Thursday, February 25, 2016

3 Mistakes we make in thinking about The Present

As a reminder to myself, here are 3 Mistakes we make in thinking about The Present:

1) Mistaking the Present for The Past
We see something in the present that looks and feels like something that happened in the past, and assume the same outcome will occur

2) Mistaking the Present for The Future
We see something in the present and assume that it will continue to behave the same way in the future.

3) Mistaking the Present for The Present
We see something in the present and assume our own experience is the true reality of the situation.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Other People's Ideas

I’m not that interested in other people’s ideas.

Don’t get me wrong. I spent many years fascinated by the many and varied ways that humans become creative creatures on this planet. I worshiped at the altar of other people’s ideas. I ate other people’s ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I made myself out of them.

Eventually, I noticed that other people’s ideas started to sound a lot like the same ideas, put a different way. The time it took to sift through all the ideas that were the same-with-a-twist began to outweigh any benefit I was receiving from continuing to seek in that way.

So I stopped, organically, almost without noticing. I stopped reading blogs, articles and books related to my areas of interest, except for quick bits of research to support a theory or practice. I lost the habit of striving to learn. In the space I accidentally created, I realized: 

I don’t need new ideas. I need to work the ideas I already have.

Contemplate them, practice them, test and try them, over time and in real life, with the limited time and energy available, and see what they mean in light of who I am. I need to figure my own shit out. 

This is true for me, so it could be true for anyone.

The ideas I’ve already taken in could take the rest of my lifetime to work with, to really get them, to get good at combining them, applying them, extending them. What did Gladwell say, 10,000 hours? That’s a lot of hours for the breadth of what I’ve learned already, which is substantial. And never, never, never enough.  

There is a time for other people’s ideas to jump-start my understanding, give context for the extent of human knowledge, share tools that can serve my purpose. Then, there comes a point where my time is better spent assimilating, processing, practicing, combining and trying out my own ideas, the synthesis of all the other people’s ideas I’ve taken in, than in reading one more management book, taking one more certification, or asking one more mentor for advice.

If I know what I’m about – what all that learning means in light of my purpose, or at least a general sense of the nature of that purpose – then I can have the fun of seeing how that combines with other people’s ideas. Then there's a chance to make something that actually is new, or at least bring a twist we haven't seen before. 

Otherwise, what was I learning all those other people's ideas for? 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Plan, do and review - or not

When we want to do something big, we plan, do and review.

The balance and order of those three activities is the subject of much debate in management literature. According to them, we're doing the wrong thing at the wrong time because we planned too much or too little or the wrong things with the wrong information. And they're right.

That's life in the world, right now. There is no one right way to act, there is no blueprint for success. Conditions shift so fast that today's Best Practice is yesterday's leech cure, and as soon as you're sure the leeches are not going to cure you, a new way to use them comes into style. Chasing the right way, or trying to avoid the wrong ways, can drive you to insanity and, worse, waste your precious time.

The secret every advice-giver knows is this: if what you're doing isn't working, just do something else for awhile and see what happens.

If you're planning everthing to death and failing to act, switch the order:
do, review, plan.

If you're wasting a lot of effort and finding out major issues too late, switch the order:
review, plan, do

If you're in unknown waters and need to experiment, throw caution to the winds: do, review, do, review, do, review, plan (as little as possible).

If you're working in fairly common or known project areas, stick to the tried-and-true order: plan, do, review.

Try it for awhile, and if it isn't working, change it.

But beware: working and not working are often hard to distinguish. Often things get harder, more unpleasant and messier before they get better. Breaking the old to create space for the new. Uncomfortable doesn't mean it's not working. Lack of immediate success doesn't mean it's not working. So stick to what your gut told you was the order to take, until your gut tells you to try something else. And then, follow your gut on that. And see what happens.

There, I just saved you $40k and/or the reading of a dozen Management books.

By the way, we know that a team with bad process and poor planning can still execute when there is high trust. That is, people can come through even when the structures fail, working together with good will. On the other hand, all the good process in the world can't make up for lack of trust on a team - the structures will fail in unexpected and insidious ways. Given that, trust might be a good place to invest next.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

To Ask or Not to Ask - that is the question

Asking is hard.

The moment we ask, we impose on the other. We make them responsible, to take on the burden of whatever we've asked, or to take on the burden of saying no. There is no way to ask without creating a sense of obligation in the air, forcing another person to make a decision about something that matters to you, not them. How to offset that? No amount of "it's okay if you say no" or "please don't feel obligated" can do it.

And so, we don't ask. We hint. We create inference. We present observations or information, expecting that the implicit ask is there. And when the other person opts for the choice of not answering, we read that as "no." It's a courtesy we do for them, for their convenience, to spare them the responsibility of having to say no, if no is the answer.

Which is better? (hint: better is relative)

Should we strive to make ourselves so independent, our needs so small, that we never bother one another with asks? Is that even possible?

I give my kids 3 pushups for asking me for something they know I'll say no to, given the rules and their own knowledge of what is right. I'm really saying, it's your responsibility, don't burden me with the decision to say no. I stand by it.

Am I teaching something else, too? Am I teaching them not to ask? I hope they can learn the distinction. Because how often do we assume the answer will be no, when there is actually a good chance it's yes? And isn't it good to push the rule, once in awhile, to make sure it's not arbitrary?

Well, not if you piss Mom off in the process :-)

Not if you already know the answer before you ask. But, be sure you really do know, and it's not just insecure assumptions.

I think perhaps the last component comes when I do ask, and force the other to say yes or no. I have to be ready to be as gracious about a No as a Yes. In asking, I create a responsibility to myself to create a safe environment for a no answer, to create the lightest burden possible in the exchange. Getting more skilled at hearing no means more graceful and effective asking.

(When I think about how I've been nagging the Universe with asks, lately, I think I need to do three pushups myself)