Kevin and I had lunch a few weeks ago. I always enjoy getting together with Kevin because he thinks about things most people don’t think about and he thinks about them differently. So it’s always interesting. This time the creative juices started flowing about what conference workshop we’d most like to attend but have never seen offered.
I’m not sure what we’d call it. Maybe something like: creative destruction; eliminating the extra; decommissioning the dumb; stopping the silliness; terminating the terrible; out damn spot!
Organizations are enamoured with initiating, starting, beginning, installing: new projects, practices, or processes. The issue isn’t that something new is starting – the problem is continuously starting something new without clearing out the old to make room for it. Neither people nor organizations have infinite capacity. Sooner or later you need to clear out the old, outdated policies, practices and perspectives that are no longer fitting, to make room for the new.
All things natural have some kind of elimination function: trees drop leaves, dogs shed their coat, dead grass composts. You wouldn’t last long if your body didn’t keep eliminating what no longer served you well. Organizations don’t have an equivalent elimination function. They become bloated and constipated and the whole system becomes sluggish.
I think there’s a new C-suite job here; the CCEO (Chief Crap Elimination Officer). The key measure for the job is to keep the ratio of Initiation/Elimination close to 1. When initiation gets too far ahead of elimination the system bogs down. On the other hand, too much elimination and insufficient initiation renders an organization degenerating into chaos and stuck in the past.
Do you have a CCEO? Do you need one?
Do you know what a high I/E is costing you?
Are you open to the possibility that what you think you see isn’t what’s really happening?
I finished reading The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb a while ago. I purchased it because I was intrigued by the phrase “the impact of the highly improbable” on the front cover. This book takes pot shots at our assumptive blindness, offering dry humor, deep and rigorous thinking, provocative insights, and historical perspective.
The content that interests me the most is what Taleb calls “the triplet of opacity”:
1. “The illusion of understanding” in a world more complex than we believe;
2. “The retrospective distortion” that occurs as we try to make sense of the past; and
3. Overvaluing factual information and pre-determined categories created by experts.
Early in the book, he makes the distinction between “no evidence of disease” and “evidence of no disease.” You might have no evidence that you have cancer but that’s not the same as evidence of no cancer.
Thinking that they are the same can cost you your life. Taleb illustrates this with a story about the first thousand days in the life of a turkey. For a thousand days, until the day before Thanksgiving, this turkey has unfailing evidence that humans are here to feed it and do no harm. There is abundant evidence of good will and no evidence of harm. Yet, when you enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner, you know that’s not the same to the turkey as evidence of no harm.
Consider this at the organizational level: no evidence of development is not the same as evidence of no development. No evidence of development could lead you to give up on some people; however, I often see people developing in work situations where others don’t. Your lack of evidence confirms nothing. Don’t give up. On the other hand, evidence that your organization is making slow progress in changing its culture is not evidence that it won’t all suddenly come crashing down.
Don’t be a turkey. Stay open to the possibility that what you think you see is not what’s really happening. Don’t put too much faith in your smart explanations. The past is just prologue — until it isn’t. Stay skeptical, stay nimble, and keep experimenting around the edges.
Do you trust that through conversation, people can hear what’s valid and worthwhile and can begin to hear how they can contribute? Or are you trying to manipulate them like pieces on a chessboard? Are you trying to get people on the same page, to get them to agree, to get them to do . . . anything? For you, are people like Pokemon cards, with all of their skills and powers listed on the back — you just flip through them to find out who they are, or trade them away if the offer is good?
Manipulation with good intentions is still manipulation. Manipulation demeans both the manipulator and the person you are trying to manipulate. Consider this: people might not resist change at all. Maybe they resist being demeaned by manipulation.
When you think you “know” who someone else it; or “know” their skills and talents as if it couldn’t be different, you are being affected by two blind spots. First, “knowing” who they “are” misses the possibility of who they could become and defeats development. Second, you miss noticing the impact you have by relating to them that way — as an unchanging “thing”.
If you want people to grow and develop, stop manipulating them. Instead, consider developing yourself in the area of communication. That will be a much better investment than more slyly skillful manipulation.
In response to a recent blog that raises the question of how far ahead we’re thinking Malcolm writes:
“Interesting questions. How would you propose to frame these questions meaningfully? Would you try to apply measurement, e.g. decision tree DCF or option valuation? How would you contend with the less easily measured “children’s laughter”? Even if you could offer a measure or set of measure, how would you translate it/them into a pithy but emotionally meaningful framework – to move a population, ideally a majority, to act?”
I know Malcolm well enough to know that he and I could have a stimulating and wide-ranging conversation about this. We could easily move from identifying and clarifying the issue(s) to considering both mundane and creative solutions. Our speculative “solutions” would serve to loop back and clarify the issues. In most organizations those kinds of conversations are the exception.
Way too often people rush to propose a solution before there’s sufficient alignment on the real issue and the appetite for resolving it. They see an issue or problem; they think it ought to be resolved, so they propose an idea for resolving it. They then become an advocate for a solution instead of leading a conversation to clarify and generate interest. Others, in response to the advocated solution (to an unidentified issue, around which there is no alignment) become critics. The conversation becomes attack | defend. No collaboration.
Slow down. Don’t rush to propose solutions. Listen deeply, with others, to hear the real issue. Then, together, initiate conversations to clarify, align and listen for what can be accomplished.
Thanks Malcolm. Nope; no proposals yet. But I’m guessing you think it’s an issue worth considering.
In the last nine years, “earning have quadrupled and the stock is up 57%,” says Fortune’s March 21 issue. CEO Sam Palmisano is leading IBM into Chile and China among 20 emerging countries while shifting the product / services mix away from hardware and financing, toward services and software.
Instead of hunkering down after the great financial meltdown, Palmisano started IBM’s Smarter Planet initiative. A world leading commitment to research produced 5,896 patents in 2010 and IBM’s 2010 revenue growth of $4 billion would have qualified as a Fortune 500 company.
As I see it, this is an amazing feat of integrating the short-term and the long-term. While delivering improved earnings quarter after quarter Palmisano keeps looking to the future. The investment in research provides the opportunity to see and shape what’s coming in the future. It illuminated the emergence of smartphones 5 years before the iPhone was invented and that prescient view shapes the direction of the company.
I hear too many leaders talking about the trade-offs between the short- and long-term. Thinking that it’s an immutable truth that you can’t have both. Apparently that’s not true.
I wonder where else we are acting as if something is true; obvious; has to be – but it’s just difficult; not impossible.
Where have you done the impossible? We’d love to hear some examples of where you have seen through something that you previously accepted as “true” and it freed you to accomplish more than you thought was possible.