In Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming Obstacles Between Vision & Reality published by Portfolio/Penguin (2010), Scott Belsky introduces what he calls the Action Method and urges his reader to use it to “question many of the traditional practices of project management. For example, “the most productive people run their own parallel processes to accomplish projects [i.e. strategic objectives] more flexibly. These homegrown systems share a common set of principles.
1. A relentless bias toward action pushes ideas forward. Always be results-driven. Always.
2. Stuff that is actionable must become personal. Each task must be assigned an owner as well as a deadline.
3. Taking and organizing extensive notes aren’t worth the effort. Focus on completion of specific, sequential Action Steps.
4. Use design-centric systems to stay organized. “The color, texture, size, and style of the materials used to capture Action Steps are important.
5. Organize in the context of projects, not location. Use a project/task-centric approach rather than a location-centric approach.
Here’s a story that is brilliant in its insight and simplicity. I read it in The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande.
David Lee Roth (Van Halen) has an obscure demand in his contract for his concerts. He wants/demands a bowl of M&M’s backstage, with no brown M & M’s in the bowl: “with every single brown candy removed, upon pain of forfeiture of the show, with full compensation to the band.” At least once, he followed through on his threat.
At first glance, this sounds like a typical over-the-top demand from a rock star too full of himself. But, in fact, it is a brilliant demand. The contract is full of very important issues – the strength of the stage, the quality of the wiring, and much more. People can get hurt when tasks are done poorly or not completed in a big stage show such as his.
“When I would walk backstage, if I saw a brown M&M in that bowl, well, we’d line check the entire production. Guaranteed you’re going to arrive at a technical error…Guaranteed you’d run into a problem.” The mistakes could be life threatening.
This reminds me of a quote from Heb Kelleher (I’m sorry – I don’t remember which book I read it in). It went something like this: “if the rest rooms on our planes are not clean, then the passengers think that the engines might not be well-maintained.”
The lesson: Sweat the big stuff. And, have a check on something small to make sure the big stuff is handled well.
Mincing no words, Seth Godin gets to the point (as he frequently does!). Here’s part of what he wrote:
If you read a book that tries to change you for the better and it fails or doesn’t resonate, then it’s a self-help book.
If you read a book that actually succeeds in changing you for the better, then the label changes from self-help book to great book.
By the way, the only real help is self-help. Anything else is just designed to get you to the point where you can help yourself.
I agree. And, just as all real help is self-help, all persuasion is self-persuasion. A lot of people write and speak a lot of words hoping for one thing – that you will listen to their arguments closely enough and well enough to change your own thinking, feeling, or behaving/acting.
They can’t make you change (maybe they could – but that would be coercion, not persuasion). Their best hope is to give you tools to help you change for yourself.
Michael Lewis spoke, in an interview format, for the DFW World Affairs Council today at a luncheon in downtown Dallas. Jim Falk, President and CEO of the Council, did his usual good job in providing an informative, provocative program.
If you’ve heard or seen Michael Lewis lately (and how could you have missed him?), you’ve probably heard his stories about the men who saw the Wall Street collapse before anyone else, and cashed in with very big paydays – with the “big short” (the name of his new book, # 1 on Amazon’s list today).
Here’s D Magazine’s Frontburner’s take on today’s session: Author: Blame Wall Street, Not D.C., for Meltdown.
But it was this idea that grabbed me. Speaking of the ones who got it right, Lewis said that “all were outsiders.” The man that best exemplifies this, from his book and today’s presentation, is Michael Burry, neurology-resident-turned- trader, one-eyed, Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosed founder of Scion Capital, who shorted sub-prime. It did not hurt that Burry had the unique ability to focus on one thing at a time. This ability is a symptom of his condition, and it certainly helped him read financial documents day after day after day.
But back to that “outsider” comment. Lewis seemed to grasp and imply that a Wall Street Insider would have had special difficulty seeing the warning signs. The insiders were all too busy riding the waves. And this reminded me of Joel Barker’s observation about those who are paradigm pioneers. “They are usually outsiders,” says Barker. (Check out my post, The Six Lessons of the Business of Paradigms — Wisdom from Joel Barker.)
There is no doubt that Burry and a very small group got it right, when practically every body else got it wrong — terribly wrong. And Michael Lewis is such a level-headed researcher and story-teller that we left the luncheon presentation convinced that his assessment was correct. But let’s remember the wisdom behind this “outsider” observation. When an insider seeks to solve, or even see, a problem, he is too blinded by his own paradigm. In Barker’s words, anything outside of his paradigm filters is, for all intents and purposes, invisible. But someone with a new set of eyes can see in ways that insiders simply cannot.
How does your paradigm blind you? That is the question for all of us.
(By the way, remember the title of his earlier best seller – The Blind Side).
Here is an excerpt from article written by Tamara J. Erickson for the Harvard Business blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit email@example.com.
Are “High Potential” Programs an Anachronism?
Has your company labeled you a “high potential?” Do you know? Do you care?
There’s a debate growing among human resource professionals on the usefulness of “hi-po” programs. In theory, the idea of singling individuals out for this label allows companies to focus their development resources and plum opportunities where they will have the greatest return — on people who have the capacity to grow into higher levels of leadership (typically, hierarchical leadership) in the company.
In some European companies, the word “talent” is used in a similar way. The “talent” are those singled out for special investment.
As the nature of our work and the workforce evolves, I have two concerns about these hi-po or talent programs.
Perhaps most important, we need to recognize that individuals have the potential to grow in multiple dimensions — and not all paths do or should lead “up.” Our organizations are flatter and our workforce is increasingly filled with older individuals. Few companies have true pyramids anymore. A few years ago, my colleagues and I wrote an HBR article describing the phenomenon of “middlescence” — the malaise we found among many 40-plus year-old workers who were no longer feeling challenged by their work or valued by their employer. Upping the development opportunities offered to these individuals was one of our major recommendations to help this enormously important segment of the employee population regain the engagement that is essential for outstanding performance.
Concurrently, the locus of leadership is changing. I coach senior executives that their primary responsibility today is to create the context that allows others to innovate, collaborate — to lead. The notion that leadership is concentrated among a few decision-makers sitting at the top of a hierarchy is seriously outdated. We need leaders throughout the organization, at every level, who are capable and encouraged to exercise initiative.
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To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Daily Alerts, please visit firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tamara J. Erickson has authored Retire Retirement, Plugged In, and What’s Next, Gen X?. She is the co-author of four Harvard Business Review articles and the book Workforce Crisis.
Here is an excerpt from an article in The New York Times (March 30, 2010) in which David Brooks provides some thought-provoking perspectives on national and individual well-being. To read the complete article, please visit http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/opinion/30brooks.html?ref=todayspaper.
Two things happened to Sandra Bullock this month. First, she won an Academy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claiming that her husband is an adulterous jerk. So the philosophic question of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremendous professional triumph for a severe personal blow?
On the one hand, an Academy Award is nothing to sneeze at. Bullock has earned the admiration of her peers in a way very few experience. She’ll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Donald A. Redelmeier and Sheldon M. Singh has found that, on average, Oscar winners live nearly four years longer than nominees that don’t win.
Nonetheless, if you had to take more than three seconds to think about this question, you are absolutely crazy. Marital happiness is far more important than anything else in determining personal well-being. If you have a successful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many professional setbacks you endure, you will be reasonably happy. If you have an unsuccessful marriage, it doesn’t matter how many career triumphs you record, you will remain significantly unfulfilled.
This isn’t just sermonizing. This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been studying happiness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has developed an impressive rigor, and one of the key findings is that, just as the old sages predicted, worldly success has shallow roots while interpersonal bonds permeate through and through.
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To read the complete Brooks article, please visit http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/30/opinion/30brooks.html?ref=todayspaper.
After this Friday, I will have presented synopses of well over 200 books over the last twelve years. This includes books presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis, the Urban Engagement Book Club, and quite a few “special commission” presentations. For a number of years, I said that The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharpe was the best book/my favorite book. Then, I shifted that assessment to Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.
My reasons for such a personal ranking are obviously quite subjective. One reason is this – after reading those books, I kept thinking about them, a lot. I remembered their stories, and I pondered their implications. Both of them became part of my thinking, and I “built” on such thinking with other books – notably, Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin as the logical follow-up to Outliers (the 10,000 hours requires very serious practice discipline/”deliberate practice” to maximize those hours), and a number of books on innovation that seemed to make more sense when preceded by the thoughts in The Creative Habit.
I think the more deeply I delved into The Checklist Manifesto, the more aware I became of just how big a challenge modern day complexity really presents. The title of the book may be misleading: “The Checklist Manifesto” makes it sound like a simple book – just create and use a checklist to get things done. But it is born of a deeper issue – complexity. For example, in the book Atul Gawande describes how for most of human history, a “Master Builder” would oversee all of the big building projects. Today, with our 80 + story high-rises, there is no “Master Builder” who could possibly know enough to get such a building built as the Lone-Ranger type expert.
Here’s a revealing excerpt:
Every day there is more and more to manage and get right and learn. And defeat under conditions of complexity occurs far more often despite great effort rather than from a lack of it.
It is not clear how we could produce substantially more expertise than we already have. Yet our failures remain frequent. They persist despite remarkable individual ability.
(our) know-how is often unmanageable. Avoidable failures are common and persistent, not to mention demoralizing and frustrating, across many fields – from medicine to finance, business to government. And the reason is increasingly evident: the volume and complexity of what we know has exceeded our individual ability to deliver its benefits correctly, safely, or reliably. Knowledge has both saved us and burdened us.
That means we need a different strategy for overcoming failure…
In other words, it is not the solution of the checklist that has most intrigued me about this book, although I think I am a true convert to his solution. His case is absolutely compelling. But it is his diagnosis that makes it so valuable. And, this is no surprise – Gawande is a surgeon, and proper diagnosis is sort of critical in the process of successful surgery.
Recently, I mentioned a book entitled How to Read Slowly. Let me recommend that you put The Checklist Manifesto on your reading list – and carve out a time to read it slowly. I think it is that valuable.
James Surowiecki is the author of the influential book, The Wisdom Of Crowds (one of the books I have presented at the First Friday Book Synopsis), and a regular columnist for The New Yorker. He is an astute observer of the trends and changes in our culture. Here’s his latest.
In a big-picture scheme of things, we have two groups that are healthy, and one that is in real trouble. The two healthy groups are the “very best,” and the “good enough.” It is the “middle” that is in real danger. This is the premise behind his article SOFT IN THE MIDDLE. Here’s part of his opening paragraph:
Starting at five hundred dollars, the iPad is significantly more expensive than its competitors. But Apple’s assumption is that, if the iPad is also significantly better, people will happily shell out for it (as they already do for iPods, iPhones, and Macs). That’s why when Steve Jobs first introduced the iPad he said that, if a product wasn’t “far better” than what was already out there, it had “no reason for being.
At the other end of the spectrum is the “good enough — adequate.” Here’s a paragraph about this group:
On the contrary, companies like Ikea, H. & M., and the makers of the Flip video camera are flourishing not by selling products or services that are “far better” than anyone else’s but by selling things that aren’t bad and cost a lot less. These products are much better than the cheap stuff you used to buy at Woolworth, and they tend to be appealingly styled, but, unlike Apple, the companies aren’t trying to build the best mousetrap out there. Instead, they’re engaged in what Wired recently christened the “good-enough revolution.” For them, the key to success isn’t excellence. It’s well-priced adequacy.
And though these two examples are about different ends of the consumer world, they have something in common:
These two strategies may look completely different, but they have one crucial thing in common: they don’t target the amorphous blob of consumers who make up the middle of the market.
Surowiecki concludes with this:
According to one estimate, Nokia has nearly twenty times Apple’s market share, but the iPhone alone makes almost as much money as all Nokia’s phones combined. But making money by selling moderately good products that are moderately expensive isn’t going to get any easier, which suggests a slight rewrite of the old Highland ballad. You take the high road, and I’ll take the low road, and we’ll both be in Scotland afore the guy in the middle.
Here’s my take. A while back, I read (and presented) the Robert Bloom book, The Inside Advantage. In it, he spoke of the importance of these two questions
• Who is my core customer?
• What is my uncommon offering?
From the Surowiecki article, we learn that it may be much easier to answer these questions for the upper and the lower end of markets, and a whole lot harder to target the “amorphous middle.”