Culture, Going Forth, Uncategorized

Culture Exploration: The Maps

Culture is hard

The culture of a group can be a tricky thing to architect. Behind every dysfunctional company culture lay the shreds of good intentions. Sometimes a good culture comes together with heavy doses of luck and serendipity. That’s when you get too scared to make any changes because you don’t know how it came together. One false move will unravel it all. Think Indiana Jones and the stepping stones in the Temple of Doom. At least there aren’t any snakes.

Maybe there is a way forward

Mental models seem like they can be a good tool for building a company or team culture. They serve as your map for an explored territory. You have some squiggles and loose direction, but you have to constantly make interpretations of what you’re seeing in the real-world, and if it is getting you where you want to go on the map.

“Begin to look at maps with the narcotic tingle of possibility” -Rolf Potts

But what if we start falling off the path

As with any rough map, the real-world changes. There are just too many factors, too many variables in the real… and a map’s legend is limited. I once learned that your map for life can be misleading. Say for example that you grow up near a river. Your map’s legend indicates that squiggles are river water. But what happens when you encounter the ocean? You interpret those on your map as a river, and you’re wrong. You need a more refined legend. Or what about these slightly different squiggles? Are they a different type of water? Nope, those are trees.

The point is, like a map, a mental model is a great starting point but it’s your leadership, your interpretation of life and interpersonal signals, that evolve it and make successful navigation possible.

Establish guardrails as triggers to re-evaluate

Even if our map, our mental model, has a couple items in the legend, we can set up guardrails to bounce us back on the path. Without any guardrails, we go careening off the side of the path and into danger. So we can set up guardrails on the edges of our mental models by doing a pre-mortem.

A pre-mortem would be evaluating our mental model and looking for what failure will look like. How can it all fall apart? There are some hilarious and extreme answers here, but the closer to likely or probable signs of failure we can stick, the tighter our guardrail sits to the path. And that means we can correct our direction sooner.

Maybe it’s worth a shot

So over the next few posts, I’m going to explore mental models for crafting a company and team culture. I’m going to look for other lenses and frameworks to bring into to some tried and true culture models and see if we can’t reinvent a new map to explore.

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Being Awesome, Bias towards action, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Pre-Mortem, Systems, Uncategorized

Thinking like a Producer vs Producing like a Thinker – And Three Things You Can Do About It

bigproducinglikeathinker

A bias towards action.

It’s one of the most sought-after characteristics in a lean, mean innovation team. However, can too much of a good thing be hazardous to the quality of your work?

Creating movement and getting stuff in the hands of the user is great, but just quickly delivering what was asked for only perpetuates mediocrity. We need a strategic bias towards action.

“Work smarter… not harder.” – Allan Mogensen

I have succumbed to blind efficiency in the past. And to be honest, I’m not cured of it… but I am getting better!

I wanted to be a rapid responder. I was delivering what was asked for at lightspeed. Yet after completing task after task, I was able to look at my products and realize… I wasn’t solving the job to be done. I was merely doing what was asked for.

I was thinking like a producer when I should’ve been producing like a thinker.

All of my thoughts and energies were around producing a large bounty of checked-off to-do items. I wasn’t making an impact. I was delivering the “fast food” version of my craft; speedy and filling, but it wasn’t a noteworthy meal.

My bias towards action was misplaced.

“You can not dig a hole in a different place by digging the same hole deeper.” – Edward de Bono

“Thinking like a producer” and “Producing like a thinker” is not a dichotomy. Instead of seeing one as bad and the other as good, view it as more like a sliding scale. There are times when one mindset will serve us better than the other. Unfortunately, we can get stuck in ruts.

So let’s get unstuck!

One of the original goals of Go Forth and Be Awesome was to not be another voice providing abstract discussion on theoretical ideas. Oh, I will get theoretical and abstract, but I will also provide tools, process, and things you can use today. I want to be more “activity book” and less “newsletter”.

So let’s dig into how I got myself unstuck, in hopes that it can help you do the same.

A woodsman was once asked, “What would you do if you had just five minutes to chop down a tree?” He answered, “I would spend the first two and a half minutes sharpening my axe.” – C. R. Jaccard

Before we start chopping away at jobs and projects, these tips will help you sharpen your axe, before you strike your first blow.

Identify Triggers

If you’re like me, there are enough projects in your past that you can analyze. Look for the key phrases or situations that shift your mindset into thinking like a producer. Is it a rapidly approaching deadline? A small project window? An easily completable request? Find your triggers.

Add a Process

With your triggers identified, you can now build a gameplan. Do this before your triggers are triggered; outside of the heat of battle. When you’re in the thick of it, you become blinded by the pursuit of progress. You need a calm heart and clear eyes to devise this process. When the triggers strike, what will you do? How might we stay in the “Producing like a thinker” mindset when our reactions argue differently?

My “response to triggers” process  is to go through a quick succession of questions, including:

  • What are they really trying to do?
  • What are alternate ways to accomplish this?
  • What fits with their story?
  • What would I do if time was not a constraint?

Reflect

Developing a process for triggers is like a pre-mortem, so it makes sense to have a post-mortem as well. However, we often don’t make this kind of time for ourselves. It is very crucial to check the direction we’re sailing often, or we will run aground on the shore while trying to sail out to open waters. Make time for this. Schedule it.

“If you create a vision for yourself, and stick with it, you can make amazing things happen in your life.” – Pete Carroll

Get out of the ruts and be free to steer where you need to. Don’t serve up the “fast food” version of your skills. Give them your five-star finest! Make time to identify your triggers, design a process, and reflect on your work. It’ll feel like some projects are too short and too quick to work in a “thinker’s” process. But I say the shortest projects with the tightest timelines are the ones most in need of a strategic bias towards action.

______________________

I am a big process junkie. I believe even the most amorphous and intangible concepts can have their own patterns and processes.

Let me know what your process for producing like a thinker is!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation Mindsets, Motivation

Shooting for the Moon

I trip-to-the-moon-movieam a sucker for a well-crafted motivational phrase. That’s actually how “Go Forth And Be Awesome” got started. But not all motivational phrases are created equal. Some go too far for the cute analogy and miss the point altogether.

It’s hokey hokum.

Today’s egregious example is about aiming for big goals. When I was researching it, I found two distinct versions. Let’s dispense with the wrongest of the wrong first.

“If you shoot for the stars, you’ll at least hit the moon.”

No, that’s not how the universe works. I can’t tell you “Pick up a dart and aim for a wall because at least you’ll hit the bullseye.” You absolutely COULD, but the geometric probability is astronomical. In fact, humankind is especially good at aiming for stars and NOT hitting the moon. As of January 2017, there have been 314 space flights with people, and only 6 of those landed on the moon. Zero of which were by accident. That gives you, at very best, a 1.9% chance of hitting the moon. Hardly an “at least” scenario.

On to the most prevalent version…

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, at least you’ll land amongst the stars.”

You missaiming the moon but you’re still in space. Not what you were aiming for, but it is kind of neat. Who says you only get to aim once, though? This isn’t basketball, it’s rocket science! NASA doesn’t aim just once and neither should you. Shoot, check, adjust. Translating that to Lean Startup vocabulary gives you “build, measure, learn”.

 

It is a well-meaning phrase at its heart. No need to jettison it into space. We just need to give it a little corrective push into effectiveness.

“Shoot for the moon. Check your path. Adjust as needed.”

Not as snappy, but it will prevent from people realizing they aren’t headed on the right trajectory and just accepting their lonely drift into space.

Going Forth, Innovation, Lean, Uncategorized

Smallify Your Disruptive Idea

small (1)Way before the Walt Disney Resort drew tourists to Florida like moths to a flame, they needed to buy some land. Had they waltzed over to the East Coast and declared Disney domain over central Florida, imagine what land costs would have been like. No, Walt had a plan to avoid paying “Hollywood upcharges”.

The land he wanted was soon being purchased by other companies. Little companies like Bay Lake Properties, Retlaw, The Ayefour Group, and M.T. Lott Real Estate were buying tracts of land for $80 an acre. The trick was that all these companies were Disney in disguise. Once the veil was lifted, Disney had managed to purchase more than 27,000 acres at roughly $200 per acre. Now before you start thinking Walt was out there fleecing the little land owner, understand that after people found out it was Disney buying the land, the price per acre ballooned up to $80,000.

That’s a 999% increase because they knew he could afford it.

“Ambition can creep as well as soar.” – Edmund Burke

This gets at the heart of taking little bets. Peter Sims wrote in his book, appropriately titled “Little Bets”, about comedian Chris Rock. Rock will test run jokes at a smaller venue, a laugh lab if you will, looking for the five or ten powerful lines to build an entire act around. Like Walt Disney, he’s looking for those little humor land grabs that can add up to a resort of hilarity.

We need to be doing the same thing while innovating. Ideation and business canvases can lead us to the next big things, but we can’t just build the theme park entrance out in the wild. There is some hypothesis testing and market fit analysis that should happen first. Take that big, disruptive idea and start testing those risky assumptions.

The best part is that each smallish prototype you test, only has to connect to the big, disruptive idea to you. Validating your hypotheses only has to look like another little land purchase by M.T. Lott. You’re going to be taking ground in small chunks, seemingly of little value to the market.

It is your big vision that makes the small grabs important.

“To multiply small successes is precisely to build one treasure after another. In time one becomes rich without realizing how it has come about.” – Frederick the Great

The best part of these small land grabs under little prototypes is that no one sees what you’re doing until its too late. It’s like building mini-games consisting of only one mechanic. This game you can only jump. This game you have to solve sliding puzzles. And so on until you use all your validated mini-game mechanics to build the big market disrupting game.

What will be your M.T. Lott strategy?

Being Awesome, Brainstorming, Breakthrough, Failure, Going Forth, Ideation, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Sustaining versus Disruptive, Uncategorized

Boss Battle Breakthroughs

villainI can’t imagine a less appealing career than being a video game villain. No matter how hard you try, or how many henchmen you hire, the hero is destined to win the game. Castles broken. Airships grounded. Treasure looted. So what does the video game villain do next? They build a different castle, marginally tougher, but still pretty much using the same stuff. Insanity? Maybe. But definitely on the way to a breakthrough innovation.

“Whaaaaa?” you exclaim in disbelief. We’ll get there, but first we need to take a slight detour. Let’s set some common terms by grouping Innovation into three levels.

Level 1 is sustaining innovation.

  • This is where you do what you’ve done, just better. You are reorganizing pieces of what you have, maybe pushing a piece up a notch or two1, and in the end you have a better version of what you do. Fits in your  existing business model.

Level 2 is breakthrough innovation.

  • At this level you are still remixing your existing components like in Level 1. However this time you find a magical combination that is greater than the sum of its parts. It takes you into new territories. Still fits the vision but pushes the limits of your business model (if it doesn’t force you to change).

Level 3 is disruptive innovation.

  • This involves some new elements to the mix. Maybe its new technology, processes, or market strategies, but you are definitely off the status quo path. If you remixed every piece of your org, you wouldn’t arrive at this innovation which means you’re definitely looking at a new business model.

Video game villains are great at sustaining innovation. With the same blocks and baddies from their Stage 1 Basicworld, they are able remix a whole suite of levels. The first is very simple, but with each defeat the villain concocts a new version that’s moderatly tougher. They’re taking little bets by using what they have in this stage.

Breakthrough innovation happens between the stages. This is when the core obstacles remain the same (something is trying to run into you, smash you, or blast you), there is a new twist that adds the unique value to the stage. This time the villain built his defenses under water forcing you to swim to victory. This time the villain set up shop in the sky, saying “I wonder if the hero can stop me if I just remove the ground?” Still mostly the same core mechanics of hopping, dodging, and running, but they’re being used in new ways.

So when you’re ideating around some sustaining innovation, embrace your inner video game villain! Still use the Basicworld pieces you have but what is a unique twist you can add to them to make it a new stage. What’s your Lavaworld? What’s your Spaceworld? Be the ruler of your own Awesomeworld!

 

Being Awesome, Buy In, Going Forth, Innovation, Like a Startup, Theme Park of You, Writing

Your Words Are Your Brand

word (1)For more than 150 years, the National Weather Service has been providing weather updates IN ALL CAPS. Even as weather forecast technology made great leaps and bounds, the National Weather Service was content in sticking with all caps. It’s due to the old limitations of how they communicated their reports. However on May 11th, the National Weather Service will be speaking more softly.

The change is accredited to “changing social norms” around how we talk to each other. Tweets of all caps are taken people talking with VERY LOUD VOICES for a wide range of emotions. I wonder if there isn’t a missed opportunity here.

Two fantastic examples of owning a unique text style are ee cummings, an American poet, and FAKE GRIMLOCK, a giant, robotic dinosaur. ee cummings was famous for using non-traditional capitalization and punctuation as its own poetic device.

“To be nobody-but-yourself – in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you somebody else – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.” ee cummings

FAKE GRIMLOCK proudly makes large exclamations of awesomeness and getting stuff done. He does so with a very direct vocabulary and all caps.

“WHY TALK THIS WAY? BECAUSE AWESOME!” – FAKE GRIMLOCK

This is why I feel the National Weather Service is missing out on something. What if they incorporated ALL CAPS into their brand, instead of abandoning it to fit in with the crowd? They should make no apologies for their loud text. T-shirts would be emblazoned with #PARTYCLOUDY, expressing the irony of a wishy-washy weather system that bombastically declares itself. They could even say “YES. WE BROADCAST IN ALL CAPS. WEATHER IS SERIOUS BUSINESS. WE SHOULD ALL PAY ATTENTION TO THE CLIMATE.” But instead, they chose to fit in; get lost in the sea of status updates.

There is a Scottish proverb that says “You should be the king of your word” and it fits in this case as well. Take pride in the words you choose. They are a reflection of you. Don’t let your words blur the lines between you and the millions of others out there. Supercharge your words to stand out against the grain because that’s when you’ll have a #100%CHANCEOFTHUNDERSTORMS!

Go forth and be linguistically awesome!

Being Awesome, Going Forth, Innovation, Innovation Mindsets, Learning, Theme Park of You, Tool

AngularJS Showed Me 5 Innovation Truths

learningIn an effort to broaden my t-shaped skills portfolio, I dug in and started learning AngularJS. Being able to mock things up quickly (and by myself) allows me to get prototypes into the hands of the core users faster, cheaper, and more closely aligned with the hypothesis I’m testing. So while I am certainly no master of the craft, I can do enough programming to get some ideas off the ground and feeling real (ok real-ish).

While learning AngularJS, I observed some truths that apply to the innovative process as a whole.

It’s good to be a beginner at something.

Being a beginner means you see things with fresh eyes. You have no established patter or status quo in this skill or topic yet, so you don’t have to break old habits to be personally innovative. Also, there will be moments when you’ll discover a faster, easier way to accomplish something because you don’t “know” enough to build in the old-guard way of doing things. Bill Gates said he chooses “a lazy person to do a hard job. Because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.” I say that applies to beginners as well.

Break your mental models.

What you do have is a status-quo in your brain that shows you how to decipher the world. If life was a map, your mental models are the legend. A squiggly line over here seems to match with the mountain shape in my legend, so I will plan for it to be a mountain. However, what if that squiggle is actually a lake, you just didn’t have lakes in your mental model? Learning something new breaks your existing legend, expands it to include new models, and gives you more lenses in your innovation toolbox. The trick here is to constantly find things to break your legend.

Get something live quickly.

Learning code is awesome because you need to have a working “thing” in order to see if what you’re mashing into your keyboard is right. And the quicker and more often you can have a working “thing”, the less down the wrong road you travel. Imagine writing a 15-page term paper to only find out it is all garbage because your first sentence was wrong. Having something live minimizes risk down the road. And by live, I’m not saying it always has to be market-ready. But functioning to some end helps stakeholders and customers alike envision your innovation. There’s great stuff in Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull on this… about having the story always viewable, even if it is just rough sketches.

Iterate, iterate, iterate.

Keep going, keep trying, don’t stop. Once you feel you have a handle on your new thing, it’s time to do it again and see if you’ve REALLY got it. Don’t just put a new skill on the shelf. It isn’t a conversation piece, it’s a working tool. The next problem you are trying to solve in your innovative journey, spend some time thinking about how you can solve it with your newly learned skill. This is why we learn… the abstract application in real-life.

Ladder up into the unknown.

Learning a new skill or topic usually has a definitive end state. “Once you can do this, you’ve learned all I can teach you for now.” But this is where the magic happens. What ELSE can you do with this new thing you’ve got? Unity3D has a popular tutorial that teaches people how to make a ball game. The ball rolls around a surface and collects items when it collides with them. But innovation isn’t simply doing what people tell you to do, or give you step-by-step directions to do. I’ve seen ball games that have the ball teleport through different dimensions or become Newtonian physics simulations. You have to take your new skill one more step up the ladder into the unknown.

Challenge: Learn something new

  • What new things have you wanted to learn?
  • What’s preventing you? How can those roadblocks be eliminated?
  • After you’ve learned your new thing, do something more awesome with it!