The New Manager and the P-A-C

It may sound nerdy but I love models and applying them wherever I can. They give me a structure to make sense of a situation and pursue a solution. I do not have to reinvent the wheel. Someone has already thought through similar situations and may have prescribed what to do. It is if I am standing clueless in a totally alien land and suddenly been handed a guide-book with a map. I still have to find the way but it is much easier. A model will make me think more, skip less and act effectively. The key is to apply the correct model and be open to tweaking it. If I am starting a new team, devising strategy for a chess game, making a decision to switch jobs, evaluating how to budget the next quarter or to manage my investments, I look for a model that I can apply. This is what the organizations do. This is definitely what the researchers do. We build on what we already know and formulated rather than starting from scratch (and repeating the mistakes). 

Hence, whenever I am reading a book, attending a training or talking to someone who knows more than me, I am always on the lookout for a new model or a tool. I try to extract from all the details, anecdotes and discussions the underlying models and tools and add them to my armory.

Image“I’m OK-You’re OK” by Thomas Harris is a great self-help book that makes people understand themselves and how they function. It helps them living a better life by immensely improving their personal and business communications. It’s a bit dense but classic read. My best takeaway from the book was the “P-A-C model” which is the basis for the overall framework that Thomas offers. P-A-C stands for Parent-Adult-Child (always start from Caps). 

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Analyzing the Past

We collect piles of data over the years. We have an archive of emails, documents, snaps, cards – everything. We do it so that we can reference or reuse our “stuff” later – for example we can refer back to an email conversation 5 years ago. We even do it because we feel good about all this ‘past’ sitting with us. However, hardly we use it to get an insight into what has happened. We do not think we can learn from this huge repository. Sometimes its the lack of tools. But believe me this can be a treasure trove.

I am fond of collecting stuff – but also to make some sense out of it later. Even if it is just for fun. I like to be able to identify any trends, patterns or behaviors from what I have and see if there is something insightful lurking there. You simply cannot trust your memory or raw brain to do that processing for you. It’s not cut for bulk processing and data mining.

Wordle is a nice tool that lets you analyze large amount of text and visually display most commonly occurring words – in a very visually appealing manner. The source text can be raw text or even sources on web that have an RSS feed. So, if I analyze my blog, here is what Wordle tells me: Continue reading

Communication is what the listener does

My last post got me thinking about this even more: Communication is what the listener does. That’s what Peter Drucker told us.

We treat communication as talking, speaking, writing, emailing, posting, updating. We think of notice boards, bulletin boards, lectures, monologues, no-reply mass emails, broadcasts, multicasts and delivering messages.

So what is wrong with this? Well nothing – other than that it is at best incomplete and at worst misleading. Communication is all of the above – and much more. They are all necessary but not sufficient for communication. Image

A professor of mine told us once that his job – or for that matter job of any teacher – is first to get down to the intellectual level of his audience, the students, talk to them in a language they understand and make them ask questions. It is not easy to do so because it requires first knowing the intellectual level and capacity of those being taught and second to talk to them in a language and structure that they can absorb. A teacher talking at her intellectual level far above that of students in a class room is like a radio channel transmitting at a frequency that no one can tune to.

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Appearance matters!

An amazing research was conducted at The New York Times to measure the impact of Typography (font and related attributes that affect how the text appears) on how much we would believe in the content of the text. Conclusion: Typography does have an impact. Same statement presented in different fonts can be believed at different levels.

Readers of NYT were presented a passage arguing whether the Earth will be destroyed or not and asked to comment whether they believed it or not. The objective presented to research subjects was to determine whether he is an optimist or a pessimist. The hidden game was to measure how a particular font influences how much believable the statement in the text is. This was done by covertly changing the font for every visitor and analyzing the answers. Nice decoy!

The readers believed the text most when the font was Baskerville. When the font was Comic Sans or Georgia, they did not believe as much. Same statement with different fonts influences people differently.
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It Depends – 2

Last time I wrote that there is no such thing as a perfect process to manage projects that is universally applicable.

Let’s extend that 20,000 feet project management guide to a 50,000 feet life management lesson.

Situations we face in life everyday demand applying various tools, techniques or processes – whether to handle a particular conversation delicately or forcefully; whether to make a huge short-term investment or a smaller long-term one; which person to hire for a key executive position – going with the interview assessments or with your gut feeling; which mathematical formula to apply to solve a particularly nagging problem; which financial model to use for budgeting the next year; which process to apply for a complex new project.

All of these situations require making a decision about selecting a tool, technique, quirk or a systematic process for a situation. There is no-one-size-fits-all approach – different situations require different solutions.

Equally, if not more important, is the realization that you need to have more than one tool in your toolbox to be able to successfully handle whatever life throws at you. No handyman can work with just a single tool. He is continuously diving in and out of his toolbox (that is a fascination to observe). A skilled handyman with his toolbox is a perfect model for how we can handle different situations in life everyday.

I could have spared you all the above read if I had simply quoted the following (but then I would not have been able to call it a blog post!)

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”

It Depends!

I am a hardcore Agile guy! I love Scrum. I have been a Scrum ‘evangelist’ (whatever that means) and the Scrum go-to guy for years. Agile is the way forward. It’s the best process to manage your software projects. Heck, it’s the best way to manage any project.

Hold on. Any project? All scenarios? No exceptions?

One of my professors in graduate school told us that the art of effective teaching is in stimulating students’ brains – by continuously asking questions, soliciting feedback and making them think. A question of his would bring up a perfectly reasonable answer – only to be added on by another perfectly reasonable answer. Soon, answers to most of the questions posed by the professor started with “Well, It depends”.

“It depends!” Even with all the laughter that such answer had, we started to get the game. The world started to make more sense.

There can be two – or even more – perfectly palatable answers to questions of the form “What is the best way here?“. They are pivoted differently only by the context. They differ by what they depend on. Image
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Why this Blog?

Why? Seriously, Why?

The key is to ask Why. Not What. Not How.

Any commercial or social initiative should start and live with answering the question: Why are we doing this? Why are we launching this Product? Why are doing this community project? Why are we fighting for this change? Why am I writing this blog?

Unless you answer this Why, the What and How are useless.

It does not end there. You need to define and more importantly, relate the why in terms of the value that your customers or community gets. We have launched this job search site because we want our customers to be able to find the jobs they would love. We have started this brain cancer awareness project because we want our community to be able to diagnose and get treated early and have a better life. We are fighting for change to the social security system because we want more benefits for our senior citizens.

Unless your Why relates to some value for your customers or community, the what and how do not matter.

Why I am writing this blog? I love to write – but that does not relate to any value for others. I love to share what I know, help with what I have learnt and advise with what I have experienced (heck, my colleagues even voted me for “Let Me Tell You” award) – specially when it relates to Knowledge Workers, their management and their productivity. These are the people and issues I work with daily – and this is where I want to make the world a little better place to live and work in!