Archive for November, 2012

Taking on a complex task

November 13th, 2012

In this context, a complex task is defined as one with multiple steps over a long time period, and one where the one(s) in charge don’t necessarily know everything about what’s coming over time. A classical development project, if you will.

The most important action before even starting on the task is admitting that it is a complex one. Also, it is good to admit that you cannot foresee all of the challenges that will come up over time, but that you are 100% determined to pull it off.

Also, you must review the objective of the task to know when it’s completed. For instance, when are you finished “learning to play guitar”? This “goal” is so abstract you’ll never reach it. So you may want to “learn to play guitar as good as Steve Vai”. That’s a bit better, but unless Steve Vai is dead he’ll progress too. So you may end up wanting to “learn to play guitar so good I can play all Steve Vai songs”. See? Now you know when you’ve reached the goal.

Next, you need to find personal support. This means not only do you need a trainer or teacher, but also a sparring partner. The former should be an expert in the field of your project, the latter not necessarily. His or her job is to reel you in each time you’re about to abandon the whole thing. And believe me, sooner or later you will find yourself in a situation where you want to throw the thing out of the window. There is very little certainty you’ve done your best underway, though you may very well have. So it is mandatory to have personal support because self-motivation doesn’t always work. Never underestimate your inner saboteur. He’s very patient, just waiting for the right moment to strike. Cover your back.

Then, start breaking down the whole thing. What parts does it consist of? What are the milestones? And, something that is overlooked quite often, what small parts can you incorporate in your daily routine? In every complex task, there are exercises or other routines which, when complete, will have become your second nature. But they only will when you include them as early in the the whole process as you can.

Also, allocate specific times when you fully commit to work on this particular task. No distractions. Creating this kind of external pressure often has more long-term impact than devoting a large chunk of time every now and then. This is why it’s important to have your sparring partner, who’s to make sure you stick to your regular appointments with the task.

Regular review is also very important. Every time you reach a milestone, take a look back and check on how it’s been going so far. Keep track of all your moves, where you were wrong and how you came back on course again. Don’t forget to put little rewards at every milestone, because you can’t be certain there will be rewards from others. Quite the contrary. Sometimes, the better you do, the more external resistance you will find.

Brace yourself. Persist. Good luck.

The comfort of knowing you’ve done your best

November 12th, 2012

It’s fear of failure in disguise, and it’s strong within organisations (and their people) who don’t give much room for failure yet do not reward people for not commiting it. As I pointed out earlier, the underlying mistake is a fuzzy definition of failure (and conclusively, an even fuzzier or lacking definition of success). And because we’re so afraid of failure, we avoid going even near it.

As a result, people bury themselves in their daily business, making the chunks as small as they can so they won’t choke, because that’s where a certain kind of safety is. There are defined processes they’ve been knowing for years, and they know they’re up for the task, because if push comes to shove, they just have to work a little harder. In the end, even if there’s no external reward for their effort, they know they’ve done their best and saved their day.

To them, the alternative is horrendous. They feel by taking (official working) time to stray from the beaten path, they put themselves in a spotlight where everybody will watch their performance. So their inner fear is beefed up by external pressure. But guess what, in most cases, there is no pressure, because people don’t care. They’re so caught up in their own business they just can’t bother.

Of course, the biggest challenge (as in most cases) is calling your own bluff, not the other’s.

Working time

November 11th, 2012

Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t but wonder why people still obsess about working times. All the rules and laws to safeguard workers have been set up in times when the majority of people actually were workers, mining coal and steel. But times have changed. It’s just silly to expect people to perform in a timeframe of 8 hours between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. What organisations need is people’s best performance. What people need is a feeling of performing well and getting their praise for it.

The problem is there are still silly folks out there thinking you can squeeze out a brain like you used to squeeze out a muscle, pay a wage and that’s that (and this includes politicians). These very people are exactly the same opponents worker’s councils have been struggling with since the industrial age. And their fighting becomes more and more useless and obsolete, because the people they’re fighting about start feeling unfit themselves. Not because they don’t like their jobs, but because the box outside their box is not in alignment with their needs.

I wonder why no one’s asking “People, what do you want?”.

Room for failure

November 10th, 2012

To make my point, I will distinguish two kinds of failure here: the one that happens in defined processes, and the one that happens in the course of exploration.

It’s obvious that in defined processes there should be no room for failure. If it still occurs, there’s either something wrong with the process design, or people have not been correctly instructed. Of course people make mistakes, but it’s again obligatory to design a process in a way that mistakes are being discovered and fixed underway.

On the other hand, when you’re setting out to do something you haven’t done before, there should be a lot of room for “failure”, beause in this case failure is to be defined different. It’s silly to expect that you will have figured out the new thing straight away and do everything right. Even if so, you’re then being confronted with the problem of figuring out possible mistakes and their remedying when you develop the process. No, in exploration there is only failure when you don’t learn from your mistakes.

Yet this is exactly the problem, because for many organisations failure is just that, not having met the goal, often not even knowing what the actual goal is. And these organisations are stuck, because nobody’s exploring anymore.

Source vs. outlet

November 6th, 2012

It’s worth remembering that money is not always being made at the source. Just because you create, build, assemble… that’s where the thing to be sold is made, but it’s only in commodities like crude oil where the source is the point of maximum cash conversion. In many other cases, the outlet is where you get the most bucks for your bang.

Which again is just a paraphrase of the old mantra: know who your buyers are, know their needs, build a direct relationship, etc. etc. Even if your source doesn’t spew out a commodity, it doesn’t mean it’s valuable right from the start. Increasingly more stuff is less valuable to more people. Ignore this at your own peril.