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This week’s theme seems to be education: what it is and what it has done to us.

Watch this RSA Animates video on changing education paradigms then dig into Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams.

We’ve got a tough job ahead of us when we’re trying to drive change, trying to initiate something, trying to make the world tilt just a little (or a lot) by our presence.

Yet, it is a job worth doing because the old models of factory rules, unquestioning obedience, and “trust me ‘cuz I’m the boss,” are fading.

The new era belongs to the drivers of change, if we’re willing to drive it.

I’m willing.

Are you with me?

 

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I just love it when I’m on the same wavelength with Dr. Kotter, author of Leading Change and the famous 8 Step Process.  Once again, he and I posted about the same topic only days apart. [See his post and mine from Nov 2010.]

Yesterday, I posted about the need to refill the tank, in part by stopping some activities that are draining all your time.

Today, Dr. Kotter posted about Why Busy Work Doesn’t Work and included a video.  Anyone who’s sick of staying busy instead of accomplishing something truly important should check out his post.

Let’s not be busy (and drain all our time pretending to change).

Let’s be urgent and drive some amazing change.

Why not try?

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Something new:  I want to go on the record and say that until today I’d never heard, or don’t remember if I did, of Kurt Lewin and his action research as it relates to topological psychology.  So far I can find details of his concepts of goals and forces and vectors, but no pictures of what implementing these thoughts looks like.  If anyone out there is a closet Lewin fan and can point me in a good direction, please let me know.  I’ve already ordered his topological psychology book through interlibrary loan.  I can’t wait for the book to get here! (Yes, I am that big of a nerd!)

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Years ago I fled my cubicle.  The work that was in the cubicle was never enough for me.  I wanted to work on the things that were about the work before it got to me or about the work after it left, be that Theory of Constraints for work queuing or manuals for standardizing processes.  Apparently I was working upstream and downstream, and today Seth Godin has explained the benefits of that method in his aptly titled Upstream and Downstream post.

Most of the time, we think of our job as a set of tasks that take place in a —> [box] <—.

It turns out, though, that if we go upstream and alter the stuff that comes to us, it’s a lot easier to do great work. And if we go downstream and teach people how to work with what we created, the final product is better as well. Now, it’s more of a –> [   box   ] <–.

No one is coming along to bump out the walls of your cubicle and put the exciting work into the box that is your job.  If you’re waiting, stop!

Take control of you upstream. Ask for the assignments that you want that you know your boss has and may never give you, or pitch the task that you want to your boss and ask to lead it.

Take control of your downstream.  If you create paperwork that someone else has to use, some document that you pass along to anyone, make it your rule to call them at least once a month (or better yet visit in person if you can) and ask them how well your work is serving their needs.  Don’t give them an elaborate customer satisfaction form.  Start a relationship so whenever they do have a problem they call you right away and whenever you’ve done something truly great for them, maybe they’ll call you too.

Create a bigger [   box   ].  Why not try?

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Regularly I recharge my change driving batteries by sampling the delightful links my friends send me.

As I prepared for the long holiday weekend–Happy 4th of July by the way!–I thought, “Why not offer up some link fuel for my Engine for Change friends?”  Enjoy!

Charles Green reveals the silly secrets of strategy in You Too Can Be a Strategy Consultant.  Don’t get fooled by a strategy hack again. [Nancy - Thanks for the link.]

Rogue Polymath has been busy clarifying our minds with several Thinking Thursday posts.  Enjoy Murphy’s Law, Inductive and Deductive ReasoningEdward Tufte – Supergraphic and Abilene Paradox.

RSA Animate offers an excellent 10 minute video illustration of Daniel Pink‘s Drive.

If you can’t avoid using PowerPoint slides in your work Seth Godin offers his 200 Slide Solution, Toastmasters International’s magazine introduces us to Pecha Kucha in What is Pecha Kucha? and Captain Joe Bradley would tell you to improve your presentation using an Assertion and Evidence format (see my old professor Michael Alley’s Rethinking the Design of Presentation Slides).  If you want to be great at presentations, PowerPoint or not, buy Tufte’s The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint: Pitching Out Corrupts Within. The booklet is only $7 and reading it will change the way you produce and absorb all PowerPoint presentations.

Well, I feel recharged.  Do you?

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I’ll admit I’m a fan of Covey’s 7 habits.  I’m a fan for two reasons, 1) the habits seem to work as advertised and 2) most people have heard of the 7 habits, making the habits a ready language for discussing personal and organizational improvements.

Do you know the 7 habits?

If you don’t, or even if you need a refresher, don’t turn to most of the glossy Covey-adoration pages.  Instead, Rogue Polymath has posted a short outline of the 7 habits of highly effective people, expertly condensing the habits into ready to use bites.

If you know the 7 habits, but are struggling to apply them, do you feel like you’re the only one struggling?  Don’t worry; you’re not.  We all struggle with applying the habits.  The habits aren’t a road to perfection; they’re just excellent tips for how you may, if you choose, organize your life to get more of what makes you happy more often for many more years. And, who wouldn’t want that?

At the end of his post, Rogue Polymath asks:

Anyone have a personal story of how the seven habits have made a
positive affect on their lives?

Here’s one of my 7 habits stories: I often neglect the restful parts of Habit 7: Sharpen the Saw.

Though habit 7 isn’t an encouragement to do more, I often read it that way.  More reading. More exercise. More something.

Instead, I should read it as a prompting to do more of what matters when it most matters, so I’ll be at my best when the big challenges come.  I often forget the part encouraging me to lay up stores of energy, or rest, or whatever, so that I can be ready for the next sprint.  I need to learn that rest sharpens my saw.

Learning my lesson, I’m going to devote the remainder of tonight to rest, something I don’t get enough of, and often don’t allow myself enough of.  Good night my readers!  I’m off to rest.

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I’m not trying to make this a Seth Godin tribute blog; really I’m not.  But then Rogue Polymath tweeted about Amber Naslund’s Indispensable vs Irreplaceable post. She mixes two of my favorites–new terms and Godin’s Linchpin–so I can’t resist sharing her post with you.

Amber writes:

Being indispensable is about delivering massive impact no matter where you are. It’s much more of a characteristic – a mindset wrapped with skills and attributes – rather than the details and functions in a role. Indispensable people are the types that you can hand any project, put in nearly any role, issue a challenge to, and they simply make things happen by understanding what needs to get done and adapting their skills accordingly.

Being irreplaceable is the opposite. It’s about being locked into a role because you’re harboring finite knowledge, skills, or information that you can’t or aren’t willing to share with anyone else. Sometimes that’s borne from insecurity. Other times it’s a false sense that if you protect your sandbox so that only you know its secrets, you have job security for life.

Knowing the difference between irreplaceable and indispensable made me wonder:

How do you know whether your organization is based on irreplaceable or indispensable people?

Have you ever heard someone in your organization say,  “Bob is the new Bruce (and he’s no Bruce)” ? If you have, you’re in an organization of irreplaceable people.

Sadly–and I’d guess unknowingly–organizations have ensured their future failures by maintaining their systems of irreplaceable people.  Irreplaceable people systems fail because they tie their worth–and then the inevitable loss of their worth– directly to the passing of time.  As an engineer, I have a hard time believing anyone would knowingly tie their organization’s success to the passing of time–a variable so manifestly outside the organization’s control.

Organizations full of irreplaceable people are seemingly shocked to find their organizations built up by the dutiful and time consuming accumulations of horded knowledge then abruptly crippled by each irreplaceable person’s departure.  These organizations lament retirement rates and their losses of corporate knowledge, yet their predicament was entirely predictable.

They put articles in their newsletters about the decades or centuries of knowledge that left with their retirees last month, mourning the retiree-shaped holes that pockmark the metaphorical field of the organization into a scarred bombing range.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  An organization can wrestle control from the passage of time if the organization selects, rewards and sustains indispensable people.

You may be in an organization of indispensable people if in reference to someone taking a new job, you hear your organization’s leaders emphasizing the attributes that made the current person excellent for the job as the job is today and most especially as it is projected to be in the future.  You may hear something like, “Jenna brings her unique talents that the organization needs to win today and triumph tomorrow.”  (Okay so maybe I got a little carried away with that one.)

There does exist a middle ground between an organization locked in the irreplaceable and a utopia of value to the indispensable.   In my career, I’ve gotten to this middle ground by either taking jobs that no one has ever done before (no irreplaceable personality or qualifications to live up to) or doing the job in a way no one else has ever considered (erasing as fast as possible the hole left by the last person so that all they see is me in the job).

Those of you who’ve been asking me how you get a job like mine, now you know my secret: be indispensable regardless of what the organization is asking for.

Be indispensable by driving change.

Be indispensable by storing up your value in the achievement of the future, not the glory of the past (though the past is fun to study to help you succeed in the future).

Be indispensable by taking the best of what worked and joyfully making it better.

Be indispensable by leverage yourself for the situation, instead of forcing the situation to meet your past, or even your current, expectations or skills.

Be indispensable and bring about the organization of tomorrow.

Be indispensable because that’s what your organization needs today.

Why not try being indispensable?

Trust me; it’s a lot of fun.

——————————

Bonus question:  Does the organization want you to be irreplaceable or indispensable when it says it is “opening more opportunities for career growth and providing a working environment that will broaden experiences and prepare our employees for higher-level duties.”? [Source:  NAVSEA On Watch 2010]

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I awoke to find that Seth Godin has blogged about the coming decline in higher education, when only the other day, I had suggested to a friend (based on my integration of lessons I’d learned reading Seth Godin’s book Linchpin) that she consider not getting a master degree in favor of getting more education. Funny the timing.

Here were my arguments to my friend:

  • Do you want the achievement of a degree or the knowledge you think you’ll get from taking the advanced classes?  Her answer: the knowledge.
  • Do you want a job in the future where they hire you based on your classroom achievements (i.e., Godin would call this commodity-type work) or your personal talents, your art of bringing yourself to work every day to make the world a better place (i.e., they are hiring for a Linchpin)?  Her answer: Want to be hired for my art not for my degrees.
  • Would an established degree program waste your time with filler classes either meant to meet some pointless decades old requirement or keep the school profitable by driving up your class hour requirements (i.e., more tuition to them) and would you consider all those non-value-added courses a waste of your time that you can’t get back?  Her answer: Yes.
  • Can you gain access to the best professors in the best topics that fit your current and future curiosities best by entering an established program or by creating opportunities to study with the best professors per topic (or barring access to the professors, maybe networking with their best grad students)?  Her answer: Yes, I think I can gain access.

Our conclusion: It doesn’t make sense for her to search around for an established, accredited program when she’s someone pushing the envelop of what’s possible and acting because she chooses to share the best of herself, not because she wants to gain prestige or acclaim.  The knowledge she needs hasn’t been integrated together into any program yet because she’s out ahead of the mass market need for the knowledge all bundled and pushed on students.

She’s a linchpin and so far, no one’s marketing degree programs for linchpins; they’re just writing blogs for them. :-)

Thanks for the post Mr. Godin.  Funny the timing.

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Whether you read the Air Force Academy or Naval Academy versions of the speech, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is asking cadets and midshipmen to drive change.

In his remarks, Secretary Gates encouraged our future military leaders to:

  • Learn from the experiences and the setbacks of the past;
  • Be open to ideas and inspiration from wherever they come;
  • Overcome conventional wisdom and the bureaucratic obstacles thrown in your path; and
  • Be candid and speak truth to power.

I’m cheered by the presence of both speeches because they let me highlight two of my favorite change drivers, Admiral Rickover and Colonel Boyd.  Let’s turn to Secretary Gates’ comments on each.

Few graduates of this institution were as brilliant, iconoclastic, and as, difficult as Hyman Rickover. He demanded efficiency and he hated waste in all forms, he was a person who first pilfered and then horded the little bars of soap from airline and hotel bathrooms. When interviewing young officers, he used to cut the legs of chairs short to see whether or not the interviewee could remain seated – not a technique that will endear you to your future subordinates.
In the 1950s the conventional wisdom was the nuclear reactors were too bulky and dangerous to put on submarines – diesel would have to do. It was through Rickover’s genius and tenacity that these objections were overcome, producing a submarine fleet that included the most stealthy and feared leg of America’s nuclear triad. Rickover was a stickler for safety in all phases of submarine production and operations – and because of that he was even accused letting us fall behind the Soviets. But he had the vision to see that even one nuclear disaster might well kill the program altogether. And his legacy is that to this day, there has never been a nuclear failure in an American submarine.
There is also the story of John Boyd – a brilliant, eccentric, stubborn, and frequently profane character who was the bane of the Air Force establishment for decades.  As with Mitchell, tact wasn’t Boyd’s strong suit – and he certainly shouldn’t be used as a model for military bearing or courtesy. After all, this is a guy who once lit a general on fire with his cigar.

As a 30-year-old captain, he rewrote the manual for air-to-air combat and earned the nickname “40-second” Boyd for the time it took him to win a dogfight. Boyd and the reformers he inspired would later go on to design and advocate for the F-16 and the A-10.  After retiring, he developed the principals of maneuver warfare that were credited by a former Marine Corps commandant and a secretary of defense for the lightning victory of the first Gulf War…

Whether in those moments where you must make that split-second, singular decision, or over the longer-term as you build your career, I’d return to something John Boyd used said to his colleagues and subordinates that is worth sharing with you.  He said that one day you will come to a fork in the road.  “You’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.  If you go one way, you can be somebody.  You’ll have to make compromises and you’ll have to turn your back on your friends.  But you’ll be a member of the club and you will get promoted and get good assignments.  Or you can go the other way and you can do something – something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself . . . If you decide to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get good assignments and you certainly won’t be a favorite of your superiors.  But you won’t have to compromise yourself . . . To be somebody or to do something.  In life there is often a roll call.  That’s when you have to make a decision.  To be or to do?”

Here at the Air Force Academy, as with every university and company in America, there’s a focus on teamwork, consensus-building, and collaboration. Yet make no mistake, the time will come for each of you when you must stand alone in making a difficult, unpopular decision; when you must challenge the opinion of superiors or tell them that you can’t get the job done with the time and resources available; or when you will know that what superiors are telling the press or the Congress or the American people is inaccurate. There will be moments when your entire career is at risk – where you will face Boyd’s proverbial fork in the road. To be or to do.
To be ready for that moment, you must have the discipline to cultivate integrity and moral courage from here at the Academy, and then from your earliest days as a commissioned officer. Those qualities do not suddenly emerge fully developed overnight or as a revelation after you have assumed important responsibilities. These qualities have their roots in the small decisions you will make here and early in your career and must be strengthened all along the way to allow you to resist the temptation of self before service. And you must always ensure that your moral courage serves the greater good: that it serves what is best for the nation and our highest values – not a particular program nor pride nor parochialism.
For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services, and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism.  I urge you instead to be principled, creative, and reform-minded – to be leaders of integrity who, as Boyd put it, want to do something, not be somebody.

But for my childhood asthma I’d be an Air Force Academy grad.  If not for a whim of fate–and the keen eye of Dave Doerr selecting me out of a pile of resumes–I’d not have worked in Admiral Rickover’s program.

Admiral Rickover and Colonel Boyd have taught me to choose to do something.

I choose to drive change.

How about you?

Are you up for doing something?

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Some authors say at least 60% of change efforts fail to achieve lasting results.

In “Why Process Improvement Projects Go Wrong,” Professor Satya Chokravorty shares how and why a majority of Six Sigma implementations fail.

Professor Chokravorty found:

…that when confronted with increasing stress over time, these programs react in much the same way a metal spring does when it is pulled with increasing force—that is, they progress though “stretching” and “yielding” phases before failing entirely. In engineering, this is known as the “stress-strain curve,” and the length of each stage varies widely by material.

After explaining a typical story of stretching, yielding and failing, Professor Chokravorty provides four actions managers or executives could take to eliminate the failure of the change initiative.

  1. Keep an expert embedded in the change longer.
  2. Tie all team member pay to the success of the change effort.
  3. Teams should have no more than six to nine members and project timelines must be no longer than six to nine weeks.
  4. Executives need to directly participate in team projects not just “support” them.

While, as an engineer who studied stress-strain curves,  I’m entertained to read a business article applying the curves to change management, Professor Chokravorty’s suggested steps to eliminate Six Sigma failures leave me disappointed.

All the actions offered are versions of coercion (e.g., orders, fear of negative consequences, removal of positive consequences) to externally compel someone to change.  I’ve previously defined these as driving people actions.

Why not try driving change instead?

Driving change is choosing a change for yourself and clearing the obstacles for others to internally choose the change too.

Read below the fold for how I’d translate the four actions above into driving change actions.

(more…)

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