March 31, 2009
When I was running with my friends Sunday morning, the headwind at the outset was strong. Our progress slowed to a crawl along the trail. As we chatted, inquiries as to the condition of my ankle (six weeks post-sprain) heard reports of recovery – even a wobble on Friday’s run “righted” perfectly as pre-injury. And then, as we continued to chat about the economy and technology, I realized that the P’s of overcoming obstacles for running apply to technology business too.
- Keep Perspective: When there is a headwind out, there will be a tailwind on return (and sure enough, we flew back).
- Be Patient: My friends continue to commend me for taking the long view and being patient with my ankle. I did not run for 4 weeks, I rehabilitated through swimming and targeted exercise, and when I returned to running, I slowly increased distance with time.
- Maintain Persistence: I worked hard to regain proprioception by strengthening my ankle with balance (wobble) boards.
- Create Positivity: My friends enjoy and encourage a positive attitude; we see the glass as half-full.
On Technology Business:
- Keep Perspective: When there are technical challenges, it is important to recognize that they are competitive opportunities. Each solution becomes a barrier-to-entry for competitors.
- Be Patient: In a desperate economy, there will always be significant pressure to attempt to do too much too quickly. However, doing too much is foolish because it dilutes resources and increases the risk for success in any single effort. The long view encourages prioritization and sequencing of effort to achieve the greatest productivity and opportunity for success.
- Maintain Persistence: Key insights are achieved by diligence, being mentally prepared to recognize when key insights have been realized, and acceptance of breadth (be open to “not invented here” – look to other technologies for similar problems and generalize solutions).
- Create Positivity: Staff, customers, investors, and the media are human and thereby obey the law of attraction (subject of ch. 2, How to Be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work by Hustad). Authentically projecting positivity and confidence about your technology will encourage others to do the same!
March 28, 2009
As a process development specialist, measurement advice, admonitions, and charges are entirely imbedded in my psyche. As I think about measurement, the two adages that immediately surface in my mind are Goldratt’s observation: “Tell me how you measure me and I’ll tell you how I’ll behave” (this is about the behavior of people in organizations) and Deming’s popularization of what has now become the Six Sigma mantra of “Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control” (this is about improving inanimate processes).
The challenge with measurement is sometimes it is hard to figure out how to measure something or collect the data in real-time. I, for one, have developed some of the kookiest measurement schemes ever (if you are interested, ask). Yet some measurements do not lend themselves to monitoring over time – they do not become systems or processes. As such, I have always been a bit envious of internet based processes and marketing campaigns for which is almost trivial to collect data real-time.
As a hard-core data junkie, when I read Super Crunchers by Ian Ayres, I was in awe and intensely jealous of the ease with which definitive process improvements were possible. However, I read a blog post yesterday that reminded me that even though it is may be easier to measure and improve (some?) marketing campaigns, organizations sometimes do not take the long view and measure performance!
So, even though it is well known that measurement is a key to success over the long view, organizations require constant reminders to measure their success. Consider this your reminder…plan your systems to include measurement and build them that way!
Do you have a measurement story?
March 25, 2009
Wyo was a regal dark chocolate (almost black) Morgan horse. He had a massive neck, a muscular stature, and the sweetest disposition that a horse could have. Today Wyo was laid to rest after two years of suffering from equine COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).
When I was a little girl, I desperately wanted a horse, but even though dad was an experienced and able horseman it just was not to be. As time passed, I became more urban, less rural, and I did not think much about horses after college. Imagine my surprise when my parents retired to a ranch and (finally) bought me a horse!
I met Wyo when he was a gangly 2-year-old still in training. It was love at first sight! I immediately hired a trainer to teach me to ride, to tack, to muck, to groom, and be safe around horses. Although I could only see Wyo occasionally, my trips to visit him were always joyful learning experiences.
There is an old proverb that says, “When you are ready, your teacher will come.” It might be surprising, but Wyo was one of my best teachers. He taught technology leadership from a horses’ point-of-view. His lessons were few, but important:
- Build a relationship before you ask to lead. He led me to develop a deep and lasting bond that enabled me to confidently give commands and him to accept them.
- Be present. He taught me the importance of paying attention to the trail, to the beauty of the mountains that we traveled, to the possible dangers (rattlesnakes), and to the unexpected (a flock of startled pheasant).
- Overcommunicate. He taught me the importance of making sure that we understood each other when working together. We learned to open a gate without dismount and could easily move cattle between pastures. Although I spoke and he did not, the position of his ears and his breathing told me everything.
- Take the lead when others cannot. He demonstrated confidence to other horses when they shied from crossing streams. He stepped confidently into the water and escorted other horses to the other side, crossing as many times as was needed.
I miss his powerful stride under my saddle and the wind in my face, but I can still feel the reins in my hands. Rest in peace my friend and teacher. Your memory lives with me. You were loved.
March 24, 2009
Last week at a volunteer event, an acquaintance remarked that she sees me regularly at the gym and that I work harder than anyone else she knows. I responded that I play intensely, but that I consider time in the gym effortless because it brings me such joy. Her remark made me recognize how important perspective and being selective is in our lives.
In early 2007, I found a new mentor after she gave a talk at a Women’s Leadership Conference on the subject of Finding Meaning in Your Work. She told the audience that her grandmother had often said that “she never worked a day in her life because work was not a chore – there was real meaning.” Her advice was simple: find a place where there is equal give and take to get joy. Reassess your situation frequently: Does it still work for you? Is it a collaborative environment? Are there sufficient ethics for you? And lastly, create a personal legacy.
Her remarks made me realize how important it is to choose a career that that is interesting, joyful, and provides occasional exhilaration. Fortunately, I have found all those attributes in my career in technology development. If I had not made key selections along the way, it perhaps could have been quite different. In high school, I thought I would eventually have a career in law (I loved debate and all debaters think they will become attorneys). I studied chemical engineering because I liked math/science, it was the “family business” (I am a 3rd generation chemical engineer), and I had to study something before law. When it came time to apply for law school, my advisors urged me to consider graduate chemical engineering – they encouraged me because they saw my enthusiasm and talent. Although it was a hard choice at the time (yet not too hard when I recalled my boredom in a legal writing course), over the long view I am very grateful for the redirection – my career has been so much fun! I have worked on and solved interesting problems, learned from other technologists who are much more knowledgeable than myself, and shared in the success of technology commercialization. Oh, and I met my husband too! 😉
Although there is always some drudgery, I have found that maintaining a happy disposition throughout allows for the exhilarating parts to far outweigh any recollection of drudgery and that creating a personal legacy allows the exhilaration to persist. Perspective and selectivity are key. Life is too short to be miserable.
Have you found meaning in your work?
March 22, 2009
Today my best friends are my pillow, my teacup, and Mucinex-D (the elixir of cold comfort). Just like everybody else, I hate being sick. I hate the misery of congestion, coughing, and sniffling. I hate missing my Sunday morning run with my friends, missing a kid’s soccer game, and not making any progress against my “to do” list. However, all of those things are transient and insignificant in the long view.
I know without adequate rest, I will only get sicker. I have tested the “not slow down” strategy more than once and know unequivocally that it’s a loser. My two-year-old memory of walking pneumonia is still vivid! I am grateful that I have a family that will cover for me and allow me to rest. Today I am resting comfortably.
March 19, 2009
When I speak to executive recruiters, they are often surprised by the breadth of my success, which includes serial cross-pollination across several industries (semiconductors, high performance materials, and biotechnology) bringing emerging technology to commercialization. However, this breadth makes me the proverbial zebra when technology leadership profiles are tilted toward acute technical demands and expertise, rather than sustainable (long view) technical organization development (technical challenges are heard as hoof beats connected to horses rather than zebras). Although it is unusual for technologists to seek adventure in uncharted territory, for me, the allure of mastering new technology and contributing to commercialization brings me joy.
How can one tell whether the organizational constraint* occurs in the specific technology or within the technology organization? An understanding of the needed roles (technical problem solving, organizational leadership, strategic planning) and the degree to which they are pivotal determine the profile of the desired candidate. In Beyond HR: The New Science of Human Capital (Bourdeau/Ramstad), the authors use a Disneyland example to describe pivotalness – Mickey Mouse and the street sweepers. It turns out, that there is not too much differentiation from a “guest” point-of-view between the worst Mickey and the best Mickey – not pivotal. However, there is significant differentiation between the worst street sweeper and the best – very pivotal. Sweepers who go out of their way to help a lost guest or find assistance make a big difference in the overall Disney experience of guests and, thereby, the success of Disneyland. Thus, Disney makes a great effort to hire the very best street sweepers – those with initiative and courtesy. In a sense, pivotalness is determined by the attributes that relieve an organizational constraint.* In a technical organization, there is differing pivotalness for technical specificity and organizational leadership.
I will be most successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is sustainable development and can capitalize on my system strengths (generalizing core concepts to new environments) that enable fast forward execution. I will not be successful and valued in an organization whose constraint* is an immediate technical issue for which I have no deep personal expertise and limited access to leveraging others’ expertise.
As I embark on seeking my next adventure, I am buoyed by the rise in sustainable (long view) advice for organization building. From Pfeffer, What Were They Thinking: Unconventional Wisdom About Management (pg.129): “In companies, particularly entrepreneurial companies, persistence and resilience are crucial for success. That’s because it is almost invariably the case that products will need to be redesigned and strategies and tactics changed on the path to market.” The zebra is the new high-value breed.
(*Note: The organizational constraint is the thing that prevents the organization from making more money now and in the future.)
March 16, 2009
This weekend, a friend of mine pointed out to me that my technology management advice does not have the credibility of Jack Welch. He’s right – I’m no Jack Welch. Nevertheless, I thanked him profusely, because it made me realize that I need to communicate my superpower (what value I provide).
I work at the “action level” building processes and products deeper in the technology organization than Jack typically works (at least these days). That’s not to say that I don’t respect his insights and wisdom, I do. However, it is the “action level” niche for which I am passionate and for which my insights are most relevant. In a sense, I have simply made the world smaller – I am not competing with Jack Welch.
In the process development marketplace, what I sell is confidence: confidence to staff that management makes good decisions, confidence to management that goals are being met, and confidence to investors & media that the organization can do what it says it will do. That is my superpower. To that end, it is my sincere goal to own the word-pair “process confidence” in my niche. (Thank you Scott, I crystallized my word-pair using your worksheet: 24 Questions to Discover Which Word You Own).
Have I achieved the elite (10,000+ hour) level (in process confidence) that Malcolm Gladwell talks about in his book Outliers: The Story of Success (pg. 39, “….the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That’s it. And what’s more, the people at the very top don’t just work harder or even much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.”)? I have certainly invested in learning, practiced extensively, and made changes in my environment to ensure that I continue to ratchet up my game. This blog is part of that process. I hope that you find value here. Let me know what you think.
March 14, 2009
As a veteran of understanding complex systems, it is not terribly surprising that sometimes the unexpected occurs. It is not so much that humans have poor intuition, it is more that we 1) oversimplify (we focus on a specific element and not the whole), 2) we underestimate the affect of randomness, 3) we do not account for a changes in underlying assumptions of our mental models, and 4) we overvalue the expected outcomes because we become emotionally attached to the outcome.
As a trivial example of the unexpected, I am whining about my sore hands after having returned to running and climbing after a month of ankle injury hiatus (the climbing calluses on my hands receded and my hands became soft). So even though I expected to be most challenged by my ankle, it is actually my hands that are unexpectedly sore — I did not anticipate the whole picture.
As a really BIG example of the unexpected, the core of the financial mess that the world is currently experiencing can be traced to an oversimplified quantitative model that failed to account for changes in market assumptions – see Wired (March 2009): “A Formula for Disaster.” (Very interesting yet short article).
My experience in managing complex systems coincides with all of the wisdom and experience of others before me — take the long view: pay attention to the capacity constraint of the system, be wary of process steps with similar capacity to the constraint either upstream or downstream (they could easily become the constraint), and stay aware of external factors that can impact the system. The most important advice is to assume that Murphy exists and plan for managing it. To that end, if you do not have good intuition under different scenarios and want to build it to plan for it (for example, recovery from disruption), I recommend discrete event simulation with Simul8.
I am sure that there are other reasons than the four (4) I listed for the unexpected to occur. I invite you to add reasons 5, 6, 7….
March 10, 2009
The process of attribution is effectively taught in engineering school and in the technology workplace – we see acknowledgements in presentations, references in papers, and funding thanks in reports. However, attribution alone is insufficient to be successful over the long term. The long view requires us to nurture and build relationships with colleagues over the full spectrum on our road to success. To that end, it is the dark side that is often unappreciated – how to say you are sorry and make amends for slights which take the form of omission, overvaluation of one’s own work above others’ points-of-view, and unintended consequences of expediency.
An honest awareness of daily actions and inactions will likely uncover a host of things for which our need to be right got in the way of being collegial. When we recognize these situations, it is imperative that corrective action be taken. We must offer a sincere apology and accept the discomfort of doing so knowing that it will help us to do better next time.
Delivering a sincere and meaningful apology falls into the realm of things technologists need to know to be successful. What is needed is a sincere acknowledgement of the error, acceptance of blame, and no further explanation. This strategy meets most primal needs for satisfaction. Although there are entire treatises on an apology, the “on defense” advice in How to Be Useful: A Beginner’s Guide to Not Hating Work (Hustad) is very appropriate and helpful (how I wish I read this book when I first started my career!). She warns of the non-apology like “I’m sorry that you’re upset” or some variation, which will backfire and not effectively gain long-term collegial appreciation.
Even though apologies should routinely be timely, I learned in kindergarten (or thereabouts) that “It’s never too late to say you are sorry.” This adage is just a special case of the quintessential long view adage “better late than never.”
March 3, 2009
Each of us only gets one body. From an early age we are trained to care for ourselves — brush & floss our teeth, eat right, exercise regularly, and rest appropriately after illness or injury. Although most of us do all of these things regularly, it is the last one that can be the most vexing. It is challenging because injury and illness are inherently unplanned, undesirable, and unintended. Recovering from injury or illness requires expenditures of time and effort to recover that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” So there is opportunity to be bitter and angry. The reality is that there is risk in sports (one cause of injury) and being around others (one cause of illness transmission). It is the payoff: fun in sports or the creation/nurturing of a social/professional connection, that makes the risk worthwhile.
In an analogy to business, routine care is required for operations — develop products, purchase raw materials, manufacture products, sell products, account for the flow of money and products, and take time to recover from setbacks. As in illness or injury, setbacks require expenditures of time and effort that would not be required if everything had “gone to plan.” Similarly, there is risk in business — if it was easy, it would not be a long-term business. It is the payoff: money (in a for-profit business), that makes the risk worthwhile.
In both cases (body or business), routine care requires planning, precautions, and prudence. Yet these cannot prevent all setbacks; they minimize the severity, duration, and frequency. Thus, in order to be truly successful, we need to take the long view and be disciplined in our recovery from setbacks. We must expect setbacks, plan to expend time and effort to recover (relative to the risk of the payoff), and not be negative or rushed in our recovery execution. One way is to buffer projects from uncertainty by realistic planning, disciplined tracking, and adequate resource deployment for recovery using Goldratt’s Critical Chain, all the while staying, persistent, passionate, and positive!
On a personal level, I am working hard to recover an ankle sprain (a moment’s inattention to a pothole in a running trail left my ankle discolored, swollen, and sore). Since I want to enjoy the wind in my face (from running) for as long as I live (the long view), I am in rehab (toe-raises, gentle stretches, and swimming). Only nine (9) more days until I can run on my ankle again! But who is counting?!