What’s your problem? Don’t answer so fast…

wrong-questionI want to give an example about the type of detail you need to strive for when starting a new project.  It might be more helpful than an analogy, which I’ve written about before.  I’ll try to keep the technical background to a minimum, and apologize in advance if you feel I’ve failed to do that!  So read on, at your own peril…

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Begin with the NEXT end in mind

images-16Habit 2 of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is “Begin with the end in mind.” This habit gives me more trouble, but has saved my ass more times, than any of the others. With a clear understanding of what this does & does not mean, it is absolutely critical in business.

Every leader I’ve worked with has a vision of what they want to accomplish. When I dig down into it, this vision is painted with a big brush. By that, I mean it is a grand, broad vision that lacks detail. This vision is not only important to have, but it is important to regularly keep at the forefront of the team’s mind. It is not, however, an “end” in and of itself. It is a (hoped for) consequence of, but not a direct result of, action the business or team plans to take.  American football, as always, provides a great analogy for this.

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Look out, it’s a trap!

images-15Every company I’ve ever worked with has believed that their product or service was the hardest part to accomplish in the ecosystem into which they were selling. All the time, you will hear hardware companies say “the rest is JUST software”, and the exact opposite can regularly be heard by software companies. And in every case, whether they were correct or not, this hubris caused one or more underestimations that ended up costing them a lot of time & money, if not failing outright.  Why do so many smart people keep falling for the same trap?

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Passive aggressive? Try aggressive passiveness instead…

Have-sales-do-that-thing...Years ago I was selling micro displays into emerging markets. A guy who worked for me thought our displays could be an “electronic eyepiece” for telescopes and contacted various telescope companies about it. They all said no, primarily because they pride themselves on great optics and so an electronic eyepiece would need to be incredibly high resolution. However, in one of the conversations, the potential customer came up with another product of theirs that could possibly use our display. My employee was very focused on telescopes, but I had another call with them to hear what they were thinking.  That call ended up making us over a million dollars.

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Mission Impossible? Not so fast…

Mission ImpossibleI once headed a team of engineers who was making a small demo of a new technology for a consumer electronics product. Given the success of Apple (and how everyone followed their lead), I knew that thin was sexy. At the end of the project kickoff meeting I challenged the team to make the demo a specific thickness which was very thin. I was immediately met with a chorus of vehement exclamations that my request was impossible. After letting everyone go a little crazy on me, I said that I understood it was a challenge but thought it was both doable & important, and laid out why on both counts (I had thought through the number I gave them so it would be defensible when it was questioned). I then ended with this: “Let’s set this thickness as the target, and as soon as any group hits a problem with maintaining this, let me know right away before any design decisions are finalized. I don’t want to force the impossible, but I want to know specifically *why* it is impossible before we stop trying. Fair enough?” Everyone agreed it was a fair approach and the kickoff meeting ended.

So what was the result?

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The exciting nerdiness of neuroplasticity!

you-cant-teach-an-old-dog-new-tricks-false-dogs-of-all-ages-can-learn-new-tricks-if-properly-instructed.jpg

In 1928, a brain researcher definitively stated that as a brain aged it got “stuck” or set in its ways, and we believed that for a long time. In 1980, however, a young doctor named Ian Robertson was puzzled by the improvement of people with recent strokes. It didn’t fit the accepted idea that the adult brain was done learning & changing. He discovered that this old idea was wrong.  “I can look back on giving lectures at Edinburgh University to students where I gave wrong information, based on the dogma which said that, once dead, a brain cell cannot regenerate and plasticity happens in early childhood but not later,” he says.

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Monkey see, monkey do.

Source: Pinterest

Source: Pinterest

I am reading the great book Mindful Parenting, by Dr. Kristen Race.  In it, she talks about something researchers call mirror neurons, which are defined as such:

mirror neuron is a neuron that fires both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another. Thus, the neuron “mirrors” the behavior of the other, as though the observer were itself acting.

As you can imagine, chameleons must be chock full of this things!  But what is really interesting is that these are also in humans.

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Nature or nurture? Either way it’s your parents’ fault.

images-5We are living in interesting times.  It seems at least once a month scientists discover a new gene that causes something, and yet at that same rate find a behavior that we previously thought was genetic is actually learned.  The more we learn about both nature & nurture, we still stay exactly on the fence about which is dominant.  For everyday usefulness, however, nature can’t hold a candle to nurture.

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Burglars shouldn’t keep diaries, and other life lessons

Source: Thumbpress.com

Source: Thumbpress.com

A small toddler has recently learned to crawl. She is crawling on a couch when she veers over to the edge of the couch. Not knowing any better, she continues crawling and falls off. On the way down, she hits her head on the coffee table. What lesson could she learn from this experience? She could learn that “couches equal pain”. That would be totally understandable, and of course completely wrong. It would also negatively impact her life & decision-making going forward. Imagine her awkwardness at parties…

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Everything starts with clarity of focus

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“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”

“I don’t much care where –”

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”

This line passed me by the first time I heard it, as it does many people, because it seems so obvious.  When it really hit me, though, that this line was about more than just getting directions, I realized how wise it is.  I was struggling with where to go in my LIFE, as were many of my acquaintances, and we were frustrated with where we were, but we hadn’t decided on a clear goal. [Read more…]