Nurture Your Uniqueness!

 

 

 

 

 

Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Margaret Mead

The mythical Eierlegendewollmilchsau was first introduced to me by a German friend.   As you can see, this is a strange-looking but fascinating creature. The EggWoM (my acronym for Egg laying, Wool bearing, Milk giving) now symbolizes for me many things. These range from an over featured product to someone who claims to have every talent or skill imaginable.   Now you might ask why I decided to share this weird creature with you.  It’s because I think we can all use a new word in our vocabulary.

I have even found multiple occasions to use this recently. During a project scope review, I asked if we were trying to build an EggWoM. I thought that this was a great way to nicely ask if we were going overboard on the feature set. Why were we going to build a mansion when our customers were just asking for a cabin in the woods?   The second time I was able to bring out my EggWoM was while reviewing a Vice-President position that had been posted.  There were so many varied and opposing skills listed that it seemed as if only an EggWoM could apply.

Now that I reflect on this a bit more, I realize that I may be an EggWoM.  Well not in this mythical creature sense, but when I look at my many varied skills, talents and experiences I realize that I too may be a bit of an odd creature.   How often do you find someone who has a degree in Accounting but really has an inner geek love for building software?  And how often do you find a self-avowed extreme introvert who loves to get up in front of a group and share agile software development experiences or sing a tune?  Or when was the last time you met someone who has butchered meat for a living and led a software development team?  Oh and not to forget, someone who has completed eight marathons, three triathlon, and swam with sharks? Now that should make for a real EggWoM!

EggWoM’s aside, we are all a combination of many and varied skills and experiences. I guess that is what makes each of us unique and special.  I will continue to nurture my inner EggWoM and encourage you to do so as well. Get out there and add to your uniqueness, build a skill, learn something new, do something exciting!

Exercise Your Brain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten what you went in there for? Or misplaced your keys for the fourth time that week? Or perhaps been shopping and had someone greet you by name and you just couldn’t place where you should know them from? If any of these have happened, don’t worry, you’re normal! From time to time these happen to all of us no matter what our age or IQ.  I’ve found that these things happen to me most often when I am either under stress or when I haven’t had my morning coffee.  However, it still bothers me to have these occasional incidents, of what I fondly call “brain burps.”

So, when I saw this article http://bigthink.com/ideafeed/primates-thinking-power-augmented-by-brain-implant   I was intrigued by the thought that somewhere in the future I might be a candidate for a brain implant. Just think of it, instead of bigger female body parts I could spend that money more wisely and invest in a bigger brain!  Then I read the article all of the way through and determined that maybe in order to be smarter I needed to develop a very bad habit. How disappointing and a bit sad when I read what this poor primate had to go through for the sake of science.

After my initial disappointment, I then went on a quest to learn how I might be able to solve my case of brain burps without having to wait for someone to invent Brain Beano.  On my journey, I found and joined Lumosity http://www.lumosity.com/why-lumosity.  I am now on my way to exercising my brain daily. You might think that my job with it’s continual problem solving would be brain exercise enough, but knowing that stress has a negating effect on the brain I reasoned that my brain muscles could use a little de-stressing exercise.

I feel brighter already after just having joined a group called Lumosity.  I’ll keep you posted as I start my exercise routine.  Just think, when I get on the scales and gain a few pounds I can say “well you know, brain muscle weighs more…”  And as I grow more gray matter we’ll see if the old adage holds true; “it’s not what you have between your ears, but how you use it.”

Feel free to join me and exercise your brain too. Darn, now if I could just remember my WordPress password I’d be all set to post.

Business anytime anywhere made possible by Sage!

Business anytime anywhere made possible by Sage.

Many of my friends know that I work for Sage but you may not know exactly what we do. This video
does a great job of explaining our vision and what we do as a software solutions company!

Be sure to “like” it and put your comments on the Facebook page in the video.

Creating a Culture of Belief

 

Teamwork is the ability to work together toward a common vision. The ability to direct individual accomplishments toward organizational objectives. It is the fuel that allows common people to attain uncommon results. Andrew Carnegie

As I was passing by a colleague’s office the other day I saw a book on her desk with the title, All In, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton. Since our company president and CEO, launched a recent campaign called “All In” I was intrigued. What this means here at my company is that we each pledged to be all in with building the company we want to work for. We are engaged and support creation of an extraordinary customer experience. With this in mind, I just had to download the book. And to answer your first question, no, the president hadn’t read the book, but he certainly could have written it himself.

For those of us who have managed people, the book illustrates how we each can create a culture that works. A culture of engaged employees who understand the “why” behind what they do each and every day. The authors cite research studies and case studies that illustrate the importance of building a culture like this and that it is the manager who makes this happen.  This culture of “belief” is one that is engaged, enabled, and energized. The authors also show evidence that companies who have this type of culture are at least three times more profitable than those who do not.

After reading the book, I believe that the most important key to building this type of culture is to always be able to explain the “why” behind what you are asking your employees to accomplish. This why needs to be built around and be in alignment with the overall corporate strategy. In order to do this, every manager must understand how their work fits in to the strategy and what success looks like for their team. They must then be able to communicate this effectively.

That might seem simple on the surface, but how many times have we asked ourselves these questions. “Why am I being asked to do this? How is this important to the business? What does success look like?” We as managers owe it to our employees to be able to give them the answers to these questions. The ability to do this will build a culture of belief. In this culture the employees are engaged, they understand how their work benefits the organization. They are enabled, the company provides them with the right tools and training and their leaders give them the coaching they need. And lastly, they are energized, they have high levels of energy due to a balanced work and home life and recognition for their individual contributions.

The book was very interesting and reinforced the “why” behind a lot of what we are doing at my company. I commend our CEO for starting this initiative as well as our senior HR leadership for supporting and driving the success of this program through training for all of our managers and staff.

Not to spoil the book for you, but to give you some of the highlights that I found particularly interesting, I have included some excerpts below. I’d love to get your feedback on the book and what you found of particular interest.

On Embracing Change:

“All In” transformation occurs when a leader anticipates change and helps us embrace it. New worlds are discovered, governments are built, laws are written, religious and civic organizations grown, communities bond, and corporate cultures thrive when our leaders see potential on the horizon and help us adapt…. It’s about how some managers are able to help their people feel confident about facing the future and facing a shared fear

On Agility:

Agility is arising as one of the top skills of leaders in high-performance organizations…. “change masters” reported three-year revenue growth a whopping three times higher than their high-performance peers. What was different? First, change started with managers who were considered “authentic” by their people. That meant leaders at all levels provided a clear sense of direction and made decisions promptly, they treated employees respectfully and took action on issues their people raised, and finally they behaved in alignment with company values. They “walked the talk.” Second on an organizational level companies faced market pressures through innovative product development, a customer-focused culture, and social responsibility and integrity in dealing with their customers.  Third, managers used sophisticated talent-management practices to attract, develop, promote and retain the best people; they ensured employees had regular, clear, and objective performance evaluations; and they fairly recognized efforts through non monetary measures.

The study shows that agility is more important in sustaining above-average business results than clever strategy, compelling products, or the other typical focusses of leaders.  Today, employees feel a heightened need for their leaders to help them adapt.

From a study by Lehigh University researchers on the subject of organizational agility:

Enrichment – an agile company enriches the lives of its customers.

Cooperation – an agile culture employees the “core competence” approach.

Organization – The most agile companies are not afraid to allow different interesting organizational structures to exist. These organizations can change and redeploy people and assets to meet the rapidly changing market shifts.

Leverage – Finally, according to the study, the most agile organizations leverage the impact of people and information, with an emphasis on putting their talent and intelligence up against the most value-added products.

On Listening:

Leadership from the top is important but just as important is “360 listening.” The most effective managers were found to spend more than 80 percent of their time interacting with others. Instead of hunkering down “getting their work done, “ by investing this time with employees, peers, and customers they were better able to perceive issues as they were arising and to gain the knowledge necessary to tackle those problems and formulate changes in strategy.

The key to successful leadership is to stop worrying about yourself and lose yourself in helping those in your care. This means that we need to see ourselves as  “gardeners” for our employees – helping our people grow and evolve.

Fostering Creativity

Albert Einstein once said: “If I had an hour to save the world I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute finding solutions” And I find in most organizations people are running around spending sixty minutes finding solutions to problems that don’t matter.”

~ Stephen Shapiro

What do scotch tape, sand paper, golf clubs, and smart phones have in common? That is the challenge I presented to you in the last post. Did you figure it out? No? Okay, if you really are keen to know, then you must read the book, Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer. Oh, not up for more reading? Then follow along with me and I will explain a bit about how creativity works according to Mr. Lehrer.  While doing this I will also give you the answer to why these seemingly disconnected items are really connected and a bit about where the very ideas for them came from.

Last week I spoke about the need to stay focused, but this week I’m going to talk about why it might be good at times to be more “defocused.”  In the book Lehrer cites many studies done by psychologists at leading universities into the way the brain works. What was found is that those sparks of creativity happen most often after periods of intense focus and then when frustration ensues this is the moment when the left brain gets tired and the right brain takes over. He explains that this mental shift often works because the struggle forces us to try something new. “Because we feel frustrated, we start to look at problems from a new perspective. You’ll see people bolt up in their chair and their eyes go all wide….Sometimes, they even say “Aha!”  before they blurt out the answer.”  This is the time when our brain gets a bit “defocused” and shifts the activity to the other side, to explore a more unexpected set of associations.

In the book, Lehrer talks about the ability to make separate ideas coexist in the mind and that this is a crucial creative tool. It is termed “conceptual blending.” This act of recombination was a key to Gutenberg transforming his knowledge of the winepress into an idea for a printing machine, the Wright brothers’ knowledge of bicycles into inventing the airplane, and Dick Drew’s invention of masking tape from his knowledge of sand paper and low sticking factor glue.  Drew was not just a “one hit wonder” he went from being a sandpaper salesman to being a full-time researcher. From his interaction with a colleague who told him about a new packing material called cellophane he connected his knowledge of glue to create what we know today as Scotch tape.

This brings me to my challenge from last week, this process of conceptual blending has been repeated again and again at 3M (yes, Dee you were correct in part with your comment last week). The adhesive used in industrial-strength masking tape gave rise to sound-dampening panels used in Boeing aircraft. Those panels in turn gave rise to the adhesive foam used in golf clubs, and the concept of Scotch tape inspired another 3M engineer to invent the touch-screen technology used in smartphones. There are many more examples in the book, but this should give you enough to understand the importance of conceptual blending.

At 3M, this is taken so seriously that they regularly rotate engineers from division to division to keep the good ideas circulating. In the software development camp, the new “open cubicle” concept and SCRUM teams help foster interaction across disciplines. This is part of building an environment that encourages creativity and should also make conceptual blending possible. There are other interesting approaches that they take at 3M to foster creativity and I am thinking hard about how we might apply some of them in our Software Engineering organizations. These alone have made this book interesting reading. I just need to get past all of the drug induced inspiration of poets and the alcoholic haze of musical lyrics to pull out the creative environmental opportunities that might apply to our work environment.

As for setting up conditions to support creativity, research has shown that the color blue automatically triggers associations with the sky and the ocean bringing with it a mental relaxation that makes it easier to daydream and pay attention to insights where we are less focused on what is in front of us and more aware of the possibilities in our imaginations. Other research has shown that creativity at times is inspired by other people or in other words a collaborative process. I call this “getting together to paint the restrooms blue.” How many of us have had ideas spawned by casual interactions with others as we head to the restroom at work? Well I would suggest that if we had only one central bathroom location in the building that this would force these interactions and if we could paint all of our bathrooms blue, well that would be creative nirvana.

Please excuse the brevity of this post. I need to send an email to our facilities management to request closure of the upstairs restrooms and volunteer to paint the downstairs restroom blue. Do you think they will approve my request?

To read more from the author of Imagine, below is a link to Jonah Lehrer’s blog. http://bigthink.com/humanizing-technology/undisciplined-the-creative-insight-of-the-outsider?utm_source=Big+Think+Weekly+Newsletter+Subscribers&utm_campaign=695f3944b5-The_Creative_Insight_of_the_Outsider5_4_2012&utm_medium=email

Here is link to an interesting post on problem solving with a reference to the Einstein quote. http://litemind.com/problem-definition/

What Is A Leader?

 

 

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maya Angelou

 

In my continued quest for professional improvement, I have again turned to books for inspiration.  Like many others, my aspiration includes becoming a more effective leader. In order to do that, I thought it was important to understand the attributes that great leaders share. Of course, my quest is to be a great leader not just a good one. You might call this my search for “leadership enlightenment.”  With that in mind, I downloaded three new ebooks to my iPad, No Fear Of Failure: Real Stories of How Leaders Deal With Risk…, by Gary Burnison, The Twelve Absolutes of Leadership, also by Gary Burnison, and The CIO Edge 7 Leadership Skills You Need to Drive Results, by Waller and Rebenstrunk.

Each of these books has a focus on the leadership qualities that make a great “C” level executive – CIO, CTO, or CEO.  Being a “C” level leader is not really within my career aspirations, but my thought was that if I was focusing on leadership skills, why not look at what makes these “C” ones great. As my reading has progressed, (yes, I do read three books at one time, you could say I have a lack of focus, note to self –must work on that) I am learning that all of the great leaders share several common attributes.  These attributes include; how they deal with risk, how they communicate, how they embrace their softer side, and how they think analytically but act collaboratively. There are other commonalities, but I found these to be the most meaningful for me.

On the topic of dealing with risk, great leaders move forward with no fear of failure. They are comfortable with ambiguity, complexity, and change. It’s not that they take risk lightly, they just accept it and understand that they will sometimes fail. To take an excerpt from the book, No Fear Of Failure, “the most important aspect of failure is not the moment of defeat or loss. Rather, it is what happens the moment after failure occurs and a choice is presented: to allow fear or shift from setback to lesson learned….” leaders who are great “exhibit tremendous courage around the possibility and even the inevitability at times of failure.. they strive for what is possible rather than become paralyzed by the risk of failure.”

From reading these books, it was also interesting to learn that these same great leaders are exceptional communicators. To paraphrase, they listen, learn, and lead.  They realize that they are in the “people business.” They understand that in order to succeed they must develop the ability to inspire others and be able to effectively communicate a sense of mission and purpose.

When it comes to embracing their softer side, I was surprised to see that this was focused on as important. Not because I don’t think it is important, but because I did not think that anyone who was at this level found it was important to their overall success. Let me clarify a bit, this does not mean being a “softie” what it does mean is understanding that in order to be effective you need to “lead, inspire, and guide people – that you can help them to do and become more than their own vision for themselves…. At its best, leadership is a vocation, a calling. It is a heavy responsibility that far outweighs the privileges, calling to mind the words that from those to whom much is given, much is expected. At the heart of it, leadership is how you make others feel. “

As I read on and came to how you needed to think analytically but act collaboratively I was at first slightly confused.  Putting this into an example from my day-to-day life helped me to understand this better. I realized that what I might need to work on when faced with a challenging problem was to let the “thinker” in me first work through the problem from an analytical point of view and then let  the “feeler” in me take over and give ownership to the team to collaboratively work on the solution.

I would recommend that if you want to sharpen your leadership skills or move forward on the road from good to great as a leader, you might want to invest in one of these books.   You should also remember that as Burnison says “leadership is like life, it is a journey.”

As I continue my journey, I know I have a lot to work on, not the least of which is to listen more than I talk so that I can learn and then lead, to be aware that as a leader I must rise above the “I” and focus instead on the “we,” and most importantly for me I must be aware that as a leader people look at me differently and gauge many things by my overall demeanor and that the people around me will read my mood like tea leaves.

I started this by asking the question, what is a leader? What I have come to understand is that leadership itself is about grace, dignity, and restraint. How you say things is almost more important than what you are saying.  As a leader, people look to you for direction and assurance. And lastly, as a leader you must move beyond “what must be done” to “why we’re doing this.”  This last is what Burnison cites as the essential difference between being a manager and being a leader.

Supporting Innovation

 “Innovation— any new idea—by definition will not be accepted at first. It takes repeated attempts, endless demonstrations, monotonous rehearsals before innovation can be accepted and internalized by an organization. This requires courageous patience.” — Warren Bennis http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/citycar-hiriko-fold-car-future/story?id=15472566#

For the video: http://www.necn.com/02/24/12/A-fuel-efficient-fold-up-car/landing_scitech.html?blockID=657652&feedID=4213

I’m reading a new book this week, The Wide Lens: A New Strategy For Innovation, by Ron Adner. As I am reading I thought of the above article and video I saw a while ago on the new Hiriko, a fold up car.  Right about now you’re probably asking yourself “what does this have to do with leadership?” I think that no matter what type of business you are in, as a leader you need to be thinking about innovation. Whether it’s the next new item you put on your fast food menu, the newest software product, or the most fuel-efficient car design, all of these innovations have something in common, the need for support of the innovation by their surrounding ecosystems. Whether it’s the baker of the buns for the burger being able to accommodate the new square 10 inch bun requirement, the software sales partners building the new skills required to set up and install the software, or the need to have recharge stations installed in parking curbs for the electric car.  Leadership is about makings sure that all of the ecosystems are thought about and in place to sustain the success of these new innovations.

In the book, there is a story about Michelin’s invention of the “drive flat tire.” When I read this I thought “wow” I’ve got to get those tires, but then as I read on I realized that the problem with them was they were really expensive, there were no tire repair shops that had the needed equipment to repair them when I had driven my 50 miles on the flat (it never is really not flat you can just continue to drive on it for a while), and that it was unlikely that either of these things would change in the near future.  But as I continued to read, I realized that there were several peripheral inventions developed at the same time that I am already taking advantage of in my Honda Insight. One of these is the system that tells me my tires are running low on air. I won’t spoil the rest of the book for you, but you get the picture.

As I continue to read the book, it has started to dawn on me that as a leader it is not enough for me to encourage innovation. I must also be aware that support for that innovation needs to be a part of “selling the idea” to the executives.  While this at first might seem daunting, it is absolutely necessary. I would go on to claim that it is just as required as understanding the market segment for the product and the pricing models. If you don’t have a bun big enough to fit your new burger, then you’re never going to get it into your customer’s hands. Well, let me rephrase that, you might just literally get it into their hands, but you’re certainly not going to be able to claim a premium price for it unless you make it a protein burger and wrap it only in lettuce. The same is true if you can’t sell your software because no one can support it or your new car is just left to languish by the side of the road when the battery runs out of juice. This last assumes that you don’t also invent a really long extension cord that will stretch to the nearest Costco that has an electric car plug-in station.

I am not recommending that you squash your innovators by burdening them with thinking through all of these details. I am, however, taking the position that we as leaders must think ahead and act in concert with our innovators. We must support them, build a creative environment for them, and nurture their inventive ideas. Then, when we take the best of those ideas and sell them to the executives who need to buy in and fund the efforts, it is our job as leaders to also think through the ecosystem support that will be required to see a successful launch in the market.

There are a lot of books about innovation, but I highly recommend this one to help you build your thoughts about what we each can do as leaders to support the innovation that is definitely required in this economy to sustain our long-term business growth. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the book and the ecosystems that you need to support innovations for your business. Just remember, like Warren Bennis has said, this requires “courageous patience.”

Working With A Pure Innovator

Early in my management career I had the great pleasure or perhaps better put misfortune to work with a pure innovator. As I said in my post last week, most of us are usually a blend of several styles but predominately one under favorable conditions and another one when under stress. With that in mind, it is rare to find an individual who exhibits the same style under both conditions and even more rare, thank goodness, for that one style to be an Innovator.

The person I am referring to, who will remain nameless to protect the innocent, was the most brilliant individual that I have to this day ever met. He could come up with an overabundance of new ideas, could imagine how they would be built and could even envision exactly what they would look like. He was a deep well of software architectural knowledge, could expound on any subject, would work day and night on the next innovation, and always be seeking out new approaches. He was highly valued for his new ideas so of course he was put in charge of the entire software engineering team. He was brilliant and it stood to reason he should be in charge, right? Well, as those of us who have had a few years of management know, you don’t put someone in the manager’s role just because they are the smartest technology guru. Putting this pure innovator into a people and project management position was like asking the cat to kiss the dog. It was a recipe for disaster.

To sum up his project management skills, everything was easy and would be finished tomorrow. His people skills were nonexistent. He thought that everyone should work all day and night just like he did, no mentoring or people engagement here, he was brilliant after all and always knew all of the answers and could of course do it much faster himself.

I am sad to say that it took several projects that never saw the light of day and the loss of multiple valued staff for someone to finally see that this just was not the proper fit.  A niche was carved out for this brilliant individual where he could operate in a “think tank” mode and come up for air periodically to share his project ideas and then return to his pizza box and toy strewn office for another round of extreme innovation. He was much happier in his new role and the rest of us were certainly much happier having him in this role.

As you will remember from last week the outward signs of an Innovator are:

  • Head in the clouds with lots of great ideas.
  • Always looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  • Stays at high level – does not live for the details
  • Anything is possible and it’s all quick and easy
  • Toys all over their desk
  • Might forget to put on their pants

I can’t say that I ever saw him without his pants (and probably wouldn’t tell you if I had), but I have seen him asleep on the floor of his office under his desk after putting in yet another all night siege to find the way to software nirvana.

In case you think that I still work with this individual, let me be clear, that even though we did find him a different role, his self-esteem was harmed by his unhappy stint as a manager. It was a rare occurrence for him to have failed at anything and not easily tolerated by someone with an Innovator style. He has since gone on to a much different career and I believe he is now mining sugar from salt mines, but happily working alone in this entrepreneurial endeavor.

Next week, my experiences working with a Thinker. I call this one how to examine every little detail over and over and over again.

What’s Your Style?

Any of us who have been in a management position for a few years have probably experienced some type of “personality styles” training and assessment. Whether it is the Myers- Briggs test, the ITDF test or something else, we should by now know our style. What I’m going to try to do in this missive and over the next couple of weeks is share with you my experiences when working with individuals who have each of the ITDF (see my definitions below) predominate styles.

I’ve based this on what I consider to have been the best training I had early in my management career. What the assessment associated with this training did was point out that while we may have a predominate style we actually might have two predominate styles, one under favorable conditions and one that might be vastly different when under stress. The importance of this should be understood, because it could make you look slightly schizophrenic. An example of this was a former manager of mine who had two very different styles and to make it more challenging his styles were the exact opposite of mine. Well, needless to say, he thought I was crazy and I felt the same about him.  That was not a recipe for a good working relationship. We were both fortunate to have taken the styles assessments and management training at the same time. I will never forget when he turned to me and said “well I guess you’re not crazy after all.” We were able to move forward from there to have a very productive professional relationship. I learned how to read the signs that he was under stress and approach him accordingly – I will also say that this was very uncomfortable for me at first because my natural inclination was to give him the exact opposite of what he needed – in this case he wanted all of the facts and details when under stress and I was inclined to want to move very quickly and just give him the bottom line with no supporting details – made perfect sense to me.

With that as background, the styles as I define them are listed below with a bit of how I look at their definition. Now remember, most people are not completely one style, but are usually predominately one under each condition – favorable or stress.  Next week I will give you my story about working with a pure Innovator.

Can you see yourself below?

Innovator

  • Head in the clouds with lots of great ideas.
  • Always looking for new ways to accomplish things.
  • Stays at high level – does not live for the details
  • Anything is possible and it’s all quick and easy
  • Toys all over their desk
  • Might forget to put on their pants

Thinker

  • Loves to plan things
  • Very task oriented
  • Very precise and detailed
  • Always has a clean desk
  • Pants pressed with a crease that could cut butter

Doer

  • Quick to react
  • Takes ownership
  • Accomplishes lots of simultaneous tasks
  • Messy desk covered with papers
  • Pants on backwards

Feeler

  • Has many Friends
  • Is energized by meeting new people
  • Will always ask you how you are doing and really cares
  • Has pictures, plants, and flowers on the desk
  • Will give you their pants

Keep you pants on, more to come next week.