On Responsibility

Responsibility is a unique concept… You may share it with others, but your portion is not diminished. You may delegate it, but it is still with you… If responsibility is rightfully yours, no evasion, or ignorance or passing the blame can shift the burden to someone else. Unless you can point your finger at the man who is responsible when something goes wrong, then you have never had anyone really responsible.” – Admiral H.G. Rickover

I read this quote of Admiral Rickover’s countless times during the years I worked for the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. It prompted me to search for the source that drove Rickover’s clarity and voracity for responsibility. I found it in the 1911 essay by John Grier Hibben, On Responsibility.  Enjoy this full version below and the pdf at this link.  In these days of TLDR (too long; didn’t read), let’s start a new tag of LBMR (long, but must read).

There is much loose and confused thinking about the nature of responsibility. Not only are there innumerable instances of persons holding positions of trust who are evading evident responsibilities, but also more particularly, of those who would seek to justify themselves in such a course. The latter are like the figures in Nast’s famous cartoon of the Tweed Ring, who are all standing in a circle, and each one pointing aside with his thumb to his neighbor as the responsible person. It is the old story of the other man. There are many circumstances in life where it is convenient to shift the responsibility upon someone else; and whenever one sets himself to defend a convenient course of action, he does not always see straight and think clear. Even though he may succeed in convincing himself, nevertheless if in this process there is any element of self-deception, he is perilously near the danger line.
There are no fallacies so subtle as those which insinuate themselves into our reasoning at a time when our interests are involved. To play the role of judge and of special pleader at one and the same time is an impossible task. Therefore when we seek to free ourselves from the burden of responsibility in any situation, we must be particularly on guard, that we do not allow ourselves to become ensnared in the toils of those artificial distinction and plausible explanations which when stripped of their verbal dress appear in their nakedness as contemptible subterfuges.
One of these convenient ideas which serves as a kind of natural anesthetic to conscience is the belief that any responsibility which is divided is thereby lessened. Responsibility, however, can never be dissipated by diffusion. The director of a corporation may content himself with the comforting thought that where many are jointly responsible, his share of the common obligation after all cannot be regarded as very serious. And in this idea there lies a very fundamental error. For responsibility is by its nature something intensive and not extensive. It can be divided among many, but it is not thereby diminished in degree.  When by the ordinary processes of arithmetical division, however, one number is divided by another; the result is only a small part of the original amount. It is always a lessening process. But the idea or responsibility cannot be expressed in any such quantitative terms. Dividends can be divided into separate parts, but not responsibility. Responsibility can never be conceived in the light of a magnitude. It belongs to the class of things which, when divided, each part is equal to the whole.
Responsibility in this respect is like pleasure which, when shared is not lessened, but the rather increased, as Bacon long ago pointed out. The same quality, also, we find in the rewards of honor, or of fame it may be, which come to the many who have served in a common cause and rejoice in a common victory. Thus the glory of the whole is each one’s share. It can be divided among many without loss. So, also, the appreciation of beauty in nature or in art shows no diminishing returns, although the number who experience the joy of it may be increased without limit. This, also, is the characteristic feature of responsibility. Parents share the responsibility of their children, but the complete responsibility and no half measure of it rests upon each. The director of a bank or an insurance company shares the responsibility of his position with his colleagues on the same board; but the shared responsibility is not a per capitum portion, but the whole.
This is not a new doctrine; but it comes to us with an immemorial sanction.  But it seems to have been forgotten in recent years. “My share of the responsibility is but slight,” is a common phrase which may be heard on all sides at the present day. If one would thus seek to minimize his sense of obligation as regards that which may be placed in his keeping as a trust, he should not forget that his share of responsibility is not a part, but the whole, undiminished and untransferable. He may have others associated with him, it is true, but his individual responsibility cannot be shifted upon them. He must meet it in the full rigor of its demands, and regard himself as though alone in the discharge of his duties.
There is also the fallacy of the delegated responsibility. It is impossible for one at the head of large business interests, for instance, to give his personal attention to every minute detail. He finds himself naturally compelled to delegate much of the work of supervision and of administration to others who act in the capacity of his deputies. Otherwise, the business of life would be impossible. This is indeed a commonplace of every-day business routine. But because some one else may assume the responsibility, he who deputizes it is not wholly relieved of it. He passes on the duty of actually performing some specific work, and yet the obligation still rests with him not to do the task, it is true, but at least to see that it is done. We cannot afford to ignore the common-law judgment that the act of the agent is the act of the principal. We cannot take it for granted that the mere transfer of responsibility to another assures a satisfactory discharge of all the duties which it involves. We do not care to shut our eyes to the fact as to whether such duties are fulfilled or not, on the ground that the responsibility now rests upon another and not upon ourselves. It is his responsibility, but it is also ours. A person who is at the head of a large business enterprise cannot be omnipresent or omniscient; but he is responsible for the kind of men who are his partners in responsibility, and also for the atmosphere which pervades his business, for the general morale of the service, for the discipline that is enforced, for the prevailing policy and method pursued, for the spirit and tone which characterize all departments, however various they may be. Division of labor is not a dissipation of responsibility. He who is responsible for a particular task is relived of that responsibility only when there is evidence that the given work has been done. The head of a corporation should devise certain methods by which such evidence can be regularly forthcoming, so that when any cog in any wheel may chance to slip, the fact may be at once apparent at the central seat of responsibility.
There is, of course, such a thing as a serial responsibility, as I would style it, that is, where a number of persons in turn assume the responsibility for a certain task, each contributing his share to its accomplishment, and then pass on the full responsibility to some other. This is illustrated in the sending of a registered package. Each one in the series does his part in the process of forwarding it, and receives a signed acknowledgement that another has relieved him of his particular duty and of all responsibility connected with it. The ordinary business of life, however, cannot always be so nicely adjusted. Responsibility appears more often in an indefinite and diffused form, in which many persons are involved, and not one at any time carries the full burden alone. There is no way of escaping responsibility of this kind as long as we remain within the area of its pervading power. We dare not hang about the outer edge of this region, hoping to reap the possible rewards, and yet think to evade all blame or loss in the event of untoward results. There are many who thus endeavor to hold their course along some such imaginary line, so that they may shrewdly keep within it to share the honor or dividends which may accrue, and yet be able to swerve to the outer side of it whenever the area within may become the storm-center of indignant protest and recrimination.
Again it is often urged that we are in a measure relieved of the responsibility of an act, when such an act is a customary procedure in the business, professional, or social circles in which we may happen to move. “Everybody does it,” it is said, “it is the usual practice; then why should I be over-scrupulous concerning that which general usage has sanctioned as permissible?” Such is the argument. And yet-responsibility at the last analysis must be recognized as an individual matter.  No man’s responsibility can be judged in the light of another’s. Custom does not make right. The low level which the morale of a guild or of a profession sometimes reaches is due to this very fact, that no individual sees his peculiar responsibility in such a light that he is willing to break the bond of custom by protest or by practice. It is not easy to be independent under such circumstances, but that does not make it any the less imperative. Responsibility is not lessened merely because it may entail extraordinary courage and sacrifice. We do not justify ourselves in the failure to meet evident obligations by the pleas that circumstances and conditions are too much for us to cope with. The convenient, the comfortable, and the easy-going are not the symptoms which usually form the diagnosis of responsibility.
There is another fallacy which many fall into of securing freedom from responsibility by the assumption of a convenient ignorance. A candidate, for instance, may not choose to know the detail of method and of policy pursued by a campaign committee in charge of his interests. The members of the committee in turn deem it wise to have him kept in ignorance. It is generally understood that whatever happens, he is to know nothing about it. The comforting theory is that no responsibility can attach to a person concerning an act of which his is ignorant. This is doubtless true, provided he is not purposely ignorant. A person may not be held responsible for failure to see some obvious circumstances when his eyes are shut; but he is responsible for his eyes being shut when they ought to be open.
There are men who know that certain results cannot possibly be accomplished without certain definite means being used, and yet consent weekly to profit by these results on the ground that they do not know explicitly the character of the means used to attain them. It is a lame excuse. We are responsible not only for that which we see and hear, but also for that which may be implied in the things seen and heard, and which we are compelled to recognize as the necessary consequences of them. It is not merely the actual situation in which we find ourselves, but also the logic of such situations that must be interpreted and judged by us as to the measure of our responsibility for them. It must be remembered that the very ground of our responsibility is the presupposition that we are in complete possession of our reason. How absurd therefore to narrow the range of responsibility by excluding the obvious inference which the reason of any man of ordinary intelligence must surely recognize. If a campaign committee, for instance, expends large sums of money, it stands to reason that the one in whose interests it has been raised must know that revenues are not created by magic. Merely to choose not to know is to ignore a definite responsibility and thereby assume an indefinite one. It is like signing a blank check to an unknown order and for an unknown amount. The man who would rather not know what his friends are doing on his behalf should be held in strict account for his voluntary ignorance. No one can afford to have things done for him which he would scorn to do or be afraid to do himself.
There is also a very common feeling that any one may repudiate all responsibility in a given situation, if he will only declare forcibly and loudly enough that he does not regard himself as in the least responsible for the same. He may insist that he will wash his hands of the whole matter; but there are certain stains that cannot be thus removed. The hands may be washed; but they may not be made clean by the process. There is a ceremonial purity which does not penetrate beneath the surface. How often men justify themselves, when feebly yielding to the prevailing opinion of the many associated with them in some position of trust, by the ready excuse that after all the majority must rule. It is true that the majority must rule; but it is equally true that the minority often must fight. A mere verbal protest followed by a quiet acquiescence is not sufficient when honor or honesty is the issue. An uncompromising attitude of opposition may have to be maintained until the court of last appeal is reached; that court may be a board of directors, or the stockholders, or public opinion, or in the regular course of legal procedure even the Supreme Court of the United States itself. Responsibility often demands a fight to the finish. In that case, compromise is cowardly.
We are responsible for our silence, for our inertia, for our ignorance, for our indifference–in short, for all those negative qualities which commonly constitute the “dummy” directors–those inconsequent personages who would enjoy the honor and perquisites of their office without allowing themselves to be unduly burdened with its duties and cares.  The president of a corporation or a superintendent does not assume the responsibility vested in its board of directors; he merely represents the responsibility. And when they would implicitly assign all sense of their personal obligation to his keeping, they not only put themselves in a position to be easily fooled, but actually offer a ready temptation to him to fool them. They are thus doubly reprehensible; for the neglect of duty on the one hand, and on the other for extending a virtual invitation for someone to use them as tools for unlawful ends. Not only the wreck of a business, but the wreck of a human being must be laid at their door, who by a splendid capacity for negligence do thus expose another to the play of the most subtle temptations which can be conceived.
There is also the mistaken notion that we may escape certain responsibilities simply by not assuming them.  There are some obligations, however, which we do not dare to refuse, and which indeed it is not possible to refuse. We have no choice in the matter. We cannot say in truth that we have no responsibility, for instance, for the general decency and good order of the community in which we live merely because we have chosen to keep out of the village politics, and therefore, not being on the borough council or the board of health, it is none of our business if the law of nature, of man, or of God are violated. It must be remembered that the responsibilities of such a kind are not assumed by definite choice, but belong to us whether we will or not. Certain responsibilities we do not choose; they choose us. If at times they seem to us vague and indefinite, it becomes our duty to make them definite through some effort on our part. We are held to account not merely for doing the obvious duty that circumstance may urge upon us, but also for creating the circumstance which may give rise to a wholly new set of duties. We are not only responsible for lending our service to the cause which has a rightful claim upon us, but also responsible for the very fact, if indeed it be a fact, that our responsibilities in life are so few and so slight. If we choose to carry the lighter burden, it is not a matter of felicitation, but one for our most serious personal concern; for an irresponsible person is always defective in some respect, either in body, mind, or character.
There are those moreover who imagine that in certain relations of life there can be devised some natural substitute for the sense of responsibility. It is possible, of course, to establish a set of automatic checks upon an employee’s activities of such a nature as to reduce his personal responsibility to a minimum. Any failure in the performance of his duties is at once mechanically discovered by the various systems of time-clock, bell-punches, cash registers, and the like. This is very well in all cases where the labor is that of simple routine. Mechanical activity can be checked by a mechanical device. Not so, however, as regards those duties which demand a higher order of capacity–such as that of sound judgment, a fine sense of discrimination, and the power of resourceful initiative. In all such matters there can be no substitute for the responsible personality. Man is a responsible being because of this very element of free activity in his nature which no mechanical contrivance, however ingenious, can ever gauge. We are all so completely depended upon the integrity, fidelity, and efficiency of our fellow-men in the more complex relations of life that we must at time, and often the most critical, trust them implicitly. We do not proceed far in any undertaking without being aware that we are holding another responsible, or that someone is holding us responsible for those inevitable duties which arise out of the relations of man to man the world over. If a man would escape all responsibility he must place himself wholly outside of the relations of life, for life is responsibility. As we have seen, responsibility remains with us even though we may ask others to assume it; we share it with others, but our portion is the same; when we turn our backs upon it, we find it still facing us; we flee from it, and however far it may be, we behold it waiting for us at the journey’s end.
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Thoughts from a Change Agent

Today I recharged my batteries with a few great articles by and videos about Admiral H. G. Rickover, my favorite change agent.

First, I’ll share a clip out of his speech, “Thoughts on Man’s Purpose in Life,” given to various audiences over several years (a benefit of the pre-Internet age).

The task of finding a purpose in life also calls for perseverance. I have seen many young men who rush out into the world with their messages, and when they find out how deaf the world is, they withdraw to wait and save their strength. They believe that after a while they will be able to get up on some little peak from which they can make themselves heard. Each thinks that in a few years he will have gained a standing, and then he can use his power for good. Finally the time comes, and with it a strange discovery: he has lost his horizon of thought. Without perseverance, ambition and a sense of responsibility have evaporated.

My favorite line is “he has lost his horizon of thought.”  Wow! Who would want that fate? Who wouldn’t want to keep those following behind them from falling into the terrible trap of waiting until they are someone before they try to do something?  I don’t know about you, but that line pushes me to re-double my mentoring efforts to keep the spark of thought and action alive in as many minds and hearts as I can touch.

I followed up reading the speech above with watching some great footage of Admiral Rickover being interviewed by Diane Sawyer for 60 minutes.  The video is a quick 16 minutes, but within it you learn a lot about why Admiral Rickover is a great change agent to study if you want to improve your powers of perception. From what he does and what he says he believes, try to pull  the essential “whys” behind his “whats.”  Does that make sense?  He doesn’t tell you why he does things.  He just tells you what he does.  You are left to infer why and through that inference and testing your inference your mind grows.

Watch the video then read the rest of this post, because I want to share a few of the lessons I picked out of the footage, but I’d rather you know what points I’m referencing before you see my explanations of them.

Admiral Rickover. /. 60 Minutes from Paul and Holly on Vimeo.

Some of the lessons for change agents in this video.

1. All change agents, but especially those pushing the limits of technology and challenging an entrenched culture at the same time, require the good will of at least some people in power to protect them and let them work.  Rickover was passed over for promotion by the Navy over and over.  Senators and Congressmen continued to intervene on his behalf.  Rickover cultivated their support, but he did it in a unique way: through results.  He gave them results that were worthy of praise and allowed them to attach their names to his program’s achievements.  When Rickover learned unceremoniously of his forced retirement via his wife hearing about it on the radio, it isn’t surprising that many of his long-time congressional supporters had already either left Congress or were weakened in their power over a new Navy administration.  Without his protection, even his results weren’t enough to keep him in his job.  This model of results mattering for not when protectors leave is repeated over and over again in Gifford Pinchot’s book, “Intrapreneuring.” (It’s worth a read if you’re an internal change agent.)

2. Change agents need to focus on the results they are producing and the benefits of those results to the world.  They shouldn’t focus on what others think of them.  There’s a fabulous book by physicist Richard Feynman, titled “What Do You Care What Other People Think?” that carries forward the same message.  I loved how often Diane Sawyer tested Admiral Rickover to see if he would show some emotional response to others’ impressions of him.  Every time he refused, at times almost seeming confused about why she would bother to ask.  I too often allow what other people think to bother me, so I regularly use Admiral Rickover and Richard Feynman as my mentors in ignoring other people’s opinions.  If you are similarly stricken with a need for everyone to like you, I lend my mentors to you to use as well. They won’t steer you wrong.

3. Your answers don’t matter if the questions are wrong.  If you’re hoping to transform anything, this is a big lesson to learn.  The quality of the questions you ask will determine the quality of the answers you find and if other people are asking dumb questions, then it is incumbent upon you to ask better ones.  Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you.

4.  If you can’t think when things are slightly askew (e.g., an Admiral has sawed off a few inches from the front two legs of your chair) then you can’t think fast enough to solve the essential problems you’ll face if given responsibility over anything that matters.  One of my personal missions in life is to correct all those who have learned the wrong lesson from hearing “Rickover stories,” of the closet and the chair and the pony tail and other challenges to would-be nuclear officers.  Too many people look only at the surface, judge it with their own maliciousness, and presume that Admiral Rickover was drunk on his own power and tormented the men for sport.  How foolish that story is on even quick evaluation of the facts.  Here was a man who took his responsibility over a complex technology very seriously, who gave speeches on living a life of purpose without sloth or waste, and who didn’t care what other people thought.  Why would he waste one moment on such a purposeless act as pure maliciousness?  I find his use of what instruments he had at his disposal in his Washington office ingenious.  Quickly, he could induce a state of partial uncertainty in each candidate and watch their reaction.  If they folded, or defeated themselves, or worse, while being slightly put-off in an office, how could he expect them to act when challenges arose at sea, whether in a submarine or on an aircraft carrier, with a mission to complete and men to lead?  We can all learn from his disciplined purposefulness to make every situation a teaching and testing moment.  Think of how you can quickly test potential candidates to join your team to drive your change.  How can you simulate through a day-to-day situation some of challenges you know they will face while they drive the change?  How did they hold up? Do they need a little time to develop or would you rather not invest in having them on your team?  Your change may not be delivering the first nuclear powered submarine in only five years, but if it matters to you maybe it’s worth trying your own purposeful screening methods.

I could probably go on and on.  My friends do claim I’m obsessive in my admiration for Admiral Rickover.  I’ll stop my points for change agents and close by saying that I hope you are lucky enough in your life of scholarship, of searching for new learning, to find someone from which you can learn as much as Admiral Rickover has taught me.  He’s certainly one of the men that I will seek out in heaven on whatever day I get there.  (That may be one of the few places Admiral Rickover and I disagree.  I believe there is a heaven and I look forward to the day I get to shake his hand and thank him.  I’m better for his example.)

Good night my fellow change agents.  May you grow bold and courageous to live out the purpose of your life.  Why not try?

 

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Limited only by his own ability

There’s a great line in Admiral H. G. Rickover’s “Doing a Job” speech that reads,

In my organization, there are no formal job descriptions or organizational charts. Responsibilities are defined in a general way, so that people are not circumscribed. All are permitted to do as they think best and to go to anyone and anywhere for help. Each person then is limited only by his own ability.”

I keep this quote in the front of my mind and reference it regularly because it is an essential rule of operation for a network based change management system.  You must create the free space for a person to be limited only by his own ability.  Too often, even when we are attempting to free people from the confines of the old system and create the new, one of our first actions to design neat little boxes for people to shift to.  “Here’s your small job. Now wedge yourself into it and follow the rules.”  Blah!

Freedom to move, to talk, to connect, to think.  Freedom is essential to change.

Let’s do our job this week.  Let’s drive change.

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Heroes

We can look up to figures who came before us, call them our heroes, and attempt in our own small measure to model our lives on their examples.  Yet, often we aspire to be like the man or the woman at the peak of their achievement.  I don’t think we do this intentionally, but rather just take them at their most dominant moment because that is often the moment most emphasized or the identity most defined.

But often their true spark of nobility came not when they were at their peak, but when the conditions of their success were still uncertain and they kept moving forward anyway.

Readers of this blog know I have an intellectual crush on Admiral H. G. Rickover, father of the nuclear navy.  Yet, I’ve started to share this fact in a slightly different way.   When asked to list the people I admire (and yes, I am asked this often enough) I have begun to refer to Rickover not as Admiral Rickover but as Captain Rickover instead.

There was a time when he was an officer on the cusp of changing history or failing to achieve anything worth remembering.  In the face of a range of challenges, from indifference to active opposition, he continued toward his goal.  He took the blows, gathered the allies, and made a difference worth making.  I believe Captain Rickover is truly worthy of admiration.  You may disagree, but you are as free to pick your heroes as I am mine.

So, this early Friday morning, led by the example of a rogue Captain on a mission to change the Navy, I arise and return to the fight.  My mission: spreading the belief in everyone that regardless their station in the hierarchy theycan lead us to a better future if only they will try and drive change.

I’m going to try today.  How about you?

Alba in riviera - Riviera Sunrise

Paolo Lottini via Compfight

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Your baby’s ugly

I’ve acquired a new aversion.  I now hate the phrase: “That’s like telling him his baby’s ugly.”

The offending phrase is oft used to encourage you to soften your opinion against another person’s project/position/process/behavior.

The phrase is offered to encourage you to ease up on your loathing of the other’s thing (see list above).  It is hoped (I’m guessing) that in easing up, you will allow the other person to save face and, should the baby truly be ugly, abandon the child gracefully.

Okay, even the act of writing  the phrase’s explanation has made me angry.  This is going to be quite the rant…

Projects/Positions/Processes/Behaviors are not children.  We need to quit pretending that a coworker’s acquired job trappings somehow rise to equal their children.  Let’s leave the anthropomorphism to children’s stories where they belong.

Let’s be blunt.  Some people have firm, emotional attachments to their projects/positions/processes/behaviors yet they are not entitled to maintain their delusions at the organization’s expense.  To suggest otherwise again begs childish indulgences unsuited for organizations staffed by adults.

To cast shame on the person pointing out the flaws in another’s project/position/process/behavior is to attack the messenger.  This tactic has been around so long it’s its own subset of a Latin labeled fallacy, the ad hominem.

All this ranting to say, as clearly as I can:

An organization full of fear about calling ugly projects/positions/processes/behaviors ugly is an organization in the throws of collapse.

Today’s rate of change strips away any residual capacity organizations used to have to waste after preventing hurt feelings.   Being direct and truthful is no longer a nice-to-have organizational feature; it is essential to survival.

We must name the ugly babies.  None of us will survive if we don’t.  Why not try?

————————————————————————

p.s. You’re in good company if you choose to install Name the Ugly Babies methods in your organization.  In “Doing a Job” in 1982, Admiral H. G. Rickover said, “I insist they report the problems they have found directly to me—and in plain English. This provides them unlimited flexibility in subject matter—something that often is not accommodated in highly structured management systems—and a way to communicate their problems and recommendations to me without having them filtered through others.”

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Recycling – Project 1

In last weeks #GCDrive class I touched on a lot of the topics that have been featured as blog posts here.  To aid my new Guiding Coalition members with taking their new topics to heart, I thought I would recycle some of the old posts.

At some point last week I got off on a rant about the essential difference between submitting to:

  • Physics (which is indifferent to your submission or not — submission only has value for you, not for the physics-based system you are trying to control)

and

  • Man-made rules or policies or instructions, which may or may not be documents detailing an accurate way to submit to physics.

Back in February I posted a rant on the same topic, titled “Which Rules to Follow” and cited a story about Admiral Rickover (yes, I have an intellectual crush on him!).  The story goes:

Rickover was keenly aware that there are two kinds of rules.  He understood that laws of nature, such as the effects of gravity, or radiation, or excessive temperature or pressure, cannot be gotten around by fast talk, political influence, or subterfuge.  On the other hand, man-made rules are a different entity.  Some, such as laws passed by legislative bodies, must be obeyed, and he was scrupulous about this.  Others, such as bureaucratic procedures defining how one may carry out assigned responsibilities, sometimes can and should be circumvented, he felt.  In particular, those procedures that “everyone” followed because “it’s just our policy” he not only spurned but did so with great pleasure.” – As told by Theodore Rockwell in The Rickover Effect

Richard Feynman expressed the same sentiment within the Rogers Commission Report on the Challenger disaster when he said,

For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for nature cannot be fooled.

We’d all do well to have that over our desks to keep that truth in our active thoughts each day.

Now, let’s turn to communication:

And, self-preservation while driving change:

Well, that should be enough to keep any new Guiding Coalition member busy and get them poking around the blog to see what topics I’ve already touched that they may have missed.  I hope you enjoyed this recycling project.

Did you know there are 446 posts on this blog?  That’s a lot of content.  One of these days I’ll have to curate it down into an e-book or something.  If you’ve got an preferences for what topics should be featured in the book, drop me a comment.  Right now, that’s still a glimmer in my eye and open to much shifting and parsing.

 

 

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An office without books means…

A home without books is like a room without windows.” – H. G. Rickover

Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, but I’ve begun to notice–more than I ever did before–who does and doesn’t have books featured prominently in their offices.  I know I have a book obsession, so the shelves upon shelves of books stacked upon each other is part mental illness (a good one) and part practical learner.  Yet, what does it say about someone with an office devoid of books?

I don’t have an answer.  It’s just more a curious question.

Your thoughts?

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A profession

To practice a profession one must have acquired mastery of an academic discipline as well as a technique for applying this special knowledge to the problems of everyday life.  A profession is therefore intellectual in content, practical in application.” – H. G. Rickover

There isn’t one accepted profession that seems to appropriately “fit” what it means to be someone who is driving change.  Whatever the profession is or should be called, I can wholeheartedly agree with Admiral Rickover’s statement that a profession is both intellectual and practical.  You need to know something and then you need to do something with that knowledge.

And, if you subscribe to Peter Senge’s description of personal mastery then you won’t read “acquired mastery of an academic discipline” in the narrow sense of “got a degree in X all those years ago,” but rather as a continuous building upon past learning toward greater intellectual mastery which then provides the ideas to carry forward to greater practical mastery in application.  Keep learning.  Keep doing.  You’ll be a professional.

Now, even if other people don’t know what to call you as you drive change, be sure to take the job seriously, and act as a professional anyway.  Study.  Apply.  Study more.  Apply more.  Keep driving.  Keeping winning.  If they have to call you something, let them call you great for all you’ve accomplished.

Join me in the ranks of the professionals.

Why not try?

 

 

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Be not afraid

Via non trita zaginiis traditionis suffocata est; non timere secare (The untrodden path is choked by the weeds of tradition.  Be not afraid to cut through.)”

I love these words and I love the story behind them too.

The words, “be not afraid,” remind me of a favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote which says, “There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first…but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”

The story behind the quote amplifies its power.  I found this quote, a submitted inscription for a sword actually, while reading The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell.  Apparently Admiral Rickover had been asked by a southern military school to provide an inspirational saying for the student battalion commander’s sword.  Past submitters included Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower.  Admiral Rickover assigned the task to Mr. Rockwell who, with a Latin student, crafted the above saying.

What I find fascinating about the story is that Admiral Rickover allowed a staffer to come up with a saying that he would then take credit for (an act of trust in Mr. Rockwell) and that Mr. Rockwell chose a saying that illuminated an essential philosophy of the early nuclear power program, “Be not afraid to cut through.”

What a gem of a story to find.  I hope it encourages you to “be not afraid” as you cut at the weeds of tradition that continue to choke the untrodden paths.

Let’s hack at the weeds together this week.

Why not try?

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Thursday night video feed

Here’s a good, long string of videos I’ve been watching. I hope you’ll enjoy a few.

Two important lessons to learn.

The story of Admiral Rickover’s tenacity and courage against a bureaucracy to create something great and lasting, as told by a young girl for history day.

Listen for the part about conceptual blending.

And, here’s the Children’s Party story video if you haven’t seen it already.

Now, this video captures why I’ve so enjoyed learning more about Dave Snowden’s work: his interest in pulling patterns from stories. I love to do that in my own low-tech, low-theory way and then share with people what I think the story patterns are saying. I’m truly excited for what I can do if I pair my interest with Snowden’s true skill.

The video is long, but you’ll be hooked within the first few minutes. I had a conversation around the first 50 seconds of this conversation earlier today. Watch at least through the recipe followers versus chef example. If you can get through the first 15 minutes you’ll be stirred to much new thinking and be ready to post comments I’m sure.

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