Doing bold things (a start) (part trois)

So here’s some starter steps to doing bold things.

At the top level…

  1. Dream Big
  2. With high goals comes high risk
  3. Things will go wrong

So, you’ve got a big dream… now what? Break that dream into manageable pieces. Vision drives activity so put that first manageable piece, that “focus” into writing. You want to reach a singleness of purpose, because that singleness drives simplicity into the project. Forget failures, forget past mistakes, only think about what you want now. Only work on prioritized activities. Once you’ve got your “singleness” together, prioritize your actions and use those as a guide. Otherwise the wandering and yak shaving will drive progress out of your dream.

Because you could well be risking a lot to make this big dream come true, don’t take any uncalculated risks. Accepting risk will be part of doing bold things, but you can manage the risk you own by preparing. Two things dramatically reduce risk. Preparation and specificity of practice. Practice what you need to prepare for the task at hand. Practice to feel confident that you can handle many emergent situations. Be aware that your adaptations and experience maybe wrong. People tend to rehearse rather than practice. Rehearsing is repeating and refining. Practicing is developing new skills which are often the things you’re *not* good at! Don’t waffle around, practice the specific things at which you are worst. Expert resources shorten learning, so by all means seek out experts to help you get in the groove sooner, or to explain adaptations that you never considered (differing experiences).

Things will go wrong. You’ll balance and juggle, and dodge a few bullets as the saying goes, but sooner or later the big one is going to happen, and there’s nothing you can do about it (before it happens). When it does defer decision making until the last possible moment — you’ll have the most knowledge. The critical step is to decide “when” is the last moment. Once you decided when “when” is, do not hesitate when it arrives. It’s time for action! Rethinking “when” (rather than fine tuning it) could simply stall the entire affair until the clock runs out. Lastly, make decisions at the lowest possible level (respect people.) It’s easy to convince yourself that no one has any insight but yourself or the couple of folks you interact with all the time. It’s rarely true. People at every level can have the insight to provide the solution or resolution you need.

A corollary to things will go wrong is pain is temporary. Sometimes when things go wrong they hurt. A lot. It can certainly make you rethink what you’re doing, and whether you ought to be doing it. It’s almost always the wrong time to make that decision. Wait until the pain eases. You can only quit once. It might be the right thing to do, but it’s a one trick pony.

Sales people will tell you that “No” means “Not yet”. It’s a very wise piece of advice in many cases. Timing is critical for ideas and products to grab hold. Whether at the individual level or the broader market. You can always learn something from the folks who are saying no, about why, when, and what is working for them etc. that will probably improve your situation down the road.

Teams outperform individuals in many ways. Teams are far more resilient when things go wrong with an elastic strength that moves projects along when individuals run out of steam. Individual success is a team function in almost every case. To think otherwise is self centered, and usually incorrect.

Yesterday’s challenges are today’s norms. Once things thought impossible are now every day, ho hum occurrences. Expect that growth as part of your work.

Five whys – Joel on Software

Five whys – Joel on Software: After some internal discussion we all agreed that rather than imposing a statistically meaningless measurement and hoping that the mere measurement of something meaningless would cause it to get better, what we really needed was a process of continuous improvement. Instead of setting up a SLA for our customers, we set up a blog where we would document every outage in real time, provide complete post-mortems, ask the five whys, get to the root cause, and tell our customers what we’re doing to prevent that problem in the future. In this case, the change is that our internal documentation will include detailed checklists for all operational procedures in the live environment. [Joel ran across the checklist article in the New Yorker and is putting it to use. Smart. So is understanding the value of service and where it makes sense to live on that continuum. Anyway, all this ties in nicely to the thoughts about system failures and people, with further proof that you cannot engineer out the occurrence of a collapse.]

Doing bold things, part deux.

More from Gonzales: Heraclitus said that every time you step into a river, it’s a different river. Every time you walk a [mountain] it’s a different mountain. It’s a boundary condition, a phase transition zone. Because of that it can make a mockery of the most thoughtful plan. Experience is nothing more than an engine that drives adaptation, so it’s always important to ask: Adaptation to what? When the environment changes (a given) you have to be aware that your experience might be inappropriate.

People are always part of the system. And people love forward motion. It’s very hard to get them to disengage once a course has been set. Add to this that people “normalize” risk. If something feels less risky they’ll take more chances; more risky and they’ll take less. “We’ve been through a similar situation and emerged just fine.” It’s easiest to assume it was your skill and savvy, your adaptations that saw you through. That’s why accident preventative engineering always fails. Add anti-lock brakes to a car and people push the limits of their driving skills. They feel safer, so they increase the risk until it matches their risk comfort zone. And of course, they get into more accidents since they no longer understand the level of energy in the system, and worse, feel protected from it.

Apply this to business. A project owner will increase risk until the level matches their risk comfort zone. If they fail to understand the amount of energy in the system, if this project represents a “different project” than the one they managed the last time, their adaptations (business experiences) no longer match… and the project is at risk from the outset. One disturbance will eventually lead to a failure cascade. As they say in mountaineering “A rope without fixed protection is a suicide pact.” A project that is not self-aware, that does not introspect, that does not provide a voice to all the participants is a suicide pact.