Monday, April 21, 2014

He Who Hesitates Is...

By Brian Kopack

You know the rest, but we can’t help ourselves.  Why?  Even when we know the consequences, we still chose to do nothing.  We dream big, but it is hard for us to take a chance - even one that might be a catalyst for something positive.  As weird as it sounds, it’s like we are more afraid of success than failure.

Suppose you know someone, or maybe the someone is you, that has a great idea and works really hard, takes a chance and enjoys some impressive success.  But then, some disruption turns everything upside down. Therefore, the someone has to act to recapture whatever they lost: power, security, comfort, whatever or do nothing.

Confused?  Not for long.  Two narratives.  One of the following is absolutely true.  The other might look so familiar it will be like looking in a mirror.

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The Exciting Beginning:  It’s the late-90’s.  Technology is advancing opportunities but skepticism (fear) dampers enthusiasm.  You don’t care because you have an idea – one you think will make a difference.  Your passion eventually wins the day and your company follows your lead and embraces your vision for the potential of technology.  For fun, let’s say – enterprise content management.

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April 15, 1996 – 100th Boston Marathon

Start - Awesome.  No comparison to anything - anywhere. History – Pageantry – Pure Energy

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Fast forward 10 years.  You were right.  Your idea for managing your information through technology was exactly what your company needed.  Your vision was the future.  You bask in the glow of celebrity - a promotion, a raise, the unwavering respect from your peers because you trusted your instinct.

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Just past Natick, I run up on a group and at the lead of the pack is him.  Mr. Boston Marathon-4 time winner-hometown hero-probably on the Mt. Rushmore of American distance runners-him.  Bill Rodgers.  We run together for a couple hundred yards, chat a little and then I am off.  I know, right?  I pass Bill Rodgers around the halfway point of the Boston Marathon.  Yep, it really happened.

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Five more years pass.  The spotlight isn’t as bright.  Your crowning achievement is starting to show its age.  You have a ton of other responsibilities and addressing the overhaul of your 15 year old system is always next on the list.  You can’t even think of advancing.  You are struggling just to maintain – to protect what you built from ruin.

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The back half the race isn’t nearly as enjoyable.  Climbing at exactly the wrong time and, because what goes up must come down, descending at an even more wrong time.  Every step is work.  The last hour’s enthusiasm is gone.  It’s survival to the end from here.

**Finis**

I make the last left-turn onto Boylston St and can see the finish line.  The roar is overwhelming.  Not manufactured-overwhelming like the Super Bowl, or mechanically-overwhelming like the Indy 500.  Human-power + 100 years of history overwhelming.  About 300 yards out the roar is intensifying and I think how cool this is considering the leaders have been done for more than 30 minutes and nobody knows me from Adam.  This is probably what it feels like to be Bono.  Closer to the line the louder the roar.  Unbelievable.  Then I look over my right shoulder.

Bill Rodgers

Smiling.  Waving to the crowd.  Totally owning the moment.  We shake hands and he is off.  I should have raced him to the end.  Then the story would have been how I out-kicked Bill Rodgers at the 100th Boston Marathon.  I didn’t so it won’t.  I don’t know why I didn’t.  I just didn’t.

For almost 20 years, I’ve relived that story each spring.  I hope for a different result, but it always ends the same.¹

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How does your story end?

It doesn’t have to be conflict -> hesitation -> procrastination -> avoidance -> fear and loathing.

You can rewrite your system’s happy ending.  Instead of fading away, you can chart it a new course.  We can rebuild it better than before.  We have the technology.  Next generation systems unlock potential that is difficult to quantify – bigger, faster, stronger isn’t an exaggeration.  You know what the success that comes from embracing progress feels like.  Don’t make it a once-in-a-generation thing.

¹The spot where I realize Bill Rodgers is beside me with about 1 minute to run in the 100th Boston Marathon is eerily close to the spot Bomb 1 exploded last year.  Next time I run there, I will pass the spot of the handshake – and where the bomb went off.  My chance for a new ending.
Wednesday, April 9, 2014

We've Always Done It This Way

By Angela Childs

I saw this picture posted in LinkedIn.  “The most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way.”  In this tiny picture you can’t tell but the quote is attributed to Rear Admiral Grace Hopper.  She was a US Naval Officer, serving from 1943 to 1986, an early computer programmer, and the first to say, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than it is to ask permission” - which I may have used a time or two.

She also said “You manage things, you lead people.  We went overboard on management and forgot about leadership.”  

Challenging the status quo is all leadership.  Not change for change’s sake but thoughtful steps toward the future, whether they be big or small.

We help our clients do this, challenge how they work, and we also turn that focus inward and examining how we do things.  Periodically we get a team together and divvy up IOS’s back-office functions, those non-revenue/non-customer focused activities that we have to do to keep the business running and we observe.  We watch step by step and ask “why that way”, “why then”, “why by that person”.  Then we automate what can be automated and streamline where we can remove bottlenecks.  It’s not an indictment of a person or process, it’s growth.  Things change, tasks creep into processes, you get duplication of efforts over time, and the people on the ground, so to speak, are unaware of or unable to implement technology, can’t effect cross-department change, and don’t have the view of the big picture company wide.  

They’re working “in the business” and following the lead from the top.  From the top, you can learn if there’s technology to benefit the business, you can see where there are duplication of efforts, and you can change how departments work together.  You just have to decide to make it a priority.

The April issue of Inc. has an article 35 Great Questions listing questions suggested by business leaders that you should ask to move your company forward.   Danny Meyer offers “How can we become the company that would put us out of business?”    Chip Conley poses “What counts that we are not counting?”   From Gary Hamel, “Are we changing as fast as the world around us?”  All of these call for introspection and for challenging the status quo.

The eye rolling and sighs that follow “We’ve always done it this way” are completely understandable at the process level, but from the top?    That’s where we need to replace management with leadership.

Next time you hear “we’ve always done it this way” and get ready to cringe, roll your eyes, sigh, whatever the impulse, just give us a call.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pluralistic Ignorance

By John Trimble

I have learned about pluralistic ignorance from Bob Cialdini’s great book on persuasion. Pluralistic
ignorance is a term you may never have heard but you have heard the stories: someone is attacked or threatened in front of or in ear-shot of a large group of people and no one lifts a finger to help. This apathy seems inexplicable and incomprehensible. But it is not: It is pluralistic ignorance.

Humans are socialized, particularly in large urban areas, to count heavily on the group response of others, of the “crowd” to determine what the correct response should be in many situations. The social evidence can unfortunately be interpreted by the individual who then thinks that if “nobody is concerned then there is probably nothing wrong.”  Additionally, with several potential helpers around, the personal responsibility of each individual to react is reduced.

Conversely, a single individual, uninfluenced by the non-reaction of a crowd, probably would react and save the day. So much so that if you were to have a health emergency in a crowd your best bet, according to social scientists, is to single out a specific individual in the crowd and say, “Hey, you in the blue suit, call 911, I have an emergency” as opposed to thinking that someone out of this large group surely will come to my aid.

This is a dark example of the downside of “group think” and also the power of the uninfluenced individual. Are there different, more common examples that occur every day of pluralistic ignorance?
In a word, yes.

In business today how many staff or management meetings use group think or group consensus to avoid resolving business problems, addressing out-dated technology or manual processes? Glances around the conference table reinforce the idea that if several of the attendees or managers are comfortable with status quo, with apathy, then there must not be a problem. That the old world way of processing information, handling A/P, claims, staying paper based, whatever, must be OK.

It’s not.

Obviously here there is no gore, no loss of life, no front page story but it is still a big problem. To overcome pluralistic ignorance in the business setting there is still the need for that one individual to take personal responsibility to get help.

For resuscitating a business process with failing vital signs, happily that guy in the blue suit, the one taking personal responsibility...he can call the 911 equivalent: IOS.