Seeing the world clearly

This is one of a short series of self-reflective posts I wrote in January 2014.

One of my core principles is to continuously increase the clarity with which I see the world.

This is a top-level principle, and so I have a bunch of values and behaviours which flow from that. One is truth over harmony.

I have seen this value misused. A bitter person misused it to excuse counter-productive behaviour, and an idealist misappropriated it to disguise their unwillingness to accept reality as it is.

Another value I have is for clarity around facts and observations. Particularly I want:

  • people to be specific about the source and validity of a claim, and
  • observations to be described distinctly from conclusions about observation.

For example, “Apache crashed” is a conclusion and “http 80 is not responding” is the observation. Other causes could be security groups or internet connectivity.

In a cool way, these values overlap with my bias to action. So when solving a complex problem, if I find things going in circles, I will write a clear problem statement. How to think clearly about problems has been studied and codified by systems like Kepner Tregoe. I think all good services organisations should use a consistent problem solving method and be sure all staff are trained in it; you cannot assume a University degree will give a person this skill.

Problem statements can be quite simple, though. You can just include:

  • the observed issue
  • the desired behaviour
  • a list of possible solutions
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Driven to achieve

This is one of a short series of self-reflective posts I wrote in January 2014.

I’m a fan of the Strengths model. On both of the times I have done the self-assessment, two of my top five strengths are:

  • Achiever
  • Focus

This is very true of me.
The ‘so what’ of the combination might not be immediately obvious unless you have those same two compulsions, or have a significant other with them, and have read about strengths psychology.

Basically I’m driven to achieve towards goals.
I need to achieve things. It gives me a single-mindedness which my wife says can be impersonal, and can appear selfish. So at home, I have to moderate myself :)

For example, right now I’m writing about my leadership style. I know I need to be clear in my own mind about how I operate as a leader, and as a manager, and be able to outline it in an interview next week.

I was just making my wife and I a cup of tea before coming back to the computer to keep thinking about my leadership style. Laura knew I was going to be thinking and writing all day. As I was making tea, she wanted to tell me about an interesting conversation she’d had with a lady about her religion and about her self-directed conversion to Islam at about age 17, whilst living in the Australian outback. Sounds interesting eh. I listened for a while before saying, “sorry hon, it’s distracting me from what’s on my mind right now”. That’s when she smiled and said “that’s one of your strengths”.

So here I am writing about it now, and will talk to her more later about her day with the kids.

The Focus strength is about goal-setting. Once I emotionally set a firm goal in my mind, it’s very hard for me to unwrench from it. In fact, I’ve learned to manage myself in this regard and only set goals when I’m sure I really want to achieve them. This means I tend not to idly discuss possible goals around my work or home life. I will either do them, or not. I think of Yoda: there is no try.

This is because somehow, the way my mind works, is that goals are deeply motivating. I like to-do lists too, to track more atomic goals, and I’m a completer-finisher in that I don’t like things dangling half-done.

The Achiever strength is about needing to get things done. A good example is that I find holidays a bit stressful if they go on for too long. I like to read a book or two, or spend time thinking about a goal I have for myself, or learning something new.

Also I am frustrated by fruitless or pointless tasks because they conflict with my need for achievement. Generally this is a good thing, and it might even trigger another one of my core behaviours around wanting to properly fix systems.

As a leader these strengths translate to wanting the organisation to be productive. For example:

  • I notice waste or inefficient processes and want them fixed.
  • I set sub-goals which are achievable, but not easily, and which are consistent with a greater goal.
  • I want people to be productive, to know what their job is, to have the tools to do it, and I will get things out of their way so they can achieve.
  • I want projects or changes completed properly so as to avoid creating re-work and to make a sustained difference.
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Seeks root cause

This is one of a short series of self-reflective posts I wrote in January 2014.

Systems thinking

I don’t know whether I became a systems thinker because I read about it in the Fifth Discpline fifteen years ago, or whether I was already a systems thinker but didn’t know the label. Either way, I remember how it gave me a visual method to expose a system, and the diagnostic power of its archetypes.

I also remember in about 1994 being trained as an Apple technician, in the days when we did component-level repair within a Mac, and the trainer using sticky-tape to break a circuit to teach isolation-testing. Of course, he didn’t tell us that, we had to find the fault by reducing the problem scope and gradually isolating the cause of the video flicker. This is a linear form of problem, though, and not a system. Companies are complicated systems.

Whatever the genealogy, I’m a systems thinker and I seek root cause when dealing with problems. In systems thinking, root cause is not the proximate cause, but the deeper systemic issues which gave rise to the observed problem. This author uses the popular iceberg analogy to help explain systems thinking, and I wrote about it as a sales perspective a few years ago.

When effecting change in an organisation it is necessary to find points of leverage within the system that manifested the issue you want to change. This author describes that analysis process well. Doing this requires that you sufficiently understand the issue such that you can improve the situation with minimal unintended consequences, and is generally the opposite of a quick fix.

I like fixing things

One of my core behaviours is that I like to fix things, and to leave them sustainably fixed. Here’s an example of how it presents:

Recently RightScale developed a new vSphere integration technology and made it available in closed beta to our clients. I wanted sales people around the company to understand it and sell it, because I believed it hadsignificant potential. Because it was such new tech there was not any training material for sales people or client-facing content to explain it. I was also concerned about whether the developer-beta tester feedback process would ensure the product had capability which could easily fit into an enterprise’s technology and process environment.

So, I learned about how the RightScale appliance worked, which required learning more about how VMware worked first (and that included their pricing structure), and being able to explain how the vSphere API is different to a cloud API. I found a model to explain our product development cycle, and what lifecycle stage it was in, and put all this content onto an internal wiki page. I put together and delivered sales training which distilled the ‘so what’ of the innovation and explained how it fits in architecturally.

Across a few domains I wanted to be sure of a sustainable momentum:

  • developer-beta tester feedback,
  • sales force engagement into the client base,
  • internal knowledge sharing about the current and future state.

I knew that simply having a product would not translate to sales unless a number of systems were influenced, and that wasn’t being done, so I fixed it.

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On leadership and the Ghost platform

I wanted to spend some time reflecting on my leadership behaviours and values.

I also wanted to try this new blogging platform called Ghost.

So I combined the two. Earlier today I spun up server, configured it (required vi, which I can never remember how to use), created a subdomain and pointed it to the server using CloudFlare (which is instant), and then got into writing!

The pieces are self-reflective to help clarify my thinking, but I tried to write them with an audience in mind, so hopefully you’ll find it thought-provoking too.

I like Ghost. It focuses on writing and helps put you in a state of flow. I also updated the theme to include the Disqus comment system using this instruction. Then made sure it was using Forever to stay up and did a restart.

Experiment successful, nearly a year later I decided to decommission the Ghost server and so I have merged its independent content back into this WordPress site.

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