Happy Just The Way We Are

Great speaker today at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).


Mike Reiss, producer and writer for the hugely successful Simpson show–the longest-running series on primetime TV with 30 seasons and over 600 episodes!


The topic was “The Science Behind The Simpsons.”


Whether the guest was Stephen Hawkings or Leonard Nimoy–there was no shortage of scientists and science in this animated, comedy show that taught us much about life.  


The video clip above was a short capture of the Simpsons singing “We are happy just the way we are.”


Incremental change and continuous improvement is so important to our growth and maturation in life.


Yet, there is also a lot to be said for being happy with what you have and who you are. 


There is so much to be grateful for and plenty to enjoy at the moment. 


Many people are on the proverbial roller coaster to nowhere.  


It’s nice to get off the roller coaster and finally be somewhere that makes you happy and fulfilled. 


Mary Poppins get hit by the airplane at the end of the skit, and you know what, she’s not even missed. 😉


(Source Video: Andy Blumenthal)

Kanban Visual Task Boards

Just wanted to share this best practice for Kanban or Visual Task Boards


This is a way to layout work/workflow and track and communicate progress. 


Previously, many professionals use colored sticky notes on a wall or whiteboard.


Today, tools like ServiceNow have the capability built right in. 


This was an example that I created in just a few minutes. 


Visualize your team’s work and focus on what needs to get done, who the tasks are assigned to, the status, and keep driving continuous improvement in the workflow and project. 


Color coding can be used for different tasks and you can see the legend at the top.  

Tasks can be easily dragged and dropped from one column (status) to another. 


Create transparency and collaboration on your projects–try Kanban Visual Task Boards. 😉


(Source Graphic: Andy Blumenthal)

Inspector Inspects Starbucks

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This was the first time that I have ever seen an inspector in Starbucks…


See the lady in the white lab coat with hair cap and gloves…


Ah, she stands out like a saw thumb in contrast to the other staff person in the traditional green Starbucks apron. 


So I would imagine that she’s not a doctor moonlighting as a barista!


She was checking here, there, and everywhere. 


At this point, she was taking out the milk and looked like she had some thermometer like device to make sure it was cold enough and not spoiled. 


Honestly, I was impressed that they have this level of quality control in the stores. 


We need more of this to ensure quality standards as wPhotoell as customer service — here and everywhere in industry and government. 


There is way too much dysfunction, inefficiencies, politics, power plays, turf battles, backstabbing, bullying, lack of accountability, unprofessionalism, fraud, waste, and abuse, and mucho organizational culture issues that need to be–must be–addressed and fast!


Can the inspector that inspects do it?


Of course, that’s probably not enough–it just uncovers the defects–we still have the hard work of leadership to make things right–and not just to checklist them and say we did it.


I wonder if the Starbucks inspector will also address the annoying long lines on the other side of the counter as well? 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

How Leaders Can Imitate Art

Mental Floss (July-August 2011) has an article on the awesome art of “Christo and Jeanne-Claude.” Their pieces are large, imposing, and environmentally-based. Some examples are:

1) The Umbrella (1991)–Installed 3,100 umbrellas across a 12-mile stretch in California and an 18-mile stretch in Japan.”

2) The Gates (2005)–Erected “7,503 steel gates, each with a giant rectangle of orange fabric flowing from it.”

3) Surrounded Islands (1983)–“Surrounded 11 uninhabited islands in Biscayne Bay with 700,000 square yards of pink fabric.”
4) Wrapped Reichstag (1995)–Wrapped the German parliament in “119,600 square yards of shimmering silver fabric.”
What I like about their art is the duality of on one hand, magnitude of the projects–they are huge!–and on the other hand, the utter simplicity of it–such as using a single color fabric to just line up along, spread over, or surround something.
Further, I really like their use of contrasts whether it is the colors of the blue water and green islands with the pink ribbon or the lush green valley with the blue umbrellas–it is in every case dynamic and spell-binding.
Each work even in a microcosm would be beautiful, but when done on a massive scale like with the entire German Parliament building or on multiple continents simultaneously, it takes on an air of magic, almost like Houdini.
Jeanne-Claude passed away in 2009, but together she and Christo created “20 gargantuan works of art, and Christo carries on the “couples’s 45 years of collaboration” with new works today
To me, Christo and Jeanne-Claude are incredibly inspirational:
1) They were highly productive and developed a multitude of magnificent works of art.
2) They defined a sense of beauty in both urban and rural settings that combined the natural surroundings and augmented it with human interventions to complete the creative process. 
3) They took on monumental tasks, “funded all the projects themselves,” and would obsessively plan all the details to get it right. 
4) The were truly collaborative–Christo was the artist and Jeanne-Claude his encouragement and manager, yet they considered each other “equal partners in the creative process.”
Their work reminds me of floating in virtual reality like in Second Life, but in this case, it’s the real thing. And it’s incredibly important because it teaches us that we are partners in the creative process and can do enormously great things in simple and beautiful ways.  Similarly, true leadership is about being one with our surroundings, at peace, and yet envisioning how to improve on it and make the good things, spectacular. 
(Source Photos of Umbrella and Gates: Wikipedia, and of Islands and Reichstag: Here)

>Watson Can Swim

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With IBM’s Watson beating the pants off Jennings and Rutter in Jeopardy, a lot of people want to know can computers can really think?

Both sides of this debate have shown up in the last few weeks in some fascinating editorials in the Wall Street Journal.

On one hand, on 23 February 2011, John Searle of the University of California, Berkeley wrote that “IBM invented an ingenious program–not a computer that can think.” According to Searle, Watson (or any computer for that matter) is not thinking but is simulating thinking.

In his most passionate expression, Searle exclaims: “Watson did not understand the questions, nor its answers, not that some of its answers were right and some wrong, not that it was playing a game, nor that it won–because it doesn’t understand anything.

Today, on 14 March 2011 on the other hand, Stephen Baker, author of “Final Jeopardy–Man vs. Machine and the Quest to Know Everything” took the opposing view and stated: “Watson is an early sighting of a highly disruptive force…one that can handle [information] jobs held by people.

To the question of whether machine thinking is “real” thinking? Baker quotes David Ferrucci, IBM’s chief scientist who when asked if Watson can think, responded “Can a submarine swim?”

The analogy is a very good one.

Just because a submarine doesn’t swim like a fish or a person, doesn’t mean it can’t swim. In fact and in a sense, for the very reason that it doesn’t swim exactly like a fish or person, it actually can swim better.

So too with computers, just because they don’t “think” like humans doesn’t mean they don’t think. They just think differently and again in sense, maybe for the very same reason, in certain ways they can think better.

How can a computer sometimes think better than a person? Well here are just some possible examples (non-exhaustive):

– Computers can evaluate options purely based on facts (and not get “bogged down” in emotions, conflict, ego, and so forth like human beings).
– Computers can add processing power and storage at the push of button, like in cloud computing (people have the gray matter between their ears that G-d gave them, period).
– Computers do not tire by a problem–they will literally mechanically keep attacking it until solved (like cracking a password).
– Computers can be upgraded over time with new hardware, software, and operating systems (unlike people who age and pass).

At the same time, it is important to note that people still trump computers in a number of facets:

– We can evaluate things based on our conscience and think in terms of good and evil, and faith in a higher power (a topic of a prior blog).
– We can care for one another–especially children and the needy–in a altruistic way that is not based on information or facts, but on love.
– We can work together like ants in a colony or bees in a hive or crowdsourcing on- or off-line to get large jobs done with diversity and empowerment.
– We are motivated to better ourselves and our world–to advance ourselves, families, and society through continuous improvement.

Perhaps, like the submarine and the fish, both of which can “swim” in their own ways, so too both computers and people can “think”–each in their own capacity. Together, computers and people can augment the other–being stronger and more effective in carrying out the great tasks and challenges that confront us and await.

>Essential Leadership Do’s and Don’ts

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Below is a list of my top 15 recommended leadership attributes and the do’s and don’t for these.


For example, in managing people—do empower them; don’t micromanage. For supporting people—do back them; don’t undermine them. In terms of availability-do be approachable; don’t be disengaged. And so on…

While the list is not comprehensive, I believe it does give a good starting point for leaders to guide themselves with.

Overall, a good rule of thumb is to be the type of leader to your staff that you want your supervisor to be to you.

Common sense yes, but too often we expect (no, we demand) more from others than we do from ourselves.

This is counter-intuitive, because we need to start by working and improving on ourselves, where we can have the most immediate and true impact.

Now is a perfect time to start to lead by example and in a 360-degree fashion—because leadership is not a one-way street, but affects those above, below, and horizontal to us.

If we are great leaders, we can impact people from the trenches to the boardroom and all the customers and stakeholders concerned. That’s what ultimately makes it so important for us to focus on leadership and continually strive to improve in this.

>Leadership: Fight or Flight

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When we are confronted with difficult situations, people tend to two different responses: fight or flight.

Generally, people will stand and fight when they are either cornered and have no other option, when they will suffer undue harm if they just try and “let it go”, or when the issue is something that they really believe strongly in (like a principle or value such as equity, justice, righteousness, etc. that they feel is being violated).

In contrast, people typically will flee when they feel that they can get out of a bad situation mostly unscathed and their principles will not be violated (such that they can live with their personal and professional dignity intact). Often, people consider fleeing or a change of venue preferable to “getting into it” when it’s possible to avoid the problems that more direct confrontation can bring.

There is also a third option not typically addressed and that is just “taking it,” and letting it pass. In the martial arts, this is akin to taking someone’s best shot and just absorbing it—and you’re still standing. You go with the flow and let it go. This is sometimes feasible as a less dramatic response and one that produces perhaps less severe consequences (i.e. you avoid a fight and you still yield no ground).

Harvard Business Review (December 2009) in an article called “How to Pick a Good Fight” provides some guidelines on when as a professional you should consider standing up and fighting, as follows:

  1. “Make it Material”—Fight for something you really believe in, something that can create real value, noticeable and sustainable improvement.
  2. Focus on the Future”—Don’t dwell on the past or on things that cannot be changed. Spend most of your time “looking at the road ahead, not in the rearview mirror.”[This is actually the opposite of what 85% of leaders do, which is trying to figure out what went wrong and who to blame.”
  3. Pursue a Noble Purpose”—Make the fight about improving people’s lives or changing the world for the better.” I’d put it this way: stay away from selfish or egotistical fights, turf battles, empire building, and general mud slinging.

“The biggest predictor of poor company performance is complacency.” So leaders need to focus “the good fight” on what’s possible, what’s compelling, and what’s high impact. Great leaders shake things up when the fight is right and create an environment of continuous improvement. Leaders create the vision, inspire the troops, and together move the organization forward to greater and greater heights.

As for fleeing or “turning the other cheek” those venues are best left for issues of lesser consequence, for keeping the peace, or for times when you are simply better off taking up the good fight another day.