Learning Through Failure

paper trailI think in life, it’s important to try to do things you might “fail” at. Whether it be trying a new personal skill (for me lately skiing) or a new idea at work.

I was reminded of this and how our culture doesn’t necessarily strike the right tone on this recently as my two boys debated a t-shirt.

My son Teddy (5th grader) was recently wearing a t-shirt with the caption “helping kids fail since 1998”. His 3rd grade brother Sammy tenderly observed how “stupid” that t-shirt was. A very sophisticated exchange ensued. Sam’s basic point was “I don’t fail” and “Why would you brag about failing?” Teddy got very animated in explaining the irony of the caption and how science works, but Sam was not going to be moved.

Setting aside the brotherly “love” involved, the boys were arguing a fundamental point both about how we view and run our lives and also how we work and lead. Continue reading

Management Lessons: It’s So Simple

simpleSometimes things are so simple, but we either try to make them more complicated than they need to be or can’t see with the clarity we’d like to. I was reminded of this at a recent lunch with a mentor of mine when I asked the obvious question; “what are your keys to success?”

My friend is a retired senior executive who had sustained success in multiple businesses across his long career at a global F100 company. He drove results while being highly respected by everyone as near as I can tell. I’d point out that results and respect are not always correlated, by my friend was able to do it without leaving a trail of bodies. Continue reading

Assessing Performance: What’s Really Going On?

A key challenge we face as professionals and leaders is how to assess performance of both ourselves and our teams. We can’t be everywhere all the time to observe and as hard as I try I can’t really watch myself objectively. There isn’t an “eye in the sky” observing us and our teams to allow clear evidence for performance. So how can we get close to “objective” assessment? I don’t have any perfect answers, but here are a few ideas.

This idea crystallized for me a few weeks ago when Shannon Sharpe (retired NFL tight end, now CBS analyst) said something on the NFL pre game show that struck me.  He was referring to a former coach who used to say “I see better than I hear.” He went on to explain his coach’s observation that we say a lot of stuff, but what we do is more telling. In the NFL they say “film doesn’t lie”. You can tell me all you want to about how well you did, but how did the play/game actually go? NFL games have the full field view and you can see everything everyone did. No hiding. Continue reading

Management: Get Outside Your Bubble

I recently returned from a gathering of colleagues who run MBA programs. As I was jotting down notes and discussing insights gathered with my team, it occurred to me how glad I was that we have occasional opportunities to get outside our “bubble” and hear what others are doing. It reinforced the importance of challenging your thinking and creating space to allow exposure some external ideas.

So what can exiting the bubble briefly do for you? Continue reading

Critical Thinking: Step 2 – Define and Refine an Approach

Or suffer the consequences…You don’t want to find yourself trying to untangle a huge ball of string at the end of your project.

Recently we talked about the importance of writing down your perception of any problem you are trying to solve. This time, I’ll focus on taking that problem and building out an analytical framework.

When I teach this material in my Critical Thinking class, I emphasize the efficiency and clarity you gain from a structured approach to problem solving. If writing the problem down (and gaining buy-in) is the first step, then defining (and refining) an approach is the second.

So why should I care about building an “Approach”?

Last time I emphasized the importance of defining “what is the problem/where are we going” by defining your problem and showing it to others to test and refine that definition. It’s critical, but not sufficient. Continue reading

Critical Thinking: Step 1 – Write the Problem Down!

Have you ever gotten down the path of a project or some chunk of work you’re grinding on and thought “what are we trying to do here?”

Well you’re not alone.

I have taught “critical thinking” methods for years now to undergraduate, graduate and experienced professional audiences. The vast majority consistently fail to use a coherent and consistent method of problem solving.

I’m going to focus a few posts this term on some of the core tools and techniques I teach to help individuals and teams be more disciplined in their thought process. If you really engage them you’ll be more efficient and effective as a professional.

The first we’ll call “Problem Definition”. I mean this comprehensively. The core of the exercise is writing down the one sentence question or description of the problem as you see it. But to do that we’ll talk about other aspects of the problem  to think through and document to ensure that we’re not missing “knowable” things from the start. Continue reading

Driving Results: What Closes Deals?

One of the joys of my job and life is the number of smart folks I get to be around. I gain a ton from their collective wisdom.  I picked up a gem this week from friend Chris Kopka. He passed on one of his colleagues’ distilled views of what it takes to make sales consistently.

It goes like this, “Conviction sells, Emotion buys, Logic pays for it.”

Perfect. It immediately struck me as exactly right and neatly sums up years of sales and marketing experience and it’s a bit Yoda-like in brevity (“No try, only do”).

In my experience, to drive through to a final decision you really need all three working at the same time. Like a three legged stool. Continue reading

Driving Results: Managing Stakeholders Effectively

It doesn’t matter that you’re right if no one cares what you have to say. I can’t emphasize this enough.

So often what is emphasized in school and management/professional training focuses on analytical clarity, technical skills and how to be “persuasive” in the context of presenting and telling your story clearly (and even this last part doesn’t get enough attention).

These are all valuable skills, worthy of developing. But if you want to consistently be successful in getting buy-in to your efforts, they aren’t enough.

You need to effectively manage relationships with relevant “stakeholders” if you expect consistently good outcomes.

A stakeholder is anyone who can affect or is affected by the decision you are trying to reach. So if you are trying to re-organize a business unit, stakeholders might include customers, staff, management, corporate officers etc.

Why should I care?

It’s simple. Do want to get things done? Here are few practical reasons why you need to bring people into your process (as appropriate). Continue reading

Dan Pink & DRIVE

I like this video a student of mine (thanks Ryan!) just sent. It’s a concise and visually fun summary of Dan Pink’s recent book Drive. Among the take-aways: 

Drive by Dan Pink

– Human behavior is often “non-economic”. We’re driven by personal motivations more than economic ones in many cases. Often to the extent that pay incentives are counter-productive.

– He poses three key elements to creating “drive”. Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose.

– Freedom (with responsibility) can be powerful. Atlassian allows everyone a “free day” each month to do whatever they want and report out at a social event on Friday. The result is a flowering of creativity because people are working on what motivates them. Many of the company’s more meaningful innovations have come from this process. It reminds me of 3M’s 15% policy.

I encourage you to take a look if you are interested in behavior, incentives or organizational dynamics relating to autonomy and innovation.

Money Talks – Know How People Get Paid to Understand Their Actions

I love this Upton Sinclair quote I saw recently.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”

It made me think of Deep Throat in All the President’s Men when he tells Bob Woodward to “Follow the money.”

One of the things I’ve learned in my career is that when I can’t understand why somebody is doing something that seems nonsensical, understanding the flow of money typically brings clarity. Continue reading