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Are you giving away your intellectual property? January 2, 2013

Posted by Jason in Management.
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The recent Instagram debacle has more people talking about Intellectual Property rights.  For many corporations, IP is a very real concern, and a great source of corporate value.  Examples are various workshops, training materials, or design elements (whether patented, trademarked, copyrighted, or simply kept secret).

But what about personal branding?  Is there an advantage to an individual to share his or her intellectual property with a past, present, or future employer or client?  I think so.

One of the greatest threats to IP is that a competitor will use it to take some of the firm’s market share.  Another is that a client will perform work internally that it previously paid your firm to do.  While valid concerns for an organization, the individual is less exposed to these kinds of risks.  Unless you are an empire builder, you have little to lose by sharing knowledge, skills, and techniques with those around you – even clients.

Here is an example from my own work as a writer:

My value to a client does not come from my ability to strike plastic keys with my fingers.  That’s an easily outsourced task that with low intrinsic value.  Rather, I follow some process (which varies based on topic and audience) to synthesize various parts of the client’s business into a cohesive message and deliverable product.  I’m quite happy to explain in great detail how I organize the raw information and mold it into a finished piece.  Indeed, these are skills that virtually anyone can learn, and if the client was so inclined, could do for himself.

But that’s what distinguishes our separate business interests, goals, and differentiating value.  My engineering client wants to do engineering, not writing.  Surely he will benefit by understanding what it takes to write a good press release or technical article, and I’m all for teaching him (it makes the writer’s job that much easier).  But to keep the process ‘behind the curtain’ is to overthink the risk and ignore the additional value that comes from forming a partnership.  Instead of maintaining a black art, take some time to educate your clients and coworkers.

Knowledge is not a zero-sum game.

Parenting for Business April 16, 2012

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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I’ve often noted that the experiences and preparation that build our abilities come from unexpected places.  So it is with almost any kind of consulting work, in which one must serve in many roles at once – from a coach, to a business partner, to a “doctor” of the ills that affect many organizations.  Not to mention being open to learning something yourself along the way.

In many respects, being a parent can prepare you to fill these various roles – and sometimes it works the other way as well.  Spacefem’s post expresses some of that commonality, and I completely agree that parenting, like the work environment, is all about persuasion, compromise, and personal balance.

We try hard to choose our battles wisely, to focus only on the few things that matter the most.  For many years, like the Miranda act for project managers, I’ve said that, “If you are unable or unwilling to choose a battle, one will be provided for you.”  As a parent, this is almost a daily occurrence.  As a manager, it is an important reminder that not only must one ruthlessly focus and prioritize, but must quickly be able to switch horses when the next problem comes along.

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/

You Must Be Psychic! March 28, 2010

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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It’s (hopefully) well known that psychics use all kinds of tricks to induce the illusion that they can see into the unknown.  Leading questions, rephrasing the customer’s own statements, some educated guessing, and deflection of any seemingly off-base predictions are part of the toolkit.

As unsavory as this may seem in that context, consultants are often faced with a similar challenge: teasing out as much information as possible from a new client, framing the information in terms of the professional’s expertise, and getting positive feedback that they are heading down the right track.  Indeed, for those consultants who have truly seen many similar situations, the initial assessment can often seem psychic.  Many might even jump to rapid conclusions and begin making predictions about what might be the problem.

Hopefully, you can foresee where this is going.  That first consultation – perhaps the first few – is an information gathering session.  If there is ever a time to hold true to the 80/20 rule, this is it.  Virtually every word out of the consultant’s mouth should be a question or at least a clarification or prompting to continue a particular line of reasoning.  It is not the time to bring out the big hammer or nod knowingly after hearing a few buzzwords that have you mentally preparing to vomit your wisdom all over them.  If you’re not listening, you’re doing it wrong.

Sure, we know, you’ve seen it all before and been there done that.  That’s not the point.  It’s obviously comforting to know that you have the tools available and experience to do the job.  If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be in the meeting in the first place.  Now is the time to build a relationship and demonstrate self confidence by letting the client explain the details.  I would go so far as to say that if the answer really is that easy and you think you have it figured out after the first meeting, either you are missing the big picture or you are bringing so little value to the table that your engagement is on thin ice to begin with.

Just Making Conversation January 4, 2010

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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Perhaps the most common advice for any kind of management or leadership position is to initiate and reinforce communication among the staff or project team. To accomplish this, managers are taught to ask questions of their staff and, whenever appropriate, to discover some of their personal goals and motivations. The purpose is clear: By engaging in meaningful conversation, managers are able to monitor and evaluate the employees’ capabilities and attitudes while promoting teamwork and moving projects forward. Many recommendations regarding communication do not, however, emphasize the information-gathering tools that are necessary to rise above simple conversation and engage in a real transfer of knowledge. Put simply, there is a dramatic difference between asking, “How’s it going?” and asking for specific details about progress, resource shortages, or training. (more…)

Featured TPE Post December 22, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Thanks to Mike Michalowicz and TPE for featuring my tip for 2010 on today’s blog.  See #37, but take some time to look at the other great entrepreneurial ideas for next year and beyond!

Thanks to all my readers and commenters for your support this year.  Have a great 2010!

Engagement, Support, Sponsorship December 6, 2009

Posted by Jason in Daily PM.
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Any organizational endeavor requires some degree of involvement from leadership.  Without this, it is much more difficult to obtain buy-in from line managers, staff, and others who will actually be performing the work.

But it is not enough to simply engage leadership in conversation and notify them of the proposal.  Just because someone is aware of your project, it does not imply that they have been captivated and won over.  It takes much more effort to get over the hurdles when times are tough, money is tight, and people are happy just to have their jobs.

Nonetheless, as you move ahead with the project (it is a worthwhile project, with appropriate cost-benefit analysis, right?) it is critical to obtain support from corporate leaders.  Not just any support either.  Real, bona fide sponsorship — someone willing to step forward, defend the reasons for the project, and take on partial ownership of its success.

Like any business venture, there is an element of partnership inherent in this transaction.  There is also an element of politics.  That’s life.  Engineers cringe at the thought, but try selling some “equity” in your project to the proper levels of authority.  Without it, the endeavor may die a slow death, withering on the vine for lack of real passion from the people who write the checks.

Quality of Clients June 17, 2009

Posted by Jason in Insider's View Relapses.
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I just finished reading John Bachner’s article “Open Letter from a Client Representative” in the May issue of CE News.  It relates a hypothetical letter from a dissatisfied client and provides several points regarding the desired role of the engineer from the client’s point of view. Of course, correspondence from a client like this is rare. Many firms may attempt to gauge their performance with post-project surveys or interviews, but this valuable insight often is foregone in favor of moving on to the next project. (more…)