I've been trying to read more about psychology lately. I've stumbled across a blog that reviews new research in the field. Here's an interesting article that asks, "Can Your Creative Brain Erase Negative Moods?"
If you've come across a neat link this week, please share it with us in the comments. Next week, we'll be making a big announcement and change to the blog. Stop by Monday at 10am to see what we've been working on. Have a great weekend!
OK, let me just start by saying that if you're about to read this post thinking I'm going to talk in-depth about Miley Ray Cyrus*--as the title may suggest--you're about to be disappointed. But, if that's what you're most interested in, feel free so skip to the end for why Miley and "change" are remotely related.
Hey! You didn't skip to Miley! Congratulations on your superb musical tastes. Let's talk about "change" in general, and why it's important. To paraphrase 'ol Shumpie (aka Joseph Alois Schumpeter), change is the defining fact of capitalism. As he and others have laid out, the inherent nature of economies is to change, shift and morph. As a result, the way resources are used today to create value (say, taking the inputs to make a cassette tape) will likely not be what's valued tomorrow. Basically, a process of destroying the old in favor of the new will happen whether we like it or not.
Your time is limited, Cyrus....
His concept of creative destruction--if you buy into it--would suggest that you and I should have a high regard for the ability to initiate, put up with, and encourage "change" in our day-to-day business. After all, if we're not the ones urging creative destruction relative to our projects, products and services, then we will be 'creatively destroyed' as others outpace our innovations.
But what about Miley? You're just going to have to hold on a bit longer.... The idea of "change"--if taken alone--can be dangerous, I would argue. If you ch-ch-change without nuh-nuh-knowledge sharing, for example, others might get so confused they won't be able to help. Like many aspects of MBM, solely focusing on one element can be harmful.
So, I pose this question to you: what elements of MBM bolster and support change, and what elements are in tension with it? For example:
Bolsters: assuming we need to change periodically, sharing KNOWLEDGE is important to make sure we are all on the same page of what has changed and why.
Tension: visions have to change from time to time, but if you change your department's vision every day productivity would likely decrease.
"That's fine and all," you think, "but what about Miley?" OK. In one of the more interesting consulting jobs I've done recently--in which a team asked a few of us to explore with them the Guiding Principles in depth--we discussed the idea of "change" for a bit. Shannon, my partner, suggested that we play Cyrus' song about moving to a new town (Party in the USA) to lighten the mood and provide a funny, positive example of this principle.
The result was about about 10% funny and 90% makes-Andy-uncomfortable....
I'm trying to implement the idea from a Conversation, about Applying a Few Mental Models at a Time (sorry only DNet users can access it). The idea is to focus in on one mental model until it becomes second nature. Then, move on to the next mental model.
Besides trying to be more disciplined in experiments, I'm working hard to apply the Human Action Model to the training sessions I lead. I'm doing this by being deliberate about having time in each session dedicated to the three conditions for action outlined in the Human Action Model. This has had some neat effects.
First, it's forced me to think through the specific actions I want people to take as a result of the session. It's no longer satisfying for me to "educate" without a connection to action. Second, measurement has become a little clearer because we can see the outputs associated with the action. Third, it's given me a framework for challenging how and why we do particular sessions. If I can't come up with a concrete action, then why are we doing the session?
I'm no where close to comfortably applying this mental model in this context, but I'm doing my best to be systematic over the next several months. Hopefully, it will reach a point where it's second nature for me to outline the portions of a training session that are aimed at the three conditions of human action. Once I get this down, I hope to move onto a deeper understanding/application of this model.
What do you think of my Human Action Model application attempt? What mental model are you working on? How are you trying to apply it in your day-to-day work? Have you had success doing something like this in the past?
Many of you have probably seen amusing statistics from on-line dating sites (like this great infographic). For example, the actual average age of male on-line daters is 37, but the average listed age is 24....
It's easy to comfortably guffaw and scoff at such egregious false truths, especially if you haven't done on-line dating.
Here's a stat, however, that might make some of our readers squirm a bit: 72% of first-year managers never--cough, never--question their ability to lead others in their first year.
The odds that nearly 3/4's of first-time managers have nothing to doubt themselves about are about as likely as the "fact" that all on-line daters make about $25,000 more per year than their traditional-dater cohorts.
Quoting from an on-line Wall Street Journal article, "A new survey of 1,100 front-line managers suggests many are over-estimating their skills, with surprisingly little self-doubt. Seventy-two percent said they never questioned their ability to lead others in their first year as a manager."
Additionally, along 10 skill areas--including "delegating" (Decision Rights), "communicating" (Knowledge Processess) and "adaptability" (Change)--"no more than 15% of managers pointed to any one of those skill sets as a 'development area,' according to Development Dimensions International, who released the survey.
"OK," I reflect, "I'm probably not as good as I think I am at managing." Allow me to posit a few additional ideas along these lines that make me even more worried about my performance:
humans, including first-year uber managers, tend to systematically overestimate the knowledge they possess, and underestimate risks associated with making decisions;
being able to realistically introspect on your skills, biases, mistakes and successes can be incredibly challenging, especially when done alone; and
"Humility" isn't just a Guiding Principle because it sounds nice and polite.
So, what should we do? Let us know if you have ideas about or have experimented with strategies to better hone your intrapersonal skills.
A few things that I've done (or, at least, have thought "that would probably be helpful if I actually went and did it") are:
Don't just file your performance review away. Go back to it periodically. Write out a simple action plan for the next month to improve in one area. Proactively get feedback on areas you struggle in.
Tell others what you're working on. Sometimes just verbalizing what it is you need help with will (a) help others help you and (b) make you feel more accountable to improve in that area.
Find a no-holds-barred friend. If you can, latch on to folks who are willing to give blunt, realistic feedback and who interact with you often enough to have something to say.
After Action Reports and diaries. Get in the habit of reviewing and reflecting all of the time. An easy way to do this is to do reviews of your large projects (bonus: in addition to improving your project you'll likely learn something about yourself). Or, if you're disposed to the written word, a manager's diary may help you look back and review how you diagnosed--correctly or incorrectly--past situations.
Don't wait. Don't wait for your manager or someone else to do this for you. You own You, Inc., as Chris would say.
Lately, I've come to the realization that I'm not very good at running experiments. I'm good at what I have come to call "spaghetti." Spaghetti is where you throw things at the wall and see what sticks... if you want to see where the term comes from, give a 2-year-old spaghetti for dinner, don't watch him too closely and see what happens when he throws the spaghetti against the wall. Don't get me wrong, sometimes spaghetti can be useful. However, it's not an experiment.
Let me give you an example. I've been treating this blog like spaghetti. I've been trying some neat things, but not coming up with disciplined experiments. I fiddle around with an idea or just try some stuff, but there's no hypothesis. This makes gathering feedback or developing measures tough because I'm not clear about what I'm testing. Fortunately, I've got people around me pushing me on this, which has helped me realize my spaghetti mistake.
With all that said (er, typed), I want to run experiments and stop throwing spaghetti. I need your help with this. When is something an experiment? Moreover, how do you turn spaghetti into a useful experiment? Specifically, how can I turn my "blog spaghetti" into a useful experiment? Help me out in the comments.
As many of you may be aware, there is a secret, sixth Dimension not usually discussed in MBM Academy or The Science of Success.
That Dimension, of course, is Brute Physical Force.
Yes, in addition to the importance of a clear goal, hiring good and talented folks, defining who does what, measuring, and motivating employees, having the physical prowess to move large objects is a fundamental concept we should all master.
The benefits of this Dimension on the day-to-day level are obvious. For example, if a heavy filing cabinet is blocking value creation, are you going to use “decision rights” to move it? Will “vision” open that obstinate pickle jar for your lunch power meeting? And don’t try and convince me that KP will help you PL (power lift) 350 lbs of iron during your morning and evening pre-and-post exercise routines….
Yes, these daily benefits are obvious, but what about the underlying principles? For example, the Virtue & Talents Dimension—looked at holistically—would suggest that:
at the individual level, it’s beneficial to strive to act in accordance with the Guiding Principles;
at the organizational level, it’s helpful to hire virtuous people with the needed talents; and
at the societal level, prosperity is generally increased with stable laws that guide productive behavior.
The Brute Physical Force Dimension, as I understand it, follows this basic pattern:
At the individual level, it’s beneficial to pump iron daily;
At the organizational level, it’s helpful to strive to have a workforce whose average shirt-collar size is in the low 20s, at least; and
At the societal level, prosperity is generally increased with…. Well, we’re still working on that part.
Now, many of you will argue, “Aren’t ‘strength’ and ‘musculature’ and ‘physical perfection’ just different skills and virtues, and hence isn’t this just a subset of the Virtue & Talents Dimension?” Or, “This sounds like you just made up a Dimension and are lying to me.”
My answer to you is THIS: [Flexing my biceps at the screen right now!]
A few weeks ago, I wrote up my thoughts about fatal flaws. I sought some thoughts from people who are wiser than me and I want to pass on their thoughts.
What I would add is that in my experience the ability of an individual to figure this out about themselves at an early age is one of the key determinants of success and happiness. Not just at work but in life....Here is how I sum it up for folks in college:
1. Work hard to find what you are good at and what you like as you move from high school to roughly your early 30's.
2. At the same time you are doing this try to also isolate those things you are not good at and/or truly don't enjoy. This may take a little longer as you often don't know until you see it. I think this is actually harder than the first because people naturally don't like to admit they aren't good at things and they also try to talk themselves into "liking" things they think they are supposed to like.
3. Spend your mid-career understanding and refining your strengths. And to add to previous comments, if you have fatal flaws (which I believe are usually not fixable) work hard to avoid or at least minimize.
One caveat to all of this. I have come to believe that there are some people (maybe many) whose biggest flaw is that of complete lack of intrapersonal aptitude. When one doesn't critically think their own capability none of the above is useful and those people I think are the most unhappy and typically your worst case scenarios.
Here are some more thoughts from another person who's wiser than I am:
I struggle with framing the answer in terms of strengths, weaknesses, and fatal flaws. If someone were to ask me, I would respond:
1. It is always about value creation - i.e. how to maximize it - or more personally, how you can maximize your long-term contribution to the organization.
2. So the question of "do I work on a strength or a weakness" might more productively be framed as "of all the strengths you might build on or weaknesses you might attempt to improve, which one or two have the highest probability of significantly advancing your ability to contribute to the organization?" It's a risk-adjusted return concept - some things might have high value, but may be highly unlikely I can achieve the improvement... So I have to pick those things that, after considering probability of success, effort / cost to improve vs. value to the org, have the greatest return.
3. A moments reflection will validate the GENERAL rule that it's a lot more valuable to build on your strengths than to shore up your weaknesses (e.g. it's why we spend so much time proving out capabilities analysis as part of our vision development processes!!).
4. From time to time we all discover character or performance traits that are so sub-par relative to our environments as to present a great risk to our ability to adapt enough to survive. Arrogance, fear of change, taking on a role we are not ready for, being in a role where the needs or comparative advantages have significantly shifted.... in such things, if we can't get to "par" -- good enough, or adequate -- in that dimension, then we will not have the opportunity to "flex" our strengths and really contribute. Sometimes it is as easy as changing your RREs - or moving to a different role. Sometimes it's more difficult - addressing a character flaw that up until now has been bearable, but not longer, by your team, customers, whatever.
Thanks to my contributors! I appreciate your thoughts and have personally benefited from them.
To the readers, what would you say to an inexperienced employee who asked you for your thoughts on fatal flaws, comparative advantage or general early career advice? How can we help people around us find their comparative advantages?
We live in a world where we can't get everything we want--there are tradeoffs at every turn.
One such tradeoff to be made regards Vision. How much effort, time and resources should a manager commit to getting everyone on the team--literally--to completely buy in to a vision vs. just decreeing his or her vision?
In his excellent book The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge walks the manager through some important issues to balance when building a vision to motivate others (and I'm using the term "manager" loosely here to define anyone that is managing a project with others, even if s/he doesn't set their salary). Some of the great points he makes are:
A vision should define an ultimate goal to achieve.
"Shared vision[s]"--that is, those that every individual are earnestly committed to--are generally more effective than those that one person comes up with and imposes on the rest.
Shared visions allow individuals to experiment, creatively deal with novel problems, and adapt without the manager having to make those detailed decisions all of the time.
The process of building the vision and of individuals wrestling with how they view the vision is as important as the end vision itself.
At the end of the day, you can't coerce and force someone to follow you--they have to choose.
But, Senge makes a strong case for involving as many people as possible in the vision-development process. "Shared visions," he rightly points out, "emerge form personal visions" . Senge puts a lot of the emphasis on the manager involving everyone (or as many people as makes sense) in the process.
This leads to the inevitable question of: "Everyone? Really? What if there are 50 people on my team--or 10,000 in the organization? There are high opportunity costs involved, right?"
This brings us to tradeoffs. For visions, who needs to be involved and to what extent.
My personal opinion is that in MBM, we tackle that problem from two ends. We want the manager to feel compelled to build a shared vision where possible, but we also want the employee to feel compelled to understand and buy into the vision, if it matches their personal visions. The "Science of Human Action Chart" in The Science of Success breaks down each Dimension to the individual level; for Vision, it suggest that we understand our goals and comparative advantages, and how each of us can create the greatest value for ourselves, our organizations and society. To do so, understanding the vision of the place we spend 8-10 hours a day in is likely important.