The 8020Info Water Cooler

Highlights from the latest information for managers, leaders and entrepreneurs

1. Battling The Complainer Within

The way we respond to life’s difficulties says a lot about our leadership capacity, says leadership development speaker Tim Milburn. A leader, after all, is a problem solver. It’s not enough to be a problem reporter.

On his blog, he recommends these steps to ensure you are an obtainer of solutions rather than a complainer of difficulties:

  • Recognize when you’re complaining: Pessimism can have value but, he says, complaints just suck air out of a room and group.
  • Know why you complain: When you complain, it’s because you want something. “Do you want attention? Do you want affirmation? Do you want something to change? Take the time to reflect on the reasons why you feel the need to complain about a problem instead of spending your energy on solving the problem,” he says.
  • Create a plan to complain less: Develop a tangible, action-oriented plan to encourage different behaviours.
  • See yourself as a positive person: You will be more effective if you identify yourself as positive. “Look at yourself in the mirror and declare I am a positive problem-solver! You’ll begin to act in alignment with the way you see yourself,” he writes.
  • Respond positively to people and look for the good in situations: Greet others with a smile. Seek the opportunity in every crisis. Count blessings. Change your thinking to positivity.
  • Do something positive: Instead of feeling powerless to do anything about a problem, find something positive to do.

2. Stay Small and Grow Slow

The standard advice for organizations – be they profit-making or non-profit – is to grow fast and become big. Success comes to those with scale.

So Jason Fried, co-founder and CEO of the project management tool company Basecamp, offers startling advice when he recommends the opposite. Stay small. Grow slow. Find one thing to focus on and be great at.

“You don’t have to be Apple, or Amazon, you don’t have to be a wildly-growing company,” he says on Inc.com. “You can be a really great company building something useful for your customers and treating them well, treating your employees well, and making a great living,” he said.

He called the notion of having to shoot for the stars “a cruel joke on the entrepreneurial community.” He has seen too many small start-ups try to become big far too fast, dreaming of $100 million in revenues, and instead falling flat.

He has spurned that approach: “I don’t want to chase dollars and profits at the expense of those things that matter to me and my company.” One thing that is important is everyone having refreshing breaks. That’s why his company pays for a vacation for every employee, contoured to their interests. He can do that with 42 employees. But he feels it would be impossible with 100.

He urges you to focus on just one product, and make it as great as can be.  Also, make sure your processes run smoothly. Be really great – and small.

3. It’s The Culture

Apple is assumed to be the best at design because it hires the best designers. But Mark Kawano, a senior designer at the company for seven years, told FastCoDesign that’s a myth.

The deeper truth is that the company’s engineering culture is structured to appreciate and support design. Everybody is thinking of how to make the product better, not just the designers. Everyone cares. It’s an all-around mandate.

“It’s not this thing where you get some special wings or superpowers when you enter Cupertino. It’s that you now have an organization where you can spend your time designing products, instead of having to fight for your seat at the table, or get frustrated when the better design is passed over by an engineering manager who just wants to optimize for bug fixing,” he says.

It’s the focus — across the culture.

4. Using Narrative To Develop Strategy

Behind every successful organization is a story. And Alessandro Di Fiore, CEO of the European Centre for Strategic Innovation, suggests on Harvard Business Review Blogs you start building your success with a story – a strategy story – based on this template:

“Once upon a time there was (insert a name who exemplifies your target customer/consumer) …. . Every day he/she (insert here his/her frustration or job to be done) …. . One day we developed (insert here the product/solution and what are actually the two or three things we offer or not) … . Until finally (insert here the end result for the customer/consumer compared to competition) … .”

Now that you know the story, you know the strategy. Distill it to 15 words, he recommends, and execute.

 5. Zingers

  • Mirror, mirror:  Reflective leadership requires looking honestly at oneself and one’s situation. But leadership consultant Dan Oestreich notes it’s easier to believe in self-confrontation when we’re talking about other people: “If only they would be honest with themselves, things would get better.” It’s vital that each of us be honest about our own contribution to the problems we face. (Source: Unfolding Leadership)
  • Deliver decisions sensitively: After the firing of New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson, a lot of attention was paid to her style in handling her main subordinate, the managing editor, and her boss when she decided to bring in a second managing editor for digital. The lesson, writes blogger Randy Mayeux, is that if you handle a management decision poorly and without sensitivity – even one that needs to be made – your enemies list will grow and your list of friends will shrink. (First Friday Book Synopsis)
  • Try this from-pain-to gain question: A favourite question for job candidates from Perry Evans, CEO of digital marketing firm Closely: “Tell me about a time when you were asked to do something you didn’t feel good about, or when you had to manage an ethical challenge, and describe where that led you in your career.” (Source: New York Times)
  • Be a teacher-leader:  Teach an employee something new today, advises veteran executive Eric Jacobson. Be a leader who teaches. (Source: Eric Jacobson on Management)
  • What doubles click-throughs? To double clicks on your web site or in tweets or email links, try the Jeopardy approach — pose a question that connects to the answer. Norwegian researchers found writing headlines in question format almost always increased clicks, sometimes by as much as five times. (Source: Neuromarketing Blog)

6. Q&A with 8020Info:  Managing accountabilities

Question:  We’ve added several new teams to our fast-growing unit and need to get serious about more formal accountability — any suggestions?

8020Info President and CEO Rob Wood responds:

Managing accountability involves culture, oversight processes and various mechanisms to ensure actions and decisions meet the organization’s stated objectives.

There are many definitions of accountability, but most include some sense of having to report, explain or justify; and being answerable and/or responsible for actions.

  • Answerability refers to the obligation to provide information about decisions and actions and to justify them to the oversight mechanisms or bodies of accountability (often including stakeholders).
  • Enforcement suggests that the body/mechanism responsible for accountability can sanction the offending party or remedy the contravening behaviour.
  • Newer definitions of accountability tend to be more pro-active about owning problems and focus on taking initiative to achieve desired results — e.g. to “See It, Own It, Solve It, and Do It”.

Accountability typically involves the performance of tasks or functions, subject to some form of oversight, direction or request to provide information or justification for actions taken.  Your needs may focus on any of several dimensions:

  • Administrative accountability (e.g. accountable to policy, rules and superiors)
  • Legal and ethical  (accountable to the law and for impact of actions on others)
  • Service accountability (to promised standards of service)
  • Social accountability (to peers, partners or the community)

In the areas of administration, governance, and implementation, accountability measures are usually applied within the scope of the role or employment position. Muddy roles, vaguely defined jobs or undefined project objectives defeat accountability goals right at the root.

Similarly, without proper reporting practices, there is no accountability. A good system includes an obligation to report, explain and be answerable for consequences and outcomes resulting from actions and decisions.

Perhaps these suggestions will help you develop a stronger approach to accountability:

  • Set clearly defined expectations for results and for their consequences.
  • Establish effective, timely reporting mechanisms to monitor performance.
  • Align your norms and build consensus in your culture to support accountability.
  • Focus on accountability for results or outcomes, not merely “doing the job”.
  • Similarly, make sure accountabilities speak to the responsibility for taking pro-active action when needed to achieve future outcomes.

7. News From Our Water Cooler:  Learning From Smart Communities

On June 5th we enjoyed an opportunity to join nearly 250 thought leaders from around the world at the Intelligent Communities Summit in New York. The forum has a strong information and communications technology (ICT) focus and promotes best practices that help communities build prosperous economies, solve social problems and enrich local cultures. Many of our clients work in those areas of interest.

This year’s event was the climax of a year-long evaluation of more than 400 communities seeking to join a select, international group of 126 cities notable for demonstrating how to flourish in the new economy and adjust to changes of the digital era.

This year’s global award winner was Toronto, a finalist for the third time in the past 10 years. Our hometown of Kingston was ranked as a Top7 Community, as were Winnipeg, Columbus OH, Arlington VA, Hsinchu and New Taipei City in Taiwan.

Some quick takeaways:

  • Sustained leadership and consensus: Many of the advances in these top communities were made possible by a clear vision of their way forward, sustained by leadership with notable continuity and consensus. They set sail and stayed the course.
  • As one mayor noted, the best communities ultimately focus on quality of life, achieved in many dimensions from technology to arts and culture, social inclusion and workforce development.  His view was that projects are best initiated by the community rather than governments (who often function as essential partners).
  • Beyond making connections with the best and brightest communities around the world, the forum thrives on fundamental creativity — in technology, project management, community development and culture.

On this last point, we were particularly taken by a presentation on “location-aware music” by Ryan Holladay, the New Media Curator at the Artisphere in Virginia. His GPS-based sound installation at the Washington Monument park, for example, involves hundreds of geo-tagged segments of sound and music that change and blend as you walk towards, around, and away from the national mall. What you hear depends on where you walk.  What will they think of next?

8. Closing Thought

“A party without cake is just a meeting.”    —  Julia Child


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