We all operate under the same immutable laws; gravity, thermodynamics, and that fries will fall between your car seats. There’s another law that governs what we get and it’s called the Golden Triangle.
You only get two out of three of these things. You could get one, or none, but at best, you’ll only get two.
And that’s the rub – we’re often not aware that we’re choosing – we’re defaulting to the hope that we can have all three.
When we are aware that we’re choosing, we’re likely not sharing those thoughts with the other stakeholders on the project. You may have chosen fast & inexpensive due to budget/time constraints but your Service Manager is expecting Quality to be an integral factor in the project and you two never commiserated.
One party believes going fast is vital to achieving the mission right now. Another thinks we’re better served by a quality approach that creates less work down the road. Another is firm that the budget is sacred and inflexible.
They’re all right. But they can’t all be right at the same time.
For “Turn,” an annual project that can cost between $100k and $500k for some operations, this question is paramount but rarely discussed. Time is an essential part of the equation – you only have 2-3 weeks so that’s one point of the triangle chosen. So what gets yeeted into space? Quality or Cost? You can’t have all three. If someone tells you that you can they’re either stupid or lying.
In all projects you’re working on, take a moment to acknowledge the triangle and which two points you’re choosing. More importantly, share that thinking with everyone else on the team to ensure all views are aligned on the objective.
I’m not a professional designer because the word “designer” doesn’t land within 100 nautical miles of my job title. However, I make a lot of things and I care about the things I make.
Part of that care is thinking about how these things will interact with the world. Who will use it? How will they use it? What will the environment be like when they find or need to use the thing I made? Will this layout make sense? Is it easy to understand? Maybe I am a designer.
Questions are the midwife of creativity.
I’m going to let that line breathe for a minute as that just came out of my fingers and I want to bask in it for a minute.
That was nice. Ok, back to the point.
I was at Blaze Pizza last night (you probably have one nearby) with my son and we were handed this stand with a card tucked into extolling us to share our feedback. Because of course, we were.*
As we’re waiting I look down and happen to notice, this card is unusable in its current form. The person who made it either didn’t know how it would be displayed or didn’t bother to think about it. Because you can’t actually scan the QR code while it’s in the stand.
If you look closely, you’ll see the bottom of the card is chewed up from being pulled and out and pushed back into the stand. There was a bin of 50 of these stands and they were all like this. The QR code didn’t fit into the circle of the frame, either – I tried that.
At some point, someone had to know. Someone had to mention that this thing couldn’t be used as it existed and that it was enough to bend down their response curve. And yet here it was, sitting on my table. Chewed up.
So, I implore you. If you need to make a flyer, draft an email, or do anything else that attempts to communicate, take a moment to think about who will be using it, and how.
*I’ll just say this now; I think a lot of companies think they need to gather a ton of data to make sure their shops are living up to “brand standards” but they do so at the cost of actually making the experience better for both team member and clients. There, I said it. Your surveys are dumb and if I have a problem I’ll just tell Google or keep it to myself and make a note to not return. Spend your energy delighting me and you can scrap all of your marketing dollars because we won’t be able to shut up about it. If I had a nickel for every lame experience at an outrageous price that then asked me to tell them what they should already know (lame and expensive) I’d be dead under the weight of those nickels.
I don’t know if you remember but for close to a decade, starting around the mid-2000s, people couldn’t shut up about Steve Jobs. This seemed to coincide with the release of the iPhone, YouTube, and social media, which makes sense.
All of the content seemed to herald Jobs as Tech-Jesus. The iPod was the second coming of the WalkMan, but better, and iTunes seemed to have solved the music industry crisis brought on by Napster and P2P sharing sites. Truly, Steve was a god among men. I was unmoved by all of it.
Maybe it was because of where my head was at the time but it all seemed a little fan-boyish to get so wrapped up in a dude that owned one outfit. And they were making a cell phone? Without a keyboard? Way to waste a billion dollars, my dude.
Except it was everything. But I never appreciated why before I saw this video.
My biggest takeaway was Steve discussing how they looked at Information Technology and how companies were obtaining it. All of them spent around 2% on IT, but they differed in where the bulk of those purchases went. Not-so-successful companies spent it on management productivity. Successful companies spent on operational productivity.
What does that mean?
It means that regular joes were focused largely on incremental improvements to how they already did things. A better email client, server, PCs, etc… Successful companies were focused on applications that could do repeatable and automatable things for them. The second requires more effort than buying something off the shelf. Applications had to be made and coded at a time when that wasn’t an easy thing to do. Steve focused on applications when the vast majority of people had never heard of the term.
The iPhone dominated with the advent of apps. Your phone could do things now. Your phone could execute tasks that tangibly made your life better. For at least three years, you couldn’t go a month without someone telling you about the next killer app you needed to download. What could the Blackberry do? Bang out long-winded emails with ease? That was about it.
This especially resonated with me as that’s where our focus is; automate and create custom functions that add continuous value. In our business, competitive advantage looks like high renewal rates and lower operating costs, and the best way to get there is with great systems.
RIP, Steve. At least one of your movies was really good.
I’ve had multiple conversations with people about what they want to do and this line keeps coming up. People, generally, like solving problems. Our preferences for types of problems differ but the spirit remains.
Why aren’t we tapping into more of that in our conversations with our teams?
95% of meetings I’ve attended looked like a guy watering a lawn. Grass = staff, water = information. Except the staff could have lived without the information most of the time. The exchange was entirely one direction.
Something, something, Harry Styles pun.
Ask your team for problems. Small ones. Weird ones. Elusive ones. Challenge the rest of the team to propose silly solutions in the following meeting. Solutions you’d probably never consider or aren’t even physically possible.
A former mentor and fellow author loved to say “Involvement breeds commitment” and I always liked that, though I think it just breeds engagement. That engagement can lead to commitment if the environment is right and the culture is true.
Recently, I asked my 10 & 11-year-olds for solutions to an old engineering textbook problem; a ping pong ball rolled into a tube in the center of a gym floor that was about the same size as the ball. How do you get the ball out with the items present in a gym?
My youngest says “Use a vacuum!” – Do you see a lot of vacuums in gyms?
“Stab it with something.” – Like what? And that would ruin the ball.
My oldest says “Pee in the tube, the ball will float out!” – We have a winner. It took him less than 30 seconds to find a quick solution whereas adults frequently struggle to think of a plan that doesn’t involve equipment and time.
Let’s tap the natural tendencies in all of us and become the scientists and artists we were as children, and still are today. Let’s acknowledge everyone has a burning desire to create and contribute to a better tomorrow.
If you’re a reader of this page you know I like to cite videos for things I’ve recently learned and today’s post is no different. I recently listened to a course by the late Professor Patrick Winston of MIT and I was impressed by one piece in particular.
Quality of Speaking [Q= (K, P, T)]
Q = Quality K = Knowledge – The sum of the Speaker’s knowledge P = Practice – How much practice does the speaker have in delivering this knowledge? T = Talent – the X-factor, their innate charisma, presence, etc…
These are listed in order of importance or influence on the result. Knowledge is maybe 50% of the equation. Practice is worth another 35% and Talent brings up the rear at about 15%. What’s that mean exactly?
It means a speaker who knows very little, with little practice, but who has maxed out on Talent is only going to do half as well as a speaker who knows thrice as much and has less talent. However, we’ve all prayed for death when subjected to a dull speaker who knows everything about a tired subject so I imagine there’s a minimum threshold for talent required to clear a qualifying bar for reasonable quality.
Later in the video, Winston relates a conversation with some smart associates where they revealed what they were looking for when hiring a candidate. Their conclusion was: 1. Vision 2. That they’ve done something
It makes enough sense. You want someone that has a philosophy that propels them forward, these are usually referred to as self-starters. Further, it would be best if their vision has been so propulsive as to cause them to complete something in their career. What have they made or remade, before meeting you? Are there better indicators of future success than these?
The rest of the video is fine too, especially if you give regular Powerpoint presentations to groups of people. A few nuggets of wisdom: Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t thank people for coming, it’s like they did you a favor. Don’t read off the slides – I hope we all know that one. Make sure your final slide is something useful/interesting and not something trite like “The end.” Your speech will likely go on for a bit while the last slide is up so make sure you make the most of what you have posted there.
Retired USMC LtGen George Flynn has a test for leaders and it’s insanely simple.
“If they ask you how you’re doing they actually care about the answer.”
How many people above you have asked how you were and not cared a whiff? How many haven’t even asked how you were doing? In my experience, it’s most. And I think that’s why we’re so passionate about the leaders we’ve had in our lives that have truly cared about the answer to that question.
In another quote, LtGen Flynn says “The cost of leadership is self-interest.” I don’t think you cease to have self-interest, but you check it at the door when thinking about the well-being of your people.
Who was the last person you asked about their day? Did you care?
I’m revamping a takeover & due diligence tracker today. It’s one of a few things I set out to get done this week and it went differently than I expected.
As I’m working, I have this Seth Godin video playing in the background. He drops several gems while giving this speech in Stockholm but among my favorite is a line about design. Starting around 16:36 he drops this:
“Ask yourself two questions: 1. Who’s it for? 2. What’s it for?
I found this apropos as we’re designing a lot this week. New systems, new ways of conducting and pulling inspection data. A new logo is being created by our friends at Pixelriot.io and they gave a fascinating presentation on the principles of good design to get us in the right headspace to assess the work they’ll submit. We’re designing pre-leasing trackers, databases, you name it. I’m excited, to say the least.
“Leaders are required to take responsibility, not demand authority.”
The other gem in this video is Godin’s acknowledgment that leaders solve problems even if they’re not on their agenda by taking responsibility. Taking a moment to solve a problem effectively and beautifully, now, will provide reoccurring benefits as long as that system is used. These opportunities are investments and they don’t show up on balance sheets or quarterly reports. Leaders take responsibility, they’re not given it.
I’m taking responsibility for making this action-item tracker useful and also beautiful. It doesn’t take much longer on the design side, but the extra effort and intentionality will make it more useful and efficient for every takeover we ever do.
I hope you continue to have a great week! Take a moment to take responsibility for something in your life this week that you can solve. Take an action to make your life, and those that come after you, easier.
Oh, and throw this video on and take a 40 minute inspired talk full of insight. You won’t regret it.
Captain David Marquet of the USS Santa Fe turned his ship from worst to first by pushing decision making – and with it, commitment, innovation, passion – down the org chart.
As I’ve written about before, the default position of most in charge is “no.” There’s precious little upside to saying yes, especially if you’re not completely versed in the scenario or stakes. And who has time to get versed in the scenario? So, the response is silence; static at the other end of the line. “No” wins the game by default.
In this video, Captain Marquet discusses how he went from a “permission-based” system to an “intentions-based” one and the results that came with it.
The captain decided to reverse the polarity of the decision-making. In a conventional organization, the top gathers data from the people closest to the product/service, mull it over, and then dictates back what is to happen next. They are always reactive, and usually reacting later than needed to be of much use. Most of the time management didn’t know a problem existed until it had already been solved by the front lines, or at least a patch had been created that allowed the mission to continue.
I watched my former mentor, Nathan Collier, wrestle with this first hand. He lamented early in my career that as we continued to grow as an organization we’d face new challenges in communication and decision making. How could we react swiftly and competently if we decision-makers in the organization couldn’t or wouldn’t make timely decisions? The first time I heard this was in 2004 and it became a theme that ran for years and haunted most conversations with general managers and up. Few had good answers.
In one moment of quiet introspection with 35 or more stuffed into a conference room someone slammed the table and shouted “Get ‘er done!” The room was silent for all of twenty seconds before this interruption and that was enough to kill the mood. They didn’t get it – this wasn’t something to be muscled through.
Nathan liked that quote and I understood why he’d employ it week after week. The acumen and systems that built the backbone of a local company were all but useless for managing a decentralized company that would span cities and states. He found Captain Marquet’s book inspirational and the era of “I intend to” (or “IIT”) was launched around 2008.
Now, all a GM needed was to send an email to their Regional Manager with IIT in the subject line and their proposed course of action. They’d flesh out their reasoning in the body, but that was it. If not responded to 48 hours later they were free to proceed.
And then it ended as quickly as it began.
There were 4-5 Regional Managers inundated with “IIT” emails from 25-30 GMs declaring their intent to do everything from approve capital repairs to changing marketing campaigns. Regionals had 48 hours to respond with a reason not to do whatever that thing was or the GM was free to carry it out. Regionals couldn’t keep up as a backlog of delayed projects suddenly sprang back to life. Someone had to pull the plug and a massive financial crisis was the hard yank needed.
I think the problem was due to two issues:
There was such a backlog of things that were ignored/delayed that it was too much all at once. Especially for too few people to vet in any meaningful way. People that were still responsible for the outcomes of these decisions.
The GMs were young. The vast majority of us were under 30 and experience was in short supply. One of the perks about the early days of working for the Collier Companies was that one could gain a ton of experience very early in one’s career. It wasn’t uncommon for PT leasing agents to become a GM within 12 months if they were bright and motivated. What they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm and energy. That lack of experience fell on the Regional Managers who were very experienced, most having worked in the industry for at least ten years at that point. Put simply, the system was unbalanced.
I write all this now as our new venture has me pondering the right approach to leadership, culture, and how we want to build our new enterprise for success. What got me here won’t get me there. I can’t be the guy in the room solving problems. I can’t take every phone call, create the daily agenda, or decide what’s best for every moving piece of what I’m sure will become a sprawling empire in the coming years.
As we hire our first GM, how do we build a culture that will keep decision-making close to those affected by the decisions? What areas do we focus on controlling and what do we encourage the site staff to innovate and create?
I have some ideas and I’m realizing that not knowing is pretty exciting. I’m ready to be surprised by what we find and what we decide to do as an organization going forward.
In this undated video (probably 2008), Best Selling Author Malcolm Gladwell explains how we have a fundamental mismatch problem in how we assess which people will be successful in a given field. He starts with the differences between NBA scouting combine results and how players actually wind up fairing in the league and then goes on to point out all sorts of other gaps as only Gladwell can
The whole talk is fantastic as Gladwell may be the greatest storyteller of our time. I could listen to the man read a Swahili phone book and I would swear it was Les Miserables.
Gladwell’s point here is that we absolutely suck when it comes to using criteria that will give us a meaningful incite to the how well a person will perform in a given role. For Teachers, we require all manner of certificates only to find these have virtually no impact on the actual performance of the teacher. Job interviews are generally only good for finding out if you’re attracted to someone, it turns out. Or perhaps they’re only useful for discovering if someone is very good in social interaction, but for all sorts of other jobs, how well one does in an interview translates poorly to the ultimate role they’ll have should they be hired.
Around ten years ago we had a major issue in a tough market where our newest Community Managers were getting their clocks cleaned. Their teams couldn’t sell to save their lives, and these new Managers were grossly incapable of teaching them how to sell as they’d never done it before themselves. How did this happen?
It turns out that we’d been promoting “Rental Managers” aka “Assistant Community Managers” who were responsible for collecting rent, running reports, and that’s about it. They avoided sales related work like it had two types of the plague. So, of course, when they got promoted to their own ship they had no idea how to hire for sales ability or how to teach it.
Why would we do this? Because the people in charge of minting the new Community Managers were people who lived in glass offices and who dealt a lot with reports. Guess who typically had great reports? Rental Managers. They were two peas in a pod. Of course, the Brass new that sales mattered, but they overlooked this factor when hiring because they liked the cut of the RM’s jib. They could see a bit of themselves in these up-and-comers, and did you see how clean their reports were? Plus they tended to LOOK like Community Managers.
The most vital component in a Community Manager at the time (in the toughest student rental market in the country) was the ability to rent units, the ability to hire people who could do likewise, and the ability to train the uninitiated on their team. And here we were hiring without any real regard for that fact. The people we should have been promoting to these roles were our best salespeople who lacked any of the care or ability for the paperwork reporting. That’s a relatively easy problem to solve – at least far easier than a whole team at a community that can’t sell ice water at noon in Phoenix.
Maybe the answer would have been to split the job into equal halves; give two nearby communities to a pair of Managers. One would be in charge of the sales and training for each while the other handled the books and reporting. The two would compliment one another and with any luck, some of their skills would rub off on each other. Maybe an Area Manager would have been the way to go, with a couple of executive salespeople put in place to cover the selling and training. There’s any number of solutions, but we were wildly wrong on our criteria for assessing a simple promotion and it cost us big.
I’m sure this mismatch is all too common for you as well. How many times have you experienced one in your life, where you or your organization made decisions on things by assessing criteria that mattered not a bit in determining the outcome or the best course of action? What blinded you? How did you eventually see past it, or have you?
Immanuel Kant is a boss. Like, the boss of bosses.
As far as philosophers go, he’s like the RZA of this here ethics game. He’s the one that really summed it up nicely, and gave everyone the central cornerstone of modern ethics: The Categorical Imperative!
Put simply:Act so that the maxim of your actions should be made universal and necessary.
Ok, put even simpler:In whatever you do, act in such a way that you’re advocating that all people, everywhere, should always act in the same way, in that same situation.
So, if you shoplift, you’re saying by your actions that it’s in the best interest of all people everywhere to do the same. If you disagree, and think all people shouldn’t shoplift, neither should you – so don’t do it. Duh.
If you hold the door for people walking 10 steps behind you and let them in first, you’re saying everyone else should do the same. Also a good idea.
Or, philosophized? Whatever.
Kant’s other central points were:
People are an ends in and of themselves, not a means to an end – so treat them that way. Don’t intentionally harm them.
A good act is a good thing in and of itself, regardless of the outcome. Even if you failed, a good act is its own reward.
Taken altogether, if practiced, you have the lion’s share of what it takes to be a good leader – or at least not a giant-garbage-person.
My take away?
Love people. At the very least, respect their humanity. Every one of them. Treat them decently, even if you don’t like them.
Do a good thing because it’s a good thing to do. That means being honest, keeping promises, give your best effort, learn from mistakes. Even if you fail, you did the right thing and that’s all it needs to be. Success received for doing the wrong thing isn’t any success at all.
Be a model for what you think is right – make sure you agree with what your actions say you believe in.
I wish I had another Kant pun to throw in here to close this thing out with, but I Kant think of one.
Waitaminute… I see what I did there. I just Kant get enough of these puns.