The next time you're sure someone is angry with you, perhaps it's worth considering that you might be mistaken. Perhaps that customer or prospect or boss has better things to do than being angry with you. Each of us has a huge agenda, and while it's comforting for some to jump to the conclusion that we've offended, it's far more likely that the person you're talking with merely has something else going on.
April 2010 Archives
Willingness to foresee and change corporate strategy is vital to long-term success. Have you ever read the history of Reuters? Reuters started as a carrier pigeon company. When the telegraph came on the scene, they certainly could have whined and complained and even insisted that their customers continue using carrier pigeons, but they were smart enough to realize pigeons were an outdated technology that couldn’t compete with the telegraph. Instead, they invested heavily in telegraph technology. As communication technology continued to change over the last 150 years, Reuters saw the changes coming, accepted them, embraced them and, as a result, they are still around today, bigger and stronger than ever.
Don’t side with mediocrity. If you hear someone tell you you can’t do it, assume this person has an agenda in keeping you low. Go aggressive on them. Better yet: laugh. Don’t take full negatives as truth. Your average work today is the half way through to awesomeness. They don’t have to believe that, but you do.
(Via The Shape of Everything.)
As a manager, you manage both yourself and your team, and the simple fact is there will always be more of them than of you. Unless you’re the guy managing a single person (weird), you’ve got multiple folks with all their varied work and quirky personalities to manage.
Rookie managers approach this situation with enviable gusto. They believe their job is to be aware of and responsible for their team’s every single thought and act. I like to watch these freshman managers. I like to watch them sweat and scurry about the building as they attempt to complete this impossible task.
It’s not that I enjoy watching them prepare to fail. In fact, as they zip by, I explicitly warn them: “There is no way you’re doing it all. You need to trust and you need to delegate.” But even with this explanation most of these managers are back in my office in three weeks saying the same thing: “I have no idea how you keep track of it all”.
In addition to trusting those who work for you by delegating work that you may truly believe only you can do, management is also the art of listening to a spartan set of data, extracting the truth, and trusting your Twinges. When you do this well, you look like a magician, but when you screw up, the consequences can be far ranging and damage the project as well as your reputation with those involved.
Management is the ideal technology if you’re seeking compliance — getting people to do what you want them to do, the way you want them to do it. But in today’s workforce, which demands much more in the way of creative and conceptual capabilities, we don’t want compliance. We want engagement. And self-direction is a far better technology for engagement.
In “[The Inmates are Running the Asylum],” [Alan] Cooper makes the argument that too often the development process is driven by techies building the types of products that they would like to use, as opposed to really understanding the aspirations and outcome goals of their target user, let alone who that target user even is.
Worse, they often compensate for this blind spot by building products that address all use cases, including edge cases, and build a design interaction model that is a composite of that blob of functionality.
The end-result are products that are confusing, needlessly complex and that address all theoretical problems from a check box perspective, but few real problems from a specific outcome perspective.
The late Herb Caen, the legendary columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, once wrote a piece about the worsening state of San Francisco and, in particular, one of its main arteries, Market Street.
In it, he lamented about how this thoroughfare was always under construction, how the city’s charms and enduring traditions were getting swept aside by outsiders, and how the place was becoming less and less hospitable to locals and long-timers, forcing Caen to wonder if, perhaps, San Francisco’s best days were behind it.
Ah, but Caen was setting us up for an unexpected upper-cut, as at the tail end of the piece, he reveals (I am paraphrasing), “Would it surprise you to know that I wrote this piece way back in 1954?”
Caen’s point was that then, as now, every generation sees their generation as the Real Generation and the Right Approach, when in truth, progress just moves forward.
I know when I plant a garden, I don’t do any weeding first because I want to give all forms of life an equal opportunity to spread and benefit from my efforts and irrigation. If I just planted vegetables and herbs, I’d only have things that were good. Why not also have the weeds that are already here? By not weeding, I get the things I want to grow AND the option of weeds. Who cares if those weeds will choke out any positive development and keep things just the way they were before I did any planting. Choice is always preferable to change, because change is scary!
(Via Ruben Munoz.)
When you can’t figure out the best way to treat all your customers, the best way to price things, the best thing to offer, realize that the problem is almost always this: you’re trying to treat everyone the same. Don’t. Break them into groups with similar attributes, and suddenly the path becomes a lot more clear.
In a strong sense we are defined by the problems we are solving. Yin/Yang, problem/solution, both sides form one unit. Because of the Shirky Principle, which says that every entity tends to prolong the problem it is solving, progress sometimes demands that we let go of problems. We can then look to marginal solutions and ask ourselves, what marginal problem is this solving that might be a more appreciated problem later on?
It’s absurd to look at a three year old toddler and say, “this kid can’t read or do math or even string together a coherent paragraph. He’s a dolt and he’s never going to amount to anything.” No, we don’t say that because we know we can teach and motivate and cajole the typical kid to be able to do all of these things…
Isn’t it absurd to focus so much energy on ‘practical’ skills that prep someone for a life of following instructions but relentlessly avoid the difficult work necessary to push someone to reinvent themselves into becoming someone who makes a difference?
And isn’t it even worse to write off a person or an organization merely because of what they are instead of what they might become?
But if my judgment be of any weight, the use of history mechanical is of all others the most radical and fundamental towards natural philosophy; such natural philosophy as shall not vanish in the fume of subtle, sublime, or delectable speculation, but such as shall be operative to the endowment and benefit of man’s life. For it will not only minister and suggest for the present many ingenious practices in all trades, by a connection and transferring of the observations of one art to the use of another, when the experiences of several mysteries shall fall under the consideration of one man’s mind; but further, it will give a more true and real illumination concerning causes and axioms than is hitherto attained. For like as a man’s disposition is never well known till he be crossed, nor Proteus ever changed shapes till he was straitened and held fast; so the passages and variations of nature cannot appear so fully in the liberty of nature as in the trials and vexations of art.
(Via The Design of Design.)
[Systems are] built by people. The best Gantt chart only tells you half the truth about the schedule; the most complete… requirements document can never describe why a feature is compelling; and the most detailed technical specification will never tell you what makes for [a] beautiful [implementation]. These are only tools and they tell little about the people who are building the [system].
When we study the work of successful influencers, we find that all of them struggle to deal with a lack of personal motivation on behalf of those they’re trying to help change. People lack personal motivation when the new behavior seems boring, uncomfortable, frightening, or even painful… When others aren’t personally motivated, it can be for one of two reasons:
Moral defect. In other words, they aren’t motivated because they just don’t care about those who are affected.
Moral slumber. Instead of assuming moral defect, we can assume others are capable of caring, but aren’t morally conscious of the pain and suffering of those who are affected. When the problem is moral slumber, there is a hope of influencing change. You can try to awaken people to the moral consequences of the current state. If the problem is moral defect, all you can do is work around the motivation problem by applying pressure, threats, shame or incentives.
There’s a meeting going on right now. It’s a cross-functional meeting, which means that not only are multiple departments in the organization represented, but multiple expertise types, attitudes, and agendas as well. The cross-functional nature of this meeting means a program manager is present and they are likely serving in their role as translator.
See, good program managers speak all the regional dialects of the company, so when engineering says, “It’s done,” they jump right in and translate: “Done pending function testing, production testing, and final documentation review,” so that product management doesn’t tell sales, “It’s done,” and they start selling something which actually isn’t done…
More talking. More translating. Action items are assigned, which gives everyone the illusion that progress was made. And we all return to our respective regional offices and wait until we have the same meeting again, where we attempt to communicate intelligently with each other. But all we really do is schedule meetings… when what we need to do is figure out who makes decisions.
If you do not read Savage Chickens — a comic about chickens by Doug Savage drawn on sticky notes — then you should start. You are missing sage wisdom like this:
Understand the underlying problem before attempting to solve it
Your work should have purpose — addressing actual, urgent problems that people are facing. Make sure that you can clearly articulate the core of the issue before spending an ounce of time on developing the design. The true mark of an effective designer is the ability to answer “why?”. Don’t waste your time solving the wrong problems.
Don’t Be On Time, Be Early
Communicate Clearly and Frequently
Take an Active Interest in Their Success
Appreciate the Work & Stop Griping!
Answer Your Phone
Present Your Work
Learn to Take Criticism
Come Through in a Bind
Being busy is most often used as a guise for avoiding the few critically important but uncomfortable actions. The options are almost limitless for creating “busyness”.
Doing something unimportant well does not make it important.
Requiring a lot of time does not make a task important.
What you do is infinitely more important than how you do it. Efficiency is still important, but it is useless unless applied to the right things.
Being busy is a form of laziness — lazy thinking and indiscriminate action.
[Mr. Catmull Catmull, the president of Pixar and Disney Animation Studios,] believes in the old saying “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than to ask permission,” but his corollary is that it’s better to fix errors than it is to prevent them, something that he believes many mangers do not get…
[He] said that the biggest struggle though is between the commercial and the artistic. If Pixar films were entirely about the art and paid no regards to what the audience wants, Pixar would fail economically. If it just made movies geared towards audience trends and commercial success, then it fails in “soul” and loses its magic.
The key, not only to making great films but to anything in life, is to balance both sides and find a good place in the middle… He allows artists to be free of the stress of “success” and protects their vision by giving them the ability to lead. Success can make people cautious and conservative, which is something he wants to avoid.
If your product creates a new market, then design probably won’t matter as much. The product is providing a unique value to your customers and there is nobody else these customers can turn to. Whenever there is competition though, especially competition offering a product with the same feature set as yours, design becomes important. Design becomes a means of differentiation. Either differentiate yourself on your product — introduce some new feature or service that your competitor lacks — or differentiate yourself on design.
Good design speaks. Good design tells your visitors that you care about your product. Good design at the front-end suggests that everything is in order at the back-end, whether or not that is the case. Good design is what separates the best from the “good-enough”.