When Software Can’t Change the Laws of Physics (or Leadership)

Boeing 737 Max in production

Boeing 737 Max in production

As far as we know, the physical laws of nature are true and fixed on earth.  We can’t design with atoms and ignore gravity, conservation of energy and Newton’s laws of motion.  Tragically, it took Boeing and the FAA two horrendous accidents with over 350 deaths to accept this.

Boeing 737, Edwards Air Force Base, Sept. 1967

Boeing 737, Edwards Air Force Base, Sept. 1967

The Boeing 737 has been flying since 1967, outlasting the 757 and 767.  How many other intricate, interdependently constructed products made in the 1960s are still around?  Not many! There have been major 737 design upgrades and changes over the years; it is usually easier to do variations on a theme in terms of design, testing, certification, regulatory approvals, etc. then create new.

Business’s emphasis on efficiency means we try to make things work without total re-designs.  In the case of Boeing, software was going to solve known basic aerodynamic design problems. Apparently, the software could have been better designed both in functionality and UI/UX.  And certainly, proactively notifying airlines and pilots that new training was required should have been a no-brainer.

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Today’s systems are complicated and complex* requiring different leadership capabilities throughout the organization.  And I mean Leadership, not "Management Plus", from those leading the various physical, hardware, software, etc. design teams, to procurement, supply chain, etc. all the way across and up to the CEO.  Complex systems also require a different organizational culture - a systems-level mindset and a sense ownership at all levels. The 737 disaster highlights that our systems today are not systems but discrete parts stuck together touted as systems, without holistic, integrated accountability and ownership (e.g., Boeing, FAA, airlines, …)

In your business, with your products or services, what are you assuming will ‘fix the problem’?  Are you sure? Are there immutable laws you’re trying to violate? What do the assumptions imply for your employees, your culture, your customers?  This week, please, please, stop and reflect on this.  For most of us, lives are not literally on the line from our products and services, but there are still implications.

 

*complicated systems have many parts and pieces but are fixed with a finite set of possible states; complex systems are infinite with boundless sets of constantly changing dynamics.

Why Does a Door Need Instructions? Seriously!

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If you’re willing, the next time you get to a door, stop.  What’s your initial reaction? Push it? Pull it?  Doors are one of my favorite examples of lousy design.  Shouldn’t opening a door be intuitive? We really need instructions to go through a door? Really?? 

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Our world is filled with poorly designed products we use every day without thinking twice.  We’ve come to accept that this is the way it is.  We learn how to work around the non-intuitive design and just use the easy-to-figure-out features.   Take the USB Pointer for presentations! My natural instinct is to use the up arrow, the one on top, to move the slide ahead, but no! Even though I’m pointing at the screen, I don’t use the up arrow (pointing at the screen), I use the down arrow pointing at me!

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Some of the best designed products are simple and long-lasting – like the paper clip!  And there are products that just entice us with their elegant, beautiful and comfortable design – like the Vespa, globally recognized as an icon of design.

As you approach work this week, be it leading people, designing products, services or systems, creating marketing material, building circuit boards, writing essays in college, giving presentations, etc., take a few minutes to think who will be using, hearing, reading, sharing your “stuff” and how you can make it easy for them.  Just as I asked you to stop the next time you got to a door, stop the next time you’re ‘designing’ and think - how can you make it intuitive, easy, enjoyable and amazingly useful?

p.s. A great read on design for everyday life is The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman!

Are Our Souls on Treadmills??

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This academic year the cost of putting kids on treadmills from Pre-K onward is slapping me in the face through the students I mentor.  I’ve seen students’ stress, anxiety and depression increasing over the past few years but not with the exponential leap I’ve seen this year.  The current revelation of college admissions scandals and the plethora of recent articles on student’s anxiety and pressure over academic & social success reinforce what so many of us know and see every day.

You can and should hold me personally accountable. I was raised with earlier incarnations of this pressure and despite deliberately trying not to inflict this on my own children, I know I have and whatever I tried not to do or to reverse, the world, schooling and society all around them has reinforced par excellence!

The few minutes students will relax and chill are few - they are viewed as ‘unproductive’.

The few minutes students will relax and chill are few - they are viewed as ‘unproductive’.

The toll on our next generation is horrific.  I spend most of my mentoring helping students figure out how to at least slow down the treadmill.  Since they have no idea of life without being on it, they don’t know how to slow it down, reduce the incline or even dare ponder getting off. 

For many of my students, it’s not chasing the prestigious, expected Investment Banking, Consulting or Entrepreneurial grail to make your first millions before you’re 30, it’s about making the maximum possible positive impact on the world by the age of 25!  They’ve been taught to define success and worth by performance, by WHAT they do instead of WHO they are, because that’s all they’ve known. We know that extrinsic rewards are never fulfilling – there’s always someone else doing more/better, there’s always more to get, attain, have … there is never ‘enough.’  We’re telling them a lie.

Relaxing dinners do happen…

Relaxing dinners do happen…

So, what can we do? Especially if our kids are at the later end of the academic treadmill heading into or already in the real-world treadmill? We can talk to them – be honest about our own treadmills, the why & how we got on them, stayed on them and the struggles we’ve had (trying to) get off (if we have).  We can be honest about the anxiety and struggles we’ve worked so hard to hide over the years and we can try to change our own lives, slow down our own treadmills, reduce the incline, find our own balance and share how we’re finding our have found our own meaning and purpose.  Are you willing to try this with your own kids? With other people’s kids? Would you be willing to try this with and for yourself?