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C-Level coaching from one of the best

Allan Cox was doing C-level coaching long before anyone called it that. He’s just released a new book Whoa! Are They Glad You’re in Their Lives?, which condenses his advice. Characteristically, Allan has designed the book to gently encourage us to do the work and the reflection we need to realize the benefits.

Worth a look.

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Rethinking organizational functions and components in a freelance economy

An story on NPR this morning about Grind, a new co-working start-up raises some intriguing questions about where organizations may be evolving in an increasingly freelance economy.

 

GrindOfficeSpaceNYC

JaegerSloan: Workers share office space at Grind, a co-working company in New York City. Those who want to use Grind’s facilities are vetted through a competitive application process.

April 10, 2012

The recession brought widespread unemployment across the U.S., but it also prompted a spike in the number of freelance or independent workers.

More than 30 percent of the nation’s workers now work on their own, and the research firm IDC projects the number of nontraditional office workers — telecommuters, freelancers and contractors — will reach 1.3 billion worldwide by 2015.

Typically, freelancers get to choose when and where they work. Many opt to set up shop in “co-working” arrangements, where they can rent a cubicle and other office resources by the day or the month.

It was once a relatively simple process to sign up with a co-working site.

But now, more companies are adopting a selective approach known as “curated co-working.” One such company, New York City’s Grind, requires an application — and you have to be accepted to get started.

That means some would-be co-workers will find they don’t make the cut…

For Freelancers, Landing A Workspace Gets Harder : NPR: by KAOMI GOETZ

(Someday I will produce a rant about the overuse of the word “curated.”)

Two interesting questions come to mind:

  1. How will the application and profile process evolve? We are all social animals. We also have a pretty solid understanding of what differentiates successful groups and successful teams. As freelancers and as potential co-workers, will we become more mindful about how we manage our associations?
  2. Grind is testing the hypothesis that there is value in filtering the freelancers who will have access to their space. Is this a leading indicator that the physical, social, psychological, and economic functions of the organization can be effectively decomposed and rearranged in new formats?

It’s certainly time to reread Ronald Coase’s The Nature of the Firm. I might also take a look at Jay Galbraith’s Designing Organizations and Bob Keidel’s Seeing Organizational Patterns.

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What’s on your must see list of social media for digital immigrants?

I’m giving a talk next week to the North Shore Interest Group of the Harvard Business School Club of Chicago. The announcement is below.

We’ll have Internet access and about 45 minutes. What would be on your list of must see items? Must know stories? Most useful perspectives?

The comments are open for your input. Or you can send me a tweet at jmcgee. Let me suggest “#NSIGtour” as a hashtag.

HBS Club of Chicago: “NSIG Social Media – A Cook’s Tour for Digital Immigrants

NS IG Breakfast Thursday, April 12, 2012 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. Max & Bennys, Northbrook

Social Media – A Cook’s Tour for Digital Immigrants

“Why would I want to share what I had for lunch and why would anyone care?” (remark overheard at multiple cocktail parties, country club locker rooms, and faculty lounges generally uttered by gray-haired executives and other digital immigrants in a cautiously disdainful tone of voice)

Starting near the elections of 2008, social media in all its forms has dominated the discussions and pontification around digital transformation that has been underwaJVMHeadshoty since the Internet boom and bust of the late 1990s. Facebook, Twitter, FourSquare, Yelp, LinkedIn, Apps, iPhone, iPad, Android, and other new terms POP up in otherwise ordinary conversations. Television news anchors read random tweets as polls close and well-informed pundits sit idly by. Bootleg videos taken on smartphones document citizen uprisings in the Middle East, but only after they are smuggled out of the country using technology designed and supported by the US Government.

On April 12th, the North Shore Interest Group will take an interactive Cook’s Tour of the social media landscape led by early digital immigrant, Jim McGee. Although Jim can pass as a digital native, he understands the reservations and concerns of those who find this new world to be seriously foreign territory. We’ll visit the landmarks and the coming attractions of this new world. We’ll also explore some of the ruins.

We’ll learn:

How to travel safely. How to look less like a target. How to stake out a basic clueful presence in the new world. And how to recalibrate our existing crap detectors to better separate signals from the digital noise. About Jim McGee Jim McGee is the Managing Director of New Shoreham Consulting, a Senior Partner with the Transforming Healthcare Consortium, and co-Founder of Collaborating Minds, an effort to hybridize high-performance teams and crowd sourcing principles to attack complex and wicked problems. He was also a co-founder of Diamond Management and Technology Consultants.

For over 30 years, Jim has been helping organizations make more effective use of information and communications technologies. He’s attacked these problems as an entrepreneur, senior executive, professor, author, blogger, speaker, systems developer, designer, architect, and consultant. His blog, McGeesMusings.net, focuses on technology, organizations, and the management of complex knowledge work. Jim is also the co-author, with Larry Prusak, of Managing Information Strategically.

Jim has a Doctorate in strategy, technology, and organization from the Harvard Business School, an MBA in strategy from the Harvard Business School, and a Bachelors in Statistics, from Princeton University. He’s an Adjunct Professor at DePaul University, and formerly was a Clinical Professor at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University. Please sign up in advance. With enough R.S.V.P.’s we can order the buffet. Thanks for supporting the North Shore Interest Group!

DATE: Thursday, April 12, 2012 TIME: 7:30 a.m. – 9:00 a.m. LOCATION: Max & Benny’s (Brookside Shopping Center), 461 Waukegan Road, Northbrook COST: Please prepay now through the club website HBSCC members and their guests (with prepaid reservation): $20.00; HBSCC members (without prepaid reservation): $30.00 HBSCC Patron and Patron Plus Guest Pass members: FREE! Non-members of HBSCC (with prepaid reservation): $30.00

Reservation deadline: Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Click here to buy tickets!!!

Membership: Join the Club!

CANCELLATION POLICY:  All cancellations must be received within two (2) business days of the event or the attendee who made the reservation will be charged, regardless of participation, due to costs associated with the reservation.   NORTH SHORE INTEREST GROUP FUTURE DATES: We meet the second Thursday morning of every month. If you would like to present or have a suggestion for a presenter, please contact Alan Minoff.

Alan Minoff, MBA 1970 North Shore IG Chair minmich2312 AT comcast DOT net

Thanks for supporting the North Shore Interest Group!

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Adam Savage on the path from simple ideas to discovery

Here’s a relatively short talk by Adam Savage of Mythbusters at TED-Ed on how curiosity and simple ideas lead to discovery. Savage is an excellent storyteller and these are stories worth hearing.

I’m particularly taken with his observation that it can sometimes take years before you understand why your brain holds on to a particular idea.

 

A hat tip to the always excellent FlowingData for pointing this one out.

 

 

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When should managers insert themselves into a messy situation

Bob Sutton’s Work Matters Blog continues to be one of my best sources of managerial insight. One of the challenges of managing is choosing whether and when to intervene in your organization (presuming that micro-management is not your goal). In this recent excellent post, Sutton offers the distinction between two classic acronyms as an excellent diagnostic question to help make that choice:

FUBAR, SNAFU, Fast Company, and Good Bosses – Bob Sutton:

Snafu — situation normal, all fucked-up

fubar — fucked-up beyond all recognition

One CEO I know, also the son of a World War II veteran, uses the distinction between the two to help decide whether a “mess” requires intervention, or it is best to leave people alone for awhile to let them work through it.

He asks his team, or the group  muddling through mess: “Is it a snafu or fubar situation? ” He finds this to be a useful diagnostic question because, if it is just usual normal level confusion, error, and angst that is endemic to uncertain and creative work, then it is best to leave people alone and let hem muddle forward.  But if it is fubar, so fucked-up that real incompetence is doing real damage, the group is completely frozen by fear, good people are leaving or suffering deeply, customers are fleeing, or enduring damage is being done to a company or brand — then it is time to intervene.

This is a really nice way to assess both a messy situation and the strength and skill of your management tea. I’m adding it to my repertoire.

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Rethinking data and decisions – Big Data’s Impact in the World – NYTimes.com

The New York Times recently ran an excellent overview of the evolving state of data analytics.

Big Data’s Impact in the World – NYTimes.com: “The story is similar in fields as varied as science and sports, advertising and public health – a drift toward data-driven discovery and decision-making. “It’s a revolution,” says Gary King, director of Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science. “We’re really just getting under way. But the march of quantification, made possible by enormous new sources of data, will sweep through academia, business and government. There is no area that is going to be untouched.”

Welcome to the Age of Big Data. The new megarich of Silicon Valley, first at Google and now Facebook, are masters at harnessing the data of the Web – online searches, posts and messages – with Internet advertising. At the World Economic Forum last month in Davos, Switzerland, Big Data was a marquee topic. A report by the forum, “Big Data, Big Impact,” declared data a new class of economic asset, like currency or gold.

This is the latest iteration in the ongoing interplay between judgment and evidence in decision making. Which means it’s worth considering how this argument has been evolving over time and how new discoveries, technologies, and techniques could change the issues or cause lasting change in how we go about making decisions.

Probability theory traces its roots to a conversation between Blaise Pascal and Pierre de Fermat over how to divide the pot in a card game if it weren’t possible to finish the game. Could you estimate the relative chances of each player winning the game based on the current state of the game and use those estimates to fairly distribute the pot? In other words, how can you use the evidence at hand to make a better decision?

When I was getting an undergraduate degree in probability and statistics (a long time ago), the core issues centered on what inferences you could draw about the real world from limited samples. What kinds of errors and mistakes did you need to protect yourself from? What precautions were appropriate to keep you from going beyond the data? The tools would always find some pattern in the data and we were repeatedly cautioned to take care not to see things that weren’t there.

A few years later, in graduate school, I revisited the topic in various required methods and analytical tools courses. The software tools were more powerful and were still capable of finding the slightest hint of a pattern in the noise. The faculty offered their obligatory cautions, but I watched plenty of students wreaking intellectual havoc with their new power tools, spinning conclusions from the thinnest threads of pattern in the data. For every hundred MBAs who learned to run a multivariable regression, one might read Darrel Huff’s How to Lie with Statistics.

Today, the tools continue to become more and more powerful at teasing out patterns from the data. At the same time, the exponential growth in available data means that we aren’t sampling so much as we are searching for patterns in the population as a whole. What is the lag between the power of our analytical tools and our capacity to apply sound judgment to the results?

Here are some of the questions I am beginning to explore:

  1. How does statistical inference change as we move from small, representative, samples to all, or most, of the population of interest?
  2. How do we distinguish between patterns in the data that are spurious and patterns that reveal important underlying drivers?
  3. When is an arbitrary or spurious correlation good enough to support a business course of action (Amazon doesn’t, and probably shouldn’t, care why “other people who bought title X, also bought title Y.” Calling my attention to title Y leads the incremental sales; who needs a causal model?)
  4. How does our deepening understanding of the limits and biases of human decision making connect to the opportunities presented in “Big Data”? Here, I’m thinking of the work Dan Ariely on behavioral economics and Daniel Kahneman on decision making.

I would value pointers and suggestions on where to look next for answers or insight.

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Defining Characteristics of Wicked Problems

I’m just wrapping up a course I’ve been teaching at DePaul’s School for New Learning on Understanding Organizational Change. I’ve grounded the course in a view of organizations as dynamic systems from the perspective of Jay Forrester, Donella Meadows, and Peter Senge. In the last few sessions, we’ve also been discussing the notion of Wicked Problems and the challenges they present in today’s organizational environment.

I introduced the following list of “defining characteristics of wicked problems” drawn from The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations. I’m not yet finished with that book, although it is excellent so far. I’ll post a review when I’ve finished it. Here is their list:

  • There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem. In other words, the problem can be framed in many different ways, depending on which aspects of it one wants to emphasise. These different views of the problem can often be contradictory. Take, for example, the problem of traffic congestion. One solution may involve building more roads, whereas another may involve improving public transport. The first accommodates an increase in the number of vehicles on the road, whereas the second attempts to reduce it.
  • Wicked problems have no stopping rule. The first characteristic states that one s understanding of the problem depends on how one approaches it. Consequently, the problem is never truly solved. Each new insight or solution improves one s understanding of the problem yet one never completely understands it. This often leads to a situation in which people are loath to take action because additional analysis might increase the chances of finding a better solution. Analysis paralysis, anyone?
  • Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false but better or worse. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong but are subjectively better or worse. Consequently, judgements on the effectiveness of solutions are likely to differ widely based on the personal interests, values, and ideology of the participants.
  • There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem. Solutions to wicked problems cannot be validated as is the case in tame problems. Any solution, after being implemented, will generate waves of consequences that may yield undesirable repercussions which outweigh the intended advantages. (Offering Britney Spears a recording contract is a classic example).
  • Every solution to a wicked problem is a one-shot operation because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly. Rittel explained this characteristic succinctly, with the example One cannot build a freeway to see how it works.
  • Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions. There are no criteria that allow one to test whether or not all possible solutions to a wicked problem have been identified and considered.
  • Every wicked problem is essentially unique. Using what worked elsewhere will generally not work for wicked problems. There are always features that are unique to a particular wicked situation. Accordingly, one can never be certain that the specifics of a problem are consistent with previous problems that one has dealt with. This characteristic directly calls into question the common organisational practice of implementing best practices that have worked elsewhere.
  • Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem. This refers to the fact that a wicked problem can usually be traced back to a deeper underlying problem. For example, a high crime rate might be due to the lack of economic opportunities. In this case the obvious solution of cracking down on crime is unlikely to work because it treats the symptom, not the cause. The point is that it is difficult, if not impossible, to be sure that one has reached the fundamental underlying problem. The level at which a problem settles cannot be decided on logical grounds alone.
  • The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem s resolution. In other words, a wicked problem can be explained in many ways with each explanation serving the interests of a particular group of stakeholders.
  • The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate). Those who work with wicked problems (town planners, for example) are paid to design and implement solutions. However, as we have seen, solutions to wicked problems cause other unforeseen issues. Planners and problem solvers are invariably held responsible for the unanticipated consequences of their solutions.

Culmsee, Paul; Kailash Awati (2011-12-02). The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices: The Reality of Managing Complex Problems in Organisations (Kindle Locations 2759-2839). iUniverse. Kindle Edition.

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New Year, New Beginnings

Beginner’s Mind.

Mindfulness.

Reflective Practice.

As the New Year gets underway, I’m juggling ideas on how to push forward on several fronts including McGee’s Musings. All have to do with rebalancing the mix of new thinking, ongoing learning, and drawing on experience. They also all have to do with variations on the notion of doing the work and sharing it earlier than my internal critic would like.

Here’s a wonderful quote from Ira Glass of NPR’s This American Life that captures some of this:

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.

Ira Glass

This is drawn from an excellent interview with Glass on the topic of storytelling. Regardless of my experience or expertise in any area, I believe it’s important to keep what’s powerful about “beginner’s mind” and to keep the self-critic at arm’s length.

Another perspective is to do a better job managing the balance between consuming and creating. As an interesting and ironic example of this point, I’ve just spent nearly an hour tracking down a blog post I read the other day on this very point. The post was titled “The Dangerous Effects of Reading” from David Tate’s Certain Effect blog. He makes the following observation:

In our personal lives we tend to optimize for one of two things: input or output. Reading or writing. Consuming or creating. The environment we live in – the prevailing culture – by default is optimized for consumption. Even our personal computers are turning into devices that are optimized for consumption! This is terrible and dangerous.

If the world overwhelms you with its constant production of useless crap which you filter more and more to things that only interest you can I calmly suggest that you just create things that you like and cut out the rest of the world as a middle-man to your happiness?

So my primary goal for this coming year is to create more and to share it. I still will strive to exceed threshold levels of quality, but I’ll set the dial more towards “ship it” than to “make it perfect”. I trust my friends will help me adjust that calibration as we go.

Congratulations to Euan Semple on the publication of his first book “Organizations Don’t Tweet, People Do”

Euan Semple’s first book(of many I hope) has just hit the net in e-book format. It’s already on my iPad awaiting my next flight. I’ve known Euan long enough to know that it will be excellent even before I read it so I am recommending it now. I’ll follow up with a review later.

- The Obvious? – The eBook edition of my book is published!: “The eBook edition of my book is published!

MONDAY, DECEMBER 19, 2011 AT 4:57PM

NewImage

Thanks to the guys at Wiley the eBook edition of my book “Organizations don’t tweet, people do” is available for purchase on Amazon and iTunes. You can also get it from amazon.com.

From the blurb:

Practical advice for managers on how the Web and social media can help them to do their jobs better.

Today’s managers are faced with an increasing use of the Web and social platforms by their staff, their customers, and their competitors, but most aren’t sure quite what to do about it or how it all relates to them.

Corporations Don’t Tweet People Do provides managers in all sorts of organizations, from governments to multinationals, with practical advice, insight and inspiration on how the Web and social tools can help them to do their jobs better. From strategy to corporate communication, team building to customer relations, this uniquely people-centric guide to social media in the workplace offers managers, at all levels, valuable insights into the networked world as it applies to their challenges as managers, and it outlines practical things they can do to make social media integral to the tone and tenor of their departments or organizational cultures.

A long-overdue guide to social media that talks directly to people in the real world in which they work

Grounded in the author’s unparalleled experience consulting on social media, it features eye-opening accounts from some of the world’s most successful and powerful organizations Gives managers at all levels and in every type of organization the context and the confidence to make better decisions about the social web and its impact on them”

(Via .)

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Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions

I’ve often struggled with the notion of definitions when working in organizations. On the one hand, too many of us hide our ignorance and uncertainty behind a wall of jargon and terminology. Terms fall in and out of favor and their relationship to the underlying real world is often less important than their value from a marketing perspective.

On the other hand, new terms and language can help us point to and see new ideas and new opportunities for action. Here’s a recent post from Bob Sutton that sheds light on these challenges and is worth thinking about.

One of my best friends in graduate school was a former physics major named Larry Ford. When behavioral scientists started pushing for precise definitions of concepts like effectiveness and leadership, he would sometimes confuse them (even though Larry is a very precise thinker) by arguing “there is a negative relationship between precision and accuracy.” I just ran into a quote from the amazing Nobel winner Richard Feynman that makes a similar point in a lovely way:

We can’t define anything precisely. If we attempt to, we get into that paralysis of thought that comes to philosophers one saying to the other: “you don’t know what you are talking about!”. The second one says: “what do you mean by talking? What do you mean by you? What do you mean by know?

Feynman’s quote reminded me of the opening pages of the 1958 classic “Organizations” by James March (quite possibly the most prestigious living organizational theorist, and certainly, one of the most charming academics on the planet) and Herbert Simon (another Nobel winner). They open the book with a great quote that sometimes drives doctoral students and other scholars just crazy. They kick-off by saying:

“This is a book about a theory of formal organizations. It is easier, and probably more useful, to give examples of formal organizations than to define them.”

After listing a bunch of examples of organizations including the Red Cross and New York State Highway Department, they note in words that would have pleased Feynman:

“But for the present purposes we need not trouble ourselves with the precise boundaries to be drawn around an organization or the exact distinction between an “organization” and a “non-organization.” We are dealing with empirical phenomena, and the world has an uncomfortable way of not permitting itself to be fitted into clean classifications.”

I must report, however, that for the second edition of the book, published over 20 years later, the authors elected to insert a short definition in the introduction:

“Organizations are systems of coordinated action among individuals and groups whose preferences, information, interests, or knowledge differ.”

When I read this, I find myself doing what Feynman complained about. I think of things they left out: What about norms? What about emotions? I think of situations where it might not apply: Doesn’t a business owned and operated by one person count as an organization? I think of the possible overemphasis on differences: What about all the times and ways that people and groups in organizations have similar preferences, information, interests, and knowledge? Isn’t that part of what an organization is as well? I could go on and on.

I actually think it is a pretty good definition, but my bias is still that I like original approach, as they did such a nice job of arguing, essentially, that if they tried to get more precise, they would sacrifice accuracy. Nonetheless, I confess that I still love trying to define things and believe that trying to do so can help clarifying your thinking. You could argue that while the outcome, in the end, will always be flawed and imprecise, the process is usually helpful and there are many times when it is useful pretend that you have a precise and accurate definition even if you don’t (such as when you are developing metrics). “

Richard Feynman On The Folly Of Crafting Precise Definitions – Bob Sutton:

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