Experience is the name everyone gives to their mistakes (Oscar Wilde)

images-31Experience is a word we hear a lot in life, especially in the business world.  You need experience to apply for a job, get funding to start a business, or get promoted.  Experience, per se, however, is not exactly what we are looking for.  What we really mean is, we want someone who will make good decisions on the job, and we think the best way to get that is to hire/promote/fund someone with “experience”.  I know what you’re thinking–“Chris, this is just semantics!  I’m not going to spend my precious time reading this post–it’s almost NFL draft weekend and I need to study up!”  Well, trust me for a minute and read on.  Besides, don’t waste your time trying to guess on the draft–even the guys who get paid to do nothing but analyze it have atrocious track records

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Enlightened Dictatorship

CreditThere is constant tension in management teams around using every team member’s opinions when making a decision.  I often run into managers who avoid this tension by making decisions without seriously considering team members’ input.  When I bring it up for discussion, I tend to hear lines like “You can’t run a business as a democracy”, or my all-time favorite, “A camel is a horse designed by a committee!”.  It seems many mangers confuse getting input before making a decision with needing consensus, and confuse teamwork with parity.  Perhaps not coincidentally, they end up getting to simply make the decision they wanted to make all along.  But things can go so much better if managers learn to leverage their teams.

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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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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!

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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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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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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…]

When idioms collide!

CIMG1155_4We’ve probably all heard a bunch of old sayings, like “A penny saved is a penny earned” (Ben Franklin), “The early bird gets the worm” (someone gross), etc.  Anyway, in thinking about the Middle East refugee crisis, I realized that the only real (possible) solution I could see is essentially a combination of two of these old sayings:  “You will attract more flies with honey than vinegar” and “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”.  Let me explain…

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The age old question–carrot or stick?

Source:  Flickr

Source: Flickr

Probably for as long as man can remember, there has been the question of which works better–the carrot or the stick?  A new study concludes that it is the stick, but also found an interesting twist:  it doesn’t have to be harsh.

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