Finding the other side of risk – opportunities for perfect outcomes – isn’t done in lieu of finding risks; it’s the complement. Science tells us that this is true and necessary.
I’m getting ready again to present “The Other Side of Risk.” Each time I do it’s a journey to a better understanding of what I’m trying to say. This journey stumbled across the concept of “positive psychology.” It’s reinforcement for the importance of seeking perfect outcomes and a perfect journey so that our projects leave our organizations better than we found them.
In my presentation, I talk a little about Appreciate Inquiry or AI. AI is a technique of organizational planning and change that emphasizes finding and building on organizational strengths to promote positive growth. In AI, the organization enquires into its strengths to: Continue reading →
Sometimes we are distracted from our goals by the stress of the moment. Distractions can take our eyes off the outcomes we want from our projects. After stress, we may take our next step away from stress instead of toward our goal. Do this enough, and you get lost. What can we do to keep from losing our way?
I heard an interesting Radio Lab on NPR today about how we find our way. A brief segment of the show caught my “Other Side of Risk” antenna. The hosts interviewed Dr. Lera Boroditsky, a professor at Stanford who studies how language shapes thought and behavior. She described an Australian Aboriginal community, Pormpuraaw, whose language emphasized spatial orientation. When people in Pormpuraaw greet one another, they say “Where are you going?” The answer is always something like “North northeast in the middle direction.” There are about 80 phrases in Pormpuraawan that describe spatial orientation and direction. Pormpuraawans always pay attention to their spatial orientation and how to get where they want to go. This seemed unusual, but according to Dr. Boroditsky, about one third of the world’s 7,000 languages are deeply rooted in spatial orientation. English isn’t one of them. Continue reading →
Should managing a portfolio of projects be like a mosh pit at a heavy metal concert, or like a waltz at the royal ball? Maybe both.
This week showed good progress toward setting up portfolio management at my new organization. But, by Friday afternoon I was really tired. You know how your thoughts wander a bit when that happens. Since I’ve been writing this blog, too often thoughts or experiences click on ideas for blog posts. When we are really into something, our experiences all feed into our own frame of reference. I was worried that I’m becoming unproductively obsessed. Fortunately, I found out this week that I’m not unusual.
I’ve been thinking a lot this week about how organizations change. The bottom line seems to be that successful change comes from people pulling it in. You can’t push change in. Do our projects focus on push or pull?
I’m part of planning for a project where thousands of people will have to change how they do their work. The old system is about 30 years old. The change will require thousands of people to redo 30 years of process and system connections to unplug the old and plug in the new. How will they get ready to do this?
Dan discusses “Leadership and the Art of Struggle” with its author, Stephen Snyder. Stephen encourages us to create “glorious space” by letting go of baggage of past failures and successes. On our projects, past failures may cause us to see only what can go wrong and limit our ability to find what can go right. Opportunities may be missed. The same may be true for past successes. Building only on what worked before may also limit finding opportunities for what can go better this time.
I think that using a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) approach to risk assessment may put us more in touch with the present and what is possible vs. focusing on the past and what worked or didn’t then. It’s a good thing to think about.
For the past several years I’ve encouraged all my clients, and now my co-workers, to adopt agile methods on their projects. I also encourage it for any work, like software maintenance work, that can be organized as well-defined sets of tasks that are completed in a time period. In my experience, all work groups that use a good agile methodology as it’s meant to be used end up more productive and happier, too. My inspiration to write about agile today, though, comes from a different place that further proves what a good practice it is.
A new book by Bruce Feiler, “The Secrets of Happy Families,” encourages families to adopt an Agile Family Strategy. Bruce got this idea talking with a software engineer in Idaho, David Starr, who moved his family from dysfunctional to functional by bringing home his agile software development practices. Bruce tried the same agile techniques as well as lots of other good ideas for happy families and also had great success. Both Bruce and David found that what worked for software developers and their clients worked for families with kids, too. Agile’s simple consistent practices focused the family members on helping each other, being accountable, planning things to do in realistic chunks and getting them done, and involving everyone in setting rules and making decisions. Everyone was happier, more productive, and appreciated one another. This is what we want at home and at work.
The first chapter of Bruce’s book is the Agile Family Strategy. Bruce thoughtfully cited a paper published by David and Eleanor Starr – “Agile Practices for Families” – which I found on the Internet. I read the preview chapters of Bruce’s book on Amazon and ordered it for my son’s family. Russ and Kellie do a great job with their three young daughters. I saw this book as affirming and expanding their family practices. Being a software development person, I especially liked the Starr’s paper. It clearly linked agile methods (derived from the Toyota Production System or “lean”) to a realistic set of practices to engage family members in a fun way to make the pressures of everyday life with kids a little less stressful.
Reading “Leadership Freak” on Monday was reaffirming. Dan Rockwell wrote about leaders who achieve great success by setting a vision, bringing in good people, and getting out of the way. His primary example was Tony Hsieh at Zappos. My ideas about imagining perfect outcomes and defining the perfect journey to get there are in line with this advice.
I use “perfect” on purpose even though people are uncomfortable about it. The audio clip on Dan’s post brings out the importance of this in how Zappos decides how to “wow” their customers. On projects, we have to decide what it will be like to “wow” ourselves (everyone involved) with our results, and then define the project around that. Those who have to get it done and will live with the results are the best ones to do it. This is a way to find what can go right about a project before we focus on what to do and what can go wrong.
Thanks for the reaffirming post, Dan. Readers, be sure to listen to the audio clip on this post; and check out Dan’s preceding post on how to establish a culture that enables “Wow.”