Manage By Walking Around http://jonathanbecher.com Aligning Execution With Strategy Wed, 01 Jul 2015 22:55:34 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.2 Word Cloud for MBWA, 2015 edition http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/28/word-cloud-for-mbwa-2015/#comments Sun, 28 Jun 2015 19:22:45 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5257 More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising –...

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More than six years ago, I created a wordle of my 10 most popular blog posts. Back then, word clouds were relatively new and I thought it was an interesting way to explore what I had been writing about. Some words were expected – performance, scorecard, objectives, strategy, metrics. Others were a bit more surprising – often, time, usually, group.

Since these days I write less about performance management and more about leadership and behavior, I decided to revisit the idea and generated the above word cloud on my last 20 blog posts using Tagxedo. Comparing the 2009 word cloud with this new one gives me a few ideas of how my writing has evolved:

  • There are fewer large words than there were 6 years ago.
    This means I’m writing about a wider variety of topics, rather than concentrating on a few ideas.
  • ‘Books’ and ‘words’ are among the largest words.
    This suggests I get most of my inspiration from books and that words do matter.
  • ‘Think’ and ‘know’ are about the same size.
    I take this to mean my posts are equal part opinion and fact.

Then there is the unexpected appearance of the word ‘don’ in the upper left hand side of the image. For a while I couldn’t explain it – after all, I haven’t written about the Mafia or the Spanish title of respect. Eventually, I discovered tagxedo was interpreting the word don’t as two words: don and t. Just like my high school grammar teacher said: avoid using apostrophes.

Anyone see any other surprising words?

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How to Make Better Decisions http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/21/how-to-make-better-decisions/#comments Sun, 21 Jun 2015 23:15:00 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5237 I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s? The Answer: Play him at anything but chess. This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business Lessons. Schulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having...

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I always ask aspiring business people: How do you beat Bobby Fischer, the renowned chess champion of the 1970’s?
The Answer: Play him at anything but chess.

This excerpt is from the second chapter of Seymour Schulich’s book, Get Smarter: Life and Business LessonsSchulich is a self-made billionaire and one of Canada’s greatest philanthropists, having donated more than $350M to education and healthcare causes. His best-selling book was designed to give entrepreneurial advice to those earlier in their careers. While the book is 304 pages, it’s a quick read – most chapters are only a few pages long.

In the first chapter, Decision-Maker: A Tool for a Lifetime, Schulich suggests a simple, but practical, extension to the traditional two-column pro/con decision list.

On one sheet of paper, list all the positive things you can about the issue in question, then give each one a score from zero to ten — the higher the score, the more important it is to you.

On another sheet, list the negative points, and score them from zero to ten — only this time, ten means it’s a major drawback.

If the positive score is at least double the negative score, you should do it — whatever “it” is. But if the positives don’t outweigh the negatives by that two-to-one ratio, don’t do it, or at least think twice about it.

Adding the weighting to the traditional pro/con list ensures a small number of factors don’t overly influence the decision; unless those factors are very important to you. If you assign the scores in a relatively consistent way, the Decision-Maker can take the emotion out of an important decision.

Schulich is a big proponent of the Decision-Maker. He claims it can work for groups as well, describing how it helped in the decision to sell Franco-Nevada to Newmont Mining. In fact, Schulich goes on to say:

I have used it for virtually every major decision of my adult life. It has never let me down and it will serve you well, too.

With that endorsement, I think I’ll start using it. Maybe you should too.

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History might not be the greatest teacher http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/06/07/history-might-not-be-the-greatest-teacher/#comments Sun, 07 Jun 2015 18:19:04 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5220 The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a result, historical data includes bias or variability.

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, Antifragile was a better book than I expected it to be. One passage that stuck in my mind long after I read it was the following:

Risk management professionals look in the past for information on the so-called worst-case scenario and use it to estimate future risks […] They take the worst historical recession, the worst war, the worst historical move in interest rates, or the worst point in unemployment as an exact estimate for the worst future outcome. But they never notice the following inconsistency: this so-called worst-case event, when it happened, exceeded the worst [known] case at the time.

I have called this mental defect the Lucretius problem, after the Latin poetic philosopher who wrote that the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one he has observed.

When I first read this, I thought Taleb might be describing a valence effect; the tendency for people to overestimate the likelihood of good things happening. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized something else was going on. People expect positive outcomes to be exceeded but they don’t usually consider that negative results can also be topped.

In sports the maxim ‘records are meant to be broken’ exhorts athletes and teams to strive for even better performance. But we rarely consider that negative records can be broken as well. The 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers were long considered to have an untouchable losing record with a .110 winning percentage (9 wins in 82 games). But the 2011-12 Charlotte Bobcats proved us wrong with just 7 wins in a strike-reduced 66-game season (a .106 winning percentage). To add insult to injury, the Bobcats ended the season with 23 consecutive losses.

The Lucretius problem is exacerbated by the fact data captured in the past is not necessarily as reliable or as complete as data captured today. As a simple example, it is difficult to compare the intensity of The Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 to China’s Tangshan Quake of 1976. Measurement techniques have changed fundamentally in 200 years.

This means historical data often includes bias or variability. If it isn’t accounted for in the statistical or predictive model, the results are suspect. As Taleb remarks in Antifragile:

We overestimate the validity of what has been recorded before and thus the trends we draw might tell a different story if we had the dark figure of unreported data.

So much for the oft-quoted proverb: ‘Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.’ Maybe history isn’t the greatest teacher after all.

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Spelling Bee 2015: Co-Champions and the Rapper Drake http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/31/spelling-bee-2015-co-champions-and-the-rapper-drake/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/31/spelling-bee-2015-co-champions-and-the-rapper-drake/#comments Mon, 01 Jun 2015 05:10:26 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5211 This year at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee there were 285 entrants, including 139 boys and 146 girls. The kids ranged in ages from 9 to 15 years old. Forty-four spellers were only children; two were from families with 10 children. They came from all 50 U.S. states and 11 other counties. There was even...

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This year at the 2015 Scripps National Spelling Bee there were 285 entrants, including 139 boys and 146 girls. The kids ranged in ages from 9 to 15 years old. Forty-four spellers were only children; two were from families with 10 children. They came from all 50 U.S. states and 11 other counties. There was even an entrant from my home town.

After 20 rounds, two eight-graders were crowned co-champions. It’s only the fifth time in the 90-year history of the contest there have been co-champions but it’s the second year in a row.

The results seem to reinforce it takes experience to become a champion. 13-year-old Vanya Shivashankar from Kansas was a five-time finalist and 14-year-old Gokul Venkatachalam from Missouri was a four-time finalist. Both had finished in the top 5 in previous years. Vanya’s sister, Kavya, won the 2009 Spelling Bee.

Of course, the Bee is about the words. Vanya’s winning word was scherenschnitte, a German word for the art of cutting paper into decorative designs. Gokul’s final word was nunatak, an Inuit word for the exposed, often rocky, portion of a mountain or peak not covered with ice or snow.

In my opinion, Vanya had the tougher final word. But Gokul’s path to co-champion was hardly easy. Check out the words he had to spell. I’m pretty sure I would have misspelled pyrrhuloxia.

The highlight of the event likely occurred in round 7. A contestant was given the word ‘bacchius’ to spell. When he asked to hear the word used in a sentence, the announcer responded:

Rumor has it that Drake’s next mix-tape contains a rap in which every verse begins and ends with a bacchius.

Drake might be a wordie because he posted the clip on his Instagram feed. Wouldn’t it be cool if he used the word is his next album?

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Food Mashups: from cronuts to totchos http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/17/food-mashups/#comments Sun, 17 May 2015 19:05:35 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5189 It might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it...

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TotchosIt might have started with the Frappuccino, the line of frozen coffee beverages sold by Starbucks. The term was coined as a combination of the words frappé (in Boston: a thick milkshake with ice cream) and cappuccino (in Italian: espresso coffee with frothed milk). While the 500+ calorie beverage was only introduced in 1995, it now represents $2B in revenue and more than 20% of Starbuck’s coffee sales.

While I wasn’t a fan of the drink, I was amused by the name – since I’m a fan of words, I liked that it was a portmanteau. Before Starbucks, the only other portmanteau food I had ever heard of was turducken; the turkey, duck, chicken hybrid.

And then two years ago, cronuts (croissants & donuts) stormed onto the scene. They were trendy and delicious. Amazingly, they are still popular. They’ve also spawned a legion of hybrid food portmanteaus:

  • Birizza (biryani pizza)
  • Bronut (brownie & donut)
  • Brookie (brownie & cookie)
  • Cragel (croissant & bagel)
  • Cruffin (croissant & muffin)
  • Duffin (donut & muffin)
  • Flagel (flat bagel)
  • Frankaroni (crispy mac and cheese with a hot dog inside)
  • Moffle (mochi & waffle)
  • Pizzabon (pizza on a Cinnabon)
  • Pake (pie in a cake)
  • Sushirrito (sushi burrito)
  • Totchos (tater tot nachos)

Some of these sound like they would taste delicious and some – well – are creative names. It’s a smorgasbord of food mashups. You know, fashups.

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The Silver Salt Shaker Effect http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/05/10/the-silver-salt-shaker-effect/#comments Mon, 11 May 2015 03:35:58 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5161 A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do? As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to...

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A mentee of mine recently asked how she should confront a co-worker about a delicate situation. Her intentions were good but she was worried the conversation would quickly escalate – to the point the co-worker might lash out at her. What should she do?

As the situation could have had legal ramifications, I encouraged her to be upfront with her co-worker but allow him to remedy the situation. In other words, don’t back him into a corner.

To bring the point to life, I told a story attributed to Winston Churchill, the former prime minster of Great Britain:

During dinner for Commonwealth dignitaries, the chief of protocol approached Churchill and quietly informed him that a distinguished guest had slipped a silver salt shaker into her pocket. Rather than confront the dignitary about the salt shaker, Churchill guided her out of earshot of the other guests and pulled out the matching pepper shaker from his pocket. “Oh dear,” he said in a guilty-sounding voice, “We were seen! Perhaps we’d better both put them back.”

Of course, the dignitary understood that Churchill knew the truth but was allowed to correct the wrong on her own.

I call this the Silver Salt Shaker effect. We know from research studies that people are more likely to choose the desired outcome when they believe they are choosing for themselves. In contrast, people are more likely to resist when they are told what to do. Anyone with a teenager witnesses this daily.

So the next time you have to confront someone in a delicate situation, remember Winston Churchill and invoke the silver salt shaker effect.

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This Ain’t My First Rodeo http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/19/this-aint-my-first-rodeo/#comments Mon, 20 Apr 2015 04:49:29 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5116 A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied: This ain’t my first rodeo. If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for...

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A few weeks ago, I asked a co-worker to take the lead on a complex situation involving a partner. When I asked him whether he was comfortable being on point, my co-worker replied:

This ain’t my first rodeo.

If you’re not familiar with the expression, it’s a colorful way of telling someone you’re prepared for a situation and it doesn’t offer a significant challenge to you. Where I grew up, locals used a similar vivid expression:

I didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.

In my experience, both expressions have a touch of sarcasm. They are often used when someone is being given unjustified and unwanted advice. Apparently my co-worker didn’t think the situation was particularly challenging.

Since I’m interested in the origin of phrases, I spent some time trying to figure out where the rodeo expression came from. The earliest instance I could find was from the 1981 movie, Mommie Dearest, which chronicles the life of Joan Crawford. When told she is going to be removed from the Board of Directors of Pepsi, Faye Dunaway (the actress playing Crawford) responds “This ain’t my first time at the rodeo.” This classic scene is a fiery performance with strong language:

Who gets credit for inventing the rodeo phrase? The phrase isn’t in the book that the movie was based on and I couldn’t find any evidence this scene happened in real life. As such, the quote should probably be attributed to Frank Yablans, who wrote the screenplay.

For those of you who prefer an exact quote, I found it in the 1988 Judd family biography. From the book,

Naomi is not a shy woman; she has never claimed to be.
“I’m divorced and I’ve been to the circus and I’ve seen the clowns,” as she put it “This ain’t my first rodeo.”

It’s a fantastic thought that Naomi Judd might have been channeling Faye Dunaway.

Now if I could only figure out where that turnip truck came from. Any ideas?

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What The Heck Is Antifragile? http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/13/what-the-heck-is-antifragile/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/13/what-the-heck-is-antifragile/#comments Tue, 14 Apr 2015 03:30:26 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5107 OK, an admission. I’ve been avoiding reading Antifragile, the latest but now three-year-old book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Nothing against Taleb; I follow him on twitter and really enjoyed his earlier books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness. The buzz surrounding Antifragile was mixed. A friend of mine summed up his opinion in one word:...

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OK, an admission. I’ve been avoiding reading Antifragile, the latest but now three-year-old book by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Nothing against Taleb; I follow him on twitter and really enjoyed his earlier books, The Black Swan and Fooled by Randomness.

The buzz surrounding Antifragile was mixed. A friend of mine summed up his opinion in one word: ‘Eh’. I still remember a withering review in the NY Times that included this sentence:

Unfortunately he delivers such lessons with bullying grandiosity and off-putting, self-dramatizing asides.

Ouch. But this weekend, I finally read Antifragile. Cover to cover. And I liked it. Not as much as the other two books but there’s plenty worth reading.

It starts with the concept of antifragile itself. It doesn’t just mean not fragile or unbreakable. Taleb uses it to refer to a category of things that get better with adversity and thrive in the face of chaos. That’s why the subtitle of the book is “Things That Gain from Disorder.”

The prototypical example is Hydra, the Greek mythological creature with many heads. When one head is cut off, two grow back in its place. A more commonplace example happens in the gym. When I lift weights, my muscles tear slightly. When they heal, I am stronger and can lift more weight. In fact, our entire bodies are antifragile. It’s estimated about 300 million cells in our body die every minute but our bodies adapt.

Smaller units tend to be more fragile than the larger, more complex systems of which they are part. Individuals are more fragile than families, families more fragile than communities. The same dynamic exists between neighborhoods, cities and countries.

Of course, not all communities and not all countries are equally antifragile. The Roman Empire may not have been built in a day but it didn’t last either. And yet Rome is still around.

So how does an organization become more antifragile?

Unexpectedly, it’s by stopping to try to protect it. Stability is not necessarily good. The longer we go without variations, without setbacks, without randomness, the worse the consequences will be when the unpredictable finally happens. In Taleb’s words,

Preventing noise makes the problem worse in the long run. […]

I have always been very skeptical of any form of optimization. In the black swan world, optimization isn’t possible. The best you can achieve is a reduction in fragility and greater robustness.

My interpretation? Taleb agrees with my assessment that “failure is the new black.” If you want to be antifragile, you have to be willing to make and embrace mistakes.

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If you lose, don’t be beaten http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/04/if-you-lose-dont-be-beaten/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/04/04/if-you-lose-dont-be-beaten/#comments Sun, 05 Apr 2015 00:42:23 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5092 On a recent transatlantic flight, I watched the movie Forever Strong which was “inspired by” incidents surrounding the Highland Rugby team in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the movie gets mixed reviews, I was intrigued enough by the story of Larry Gelwix, Highland’s head coach, that I decided to do a bit of research into...

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On a recent transatlantic flight, I watched the movie Forever Strong which was “inspired by” incidents surrounding the Highland Rugby team in Salt Lake City, Utah. While the movie gets mixed reviews, I was intrigued enough by the story of Larry Gelwix, Highland’s head coach, that I decided to do a bit of research into his story.

Gelwix coached the Highland Rugby team for 35 years, from its founding in 1976 until his retirement in 2011. During his tenure, Highland had an amazing 418 wins with only 10 losses – winning 20 of the 27 national rugby championships held. True to the movie, Gelwix was known to be a demanding coach and required the players to sign a non-negotiable honor code that contained behavior standards, including avoiding alcohol, tobacco and drugs. It’s been said he summarized this philosophy with the following quote:

I don’t build championship teams, I build championship boys.

Gelwix characterized his secrets to success through five principles:

  • staying away from things you know are wrong
  • horizontal leadership
  • attitude
  • effort
  • what’s important now (W.I.N.)

The last principle warrants further explanation. Gelwix advocated a kind of mindfulness for his players. Rather than worrying about mistakes they made during the last play or thinking about the next one, players are asked to be fully present in the moment and constantly decide what’s important to them.

Gelwix believed winning is determined by whether the players are focused on their own game or on their opponent’s game. If they start thinking about the other team, they lose focus and start playing to the other team’s strengths.  In other words, they lose rather than get beaten. In his words,

There is a difference between losing and being beaten. Being beaten means they are better than you. They are faster, stronger, and more talented.

Staying focused is as important in business as it is in rugby. As I’ve said before, prioritization is the key to high performance, and prioritization is as much about what we choose not to do as what we do.

Ask yourself, what’s important now and you will W.I.N.

 

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Quotes about Technology http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/29/quotes-about-technology/ http://jonathanbecher.com/2015/03/29/quotes-about-technology/#comments Mon, 30 Mar 2015 06:12:20 +0000 http://jonathanbecher.com/?p=5078 In the past, I’ve compiled quotes about performance management and about failure. Here are some of my favorite ones about technology: “But they are useless. They can only give you answers.” Pablo Picasso, 1964 conversation with William Fifield about computers (source) “We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate...

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In the past, I’ve compiled quotes about performance management and about failure. Here are some of my favorite ones about technology:

“But they are useless. They can only give you answers.”
Pablo Picasso, 1964 conversation with William Fifield about computers (source)

“We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.”
Roy Amara, researcher and Past president of The Institute for the Future (source)

“We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works.”
Douglas Adams, The Salmon of Doubt (2002)

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is equivalent to magic.”
Sir Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Enquiry into the Limits of the Possible (1962)

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”
Stewart Brand, The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT (1987)

“The real danger is not that computers will begin to think like men, but that men will begin to think like computers.”
Sydney J. Harris, Journalist (unverified)

“Today’s science is tomorrow’s technology.”
Edward Teller, The Legacy of Hiroshima (1962)

“Your brain may give birth to any technology, but other brains will decide whether the technology thrives. The number of possible technologies is infinite, and only a few pass this test of affinity with human nature.”
Robert Wright, Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny (2001)

“For years there has been a theory that millions of monkeys typing at random on millions of typewriters would reproduce the entire works of Shakespeare. The Internet has proven this theory to be untrue.”
Anonymous

And one that’s been my favorite since I moved to Silicon Valley 20 years ago:

Once a technology works, it’s already obsolete.

Anyone have any other technology quotes to add?

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