Software Engineering, Project Management, and Effectiveness
It was time for an update.
Here’s my Focus Checklist v2:
Focus Checklist (v2)
Here’s what’s new …
I organized the checklist into more meaningful buckets. It’s mostly the original list, but now they are grouped into better buckets to make it easier to turn into action. After all, a great checklist is measured both by it’s value and how actionable it is.
Focus is often the different that makes the difference when it comes to succeeding at work and succeeding in life. Otherwise, we don’t see things to fruition, or we bi-furcate our potential in ways that undermines our effort.
To make it easy to get to the Focus Checklist, I added a quick menu item to the feature menu:
You can still get to the checklists from Resources, but the saying “out of sight, out of mind”, tends to be true.
By moving Checklists to the feature bar, it will remind me to continue to turn insight into action in the form of simple checklists.
I’ve long been a fan of checklists for building better habits and sharing and scaling expertise. I’ve used them for security, performance, application architecture, and for personal effectiveness in a variety of ways. There’s actually a lot of research and science behind why checklists are effective, but I like to think of them as simple reminders and automation for the mind, so we can move up the mental stack and focus on higher-level issues.
If you’re a fan of Personal Software Process (PSP) or Team Software Process (TSP), you’ll appreciate the fact that checklists are one of the best ways to quickly, efficiency, and effectively radically improve quality, for yourself or for the team. Of course, that depends on the quality of the checklist, and your focus on actually applying it, and treating it like a living document, and keeping it updated with your latest insights and actions.
If you adopt checklists as your tool of choice for continuous improvement, you’ll be in good company. It’s how McDonald’s and Disney spread best practices. It’s how the best hospitals reduce errors and raise the quality bar. And, it’s even how the Air Force keeps fighter pilots from falling prey to task saturation.
Like anything, the value of the checklists depends on the user and the usage, and if you treat it as a static thing, that’s when problems happen. Use it as a baseline and adapt it to your needs, and update it based on your latest learnings.
If you do that, and you treat your checklists as continuous learning tools, and you continue to evolve and adapt them, then your checklists will serve you well.
Ugh … it looks like this post ran into some scope creep. This was supposed to be just letting you know that I have a new version available of my focus checklist.
Luckily, my 5-minute timebox in this case, reeled me back in.
PS – It’s worth noting that the practices behind this focus checklist are industrial strength. Folks with ADD and ADHD have used the practices in this checklist to retrain their brain to focus with skill. They learned to direct and redirect their attention, and to enjoy the process of focusing their mind on meaningful results.
This is a mental model we often use when connecting business and IT.
The big idea is that IT exposes it’s functionality as “services” to the business. When speaking to the business, we can talk about business capabilities. When talking to IT, we can talk to the IT capabilities.
In this model, you can see where workloads sit in relation to business and IT capabilities. Business capabilities (i.e. “what” an individual business function does) rely on IT capabilities. The IT capabilities, together with people and processes, determine “how” the business capability is executed.
The beauty of the model is how quickly and easily we can “up-level” the conversation, or drill-down … or map from the business to the IT side or from IT to the business.
Lists are your friend when it comes to productivity, focus, and personal effectiveness. If you’re a Program Manager, you already know the value of lists, whether it’s a list of scenarios, a list of features, a list of bugs, a list of milestones, a list of open work, etc.
I use lists of all kinds to collect, organize, and simplify all sorts of information. Here is my newly renovated Lists page on Sources of Insight:
Lists at a Glance
I have lists of books, movies, quotes, and more. I also have checklists that you can use to improve things like focus or leadership in work and life.
Here are a few of my favorite lists from the page:
If you only read one list, read 101 of the Great Insights and Actions for Work and Life. It might seem long but it’s a super consolidated list of things you can use instantly to make the most of what you’ve got and to apply more science to the art of work and life.
Here are a few examples from 101 of the Greatest Insights and Actions for Work and Life:
Job satisfaction — Autonomy, identity, feedback significance, and variety. If you want to truly enjoy your job, focus on the following characteristics: skill variety, task identity, task significance, autonomy, feedback. See Social Psychology (p. 423)
“How does the story end?” – How the story ends, matters more than how it starts. A happy ending is a very powerful thing. The ending of the story is often more important than the beginning. Daniel Kahnenman says that a bad ending can ruin your overall experience or memory of the event.
“Doublethink” — Think twice to visualize more effectively. Think twice to succeed. Focus on the positive and the negative. You can visualize more effectively if you imagine both the positive side and the negative side. First, fantasize about reaching your goal, and the benefits. Next, imagine the barriers and obstacles you might face. Now for the “doublethink” … First, think about the first benefit and elaborate on how your life would be better. Next, immediately, think about the biggest hurdle to your success and what you would do if you encounter it. In 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, Richard Wiseman says that Gabriele Oettingen has demonstrated time and again that people who practice “doublethink” are more successful than those who just fantasize or those who just focus on the negatives.
Delphi Method — Use “Collective Intelligence” to find the best answers. The Delphi technique is a way to use experts to forecast and predict information. It’s a structured approach to getting consensus on expert answers. The way it works is a facilitator gets experts to answer questions anonymously. The facilitator then shares the summary of the anonymous results. The experts can then revise their answers based on the collective information. By sharing anonymous results, and then talking about the summary of the anonymous results, experts can more freely share information and explore ideas without being defensive of their opinions. See Delphi Method.
The Power of Regret — Reflect on your worst, to bring out your best. In 59 Seconds: Think a Little, Change a Lot, Richard Wiseman says, “research conducted by Charles Abraham and Paschal Sheeran has shown that just a few moments’ thinking about how much you will regret not going to the gym will help motivate you to climb off the couch and onto an exercise bike.”
10 Emotional Intelligence Articles for Improving Your Effectiveness in Work and Life
How Tos for Personal Effectiveness at a Glance
How To Use Monday Vision, Daily Wins, and Friday Reflection to Triple Your Productivity
The press release for Getting Results the Agile Way is now live at Time Management Tips and Time Management Strategies for Achievers. I think the message hits a sweet spot – it’s a time management system for achievers. (One interesting tidbit along those lines is that Getting Results the Agile Way was #2 on the Amazon best sellers list in Germany for “time management”.)
Here are the opening paragraphs:
Some say, “Time is all we have.” To master time is to master life. The secret of time management is to have a trusted system and a collection of time management tips and time management strategies to draw from.
Getting Results the Agile Way, by J.D. Meier, now available on Kindle, is a time management system for achievers focused on meaningful results. The power of Getting Results the Agile Way is that it combines some of the best practices for thinking, feeling, and taking action into one simple system to help achievers make the most of what they’ve got.
You can read the rest of the press release at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/10/prweb8914806.htm
I’m trying out a new way to do book reviews, to share more value in a better, faster, and easier way, with a predictable experience.
My new approach is to focus on 10 big ideas.
Here’s an example:
10 Big Ideas from BRIEF
Side note – BRIEF is a powerful book with hard-core techniques for getting to the point and cutting through fluff. If you struggle with being verbose, or rambling, this book will help you master the art of “Lean Communication.”
In my book reviews in the past, I shared the challenges the book solved, the structure of the book, and some “scenes” from the book, sort of like a “movie trailer.” While that was effective in terms of really doing a book justice, I thought there was room for improvement.
I figured, Sources of Insight is all about, well, “insight.” So then my best approach would be to focus on the big ideas in the books I read, and share that unique value in a simple to consume fashion. I considered “3 Big Ideas” and “5 Big Ideas”, but they both seemed too small. And more than 10 seemed too big.
10 Big Ideas seems like a healthy dose of insights to draw from a book.
I had actually considered this approach a long time ago, but I was worried that it would water things down too much. Instead, I’m finding that it’s doing the exact opposite. Using 10 Big Ideas as a constraint is a great forcing function to help me really synthesize and distill the essence of a book, and to really hone in on the most valuable takeaways.
And it’s a great way to turn insight into action in a very repeatable way.
I already read and review books at a fast pace, but I think this new approach is going to help me get even better and faster at rapidly sharing insight and action.
I’m in the early stages, so if you have ideas or feedback on the 10 Big Ideas approach for my book reviews, please let me know.
Take 10 Big Ideas from BRIEF for a spin. Kick the tires. It will be worth your time. If you master Big Idea #7, alone, you'll be ahead of the game when it comes to making your pitch, or presenting your ideas.
Lean Communication can be your differentiator in a noisy, crowded, information overloaded world.
"If you see a bandwagon, it’s too late." -- James Goldsmith
I’m really focused on helping businesses large and small succeed. Times are tough. I’ve been reading a lot of books on business skills and techniques. The latest book I read is pretty hard-core.
And exactly what I wanted to find.
Here’s my review:
Business Techniques in Troubled Times: A Toolbox for Small Business Success
It puts more than 70+ business skills at your fingertips.
What’s especially interesting is that the author is a turnaround artist. He helps flailing and failing businesses get back on track. Imagine having that kinds of ability – to help business rise from the ashes phoenix style.
That’s cool stuff.
Actually, it’s very powerful stuff.
Business transformation is a great place to be in today’s world.
After all, businesses are re-inventing themselves at a pace never before possible.
Anyway, you’ll appreciate this book if you want to know …
How to analyze the marketplace and do true competitive analysis and find your differentiation
How to design a great product or service
How to price your product or service more effectively
How to create a roadmap for your product
How to prioritize your product ideas
How to create a more effective business plan
How to avoid the most common mistakes when making a business plan
How to analyze a business model
How to create a financial plan
I could go on, and on, because this book really packs a lot into it. It’s an “all-in-one” guide that really covers creating and growing a business. You’ll especially appreciate this book if you’ve struggled with the “money” part of business. It’s one thing to have a good idea. It’s another to fund that idea, and to make it economically viable. This book actually shows you how.
The thing I want to stress about this book though is that it’s written by somebody who helps owners save and grow their businesses for a living.
Within the first fifteen minutes of reading the book, I had at least three new business skills I could immediately apply.
If you want a deep dive into the book, including snippets and insight, check out my review:
6 Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
Architecture Linkage, Business Linkage, and Alignment Linkage
How To Build a Foundation for Execution
What Do Customers Teach Us About Business
I’m honored to have a guest post by Guy Kawasaki on Top Ten Reasons to Self-Publish. Self-publishing is hot. It’s a great path, especially if you can use writing as a way to share and scale what you know.
That said, there is a lot to know when it comes to the business of books, and that’s what Guy’s latest book, APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book, is all about.
One of the big surprises I found in terms of self-publishing is that I made more in a month, than I made in a year, once I shipped the Kindle version. I knew there would be a difference, but I didn’t really anticipate just how big that difference would be.
The other thing I learned is that there is a big difference in what you can achieve if you look at self-publishing in terms of a longer-term play. The best advice I got from a friend was to think of it more like a slow burn, than a fast flame. This helped me experiment more and play around with everything from different covers, to different taglines, to different formats, etc. As a result, it’s been a best-seller in Time Management on Amazon for many months, which is an extremely competitive niche.
But I digress. Check out Guy Kawasaki’s guest post for me on Top Ten Reasons to Self-Publish. Who knows, it might just be your future career, or play a big role as we shift to a digital economy of information products and insight.
Getting better, faster, simpler, and more meaningful results is the name of today’s game.
What you don’t know can hurt you. Your own and other people’s productivity issues can get in your way. This is especially true if you don’t know what good looks like. This is especially true, if you don’t know what’s possible.
There are many ways to take your game to the next level. Everything from eliminating bottlenecks to focusing on the right things to flowing more value to reducing friction. If you are a one-man band and really need ways to scale yourself more effectively, I have written a deep post on how to scale yourself as a “one-man band” to flow more value, get more things done, and free up more time for yourself:
Note – I wrote it in 40 minutes, so hopefully it only takes you five minutes to read it. Normally, I limit writing a post to 20 minutes or less, but for this one, I figured the value of it, is worth if I had to spill over. I see too many people bogged down, losing sight of value, and not knowing how to get off the treadmill. I figured a pointed post on how to free yourself up and flow more value would be worth it.
Enjoy – and feel free to share your own proven practices for scaling yourself with skill.
One of the best books I’ve been reading on personal high-performance is Patterns of High Performance: Discovering the Ways People Work Best, by Jerry L. Fletcher.
In the book, Fletcher explains the difference between getting results through grind-it-out mode vs. high-performance mode.
The gist is this – we work against ourselves when we don’t use our personal success patterns for how we work best.
It might sound obvious, but it’s actually a very subtle thing.
It’s very easy for us to fall into the trap of changing our recipe for results to try to match what we think others expect of us, or we copy how other people get things done. In going with the grain of others, we can go against our own grain, and basically limit was we’re capable of.
If you’ve ever been in a scenario where you feel your hands are tied because you know you can solve it, if you just had the freedom and flexibility to do so, you might be bumping into the issue.
Many people slog through work using a grind-it-out mode, because they are using peak performance techniques that are sub-optimal for them. In other words, high-performance is a personal thing. Keep in mind that high-performance does not mean world-class performance, although high-performance can very often lead to world-class performance.
The main idea is to figure out how you actually do your best work. We all have recipes for how we start work, get work going, keep it going, and how we close it down. And that’s where we can find the patterns of our best work, if we look for it, over our past experiences, where our results exceeded our expectations.
If you want to fire on all cylinders and work in high-performance mode, find your high-performance pattern and use it to unleash what you’re capable of in work and in life.
If you want a deeper dive into high-performance mode, check out my post on grind-it-out mode vs. high-performance mode.
If nothing else, it’s nice to have a label for the two modes of work, so that you can identify them when you see them, and you can work towards doing more high-performance work, and less grind-it-out mode.
It's easy to build what's possible. It's tough to build what's valued.
If there's one thing I've learned from shipping stuff, doing competitive assessments, working closely with customers, and doing a lot of in-depth feature analysis ... it's that value is the short-cut for building better products. If you know what's valued, then you can target that. And, the surprise is, less is often more. (A little gold, beats a lot of junk, every time.)
I've also learned that value is in the eye of the beholder.
What's valued can surprise you. For example, one customer might value integration, while another customer might value, and pay for, simplicity. One customer might value security, while another might value usability. Value is a slider scale and there are always key trade-offs that impact the design. That's the art part.
It's easy to assume you know what's valued. Here's the irony. It's also easy to check your assumptions. Customers are happy to tell you whether they prefer A over B.
Missing the boat on what's valued is one of the worst mistakes. It's easy to build the wrong thing. It's also to build something irrelevant. It's also easy to build “bloat”-ware, where the product is too many things to too many people, and master of none. Less is more, especially when you solve the problems that people actually care about, and when you enable users to have a great experience achieving their goals.
Here's the message: "Do overs" are expensive (if you even get a second chance.) You don't have to build things that people don't want. You don't have to build things that people don't value. You don't have to build things that people won't pay for.
You can test the value, early and often. And, that's what some successful shippers do that other shippers don't.
In the article, The Strategy Accelerator, Alfred Griffioen shares some specific examples of how today’s landscape changes the competitive arena:
I’ve seen this in action, and I like how Alfred called these out. It helps us not just see the landscape, but start to form new rules for the road.
My Related Posts
I have a new cover for my book, Getting Results the Agile Way. Getting Results the Agile Way introduces Agile Results, a simple system for meaningful results.
The purpose of the book is to share the best insights and actions for mastering productivity, time management, motivation, and work-life balance. In fact, I’ve been doing several talks around Microsoft on work-life balance, and helping teams improve their results.
It’s the best way I can give the edge to my Microsoft tribe, as well as share the principles, patterns, and practices for getting results with the rest of the world.
The new cover better reflects the values of Agile Results: Adventure, Balance, Congruence, Continuous learning, Empowerment, Focus, Flexibility, Fulfillment, Growth, Passion, Simplicity, and Sustainability. Specifically, the cover reflects simplicity, focus, continuous learning, and flexibility. Hopefully, the simplicity is obvious. The new cover is pretty bare-bones. It’s clean, while, minimal, and features a symbol. In this case, the symbol is a variation of an Enso. Intuitively, it simply implies a loop. But if you happen to know the Enso, it’s also a symbol of enlightenment. The beauty of a symbol is you can make it be what you want it to be to be meaningful for you (for me, it’s continuous learning and growth.)
Getting Results the Agile Way is serious stuff. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, students, Moms, restaurant owners, consultants, developers, project managers, team leaders, and more have been using the approach to do more with less, flow more value, and find work-life balance, while improving their thoughts, feelings, and actions to make the most of what they’ve got.
The system scales down to the one-man band (after all, it is a “personal” results system for work and life), and it scales up to teams. It’s the same approach I’ve used to lead distributed teams around the world for more than ten years.
Here is the back of the book which gives a quick overview of the system:
The new cover will likely be available this October, so if you are a fan of the current blue cover, scoop it up now, while it lasts (maybe it will be a collector’s item some day.)
When’s the last time you went for your personal Epic Win? If it’s been a while, no worries. Let’s go big this year.
I’ll give you the tools.
I realize time and again, that Bruce Lee was so right when he said, “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.” Similarly, William B. Sprague told us, “Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.”
And, Peter Drucker said, “The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Similarly, Alan Kay said, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
Well then? Game on!
By the way, if you’re not feeling very inspired, check out either my 37 Inspirational Quotes That Will Change Your Life, Motivational Quotes, or my Inspirational Quotes. They are intense, and I bet you can find your favorite three.
As I’ve been diving deep into goal setting and goal planning, I’ve put together a set of deep dive posts that will give you a very in-depth look at how to set and achieve any goal you want. Here is my roundup so far:
Brian Tracy on 12 Steps to Set and Achieve Any Goal
Brian Tracy on the Best Times for Writing and Reviewing Your Goals
Commit to Your Best Year Ever
Goal Setting vs. Goal Planning
How To Find Your Major Definite Purpose
How To Use 3 Wins for the Year to Have Your Best Year Ever
The Power of Annual Reviews for Achieving Your Goals and Realizing Your Potential
What Do You Want to Spend More Time Doing?
Zig Ziglar on Setting Goals
Hopefully, my posts on goal setting and goal planning save you many hours (if not days, weeks, etc.) of time, effort, and frustration on trying to figure out how to really set and achieve your goals. If you only read one post, at least read Goal Setting vs. Goal Planning because this will put you well ahead of the majority of people who regularly don’t achieve their goals.
In terms of actions, if there is one thing to decide, make it Commit to Your Best Year Ever.
Enjoy and best wishes for your greatest year ever and a powerful 2014.
I’m an avid collector of proven practices for execution and getting results. Execution is your best friend, among changing times and evolving landscapes, especially when you combine your execution with effective strategy.
One of the key practices for successful companies is digitizing their core processes. Digitizing your core processes can create higher profitability, reduce time to market, and get more value from your IT investments, while lowering your IT costs. That may sound too good to be true, but that’s a taste of what some of the data is showing. Regardless of the data, you may have experienced this yourself first-hand, if you’ve seen a company that really has it’s IT act together.
In the book, Enterprise Architecture as Strategy: Creating a Foundation for Business Execution, by Jeane W. Ross, Peter Weill, and David C. Robertson, the authors write about the difference that makes some companies survive and thrive, while others fold.
Higher Profitability, Faster Time to Market, and More Value from their IT Digitizing your core processes can help you in multiple ways. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“We surveyed 103 U.S. and European companies about there IT and IT-enabled business processes. Thirty-four percent of those had digitized their core processes. Relative to their competitors, these companies have higher profitability, experience a faster time to market, and get more value from their IT investments. They have better access to shared customer data, lower risk of mission-critical systems failures, and 80 percent higher senior management satisfaction with technology. Yet, companies who have digitized their core processes have 25 percent lower IT costs. These are the benefits of an effective foundation for execution.”
Leading Edge Companies Pull Further and Further Ahead A good foundation for execution can help you focus, invest wisely, and get ahead. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“In contrast, 12 percent of the companies we studied are frittering away management attention and technology investments on a myriad of (perhaps) locally sensible projects that don’t support enterprise wide objectives. Another 48 percent of the companies are cutting waste from their IT budgets but haven’t figured out how to increase value from IT. Meanwhile, a few leading-edge companies are leveraging a foundation for execution to pull further and further ahead.”
Companies with a Good Foundation for Execution Have an Increasing Advantage A good foundation for execution is an exponential advantage. Ross, Weill, and Robertson write:
“As such statistics show, companies with a good foundation for execution have an increasing advantage over those that don’t. In this book, we describe how to design, build, and leverage a foundation for execution. Based on survey and case study research at more than 400 companies in the United States and Europe, we provide insights, tools, and language to help managers recognize their core operations, digitize their core to more efficiently support their strategy, and exploit their foundation for execution to achieve business agility and profitable growth.”
I’ve seen the force multiplier of strategy+execution, and it’s no surprise why that is the difference that makes the difference between companies that thrive, and ones that die.
If you find you can't keep up with the world around you, then break things down. Breaking things down is the key to finishing faster.
Breaking things down is also the key to agility.
One of the toughest project management lessons I had to learn was breaking things down into more modular chunks. When I took on a project, my goal was to make big things happen and change the world.
After all, go big or go home, right?
The problem is you run out of time, or you run out of budget. You even run out of oomph. So the worst way to make things happen is to have a bunch of hopes, plans, dreams, and things, sitting in a backlog because they're too big to ship in the time that you've got.
Which brings us to the other key to agility ... ship things on a shorter schedule.
This re-trains your brain to chunk things down, flow value, chop dependencies down to size, learn, and, move on.
Best of all, if you miss the train, you catch the next train.
As a strategist, I need to stay on top of how the world of business is changing, especially from an IT perspective.
The world of business is changing faster than ever.
Changes are happening in the ways we work, business models and processes are evolving, customers are changing what they value and how they buy, and technology is transforming and shaping the next generation Enterprise.
Likewise, the smart CIOs and IT organizations are significant shapers of the next generation Enterprise. They are doing so by rethinking business models, reinventing the organization, and rewiring operations.
In their whitepaper, Making the Shift to the Next-Generation Enterprise, Cognizant shares 8 future-of-work enablers you can evaluate against to help you build a strategy to future-proof your business.
According to Cognizant, the following are unprecedented, relentless and perplexing challenges that organizations of today face:
According to Cognizant, the following are the 3 R’s of corporate model transformation to future-proof your business:
According to Cognizant, the 8 future-of-work enablers are as follows:
According to Cognizant, you can map the 8 future-of-work enablers to the 3 R’s of corporate model transformation as follows:
According to Cognizant, you can evaluate against a specific set of KPIs within each area of corporate model transformation:
According to Cognizant, there is a prescription for outperforming the competition:
“Tomorrow’s corporate winners have already started to adapt their corporate operating models. Based on a survey of 25 Fortune 500 companies, we have found that, on average, organizations are aware of future-facing concepts and capabilities, and they have begun enabling these capabilities in pockets of the organization. However, the initiatives are inconsistent and not always focused on the strategic business agenda.”
According to Cognizant, CIOs and IT organizations are shapers of the next generation Enterprise:
“Woven into this trend, we are seeing that the most mature adoption is happening at the technology layer of the corporate operating model. This suggests that the IT organization, and perhaps the role of the CIO, are evolving as drivers and shapers of the next-generation enterprise. This is not all that surprising, given that a large aspect of this work is underpinned by technology that powers long overdue business process transformation. We believe the real opportunities will present themselves as the business models are rethought and the operations/ processes are reinvented, along with this trend to rewire the technology.”
6 Steps for Enterprise Architecture as Strategy
How To Turn IT into an Asset Rather than a Liability
Strategy Must Be Dynamic
One of the smartest books I’ve read lately is Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes, by Maria Konnikova. I wrote a deep review to include a bunch of my favorite highlights.
It’s hard to believe I only scratched the surface in my review, but it’s a very deep book with tons of insight and proven practices for elevating your thinking to the highest levels.
While I like the concepts and practices throughout the book, my favorite aspect was the fact that Konnikova references some great research and theories by name and illustrated how they apply in our everyday lives.
Some of the examples include:
Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes includes plenty of surprising insights, too. For example, we physically can see less when we’re in a bad mood. We can do better on SATs simply by changing our motivation. We can use simple meditation techniques to causes changes at the neural level, to increase creativity and imaginative capacity.
If you’re a developer, you’ll appreciate the “system” view of how memory works. Konnikova walks the mechanisms of the mind based on the latest understanding of how our brain works. You’ll also appreciate the depth and details that Konnikova provides to help you really understand how to think and operate at a higher level.
Basically, you’ll learn how to put your Sherlock Holme’s thinking cap on and apply more effective thinking practices that avoid common cognitive biases, pitfalls, and traps.
By the time you’ve made it through the book, you’ll also better understand and appreciate how our mindset and filters dramatically shape what we’re able to see, and, as a result, how we experience the world around us.
If you want a tour of the book in detail, check out my book review of Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes.
It might just be one of the smartest books you read this year.
7 Habits of Highly Effective Program Managers
How To Use Six-Thinking Hats
Where the Focus Goes
In their Value Disciplines Model, Treacy and Wiersema suggest that a business should focus on one of three value disciplines for success:
This re-enforces the idea by John Hagel and Marc Singer to split businesses into three core types (infrastructure businesses, product innovation businesses, and customer relationship businesses.)
The question of course is whether, does Traecy and Wiersema’s model hold up in today’s world, where business blends with technology, and social media makes customer intimacy a commodity?
Have you ever felt like a phony? Like, if “they” found you out, they’d realize that you aren’t as awesome as they thought you were?
“Impostor syndrome” is a common issue.
Impostor syndrome is where you can’t internalize your success, and no amount of external validation or evidence helps convince you otherwise. So you work harder and harder to prove your success, but yet you still don’t quite measure up.
I’ve mentored a lot of people, and found that a lot of highly successful people actually have impostor syndrome, for one reason or another. For some, it’s because they feel they are in the fake stage of “fake it until you make it.” For others, it’s because their success doesn’t match their mental model of how it’s supposed to happen. For example, success came too quickly, or they feel they got a “lucky break.” For others, they don’t feel they match what a successful person is supposed to look like, or they don’t have the credentials they think they are supposed to have, or the specific experience they are supposed to have went under their belt.
So, it’s success on the outside, but no success on the inside.
And that leads to all sorts of issues, whether it’s a lack of confidence, or self-sabotage, or working harder and harder to validate their external success.
Luckily, there are proven practices for dealing with impostor syndrome.
I have the privilege of a guest post by Joyce Roche, author of The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success:
7 Ways to Conquer Impostor Syndrome – Lessons from Successful Business Leaders
It’s a simple set of coping strategies you can use to defeat impostor syndrome and find more fulfillment.
Anatomy of a High-Potential
The Guerilla Guide to Getting a Better Performance Review at Microsoft
The Book that Changes Lives
Everything should be a startup.
Unless you’re a learning organization that actually uses what you learn to leapfrog ahead.
But the paradox is you can’t hold on too tightly to what you’ve learned in the past. You have to be able to let things go. Quickly. And, you have to learn new things fast. And, if you can create a learning organization with tight feedback loops, that’s the key to longevity.
Adapt or die.
But the typical challenge in a big organization, is rejecting the new, and embracing the old. And that’s how the giants, the mighty fall.
Here is how Satya Nadella told us how to think about what longevity means in our business …
“What does longevity mean in this business? Longevity in this business means, that you somehow take the core competency you have but start learning how to express it in different forms.
And that to me is the core strength.
It's not the manifestation in one product generation, or in one specific feature, or what have you, but if you culturally, right, if you sort of look at what excites me from an organizational capacity building, ... it's that learning ... the ability to be able to learn new things ... and have those new things actually accrue to what we have done in the past ... or what we have done in the past accrues to new learnings ... and that feedback cycle is the only way I can see scale mattering in this business ... otherwise, quite frankly you would say, everything should be a startup ... everything should be a startup ... you would have a success, you would unwind, and everything should be a startup ... and if you're going to have a large organization, it better be a learning organization that knows how to take all the learning that it's had today and make it relevant in the future knowing that you'll have to unlearn everything, and that's the paradox of this business and I think that's what I want us to be going for.”
In my experience, if you don’t know where to start, a great place to start is get feedback. If you don’t know who to get feedback from, then ask yourself, your organization, who do you serve? Ask the customers or clients that you serve.
But balance what you learn with vision. And balance it with analytics and insight on behaviors and actions. Customers, and people in general, can say one thing, but do another, or ask for one thing, but mean something entirely different.
Remember the words of Henry Ford:
“If I'd asked customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.”
Expressing pains, needs, opportunities, and desired outcomes leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
Drive with vision, build better feedback loops, interpret well, and learn well, to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world.
Microsoft Explained: Making Sense of the Microsoft Platform Story
Satya Nadella is the New Microsoft CEO
Satya Nadella is All About Customer Focus, Employee Engagement, and Changing the World
Satya Nadella on How Success is a Mental Game
Satya Nadella on Live and Work a Meaningful Life
Satya Nadella on the Future is Software
Satya Nadella on Everyone Has to Be a Leader
One of the simplest ways to get your groove back on, is to do things differently.
"Do the opposite" is a great strategy.
For example, if you've been staying up late, try getting up early. (Getting up early can help you go to bed earlier. And the secret of waking up earlier, is to go to bed earlier. See the loop?) Getting up earlier changes your world ... the traffic you see or don't, the people you pass or don't, the quiet times, the busy times, your state of mind. It all changes because you changed your structure.
And all you had to do was change your “When”.
You can apply "Do the opposite" to many things. It's a great way to cut the baggage. For example, if you normally write long and lengthy posts, try some short ones. Set a simple limit, like, “the post must not scroll.” You might find that you suddenly drop a burden from your back, and now you are light and ready for anything.
Another way to do the opposite is if you always decide that something must be done later, try doing it now. If you always do things slow, try doing things fast. If you always try to be right, try being interesting, useful, or insightful. Shake it up.
Rattle your own cage.
When we shake our cage, we wake up our possibilities. We surprise ourselves.
I heard a beautiful nugget on the art of simplicity the other day. It was about reducing complexity, cost, and time. Or, to put it another way, it makes a great case for simplicity.
Why focus on simplicity?
To reduce complexity.
Why reduce complexity?
It’s the key to reducing cost and time.
What a great way to connect the dots.
Aside from improving adoption, if you focus on simplicity, it’s a very real way to improve time to market and cost of goods, and in the end, elegance.
The big win for me with simplicity is the ability to improve things, whether it’s a process or a product. If you’ve ever had to deal with a beast of either one, you can appreciate what I mean. My first goal in taking on something is to drive for simplicity so that it has a fighting chance to improve over time.
Complexity dies, where simplicity thrives.
A few years back, I put together a roundup of 25 holiday classic movies to help people find their holiday spirit:
What 25 Holiday Classics Teach Us About Life and Fun
The post was pretty broken in terms of formatting, but the content is evergreen, so I took the time to revamp it. It should be 1000 times better now (at least.)
If you’re a movie buff, you'll recognize a lot of the classics, like The Lemon Drop Kid, or The Bishop’s Wife, or White Christmas.
I can never find anybody who has actually seen Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol, though it’s still one of my favorite versions.
And when it comes to Claymation, my favorite is still Rudolph. I can never forget the scene where Yukon Cornelius says, “Look at what he can do!”, and the Bumble (the Abominable Snowman) puts the star on the top of the tree, without a ladder.
And whenever I see a sad looking little tree, I can’t help but wonder if adding a bunch of lights would magically transform it into a big, magnificent, and full tree, Charlie Brown style.
Transformation isn’t magic though.
It’s a lot of work. A lot of smart work.
As you get ready for this coming year, I hope that the key lessons you learned, and the key insights from this past year serve you well.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s how investing in the right capabilities pays off time and time again.
I was reading a nice little eBook on Opportunities and Challenges with Agile Portfolio Management.
I especially like this part on “Work About Work” and how Agile helps avoid it:
“Agile software development is all about eliminating overhead. Instead of establishing hierarchies and rules, Agile management zeros in on what the team can do right now, and team leaders, developers and testers roll up their sleeves to deliver working software by the end of the day. Put another way, Agile software development favors real work over what I call "work about work." Work-about-work is that dreaded situation where creating reports about the project is so time-consuming it prevents you from actually working on the project.”
Agile helps you make things happen, and focus on work, versus “work about work.”
Team Execution Patterns and How the Work Gets Done
Are You Used to Delivering Working Software on a Daily Basis
The key to effective knowledge management is to throw away documents. You can’t get attached to what you write down. Otherwise, you can’t learn and it won’t evolve. But there is a trick …
You throw away the document, not the learning.
I learned this the hard way. Several years back, I was trying to rewrite a document that had a bunch of gems, mired among bad ideas and bad writing. It was the equivalent of spaghetti code. It was hard to figure out what was the insight, what was the action, and what was just interesting information, but not critical path.
I spent close to 40 hours trying to rewrite it. Granted it was a long document, but at some point I had to ask myself, which was faster – re-writing it, or starting over? Eventually, I realized, the right answer was to start over.
So I started with a blank document. And then I carried over the gems, and elaborated from there. Within 8 hours, I was done with the finished document.
The big lesson I learned was how difficult it actually is to reshape something that’s off, especially when it comes to written information. Since this was prescriptive guidance, it had to be relevant, actionable, and timely. It had to be insanely useful. And to do that requires a lot of manipulating words and phrases until the bright ideas compile into actionable guidance with conceptual integrity.
But “throwing away” a document was tough.
At least, it was tough until I realized that all the document really was, was a learning doc. It was a place to experiment and put ideas down on paper and bounce them off of other people, and get the collective perspective. The problem was, this learning doc, wasn’t the same as a bunch of notes. It was meant to be the final document. It was on path to be so.
But, along the way, what I failed to realize is that it baked in a bunch of our learnings.
It didn’t yet reflect creative synthesis, or distillation.
It was more like a trail up the mountain, and we were still on our way up.
I had a conversation with John Socha, the guy behind Norton Commander. I explained the challenge of producing useful documents, and how our learnings get in the way, if we don’t let the documents go. Surprisingly, he said to me, “Exactly!”
He continued and basically said that it’s the mistake a lot of people make. They hold on to their documents long past their usefulness, and don’t let the documents go, but carry the learnings forward.
I don’t know what painful lessons John had gone through to learn that, but at the time, it was fresh on my mind, and it had cost me 40+ hours of trial and error to move a document forward to learn that vital lesson.
You need to be able to throw documents away to create something better in its place.
When it’s pen and paper, it’s easier to throw something in the trash bin. But, when it’s a digital document it’s, it’s easy to forget what it feels like to start fresh. You don’t lose something. You gain something. It’s whitespace, where you are free and able to express things more clearly, now that you have more clarity.
Whitespace loves creative synthesis and distilled ideas.
It’s a breeding ground for new ways of expressing what you now know that you have climbed further up the mountain. If the path before you is riddled with your previous learnings, it can tough to see how to pave your way ahead, or worse, how to make a cleaner path for others to follow, which, after all, is the point of the knowledge and information you are attempting to share.
They are you friend. If you let them go.
They come in all shapes and sizes. They may even resemble raw notes. What’s important is that you acknowledge that they are just that. They are learning docs and you need to be free to throw them away and start from scratch at any point in time.
This is fundamental to creating a relevant, actionable, and timely document set that helps your users climb the mountain.
This is especially important when it comes to collaborating on documents. In fact, that’s exactly where I first learned this lesson, and spent 40 hours trying to fix an 8 hour document.
Once I learned that lesson, I had to find ways to incrementally and iteratively evolve documents as a team (or by myself.) I adopted some simple conventions. One convention that served me well is to version documents in the title: MyDocument – v1, MyDocument – v2, MyDocument – v3, etc.
It takes judgment when to decide it’s worth calling the document a new version, but it also helps to let things go from one version to the next.
Another practice that has worked well for learning docs is to have a Boneyard section at the end of the document. Literally, a dumping ground at the bottom of the document with a big heading called Boneyard. And that is where information can go to rest, and be resurrected as needed. This helps make it easier to let information go, since it’s never far from reach, while you work on the critical path up front.
It often takes longer to rewrite a document, than start form scratch simply because you are mired among various stages of rot and decay, while other parts are more fresh and vibrant. While you can hack away at the decay, tuning and pruning is often not as fast as simply lifting the healthy parts forward.
I think the concept of learning docs is an important one.
And, not necessarily an obvious one. You may never have the benefit of a painful experience of trying to rewrite something that takes longer to rewrite than to start from scratch. So you may not even notice just how much the lack of a learning docs approach is holding you, or your team back.
This is especially true if you work on a team that is used to sharing documents and pairing up on them. Chances are, they iterate on the same document, with version control, until the document is done. And, the document, along the way, is heavily laden with comments, and undistilled insights, stepping stones, and spaghetti. And, it’s a heavy process to bring the document to closure because it’s a continuous navigation through the jungle of half-baked learnings.
The heart of the problem is that the document at any point in time reflects both creative synthesis and distilled ideas … and learnings in progress. Meanwhile, people are injecting their latest thinking, which may or may not actually be distilled points or creative synthesis. This is where the concept of learning docs shines:
Acknowledge that the documents are learning docs in progress, and make it easy to throw them away while carrying the good forward.
Getting attached is how you hold yourself back and how you limit the pace at which you can share the best thinking in a non-cluttered, clear, and concise way.
Hopefully, the power of learning docs will save you a lot of pain and wasted time and energy. It’s one of those insights that I wish somebody would have shared with me long ago, before I finally stumbled on it myself. Then again, it might be the type of lesson that you only fully appreciate once you have the problem at a grand scale.