April 26, 2009
All too often, we hear “warnings” but proceed without heed. Sometimes it is a small voice inside one’s head that says, “things do not add up,” sometimes it is a real warning (do not use lawnmower as hedge trimmer or bodily injury might result), and sometimes it is a recitation of all possible observed “rare events,” such as on drug labels.
Two weeks ago, my doctor prescribed me the antibiotic levofloxacin for a sinus infection. As he prescribed it for me, he hestitated because I am an avid athlete and he said that it was known to be associated with spontaneous tendon rupture. Although I was warned, once I felt better I did not think about that warning as I returned to my regular repertoire of sports. Last Thursday morning, as I perilously dangled after I lost my footing on a V2 bouldering problem, I had to strain hard to regain my footing and overgripped my left hand/arm to finish the route. Later that afternoon, I could no longer open my car door with my left hand and the previously faded memory of the “tendon rupture” warning had resurfaced.
When faced with warnings, there is a tendency to discount that which causes us to deviate from plan. As busy humans (never enough time!) we are risk averse especially to the loss of time. We have an ability to proceed with any number of justifications: the probability is small (rare event), the concern does not apply (no associated risk factors), and/or the risk is overstated, because we have not deliberately considered the unfavorable outcome’s impact on time.
Deliberately planning for undesirable outcomes based upon “warnings” is the long view approach. By including contingency for the unexpected, we are more objective in dealing with risk.
I have since learned that strenuous sports activities predispose patients to quinolone-related tendon rupture [Gold and Igra, “Levofloxacin-Induced Tendon Rupture: A Case Report and Review of the Literature,” The Journal of the American Board of Family Practice 16:458-460 (2003)]. Yikes! Had I been sufficiently deliberate to more fully understand the potential for tendon rupture and had planned for a twelve week (or more!) tendon recovery, I would not have been bouldering on Thursday morning. Swimming would have been a much better long view choice!
The good news is that my elbow pain is already better (probably unrelated to the drug concern). But, nevertheless, now that I know the full implications, I will not be placing high loads on my tendons while taking levofloxacin again!
I am duly reminded to take the long view and plan for contigency in order to be more objective in dealing with risk. I hope you are too!
April 23, 2009
On certain topics or regarding certain people, I can be a bit narrow-minded. Through encouragement over many years, I can usually find one thing positive to say about just about anything or anyone, no matter how grudgingly I do so.
This started out as a “game.” When I was being judgmental, negative, or otherwise intolerant of something or someone, my husband (before he was my husband) made me say one positive thing. Sometimes it took quite awhile, now I am a bit faster.
This is great long view advice and I continue to practice. One thing to make it easier is to listen to the kids tune (by none other than “The Happy Crowd” – I can still hear it in my head from years of overplay): Say Something Nice About Someone.
My husband and son like to watch WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) – I think it is plain silly. I definitely do not get the attraction to “he-man” ballet, but accept that it is entertainment from which they derive joy. I have been dared (taunted?) to publicly say something nice about WWE. So….The WWE “pinned to the math” game uses algebra (which is always a positive) in addition to WWE knowledge to play. There I did it – I said something nice about WWE on my blog!
Can you say something nice about about WWE?
April 13, 2009
Weekends do not get much better than the combination of snow, sun, fresh air, mountains, and family. Although there are always many enjoyable moments in a ski weekend, the ones that are most memorable are hearty laughs after being flung into the snow from catching an edge or while collecting scattered poles and skis, after missing a turn in the moguls. It might seem counterintuitive to glorify the negative, but I know that if I am not occasionally coming unglued, I am not pushing myself to get better. After each fall, I get a few laughs and a little more practiced being at my edge.
It is simply not possible to push yourself to be more, better, and/or stronger, without making errors, mistakes, and/or stumbles. The key to successful growth is willingness to laugh at imperfection and error – recognize the positive in the negative and not take everything too seriously.
The same advice applies to the business of technology development. When trying new things, running challenging experiments, and testing uncertain outcomes, it would be rare indeed to always have things go flawlessly. So, take the long view and laugh a little. Stay positive and be willing to try again – chances are “round two” will benefit significantly from what was learned on “attempt one.”
One of my best laughs in the lab occurred when I worked closely with a colleague to test prototype equipment for mixing viruses and cells for an infection process. Our goal was to demonstrate that the new equipment functioned comparably to a manual process. It was a demanding randomized experiment that took hours to set-up and execute. On that day, after a long morning of set-up, my colleague and I shared a hood all afternoon, working in tandem to complete all of the infections efficiently. As we neared the end of the experiment, all of a sudden my colleague looked at me slightly panicked and announced that we had forgotten to properly attach the cells to the equipment – we had just added alcohol (instead of cells) to all the viruses of the prototype test conditions. At that moment we looked at each other and just started to laugh really hard. The laughter broke the anxiety, recognizing the reality of new terrain. When we redid the experiment, we were more fluid in our execution and more confident in our abilities. Overall, the project was extremely successful and we gained from our ability to be positive. To celebrate our accomplishments, I awarded my colleague the “Littlest Bartender Award” for helping those viruses party that afternoon (to this day we still laugh about it!).
If you cannot laugh at yourself, then your friends and colleagues cannot laugh with you. 😉
On the ski hill, I may only occasionally have a tight, fast, clean mogul run, but I will forever keep pushing myself to achieve it and will keep laughing each time I come unglued! Although the smiling “wipeout” photo could be me, it is my son – I had the iPhone!
April 9, 2009
About 20 years ago when I was in graduate school, one of my pet peeves was the inconsiderate drivers who would park in the pedestrian walk area (not a parking spot) near the door of the parking garage that I often walked through to get to the chemical engineering building. Maybe the drivers of those parked cars couldn’t find a parking space or maybe they just preferred the spot nearest the door, I’ll never know. What I did know is that when it rained, those cars blocked the only puddle-free path to the door. Although I am certain that those drivers did not intend to require that pedestrians trudge through deep puddles, it was their lack of consideration for unintended consequences of others’ (pedestrians) that drove me crazy (short view thinking).
When the puddles were deep enough (and I just could not navigate the path without getting wet), I resorted to walking over the car to get to the door. I just stepped up on the back bumper, walked over the roof of the car, down the hood and stepped off the front bumper, arriving dry at the exit door. One of those times when the puddles were deep, my prospective father-in-law accompanied me and as I walked over the parked car blocking the path to the door – I startled him with my boldness.
My father-in-law recently recounted this story to me and admitted that at that moment, he had loved my boldness, but it made him think twice about me (the implication being that my action had been too risky, too out-of-bounds, too unconventional). This story reminds me of the fine line between boldness, a positive characteristic, and out-of-bounds (OOB), a negative characteristic.
In the leadership of emerging technology, this tension exists deeply, because leaders must be capable of unconventional ideas, transformational thinking, and boldness. However, because most organizations (rightfully) believe that their employees are their strength, it is imperative that leaders be seen as approachable and capable of working well with others. So even though leadership in emerging technology requires unconventional ideas, transformational thinking, and boldness, it also requires considered, rational, and reasonable actions – otherwise it will be a lonely path forward (no followers). Leaders must then be capable of discerning bold v. OOB.
As time has passed, I have gotten much better at distinguishing bold v. OOB. However, given my proclivity to the unconventional, my passion, and my intensity, I still occasionally check strategy with an honest friend (the ultimate long view principle – think before you act!). One thing that I have learned is that navigating the fine line of bold v. OOB, means that if you are not sure, it is probably OOB! Thus, my long view advice is when unsure, check your strategy with a friend/confidant and be willing to soften and/or withdraw based upon honest advice.
P.S. I don’t walk over cars anymore. 😉
April 6, 2009
When I first started working professionally in chemical engineering, I only worked on technical problems. As such, I only saw, knew, and understood technical issues – my level of abstraction was limited. As my career matured, I realized that logistical issues often trumped technical issues for achieving the goals of the organization. So I gained mastery in solving logistical problems. Then, as I understood even larger levels of abstraction, I realized that organizational issues often trump both technical and logistical issues and so I gained mastery in solving organizational challenges.
I have found that in order to be effective in the development and commercialization of emerging technology over the long view, one must recognize the domain of the system constraint and be attentive to changes (as the organization progresses and the marketplace matures). Mastery of all three domains is required to successfully develop and grow an emerging technology business.
Domain differences are assessed by level of concreteness (or the level of insight that can be achieved through measurement, modeling, and computation):
- Technical challenges are addressed through physical/chemical/mathematical models and measurements of physical quantities. Direct quantitative comparison of competing phenomena creates optimized technical processes that meet stated goals.
- Logistical solutions rely on intuitive understanding of outcomes. Discrete event simulation can build intuition and help to create optimized processes, but there is no direct analytical optimization.
- Strategies for resolving organization issues are least concrete. Detailed logical analysis (if-then scenario analysis) provides direction for solution but requires experience and excellence in future projection.
Why is it hard?! Because the situations are all too common. For example:
The organization must improve conversion at step X (upstream) to stay within market costs, so a technical team is deployed to address it. It is also recognized that the separation at step Y (downstream) must be improved to achieve scalability, so a separate technical team is deployed to address it. Then the business team makes the case that they need more products to sell (to potential clients, to show investors breadth, ….) so yet another technical team is deployed to develop processes using key technology at step Z (finishing) in new applications or markets. However, technical resources are limited (the technical organization is small) and many of the same people are working on X, Y, and Z simultaneously.
By trying to do too much, organizational constraints emerge from technical constraints. Because these types of problems emerge slowly, they are often unrecognized and unaddressed until damage is done (insufficient progress is achieved for X, Y or Z to satisfy stakeholders). Although some tolerance for multitasking is inevitable, not all technical specialists are equipped to recognize and manage progressions from technical → logistical → organizational constraints effectively for success.
Does your business have a technical challenge now, but an organizational challenge waiting to happen?
April 2, 2009
There is an adage that says, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” This week I received experience. I learned that I was trimmed from the short list of candidates for an executive position at an emerging technology company. This outcome was not terribly surprising because I did not have sufficient deep technical experience (none!) in their key process operation. I am only disappointed because I enjoyed the people that I met, I continue to be interested in gaining expertise in technology more new than familiar, I was joyful at the prospect of making the world a little greener (CleanTech), and I had that deep instinct that I could help them build a successful and sustainable organization.
Although it is sometimes a challenge to take a deep breath and be self-aware enough to be gracious and grateful simply for the opportunity to be considered, it was not hard in this situation. In the process of being considered, I had the good fortune of connecting to industry leaders, receiving excellent advice, and learning more about my own value proposition than I previously was aware. For example, although I have been selling my technical agility in combination with my organizational strengths (see Proverbial Zebra), I had yet to create a value proposition to best market my superpower* (see Credibility). In this process, I discovered that entrepreneurial athleticism has already been described and advocated in the recruitment of CleanTech (emerging technology) management teams: “The best approach is to source individuals who have demonstrated an ability to reinvent themselves…” – WooHoo! This discovery has deepened my conviction that my value proposition is both valid and valuable.
Although this particular opportunity was not to be, I continue to be confident that a suitable adventure will find me. They always do.
(*Linda’s superpower: I create, amplify, and broadcast process confidence to ensure emerging technologies achieve commercial success!)