Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Personal Memory House or Landscape

Want to have a place to put your lifetime of learning? Organize your mind with a personal memory house.   You effectively decorate your memory scenes with ideas and thoughts.  You can then remember anything simply by walking through your memory scenes.  In Thank You for Arguing: What Aristotle, Lincoln, and Homer Simpson Can Teach Us About the Art of Persuasion, Jay Heinrichs writes about how the ancients used these personal memory villas to deliver great speeches and store a lifetime of learning.

Creating an Inventory of Thoughts
Heinrichs writes that the ancients had effective techniques for storing their ideas:

Cicero called memory, "the treasure-house of the ideas supplied by invention."  Like other rhetoricians, he had his own methods for creating an inventory of thoughts and ways of expressing them.  The ancients had wild ideas about memory, employing pornography, classical architecture, primitive semiotics, abusive classroom techniques, and exercises that orators continued throughout their lives.

Construct an Imaginary House or Scene to Fill With Ideas
Heinrichs writes that you should create an imaginary house or scene to fill with your ideas:

It went like this: every rhetoric student would construct an imaginary house or scene in his head, with empty spaces to fill with ideas.  One rhetorician was extremely specific about it:

The backgrounds ought to be neither too bright nor too dim, so that the shadows may not obscure the images nor the lustre make them glitter.  I believe that the intervals between backgrounds should be of moderate extent, approximately thirty feet; for, like the external eye, so the inner eye of thought is less powerful when you have moved the object of sight too near or too far away.

Your Personal Memory House or Landscape Lasts a Lifetime
While your memory structure may take a years to build, Hienrichs writes that it can last a lifetime:

It might take years to create a personal memory house or landscape, but the resulting mnemonic structure could last a lifetime.  The student then created his own mental images to fill each space.  Each image would stand for a concept, an ideal or commonplace, or a figure of speech. 

An Indoor Shopping Mall Example
Heinrichs illustrates a personal memory scene using a shopping mall example:

Imagine an indoor shopping mall with stores that hold figures, commonplaces, particular concepts, and argument strategies.  Some of the stores never change their merchandise, while others supply ideas that can serve a particular speech.  You arrange the stores according to the classic outline of an oration, with items useful to your introduction, narration and facts, division, proof, refutation, and conclusion.  For example, the introduction section can have all the devices of ethos in them.  One of them, the "doubt trick" (dubitatio) -- the one where you pretend not to know where to begin -- can be a mirror in the shape of a question mark.  Another, the one where you seem to have come to your choice reluctantly, after considering all the opponent's arguments, can be a painting with a picture on both sides of the canvas.  Each picture can stand for an opposing argument. 

Ancient Practices
According to Heinrichs, pornographic pictures helped memory:

If we really wanted to follow the ancient practices, we would make the picture pornographic, and fill some of the stores with naked men or women doing very interesting things.  Rhetoric teachers found that their students -- all young males - tended to remember these images especially.

Daily Walks Through Your Memory Villas
Never get lost in your speech.  According to Heinrichs, Roman speakers could simply visit the particular memory scene they need to draw from:

Even if they didn't have to give a speech, Roman gentlemen were supposed to walk through their "memory villas" at least once a day, visiting each section and imprinting the images in their heads.  Then, when he did have to speak, the Roman could simply walk through the villa and visit the sections he needed.  Instead of memorizing an outline and phrases, the way we might, he only had to remember the route for that particular speech, along with a few new images -- stored in the appropriate place -- that spoke to the particular issue.

Architectural Memory and Parallels to Today
Heinrichs writes that PowerPoint is a parallel with architectural memory:

Strange as this may seem to us today, we do have parallels to this architectural memory.  Take PowerPoint for instance.  Each slide often contains an image -- a picture, a chart, or graph -- that conveys a particular concept.  By looking at the slide along with the audience, the speaker can remember what to say. 

A PowerPoint Experiment
Heinrichs provides an experiment you can test to visualize your next speech, rather than relying on notes or slides:

If you had the time and the inclination, you might experiment by combining PowerPoint with the ancient memory technique.  Write down all your thoughts.  Now put each thought on a PowerPoint slide.  Find or create a graphic for each slide.  Print the slides in thumbnail and view and cut them out with scissors.  Now create a kind of board game, like Snakes and Ladders, where you follow a path through a kind of landscape and encounter each slide.  Place the slides in the order you want along the path, beginning with the introduction and finishing with the conclusion.  Stare at your "board game" for an hour or two, focusing on the pictures (you won't be able to read the type anyway).  Could you give the speech without notes or slides?  At any rate, that's what the Roman's did, only they had the advantage of years of practice.

Romans Had to Speak for Hours and Were Constantly Interrupted
Heinrichs writes that while he doesn't need to use the approach, the Romans would give long speeches and were interrupted along the way:

In my case, since my talk is only fifteen minutes long and I intend to speak plainly, I can do it without notes or rhetorical mnemonics.  But the Romans had to speak for hours, and their audiences interrupted them constantly.  In a pinch, they could always duck into their memory house and pull out something, well, memorable.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Organize your mind by constructing a personal memory house or landscape
  • Create a place for your ideas and put your ideas in their place
  • Walk through your memory, scene by scene
  • Visualize the scenes of your speech rather than memorize the notes or words
  • Build your personal memory villa over a lifetime

As simple as the idea sounds, I know it's effective.  I've used a similar idea in a very small scale.  I never thought to have multiple landscapes or really elaborate houses or scenes filled with ideas.   I can very much imagine hanging specific paintings on the walls of various rooms or having specific trees or bushes mean certain things.  The real beauty of this technique is that it's a forcing function that automatically improves your memory (simply by creating the memory) and it improves your imagination and visualization.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Learning and Growing Through Routines

You can use your daily routines for learning and growth.  Rather than view habits as mechanical, you can view them as mastering your craft.  By focusing on improvement, your routines and habits become an opportunity for personal transformation.  You can use your routines as an exploration into who you are and how you express yourself with something larger. In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, Michael E. Gerber writes about using routines and habits for joy and personal development. 

Habits Need a Higher Purpose
Orchestration is a way to do something habitually.  Gerber explains that all habits need a higher purpose, or they are mechanical and deadening:

"I need you to help me with something," Sarah said, a look of concern on her face.  "I need help coming to grips with this whole subject of Orchestration.  It sounds so mechanical, so deadening!  When I think of it, I picture a shop full of people working dispassionately, each of them doing things in identically the same way, like robots.  Certainly you can't be saying that.  But I don't know how else to think about it."

"Sarah," I began softly, "if the Business Development Process were only about Orchestration, I would agree with you -- it would be deadly.  Absent a higher purpose, all habits are.  Because that's all that Orchestration really is Sarah: a habit.  A way of doing something habitually.

Innovation, Quantification and Orchestration Go Together 
Gerber writes that Orchestration is only part of the process and that the sum is greater than parts:

"The problem is you can't understand the value of an entire process by separating it from its parts, or its parts from the process.  Because once you separate the parts of a process, once you take a process apart, there is no process.  There is no movement whatsoever.  There is only this thing or that that.  There is no beginning, no middle, no end.  There is no story; there's only an event, frozen in time.  You might say that apart from its process, the part of a process is dead.  So when you think of Orchestration absent Innovation and Quantification, you're describing an action stripped of its purpose, its meaning, its vitality.

The Joy Comes From Improvement
Gerber writes how the joy comes from improving upon you very specific tasks: 

Wasn't there a specific way your aunt taught you to cut the fruit?  A specific way to hold it?  A specific way to prepare it?  Wasn't there a specific way to do everything your aunt taught you to do?  And wasn't the creativity, the continuous stream of surprises, a result not just of the specific work you were doing but of your continuous and exhilarating experience of improving as you learned how to do those very specific tasks better and better, until you could do them almost as well as your aunt?

"Wasn't that where the joy came from?  That if you were resigned to doing one thing, one way, forever, without every improving, there would be no joy -- there would only be the same deadening routine?  And isn't that what your aunt taught you as she taught you to bake pies -- the mystery that change can bring?

There Needs to Be a Set Routine to Improve Upon
The key is to have a set routine to improve upon.  Gerber writes:

"So, of course, there needs to be Orchestration, Sarah.  There needs to be a way we do something.  There needs to be a set routine.  Because without it, there would be nothing to improve upon.  And without improvement, there would be no reason to be.  We would be machines.  Or, as you called them, 'robots.'  There would be the tyranny of routine.  There would be the monotony and the boredom you so eloquently describe.

The Way of Work as Personal Transformation
Work becomes an exploration into who we are and how we express ourselves.  Gerber writes:

"But with the process, with the continuous Innovation and Quantification that precedes Orchestration and that follows it, with this continuous investigation into the way of work, the work itself because key to our own personal transformation.  The work itself becomes something other than a habit; it becomes an exploration into who we are and how we express ourselves in relationship to something much larger.  First, the position we fill.  Then the function it fills.  Then the business within which the function fulfills both itself and the business without which it wouldn't exist.  Then the world within which the business fulfills its purpose as well as the purpose of the people with whom, and for whom, it comes into action.  And so on, and so forth.

The Thrill of Apprenticeship
Gerber writes that the thrill of apprenticeship is learning and growing from routines and exploring who you are in relationship to something bigger:  

"What I've just described is the thrill of apprenticeship, the learning and growing that you experienced in the kitchen under your aunt's tutelage.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Use routines and habits for personal development.
  • The key is to focus on improvement.
  • Your set routines are a baseline to improve upon.
  • Orchestration is a way of doing something habitually.
  • Your habits need a higher level purpose or they are mechanical and deadening.
  • Think of improving your routines and habits as mastering your craft.
  • Leverage your work for personal transformation.

My Related Posts

Working On Your Business, Is Working On Your Life

Working on your business, is working on your life.  Life if what business is about and your business should create more life for everyone.  In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, Michael E. Gerber writes about how going to work on your business, is going to work on your life.

Going to Work on the Business, is Going to Work on Your Life
Gerber writes that working on your business development is a metaphor for working on your life:

"On a more practical level, what we've experienced in our work with small business is that, as the Business Development Process becomes an integral part of the business, it also becomes an integral part of the communication between the participants.  It becomes not only a way of thinking and a way of doing, but a way of being as well.  You might say that while going to work on the business, people begin to realize that it is a powerful metaphor for going to work on their lives.

Create More Life for Everyone
According to Gerber, your business should create more life for everyone:

"And that, I believe, is the heart of the process:  not efficiency, not effectiveness, not more money, not to 'downsize' or 'get lean,' but to simply and finally create more life for everyone who comes into contact with the business, but most of all, for you, the person who owns it.

Continuous Improvement for Its Own Sake is a Waste of Time
According to Gerber, improvement doesn't mean anything if it doesn't address the hearts, minds, and souls of people: 

"So, I obviously feel passionately about the subject.  What you call it doesn't really matter; call it the Business Development Process, Reengineering, TQM, Excellence, or Kaizen -- the entire subject becomes a desultory process if it doesn't address the hearts and minds and souls of people.  Quality is just a word, and an empty word at that, if it doesn't include harmony, balance, passion, intention, attention.  Continuous improvement for its own sake is a waste of time.

Life is What a Business is About
Gerber writes that life is what business is all about:

Life is what a business is about, and life is what this work is about.  Coming to grips with oneself, in the face of an incredibly complex world that can teach us if we're open to learn.  In this way, the Business Development Process can be thought of as a metaphor for personal transformation, for coming to grips with real life.  For developing real skills within a structure of your own design.  For understanding the dynamics of change, of value, of communication, of thought.

An Opportunity to Fulfill Whatever is Fulfillable
Gerber writes that business is an opportunity to fulfill whatever is fulfillable:

"But what it is, in the end, is an opportunity to fulfill whatever is fulfillable in the place you find yourself now, and in any future place you could occupy with enough imagination and enough of a wish."

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Going to work on your business, is going to work on your life.
  • Business should create more life for everyone.
  • Continuous improvement doesn't matter if it doesn't improve the hearts, minds, and souls of people.
  • Business is about learning and growing and is a metaphor for life.
  • Business is an opportunity to realize our dreams and fulfill whatever is fulfillable.

I particularly like this perspective.  It reminds me that the only box we have at work is the one we put ourselves into.  This is truly a time for self-leadership and personal empowerment.   It's a great time to be an Entrepreneur or an Intrapreneur.  I think of Microsoft as one big land of opportunity, with plenty of smart people, resources, and potential.  The key is unleashing it.

My Related Posts

Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration

According to Michael E. Gerber, Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration are the backbone of every extraordinary business.  They are the essence of your Business Development process.   In The E-Myth Revisited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It, Gerber explains how Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration are key to your business development process.

The Three Part of a Business Development Process
According to Gerber, the three parts of the business development process are Innovation, Quantification, and Orchestration.

Building the Prototype of your business is a continuous process, a Business Development Process.  It's foundation is three distinct yet thoroughly integrated activities through which your business can pursue its natural evolution.  They are Innovation, Quantification and Orchestration.

Gerber says you should innovate the way in which your business does business:

The Franchise Revolution has brought with it an application of Innovation that has been almost universally ignored by American business.  By recognizing that it is not the commodity that demands Innovation but the process by which it is sold, the franchiser aims his innovative energies at the way in which his business does business.  To the franchiser, the entire process by which the business does business is a marketing tool, a mechanisms for finding and keeping customers.  Each and every component of the business system is a means through which the franchiser can differentiate his business from all other businesses in the mind of his consumer.

Gerber writes that you should quantify your innovation so you know the impact and where to spend your energy:

But on its own, Innovation leads nowhere.  To be at all effective, all Innovations need to be quantified.  Without Quantification, how would you know whether the Innovation worked?  By Quantification, I'm talking about the numbers related to the impact an Innovation makes.

Gerber writes that you should integrate your most effective innovations into your processes and routines:

Once you innovate a process and quantify its impact on your business, once you find something that works better than what preceded it, once you discovered how to increase the "yeses" from your customers, your employees, your suppliers, and your lenders -- at that point, it's time to orchestrate the whole thing.  Orchestration is the elimination of discretion, or choice, at the operating level of your business.  Without Orchestration, nothing could be planned, and nothing anticipated -- by you or your customer.  If you're doing everything differently each time you do it, if everyone in your company is doing it by their own discretion, their own choice, rather than creating order, you're creating chaos.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Innovation, Quantification and Orchestration are the backbone of business development.
  • Innovate in how your business does business.
  • Quantify the impact of your innovations.
  • Bake your innovations into your business processes.

I have to admit, I really do like the distinctions and the precision that Gerber puts to the business development process.  What he's really emphasizing is that your business is a living, breathing system with people and processes and that to survive, your business needs to continue to grow and learn through innovation.  But innovation doesn't help if you don't know the impact or if you don't actually make it a part of your business.  Beautiful.

Reflecting back, I know that innovation was a key part of our patterns & practices team.  We pushed innovation and changing the game.  It wasn't necessarily about innovating in the product, though we did that too, it was about innovating in how we built what we built.

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Sunday, May 25, 2008

Asking Better Questions

How can you ask better questions?   How can you ask more effectively?  If you improve the questions you ask, as well as who you ask and how you ask, you can produce more effective results.   In Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Anthony Robbins writes about asking intelligently and precisely to get the results you want.  

5 Guidelines for Asking Intelligently and Precisely
According to Robins, the five guidelines for asking better questions are:

  1. Ask specifically.
  2. Ask someone who can help you.
  3. Create value for the person you're asking.
  4. Ask with focused, congruent belief.
  5. Ask until you get what you want.

1. Ask specifically.
Robbins writes that you have to be specific about what you want:

You must describe what you want, both to yourself and someone else.  How high, how far, how much?  When, where, how, with whom?  If your business needs a loan, you'll get it -- if you know how much to ask.  You won't get it if you say, "We need some more money to expand into a new product line.  Please lend us some."  You need to define precisely what you need, why you need it, and when you need it.  You need to be able to show what you'll be able to produce with it.  In our goal-setting seminars, people always say they want more money.  I hand them a couple of quarters.  They asked and they recieved, but they didn't ask intelligently, so they didn't get what they wanted.

2. Ask someone who can help you.
Robbins writes that you have to ask the right person:

It's not enough to ask specifically, you must ask specifically of someone who has the resources -- the knowledge, the capital, the sensitivity, or the business experience.  Let's say you're having trouble with your spouse.  Your relationships is falling apart.  You can pour out your heart.  You can be as specific and as honest as humanly possible.  But if you seek help from someone who has as pitiful a relationship as you do, will you succeed?  Of course not.

Finding the right person to ask brings us back to the importance of learning how to notice what works. Anything you want -- a better relationship, a better job, a smarter program for investing your money -- is something someone already has or something someone already does.  The trick is to find those people and figure out what they do right.  Many of us gravitate toward barroom wisdom.  We find a sympathetic ear and expect that to translate to results.  It won't unless the sympathy is matched by expertise and knowledge.

3. Create value for the person you're asking.
Robbins writes that you have to make it a win-win for the person you're asking:

Don't just ask and expect someone to give you something.  Figure out how you can help them first.  If you've had a business idea and need money to pull it off, one way to do it is to find someone who can both help and benefit.  Show them how your idea can make money for you and for them as well.  Creating value doesn't always have to be that tangible.  The value you create may only be a feeling or a sensibility or a dream, but often that's enough.  If you came up to me and said you needed $10,000, I'd probably say, "So do a lot of other people."  If you said you needed the money to make a difference in people's lives, I might begin to listen.  If you specifically showed me how you wanted to help others and create value for them and yourself, I might see how helping you could create value for me as well.

4. Ask with focused, congruent belief.
Robbins writes that you have to ask with conviction:

The surest way to ensure failure is to convey ambivalence.  If you aren't convinced about what you're asking for, how can anyone else be?  So when you ask, do it with absolute conviction.  Express that in your words and your physiology.  Be able to show that you're sure of what you want, you're sure you'll succeed, and you're sure you will create value, not just for you but for the person you're asking as well.

5. Ask until you get what you want.
Robbins writes that you have to keep asking until you get what you want:

That doesn't mean asking the same person.  It doesn't mean asking in precisely the same way.  Remember, the Ultimate Success Formula says you need to develop the sensory acuity to know what you're getting, and you have to have the personal flexibility to change.  So when you ask, you have to change and adjust until you achieve what you want.  When you study the lives of successful people, you'll find over and over again that they kept asking, kept trying, kept changing -- because they knew that sooner or later they would find someone who couldn't satisfy their needs.

"Ask Until" Is the Most Important Part
Robbins writes that asking until you get what you want is the most important part of asking intelligently:

Sometimes people do all four perfectly.  They ask specifically.  They ask someone who can help them.  They create value for the person they've asking.  They ask congruently.  And even after that, they don't get what they want.  The reason is they didn't do the fifth thing.  They didn't "ask until."   That's the fifth and most important part of asking intelligently.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Be specific.
  • Ask the right person.
  • Find a win-win.
  • Believe in what you're asking for.
  • Keep asking until you get what you want.

I find that asking intelligently at work helps me be more effective.  For example, if I know what to ask for and I know who to ask and I show a win-win, this helps me get support for a project or idea.  I know that if at first I don't succeed, to try, try again.  I also change my approach, if it's not working.  It's about persistence and tuning along the way.

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Choose "How" Questions Over "Why" Questions

Why are you stuck?  That's not a very empowering question.  You'll just figure out reasons for why you're stuck.  Instead, ask a question like "how can you move forward?" or "how might you accomplish that?"  The key is to ask "how" questions over "why" questions.  In Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins writes about choosing "how" questions over "why" questions.

Choose "How" Questions Over "Why" Questions
Robbins writes that you should choose "how" questions over "why" questions:

Here's another important frame.  Choose "how" questions over "why" questions.  "Why" questions can get you reasons and explanations and justifications and excuses.  But they usually don't come up with useful information.  Don't ask your kid why he is having trouble with algebra.  Ask him what he needs to do to perform better.  There's no need to ask an employee why he didn't get a contract you were bidding for.  Ask him how he can change so you'll be certain to get the next one. 

Good Communicators Move Forward
Robbins writes that good communicators focus on moving forward over rationalizing why something's wrong:

Good communicators aren't interested in rationalizations of why something is going wrong.  They want to find out how to do it right.  The right questions will lead you in that direction.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Choose "how" questions over "why" questions.
  • Don't dwell on what's wrong, focus on what's right.
  • Find a way to move forward.

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Outcome Questions

How can you ask better questions to improve your effectiveness?  By asking "outcome questions" you can change direction toward the outcome and away from the solution.  In Unlimited Power : The New Science Of Personal Achievement, Tony Robbins writes about asking better questions using "outcome frames" and "outcome questions."

Outcome Frame
Robbins writes about reframing questions towards the outcome:

There are other ways to direct communication by asking the right questions.  One is the "outcome frame."  If you ask someone what's bothering them or what's wrong, you'll get a long dissertation on just that.  If you ask, "What do you want?" or "How do you want to change things?" you've redirected your conversation from the problem to the solution. 

Outcome Questions
Robbins writes about changing from the problem to the outcome using "outcome questions":

In any situation, no matter how dismal, there's a desirable outcome to be achieved.  Your goal should be to change direction toward that outcome and away from the problem.  Do this by asking the right questions.  There are any number of them.  In NLP, they're referred to as "outcome questions."

Example Outcome Questions
Robbins provides examples of "outcome questions":

  • "What do I want?"
  • "What is the objective?"
  • "What am I here for?"
  • "What do I want for you?"
  • "What do I want for me?"

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Ask "outcome questions."
  • Use "outcome questions" to move forward and avoid getting stuck in analysis paralysis.
  • No matter how bad the situation is, there's always a desired outcome.  Focus on that.
  • Move away from the problem and towards the solution using "outcome frames" and "outcome questions."

I actually use this technique effectively at work, but I call them "solution-focused questions."  Basically, I focus on how to move forward and getting clarity on where we want to go.  This helps keep the team in a resourceful state rather than get bogged down in problems and excuses.

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Melt Away Stress

Do you have an effective technique for melting away your stress?   If you can dedicate 15 minutes a day, you can rejuvenate your body and sharpen your mind, as well as reduce stress-related symptoms, such as insomnia.  In Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks, Dr. Julian Whitaker and Carol Colman write about a technique called the Relaxation Response for reducing stress and improving relaxation.

The Relaxation Response
Whitaker and Colman write about how they use the Relaxation Response as part of their wellness program:

People often believe mistakenly that in order to truly relax, they need to take a drink or take a pill.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Your body can do the job on its own if you let it.  At the Whitaker Wellness Institute we teach a technique called the relaxation response.  Developed by Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind/Body Medical Institute at the New England Deaconess Hospital and the Harvard Medical Institute, the relaxation response can soothe the spirit and help the body wind down after a hectic day.

Rejuvenate Your Body, Freshen Your Mind
Whitaker and Colman write that the relaxation response rejuvenates your body and freshens your mind:

The relaxation response involves a wide range of physiological changes.  Oxygen consumption is decreased, the heart rate slows down, muscles relax, and blood pressure can drop.  The best news of all, however, is that the relaxation response is a state of deep relaxation you can elicit yourself in order to rejuvenate your body and freshen your mind. 

Decrease Stress-Related Symptoms, Including Insomnia
According to Whitaker and Colman, you can reduce stress-related symptoms and improve your self-assurance:

Continual practice of the relaxation response will bring feelings of increased control over the details of your life and the sense that even your body's physiological reactions can be brought under control.  Many people who practice the relaxation response experience a greater sense of self-assurance and a decrease in stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.

How To Use the Relaxation Response
According to Whitaker and Colman, here's how you can practice the Relaxation Response:

  • Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax
  • Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position
  • Step 3. Choose a focus word
  • Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale
  • Step 5. Relax your muscles
  • Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word

Step 1. Allocate 15 minutes in your schedule to relax
Whitaker and Colman write:

Identify fifteen minutes in your schedule, preferrably early in the evening, before dinner, for a regular session.  Arrange a time when there will be no distractions.  Keep a watch or clock within sight so you can check it periodically.  You want to commit the full time to this endeavor.

Step 2. Sit in a comfortable position
Sit in a comfortable position and close your eyes.

Step 3. Choose a focus word
Whitaker and Colman write:

Choose a focus word or short phrase that has some resonance for you.  It could be a word such as "peace" or the beginning of a prayer or saying.

Step 4. Repeat the word as you exhale
Breath slowly and repeat the word silently as you exhale.

Step 5. Relax your muscles
Whiteaker and Colman write:

Relax your muscles, starting from your head and neck and moving down toward your toes.  Consciously sense each body part as you go.

Step 6. Keep breathing evenly and repeat your word
Whitaker and Colman write:

Keep breathing evenly and repeating your word.  If and when other thoughts intrude, do not rush from them but instead gently accept that they exist.  Move past them with a kind of "yes-but-later" attitude.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • The Relaxation Response is proven 15 minute technique for melting away stress.
  • The Relaxation Response reduces oxygen consumption, slows your heart rate down, relaxes your muscles and lowers your blood pressure.
  • Continual practice of the Relaxation Response improves your self-assurance and descreases stress-related symptoms, including insomnia.

What's interesting for me is that I've heard about various relaxation techniques, and they all seem to have the same things in common:  focus on breathing and relax your muscles from head to toe.  One technique that I liked the most focuses on a blue sheet rippling over the ocean at night, rather than focusing on a word or phrase.  It seems like all roads lead to the same destination.

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Take a Worry Break

Do you let your problems bother you throughout the day or into the night? Consider taking a worry break.  Schedule a 1/2 hr each day to focus on all your problems.  This way you know you have a time and place to do your worrying.  In Shed 10 Years in 10 Weeks, Dr. Julian Whitaker and Carol Colman suggest taking a worry break. 

How To Take a Worry Break
Whitaker and Colman write about how to take a worry break:

Find 30 minutes during the late afternoon to take a "worry break."  Sit down quietly.  Worry.  Do it intensely.  Think about what is bothering you and how you can make the situation better.  Some people find that actually writing down the problem and listing possible solutions can be beneficial.  If there is something you can do to resolve a problem, do it or at least formulate a plan of action.  Then put worrying aside until the next day.  If you being to worry when you get into bed, say to yourself, "No.  I've taken care of that already."  It sounds simple, but it can work if you let it.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Consolidate your problems rather than let them interfere throughout your day.
  • If you're going to worry, worry right.  Do it with rigor, get intense, and get results.
  • Forget about your problems for the rest of the day.

I really like the idea of a worry break.  I think it's similar to trying not to edit while you write, or trying not to critique while you brainstorm.  Problems can suck you down whether you're just trying to have fun or trying to focus on the task at hand.  How great is that, to know you have a time and place for your troubles?

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Curse of Knowledge

To get your ideas across, you need to be simple and use stories.  If it's that simple then why can't more people make ideas that stick?  Why do we end up with overcomplicated, lifeless prose?    It's the Curse of Knowledge.  In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath write about the Curse of Knowledge.

The Curse of Knowledge
According to Chip and Dan, the Curse of Knowledge gets in the way of being simple and using stories:

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.  Our knowledge has "cursed" us.  And it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can't readily re-create our listener's state of mind.

Tappers and Listeners Example
Chip and Dan illustrate the Curse of Knowledge by sharing the "tappers" and "listeners" experiment.  In 1990, Elizabeth Newton conducted an experiment between tappers and listeners.  Tappers would pick a song from a list and tap out the rhythm to a listener (by knocking on a table.)  The listener's job was to guess the song. 

Tappers Didn't Get Their Message Across
This experiment illustrated the Curse of Knowledge.  The tappers got their message across 1 time in 40, but they thought they were getting their message across 1 time in 2.  Why? When the tapper taps, they hear the song in their head.  Meanwhile, the listeners can't hear that tune -- they just hear a bunch of disconnected taps.

Two Ways to Beat the Curse of Knowledge
Can you defeat this villain?  According to Chip and Dan, there's two ways:

  1. Don't learn anything.
  2. Take your ideas and transform them.

Your best weapon for transforming your ideas and beating the Curse of Knowledge is the Six Principles of Sticky Ideas.

The Six Principles of Sticky Ideas 
The six principles are:

  • Principle 1. Simplicity
  • Principle 2. Unexpectedness
  • Principle 3. Concreteness
  • Principle 4. Credibility
  • Principle 5. Emotions
  • Principle 6. Stories

You can use the six principles as a checklist for your stories.

CEO Example
The Curse of Knowledge can get in the way.  Chip and Dan provide an example:

Let's take the CEO who announces to their staff that they must strive to "maximize shareholder value."  Is this idea simple? Yes, in the sense that it's short, but it lacks the useful simplicity of a proverb.  Is it unexpected? No.  Concrete?  Not at all.  Credible?  Only in the sense that it's coming from the mouth of the CEO.  Emotional?  Um, no.  A story?  No.

JFK Example
Chip and Dan contrast the CEO with John F. Kennedy:

Contrast the "maximize shareholder value" idea with John F. Kennedy's famous 1961 call to "put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade."  Simple?  Yes.  Unexpected?  Yes.  Concrete?  Amazingly so.  Credible?  The goal seemed like science fiction, but the source was credible.  Emotional? Yes.  Story?  In miniature.

If JFK Were a CEO
Chip and Dan give an example how John F. Kennedy's speech might have gone if he was a CEO:

Had John F. Kennedy been a CEO, he would have said, "Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategically target aerospace initiatives."  Fortunately, JFK was more intuitive than a modern-day CEO; he knew that opaque, abstract missions don't captivate and inspire people.  The moon mission was a classic case of a communicator's doding the Curse of Knowledge.  It was a brilliant and beautiful idea -- a single idea that motivated the actions of millions of people for a decade.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • The Curse of Knowledge is the problem where your knowledge "curses" you and it's difficult to re-create your listener's state of mind.
  • Keep your ideas simple and use stories.
  • Dodge the curse of knowledge by using the Six Principles of Sticky Ideas.

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Six Principles of Sticky Ideas

How do you make an idea stick?  Mark Twain noted, "A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on."  Meanwhile, people with important ideas, struggle to make their ideas stick. In Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, Chip Heath and Dan Heath write about six principles to make your ideas stick and help you get your point across.

Six Principles of Sticky Ideas
According to Chip and Dan, there's six principles that help you craft a sticky message:

  • Principle 1. Simplicity
  • Principle 2. Unexpectedness
  • Principle 3. Concreteness
  • Principle 4. Credibility
  • Principle 5. Emotions
  • Principle 6. Stories

Principle 1. Simplicity
Keep it simple and profound.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we find the essential core of our ideas?  A successful defense lawyer says, "If you argue ten points, even if each is a good point, when they get back to the jury room, they won't remember any."  To strip an idea down to its core, we must be masters of exclusion.  We must relentlessly prioritize.  Saying something short is not the mission -- sound bites are not the ideal.  Proverbs are the ideal.  We must create ideas that are both simple and profound.  The Golden Rule is the ultimate model of simplicity: a one-sentence statement so profound that the individual could spend a lifetime learning to follow it.

Principle 2. Unexpectedness
Surprise your audience.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we get our audience to pay attention to our ideas, and how do we maintain their interest when we need time to get the ideas across?  We need to violate people's expectations.  We need to be counterintuitive.  A bag of popcorn is as unhealthy as a whole day's worth of fatty foods?  We can use surprise -- an emotion whose function is to increase alertness and cause focus -- to brag people's attention.  But surprise doesn't last.  For our idea to endure, we must generate interest and curiosity.  How do you keep students engaged during the forty-eighth history class of the year?  We can engage people's curiosity over a long period of time by systematically "opening gaps" in their knowledge -- and then filling those gaps.

Principle 3. Concreteness
Use concrete images.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we make our ideas clear?  We must explain our ideas in terms of human actions, in terms of sensory informational.  This is where so much business communication goes awry.  Mission statements, synergies, strategies, visions -- they are often ambiguous to the point of being meaningless.  Naturally sticky ideas are full of concrete images -- ice-filled bathtubs, apples with razors -- because our brains are wired to remember concrete data.  In proverbs, abstract truths are often encoded in concrete language: "A bird in hand is worth two in the bush." Speaking concretely is the only way to ensure that our idea will mean the same thing to everyone in our audience.

Principle 4. Credibility
Help people test your ideas for themselves.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we make people believe our ideas?  When the former surgeon general C. Everett Koop talks about a public-health issue, most people accept his ideas without skepticism.  But in most day-to-day situations we don't enjoy his authority.  Sticky ideas have to carry their own credentials.  We need ways to help people test our ideas for themselves -- a "try before you buy" philosophy for the world of ideas.  When we're trying to build a case for something, most of us instinctively graps for hard numbers.  But in many cases this is exactly the wrong approach.  In the sole U.S. presidential debate in 1980 between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, Reagan could have cited innumerable statistics demonstrating the sluggishness of the economy.  Instead, he asked a simple question that allowed voters to test for themselves: "Before you vote, ask yourself if you are better off today than you were four years ago."

Principle 5. Emotions
Tap into emotions to convey your point.  We're wired to feel things for people, not abstractions.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we get people to care about our ideas?  We make them feel something.  In the case of movie popcorn, we make them feel disgusted by its unhealthiness.  The statistics "37 grams" doesn't elicit any emotions.  Research shows that people are more likely to make a charitable gift to a single needy individual than to an entire impoverished region.  We are wired to feel things for people, not for abstractions.  Sometimes the hard part is finding the right emotion to harness.  For instance, it's difficult to get teenagers to quite smoking by instilling in them a fear of the consequences, but it's easier to get them to quit by tapping into their resentment of the duplicity of Big Tobacco.

Principle 6. Stories
Tell stories to get people to act on your ideas.  Chip and Dan write:

How do we get people to act on our ideas?  We tell stories.  Firefighters naturally swap stories after every fire, and by doing so they multiply their experience; after years of hearing stories, they have a richer, more complete catalog of critical situations they might confront during a fire and the appropriate response to those situations.  Research shows that mentally rehearsing a situation helps up perform better when we encounter that situation in the physical environment.  Similarly, hearing stories acts as a kind of mental flight simulator, preparing us to respond more quickly and effectively.

To help you remember the principles, Chip and Dan provide the acronym "SUCCESs"":

Simple ... Unexpected ... Concrete ... Credentialed ... Emotional ... Story

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Be a master of exclusion. 
  • Relentlessly prioritize.
  • Create ideas that are both simple and profound.
  • Surprise your audience.  Violate people's expectations.
  • Create concrete images.
  • Create curiosity by systematically opening gaps in people's knowledge and then filling those gaps.
  • Tap into emotions to convey your point.
  • Help people test your ideas for themselves

I can definitely say that the six principles of sticky ideas resonate.  I see them in action at work.  I also remember how Ward Cunningham used stories, as a form of mental judo, to share ideas.  He also was good at getting people to tell their stories by asking them either "What did you learn that you didn't expect?"  ... or "What did you learn that surprised you?"

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Innovation Objectives

Innovation objectives are how you realize the potential for your business.  Innovation is how you can create game changers either in the marketplace, your product, or your processes.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about innovation objectives.

What Our Business Should Be
According to Drucker, the innovation objective helps transform the business into what it should be:

The innovation objective is the objective through which a company makes operational its definition of “what our business should be.”

Process, Product, and Marketplace Innovation
There's three kinds of innovation.  Drucker writes:

There are essentially three kinds of innovation in every business: innovation in products or service; innovation in the marketplace and consumer behavior and values; and innovation in the various skills and activities needed to make the products and services and to bring them to market. They might be called respectively product innovation, social innovation, and managerial innovation.

Measuring Impact and Importance
Drucker points out that the key challenge with innovation objectives is measuring impact and importance:

The problem in setting innovation objectives is measuring the relative impact and importance of various innovations. But how are we to determine what weights more: a hundred minor but immediately applicable improvements in packaging a product, or one fundamental chemical discovery that after ten more years of hard work may change the character of the business altogether? A department store and a pharmaceutical company will answer this question differently; but so may two different pharmaceutical companies.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • There's three kinds of innovation: product, process, and marketplace.
  • Innovation is how you transform your business into what it should be.
  • The key challenge with innovation objectives is measuring relative impact and importance.

From what I've seen, the people that do best with innovation are the ones that can effectively leverage their intuition.  I think the other real key is being able to turn innovation into results, both iteratively and incrementally. 

In today's world, I think another key that might not be as obvious is that innovation needs to meet applied use.  If the innovation doesn't feel real to the stakeholders, you lose support.  Along these lines, it's important to know that sometimes the market isn't ready.

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Resources Objectives

How do you attract and retain good people?  People are your most important asset.  If your jobs aren't attractive to qualified, ambitious people, you have an issue.   In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about setting effective resources objectives.

Your Business Must Attract Land, Labor, and Capital
There's three kinds of resources: land, labor, and capital.  Drucker writes that your business must attract all three:

All economic activity, economists have told us for two hundred years, requires three kinds of resources: land, that is, products of nature; labor, that is, human resources; and capital, that is, the means to invest in tomorrow. The business must be able to attract all three and to put them to productive use. A business that cannot attract the people and the capital it needs will not last long.

Decline is When Good People Won't Sign Up
Drucker warns that the first sign of the decline of an industry is when there's no appeal to qualified, ambitious people:

The first sign of decline of an industry is loss of appeal to qualified, able, and ambitious people. The decline of the American railroads, for instance, did not begin after World War II – it only became obvious, and irreversible then. The decline actually set in around the time of World War I. Before World War I, able graduates of American engineering schools looked for a railroad career. From the end of World War I on – for whatever reason – the railroads no longer appealed to young engineering graduates, or to any educated young people.

Attract and Hold the Kind of People You Want
Know what your jobs need to be to attract and hold the right kind of talent.  Drucker challenges you to think about the type of people you want to attract:

In the two areas of people and capital supply, genuine marketing objectives are therefore required. The key questions are: What do our jobs have to be to attract and hold the kind of people we need and want? What is the supply available on the job market? And, what do we have to do to attract it? Similarly, What does the investment in our business have to be, in the form of bank loans, long-term debts or equity, to attract and hold the capital we need?

You Have To Satisfy the Business and the Market
You have to know what people want and what the business needs to create effective resource objectives.  Drucker writes:

Resource objectives have to be set in a double process. One starting point is the anticipated needs of the business, which then have to be projected on the outside, that is, on the market for land, labor, and capital. But the other starting point is these “markets” themselves, which then have to be projected onto the structure, the direction, the plans of the business.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Your business must attract land, labor and capital.
  • The first sign of decline is loss of attraction to qualified, ambitious people.
  • Design jobs to attract and retain the kind of people you want.
  • Your jobs have to satisfy the business and the people in the market.

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Productivity Objectives

If your business doesn't have productivity objectives, it doesn't have direction.  If your business doesn't have productivity measurements, it doesn't have control.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker explains that productivity is the best yardstick for comparing management effectiveness.

Productivity is the Best Yardstick
According to Drucker, productivity is the best tool for comparing management effectiveness across your enterprise:

A productivity measurement is the best yardstick for comparing management of different units within an enterprise, and for comparing managements of different enterprises.

Productivity is the Degree to Which Resources are Utilized and Their Yield
The quality of management differentiates one business from another in the same field.  Drucker writes:

All businesses have access to pretty much the same resources. Except for the rare monopoly situation, the only thing that differentiates one business from another in any given field is the quality of its management on all levels. The first measurement of this critical factor is productivity, that is, the degree to which resources are utilized and their yield.

Continuous Productivity Improvement
Management's most important job is continuous productivity improvement.  Drucker writes:

The continual improvement of productivity is one of management’s most important jobs. It is also one of the most difficult; for productivity is a balance among a diversity of factors, few of which are easily definable or clearly measurable.

Labor is Only One Factor
According to Drucker, there's three major resources when you're considering productivity objectives: land, labor and capital.  Drucker writes that you can't let labor make the other resources less productive:

Labor is only one of the three factors of production. And if productivity of labor is accomplished by making the other resources less productive, there is actually loss of productivity.

Objectives are Direction, Measurement is Control
According to Drucker, productivity is central:

Productivity is a difficult concept, but it is central. Without productivity objectives, a business does not have direction. Without productivity measurements, it does not have control.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Productivity is the best tool for comparing effectiveness.
  • The quality of management differentiates one business from another in the same field.
  • Management's most important job is continuous productivity improvement.

I think the meta-point is, assuming both businesses produce effective results, the more efficient one wins in the long run.  That's consistent with my experience.

I think another important point here is that if you focus on your productivity, you can usually find a lot of opportunity for innovation in your processes.

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Social Responsibilities Objectives

What's the impact of your business on society and the economy?  Businesses don't exist in a vacuum.  They exist within a society and an economy.  If your business is valued by society and the economy, you have a chance for survival.  If it's not valued, society can put you out of business overnight.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about baking social objectives into your business strategy. 

Business Needs to Think Through Its Impacts
Your business has an impact on society.  Drucker writes that you need to think through your impact and responsibilities:

Only a few years ago managers as well as economists considered the social dimension so intangible that performance objectives could not be set.  We have now learned that the intangible can become very tangible indeed.  Lessons we have learned from the rise of consumerism, or from the attacks on industry for the destruction of the environment, are expensive ways for us to realize that business needs to think through its impacts and its responsibilities and to test objectives for both.

Business is a Creature of Society and Economy
According to Drucker, your business needs to serve a necessary, useful and productive job:

The social dimension is a survival dimension.  The enterprise exists in a society and an economy.  Within an institution one always tends to assume that the institution exists in a vacuum.  And managers inevitably look at their business from the inside.  But the business enterprise is a creature of a society and an economy, and society or economy can put any business out of existence overnight.  The enterprise exists on sufferance and exists only as long as the society and the economy believe that it does a necessary, useful, and productive job.

Social Objectives Need to Be Built Into the Strategy
Drucker writes that a manager has to include social objectives in their strategy:

That such objectives need to be built into the strategy of a business, rather than merely be statements of good intentions, needs to be stressed here.  These are objectives that are needed not because the manager has a responsibility to society.  They are needed because the manager has a responsibility to the enterprise.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Think through your social and economic impact and responsibilities.
  • Society and the economy need to believe that your business serves a necessary, useful and productive job.
  • Bake social objectives into your strategy.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

First Know What's Right for Effective Decision Making

To make effective decisions, first figure out what would be the right thing to do.  That's your starting point.  There's a good chance you'll have to compromise along the way, but first figure out what the right solution would be before you start trimming it down.  You can't make the right compromises if you don't first know what right is.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about starting with what's right to avoid giving away what's important during negotiation.

What’s Right Over What’s Acceptable for Effective Decision Making
Drucker reminds us that everybody can make compromises, but they need to start from what's right, not what's acceptable:

One has to start out with what is right rather than what is acceptable (let alone who is right) precisely because one always has to compromise in the end.  But if one does not know what is right to satisfy the specifications and boundary conditions, one cannot distinguish between the right compromise and the wrong compromise – and will end up by making the wrong compromise.

First Know What Right Is
Drucker shares a story to make the point that it's your job to figure out what's right before you start compromising:

I was taught this when I started in 1944 on my first big consulting assignment, as study of the management structure and management policies of General Motors Corporation.  Alfred P. Sloan Jr., who was then chairman and chief executive officer of the company, called me to his office at the start of my study and said, “I shall not tell you what to study, what to write, or what conclusions to come to.  This is your task.  My only instruction to you is to put down what you think is right as you see it.  Don’t worry about our reaction.  Don’t you worry about whether we will like this or dislike that.  And don’t you, above all, concern yourself with compromises that might be needed to make your recommendations acceptable.  There is not one executive in the company who does not know how to make every single conceivable compromise without any help from you.   But he can’t make the right compromise unless you first tell him what ‘right’ is.”  The executive thinking through a decision might put this in front of himself in neon light.

If You Start Out With What’s Acceptable, You Give Away What’s Important
Drucker makes the point that if you start off with what's acceptable, you'll end up giving away what's really important:

It is fruitless and a waste of time to worry about what is acceptable and what one had better not say so as not to evoke resistance.  The things one worries about never happen.  And objections and difficulties no one thought about suddenly turn out to be almost insurmountable obstacles.  One gains nothing, in other words, by starting out with the question.  One gains nothing, in other words, by starting out with the question, What is acceptable?  And in the process of answering it, one gives away the important things, as a rule, and loses any chance to come up with an effective, let alone with the right, answer.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • To make the right compromise, first know what right is.
  • To figure out what's right, don’t worry about our reaction, don’t you worry about whether the decision will be liked, and don’t concern yourself with compromises that might be needed to make your recommendations acceptable.
  • If you have a baseline for what right is, then you can make more effective compromises.

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Half a Loaf Over Half a Baby

There's two different kinds of compromises in decision making.  One compromise results in a decision that gets you towards the solution.  The other compromise results in a decision that is worse than where you started from.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker illustrates

Half a Baby is Worse Than None
Drucker writes:

For there are two different kinds of compromise.  One kind is expressed in the old proverb, Half a loaf is better than no bread.  The other kind is expressed in the story of the judgement of Solomon, which was clearly based on the realization that half a baby is worse than no baby at all.  In the first instance, the boundary conditions are still satisfied.  The purpose of bread is to provide food, and half a loaf is still food.  Half a baby, however does not satisfy the boundary conditions.  For half a baby is not half of a living and growing child.  It is a corpse in two pieces.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Half a loaf is better than no bread.
  • Half a baby is worse than none.

I think metaphors are great for illustrating points.  I think these metaphors are easy to relate to and will come in handy at work.

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Boundary Conditions for Effective Decisions

Putting decisions into place usually requires compromises along the way or dealing with unforeseen events.  If your decision depends on everything going perfectly well, you're in trouble.  If you don't know the minimum your decision needs to accomplish, then you can end up taking compromises too far.  To make effective decisions, you need to know the boundaries.  You need to know what good like in terms of a continuum, from the minimal solution to the ideal.  Most importantly, don't depend on the decision that requires everything to go right.  In The Essential Drucker: The Best of Sixty Years of Peter Drucker's Essential Writings on Management, Peter Drucker writes about using boundary conditions for effective decision making.

Know What the Decision Has to Accomplish
Drucker reminds us that we need to know what the decision has to accomplish:

The second major element in the decision process is clear specifications as to what the decision has to accomplish.  What are the objectives the decision has to reach?  What are the minimum goals it has to attain?  What are the conditions is has to satisfy?  In science these are known as “boundary conditions.”  A decision, to be effective, needs to satisfy the boundary conditions.  It needs to be adequate to its purpose.

Define the Boundaries for the Decision Concisely
Drucker reminds us to state the boundary conditions concisely:

The more concisely and clearly boundary conditions are stated, the greater the likelihood that the decision will indeed be an effective one and will accomplish what it set out to do.  Conversely, any serious shortfall in defining these boundary conditions is almost certain to make a decision ineffectual, no matter how brilliant it may seem.

What’s the Minimum the Decision Needs to Satisfy 
Drucker reminds us to get clarity on what the minimum solution would be:

What is the minimum needed to resolve this problem?  Is the form in which the boundary conditions are usually probed.  Can our needs be satisfied?  Alfred P. Sloan presumably asked himself when he took command of General Motors in 1922, by removing the autonomy of the division heads.  His answer was clearly in the negative.  The boundary conditions of his problem demanded strength and responsibility in the chief operating positions.  This was needed as much as unity and control at the center.  The boundary conditions demanded a solution to a problem of structure, rather than an accommodation among personalities.  And this in turn made his solution last.

If It Doesn’t Satisfy the Boundaries, It’s Not Effective
If the decision won't satisfy the boundaries, Drucker reminds us to avoid these decisions:

The effective person knows that a decision that does not satisfy the boundary conditions is ineffectual and inappropriate.  It may be worse indeed than a decision that satisfies the wrong boundary conditions.  Both will be wrong, of course.  But one can salvage the appropriate decisions for the incorrect boundary conditions.  It is still an effective decision.  One cannot get anything but trouble from the decision that is inadequate to its specifications.

Know When a Decision Has to be Abandoned
You need to know when to hold them.  You also need to know when to fold them.  Drucker says you need to know the boundaries so that you know when to abandon a decision:

In fact, clear thinking about the boundary conditions is needed so that one knows when a decision has to be abandoned. 

Avoid Decisions Where Everything Has to Go Right
The worst decisions are the ones that depend on everything going right.  Drucker writes:

But clear thinking about the boundary conditions is needed also to identify the most dangerous of all possible decisions: the one that might – just might – work if nothing whatever goes wrong.  These decisions always seem to make sense.  But when on thinks through the specifications they have to satisfy, one always finds that they are essentially compatible with each other.  That such a decision might succeed is not impossible – it is merely grossly improbable.  The trouble with miracles is not, after all, that they happen rarely; it is that one cannot rely on them.

Example of Where Everything Had to Go Right
Drucker provides a an example of a decision that depended on everything going right (but it didn't):

A perfect example was President Kennedy’s Bay of Pigs decision in 1961.  One specification was clearly Castro’s overthrow.  But at the same time, there was another specification: not to make it appear that U.S. forces were intervening in one of the American republics.  That the second specification was rather absurd, and that no one in the whole world would have believed for one moment that the invasion was a spontaneous uprising of the Cubans, is beside the point.  To the American policy-makers at the time, the appearance of nonintervention seemed a legitimate and indeed a necessary condition.  But these two specifications would have been compatible with each other only if an immediate islandwide uprising against Castro would have completely paralyzed the Cuban army.  And this, while not impossible, was clearly not highly probable in a public state.  Either the whole idea should have been dropped or American full-scale support should have been provided to ensure success of the invasion.

The Mistake Was Failure to Think Through the Boundary Conditions
Drucker points out the problem was failure to think through the boundaries for success:

It is not disrespect for President Kennedy to say that his mistake was not, as he explained, that he had “listened to the experts.”  The mistake was failure to think through the boundary conditions that the decision had to satisfy, and refusal to face up to the unpleasant reality that  a decision has to satisfy two different and at bottom incompatible specifications it not  a decision but a prayer for a miracle.

Don’t Fall Short of the Boundary Conditions
If the decisions is a failure from the start, Drucker reminds us not to go down that path:

Everyone can make the wrong decision – in fact, everyone will sometimes make a wrong decision.  But no one needs to make a decision that, on its face, falls short of satisfying the boundary conditions.

Key Take Aways
Here's my key take aways:

  • Success is a range or continuum of possibilities. 
  • Know the boundary conditions for your important decisions.
  • Know the continuum of what good looks like.
  • Know the minimum the decision needs to satisfy.
  • Don't depend on everything going as planned.
  • Know when you need to abandon a decision.
  • If the decision is a failure from the start, don't go down that path.

I think Drucker nails the keys for establishing boundaries in your decisions.  I really think knowing your minimum and knowing when to abandon a decision are especially important criteria, that if you don't think through up front, you'll have a tough time figuring our when your mired in action. 

I find myself paying a lot more attention to decisions where the assumption is everything will go right.  I think the key here is to explicitly call out what the assumptions are for the decision to work and that alone should raise concerns.

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