February 10, 2011

Protective Tribe

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 1:16 pm by lindaslongview

In Linked Segments I worked hard to be succinct.  In doing so, I actually squeezed the life right out of the blog post! Rather than rework it directly, I am attempting to metaphorically add milk, stir, warm, and thus reconstitute the soup rather than a leaving a congealed glob of condensed puree.    :*)

Starting fresh….

I have worked with technical project teams spanning a few to many members .  It’s easy to work with a few members – priorities and progress are easy to update – it occurs naturally in the hallway, across cubicle walls, and informal team meetings. It gets more challenging when there are more than about five (5) team members AND when one (or more) is not co-located – the fluidity declines to the viscosity of……..condensed soup!

I could make a list of many reasons why it becomes harder, but I believe the primary one is that with greater visibility (more team members) there is a tendency toward declining informality.  Members feel pressure (internally?/externally?) to share only polished work stemming from personal struggles to maintain control and dignity (see my reference to Roger Martin’s work at Technical Complexity).  So sharing frequency declines – we wait for members to fully analyze their data, prepare a slide deck, and then present at the next team meeting. These effects mitigate the efficiency and productivity gains of larger groups, because they slow progress down.

Gaining trust and reciprocity that facilitates frequent informal exchange is much easier in smaller groups because protective cliques form readily in small groups.  Yet, gaining trust and reciprocity is not impossible in larger groups; it just requires forming a protective tribe – really.  This is where the newer ESSP (Emergent Social Software Platforms) have a role.  For example, in mid 2008, I began participating in Seth Godin’s online community, Triiibes. I was blown away at how effectively Seth created a large online community that allowed each of us to grow professionally – no polishing required.  My blog post On Triiibes celebrates the 1st anniversary of that community and the value that it created — truly amazing!

Two of the very best primers on the subject of forming a tribe:

When I realized that large organizations (agri-business, pharma, and medical research) were beginning to use larger work groups to increase efficiency and productivity (segment and specialize) I felt compelled to crystallize my most important insights. Unfortunately, my efforts to distill the essence left a blog post with the consistency of solid goo!  I hope this greater context makes Linked Segments more readable. 🙂

My long-view message:

  • Team members need to feel protected and valued.

Better?  Your feedback is welcome and appreciated!

February 8, 2011

Linked Segments

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 9:31 am by lindaslongview

I have received some unflattering feedback that I made this post so succinct that I squeezed the life right out of it! (Thank you for gently letting me know.) Rather than rework it directly, I have attempted to reconstitute it at Protective Tribes, feel free to go there FIRST!

***********

Since my post Technical Complexity, I continue to deepen my thinking on subject of technology collaboration.  Recently,

  • I read Enterprise 2.0 (Andrew McAfee), a treatise on collaboration platforms (software) for organizations, and
  • I attended the Lab Automation 2011 conference in which a number of speakers addressed their experiences with collaboration platforms.

From these, I gained some new insights on the profound need to link organizational segments

Although segmentation and specialization are not new to industry (see Scientific Management), research and development activities have retained craftsman-like approaches because of the need for pattern recognition in problem solving and innovation.  Traditionally, within a narrowly defined research area, one or very few steward experimentation, analysis, and the accumulation of structured knowledge. However, more and more, segmentation and specialization are being deployed upstream of manufacturing changing the dynamics of pattern recognition and the accumulation of structured knowledge.  In fact, speakers at the conference described harnessing automation, outsourcing, and scheduling to fuel faster innovation across agri-business, pharmaceuticals, and disease research in ways that startled even me!

Having spent many years facilitating technology commercialization, I know firsthand the challenges of transitioning craft-sensitive loosely defined processes to robust segmented processes (research → development → manufacturing).  In my experience, the most critical factors for success are as follows:

  • Commitment to the transition – participants must understand deeply the constraints of the status quo and the benefits of change (the why)
  • Team collaboration – participants must be engaged and timely share process understanding to create new knowledge (the how)
  • Role valuation – participants must understand their responsibilities, feel valued for their contributions, and foresee continued opportunity (the human need for self-actualization)

With increasing scale and penetration of segmentation and specialization, the need for collaboration platforms such as dashboards, messaging, wikis, blogging, and tagging (described in Enterprise 2.0), is apparent – the proliferating segments need to be linked.  One of the pharma speakers at the conference provided an excellent primer on the demands and challenges of linking the segments.  He eloquently made the point that success requires a proactive creation of collaborative structure that encourages productive behaviors – “it’s about the conversations not the tools.” Concurring, McAfee describes common obstacles to implementing collaboration platforms:

  • Need to achieve 9x superiority (overcome status quo bias)
  • Reluctance to relinquish successful interpersonal behaviors of private communications (unilateral actions and defensiveness) that fail in public collaboration (due to mistrust and rigidity)
  • Impatience (adoption is slow and is thus a long haul effort).

Distilling the different observations and experiences, I conclude that the accelerating shift to a collaborative culture of linked segments requires a deliberate long-view transition with special attention to interpersonal behaviors. It is not enough to add the new collaborative tools into the organization along with automation and segmentation, but requires an integrated program that addresses commitment, valuation, and known obstacles for success.

Are you deliberately moving towards linked segments?

January 24, 2011

Deliberate Mom

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , , at 10:55 am by lindaslongview

I feel that I must add to the Tiger Mom discussion…

When I read the WSJ article Why Chinese Mothers are Superior by Amy Chua, I had an immediate negative visceral response.  I was simply aghast after the snippet on the actions that Chua took to get her 7-year-old prepared for a piano recital.

Although I didn’t read Chua’s book, I collected more information by soliciting two of my very successful Chinese-American friends and by reading other related blogs/opinions/comments.  I learned that there is a range of behaviors within the extreme parenting advocated (described? lamented?) by Chua. Both of my Chinese-American friends agreed with some of Chua’s observations but not all.  There is also a range of reactions to the behaviors.  Many kids became successful (as shown by the statistics) and some became scarred for life (see opinion by Lac Su who also wrote a book on Tiger Mothers).

What I have realized is that parenting methods derive from parenting priorities, whether stated explicitly or not.  What you choose as your priorities determine your methods and your metrics.  There can be endless argument in favor of differing priorities, but as a parent, you get to choose the investment priorities in the extremely complex and multi-fauceted task of raising a child.

If you narrowly focus on a few factors (academics and music) you can achieve success in those domains, but potentially at the expense of other factors.  David Brooks make an excellent case for the value of social factors in his NYT piece, Amy Chua is a Wimp.

Amy Chua deliberately chose academics and music as her priorities for teaching her children.   Her metrics were GPA, class rank, and recital success (piano or violin only).  By her own admission, her methods were often shame, humiliation and coercion. To her credit, her daughters succeeded in both of these domains.

With two teenagers of my own, I have deliberatley chosen:

  • Impart the ability to make good decisions, and
  • Create a caring and generous soul.

The metrics for my priorities are much more difficult to quantify and my primary method is to capitalize on teachable moments. The jury is still out with regard to success because my children have not reached matriculation.

I have given and continue to give both my son and daughter opportunities in diverse environments (social, music, academic, domestic, athletic, etc.) trying to amplify what interests them while providing them safety in the background.  Although I do require a minimum of proficiency across all domains, in their early years especially, I supported just trying stuff with a minimum level of commitment.  My kids tried languages (Japanese!), music (flute and piano), and many sports.  Even though my husband would have liked our son to play baseball, our son found his soul in soccer.  I dreamed that my daughter might be a swimmer, but her passion is cheerleading.  By allowing them to choose, we have nurtured self-directed drive for accomplishment.  I never tell my son to practice his soccer footwork, but I do have to tell him occasionally that it’s driving me crazy and that he needs to give it a rest.

Like Brooks, I tend to think that the trickiest stuff to learn is the social factors – there is no road map or easy measurements.  Yet the next generation will have to navigate a more complex world than we live in today, thus it is super important to ensure that my kids be fully competent in this capacity.  Disallowing media, sleepovers, and friends avoids the issue and does not allow for development, so it is imperative (to my husband and I) to thoughtfully allow all of these complex interactions to ensure that they achieve excellence in social collaboration without becoming lost.

To that end, my husband and I hold fast to the, “trust but verify” method of teaching.  We give our kids sufficient rope to try stuff (what friends they will choose, what media they will consume, and how they spend their leisure time), but we pay very close attention to what they say they are doing and the congruence to the signals that they send.  We don’t allow them to go just anywhere, we require knowing:  the who, the what, the where, and the when, of their choices and then we observe.  For example, does their style of dress match the social situation they told us that they were attending?  If stuff does not match, we hold them accountable taking each breach as a teaching opportunity.

My kids hate reading books or writing essays on the subject of scrutiny, but we have found that such methods instill the required reflection for incremental maturation.   One time after a particularly egregious transgression of trust, I required my daughter to read with me, girls gone MILD by Wendy Shalit and then write an essay on selected themes from the book.  Her essay was excellent and I know that it made a difference from the perceptible changes than manifested.

To Chua my priorities and methods might look like over-indulgence in media, friends, and leisure, but the reality is instilling my priorities in my kids is just as excrutiating as instilling her priorities in her kids, mine are not as visible.

Thus, after much reflection, I do respect Chua’s priorities; I only question some of her specific methods (she also questions them in her memoir, but not necessarily for the same reasons).  Specifically, I object to the strategy of extreme shame, humiliaiton, and coercion because it does not scale effectively.  When I consider the parenting arms-race, if everyone were to adopt this superior method, it would stop being superior simply because not everyone can be 1st in their class — the necessary escalation goes up considerably with increasing competition.  Can you imagine the consequences if every child had to withstand escalating levels of shame, humiliation, and coercion to be 1st in their class when by definition only ONE person could achieve that pinnacle?  At some point it crosses the line from instilling discipline to abuse.  It’s a slippery slope…

Everyone agrees that parenting is hard. Depending on the age of the children, it can be physically hard, emotionally hard, or psychologically hard, and there are no days off.  My long view advice on parenting:

  • Know your priorities, act with intention
  • Be deliberate in your method, understand how your tactics scale
  • Love and nurture because children are our most precious gift.

In the end, only the children can truly decide if the job we did was proper.  I guess I’ll find out in a few years…

Can you articulate your priorities?

January 4, 2011

Technical Complexity

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 3:16 pm by lindaslongview

The management of technical complexity and its evolution is probably my favorite subject.  I am simply fascinated by the challenges created by ever more complex technologies and the processes required to see them to fruition.

I read the book War Made New (Boot) a few years ago.  It was a fascinating read, with the most striking element being the evolution of tactics and strategies as new technologies emerged over 500 years of military history.  Boot captures the evolution of weaponry and concomitant strategies vividly because he covers 500 years of the proverbial arms race in time-lapse drama – it’s easy to see the big changes and the impacts of those changes in his case studies over such a long view.

I have wanted a similar treatise of commercial technology discussing the many innovations needed to manage technical complexity since the emergence of industrialization.  I have not found it yet…

Recently I read three separate books (in succession) that each provide pieces that help create a time-lapse perspective of commercial technology that includes social, structural, and historical contexts.  Although there is significant overlap in the ideas of the three authors, oversimplifying the content of each book allows me to divide them into the three domains:

Defining the trajectory of progress is very important to me because as a freelance participant (consultant) in the technology sector, I must continually update and upgrade my strategies for managing and participating in technology development and commercialization.  I must live at the edge…

From this trio of books, I distilled the following long-view insights:

  • We must develop our ability to collaborate to handle the increasing complexity of our science, products, and operational processes.  This is probably the single hardest task, because individually we struggle to maintain the illusions of “victory,” “control,” and “dignity,” which often get in the way of collective engagement. From Roger Martin:  “Erosion in [productively sharing responsibility] skills is hugely threatening in a world of large, complex networked organizations and coalitions and alliances in which joint choice-making and effective collaboration is a necessity.
  • We must encourage adaptability and options development in worker skills (ourselves, our colleagues, and subordinates) to effectively survive extraordinary futures.  We must really harness the instincts and knowledge of the different members of our teams.  We must encourage everyone to take the wide-view and to over-communicate perspectives.  From Kevin Kelly:  “We have lots of choices.  But those choices are no longer simple, nor obvious.  As Technology increases in complexity, the technium demands more complex responses.  For instance, the number of technologies to choose from so far exceeds our capacity to use them all that these days we define ourselves more by the technologies that we don’t use than by those we do.
  • We must understand, prioritize, and manage inherent conflicting loyalties that arise from the variable time scales (short-, mid-, and long-views) that confer operational system stability.  Because we will constantly face short-term vs. long-term conflicts, we must have strategies to prioritize our actions. From Stewart Brand: “The combination of fast and slow components makes the system resilient.

Are you actively developing collaboration, encouraging adaptability, and prioritizing conflicting loyalties?

February 19, 2010

Both Sides

Posted in Business tagged , , , , , , , , , , at 11:48 am by lindaslongview

Now that I am fully self-employed, I have achieved new levels of reality about interactions and negotiations.

When I used to contract for services or products on behalf of an organization, I always appreciated that over the long view both sides need to accrue value in order for a deal to be positive. Today, I am appreciating the details in new and acute ways.

I am learning quickly how to discern which clients want to take advantage of my integrity, work ethic, and desire to over-deliver and which ones are grateful and willing to fairly compensate me for my service, skill, and ability to add value to their organization.  It is truly a pleasure to work with the latter.  🙂

Even in these times of extreme austerity for business and individuals, the world is bigger than any of our personal or business interactions.  So, what is true immediately will not be true forever.  Thus, actions taken today (in immediacy) that could be considered opportunistic, manipulative, or exploitive, will live on indefinitely.

Real value is created when there is synergy from collaboration.  In an environment of opportunism, manipulativeness, and exploitation, synergy is extinguished and replaced by minimalism – what is required is delivered rather than what is needed.

My long view advice to clients:

  • Leave enough on the table to ensure that the interaction is valuable to both sides. (If you squeeze the turnip hard enough, you might get what you wanted in the short-term, but not over the long-term).
  • Recognize the bounds of your agreements and/or contracts. (Don’t scope weeks of work while contracting for a few hours of service.)
  • Be gracious to those that provide you service, say “thank you” and provide constructive feedback when accepting deliverables. (You would be surprised how far a little graciousness goes in creating extra value.)
  • Foster collaboration with external providers worthy of internal rapport. (Ultimately, if you can create real synergy, you can achieve much greater value.)

Before I finished my post, I read Seth’s post: more, More, MORE! – apparently we are channeling the same subject today!  🙂

In your interactions, are you considering both sides?

May 18, 2009

Inspiration from Rachel Alexandra

Posted in Life tagged , , , , , , , , at 6:38 pm by lindaslongview

photo by Steve Helber/Assoc. Press

Steve Helber/Assoc. Press

Rachel Alexandra, a girl horse, won the Preakness Stakes, the 2nd leg of the Triple Crown of Horse Racing this past Saturday!  It hasn’t happened in 85 years.

Part of long-view thinking requires identifying, being present, and breathing-in moments of inspiration to launch and sustain transformation.  The achievement of Rachel Alexandra is one of those rare inspiring events.

Rachel Alexandra’s accomplishment reminds me of similar inspiration…

I was paying attention (and cheering) when Title IX was passed into law (1972) and when Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in the tennis “Battle of the Sexes” (1973).  At that time, I imagined the transformation of our world to largely what we have now – women participating, competing, and being taken seriously in many, many sports, just like the men.

In 1977, I was the first girl in my high school to be allowed to take weight lifting for P.E. credit instead of the expected volleyball.  I recall that the coach agreed to give me an “A” if my cumulative total for the three defined lifts: squat, dead lift, and bench-press, was three times (3x) my body weight at the end of the program.  The boys needed a cumulative total that was five times (5x) their weight for an “A.”  Although it was probably a fair accommodation considering that boys are stronger than girls, I wanted to be taken seriously.  I set my goal at 5x in three lifts.

In class, I was partnered with Todd, the skinny kid who also weighed only about 100 lbs. and who didn’t really care about weight lifting.  Although we had different outlooks and viewed each other suspiciously at first, we found common ground.  I was grateful for his collaboration to help me achieve 5x. Together we learned excellence in technique and worked hard.  At the end of the term, we both achieved 5x and the rest of the class took us seriously.  ☺

I am grateful to have been inspired by the birth of equal opportunity athletics and to have participated in nurturing and sustaining the transformation.

Woohoo, Rachel Alexandra, you go girl! 

How are you inspired?!

April 20, 2009

Finishing School

Posted in Business, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 12:37 am by lindaslongview

balancebookseyesonlyMy mother always said that I needed to attend “finishing school,” but early on I did not see the value. As such, I started my career with poor interaction skills.  Luckily, my undeveloped social skills were tolerated because of significant technical contribution.   However, as my career progressed, I found that the technical problems were increasingly complex and without adaptation on my social skills side, it was clear that I would perish. So even though I did not balance books on my head, my latent abilities were nurtured and I learned to collaborate, lead, and be more socially refined.

I don’t have any really great stories, just an accumulated “what were they thinking?” collection in my head that has helped me to learn the following key principles:

  • Understand motivation and human behavior.
  • Get to know your colleagues.
  • Work to the strengths of each individual.

I learned from academic (reading the work of others), experiential collaborative technical projects (doing and learning from mistakes), and more recently through service and leadership in community organizations.

I have observed that there are fundamental differences in the motivation between industry (paid for service technical effort) and civic service (volunteer community effort).  The motivation for collaborative effort in typical technology organizational culture is recognition, reputation, and PAY.  Whereas in community volunteer organizational cultures, motivation is recognition, reputation, and RECIPROCITY.   Although they both share similar features (recognition and reputation), there is quite a difference between pay and reciprocity.

Others (real experts, not just amateurs like me) have studied pay and reciprocity differences.  A particularly engaging study can be found in Predictably Irrational (Ariely, ch.4, social norms v. market norms).  Ariely points out that, although social norms are more powerful motivators than market norms, the social contract required to achieve success with social norms is very tenuous! Expediency must be abandoned and long view commitments forged, because social contracts must be maintained under all circumstances to be effective.

As usual, there are blurred lines that create tension.  Industry desires to capitalize on social leverage requiring social skills of business leaders (understand motivation, get to know people, work to strengths), but is not always willing to take the long view. Conversely, sometimes, civic leaders desire expediency, in the process forgetting the social contracts they have engaged to achieve volunteer participation.

Although, more and more, we hear about self-organizing mass collaborations building value (Wikinomics, by Tapscott & Williams), motivated in unusual ways, it is not likely that it will be the case for most technology projects in the near term.  I recently read about 100,000 gamers unraveling the secret life of proteins (Wired, 17.05, There’s Power in a Puzzle), their motivation being competitive fun!  Wouldn’t it be great if we could achieve that everywhere?!

As I continue to grow, I hope to learn more, and I look forward to a future where powerful motivators, like competitive fun, can be harnessed and retained for industrial and civic service more and more routinely.  However, in the meantime, there is still much that requires coordinated collaborative leadership and excellence in social skills.

Do you have suggestions or observations that could add to this thinking?