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Thursday, June 26, 2014

From Intellectual Understanding To Daily Practice

I find that most people know something about most subjects. To have someone make a big “aha!” isn’t part of the daily routine.

Yet the value is seldom in intellectual understanding, but in daily practice.

Years ago, I was running a weekly Sales Lab for some legendary sales professionals. The program was sponsored by a financial services provider who first wanted his people better, and then found that by opening enrollment they were getting a constant stream of referrals and new customers.

Over the years, we kept doing the same five things every week and everybody just kept getting better.

At the same time, I was consulting to a venture capital fund and the managing partner heard about the weekly meeting and wanted to attend. He was colorful, charismatic, and always behind in his sales.

He was bright and verbal, and many of the other participants already knew him. He jumped right into the exercises.

After, I asked him what he thought. He said, “I enjoyed it, and think I would do better in the advanced class.”

General laughter. The professionals knew there was no advanced class. This was like a martial art, where you just keep getting better at the basics.

Mastery is when my customer says, “We’ve always done it this way.”

When I was living in Marin County, one of my clients was an Aikido adept. He had been faithfully going to the dojo for decades.

I asked him how he measured the value from his practice?

He said, “Years ago, I was bicycling down the road with my baby daughter in the front basket. I hit a pothole, and the front of the bike collapsed. I was thrown over the bike, and was able to catch my daughter before she hit the ground.”

Mastery is not knowing how to do something. Mastery is performing when required.

Now, About Work....

Monday, June 23, 2014

Order Out Of Everyday

Jack and I were comparing notes. We are working with several new companies, and a first step is to figure out what we have to work with.

Early conversations tend to go on and not provide much direction, except to wear everyone out.

However, recapping those conversations on a single sheet of paper sharpens everyone’s focus. Put their logo on it, and they have an official document.

When we start to focus on how that first document could be used to promote the company, we get specific new information...because it wasn’t important before.

Just having a tangible tool defining what the owners want and what they are offering creates enthusiasm and a desire to move forward.

I notice two benefits from these one page recaps. One is cultural and the other transactional.

We have started defining a culture that people recognize about themselves, and we have something other than our good looks anyone can take into a meeting.

What we just figured out today is that these aren’t enough. If we stop improving the paper, all activity stops. I can understand why someone might not be able to create a new document, but just today I realized why the customers won’t build an improved document. I’ve been seeing and ignoring that for over thirty years.

What they need is the discipline of future focus, that they set aside time to keep their process moving forward. I realize we have been providing that time to focus with our weekly meetings. Take that away and tomorrow gets canceled due to lack of interest.

How long do you keep moving the ball down field? Until you score, or you find a better game. Waiting seldom improves a situation.

Does this get you thinking? Try The Final Frontier!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Three Project Models

Last night we had a large crowd for The Final Frontier at the Association of Information Technology Professionals. One of my teachers had been reading ahead and brought a thought paper about reforming our economy.

Last time around, we were building super computer environments for modeling complex technical processes, and the results were astonishing. Since that time he has been working at a national level to improve our technical capabilities in state-of-the-art engineering.

He reminded me of a lesson he taught me years ago, that a government group is different from a corporation, in that a government group has a mission. Accomplish the mission, stand down. A corporation is supposed to turn a profit and continue.

When a government body is failing at their mission and starts trying to morph to “make a profit” we figure they are truly lost.

Anyway, his proposal called for rallying an infrastructure first, then proceeding to create results. He has been working with a lot of government recently, so I could see where he got the idea. Personally, I am weak at building effective infrastructure (who isn’t?), but since I’ve come to accept he’s smarter than me, I woke up this morning changing my thinking.

So, one way to start a project is to build an infrastructure, get budgeting, recruit troops and march off smartly. Nice work when you can get it. Reminds me of Jefferson and Madison creating the Navy.

The second model comes from my construction experience, and dovetails nicely into software development, Architecture, Design, Execution, and Evaluation. I wrote about it in 2009, after creating a major improvement in Evaluation.

However, I have seen that methodology fail spectacularly, and until last night I hadn’t figured out why.

The planned workcycle is most valuable when you are doing variations on a theme, the homebuilder building his 20th home, the software developer creating his 50th database. The workcycle is about improving the efficiency of projects that are already understood. They come apart when you insert unknown materials, technologies, and people.

There are still a lot of these kinds of projects out there, and there is also a third valid model, and last night I realized when to use it.

Back when the internet was optional, I was selling a lot of COBOL, largely by attaching it to the internet. My company wanted me to go across country for an internal boondoggle to think lofty thoughts, and when management got tired, they left the building, and the worker bees began experimenting with some adult beverages.

At some point I idly asked what was the shortest COBOL routine and my (several) technical advisers settled on three lines, which even I (a mere salesguy) could do..if I was worthy.

A laptop was booted. Green screen. Brackets. Three line majick incantation. Then “go.”

The computer thought for a bit and replied, “Hello World.”

I was worthy!

And that’s the third project model.

A simple prototype proving the capabilities required. Call it The Bar Band Model, the Artillery Ranging Model, or the Towel Cape Off The Garage Roof Model, a quick prototype is an excellent way to prove or disprove an hypothesis, and also has the increased value of allowing users to better specify what they want based on what they learn seeing the prototype. Sounds like an Open Source Model.

You can go here for more Tips 4 The Big Chair!

Friday, June 13, 2014


As the story goes, when asked by his father about who chopped down the cherry tree, George Washington said “I cannot tell a lie, I did it with my little hatchet.” While this actually did not happen, throughout his life, Washington demonstrated a strict adherence to telling the truth, especially to himself.

Historical accounts tell story after story of Washington going beyond the known and established to undertake new and innovative projects – like the octagonal barn for thrashing wheat, or rotating crops to keep the fields vibrant. He was absolutely clear about refusing to permit an imperial Presidency.

These examples show Washington as an innovator, an entrepreneur, who took concept to plan to execution, and demanded knowing the truth about it at every stage (concept = potential; plan = risk/reward expectations; execution = resulting level of success).

Noticeably missing from history are stories of ideas and projects which did not succeed. Personally, I find it impossible that even Washington could have gotten it right 100% of the time.

What I do believe is he truthfully assessed the stages of the concept-plan-execution path and stopped a project if the result of a phase was insufficient or the risk too great – based on sticking to the truth rather than relying on a dream, a wish, or a hope to achieve success.

...And he learned from these experiences.

In the French and Indian War, Colonel Washington acted on the truth as he knew it – that the French soldiers and Indians were a small, ill equipped force, so he chased after them. Turned out that they were a much larger superior force with plenty of supplies and ammo. Washington led his troop back to Fort Necessity, where he fought a major battle and was forced to surrender to the French.

The truth as he knew it, from earlier observation and gathered intelligence, was not correct...when they chased the other soldiers and warriors far away from the protection of the fort, he learned tragically that they were a vastly superior force and well supplied. Seeing that he was impossibly outnumbered, Washington surrendered.

While this reflects a military failure by Washington, it is clear that he continued to tell himself the truth as circumstances changed, unlike General Custer many years later, who, because of faulty intelligence, refused to acknowledge the Indians were a superior force - and he tragically lost the battle.
Washington learned well from this defeat and was never again forced to surrender during his military career – like the carpenter who measures twice and cuts once, he sought intelligence from several sources and used this for better strategic battle planning.

As leaders, owners, or entrepreneurs, we can find ourselves in a situation where reality is a bitter pill and telling ourselves the truth is painful.

If a project is showing signs of failure, or a service/product line is meeting the needs of fewer customers, or the market price for your company is much less than you had expected, the temptation may be to rely on a dream, wish, or hope for a miracle outcome.

However, like winning the lottery, while miracles may’s not too often and not to you. Taking action based on reality (the truth) is ultimately a better choice.

Truth may not make things easier, but it can increase the odds and magnitude of success, compared to the alternative.

Facts are a building block of truth, and John Adams captures the point about sticking to the truth quite well in his quote:
Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.

Want more? See the Final Frontier for insight and ideas.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book List

We are living in a time of social and economic reinvention. I think it will be remembered as an internet powered renaissance.

Jack and I spend a lot of time figuring out what is happening, exhorting each other to dig deeper.

Often when we are talking to clients and tell them what we have learned, they want to know where they can go learn it. Providing references and not forgetting was the reason for starting our book list.

The book list started as a document on a computer, then we were printing copies and giving them away, but hyperlinks on a piece of paper are hard to work, and soon adding books, videos, and seminars meant we were having an updating problem. That page was about to go to two, and was turning into an administrivial beast.

A couple of months ago I was in a board meeting for a group that had been unable to create an event landing page that would enroll attendees. There was a tale of woe about why, but the important thing was that the event was coming up and no one was learning about it or signing up.

During the meeting, I looked up at the screen behind the president of the organization and saw that he was constructing a landing/enrollment page using Google Docs...while running the meeting. He had it done in 20 minutes. It was a concrete example of what was required, and I figured there must be a way to append the doc to a website.

Fast forward a couple of months and another organization is falling behind publicizing an event. I didn’t know how to explain the Google Docs solution, but as we were coming up on the event, I wanted to lead rather than exhort.

I took our Book List, and pasted it into a Google Doc. Then I took the blog posts we had written about some of those books and linked them. That way someone looking would read what they had heard in a meeting.

There were other descriptive sources for the entries, so I added reviews that mentioned what I thought was important.

Jack suggested we use a link shortener like to make it easier to export.

By then, we had something to publicize so we put links on our Plus pages, my website, Sales Lab website and blog. Now that we have created a new asset, we are looking for other places we can use it.

Want a whiff of the oncoming future? It’s good! Especially for those who are prepared! RSVP for The Final Frontier  at the Association of Information Technology Professionals,  6:30 pm, June 9th, at Alfio’s  in Chevy Chase. Please join us!