“Discipline, effort, patience and courage”

patience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrosepatience...it's a virtue... by melodyofrose

patience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrosepatience…it’s a virtue… by melodyofrose

Thanks to StumbleUpon, I came across on article on Psychology Today entitled “What to Tell Kids After Failures and Mistakes.”  The Author, Salmansohn, describes some recent research conducted by Dr. Carol Dweck, who advocates an “Incremental theory” of learning.

Incremental Theorists believe that success is achieved through putting in the necessary hard work. According to Dr. Dweck, a big key to a successful life is to embrace being an “Incremental Theorist” – so when failure or disappointments occur, you are ready to overcome them.

This quote from the article is powerful:

Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values for kids to grow up embracing.

 

They are also hugely important core values for adults to maintain, too.  I think we can easily simplify that message and state that Discipline, effort, patience and courage are hugely important core values.  Period.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a grown up or just look like one, either.

Consider all of the writings on change management, personal improvement, operational excellence, or just about anything else I’ve ever discussed in this blog.  Every school of thought regarding those issues relies on some combination of exactly those same 4 principles:  Discipline, effort, patience and courage.

Eric Ries’ Lean Startup movement seems to embrace these concepts most closely.  To successfully launch, you have to have a plan, work your plan, stick to the plan, but be willing to make the courageous decision to pivot when called for.  That dynamic applies to many facets of both work and life far from the startup environment, too.

Since there is always overlap of concepts and even repackaging of old one, I’ll go ahead and assume that the practices advocated by the Incremental Theorists aren’t anything entirely new.  Nonetheless, the depiction of the characteristics necessary to overcome adversity is simple, powerful, and entirely consistent with the best practices for both business and personal development (and isn’t it funny just how much those 2 things go hand in hand?).

The value of delayed decisions

decisions by mihaibrrr

decisions by mihaibrrr

Most conversations about improvement revolve around finding ways to speed things up.  Whether by focusing on the elimination of unnecessary activities, doing less more often, reducing clutter, training the mind to avoid multitasking, or any other approach to speeding up decision making the prevailing message is clear:  do things faster.

The desire to do things faster necessitates making decisions faster, of course.  Process improvement schools of thought are, essentially, designed to speed up decision making to one degree or another.  Last year, I came across Frank Partnoy’s Wait, however, which advocated something different – slowing things down.

Partnoy investigates the cognitive science of decision making across multiple situations, from athletes making decisions in milliseconds to investors like Warren Buffet who delay decisions for weeks, months or years.  In his investigations, he discovers a seemingly simply truth:  That the longer you can delay a decision, the better decision you will make.

Partnoy’s take seems to be out of synch with improvement methods that look to speed up our ability to make decisions. Nonetheless, I think there’s more in common than might meet the eye.  What I see in Partnoy’s book  is that decision making needs to be slowed down in order for genuine improvement to occur.  Adopting continuous improvement methods allows  for as much information gathering as possible prior to making the final decision.

The iterations surrounding any approach that looks to fail fast and learn constantly are all doing 1 thing – allowing for as much learning as possible prior to making a decision that can’t be undone.  Partnoy’s work reinforces the wisdom of this approach and makes it clear:  slowing down your thought processes, rather than speeding them up, results in the best possible outcomes.

 

Stump the Chump, and the Steve Jobs Paradox?

Paradox
Paradox

iTime paradox by IlookingYou

Two weeks ago, I delivered the presentation that’s been adorning the home page to a monthly meeting of the New Hampshire chapter of the project management institute.  That presentation was drawn from a series I put on the blog just a little over a year and a half ago, where I made a connection between common, sub-optimal activities that are found in project environments and Lean’s 7 wastes.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chance to stand up and speak about how Lean is not a set of cost reduction techniques nor a quality assurance program, but a philosophy of how organizations work, how people work, and of how people within organizations work.  While several in the audience were expecting a discussion of Agile software development when they heard the topic would be about Lean in Project Management, I think my focus on understanding environments and behaviors resonated with a few of the audience members.  Many asked if they could obtain a copy of the presentation, which I took to be quite the complement, also.

If the Q&A that followed, however, I was asked a question that – as I put it, “Stumped the Chump.”  One gentleman asked, in response to the portions of my presentation that focused on the Respect for People foundation of Lean and, in particular, the Shingo model, how I would characterize Steve Jobs and Apple’s success, given that Jobs was a well-known egomaniac and had a reputation for being quite stern and non-compromising.

While some members of the audience offered their take on what might have happened at Apple as others took up the cause of Respect for People and the “appropriate” management styles, in an effort to help me out as I stated that the question would require some thought, I thought up my response.  I briefly recounted my understanding of the work Steve Jobs did at Pixar, and the interpersonal dynamics he created within the hallways of Pixar (quite literally) that fostered collaboration and creativity – including several dynamics for idea sharing and generation that were drawn from – you guessed it – the Toyota Production System.

While this answer satisfied the gentleman asking the question, it has stuck with me for the past couple of weeks, as I felt the need to contemplate the question a bit further.  What I may have come to realize, is that there is something of a Paradox involved when a true visionary ascends to the position of influence within an organization.  These situations are remarkably rare, I believe, which is why they are so disruptive, revolutionary, and highly successful.  It is dependent as much upon the circumstances as the traits of the individuals involved, but it is clear to me that the person(s) who creates a whole new paradigm for conducting the work of an organization very often must embrace what I will call the “Jobsian Paradox.”

Clearly, the stories of the founders of the Toyota Production System are not that far from what we hear of Jobs doing at Apple.  The outcomes are revered by many, studied and copied by others, and delved into by an army of commentators looking for the secret to the success these visionaries bring about.  What they have in common, however, is something that is, indeed, contrary to the tenets of creativity and innovation in both project and process.  That is, that at the beginning – when people’s mindsets need to be calibrated towards a new understanding and  that understanding needs to translate into action, someone authoritative, demanding, relentless personality must be at the forefront of creating and driving the system under which change will occur.

From those personalities come systems, and from that relentless focus on driving people to the correct behaviors comes guiding them to possibilities, and from satisfactory mediocre comes the expectation of greatness.  It must begin, however, with unique individuals willing to drive others to the point of aggravation in order to be achieved, which is something of a paradox in the realm of thinking that believes people are intrinsically motivated and that all a brutish task master can do is to de-motivate them.

This is, in many ways, akin to the concept of a Level 5 Leader that Jim Collins discusses.  To foster change, unique, rare, visionary people are needed.  In order to turn their vision into reality, however, a certain drive is required that leads the people with that vision to adopt behaviors we tend to believe, at least in the short term, are counterproductive and entirely suboptimal.

To wrap it up, the Jobs-ian paradox is this:  For true visionaries with the ability to persevere, many of the management practices and behaviors that we associate with high levels of creativity  and innovation among the workforce, are ignored or simply not practiced in order to bring the organization, as a whole, to high levels of creativity and and innovation.

 

How to keep your organization full of brilliant, brand new, and really old ideas

Bright Ideas
Bright Ideas

Bright ideas by dragonslayero

If you were able to go into any organization, particularly a struggling one (or one that is failing entirely) and you will hear ideas from every person, up and down the organizational hierarchy, on what is wrong and what needs to be fixed in order to turn things around. 

That, in itself, is not a bad thing.  It is clear and obvious that people, no matter their positions or titles, or their professional backgrounds or formal eductions, are thinkers.  They will observe the things that make their lives more difficult and endeavor to find ways to reduce the difficulty or eliminate it entirely.  If the perception is that the difficulty is due to some failure of high-positioned people to adequately guide the organization, then there will be ideas generated around how to improve those strategic and operational problems.  These are the discussions that fill the cafeterias, breakrooms, hallways and after-hours hangouts.

What you will often find, however, is that many of the ideas discussed in these conversations – even among the high-ranking decision makers with authority to move and change the organization as a whole, is that the ideas are, usually, nothing new.  To the person who speaks them, they are often brought forth as a revelation, however, to anyone who has endeavored to study organizations, management, operations, strategy, or other these supposedly brilliant ideas are nothing more than re-hashings of decades-old thoughts that people have simply never been exposed to.

You might hear things like:

  • “People here are terrified to say anything.  If they just weren’t afraid of getting fired for saying anything out of turn, maybe we’d get some new direction around here.” (Which is one of Deming’s 14 points – “Remover Fear”)
  • “I think we should just base all production around using that test machine.  that’s where we get held up all the time.  We make up a bunch of units, but then we have to store them and wait until we can get them through the test machine.  Maybe we should just buy another one ?” (Goldratt’s Theory of Constraints, Womack & Jones, “Lean Thinking,” and many other Lean books)
  • “I hate this org. chart.  I hate the whole idea behind the org. chart.  Whoever came up with this anyway?  It’s like everyone’s grouped according to rank like we’re all in the military.  It makes annual reviews like some kind of demaning process that gets bestowed on you from up on high.”  (Scholtes, The Leader’s Handbook)

The list could go on forever.  Of ourse, many will say that exposing people to these sort of ideas, oir ideals, is the realm of consultants – they are the bookreaders and learners who have the time to spend on diving into the theoretical.  I’d like to know, however, what if people were trained in these schools of thought from the get-go?  What if this type of thinking was the norm, and not the domain of eggheads and consultants?  How many more organizations would thrive, instead ofmerely survive.  As I stated in the opening, people are always thinking and looking to solve problems.  If they were educated in these ways of thinking, in order to make their starting ppint for developing new ideas that much more evolved, wouldn’t we be much closer to the elusive workplace ideal?

The paradoxical inefficiency of thought

Imagination

Imagination by silverin87

One of my life’s great frustrations is the number of good ideas that get lost throughout the course of a normal day.  Before I can find a voice recorder, pencil, or something to write my ideas on, they fly away and my train of thought is lost forever.  It’s not an unfamiliar tune – authors, artists, musicians – all of them frequently relate stories of how much goes through their minds that is simply lost before they get the chance to write it down or record it.  Such is life for anyone any kind of a creative bent – be it an innovative scientist, a performer, or even a part-time blog writer who likes to ramble about life’s daily struggles.

My own difficulties with the passive annihilation of good ides got me thinking about how good ideas can be actively squelched as well.  People who are asked to “be professional”, not make a “Career limiting move” by speaking their minds, or who are asked to just live with a problem or not step on someone’s toes – all of these sometimes innocuous messages serve to do one thing – actively decrease the number of ideas that get poured out.

When I do get to writing down or recording my thoughts, I also often find that a lot of those really don’t have any legs and never go anywhere.  So, too, the number of ideas you get might result in only a few gems – but therein lies a certain discovery that needs to take place.  That is, that you can’t demand good ideas.  You have to sift through all the ideas to find the really good ones – because generating good ideas comes about only through the process of crafting them.  Also, the value of an idea is not something that is inherent and internal to the idea itself.  Rather, it is a function of time, place and circumstances that make any idea valuable.  What seems like a really, really good thought and the solution to all our problems today might be utterly ridiculous tomorrow.  Nonetheless, that value judgment can’t take place as the idea is being formulated in someone’s head.  It has to come about and be judged under the lights of the here and now.

This is something of a paradox, I suppose – that in order to attain high levels of ingenuity in products and activities, the environment in which those ideas are created must support an endless ocean of thoughts that yield very little value, in the hopes that, eventually, a single very good one will be produced. Generating ideas is an inefficient process, even if those ideas are generated around improving efficiency.

Therefore, the efficiency of thought should never be pursued.  Only the efficiency of implementation.