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?

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March 25, 2010

Slow Down

Posted in Business, Technology, Uncategorized tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 2:07 pm by lindaslongview

After acquiring a handful of consulting clients over the past many months, I have finally embarked on building a real business.  I am in the process of creating a manifesto of services and infrastructure to support it.

I recently hired Greg (Cloud Marketing Labs) to build me a website and “market Linda.”  He pushed me to define what I represent, how I work, what clients should expect, and more.  One of the things Greg recommended was to solicit feedback from my current clients, find out what they liked and what they might value in a future offering.  Thinking that I had really over-delivered with clients thus far, I compiled a list of questions and asked for feedback.

It all seemed easy until I received the following feedback relative to Rapport (Beside Manner):

Question: Do you find our interaction to be positive?  Did you feel like you better off because you called me?

Answer: I feel that I was better off because of you, but not sure if all shared that sentiment.  You have a very strong personality, which is not completely embraced by all.

That was unexpected and I needed to understand how to improve.  I immediately committed to understand “strong personality” – it could mean so many things…

I had a follow-up meeting with my client yesterday.  (I am grateful that he agreed to discuss this further.)  I learned that the negative reaction was associated with a strong recommendation that I had made about how to run a specific experiment and what data should be gathered.  In retrospect, I had not taken adequate time to parse, describe the why, and encourage understanding about the data needs.  As such, my strong recommendation felt disrespectful and intransigent to some team members.  Although there is always tension between Go Fast and Move Slow, ultimately, my desire to execute the experiment quickly got in my way.  I must remind myself constantly that a hike is not over until everyone reaches the campsite.  It is not possible to go faster (without casualty) than the slowest team member.

My long view advice:

  • Slow down – take time to teach and encourage understanding with the entire team.  It is not good enough to understand alone, achievement occurs only when everyone has arrived at understanding.
  • Stay committed to improvement, know that everyone needs to be reminded to do better – no one is perfect.
  • Ask for the last 10%, which is the feedback that is difficult to give, harder to hear, but most important for improvement (described in the book Integrity, pg.120).
  • Listen, internalize, and adjust accordingly.

I am extremely grateful for the candid honesty of my client.  To that end, I am re-committed to slowing down to ensure that understanding is achieved before asking for execution.

Are you ensuring understanding before asking for execution?

January 2, 2010

Open Doors and New Roads

Posted in Business, Life tagged , , , , , , , at 9:55 pm by lindaslongview

I am always grateful to welcome new opportunities. Yet recently, my blog has suffered while I’ve been opening doors and building new roads for myself…

As I reflected on what long view advice I might give on the departure of 2009 and arrival of 2010, I realized that my siblings are professionals in door opening and new road building, respectively.

My sister is responsible for writing software to open the door on NASA’s specialized jumbo jet that hauls an infrared telescope above the lower atmosphere (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy, SOFIA). More pics here…how cool is that?!

My brother is in road construction, he supervises the work teams, manages the projects, and ensures that new roads get built.

On account of the new year, I offer some amateur long view advice on opening doors and creating new roads that I think the pros would agree:

  • Be deliberate, act with intention.
  • Be aware, observe, listen, and assess more often than you advise.
  • Be dedicated to quality, don’t settle for less.
  • Be committed to improvement, get better at what you do.

Wishing you new roads and many open doors. Happy 2010!

April 13, 2009

Pushing Laughter

Posted in Life, Technology tagged , , , , , , , , at 9:55 am by lindaslongview

ski_flop_2009Weekends 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!