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

Entries in Innovation (157)

Sunday
Nov302014

Death by Data

Data isn’t important in decision-making. What? Shocking! Then why aren’t we shocked when someone says that all decisions must be totally data driven? Perhaps it depends what we mean by data, which is usually something quantitative. 

We need to get out into the world and gather data by watching, observing, listening, asking – qualitative data. We don’t live in a binary world – it’s not either-or, it’s and-both.  We need quantitative and qualitative data. We need to consider both equally valid forms of data.  After all, as the sociologist William Bruce Cameron said (guess Einstein didn’t *),

Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Quantitative data needs to be part of the equation, part, not all.  More and more I see companies defining “data” as purely quantitative, dismissing or minimizing, at their peril, the importance of the qualitative.  Quantitative data can tell us a lot.  It an also tell us little.  Quantitative data has limitations – as does everything. These limitations are because the data usually is…

  • About existing “stuff”. It tells us about our current features, functions, customers and markets.  It tells us what customers are [stuck] using now, not what they really want.  It doesn’t tell us what our “stuff” could become or what new customers, markets and applications are out there;
  • Based in the present or the past.  We don’t have much ‘future’ data: what will, could, should or might be and what we could do to make that happen;
  • A glimpse in time.  It can be a year, five years, ten years, but it’s always piece of the bigger picture;At the Edge (Pemaquid Point, ME)
  • About the what, where, why and maybe even how, but rarely the why. Data usually doesn’t tell us much about fringe factors or trends that impact it.  It’s hard to have data show us the subtle societal, cultural, behavioral “whys” of influence;
  • Used to make things more efficient instead of more effective. Yes, efficiency (or optimization to be more eloquent) still rules for most of business today.  Data helps us figure out to eliminate unnecessary steps, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us why things need to be improved in the first place or new, different ways of doing, period.

As I like to tell my engineering students, most of today’s wicked problems aren’t optimization problems; they are system and design problems.  Think of the remote controls on your den table! Optimization issues are a symptom, not a root cause.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us how to make the problem go away because it doesn’t tell us why the problem is there in the first place.  We have to actually get out of the office and look at how the problem is being addressed, not addressed, or not well enough by human beings.  We need to see how things are organized, structured, laid out, used, not used and under what conditions, circumstances and contexts. 

Data can tell us a whole lot about how our sites and stores and companies are working or not working, but data can’t necessarily tell us the whys – why it is or isn’t working, or working well enough. Without getting out and observing reality first-hand with all our five senses, we risk optimizing our organization into extinction. 

* http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

Saturday
Nov222014

How Uncertainty Can Actually Build Trust

Sometimes using what is ambiguous and unknown can build trust.  By experimenting, learning, applying and iterating we build trust in ourselves and each other.  Give it a try!  Thank you Barbara Kimmel and Trust Across America - Trust Across the World for the opportunity to be part of #TRUSTGiving2014.

"Taking risk requires trust – to discover, try, re-try, be okay with uncertainty, imperfection and even fail.  That’s why learning how to inexpensively and quickly Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate is critical to building trust."  Read on....

Friday
Nov212014

8 Great Ways to Learn

So honored to host Frank Sonnenberg on my site!!! Wow! His new book, Follow Your ConscienceMake a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others, is just out.  Get it! His wisdom is powerful and practical!
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8 Great Ways to Learn 

Learning requires more than attending lectures and regurgitating what you’ve heard. It requires you to be both teacher and student, to learn from books and personal experiences, and to be able to apply lessons learned to real-world situations. Here are a few ways to learn:

Act like a kid. When we’re young, we continually ask “why?” When we get older, however, we get defensive and feel inadequate if we don’t have all the answers. It’s time to learn like a kid again.

Broaden your world. Surrounding yourself with “yes” people is like talking to yourself. Listen to people with viewpoints other than your own. Try to see their side of the issue instead of living your life with blinders on.

Break out of the rut.  Everyone likes routines. Learn by breaking them. Cover the same ground from different angles. Take a new route. Speak to new people. Get information from different sources.

Request feedback. Are you getting ready for a presentation or an interview? Don’t be shy . . . request feedback from a colleague. Most people would be honored to help you. Remember, it’s a lot better to learn in a non-threatening environment than when it’s “game time.”

Learn from mistakes. Do you have twenty years of experience or one year of experience repeated twenty times? If you’re blind to your weaknesses, you may be repeating mistakes rather than correcting them. Remember, practice makes perfect — unless you’re making the same mistakes over and over again.

Critique your actions. Football teams spend countless hours watching game footage to determine how to improve individual performance and build a winning team. Take the time to reflect on your experiences and learn from them. For example, ask yourself, if you had the opportunity to perform an activity again, how would you do it differently?

Increase your expectations. If you want to become a better tennis player, play with someone better than yourself. The same is true in other areas of your life. You’re not going to improve if you don’t accept challenges and learn from them. Step out of your comfort zone to “up” your game.

Success is a journey, not a destination.  Winning is not a black-and-white experience in which losers explore ways to improve and winners receive a bye. Even winners should identify ways to improve on their performance.

This is adapted from Follow Your Conscience: Make a Difference in Your Life & in the Lives of Others By Frank Sonnenberg © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

 

Frank is an award-winning author. He has written five books and over 300 articles. Frank was recently named one of  “America's Top 100 Thought Leaders” and nominated as one of “America’s Most Influential Small Business Experts.” Frank has served on several boards and has consulted to some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. Additionally, FrankSonnenbergOnline was named among the “Best 21st Century Leadership Blogs.” Frank’s new book, Follow Your Conscience, will be released November 2014. © 2014 Frank Sonnenberg. All rights reserved.

 

Wednesday
Nov052014

Why Art Matters as much as Technology

STEM to STEAM - the "A" in STEAM stands for Art/Design...and Afghanistan Air Force.  So thrilled to write this with my amazing friend Col. Matt Fritz about how STEAM was critical to re-inventing the Afghan Air Force! Yes, some parts of our military are design thinkers!  Thank you Matt & Switch and Shift.

"We don’t think of the military as a STEAMy organization, but parts of it are. As Deb described STEAM and its role in for/not-for-profit businesses, B2B and B2C, Matt realized that much of his work in his recent deployment to Afghanistan depended on STEAM. Building a new and resurgent Afghan Air Force from the ground up, while simultaneously flying it and using it in the fight, is no typical task. It is a combination of the complex, complicated and dynamic, to put it mildly."

Monday
Nov032014

5 Lessons from an Office on the Edge

Kris Ansin is the executive director of Mali Health Organizing Project - an amazing company increasing access to primary maternal and child healthcare in Mali.  This past year, Mali repelled an Islamic coup and had it's first case of Ebola, hopefully contained.  To say Kris lives in a complex and complicated world is an understatement. This is his story of what he's learned living and working at the edge.
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I have a passion for exploring the world’s corners – those places far away from a Wall St, Main St, or any another familiar boulevard. These corners have been the places and times where I’ve learned the most about the world and myself. For the last three years, I have satiated this string of my DNA with an unconventional job – as Executive Director of a small NGO addressing maternal and child survival in slums of Mali, West Africa, where health outcomes are among the lowest in the world. Despite this unconventional “corner” office, the lessons I’ve learned (or in some cases, those imposed by necessity) have been profound, and many seem applicable in myriad professional settings.

More and more offices exist at the corner, situated in the messy confluences of cultures and technologies and in the borderlands of traditional disciplines.  As a millennial leader, I see the ways our generation’s coming of age in the workforce has prepared us to lead from these spaces, to support a more inclusive and empathetic framework, and to embrace failure as an inevitable process towards achievement.

Delegation

Every time I have assigned someone a task, rather than taking it on myself, the net effect – short-term, long-term, or both – is decidedly positive. As my grandfather, my own mentor in management, would remind me, “delegate, but don’t abdicate.” Far from the desertion of tedious tasks or monotonous busywork, this means giving team members control and independence, and constantly cleaning the edges of my own plate that, almost by definition of the role, will constantly overflow. Identifying the right person for the right job at the right time is not always obvious and itself merits deliberate thought.  This process feels more like the conducting of an orchestra than the delivery of orders or obligation. Effective distribution of accountability and responsibility, then, leads to better musicians, increased practice, more time in the spotlight, and most important, harmony.

The Danger of Assumptions

So often dissonance, disappointment, or disaster is a result of poor communications. In this job, it’s necessary to navigate differences in language, culture, and distance. It is easy for messages to be lost or distorted with such obvious traps. The recipient of a message, for completely legitimate reasons, understands in a wholly difference context than its original intention.

Assumptions, conscious or not, frequently contribute to poor communications, and I’ve tried to make that admission to myself in my interactions – often, I have no idea what another person is thinking. I have to ask, and I have to make time for the answers, and both steps are equally important. The difference between interest and position (thank you, Getting to Yes) is often clouded, but if you ask enough and listen more, the way forward can also become clear.  Last, if possible, I save important conversations for when there is no computer screen separating me from others. Despite technology’s accomplishments, there is no substitute for physically being in the same space.

Motivation

I can’t outcompete anyone, or nearly anyone, when it comes to employee compensation. It’s a troublesome and common trend in nonprofits but particularly in a small organization with a startup attitude. What I’ve found, however, is traditional views of compensation don’t reflect how people behave in – or towards – this organization. Other factors, like meaningful work, a wide degree of autonomy, and strategic recognition (both internal and external) seem to be more powerful drivers.  The ability to offer an environment replete with these conditions have nullified, or at least mitigated, what would commonly be seen as an Achilles heel. We have to pay something, and expect compensation levels to reach more equitable levels as we grow, but more meaningful forms of motivation have boded well for this organization. Interns are given real responsibilities (with real results), staff are trusted and given their own budgets to plan and manage, and a mission-driven attitude is permeable when staff members collaborate, focusing on a shared pursuit. Employee of the Month, annual Family Days, professional development stipends, the distribution of meat to field staff at the end of Ramadan, and FedEx Days are all ways we have built this culture of compensation beyond bottom line.

All of me

Professional roles in Mali are rigid. Structure and formality are common in the professional context, and if I were graded based on this rubric, I’d fail. Just ask my staff. Rather, during my extended stays in our field office, the traditional divide between work and life blurs. For me, this is a positive development. Bosses in any culture hold a degree of power and can encourage interactions that are artificial or soul-sucking (One NYT Sunday Review article just cited the fact that in a typical day, spending time with one’s boss is the #1 unhappiest activity one can perform).  Allowing my staff see a more personal side of me has led to a more intimate and productive office.  They can laugh, and appreciate, when I stammer through local languages, and helping me to navigate unfamiliar moors provides space for them to lead. They come to know me better when I share personal experience, or spend time with them in an informal setting. And in turn, they can be more of themselves, and bring more of themselves, to our shared cause.

The F-word

Addressing child survival is no small undertaking. If progress were easy, this challenge, and the many like it, would undoubtedly have been solved. But behind a simple problem are often complex influencers that necessitate sophisticated solutions. Which carries greater risk. In the nonprofit sector, results are often necessary within a calendar year, and in a business setting, quarterly earnings often inform value and success. Real progress however, is more messy and less linear. We have to innovate, test, fail, and try again, in order to ensure a true impact on such a societal problem.  Yes, evaluation is important and progress is our goal, but failure is an important part of the process, and too often swept under the rug. In traditional contexts, failure is the opposite of success; instead, failure must serve as a tool that helps achieve a goal, a course-correction that must be recognized and understood, not reduced and forgotten. The challenges of today require a redefinition of failure, and young leaders are poised to carry that torch. Having lived in a short time in the context of incredible forces of progress and regression, we realize both the consequences and the opportunities. Both are great. To find success, we have to fail.

BIO:  Kris Ansin is the Executive Director of the Mali Health Organizing Project, increasing access to quality primary care in peri-urban communities, the world's fastest growing populace. Through health saving and financing initiatives, strengthened systems between communities and clinics, and quality improvement programs at local health centers, Mali Health is developing a sustainable and participatory model of healthcare delivery in resource-strained environments. Kris grew up in Massachusetts, holds a Masters of Public Health in International Health and Development from Tulane University in New Orleans, and has worked with a number of large and small organizations in Africa and South Asia. As Executive Director, he is responsible for crafting Mali Health’s strategic vision, communications, programs, financing, and fundraising. He divides his time between the US and Bamako, Mali.

A version of this was originally published in Switch and Shift.