Here is an article written by Gina Trapani for the Harvard Business Review blog in January, 2009. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
* * *
We all have those dreadful tasks that stick around on our to-do lists forever. “Clean out the guest room.” You know you have to get them done eventually, but it’s just easier to glaze over and work on something — well, easier. “Plan the committee lunch.” So they float to the bottom of your list and accumulate like a muddy sludge that sits there for weeks to come.
But a little forethought can help you counteract the tendency to ignore your to-do list while you busy yourself with whatever happens to pop up next. If you break down even the most loathsome task into bite-sized chunks, you can cross it off your list in no time. It all depends on how you write down each to-do.
If you’ve got a to-do list that’s frozen you into procrastination paralysis — or a list that’s covered in dust because it’s been so long since you’ve checked something off — start over with a clean slate. For each item on your old list (or just a “ooh I’ve got to do that” thought in your mind), get ready to write it anew while you keep these two guidelines in mind.
[Here's the first.]
1. Break it down. Then break it down some more. Don’t confuse to-do’s with goals or projects. A to-do is a single, specific action that will move a project toward completion. It’s just one step. For example, “Plan the committee lunch” is a project. “Email Karen to get catering contact” is a to-do. In this case, the action of emailing Karen is a simple, two-minute undertaking–something small and innocuous that you can do without thinking. The lunch plans won’t be complete after you’ve finished this to-do, but you’ll be much closer than you were while you were ignoring the “Plan the committee lunch” project. After it’s done? Add the next step to your list.
Breaking down your task to the smallest possible action forces you to think through each step up front. With the thinking out of the way it’s easy to dash off that email, make that call, or file that report, and move your work along with much less resistance. 2. Use specific action verbs and include as many details as you’ll need. You’re overdue for a cleaning, but the “Make a dentist appointment” to-do just hasn’t gotten done. When you write that task down, use an actionable verb (call? email?) and include whatever details your future self needs to check it off. “Call Dr. M. at 555-45678 for a cleaning any time before 11AM on Jan 17, 18, or 19″ is a specific, detailed to-do. Now that’s something you can get done while you’re stuck in traffic with a cell phone.
Your to-do list is your way of assigning tasks to yourself, so be as helpful to yourself as you would to a personal assistant. Make your to-do’s small and specific to set yourself up for that glorious moment when you can cross them off the list as DONE.
* * *
Gina Trapani is the founding editor of personal productivity blog Lifehacker.com [click here], and the author of Upgrade Your Life: The Lifehacker Guide to Working Smarter, Faster, Better (Wiley 2008). Her latest book is The Complete Guide to Google Wave, co-authored with Adam Pash. She lives in San Diego. Contact her by clicking here.
In addition to Trapani’s Upgrade Your Life, I also highly revommend:
Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, David Allen
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura Vanderkam
Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Does design drive innovation or does innovation drive design. The answer is “Yes.” The success of each approach depends almost entirely on what Roberto Verganti characterizes as “radical research” and those who either conduct it or support those who do. In his introductory Letter to the Reader, Verganti explains that this is a book on management. More specifically, “it’s about how to manage innovation that customers do not expect but eventually love. It shows how executives can realize an innovation strategy that leads to products and services that have a radical new meaning: those that convey a completely new reason for customers to buy them. Their meanings are so distinct from those that dominate the market that they might take people by surprise, but they are so inevitable that they convert people and make them passionate.” Or what Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba describe as “customer evangelists.”
Verganti calls this strategy “design-driven innovation” because design, in its etymological sense, means “making sense of things.” Therefore, think of design-driven innovation as the R&D process for meanings. This book shows “how companies can manage this process to radically overturn dominant meanings in an industry before their competitors so and therefore rule the competitors.” Throughout his lively narrative, Verganti responds to questions such as these:
1. How to innovate by making sense of things?
2. How to integrate design-driven innovation with an organization’s strategy?
3. How to initiative and then sustain productive interplay between “technology-push” and design-driven innovation?
4. Why do some companies invest in design-driven innovation and others don’t?
Note: Verganti’s comments in response to this question will be of great value to readers now determining whether or not design-driven innovation is appropriate to their organization’s needs, objectives, and resources.
5. What are “interpreters” and what is their role in the design-driven innovation process?
6. How to locate and then attract key interpreters?
7. How can an organization develop its own vision?
8. How to leverage the “seductive power” of the interpreters?
9. When establishing what Verganti calls the “Design-Driven Lab,” where to begin?
10. What is the “key role” of an organization’s senior managers and their influence on the organization’s culture?
However those involved are identified (e.g. “interpreters”) and their functions are defined, whatever a given organization’s goals and resources may be, questions such as these suggest critically important issues that must be addressed by its business leaders. If I understand Verganti’s core thesis, it is that the process by which to do that must itself be design-driven. That is to say, a competitive advantage can be achieved and then sustained only by innovative thinking about innovation. Only then can those who are involved “make sense” of what to do and how to do it for their customers.
The Breakthrough Imperative: How the Best Managers Get Outstanding Results
Mark Gottfredson and Herman Saenz
Transforming Performance Measurement: Rethinking the Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success
Dean R. Spitzer
Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution
Jeanne W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David Robertson
HR Transformation: Building Human Resources From the Outside
Dave Ulrich, Justin Allen, Wayne Brockbank, Jon Younger, and Mark Nym
Important announcement from the Ministry of Gossip: THE GOSPEL ON CELEBRITY AND POP CULTURE
PREACH IT! Prince declares Internet ‘completely over,’ Web somehow continues to function
I’ve got a problem. I can’t get my work done. Or, at least, I’m not getting it done. It’s not that I am not “at work.” It is that while at work, I am not working. At least, not enough. I’m too busy doing other stuff. Stuff that helps me learn, think, ponder – but not necessarily the stuff of my actual work.
In the old days, that other stuff was standing around a water cooler, cleaning and organizing and straightening the desk, the stacks, the piles. Now, it’s reading and surfing and watching stuff on the web. I hate to disappoint Prince, but he is wrong – the Internet is not “completely over.” In fact, it has a death grip on our productivity.
Here is an example: at least three times, I have run the live stream of a World Cup game in the corner of my computer. AND I DON’T EVEN LIKE SOCCER! That live feed was completely distracting.
So, yesterday, I took the bull by the horns. (I have no idea what that means…) I decided, enough is enough. I pulled out all of my old time management tools, and spent some time planning my work. By the day; day after day. Which book to read when, which project to tackle when, which task to do at a set time - you know, trying to become much more productive. (And, by the way, writing blog posts is part of my work).
I won’t bore you with the details. But they included actually printing out some sheets of paper (you remember paper, don’t you?), and pulling out my old high-tech tool: a clipboard. (It is an amazing tool!).
But the real test will be when I settle down in one of those blocks of time I have blocked out, and seeing if I can stay focused, truly on task. That’s when it will get scary.
In a column in the LA Times, Building One Big Brain, Robert Wright describes the battle between our loss of focus, reflecting on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, and the ways that the Internet and all of these “social brain” activities change the way we function (referring to an upcoming book What Technology Wants, by Kevin Kelly, a long-time tech-watcher who helped launch Wired magazine and was its executive editor back in its young, edgy days).
Here is how he starts his column:
For your own sake, focus on this column. Don’t think about your Facebook feed or your inbox. Don’t click on the ad above or the links to the right. Don’t even click on links within the column.
Failing to focus — succumbing to digital distraction — can make you lose your mind, fears Nicholas Carr, author of the much-discussed book “The Shallows.” At least, it can make you lose little parts of your mind. The Internet, Carr suspects, “is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.”
In other words, don’t just float/surf/fly around – sit down and do some work!
But then, he asks the next part of the question, referring to the soon available book by Kelly:
As for Kevin Kelly’s view: I’ll let Kelly speak for himself as the timely publication of his fascinating book approaches. But it’s safe to say that he’s upbeat. He writes of technology “stitching together all the minds of the living, wrapping the planet in a vibrating cloak of electronic nerves” and asks, “How can this not stir that organ in us that is sensitive to something larger than ourselves?”
No doubt some of his critics will think of ways. But the question he’s asking strikes me as the right long-term question: Not so much how do we reconcile ourselves to technology, but how do we reconcile ourselves to — and help shape — the very big thing that technology seems devoted to building?
So – here is my thought. I have often blogged about the loss of focus problem. I have quoted fondly from Rework, in which the authors talk about the great value of chunks of alone time to get actual work done. They are right.
But, we also live in this social brain activity era.
Getting the balance – doing both well – that is the productivity challenge of this era.
Here is an excerpt from an article written by Roger Martin for the Harvard Business Review blog. To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
* * *
Richard Barker makes several interesting and important points in his July-August 2010 HBR article, “No, Management is not a Profession.” [Please click here] I have a lot of sympathy with his views. I agree with him that management is not a profession and that it would be very hard to turn it into a profession like medicine or law.
Barker’s argument that management is not a profession is based on information asymmetry, “the mark of a true profession”. In other words, for someone to be a professional they have to know some things that only a few, carefully trained people know. I think this is a piece of the puzzle but I also link the existence of a profession to a particular regulatory context.
* * *
So my basic calculus is as follows: If quality can’t be determined in advance and cost of failure is high, the market in question will attract regulation. And if the product/service is delivered by a single identifiable individual, it will become a regulated profession. If it doesn’t attract regulation, it doesn’t matter a whit whether an activity is deemed by its participants to be a ‘profession.’
Based on this calculus, management isn’t and won’t anytime soon be a profession. It’s true that quality is hard to determine in advance. But, despite a few highly public debacles, the cost of failure is not considered to be high. More often than not a bad manager is thought to cause short term damage from which the company in question can recover after the bad manager is fired. Management also tends to be a group activity rather than an individual one. Failure is seen as the product of a team of managers doing a poor job in concert, rather than the product of one manager. Of course, CEOs get singled out for disproportionate blame. But the question is not whether being a CEO should be a profession but rather whether management should be a profession.
I am in wholehearted agreement with Barker when he argues that: “The skill of integration distinguishes managers and is at the heart of why business education should differ from professional education.” I also agree with his view that this isn’t taught in business schools almost (but not quite) without exception. But I part company with Barker on his assertion that: “The key here is to recognize that integration is not taught but learned.”
Here he falls prey to a logical fallacy that I experience every day in my world, the world of business education — and that is the view that because something is untaught, it is unteachable. It’s a handy argument, of course, because it enables virtually the entire management education industry to sit on its hands and continue to teach easy stuff they’ve taught for the past fifty years.
I believe that integration is absolutely teachable and that is the challenge we set ourselves at the Rotman School of Management [click here]. Success will not be easy; it requires rigorous advances in management theory and smart pedagogical development to bring those advances to life in the classroom. If we and other business schools can get there, if we can demonstrate to the world that the inability to integrate is the prime cause of managerial failure, then perhaps management could move toward being a profession in which people could be tested and certified on their ability to think integratively. Still, let’s not run before we can walk.
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Roger Martin (www.rogerlmartin.com) is the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto in Canada. He is the author of The Design of Business: How Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage (Harvard Business Press, 2009).
This is the Second Edition of an anthology first published in 2000. Marshall Goldsmith and Laurence Lyons selected, organized, and contributed to the material that is divided into four Parts: Foundations of Coaching (Chapters 1-4, Pages 3-42), Building Blocks (Chapters 5-10, Paged 45-82), Leading Change (Chapters 11-18, Pages 87-159), and Applications (Chapters 19-26, Pages 163-243). As Goldsmith and Lyons explain in the Preface, this edition “expounds a well-accepted practice, not a rapidly emerging bright idea. This book contains fourteen brand new chapters; another ten chapters have been significantly revised. We include new detailed case studies, which we know are highly valued by our leaders.”
Presumably this book will be of substantial value to those who are preparing to begin a career in leadership coaching or have recently embarked on one. I also think it will be of great value to most C-level executives and other supervisors who are determined to help develop effective leaders at all levels and in all areas of their organization. For at least some people are full-time executive coaches, much of the material in this book will probably serve as a reminder of what they already know. However, there is always room for increased knowledge as well as improved capabilities (especially information retrieval, diagnostic, and communication skills). For other readers who are primarily responsible for the performance of their direct reports, the material in Parts One and Two will probably be of greatest interest and value. In my opinion, most of the material is relevant to leadership development within any organization, regardless of its size or nature.
Here are two representative samples:
“Coaching is a sub-set of consultation. If coaching is to be successful, the coach must be able, like a consultant, to create a helping relationship with his or her client. To create such a helping relationship, it is necessary to start in the process mode, which involves the learner/client, which identifies what the real problems are that need to be worked on, which builds team in 2which both the coach and th4 client take responsibility for the outcomes.” Coaching and Consultation Revisited: Are They the Same?, Edgar H. Schein (Page 24)
“The first thing is to ask yourself the question, `Why?’ Why do you want to be an executive coach? What is your aim? What is your mission? What is your purpose? What are your goals? Why would you choose to be an executive coach rather than to do something else with your time and your life?…Identify the most important things that you have learned in your career that would be helpful to other people. You must be absolutely clear about what you are going to bring to your coaching clients based on your own knowledge and experience.” Making the Transition from Executive to Executive Coach, Brian Tracy (Page 101 & Page 102). Tracy also identifies “four key principles in strategic marketing” of executive coaching services: specialize in a particular area, “set yourself apart” (i.e. differentiate yourself from the competition), find your niche market, and focus your efforts. Tracy recommends clearly defining (in writing) the value offering, how much to charge for services, how to market those services, where services will be provided, and positioning (i.e. determining the words that describe you”).
Obviously, a C-level executive or supervisor needs to modify the advice to full-time executive coaches (such as provided in the last excerpt from Gautier and Giber’s article) but even so, as indicated previously, I think almost any C-level executive or supervisor can learn a great deal from the same advice that can be applied during opportunities each day to help direct reports to strengthen their own leadership and management skills, improve their performance, and in countless other ways add value to an organization.
All organizations need supervisors at all levels and in all areas who are constantly strengthening most of the same skills that the most effective executive coaches have. Here is probably the best single source for information and counsel about how to develop an organization can “grow” its own executive coaches. I presume to add that, when interviewing candidates, one of the major criteria should be the capacity to become an effective executive coach.
* * *
How would you identify the up-and-coming leaders in a company about which you knew nothing? You’d likely start by pinpointing the executives who control the most employees or revenues. You might give bonus points to relatively young mangers. If you had consulting DNA you might create a sophisticated ratio combining the span of control and age to identify the leader in the horse race to be the next big boss.
You are working off a simple hypothesis that’s right in almost every company — that size matters. Power flows from financial contributions and legions of employees. You groom leaders by giving them progressively larger, more challenging opportunities.
This approach seems logical. The bigger the business, the more it matters to a company’s near-term performance. And certainly, larger businesses tend to be more complex. Tomorrow’s leaders surely need to be able to deal with complexity!
But I wonder if companies might be approaching leadership development the wrong way. It’s pretty clear that tomorrow’s leaders are going to face the “new normal” of constant change. It is no longer enough to be an operator that can master today’s complexity. You have to be prepared to deal with tomorrow’s complexity, ” [click here], sudden shifts in the basis of competition in your industry, competitors springing up around the globe, and more.
I’ve never run a multi-billion dollar company, but I’m willing to bet the difference in complexity between managing $1 billion and $10 billion in revenues, or 1,000 versus 10,000 employees isn’t that great. In other words, giving up-and-comers more responsibility helps them to refine skills they already have, when what they need to do is to develop the capability to flexibly respond to unanticipated challenges.
A related challenge is that size-matters-grooming companies can find it hard to convince talented managers to work on new growth initiatives. After all, those initiatives typically start small, both in terms of headcount and revenue. Managers with their eye on their next assignment naturally want to work on projects that will “look good” on their internal resume.
Perhaps it is time to rethink this approach. Instead of giving up-and-comers larger assignments, consider intentionally giving them smaller, more ambiguous ones. Have them crack into a new geographic market. Ask them to lead the development of a completely new business model. Force them to think creatively about how they will access or assemble the resources to solve the challenge.
Facing highly ambiguous challenges will help managers develop a set of tools that prepare them for the uncertainties they will increasingly encounter as they ascend up the corporate ladder.
Shifting from size-matters to ambiguity-matters development requires rethinking other key assumptions. Most companies, for example, look to what a manager has achieved to assess their performance. But in ambiguous circumstances with uncertain outcomes, you need to look at how a manager has acted. Sometimes you can do everything right and forces beyond your control lead to “failure.” I’ll write more about this topic in a future post.
* * *
To read the complete article, check out other articles and resources, and/or sign up for a free subscription to Harvard Business Review’s Daily Alerts, please click here.
Scott Anthony is the Managing Director of Innosight Ventures. Scott has written three books on innovation, the latest being The Silver Lining: An Innovation Playbook for Uncertain Times.
For more than two decades, Jay Greene has written about some of the most important companies, business trends, and top executives in the world. From 2000 to 2009, he served as BusinessWeek’s Seattle bureau chief, overseeing the magazine’s coverage in the Pacific Northwest. His primary reporting responsibility was Microsoft. He frequently spoke with Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, covering the company’s battles with antitrust regulators both domestically and abroad and chronicling the company’s transition from scrappy upstart to bureaucratic giant.
Writing about technology at BusinessWeek gave Greene the opportunity to cover design just as it was emerging as a one of the key business strategies of the 21st Century, a way for businesses to differentiate themselves from increasingly commoditized rivals.
He traveled to Europe to learn about the creative process at the high-end consumer electronics firm, Bang & Olufsen, and visited Nike’s Innovation Kitchen just outside of Portland, Oregon, to learn the recipe for making its much sought-after shoes. That reporting led Greene to write his first book, Design Is How It Works, a look at the innovation process at such companies as Virgin Atlantic, Nike and Lego. His reporting shows that the best design isn’t merely about style and form. It’s about the way products and services work. Greene explains how the smartest companies place a premium on design because it helps them intuit what customers want often before customers even know they want it.
Morris: Before discussing your brilliant book, Design Is How It Works, a few general questions. Within the past 12-18 months, I have read and reviewed a number of other excellent books that also discuss the importance of design in business, notably Roger Martin’s The Design of Business, Tim Brown’s Change by Design, and Thomas Lockwood’s Design Thinking. Here’s my question. How do you explain the recent and substantial attention paid to business design in these and other books as well as in countless articles?
Greene: More and more, executives are recognizing design as a critical business strategy for the twenty-first century. As the world economy becomes truly global, commoditization of markets is happening on a broad scale. Companies are learning that competing merely on cost is a dangerous game. The ones that have instead tried to compete by creating better experiences for their customers are often able to avoid the commoditization trap. The smartest executives are trying to figure out how their companies can use design to compete.
Morris: What seem to be the most common misconceptions about what design is…and isn’t?
Greene: Too often, executives think of design as the sheen that a bunch of creative types gloss on a product just before it goes to market. That’s not how companies that do great design think. To them, design, as the title of my book says, is how it works. A product can look great. But if it doesn’t meet the customers’ needs, if it doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to, if it’s manufactured poorly, aesthetics won’t matter. Well-designed products often look good. But they also create experiences customers crave.
Morris: I agree that “creating experiences that consumers crave” is important but what if consumers have no idea what they crave? Will they “know it when it happens”?
Greene: Sure, and the book is full of those examples. Take Porsche, which believed its customers would want a sporty, high-powered, off-road capable SUV. The automotive press hammered Porsche, suggesting that it stick to its sports car roots. But when the Cayenne debuted in 2003, it quickly became the company’s best-selling model. Or consider Clif Bar, which pioneered a women-specific energy bar, even when naysayers suggested it’d cannibalize its flagship product. But its Luna bars – designed to meet the specific nutrition needs of women athletes – created a new market and really a new brand that Clif Bar continues to mine. And neither the Cayenne nor the Luna bar was a product about which customers specifically asked.
Morris: Please explain why design isn’t something that can be benchmarked.
Greene: This is really one of the great challenges for design as a business discipline. Business consultants have perfected benchmarking manufacturing processes, supply-chain operations and customer-service departments. It makes it much easier for CEOs, many of whom rose through the finance ranks at their companies, to analyze new strategies in those areas.
Though some folks have tried, design doesn’t really lend itself to metrics that can be measured. You could look at something like cost per designer and measure that against rivals. But it’s painfully imprecise.
And trust me, none of the companies that do design well try to benchmark it. They recognize that some design processes will cost more than others, and they roll with it, understanding that the best design pays off not just in great sales, but also in consumer loyalty. Those are things you can benchmark and the companies that do design well generally fare far better in those categories than their rivals.
Morris: What is “conceptual hallucination” and what is its relevance to the design process?
Greene: It’s a phrase that David Merkowski, executive creative director at frog design, uses to describe his design process. Too often, companies take measured steps as they develop new products. They look at existing market data and ask customers what they want. The results are incremental improvements over existing products at best. Conceptual hallucination is about challenging convention. Designers often talk about the epiphanies they had conjuring up great products. For my book, I chatted with David Mydans, a senior product designer at the outdoor goods retailer REI. He tinkered and tinkered at a new design for a tent until one day, he visualized a novel new structure for the company’s Quarter Dome tent. The structure is altogether different than anything that came before it, reducing weight and adding space inside the tent. Mydans didn’t use the phrase “conceptual hallucination” to describe his design process, but it’s absolutely what he did. It’s that process that often leads to the biggest breakthroughs and best-selling products. The new tent won awards from the outdoor industry media and nearly tripled sales over the tent it replaced in REI’s portfolio.
Morris: A great deal has been said and written about innovation in recent years. Here’s my opinion: The environment within which innovation thrives must itself be designed, established, and then sustained with innovative thinking in terms of its structure, leadership, management, authority, responsibility, division of labor, allocation of resources, etc. What do you think?
Greene: That’s spot on. Great design flows as much from a culture that nurtures it as it does from the creative minds that often get the credit for it. The companies that do design consistently well have CEOs that embrace the importance of design, even if they’re not designers themselves. They give employees the mandate to take risks to come up with the most innovative products and services. They accept the occasional failure as the cost of being creative, and rather than bury that misstep, they use it as a tool from which employees can learn. Too many companies pay lip service to all of those characteristics. CEOs say they embrace risk, but shoot down the most creative ideas because marketing data doesn’t’ exist to support a business plan. That, in turn, leads employees to pursue more incremental advances.