My Boss is an ‘Idiot’

“President Kennedy faced a foe more relentless than Khrushchev, just across the Potomac: the bellicose Joint Chiefs of Staff argued for the deployment of nuclear weapons and kept pressing to invade Cuba. Kennedy’s success in fending them off may have been his most consequential victory.”
From JFK vs. the Military

President John F. Kennedy was one of the youngest US Presidents – he was only 43 when he took the oath in 1961. He was also one of the youngest senators in the 1950s. He never held any executive office before he became President.

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Contrast it with his predecessor – President Dwight Eisenhower. He had been a five-star general in the US Army during WWII, Supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe and head of US Army before he became President. He was a WWII hero. He was President for 8 years. He was known to be a strong leader, ready to show military muscle as and when required and known for being the tough guy.

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Happy Birthday Thinking Spirits!

So, finally it’s a year of blogging. Happy Birthday to all of you!

My first real post was It Depends. It shows I was confused from the start. I had to even write a It Depends – 2 the following week.

And interestingly, this post is the 50th on the blog – almost 1 post per week. Good, but can be better.

And though Change Sucks, but change is good – so you can see a new theme for the blog!

In the spirit of last two posts on value of measurements, I decide to do some measurements of my own for the blog. And since Appearance Matters, I put them into infographics.

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I have managed to consolidate all writings into 5 core themes – Knowledge Work, Leadership, Communication, Productivity and Time Management. The 50 posts are distributed like:

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Know Thy Time

“Time is what we want most,but what we use worst.” 
         ― William Penn

Earlier, I wrote about the importance of measurement and data that represents reality. The main idea was that any improvement, personally or professionally, can only be effective if it is based on fact based measurements. In God we trust; all others bring data.

ImageThe article used the Global Slavery Index report as an example for defining the process of measurement.

That’s useful – but how about a measurement example that can be applied personally and has value? How if we measure where our time goes.

Our daily discourse is filled with clichés about time:

  • Time is money
  • Time is our greatest asset
  • Time is a great leveler

Yet, we abuse this great asset with impunity. We become unproductive at the very core asset that makes us productive and effective.

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In God we trust; all others bring data

“In God we trust; all others bring data.”
                              ― W. Edwards Deming     

Recently, the Walk Free Foundation released their inaugural annual report on global slavery – the Global Slavery Index. It is a detailed report defining what constitutes slavery, estimated number of slaves in the world, a ranking of countries based on estimated slaves, and detailed socio-economic analyses.

ImageWhat is relevant here is not the content of the report (which is not to say that it is unimportant), but the process and value of measurement and data. Peopleware, an all-time classic for knowledge workers, lays out a two-stage theory of measuring things:

1 – What cannot be measured, cannot be improved
2 – Any measurement is better than no measurement at all

Our decisions are generally based on heuristics, rules of thumb, hunches, gut feelings, personal experiences, cultural norms and our opinions about things. While all of these have their place, they more often than not are developed by circumstances and experiences, rather than data that represents reality. That is why most interventions, whether at policy, strategy or tactical level fail. That is one of the reasons Change Sucks.

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What is Wrong in Talking about Tools?

Being an active GTD subscriber, I follow relevant discussions (e.g. the GTD LinkedIn group).

A significant percentage of these discussions and articles relate to tools around GTD. Or they relate to specific practices around a tool. How to use Evernote for GTD? How to organize your ticker files? What is the best online service for managing GTD workflow? What are the specific folders you create? Are you happy with a particular tool?

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These are all useful discussions. I even gave out my toolkit for GTD.

But I also wrote about that using GTD is not about adopting a particular set of tools or practices. It is about a personal transformation. It requires a change of heart.

It is not that tools are not important. They are. They ensure that you really get the stuff done. But they come after you understand what you are really trying to do. They are means to the end, not the end themselves. Talking about tools before you understand the end-goal is like putting your first step on the third leg of the ladder. It’s putting the cart before the horse.

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Work While You Sleep

Dave Ramsey is a very successful person. He is a writer, speaker and a radio show host. His books are best sellers. His radio show is heard on more than 500 stations in USA and Canada. He focuses on getting people out of debt and become wealthy. Dave is hugely popular. He is leader of his tribe (the Seth Godin version).

Dave is very eloquent and articulate too. He communicates exceptionally well. His listeners are usually in rapt attention. He completely adheres to the Communication is what the Listener does principle.

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Dave does a lot of TV & radio shows and live events. But Dave also sells products. He sells books. He sells DVDs and financial tools. While the media appearances are what brands him, it is the products in his store that are interesting. In a recent interview, he said that his books are what make money for him even as he sleeps. The product (books) are out there. The sales system is set up. The brand is established. He does not have to do anything. When he gets up in the morning, the money is in his bank account.

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The (in)sanity index or how to get things done

This is a guest post by Zaki Shaheen, a former colleague, a smart knowledge worker and now a manager of many of them!

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the results to be suddenly different.”
– Albert Einstein

insanityProject management (or knowledge work in general) is one of the most brain-tolling exercises and it’s absolutely critical that a project manager keeps her composure. Not just in meetings, but in moving things forward and getting things done. To always have mind like water.

I have seen (read made) a lot of mess ups and delayed deliveries. Whenever I see young project managers make the same mistakes as I once did, I volunteer my two cents.

Yesterday I had a eureka moment to model what happens when a project fails (or is failing). One of the way to do that is to come up with a key performance indicator (KPI). I call this one the sanity indicator.

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The Day Stockholm Moved to the Right Side

This is an image from Stockholm, Sweden on September 3, 1967. That was the day when Sweden changed from driving on the left side of the road to the right side.

Sweden1967_02_1500-700x412Naturally, there was chaos.

A few posts back, I wrote about change, and why it sucks. No matter how necessary or beneficial a change may be, it is natural human tendency to resist it. We hate the transition associated with change. Going from a current status quo to a new status quo is always accompanied by Chaos and then persistence to implement itChaos scares us – partly because it is uncomfortable; partly because we think of Chaos as the actual change and run back to the safety of our old status quo.

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10,000 Hours of Practice

Outliers is a classic book on what makes up success by Malcolm Gladwell. He argues that highly successful people – the outliers – do not succeed just by simply working harder. Being there at the right place at the right time, among other factors, is critical too.

Gladwell describes the “Rule of 10,000” which says that it takes about 10,000 hours of practicing a task for someone to achieve mastery in it. It can be music, computer programming, writing, sports – anything (and certainly for knowledge work!).

“… ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world-class expert — in anything. In study after study, of composers, basketball players, fiction writers, ice skaters, concert pianists, chess players, master criminals, and what have you, this number comes up again and again. Of course, this doesn’t address why some people get more out of their practice sessions than others do. But no one has found a case in which true world-class expertise was accomplished in less time. It seems that it takes the brain this long to assimilate all that it needs to know to achieve true mastery.”  — “Outliers” by Malcolm Gladwell

ImageDoing the maths, practicing for 40-hours in a week and 180 hours in a month, it takes about 5 years to achieve mastery in it. Obviously, what it means to be a master and what the world of mastery is can vary, but in general the rule models the effort required to become really good at something. Gladwell gives examples of The Beatles, Bill Gates and Paul Allen to prove the theory. All of them put in 10,000 of practicing music or programming before they really became masters at it.

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Date Yourself

Stop reading this post and open up your calendar. Take a look at what it had for the last three weeks and what it holds for the next three.

Anything interesting?

Well, probably it looks booked and you very busy (which is true!).

However, what you probably did not notice was that your calendar is filled with meetings and commitments that are either:

1.  Added by others through an invitation
2.  Added by you by invitation to others

In essence, your calendar is most likely a journal of your commitments with others. It is a document which you refer to, to find out whom you have to meet or talk to next. It chronicles how and where your time is owned by others.

So, what’s wrong?

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