense of accountability. When you’re working on things that literally change the world, it’s easy to be committed to something bigger than yourself. The “Labs” culture meant failure was a viable option. Success was discovery and application, not climbing a corporate ladder. At AT&T, the culture was the opposite. While I was privileged to have great management, the majority of AT&T focused on the bottom line. Failure was not an option. When I left AT&T and started working with many companies, I realized this culture was more the norm, not Bell Labs. That’s why I believe culture creates (at least?) two reasons for people’s struggle with accountability.

First is the fear of failure. Even before kindergarten, we’re taught failure is bad. What if we can’t do it or do it right or something goes wrong? So, we whittle down the scope, involve others so blame can be shared, make resource requests we know won’t fly, or let our fear hold us back from really creative solutions.

Since “failure is not an option” is still the modus operandi in most organizations and the odds of success are never certain, accepting accountability can be very risky. What if I can’t deliver? What if the people I need to work with won’t make the time or collaborate? What if factors I can’t control impede or inhibit success? Will I get a poor performance appraisal? Will I lose prestige, status, or my promotion? If there is a downturn, am I going to get cut? Unfortunately, these are natural, normal responses to accountability.

Accountability means putting our word and reputation on the line. Someone is counting on us — and we should care that someone is counting on us. If failure’s not an option, that can feel like too much of responsibility — or a liability — to take on.

The second problem is a lack of commitment on either or both sides. Either we don’t believe the request is important enough to make us change our priorities, or we don’t trust the “asker” to keep his end of the commitment. If the requester keeps changing his mind, his priorities or timelines, then it’s tough to accept accountability for the outcome. Trade-offs have to be made which means sacrifice — of time, priorities, perhaps things we are passionate about. Accountability works both ways, and if one party isn’t really committed, it can undermine the entire project.

Realities of 21st century business make accountability even more daunting. In the “old” days, a commitment’s path to success was fairly clear, linear, defined and prescriptive: follow this framework or process, and you’ll get there. Today, the path is usually messy, ambiguous, paradoxical, and maybe unknown. We may need to create our own frameworks and processes. It’s a discovery, not a prescriptive process, with many ways to get where we’re going, not “a” way to succeed. Success itself has changed; it used to be via a tangible output, a new product or service, a “thing” based more on what was probable than possible. Success today can be both tangible and intangible, like new learnings, viewpoints, networks, or opportunities, where we look for what is not just probable, but possible.

So, how do we help our cultures, ourselves, our people overcome the fear of failure and commit in a uncertain world? I have a few suggestions based on my experience in both accountable, and unaccountable, company cultures:

  • Communicate100. Communicate why the request is important to the organization, to both of you, and how it’s fulfillment will make a difference. What may seem trivial to us may be profound to someone else. To commit, we need to believe in something bigger than just ourselves or the organization, such as the mission and purpose of the organization. That is how we start changing behavior and making new habits.
  • Make sure that you’re present to support the request and remove or mitigate obstacles. Meet regularly to identify potential challenges and opportunities before they become a major problem.
  • Re-prioritize responsibilities and tasks to allow the person or team to complete the request. Don’t just add on. Not everything is urgent and important. Seriously, show your commitment to the request you’ve made. If it’s not worth re-prioritizing, then it isn’t worth asking.
  • Create ways to eliminate or minimize the stigma of failure. Focus on what’s been learned and how that applies, watch how you react to and treat the person, how you discuss it with others affected by the result and how you let it impact that person’s future success in the organization. Even if you can’t change the organization’s performance management process, your own personal demeanor and handling has an enormous impact.

I’ve also started to experiment with using the classic virtues to help improve accountability, but don’t have enough data’ to posit it as a suggestion above yet (though it can’t hurt).

Accountability is important on so many levels — professionally and personally. Let’s create the environment where it’s easier to have it be the norm than not.

Originally published in Harvard Business Review

Sunday
Apr062014

Creative Education? Feel free to Steal Ideas

How can you make school more creative? It's not that hard and doesn't take a lot of money... but it does takecommitment and the impact is huge.  Here's how one small school went about doing it.  They made

  • A commitment
  • Space
  • Time
  • Funds (not a lot) available
  • Teachers free to try

Feel free to take any and all of these ideas! And contact them with questions.

Thank you Creative Scholars for sharing this!