Tag Archives: Business

Back to the Future!

backtothefuture.jpgAround 2002 I was selected as part of an experimental group to create an internal consulting group.  Something like the “Big Four”, but without the constant loss of institutional knowledge.

This past Monday I re-joined the company as the head of that group!

Honestly, I’m very excited about it.  

The team has such incredibly deep knowledge that it’s somewhat daunting as I’m probably the least intelligent person in the room 99% of the time.  That said I have something most of them don’t.  No, it’s not my amazing good looks, it is my age!

All of the group are younger than me, several by a couple of decades.  I had to explain to one of the more “senior” members on Friday what backup tapes were!  (sic)

But I remember being their age too.  I remember being a cocky sh**, full of piss and vinegar, and wondering why we needed all these “old people”.  My technical expertise was top notch and people wanted me.  Why did I need to be nice to people?

image_cbff354b-879a-4001-beab-9e4e1ad4f78e20170214_110055.jpgOver the years, I have learned many lessons the hard way.  

I learned that emotional intelligence is worth more than technical expertise.

I learned that keeping a secret is worth more than blabbing to show you are in the loop.

I learned that asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. And that asking for help is a gift to the helper and the helped.

I learned to give first without expecting something in return.

I learned to say “thank you”, and mean it.

I learned that my word is, and must always be, my bond.

I learned to give credit often and publicly.

I learned that mistakes happen and the only people not making mistakes are the ones not doing anything new, hard or innovative.

I learned that opportunities are often enshrouded with hassle, perceived risk and the need to overcome inertia.

I learned to accept that I don’t have all the answers and that should accept assistance when it is offered.

And so we embark on a new journey together.

The group is in an interesting place today.  It is really a collection of individual contributors rather than a team.  Smart, talented, and energetic individuals for sure.  But I think we can build something truly amazing if we can learn to support each other more.

Everyone you meet knows something you don’t.  If we can recognize that, learn to trust and lean on each other, and learn to ask for help when we need it then the group is destined to be something truly amazing.  I hope I’m up to the task of helping them on that journey.

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it

Management F-Laws

Anyone that sees my Goodreads feed will see that I regularly post updates of books that I am reading / have read.

This year I’ve read 20 books so far, and yet one book has been on my “currently reading” list for several years.  This is all the more surprising when you consider that the book in question is only 162 pages of relatively large print.  

Am I that slow a reader?

Well…yes is the answer to that question.  But there’s more to it than that.

mflThe book is called Management F-Laws by Russell Ackoff and is described as “A full collection of more than 80 of Russell Ackoff’s management f-laws: the uncomfortable truths about how organizations really work, what’s wrong with the way we design and manage businesses, what makes managers tick… and how we can make things work better.” and therein lies the problem.

Every time I pick up this book I read just two pages and ideas pop into my head sending me off writing a new blog post, updating some piece of work or just discussing the idea with anyone who happens wander nearby…often my long suffering children.

So, after several years, I’m about half way through the book which, in a very strange way, is the about the best recommendation I can give for it!

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Filed under Career

Self Assessment #Fail

On Monday I sat down to pull together the dreaded self assessment.  As a manager this is doubly hard because there’s a fine line between giving all the credit to other people (“you did nothing“) or taking credit for things that you managed but didn’t actually do yourself (“credit pirate“).

buzzWhile performing a brain dump of the accomplishments this year I typed the words “right sized” and, before I knew it, my ADD kicked in causing me to search for corporate BS generators.  I was chuckling at some very humorous lines created using nothing more than random buzzwords when my manager stopped by my office.

” What’s that on your screen?”  he asked as he leaned over for a closer look and I turned around to see my draft self appraisal on one monitor and a page with a huge banner headline of “Corporate Bulls@@t Generator” on the other…

It’s a good thing he has a sense of humor!

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Filed under Business, Career, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

Meetings are not free!

Reading Russell Ackoff‘s excellent book Management F-laws recently I came across the following

“The amount of time a committee wastes is directly propotional to its size.”

Ackoff then goes on to remind us just how ineffective meetings, and particularly large meetings, are at actually getting things done.

He ends with

“Those who convene committee meetings (or any meetings) should be required to pay for the time of those who attend.”

megaphone-manI am a big believer in communication and I prefer, when possible, to do this face to face.  But with a few rare exceptions large meetings are a vast waste of people’s time and the companies money.  If a broadcast is needed there are usually more effective ways to do this with today’s technology.

The next time you are in a large meeting take a look around.  How many people are checking email on their phone or laptop, how many actually look engaged and, if it’s in the late in the afternoon, how many are struggling just to keep their eyes open?  These people probably either don’t need to be there or, if they do, don’t need to be there for the whole time.

The meeting clock

It’s easy to forget that people are being paid to be bored.  But there is something you can do about it – use a meeting clock.

This is a simple app into which you enter the number of people and an average hourly rate and then click start.  As the meeting progresses you will see a number counting up showing how much it has cost to run the meeting in real-time.

You don’t have to do this too many times before you start to realize just how much money is being wasted when people could actually be doing something productive.  I guarantee that before you know it you will be keeping meetings to a minimum, doing more one on one meetings (where real things happen) and trying to make better use of the collaborative social platforms available.

 

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Filed under Business, Career, Free Software

Will Replicators Kill Cheap Offshore Manufacturing?

What is the next disruptive technology we need to be ready for?  Replicators! A.k.a Three Dimensional Printing or the very boring term Additive Manufacturing

Three dimensional printing is already here and able to manufacture just about anything you can draw – complete with moving parts.  Not only that but you can choose different material characteristics (e.g. more strength here, less weight there) and even different colors.  Check out this video.

How long will it be before someone invents the next “Amazon”, where ordering on-line means you can have your customized purchase in your hands minutes later?

Once that happens off-shore cheap labor farms are going to quickly become obsolete.  After all, why pay someone to make things, ship them around the world and tie up capital in inventory when you can print exactly the right amount locally?

Of course this technology will also take a big bite out of the US Post Office, UPS, and Fed-Ex services.

Some people will see this as a great thing – providing instant access and using fewer fossil fuels to move objects around.  But if your reaction is that the job-losses are going to be horrific, don’t worry – that’s your corporate anti-bodies kicking in.

Don’t try to fight it.  Victor Hugo nailed it nearly two hundred years ago when he said “One resists the invasion of armies; one does not resist the invasion of ideas.” 

Or, since replicators are associated with Star Trek perhaps that should be Resistance is futile.”

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it, Technology

Corporate Anti-bodies

Today’s world is full of disruptive technologies and the old ways of doing things are rapidly being replaced.

Change is nothing new; what is new is the speed at which it is occurring.  I remember when synthesizers burst onto the scene in the 70’s, musicians were deathly afraid that live music was going to die.  Thankfully musicians were not replaced by robots, but many other industries have been fundamentally changed, or have even disappeared completely.

In each case there were companies that saw the future and embraced it leaving the companies that were too slow to adapt withering on the vine.  A few recent examples include:

  • Music distribution – iTunes is by far the biggest music retailer.
  • Manufacturing – Outsourced
  • Programming – Outsourced
  • Books – e-books now outsell print books on Amazon
  • Video & DVD rental – Streaming will eventually replace DVDs.

In each of the above examples companies buried their figurative heads in the sand and refused to believe what was happening until it was too late.  Blockbuster, Borders, and Tower Records were all household names in the U.S. and have all disappeared in just a few short years.

How did companies that had such huge market domination disappear almost overnight?

The answer: Corporate Anti-bodies.

Corporate anti-bodies are people who actively work against a new order of things.  There are many reasons why people do this:  fear of the unknown, unwillingness to take risks, lack of desire or ability to learn something new.

This is not a new phenomenon.  Machiavelli wrote about this in his famous book The Prince when he said “It ought to be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new.”  Amazingly that was written over 500 years ago!

Two of the most common reasons ideas are attacked are:

1. “It wasn’t invented here.”

In these cases “not here” can mean the idea is coming from outside the company, or even from a new or different group within the company.  Hitler was famous for not wanting to copy the technology of his enemies, often failing to take advantage of new innovations in the process.  And thank goodness!

2. “We have already spent too much money on the old ways of doing things.”

Amazingly this is often seen as a perfectly legitimate excuse not to adopt something that is better and cheaper.  In this case the concern is that people are going to look foolish for investing in the current system, but no-one seems to feel foolish for throwing good money after bad.

The pace of change isn’t going slow, so if your new ideas are going to survive you need to find ways to get the corporate anti-bodies on your side.  After all, anti-bodies exist for a reason…

How?

One way is to look for ways to include people who might become anti-bodies in your new idea.  Many times these people are the ones that have been in the company for many years.  Use their expertise and knowledge of how to navigate the corporate mine fields, or provide access to resources that are only available through back doors – then you can make them part of the solution.  Once you have them on your side, they can do the job that anti-bodies are meant to do and actually protect YOU from invaders. 

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Filed under Career, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition

Why Innovation Can Kill Morale

in·no·va·tion

[in-uh-vey-shuhn]
–noun 
1. something new or different introduced
2. the act of innovating;  introduction of new things or methods.

 

Everyone wants innovation these days.  So much so that some companies have created a Chief Innovation Officer position, and kicked off innovation programs.  Being seen as innovative is important for the company image and helps your company attract talent.

But the definition of “something new” means that innovation involves pushing people outside of their comfort zone, and this is not without risk.

By it’s very nature innovation carries with it the potential for failure.  People will be feeling their way, researching new ideas, and learning by trial and error.  And it is that last part – error – that is a critical part of the innovation process…and which creates problems.

Innovation inevitably means some programs will not yield a useful end product.  But even programs that fail provide real world experience and that experience is going to pay big dividends on future projects.  Past failures provide the experience to see problems earlier and deal with them before they get out of hand.

Silicon Valley is successful in large part because of their high tolerance of failure.  As the Economist put it “bankruptcy [in Silicon Valley] is treated like a duelling scar in a Prussian officers’ mess.”  Silicon Valley doesn’t necessarily have better people, but it does know how to fail properly, which includes identifying the useful components of a failure and recycling them elsewhere.

But many companies haven’t grasped this concept.  They ask people to innovate, but then punish teams whose projects fail by marking them down in annual reviews.  This means innovators have less opportunity for advancement, lower pay and, ultimately, poor morale.  Not exactly the mindset companies are looking for in the people creating their future.

Companies rationalize this by saying “We have to continually improve, which means dropping the low performers”, and that makes sense if the low performers are the ones doing the same jobs year after year, but not when people are forging new paths.

If you punish innovation failure then don’t expect people to flock to your next innovation, regardless of how tempting it is.

Companies that are intolerant of failure create a culture that is comfortable with the status quo and, often, actually fight innovation (the corporate antibodies).    In todays hyper-connected world word gets around quickly, and companies suddenly find that the best talent is simply not interested in talking to them for fear of stagnation.  This causes panic in the boardrooms which then leads to…another innovation program

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Innovation is risky, but risks can be managed.  Here are a few simple suggestions:

  • Learn to identify failures early, before they eat up too much capital and become too big to fail.  Have checkpoints built-in to every project with clearly understood rules about what it would take to get approval for the next step.  Sites like Killer Innovations have great tools for setting programs up the right way.
  • Don’t create an environment where a failure means someone is out of a job, as this just about guarantees that early failures will never be identified – at least not by the people close enough to the problem to spot it early.
  • Review every project – good and bad – to find what worked, what didn’t work, and see if there is anything that can be reused in other areas.

Above all, understand that without failure you can never create anything truly new, so look for the people who are comfortable with risk and nurture them.  Creativity and innovation can be fun, and if you can create a culture where people have fun at work you will have to beat the top talent away with a stick.

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Filed under Career, Education, Life - or something like it, The Human Condition