December 6, 2009
It’s easy to benchmark size when rating performance – it is visible and typically easy to measure. Yet other less accessible attributes can contribute importantly to success: agility, competence, experience, focus, knowledge, patience, skill, strategy, etc. Because these other attributes are less visible and are harder to assess, we often choose to measure on the basis of a simple benchmark like size.
In June, I got agitated about “how much playing time?” my son received at a tournament (see Applied to Soccer). Although my long view leadership advice in that post has merit, I now realize that on a systemic basis, I oversimplified my son’s soccer situation. There was more to learn and assess…
In the case of sports, bigger players benefit from their size on two counts: 1) they are physically more powerful and 2) youth coaches often select larger players over their smaller teammates on the reasoning “you cannot coach size,” and give them more opportunity early (for example, more playing time on game day).
However, having more diligently watched the dynamics of my son’s development as a soccer player a few more months, I now realize that being small (for a longer duration) is only a near-term disadvantage in terms of opportunity (passed over for the boys who have grown bigger earlier). In subtle ways, smaller boys, like my son, benefit from their size disadvantage over the long-term because they cultivate their game differently. For example, my son has impressive knowledge of the tactics and strategy of the game. His skill, agility, and speed are his primary tools for success (different emphasis than his larger teammates). When he finally achieves improved size parity within the next few years (he has more growth left than those who have grown early), perhaps like Lionel Messi, he will still be reasonably competitive due to his quiet mastery of the less visible attributes of the game?!
Today’s observation is simply a personal reminder to engage in long-view thinking everywhere when learning:
- Expand observations,
- Increase knowledge, and
- Cultivate more complex thinking for improved accuracy (include more attributes in mental models).
As a result of my agitation, I paid greater attention to the team dynamics, learned much, and now realize that it is all part of the beautiful game.
Nevertheless, I wish my son increased joy (and playing time) as he auditions for a different team in a slightly less competitive league. 🙂
Are you constantly expanding observations, increasing knowledge, and cultivating more complex thinking everywhere?
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?
February 27, 2009
Over the past many years, I have had the privilege of analyzing many significant management issues within the technology industry using Goldratt’s thinking process. Each time, I set out to discover the core conflict, I knew that the adventure would be both interesting and challenging to resolve.
What I did not expect was for all of those core conflicts to coalesce to a competition between meeting short-term organizational interests and meeting long-term organizational interests: short v. long! At first, I was surprised because the actual manifestations (what people complained about) seemed quite different each time. However, with time and more examples, I began to realize that the common thread was essentially overly optimistic thinking: a) if everything goes perfectly and we are lucky, we can meet our goals, or b) we are not sure of our priorities, so let’s just try and do everything. I found myself asking, why would any rational business behave this way?
Not long after I decoded that common thread, a friend suggested that I read “Stumbling on Happiness” (it’s funny and enlightening; if you are a close personal friend of mine, you’ll probably get a copy for your birthday!) The answer is we (humans) tend to be irrational! This idea is not new, novel, or in any way original. In fact, there is an entire scientific domain devoted to these ideas: behavioral economics.
Although it’s not like I crawled out from under a rock without an understanding of the need for discipline in all aspects of life (my family instilled the importance of taking the long view and forgoing immediate gratification just like other families have done for millennia), I am simply taking it deeper. This weblog chronicles my absorption and application of this increased knowledge and awareness to life, business, technology, and family → kissing immediacy goodbye.