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Just how accurate are your eyes? February 6, 2013

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Our local news station’s weather department came up with an interesting little slogan for their mid-day ads.  As probably every local weather reporter does, ours wants you to know that when the storm of the century hits, he’ll be there to keep you informed.

Forecast

So, it’s all the more interesting that they selected the slogan, “Nothing more accurate than seeing it yourself.”  As in, if you look out the window, you’ll know more than we can tell you from the TV station.  Strange as it is for our weatherman to promote, does this phrase even hold true?

On one level, it does.  We trust our eyes to absorb the visual spectrum and our brains to interpret those signals, presenting “factual” information and predictions.  We believe that which we “see”.  Speaking of weather, we could all be professional meteorologists if the extent of the job were to look outside and report rain, snow, or sleet.

Of course, it is much more than that.  First, what you see is not always what it seems.  Science has shown that in addition to cognitive biases, we also suffer visual limitations when concentrating on particular tasks.  We can literally be blind to something right in front of us, as this great video summary of Daniel Kahneman’s work shows.

On another level, we can ask what “accuracy” even means.  It’s probably fair to say that most people don’t need a meteorologist to decide whether to carry an umbrella RIGHT NOW.  On the other hand, most of us would be at a loss to guess whether it will be raining in three hours, or three days.  Our “accurate” visual understanding of the environment becomes almost useless very quickly.

We need meteorologists (and doctors, and engineers) to help interpret observations and then literally PREDICT THE FUTURE – at least with a reasonable degree of certainty.  I would trust the professional estimate any day over what my eyes may be telling me at that moment.

Pressure to Act August 25, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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I just finished the book Skyward by Admiral Richard Byrd.  Byrd was the first person to fly over the North Pole and the South Pole, in 1926 and 1929, respectively.

The book has several themes around aviation, exploration, and the future of commercial travel.  But it also has a theme that the author couldn’t have envisioned: it maps the pace of life at that time, which is all the more significant given our modern technology for communication and planning.

In Byrd’s day, radio communication and telegrams were common, but long distance telephone calls were a special event.  By far, letters and newspapers were the primary means of communicating to the masses and between individuals.  How did major undertakings like polar expeditions get off the ground?

Byrd admits directly that the plans were laid years before in his own mind, mapped, studied, and validated with others familiar with the risks.  It was his own careful planning and even invention of special navigation instruments that allowed the trips to occur at the time they did.

Contrast this with the expectation of speed that comes with instant messages, texts, emails, and video chats.  Have we lost our awareness of the need for “deep thinking” and contemplation that builds memories and connections?  Have we forgotten that weighty decisions and risky undertakings should at least be contemplated over a good night’s sleep?

The pressure to act is strong.  We are often quick to take on a challenge or a task without contemplation of risks or workloads.  But it is this contemplation that allows for both creative solutions and daring explorations.

Don’t forget to sleep on it.

What Will You? April 3, 2012

Posted by Jason in Management.
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Almost every project contains a “post-mortem”.  I’ve always disliked the concept, not just due to the connotation of death (especially if the project was indeed successful) but because it implies that the only lessons we learn are those at the end – and that they are in turn due to some failure.

Simply learning from failures is a reaction to outcomes rather than setting out to learn during the process.  Case in point: how many performance reviews are there that ask the question, “What did you learn from the experience?”  All retrospective.  20/20 hindsight.  No challenge, just facts (and hazy recollections of them at best).

Instead, try turning the question around.  Ask, “What will I learn from this?”  Now, you are on the leading edge, looking forward.  Failures are possible, but so are successes.  You are moving forward with intention, rather than being carried down the stream looking back.  You plan on learning something – anything – from your next experiences.  Lessons that may have easily been forgotten many months later can be recorded, recognized, and immediately taught to others.

The nice thing about will?  It’s free.

Shooting the Elephant – With Lasers! April 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Your efforts to improve profitability are lagging. You might be staying afloat, making payroll, and beginning to reinstate a few benefits, but you’re not really doing your best work. For the most part, that might be okay, since that’s probably also (more…)

Why Are You Innovating? February 19, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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So many names have been suggested for the last decade; the Digital Decade, Hysteria Decade, the Aughts, the Naughts, the Double-0’s. It could just as well be called the Innovation Decade — not because of any particular real innovations, but because that’s what we all thought (and continue to think) we should be doing, even if (more…)

Getting Through the Groupthink October 22, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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“Groupthink”, or the vicious circle caused by a collection of like-minded individuals, has been around as long as there have been two sides to a story.  Apart from the fact that an organization can end up “breathing its own exhaust”, this phenomenon can affect even the simplest of decisions.

Many modern organizations manage by consensus, whereby the responsibility of the final decision rests with several people – which usually means that no one is responsible.  Such decision are often watered down and conservative – fine if your organization has the luxuries of time and money.  But when critical decisions must be made, there is precious little time for yes-men and conservatism.

While it may be difficult to break the group from its habit of “consensual sects”, it is possible to break the cycle of indecision that results.  Often, without a structured brainstorming session or some ground rules for developing ideas, such groups circle around and around (for hours) various pros and cons of a very limited range of alternatives – usually one or two.

Contrast this with a well-facilitated brainstorming in which ideas are gathered without regard for pros, cons, benefits, or value.  The goal is to develop alternatives, not rule them out – at least initially.  Simply having some concrete words written out can bring greater structure to the debate.  Sometimes, these decision-makers simply don’t know what they are looking for, but know it when the see it.

Next time your firm is struggling to find solutions to intractable problems, consider having someone facilitate a session, and see if some new ideas appear out of thin air.

Follow Through – Camel Guest Post October 20, 2009

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One of the greatest frustrations that any manager can experience is that of giving an instruction, only to have it not properly or completely carried out.  There is a degree of trust implicit in any human interaction, but in the workplace, there are explicit rules for accountability.  How do you handle situations like this?  MORE…

Who Do You Think You Are? August 13, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Think back to a time when you had a significant decision to make.  Maybe it was a choice of college or major, perhaps it was a new job.  In each case, you may have considered a range of possibilities, weighed pros and cons, or consulted with friends to determine the best course of action.  There were also likely many intangible factors that led to the final decision.  It is no surprise then that organizations, being collections of individuals, follow similar reasoning when tasked with important decisions.  Every decision will reflect the unique identity of the “decider”. (more…)