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Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Owners, Performers, and Optimizers

One of my really talented performers called today. He had met with a new consultant and was a little rattled, considering mutually assured destruction, rape, and pillage. He called wanting to know if I had any more satisfying revenge scenarios.

His boss, the company’s owner, had brought in the new guy because he was frustrated with their rate of growth. The consultant figured where better to start than with their top performer?

So the “consultant,” who is really an unemployed administrator, thought it would be helpful if the producer would take the time to recommend a dozen people with similar talents, right after documenting why he is successful.

The performer had an ugly year last year, and he did a lot better than the owner, best in the company, in fact. The consultant had been asked to clean out his desk at wherever he was hiding last year.

I’m real sure why the performer is successful. He works hard. He and I have spent a good deal of time honing what he does as he learns about what his market wants.

After figuring out something new, he disappears into the market and comes back with a new trophy. In the last 20 or so years, I’ve seen him do it at six companies, and what he does changes as the buyers’ needs change.

Sooner or later, he attracts the attention of an organizer who wants to optimize the effectiveness of the performer’s work. Not do any work, mind you, just trick somebody into supplying the magic slideshow that creates the tsunami.

Our internal explanation for these guys is, “When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.”

At one company, we built an explanation of the market that bewildered a dozen optimizers, while the performer built a six billion dollar business.

Finally, one optimizer understood that the real problem was the performer and managed to rightsize him. The organization exited an unusually profitable multi-billion dollar niche fifteen months later.

And we understand the owner’s frustration. As we were figuring out a tactical plan, we realized that the performer is the main hope for the owner, and that being nasty wasn’t going to help.

We are dealing with a government controlled economic slowdown, so correct behavior to continue to  support the owner, without necessarily giving intellectual property to a consultant who can’t understand it. The owner is getting most of his useful support from the performer.

The best defense is not being offensive, it is using the current position as a vehicle until the road ahead clears.

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Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Uggy Blob, Meringue, and Solar Energy

What happens when you soak a raw egg in vinegar?

Which kind of bowl will let you make meringue 'peak' faster?

What angle on a solar panel will yield the greatest current from a stationary light source?

These are examples of the varied questions the young scientists of Saint Charles School 5th – 8th grades explored for their annual science fair. Will some of these students become renowned scientists, like Benoit Mandelbrot, who developed the fractal – the study of roughness of surfaces?

The Junior Academy of the Washington Academy of Science, provides scientists and other professionals to judge science fair projects at Saint Charles School and other schools in the DMV area.

I was fortunate to be one of the judges for this event and found the students to be eager to present their finding, quite knowledgeable about their experiments and findings, and how their experiment fits into a bigger context of science. In fact, many of the student scientists, after being judged, would seek out additional judges to view their project display so they could present their findings yet again – and they did so with zeal and enthusiasm.

To an individual, the students had fun doing the projects and offered thoughts about how they could improve it next time to learn more. Presenters for projects about behavioral science showed a model of the brain and explained (in rather technical terms) which area of the brain was involved in the experiment and what functions it controls in the person.

As always, I learned much from the students – about the area of inquiry, as well as how they approached the experiments. In addition, the poise and energy of these young scientists is impressive (and much different from what I recall of myself and my classmates at these ages).

Answers to the opening questions:

What happens to an egg soaked in vinegar – over about 4-7 days, vinegar will dissolve the hard egg shell – which is made of calcium carbonate - to an uggy blob (not a scientific term), leaving the inner membrane to contain the egg white and yoke unharmed. Even without the shell, the remaining 9 other components of the egg are intact and keep the yoke safe and protected.

What kind of bowl is fastest to make meringue 'peak' – a chilled copper bowl is about four times faster than a chilled plastic bowl (temperature is a key element to successful meringue, binding the ingredients as they are agitated, and the copper holds the chill better than other materials).

What angle of the solar panel yields the greatest current from a fixed light source: The greatest current output was when the panel was at 90 degrees to the fixed light bulb. The student explained that the light source struck the panel sensors with the greatest intensity when it was bathed from directly above instead of washing the panel on an angle where the intensity diminishes as it spread out on the horizontal axis.

The kids had fun and learned from the judges; the judges enjoyed hearing from the kids what they had found and learned from them as well – perhaps a new scientist or two may evolve from talking with experienced scientists.

Check out the Junior Academy for additional stories of young scientist accomplishment.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reagan Leadership

Not Ron, but Henry/Frank/Danny/Jamie Reagan  of Blue Bloods, a four-year series on CBS.

How many people follow Blue Bloods?

In a time of changing mores, Blue Bloods is an examination of how to live, how to act, where to focus.

There are four male protagonists. They are all at different levels in the family business, NYC police. , Henry, the grandfather is the retired police commissioner, Frank, his son is the current police commissioner, and Frank’s two sons, Danny (elder), a hotshot detective, and Jamie, beat cop, just out of law school. That’s former CEO, current CEO, mid level and junior level.

Episodes often show how an issue affects three or four of these characters at their different levels, and how they have different tools to work with.

Their core belief is Family First. That is not always the key issue, but they spend a lot of time reinforcing Family First. How that belief works is different every time.

I noticed in the Reagan family that belief is not shared by one or a few, but is passionately shared by all. That makes them different from many families.

Not only does Blue Bloods scale through the characters examining situations from several points of view, Family First also scales, from immediate blood relations. The same behavior goes to friends, partners on the beat, members of the same organization, government, city, nation.

Blue Bloods has a lot of blue collar aspiration. Advancement comes from the needs of the organization or the world. Advancement is not sought, but worked for and arrives from doing the right thing.

In the second season, we learn that Commissioner Reagan’s relation with the Mayor started when he was a beat cop and opened a basketball court in the Bedford Stuyvesant projects on weekends. The mayor was one of the players. Frank Reagan wasn’t supposed to do that; he thought it was the right thing to do. Turns out it was.

Life Is Not Fair
Last season, Jamie Reagan is working a car accident with a little kid who asks him to go with him to the hospital. Jamie gives his word, just before a new boss comes on site and orders Jamie to personally stay and write the accident report.
Discussion doesn’t help, and Jamie makes the case to attend the scared kid and have his partner fill out the report.

Jamie gets a week suspension for disregarding a direct order as he didn’t want the scared kid learning to distrust the word of a policeman and decided to do what he thought was right.

Winning is often decided by others in Blue Bloods, so they all figure they have to do what they think is the correct action. On Jamie’s week off, the family understands that he made the choice he thought was correct, and because he had the time off, some good things happen. There is not a lot of sympathy for clueless or stalling management.

In one episode Jamie’s partner is caught misrepresenting an arrest. She doesn’t know what to do.

Jamie tells her several times, “Keep your head down and your mouth shut.” I didn’t like that, as my experience is the Lord helps those who help themselves. However, the matter is successfully resolved by the higher ups, who are supposed to resolve it, and I realized I am generally at the mercy of feckless management. Jobs get harder as
you advance.

Blue Bloods Is A Fantasy
Blue Bloods is not reality. It is a television show, and has its own rules, primarily keep the audience.

When you stick out your hand and say, “bang!” do people fall over?

People who can stick out their finger, say “bang!” and have people fall down show skills beyond mine.

Eight family members sitting down to Sunday dinner week after week, acting like adults show skills beyond what I observe.

Staying on a problem until a successful resolution is myth and Google.

Owning up to a miscarriage of power, in person, even though it’s not your fault, isn’t done in any organization I know.

Family First is not without responsibilities. The whole family knows that “Please don’t hurt my family,” means hit the dirt, shooting is about to commence. That’s way beyond teaching a kid their name and phone number before sending them to school.

Blue Bloods serves as an example of what might be, and perhaps makes others come closer to their path. 

What lessons do you draw from Blue Bloods?  

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