Much of my writing time these days is being dedicated to SocialEarth.org, where I’m a contributing writer.  It’s a fantastic site, so please check it out – http://www.socialearth.org.

My articles on SocialEarth can be found here – Mike’s Posts.  Thanks for reading!

One of the greatest parts of being married is learning all sorts of wonderful things about yourself and life in general as part of the process. Here’s one…
Giving is not always fun. Sacrifice of any size isn’t easy. Even things as simple as being interrupted in your morning reading to do a quick favor or having to unexpectedly stop at the grocery store on the way home to pick up an ingredient for dinner can be obnoxious. When the interdependence that accompanies any relationship becomes a game of endless asking to give, it quickly becomes tedious for both the “asker” and “askee.”

Ironically, perhaps the best and easiest way to avoid this “giving fatigue” is to start doing more offering. I find that the more I anticipate needs and offer to do things for others, the better I feel about actually performing those tasks, even when they are exactly the same favors that I found formerly irritating.

I’ve found the same to be true in my philanthropic giving. Those times when the idea to give has been my own – when it has been unsolicited – I’ve found the giving not only more gratifying but far more memorable.

I could say the same about work. Taking initiative and volunteering to do is much more fun that being delegated to.

So, again, lesson number 5,143 from marriage… Being asked to give is tiring. Offering to give is
empowering and enjoyable. So anticipate needs, offer help, and watch your relationships be transformed.

We use the concept of “process” constantly in the world of business. We speak of building more customer-friendly delivery processes, enhancing the effectiveness of our sales process, and creating professional development processes for employees that are engaging and grow skills.

One of the things that first struck me about behavioral economics is its potential for helping us create more robust processes by better accounting for and even leveraging human irrationality and fallibility. Only recently, however, did it dawn on me that I was absolutely wrong to believe this. One simply can’t apply a set of theories so grounded in human experience to a concept based in 20th century industrial thinking.

Put differently, we need to start recognizing that processes are mechanical and schematic. Building a process is a matter of establishing workflow and linking disconnected cogs. Processes assume that the “work” being done is inanimate and easily subjected to human manipulation, and that the goals of the process can be accomplished through the proper application of theories of efficiency.

The reality, however, is that this idea of process is increasingly irrelevant to the work that most of us do. Our “processes” are not mechanical in nature but rather deeply human. The “work” that is being moved around is in fact the attitudes, beliefs, behaviors, and decisions of other people. Success is defined as successfully influencing, through a series of interrelated activities (that sometimes seem superfluous or wasteful), these decisions and behaviors.

When we come to recognize this, we quickly realize just how inadequate the idea of “process” is for 21st century work. Processes don’t impact people. Well-designed experiences do. And designing experiences that profoundly impact people requires an unrelenting attention to the details and nuances of human psychology and subjectivity and a massive amount of creativity that simply aren’t required when building a mechanical process that systematically complies with the laws of nature and physics.

How would your world change if you stopped talking about customer-facing processes and started talking about customer experience, if development experiences replaced development processes?

It’s time to ditch process. Let’s embrace experience.

I recently received a friend request on Facebook from a high school acquaintance. As I was looking over her profile to see what she's been up to, I was struck by her job title, "Building Roads."

When people ask you what you do, do you fire off a fancy but esoteric-sounding job title like "Director of Special Projects"? Or do you "build roads"? 

Would you feel more fulfilled in your career if you thought of yourself as a "road builder"?  

How excited do you get about processes?  How about routine and organization!? Hmm…two ideas that get my blood moving.

Not many of us get great fulfillment from following a process or the notion of being a being a really efficient cog.  Even those of us who claim to derive energy from process and routine are most likely referring to the enjoyment of designing, implementing, or refining these things.

Humans aren't really "process" beings, after all. We're "project" creatures. We can dedicate ourselves to a task or goal for an extended period of time – perhaps several years – but not indefinitely. At some point the learning curve flattens and the mundane nature of the work starts to drain our motivation and engagement, especially if we aren't being challenged in other spheres of life.

Where this story gets really interesting is when you start thinking about organizational missions, goals and strategies. Finding a way to align and inspire a group of people around a shared vision or BHAG is one of the primary challenges of leaders in all organizations. But any BHAG worth setting requires many years – maybe decades – to realize. And you have an organization that is constantly changing. People – "project people" – are coming and going and few have the attention span and raw dedication to your goal to stick with you to the end. 

So, how to get the greatest alignment and effort from people while they're around becomes the real challenge. 

The answer may just lie in setting concrete, meaningful, yet shorter-term organizational goals that leverage people's project-based natures. 
For example, your organization's mission may be to end death from preventable and imminently treatable diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa. Great.  Your long-term BHAG? Reduce the number of deaths from diarrhea by 90% in Angola, Zambia, and the Congo. Awesome! You've got a mission and BHAG worthy of your people's time and attention. But getting people to really focus and align requires a shorter-term strategic objective, like, "Create access to clean water in 50% of the highest-need communities in these countries by Jan 2014." 

Now you've created a project. An organization-wide project that will require good processes and certainly involve some routine, but one with a timeline and scope that really engages and motivates.
 

Great deck here on innovation and talent management from my good friend Adam Walz…

Spotlight on Innovation

</object><div style=”padding:5px 0 12px”>View more presentations from Adam Walz.</div></div>

Posted via email from Human Ventures

 
What makes entrepreneurs great? 
 
A ton of research exists of this question, and two traits that frequently come up are low risk aversion and a high tolerance for ambiguity.
 
Breaking that down a bit…
 
Risk is something we intuitively understand as betting on the unknown. However, the specific definition of risk applied by economists (esp those of the Knightian variety) is directly linked to quantifiable expected outcomes. For example, a horse-racing track gives you the odds of your horse winning, and you know/can control the amount of money you will wager on the horse. With that information, you can calculate the expected outcome of betting lots of money on the long shot (hint: it’s probably a very small number).  You are taking a risk, but its a relatively known and well-understood risk.
 
Ambiguity, on the other hand, is tied to uncertainty, which Frank Knight was sage enough to help us understand as situations in which the odds of winning and expected outcomes can’t be quantified. So having a tolerance for ambiguity is about an ability and willingness to move forward and make decisions despite lots of unknowns.
 
Ok, good stuff so far. But are both required for entrepreneurial success? Authors like Amar Bhide have shown us, using empirical research, that a willingness to take big risks is not something that most entrepreneurs are endowed with. Real-life entrepreneurs start with a simple idea that requires little investment and, therefore, does not constitute a major risk. To boot, entrepreneurs, even those who have founded Inc 500 companies, have low opportunity costs. They are generally not turning down great job opportunities and big money elsewhere in order to start their business. They tend to have limited experience/skills and often are creating a business as much out of necessity and a desire to be self-employed as out of raw ambition.  In fact, a low risk aversion doesn’t seem to be necessary for entrepreneurial success until massive inflows of cash are needed to scale and/or the business has grown to a size where future failure would destroy the entrepreneur’s small fortune.
 
What about a tolerance for ambiguity? That does seem critical, as great entrepreneurs are generally operating in new and developing markets where unknowns abound and effective opportunism often determines success.
 
But there is one piece missing here – a critical one – that ties into that idea of opportunism. On the one hand, being opportunistic relates to making decisions and moving forward despite perfect information and a coherent strategy. It requires a leap of faith and tolerance for ambiguity. 
On the other hand, opportunism is very much “destructive.” It often requires throwing out a formulated plan of attack and way of thinking about the entire business. It requires a shamelessness and lack of pride in opinion/authorship that allows the entrepreneur to wholly re-design his/her company around new information and opportunities. Those are unique skills and traits that fall under the categories of “humility” and “adaptability” that traditional ideal types of the entrepreneur generally fail to fully explore and consider.
 
The lesson here is this…If you are interested in starting your own business but are the kind of individual who has a hard time changing course once you’ve committed (publicly or privately) to a plan, you’ve got a problem. It’s not a downside that can’t be overcome, but it’s one that needs to be acknowledged, understood, and compensated for if you hope to make your company a success.
 
 

Posted via email from Human Ventures

 
The rise of the knowledge economy and knowledge worker over the last decade has brought about a new philosophy related to corporate productivity. 
 
That philosophy sounds a little bit like this…
 
“Hire the best and the brightest, give them the resources and support they need, and get out of their way.”
 
Sound familiar? It should. It would be difficult to overplay the significance and ubiquity of this belief. The infamous “War for Talent” is real, and I witness everyday the determination of HR and business executives to hire, retain, and develop the most talented employees. Many billions of dollars globally are dedicated to this end. And now, apparently, more and more CEOs are determining that extracting as much as possible from your best employees and laying off everyone else is a great way to reduce costs and bolster profits. (ht: @larsleafblad)  They have fully bought into the idea that throwing smart people at problems is the road to success.
 
I’m starting to believe, however, that this model of organizational productivity is fundamentally flawed. 
 
Ultimately, this model is an expert- or talent-based model of productivity that is neither secure/reliable nor scalable.
 
Reliability/Security 
 
Talent within organizations always varies. Whether you are Google or General Motors, the “talent” of employees is not uniform; rather, it ranges across some continuum. This inevitably leads organizations, often implicitly rather than explicitly, to operate based on a hub-and-spoke model in which the experts – the hardest-working, most knowledgeable, and/or most resourceful people – are the hubs. 
 
Think of the Program and/or Product Managers, Sales Consultants, and SMEs of various sorts in your company. These are people who many across the company rely on to complete critical tasks, despite the frequent lack of any reporting relationship.
 
There are a few things inherently wrong with this model. One is that a hub-and-spoke model necessarily reduces throughput. If every plane flying from the west to the east coast has to go through St. Louis, and St. Louis can only clear X number of planes a day, then those constraints in St. Louis necessarily determine the peak productivity of the overall system. St. Louis is the bottleneck.  Demand quickly outpaces supply in such a system and, when it does, the inevitable result is WAITING! 
 
In a knowledge-based organization, it is people who do the waiting. And making people wait around for bottleneck experts leads to:
  • Feelings of boredom and disengagement
  • Job dissatisfaction and frustration resulting from having to “figure it out for oneself”
  • Employees working on large numbers of projects/work streams in order to keep themselves busy – an ADD approach to work that limits focus and can water down project outcomes. 
  • Counter-productive and distracting “new initiatives” that derive from needing to feel useful/productive while one waits rather than from the need to solve a substantive problem
The other problem with hub-and-spoke “expert” models is that they lend themselves to single points of failure. If inclement weather shuts down the St. Louis airport, the whole operation is screwed. Likewise, if one of your critical experts goes on vacation or leaves the organization, the process(es) that relied on that individual can grind to a screeching halt.

 
Scalability

Clearly, keeping a hub-and-spoke system up and running is difficult enough. Scaling such a model is next to impossible. Experts are hard to find and expensive to retain. Often, they struggle to pass on their knowledge and expertise to others, both because they don’t always realize what makes them “talented” and because the time and incentives don’t exist for them to do this kind of cross-training. 
 
In  other words, if your experts are busy (which, in a hub-and-spoke system, they almost certainly are) and value the prestige and job security that comes with being the go-to resource, don’t expect them to help you grow.
 
So What? 
 
Good question. Clearly, the expert- or talent-based productivity model has some serious flaws. What’s the alternative, then? How about a more process-based approach to human productivity.
 
A good way to think about this is in terms of Roger Martin’s “Knowledge Funnel.”
 
 
 
The funnel starts with “Mysteries.” These are all of those things that talented people are great at figuring out. They use their brains, background, and/or tenacity to tacitly make sense of the otherwise confounding. In doing so, they become the go-to for solving the mystery every time it surfaces. 
That’s all fine and good, but that is generally where the process stops and where the hub-and-spoke development begins. Becoming more and more overwhelmed with the organizational demand for their ability and increasingly attached to the social prestige it offers, these experts seldom help advance knowledge to the next step of “Heuristic.” And without a heuristic there can never be an algorithm. Yet it is at stages 2 and 3 three that real process and its related scalability, reliability, and security begin to take shape.
 
So, rather than fighting to hire and retain only the best and the brightest, it may be time to start extinguishing experts (figuratively, not literally). Where there is an expert, there is knowledge waiting to be uncaged in a way that can release organizational productivity and growth.

Posted via email from Human Ventures

 
Humor me for a minute and think back to your first post-college job search. Be honest with yourself. It was awful, wasn’t it?

If you were like me or any of my friends, the process could not have been more deflating. You are months from completing 17+ years of grueling education. It’s almost over. Your hard work is about to pay off.

Then you look at the job boards. Everything seems to say:

“Required experience: 3-5 years in the industry in a similar role. Advanced degree strongly preferred”

Super. You have seventeen years of experience in an “industry” that ceases to exist post-college, developing “skills” that either 1) nobody cares about or 2) are not differentiating outside of school. 
At the same time, you have been fed the line for two decades that you can do anything, so dream big, set long-term goals, make sure to do something you really love, etc.

So what gives?

I had the opportunity recently to speak to a group of Innovation Scholars at my alma mater, St. Olaf College. In preparation, I was thinking of what advice I would offer them based on the experience I’ve had early in my career. Here’s one that stood out:

BE OPPORTUNISTIC. TAKE RISKS!

Whatever your parents told you about setting clear career goals and having a ten-year plan – throw it out! When you are a young professional, you don’t have the luxury of being strategic. Nor is that necessarily what’s going to make you the most successful.  

When you are just getting started professionally, you are a typical startup entrepreneur.* Think about it…
  1. Real-world experience is limited. Beyond perhaps a couple of internships and your pending degree, your resume looks pretty anemic. You have never had direct reports or managed a multi-million dollar project/initiative. Unless you are a whiz-kid, you have yet to develop anything proprietary. So the likelihood of landing that management job with the F500 company down the road is essentially nil. Similarly, most entrepreneurs, even of fast-growing companies, are under-qualified on paper. As a result, their odds of being catapulted to the head of the crowd through VC or other institutional funding are extremely limited.
  2. Opportunity costs are low. Let’s face it, if you make a bad first career move, the impact is pretty limited. You won’t have missed out on much in terms of foregone income (the alternative wasn’t a six-figure executive salary) or learning (certainly, some jobs teach more than others, but during the initial stages of your career, you have so much to learn that just about any job can provide a valuable education). Likewise, it’s the relatively inexperienced, poorly paid person with the lowest opportunity cost who makes the strongest candidate for entrepreneurship. Start-up entrepreneurs are usually NOT former high-powered executives, because these individuals’ opportunity costs are so high.
  3. Cash is king. Again, just like a startup entrepreneur with limited savings and no real access to financing, keeping the lights on tends to take priority over pursuing your lifelong dream, when push comes to shove. 
So, my advice? Forget the strategic career plan. Forget the dream that you’ve had since second grade. At least for a few years.

As with a start-up entrepreneur, being opportunistic and adaptable is more important than being strategic. Keep an open mind and put your name out there. Don’t be too picky and don’t get depressed when you can’t find the perfect job.
 
Find an interesting opportunity that will pay the bills, work hard to extract as much income, learning, and contacts from it as you possibly can, and when the next opportunity comes along, move on. By the time you are five to seven years into your career, you will have a base of experiences, skills, and savings that will allow you to dream bigger and be more strategic. You’ll have stories that you can talk all about in that dream interview. And you will have enjoyed the process a whole lot more.
 
 
*Typical start-up characteristics taken from Amar Bhide’s, “The Origin and Evolution of New Businesses.”  Read it!

Posted via email from Human Ventures

Additionally, the unemployment numbers show a notable split in the labor pool, with most unemployed workers finding jobs after a relatively short period of time, but a sizable chunk of the labor force unable to find new work even after months or years of searching. This group — comprising generally older workers — has pulled up the average length of time that a current worker has been unemployed to a record high of 33 weeks as of April. The percentage of unemployed people who have been looking for jobs for more than six months is at 45.9 percent, the highest in at least six decades.[...]

Of course, just as there is a structural decline in some industries, others enjoy structural growth (the “creative” part of “creative destruction”). The key is to prepare the group of workers left behind for the growing industry.[...]

“You can bring the jobs back for some of these people, but they won’t be in the same place,” says Thomas Anton Kochan, a professor of management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

I find baffling just how much time and energy we put into trying to save jobs that are becoming obsolete. Employing people is obviously very important, but productivity is what fuels job growth and prosperity in the long run. Employing people by holding back productivity growth is not a viable long-term strategy.

Posted via web from Human Ventures

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