Saturday, February 28, 2015

On my reading list: Winter/Spring 2015

Found myself reading more online articles and Wired magazine (the only subscription I have) lately, but found some time for books on flights to Malta.

The Alliance, by Hoffman. Just finished this good "common sense" book about making the employer-employee relationship more honest. In other words, the pendulum has swung from companies that would employ you for life to companies where you're lucky to do 18 months before they "reorg" and send you packing. The cofounder of LinkedIn authored this with some partners and I liked it a lot. In short, he recommends setting 2-3 year projects/goals for employees and then renewing; he calls them "tours of duty." This helps the employee accomplish something for his/her resume but the organization also knows something will be achieved to help their mission. Second, he said the alumni network should be intentionally developed; in today's world, we need ideas from all walks of life and staying in touch yields free advice from people who know your org.

Cross-Cultural Partnerships, by Lederleitner. A great book written a couple years ago which summarizes a bunch of great principles for financial accountability and general healthy relationships for partners. I've always loved "African Friends and Money Matters" and this is like an updated version which applies to all cultures.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Doerr. My wife bought me this beautifully crafted historical fiction. I've just started it, but the words are rich and convey the story in WW2 between a blind Jewish girl and a German army boy. I think this is one that is going to be worth having a hard copy to keep for posterity!

American Sniper, by Kyle. An easy, captivating read that doesn't glorify war and makes you feel the intensity and focus of those in uniform. Much better than the movie (of course!) and I particularly enjoyed the passages about a guy that I group up with in Hood River who was killed in action; Marc Lee followed the teachings of Jesus and was a fierce warrior and loyal friend to his squad.

As an aside, I'm getting back into podcasts. I'm thoroughly enjoying the one by the authors of Freakanomics. Makes me want to get a Ph.D. in applied behavioral science!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Do you love travel? Ummm...

When people learn that I lived in India, Australia and South Africa, have visited many other countries (enjoyed going to Nigeria twice in the last year), or am going on business trips to Thailand and Malta next year, they often ask, "Do you loooooove to travel?"

The answer isn't simple. And people generally get impatient when you answer rhetorical questions with words more than "yes" or "no".

I don't like travel because the shiny excitement has worn off. Sitting in airplanes is exhausting. Especially when a family is in tow, running through airports on layovers is no fun. Even when traveling alone, just showing up in a country and then meeting in hotels with limited visits to the homes of nationals or learning about their culture is frustrating. It just feels shallow.

On the other hand, I am excited about visiting other places and learning how they think, act, and feel differently. I'm especially interested in new places like Malta...I enjoy everything from the history to the foods and asking lots of questions about social trends. And, because I like staying in touch with people, I enjoy making a few new friends and expanding the network that I'll need if I take my kids on a round-the-world journey some day!

Sunday, November 02, 2014

On my reading list: Autumn 2014

Still reading about 50% on Kindle and 50% in paper. Might change if I upgraded to a newer Kindle (I'm still using the original one with the full keyboard, no touch screen, no backlight, etc.)...

The Purpose Economy, by Hurst. Seems a bit culture-bound, but discusses the desire for many of today's workers in America to do more than make a great salary. Instead they want to see their impact and, ideally, how they are helping their community to change the world.

The Advantage, by Lencioni. Best 'management book" I've read in a long time. Probably because the USA's top leadership consultant has summarized the principles from his top selling "business fables". Love his chapter on efficient meetings in particular! His thesis is that companies which hire brilliant people will rarely succeed over companies that hire people who practice true team work. (And, frankly, many times this is easier to find in graduates from lesser known schools...or perhaps no school at all.) Not much data on this yet, but I think he's right.

Leading Change, by Kotter. A friend who built a multi-billion dollar business told me about this author. Lots of great common sense in his books based on case studies and consulting experience. Just started this so can't wait to see how it turns out! The book was originally published in 1996 and re-released in 2012, so it must be good.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (5 of 5)

Of the four steps to making great decisions articulated by the Heath brothers in "Decisive", I think this is the most important in the non-profit working environment. Often we rush forward in frenetic activity and need to balance that with a thoughtful approach about what might/could happen!

Prepare to be Wrong
To make wise choices without knowing what the future holds, we need to stretch our sense of what the future might bring, consider any possibilities, both good and bad. Bookending is considering the extremes of what could happen. (pg 199-201)

For when you have a reasonable idea about future possibilities:
  1. Always ask prospective hindsight questions. Instead of “How likely is it for an Asia American to be president in 2020? What would need to happen?”, it’s better to ask, “Imaging it is 2020 and there is an Asian American president. What are the reasons this happened.” (pg 202)
  2. Conduct a “premortem”. Ask, “It’s a year from now. Our decision failed. Why?” Imagine the future death of your project. Have every team member write down reasons for the failure. Read them out loud. Adapt your plans to forestall as any as possible; use this for worthwhile (vs. worthless) risk mitigation. (pg 203-205)
  3. Conduct a “preparade”. Imagine your wildest version of success. Have everyone answer, “How do we ensure we’re ready for it?” (pg 206)

For when the future is completely unknown or change will be gradual:
  1. Deal with overconfidence. Use a buffer or safety factor. And anticipate problems by having someone in a related domain or similar experience give a realistic preview of a worst-case scenario. (pg 209 cf)
  2. Set a tripwire with hard numbers or other indicators (e.g. rock band that asked for bowl of M&Ms without brown M&Ms; if they found them, they knew intricate stage wiring might be wrong). “We will reconsider when…” needs to be written down at the time of decision. (pg. 226) “Tripwires encourage risk taking by letting us carve out a “safe space” for experimentation. (pg 231)
  3. Give yourself a made-up deadline. (pg 227)
  4. Create tripwires that are triggered by pattern recognition. Publicize a protocol that permits/encourages response when something doesn’t look right. Or, the opposite: “If you see people using our product in a way we haven’t anticipated, let’s talk.” (pg 233-336)
  5. Establish partitions or mini-boundaries. This is effective mostly in issues involving self-control e.g. use a smaller bowl for chips so you consciously get up to refill.

Some closing thoughtst that I believe address the fears of most executives in implementing this new process!
  • “Process isn’t glamorous. But the confidence it can provide is precious. Trusting a process can permit us to take bigger risks, to make bolder choices. …We should make sure people are able to perceive that the process is just…Even if the outcome goes against us, our confidence in the process is critical.” (pg 245, 253)
  • “The process need not take a long time to be effective. Even if you’ve only got 45 minutes to consider an important decision, you can accomplish a lot: Run the Vanishing Options Test to see if you might overlook a great alternative. Call someone who’s solved your problem before. Ask yourself, What would I tell my best friend to do? Or what would my successor do? Gather three friends and run a premortem.” (pg 251)
Here's to better, more confident decisions -- both at home and work!!!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (4 of 5)

I loved this quote...but, of course, easier said than done! “Being decisive itself is a choice -- a way of behaving -- not an inherited trait. It allows us to make brave and confident choices, not because we know we’ll be right but because it’s better to try and fail than to delay and regret.” (pg 252)

Attain Distance Before Deciding
“The goal of the WRAP process is not to neutralize emotion. When you strip away all the rational mechanics…what’s left at the core is emotion. What drives you? What do you believe is best…Those are emotional questions – speaking to passions and values and beliefs.” (pg 179)

“In theory, this should be the climax of the book, the part where we come to a fork in the road and make the right choice. Actually, we believe this section may be the least important of the four [because] many decisions don’t really have a “choice” stage. Also, you can usually break the logjam on a tough decision by unearthing some new options or some new information. …Occasionally though, we’ll encounter a truly tough choice [and] blinded by the particulars of the situation, we’ll waffle and agonize, changing our mind from day to day.” (pg 159-160)

1. If emotions are intense, use 10/10/10: a tool invented by Suzy Welch, journalist for Bloomberg Businessweek and O magazine. Think about your decision on three timeframes: How will we feel about it 10 minutes from now? How about 10 months from now? How about 10 years from now? Conducting this analysis doesn’t presuppose that the long-term perspective is the right one. It simply ensures that short-term emotion isn’t the only voice at the table. (pg 163)

2. If emotions are subtle, look at your situation from an observer’s perspective. Mere exposure (the most familiar option) and loss aversion (humans feel losses are more painful than gains are pleasant) will cause us to choose the status quo. To overcome this:
  • Andy Grove would ask, “What would my successor choose?” (pg 167)
  • Another powerful question is, “What would I tell my best friend to do in this situation?” Our advice to others tends to hinge on the most important factor. (pg 171)

3. When choosing between two great options, it is usually due to a conflict among “core priorities”.
  • People rarely establish priorities until they’re forced to. Identify and enshrine your core priorities, not just generic values. (Example: a cleft-palate repair NGO had to decide if they wanted to do more surgeries for kids vs. give give medical professionals an opportunity to serve). Write down “guardrails that are wide enough to empower but narrow enough to guide.”
  • Establishing your core priorities is not the same as binding yourself to them. Test your success by preparing (annually or more often) a “stop-doing” list. Set an hourly alarm and ask, “Am I doing what I most need to be doing right now?” List actions that are important but not mission-critical; then find ways to simplify and overcome these.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (3 of 5)

The second of four steps in a decision making process that should replace pros/cons in your life!! This is from a summary I wrote for work colleagues a little while ago.

Reality-test your assumptions

1. Spark constructive disagreement:
  • Best practice for executives to assign a few people on the leadership team to prepare a case against a high-stakes proposal. (pg 97)
  • When too much arguing in a meeting, take each option and ask, “What would have to be true for this option to be the right answer?” (pg 99)
2. Asking the right questions of proponents of an option:
  • If a non-hierarchical culture/situation, ask probing, disconfirming questions in meetings i.e. Not “what do you think about this option?”, rather “What problems does it have?”
  • If there’s a power dynamic, ask open-ended questions like “what do you think about this option?”
3. Considering the opposite: give people permission to make a deliberate mistake (leaders consciously decide to try something that’s expected to fail if you see a high potential of learnings/benefits)

4. Zoom out: look at the averages or base-rates for results of a situation/decision like yours. Believe them. NOTE: use outside experts for learning about past/present! Do NOT use experts for an opinion about your decision and the future outcome!!)

5. Zoom in: look at decision/option close-up for texture and what’s missing from averages (i.e. instead of just reading reports/reviews, try a competitor’s product for a while)

6. Ooch (“little bets”, or “rapid prototyping”): run small experiments to test our theories. NOTE: This is best for situations where we genuinely need more information and not for situations that require commitment i.e. give potential hires a trial run, but this wouldn’t apply to Army boot camp. Or, the 25-year-old who wonders about marine geology degree from college should ooch, but the guy who knows he needs an M.A. degree but dreads going back should not ooch.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Decisive: no more pros and cons lists (2 of 5)

The first of four steps in making better decisions from my favorite of the last year or so, "Decisive" by the Heath brothers. Practical tips that I don't want to forget!

Widen your options
For when you have options but want to ensure good quality:
1. Assess opportunity cost. “What are we giving up by making this choice? What else could we do with the same time and money?” (pg 49)

2. Run the vanishing options test, especially if you hear someone asking “whether or not” to do something. “If you cannot choose any of the current options, what else could you do?” (pg 49)

For when you don’t have many options:
1. Find someone who’s solved your problem.
  • Look inside: ask yourself or colleagues, “Who/what are outliers or bright spots? When there were small successes, why did they occur?” (pg 73)
  • Look outside: “Who else struggled with a similar problem and what can I learn?” Look at competitors and best practices. (pg 69)
  • If you are making an unprecedented decision or still have few options, “ladder up” by looking for analogies and seek inspiration from an industry/situation that is vaguely similar. (pg 82) For example, naming a fast computer chip could include looking at names for fast skis. Designing a better check-out line for retail could talk to a plumber about water flow.
NOTE: Orgs must not forget to then capture these options by creating a “playlist” of questions or possibilities for the next time (pg 73-79)

2. Multitrack: have several teams produce 2-6 meaningfully distinct options and get feedback simultaneously (vs. creating/tweaking one version at a time). Decision paralysis from too many options rarely occurs. (pg 58)
  • executives who consider more options make faster decisions (pg 55)
  • multitracking feels better  because it keeps egos in check (pg 55)
  • it gives you an immediate fallback plan(s) (pg 55)

NOTE: To diagnose if you are being given “sham options” designed to make the “real” option look better, poll colleagues for their preferences and make sure there is not easy consensus. (pg 59)

3. Ensure you intentionally cycle between “prevention of problems” and “promotion of opportunities” focus during your analysis. (pg 62-63)