Thursday, February 23, 2012


The way we do business has changed and continues to evolve. The change and evolution, however, is not evenly distributed and is confusing about what the 'right' path is.

When I learned to drive, the car had a 'stick shift' (manual transmission). As I was perfecting the skill of keeping my heel on the brake, my toe on the gas, and my other foot on the clutch to avoid hitting the car behind me on a hill, I had to figure out how to shift the gears without bringing the car to a sudden dead stop.

As time went by the stick transmission was replaced with the automatic as standard equipment and it became rare to drive a car (and now trucks too) without an automatic transmission. Technology changed - driving a car became less complex – almost everyone now uses the new technology and skills needed to drive a stick shift are disappearing . Old skills become obsolete or must be replaced with new techniques as the technology evolves.

In the 1950's – 1960's business adopted a military hierarchy - worker, supervisor, middle manager, director, senior management. The supervisor and middle managers served the role of trainers and mentors, as well as pushing to get the targeted output. Over time the managers

Technology blossomed in the 1970's – 1980's and company-wide systems and local computers could compile the reports; the middle managers devolved to doing some entry, some analysis, but became 'measurers' and 'reporters' with little time or contact with the doers.

As financial changes were required – who had the large paychecks and now only indirectly affected production? Middle Managers. They became all but extinct during the right-sizing era.

As managers shifted to working with the systems, the supervisors absorbed the oversight duties vacated by managers, and the doers (workers) collectively became more responsible for their own supervision – no longer the sole province of the supervisors/overseers.

Now the pyramid has flattened out and other models have replaced it. The hub and spoke approach has management/resource (hub) supporting multiple project groups (spokes) to get results (rim). Ad hoc collaborative, project-based teams collect the needed resources and best talent from inside and outside the organization to do the project – when completed, the team disbands, freeing the resources and personnel to join the next project.

Technology has significantly reduced the raw labor needed to do the work, advances in communications – telecom, video, world-wide connectivity – have broadened the talent and resource pool, and the doers now must be perpetual students to continue to be viable in a technology era.

Moore's Law, which applies to computing evolution, predicts that the speed of computers will double every 18 months and the cost per transaction drops as the speed increases – many say up to 50%. The Doer's Theorem advocates you must reinvent your skill-set and expand your experience portfolio about every three years to remain viable in the labor market.

It took big business to make big money in the past. Today it takes big ideas implemented to make big money – like Zappos, Amazon, Facebook, Google. Structure and size is no longer an unassailable requirement to succeed - individual contribution and innovation combined with collaboration has become a strong independent force to create successful, commercially viable products and services.

As leaders we must recognize when business evolution has created a new normal and find ways to leverage it for the benefit of the organization.

What are your thoughts?

Join us - March 13th Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 12 is Lessons from Makers at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Tuesday, March 13th. The featured CTMH speaker will be Dick Davies on the topic of The Direct Economy – How to Profile from the Most Lucrative Market in the History of the World!. More Info

Friday, February 17, 2012

The Autonomous Economy

I walk into an airport, feed a credit card into the kiosk, which spits out a boarding pass. At the same time, my seat is blocked, my meal, beer, and pillow are released, TSA knows I am coming, the gate knows I am coming, the flight crew knows I am coming, the incoming gate at my hub knows I am coming, and I am boarded on my next flight.

I didn’t realize that until one time I was transferring in Philadelphia and the video board was down.

A human attendant looked at his clipboard, and told me to go to the wrong gate all the way across the airport. I got there and found out my exit gate was actually just two away from my entry gate.

When I got back to my gate, the airline was holding the plane. They knew I was in the airport somewhere.

Now before all this computerization, a small part of that data was communicated by harried humans with clipboards. They are mostly gone now. That’s why when the plane system burps, there is no hope of getting a fix by standing in line.

Switching a business from the carbon-based units with clipboards to the silicon-based units with screens takes time. Humans are better at improvising, and can communicate with other humans.

Computers are vastly cheaper, and when the system is complete, can communicate better with computers.

From an operating cost model, reducing your business to computer driven data makes sense no matter how difficult it is. The first in an industry to successfully implement an automated system gets an enormous advantage. The problem is when your system inadvertently maximizes customer prevention.

Banks and airlines know that a mal-system interlude can tank your customer sat. If the Internet never forgets, how long do angry customers hold a grudge?

When I read about the disappearing middle class, I remember all the people with clipboards outwitting their business systems to get me home. By the same token, anyone who hides a known system burp has to be taken out of the loop, as that burp often represents hundreds or thousands of instances that went unreported.

Open Source Leadership teaches us that more eyeballs get the problem fixed easier and faster. It used to be that we were trying to get a little more time before reporting to try to come up with a solution. Today that is exactly the wrong way to play.

Where do you see the autonomous economy changing your life, for better or worse?

February 22nd Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 12 is WhatHave I Done for You Lately? at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Wednesday, February 22nd. The featured CTMH speaker will be Sean Crowley on the topic of The Open Source Web Content Management Platform, Drupal, and its Momentum.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Doer's Theorem

When talking with a person in transition he said: While I was working, the world changed! Even before the recession this was too often the case – a shocking discovery for far too many people.

Moore's Law predicts processing speed of chips will double every 18 months, as a result the cost per computation drops by a similar factor – many say cost drops by 50% during the same timeframe.

As processors change, software and systems take advantage of the speed and new capacity to build faster, more complex tools to do more work faster (transaction processing) or to improve video quality and delivery on computer screens and digital cameras (e.g., HD, 3D, Streaming).

In addition to changes in hardware, software, and systems, we have also seen the introduction of new instruments as well – smartphones, tablets, on-board automotive processors (for engine performance, accident avoidance).

The point is: the technology (how the instruments, tools, and equipment are applied) is evolving to replace repetitive and predictable manual tasks. As a result the collecting and compiling functions of technicians, operators, and analysts are being replaced by the changing technology. The effect of technological changes is illustrated by the automotive technician – a trained diagnostic tech with a roll-about computer and a dozen cable leads has been replaced by a cable attached to the network which can be plugged in to the socket under the dashboard – the computer complies the readings from sensors, applies analytics, and issues a report for the mechanic (and the car owner) on the findings and remedial actions required or recommended. No diagnostic tech is needed.

As more information and data is entered on-line, software and systems are used to collect responses, compile results, and do comparative analysis. Such tasks are disappearing from position responsibilities for employees.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in January 2010 the average tenure in a private sector job is 4.0 years. During this timeframe, computing speed has doubled twice and the new chips have been incorporated into software, systems, and new instruments. A job changer will face the challenge of obsolete positions and skills, as well as the need for proficiency in using the new tools, systems, and instruments – a diagnostic tech may be able to trade down to get his old position with a less advanced shop, but will need additional skills to get a better position.

The Doers need to add to their skills to remain viable in the labor market and with their current employer. When changing jobs internally, new knowledge, skills, and experience play a strong role in winning the appointment – just as they do on the outside when applying to a new employer. If contemplating launching your own firm, old skills and experience with outdated technology will find a narrow and shrinking market – the exception to this was the Y2K phenomenon in the late '90's, where the COBAL programmers were desperately needed to modify enterprise systems. Keeping up with advances in the application of relevant technology is an important goal for us all.

The Doer's Theorem is you must add to your skill-set and expand your experience portfolio about every three years to remain viable in the labor market.

Prior experience, skills, and knowledge are the firm foundation on which to reinvent yourself, but change is coming too fast to rely just on the old favorites and a stagnant learning philosophy.

Successful Doers might say: While I was changing, the world did too!

Comments and contributions?

Join us -
February 22nd Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 12 is WhatHave I Done for You Lately? at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Wednesday, February 22nd. The featured CTMH speaker will be Sean Crowley on the topic of The Open Source Web Content Management Platform, Drupal, and its Momentum.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


Earlier this week I met an ambitious functionary who had taken a decade to maneuver himself into full ROAD status.

A new boss observed the situation for a couple of weeks, then said, “You can do what you want, but you can’t do it here.” 

Set the bar too low and you might trip over it. 

February 22nd Sales Lab’s Rainmaker 12 is WhatHave I Done for You Lately? at the Capital Technology Management Hub on Wednesday, February 22nd. The featured CTMH speaker will be Sean Crowley on the topic of The Open Source Web Content Management Platform, Drupal, and its Momentum.

Monday, February 6, 2012


If you don't measure it, you can't improve it.” On of the first-order axioms of management, and a mantra of spreadsheet jockeys everywhere.

Benchmarking. Balanced Scorecard. SEO. What do they have in common – they are indirect measures of effectiveness.

For an artist, which is more important – the tack hammer or the paint brush? The paint brush is used to create the masterpiece; the tack hammer is used to stretch the canvas in preparation.

Does canvas stretching contribute directly to the quality or success of the artwork? It is true that a taut canvas permits the artist to be more precise in creating fine detail than does a loose canvas – so there is some value added by proper stretching. Would knowing that the short side of a canvas has an average of five tacks and the long side has eight, add anything to masterpiece or its value?

As a result of a promotion, I received twice each month a senior management detailed analytic report which was a quarter inch thick. I eagerly read the entire first copy and discovered only two items in it were useful to me and both were incorrect. Later, I instructed the report compilers to stop publishing it and not notify any recipients. After two months without any comment about the absence of this report, I canceled it.

The chart below was presented with an interpretation that our website needed CPR, when viewed against the comparator site. Our website has visitors from a restricted group who read the page about the meeting and then go to another page to register, triggered by a monthly announcement of the coming meeting. The other site is an eCommerce site for internet sales and traffic is driven to it continuously by numerous sources.

The results merely show that sites with different purposes do not generate the same traffic pattern or flow.

Analytics help us measure performance and other factors by direct, indirect, and comparative means. Comparative analytics view statistics from your organization with those of other organizations, or compare your statistics over time.

Metrics and analytics can be useful to set a baseline or measure progress – as long as they are chosen appropriately and recognized for the value they offer.

The artist's production tool is the paint brush and that is the focal point for creativity which produces the value as perceived by the buyer.

The report recipients get information elsewhere or go without as they manage their functional areas, because the content does not provide benefit.

The page views of a different website does little to improve planning or delivery unless the site functions are virtually identical.

When all is said and done, analytics are like observing the wake of a boat underway – they provide some feedback about how smooth the course has been, but say nothing about the progress toward the goal or destination. Planning and execution get us there.

As leaders we must use our resources effectively to achieve results – focus them on doing rather than curating.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Complexity Syndrome

Is it just my perception, or does our very language spite us sometimes?

America was founded on hard work.  Hard-working Americans is a byword in the current political rhetoric.  In professional settings people are constantly called upon to quantify their efforts: hours worked/billed, units produced, total sales, customers served.  When making decisions, people strive to be objective.  All of these words have a positive connotation.

We know about smart work too, but the positive connotation is less intrinsic.  “An honest day’s work” typically refers to hard labor, getting your hands dirty, doing something repetitive.  There is something in our culture, in our collective subconscious, which tells us to work hard and just get it done.

Work must be completed.  The project must be finished to be judged qualitatively, I do not dispute that.  The misconception that I run into too frequently is: “Harder (or more) work is better.”  This is simply untrue.  Smart (or elegant) work always trumps harder (or more) work.  This is not a new concept, obviously.

So how does that relate to complexity?  The last software consulting firm I worked for had no internal qualitative controls.  All compensation and bonuses were tied to quantitative measures (how you would do it otherwise I do not know, but it exacerbated the issue).  There were a great number of projects that were losing money, because they could not pass functional testing.  Fixes were difficult to manage because the work-product complexity was high.  What I eventually understood was that when I work more or harder, the output is more complex and less elegant.

Complexity is not a bad thing
.  Great value is added through complexity.  Extra features that make software (and tons of other things) useful always add complexity.  Furthermore, complexity and elegance are not mutually exclusive.  To build a sustainable highly-complex system, it must be designed in a highly-elegant manner.  I think that most of you can agree with this, at least in principle.

So where do the wheels fall off our logic train?  The rhetoric, the focus on quantity, trying to squeeze every last dime out of clients because you are billing them hourly, all of these things force the wrong paradigm on workers.  Entry-level and junior workers are especially susceptible, because it takes a lot of time to see the quality-forest for the quantity-trees.  I worked with several guys who were proud of how much code they wrote, not how well it worked or how sustainable it was.

The end product was that complexity was actively rewarded while elegance was passively praised, or dismissed altogether.  This is what was hurting us, and leaders have to take an active role in promoting elegant solutions in their organizations to fix the problem.

Our the management’s response to the problem? Work hard and just get it done.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Knock It Off!

A manager asked me the best way to “knock the rough edges off” his management team? 

I said, “How about we grow them until the rough edges are covered?”

Are you a knocker or a grower?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Must A Leader be Brave?

We have an image of leaders – whether it is John Wayne leading a charge in combat, or JFK declaring to the world the USA will put a man on the moon by the end of that decade, or Steve Jobs radically changing established market segments like music, telecom, and computers with new technology.

Traditionally, when the leader spoke, we listened; when the leader gave a command, we followed. Leadership relied on this command & control model, harkening back to the Roman Legion. Leaders issue orders and the tribe executes them. Collaboration, dissent, or suggestions were not rewarded.

Management theory has evolved, workers have become more educated, global markets have developed, and the pace of change has accelerated dramatically – the traditional has been replaced with rapidly changing and expanding norms, globalization, and new devices to advance technology. This is the New Normal and it dramatically affects how leaders lead.

Leadership is moving to a collaborative model – the leader articulates vision and goals then seeks input on how to get there. Success requires developing an environment of trust and for stakeholders to offer honest input. Collaboration and willingness to adopt offered changes – an open source approach – is a fundamental difference between traditional command & control and New Normal collaborative leadership models, but effective two-way communication is the critical factor.

To illustrate the shift to a new model, here's a brief case study on an organization changing from traditional to New Normal leadership:

Background: A specialty product/service firm using a traditional leadership and sales approach – the sales person armed with brochures, catalogs, and a price list visits each prospect for a show & tell session to make the sale (or not).

Situation: The down economy causes sales volume to tank! With reduced sales, the company is suffering financially.

Options: The leader (company owner) could:

  • Try to sell the company (no prospects identified) [quit option]
  • Try to ride out the recession until market (and sales) return [dream option]
  • Make changes to meet the new challenges by: [evolve option]  1. Add web-sale portal (social business channel); 2. Qualifying customers and guiding lower probability customers to the social business channel; 3. Reserve personal visits only for high probability customers; 4. Enroll employees, tell the truth about the situation, plans, vision, and commitment of the leader to create a sustainable new model company.

No magic – it took plenty of hard work and caused lots of angst. Everyone was kept current with the progress – good or bad. With the checkbook down to less than a couple of months of operating funds, sales volume increased from both the traditional channel and the social business channel. Sales volume grew at a steady pace and in the fourth year after starting this transition the company is profitable and stable.

The leader bet the ranch on creating a viable organization and came within a few months of losing everything. However, with the commitment of all stakeholders, hard work, honesty in assessing the situation for what it is, a good and flexible plan, and some luck – a leading-edge company emerged.

Is the leader brave? Or bold?

You decide.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Ridin’ That Train

The ability to see ahead (or even around the curve) is a requirement for leadership. Every time I get in a leader slot I am amazed by how my vision shortens.

As a consultant, subordinate leader, or individual contributor I could usually make a substantial contribution, often seeing farther than the boss.

When I’m the boss, I cherish the contributors who have prepared for when it is their time to shine.

What is going on? There are only so many hours in the day, and focusing wide at the top makes it harder to get the energy to focus deep.

People want your time when they feel lonely or uncertain. I think static office workplaces have an incredible loss of focus to accommodate social needs. It’s much nicer to sit around in the warm and drink coffee.

Lightweights overcome the discomfort of leadership by doing their last job better, maybe approaching perfectly. If you are too busy doing your last job to do your current job, your successor will do your current job.

I’ve also noticed that the great leaders, when forced to face down their responsibilities, will carve out a job that is quite different than what their predecessors did, often severely inconveniencing those who had manipulated the predecessor best. The very best I ever met regularly upset his organization and spent the time in between getting a fix on what needed to be changed next.

He was repeatedly cannibalizing the best organization he could build.

That was hard on the marginal producers looking to slide by. They left.

It also created a cadre of 30 year loyalists, and one of the key growth stories of American Business.

One key was using the vision of others in the organization to see better and focus more sustained than he could by himself.

How do you leverage your organization?

Friday, January 20, 2012

Pain v. Pleasure

Over the past several years, I have come to the realization that I think about different bodies of work in vastly different ways.  While working for i3solutions, which mainly ran fixed-price, waterfall-style projects, everything was about the specification (and rightly so).  The most important questions we asked ourselves were:

1. Does it meet the requirements as stated?
2. Did we hit all of the delivery dates?
3. Did we fulfill all of the terms of the contract?

All of which are completely valid, necessary questions.  However, focusing on these types of questions often puts blinders on software developers.  The focus becomes the pain-points, because these are the questions that must be asked for the company to avoid customer strife and legal pain.  Answering these questions positively does not always avoid the pain.  A disgusting project once went on for six months after user testing even though it met the requirements, because it didn’t actually fulfill the base need.

While working for several start-ups and on several pet projects, I thought in an almost completely different mindset.  There was always a specification and deadlines, but the focus was shifted.  We continually asked ourselves:

1. Does the product meet the actual need?
2. Is it easy and enjoyable to use?
3. Are we the best solution on the market?

Again, these are completely valid questions.  While harder to quantify than the first three, these questions are necessary because they serve as a litmus test for the project’s experience.  The focus here is on pleasure-points, for both the business and customer.  However, none of these facilitate project completion, and can lead to evil rework.  I am currently on the fourth major iteration of a pet project, all because each previous version failed one of the above questions.

So what have I learned? Most people I have worked with are violently of one philosophy or the other.  Truly dynamic creators believe in the art of balance, and that is what I want to improve in myself.  Where I can see both points clearly, the end result is better.

Have you observed these mindsets in your projects or yourself?  Have you ever worked on a project that was completely one-sided? How did it turn out?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Thrice Welcome!

This is the third post on our Leadership blog.

My name is Jack Gates – and I believe technology is how we do things, not the things we do them with, and leadership continues to evolve through technology. Some key elements to consider.

  1. Leadership has changed to a hub and spoke structure – no pyramid, no flat linear hierarchy – leader is hub and doers are the spokes – together is a strong and stable framework for solid results (rim).
  2. Leadership thrives with an open source approach and a collaborative team drawing the best resources when needed – internal, external, or international.
  3. Just as we learn by doing, leadership is developed by doing – it benefits from shared experiences of others as well.
  4. The 'New Normal' is a result of changes in business structure, available resources, and markets – leaders examine traditional approach, revising as necessary to adapt.
  5. Leadership is sharing the vision and communicating – sometimes by speaking, sometimes by listening – the what and empower the doers for the how.

For more, come back to Leadership often – big things are in the plans!

We are creating a community of leadership learners and welcome you to be part of this community. We welcome your thoughts and comments – and sharing your experience to deepen and enrich the discussion.

Share and others will benefit – share and you will learn...isn't that really what leadership is about?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

And Welcome Again!

This is the second post of our new blog Leadership.

My name is Dick Davies, and I have learned that leadership is usually the key between winning and losing. Here are some aspects.

  1. You manage things, you lead people. Managing people is like pushing a rope.
  2. Asses and elbows” is an accurate description about what the people behind see of an effective leadership cadre.
  3. The older I get, the more I understand that values come before strategy, which comes before tactics.
  4. Leadership should be a practice. The more you practice the better you get. If your practice does not lead to better leadership, take a hard look at what you are practicing.
  5. Joy is when you have a new possibility.
Check back at our Leadership blog from time to time. We’re planning some big things.

We are creating a community of leadership learners, If you are one of us, your thoughts and comments are most welcome. Sound off!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Welcome To My Leadership Practice!

This is the first post of our new blog.

My name is Zachary Yates, and there are a few simple truths I believe in.  One is that everyone should have a personal mission statement.  It’s a north star for when the GPS for my life fails, or when the road-signs of my project are confusing.  Here is the long version:

1. I believe there is no greater goal than the betterment of the human race.  When choosing between companies, projects, or making other life-altering decisions, the question: “Will this make all of us better somehow?” is always my highest weighted valuation method.

2. I believe that action always trumps inaction.  To me, this is simple math.  I define success rate as the number of wins divided by the number of tries.  (Success Rate = Wins / Tries) Zero tries makes you infinitely unsuccessful.

3. I believe I am not the person I was yesterday, nor am I the person I will become tomorrow. I learn and change in small ways every day, tacking towards where I want my life to go.  I can’t change all at once, and I don’t expect this of others. Movement in a positive direction is always a success.

The last two are professional in nature:

4. I believe that technology is for people.  Drawing from number one, all technology, software, or processes should be designed to make people’s lives better.  All decisions on standards, features, and implementation should be weighed on how efficient and beneficial the result will be to people.  This frame of mind can be lost easily when the going gets rough.

5. I believe that high quality leadership creates success.  That is to say, many factors contribute to success, but leadership is the most potent and valuable.  I believe in the inverse as well: when encountering a failing endeavor, look first to the leadership.

Do you have a mission statement, an outline, or some sort of compass? I think it’s important because it makes every decision easier, trivial and titanic.  If you don’t, I encourage you to write a simple one and try it out on some simple decisions.  For me, it quickly made the harder decisions easier.  As a video-game dragon once told me, (paraphrasing) “Discipline against the lesser aids against the greater.”

Your Thoughts?