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Strategy and Tactics November 30, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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Business strategy guides an organization toward common goals.  It is a vital organ throughout the life of the business, though no two are the same.  However, strategy says little about day to day activities – the tactics of running an operation in order to meet the strategic goals.

The reason for this is quite simple: long-term strategy will never be able to predict the real-time conditions in which decisions must be made.  Therefore, the organization’s management must be able to internalize the strategy such that a decision that goes against it will feel downright uncomfortable.

On the other hand, they cannot expect that every decision will have a firm basis in a strategy document.  There is a lot of gray area between vision and execution.

One of the best definitions of vision I’ve heard is this:

“A vision presents a clear goal, but not the path to get there.”

It’s like a mountain on the horizon.  You follow the general direction, even when the path is not straight and there are obstacles in the way.  When you pause to get your bearings, the goal is still there.  Adjustments and deviations from the shortest path are a part of the journey.

Gripped by Fear November 22, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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One of my favorite movie dialogues is from Men In Black.  Even after all these years (1997!), it holds a great deal of truth – and indeed the movie itself touches on a fair number of human philosophies and beliefs.

J (Will Smith): People are smart.  They can handle it.

K (Tommy Lee Jones): A person is smart.  People are dumb, panicky, dangerous animals and you know it.

The clear distinction between individuals and groups is important, not just if you are trying to protect citizens from the fear of alien invasion, but even if trying to manage more mundane matters.  Any organization of any size must deal with the realities of psychology(of the individual) and sociology (of groups) to move forward and effect change.

Human fear is the most powerful emotion we have, and it can quite literally shut down our mental processes to the point that we become paralyzed.  Fear can take on many forms, but one of the most common is the stress that we experience when facing real or potential change.

Fear of the unknown, of a lost job, or of coming to harm all conspire to keep us in our comfort zones.  Our individual ability to reason and foresee longer term consequences and benefits is all that separates us from living solitary, completely risk-averse lives.  It may be indeed the stuff of our very civilization.

But while it is possible to reason with individuals, this reasoning depends on understanding each individual’s personal motivations and fears.  Groups do not have motivations as such.  But that doesn’t keep the individuals in a group from displaying behavior they would not otherwise.  Groupthink, biases, and a desire to not be contrarian can mask personal motivations and even make one deviate from their personal values.

Only by understanding fear – and acknowledging that it will always be part of any decision process – can we learn to work around it and minimize its damaging effects.

Small-Scale Wind Power November 17, 2011

Posted by Jason in Writing.
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As with so many locations around the world, Montana’s wind attracts energy producers and investors eager to prove the feasibility of large “wind farms” and provide a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels. With most of the eastern plains seeing average wind speeds from 14 to 20 mph, there is great potential for success. Ironically however, some of the highest winds, such as those often found in Montana, (more…)

A Little Housekeeping November 17, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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My guest posts over at How to Manage a Camel have new URLs.  Rather than fix all the old tags, here are the updated links:

Two Laws You Must Know – Time and Revenue

How Much Is Too Much? – Break three rules every day

The Flip Side – Accepting Delegation

Who Put You in Charge? – Sell the Project Management skill

Follow Through – It’s not enough to just direct the work

Break In The Chain – Communication, not command

Read It Again – Thoughts on books

I Am Not a Dentist November 15, 2011

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I am not a dentist.

I have never had any desire to enter the medical field, and am not particularly interested in the masticatory system.

So it remains a mystery what possessed me to pick up a book written by a dentist for other dentists – one that I found in, of all places, a small thrift store on the coast of Queensland, Australia. A full third of the content is technical. I had no idea what occlusion, facebow, or medial pterygoid mean – and after reading the book, I still don’t.

But “The Art of the Examination” by Barry Polansky wasn’t intended to teach dentistry. I suppose the author gave little thought to how his zen-like approach to dentistry could apply to so many other areas of life and business – but I suspect he probably secretly does, much to his credit. In particular, as I’ve discussed several times in this space and in my Civil Connection column, there are more than a few similarities between engineering, law, and medicine. Each is a profession that depends much more on trust as it relates to public welfare. And in each case, our clients depend on our expertise to meet their very personal goals.

Every chapter has several practical insights designed to build the relationship between professional and client. Polansky’s unique approach is intended to seek out and then systematically work toward the patient’s individual needs. Even if services were free, there is still a great deal of pain and adjustment required to change our behavior – quite common in, for example, the management consulting world. The client’s commitment to stick with it to the end is dependent directly on whether he or she sincerely believes that we can arrive there together.

One piece of advice summarizes the book: always consider the patient’s personal circumstances. It doesn’t matter how good we might be at arguing a case, designing a particular structure, or filling a tooth. We must first ask why the patient has arrived in our chair at all. Pain? Broken tooth? Discoloration? What problem are we being asked to solve, and is it the right one?

If we jump into a project with our “hammer” of a solution, we may find that we have the wrong tool for the wrong job – and a damaged client at the end.

Find more of Dr. Polansky’s work on his website here: http://taoofdentistry.com/blog/about/