On influencing the public mind

Stories can be glimpses into American history. Town hall meetings in the United States of America are part of the American story. Each story both reflects on and celebrates the development and evolution of civic participation as a part of the democratic process. Arguments exist about the importance of finding ways to communicate complex ideas. I’m going to be spending the next few weeks digging into the topics of citizen participation and communicating with the public at large.

Crowds have gathered in congregations and town halls, and town squares throughout the history of America. Those venues for communication have been the living representation of the commons. The printing press changed just how far and how fast a thought could travel. Even the best printed material at the time the printing press came into existence only made it to a small part of what could be considered the commons (in the true grand and global view of the word). Consider for a moment the reality, that even the best shared utterance in our very modern and diverse world of interconnected social networks only captures a small part that commons. People have been talking about the commons long enough that those problems could be considered classic thought cases. Perhaps we could open a new chapter of thought. A new chapter dedicated to understanding what it takes for an utterance to influence the public mind in a lasting way. It might be worthwhile to capture a series of examples where an utterance has become timeless in the public mind. It might be worthwhile to capture 10 of the best examples. Those 10 examples might provide enough insights into the problem. Those insights might provide enough content to fill up an article.

During the formation of the United States of America democratic processes developed or at very least crystalized. Hundreds of years later, scholars now argue that declining citizen participation in democratic processes puts the very foundation of representative democracy at risk (e.g., Barber, 1984; Skocpol, 2003; Macedo, 2005). Those arguments could be extended to evaluate our fundamental breakdowns in communication. A newspapers or the nightly news used to be mediums to share things with the public mind. Those mediums cover smaller and smaller amounts of the commons. It has been argued, that citizen participation in government was necessary during the formational period. Inherent within the initial functionality of government citizen participation brought together various democratic processes. The large body of research available on the topic suggests that scholars believe even the possibility of citizen participation in government deserves consideration (Putnam, 2000; Skocpol, 2003).

At the most basic level of consideration or study, citizen participation in government describes the initial first step in the process. It describes the spark that started it. The spark that caused it to form. Essential to democracy and the very basis of civil society is citizen participation in the community, business, and government (Dionne, 1998). Scholars generally adopt a perspective that values citizen participation (Van Til, 2000). In order to understand citizen participation, now is the time to consider the historical influence of technological change on participatory democracy in terms of necessity, sustainability, and preference. As the intersection of technology and modernity brings a larger and larger disconnect between people and the commons, society has started to fragment in unexpected ways. Technology should have increased our ability to communication to society as a whole. Fragmentation of the commons into a multitude of public spaces seems to be occurring a very rapid pace.

Citizen participation is an important part of the democratic process (Skocpol, 2003). Understanding citizen participation requires understanding the history of how participation developed, why people wanted to participate, and what if anything sustains interest in participation. If citizen participation is an important part of the democratic process, then the historical influences surrounding participation require definition and consideration.

Considering the concept of civil society requires scholars to be careful in upholding a consistent presentation and definition. Jon Van Til correctly argued that conceptually theorists have to avoid using the concept of civil society as a type of social science ‘play-dough’ that can be molded into almost any shape (Van Til, 2000, p. 15). Reducing potentially problematic bias will involve keeping this conceptual issue in mind while addressing the issue of civil society. Introducing concepts and ideas without providing detailed explanations or basic definitions creates a scenario where a lack of clear intent potentially clouds perception. Clear straightforward analysis and explanations can illustrate intent and add a degree of clarity about the subject under consideration.

For example, a historical narrative looking at how town hall meetings influence society can explain changes in the way people work together, communicate political issues, and form communities. Not only can that analysis explain the influences of town hall meetings on society, but also that discussion can clearly define the ways people work together, how people communicate political issues, and the basic tenets of community formation. Ensuring comprehensive coverage of issues provides the necessary clarity and depth.

Part of the challenge of understanding town hall meetings involves identifying the relationship between technology and changes in citizen participation in government. Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, of Bowling Alone fame, has observed that living alone and working late combined with television and the internet have rendered society less trusting and less civic (Putnam, 2005, p. 7). The current trajectory of citizen participation in the democratic process is calling into question the future of democratic governance in the United States of America. People are making very real decisions about how to spend their time. Those decisions are including less and less time being focused on politics in general.

Modern discussions increasingly focus on how technology influences the most basic government functions of society instead of focusing on value choices. Questioning the influence of technology on society in general requires an understanding of both historical changes in technology and society. At some point during the course of history, the United States of America moved from being a nation of problem solving communities to a nation of communities waiting for problem solvers. In other words, throughout the development of the United States of America, the function of the participatory part of participatory democracy has changed. It could be argued that democratic processes in the United States of America from 1776 to 2006 involve three waves of citizen participation including necessity, sustainability, and preference. That might be an argument that I’m gearing up to present this year.

The dialogue would begin by reflecting on the necessity of citizen participation in terms of development and evolution of civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1776 to 1965. After reflecting on the necessity of citizen participation, the next part of the framework analyzes the factors contributing to the breakdown of civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1965 to 1996. Building on the foundation of both the necessity and sustainability questions the last part of the framework analyzes the development of preference based citizen participation including government facilitated online alternatives to the traditional town hall meeting on civic participation as a part of the democratic process from 1996 to 2006.

Dialogue can create a degree of perspective on citizen participation in the democratic process. Changes in the way dialogue occurs within the commons can be very informative about the influence of technology. Citizen participation can occur when people begin to gather in a public forum. Initially the dialogue in this modern public forum focuses on the history of town hall meetings in America from 1776 to 2006. Arguments about town hall meetings surround changes that occurred during the founding of the nation, industrialization, and the digital age.

Out of a very public dialogue, the distinct voice of a critic could begin to emerge. Distinct from the initial dialogue about democratic formation, the voice of a social critic might advocate that the potential of citizen participation should receive consideration before evaluating the values of efficiency, economy, and social equity. Within the context of general dialogue, a response originates from an even almost thoughtful tone, the practical voice of the trained public administrator. A practical public administrator would argue that efficiency, economy, and social equity are necessary to create the possibility of citizen participation. Together the voice of the social critic and the practical voice of the trained public administrator represent the aggregation of various arguments that are sometimes insightful or interesting. Both perspectives are necessary to challenge the nature of citizen participation in government. The discussion develops into three distinct parts representing the necessity of citizen participation, sustaining citizen participation, and preference based citizen participation.

The common or shared history of the people is at some levels a public conversation that does not require recognition or acknowledgment to influence society. The influence should be apparent. It is an influence that will continue to occur. Perspective on citizen participation is necessary to define the historical context of how town hall meetings illustrate one form of citizen participation in the democratic process.

Town hall meetings represent one mechanism for triggering public dialogue, discourse, and information dissemination in the form of a very public conversation. At every level of community, the dynamics of communication are different. Technology will continue to develop. Now is the time for individuals who share a common belief in the value of democracy to consider the history of what brought citizens together in the United States of America. The technologies we use to communicate are not architected to facilitate mass communication. Most of them have been focused on building user bases and keeping those users contained.

Understanding representative democracy requires recognizing the relationship between the people and their representatives before and after elections. From the perspective of the social critic representatives need to find ways of communicating with the people. At the same time, the social critic might suggest that people have to find ways of communicating with representatives. In response to the ideas represented in the questions raised by the social critic, the practical public administrators might argue the very nature of representative democracy requires a degree of active not just cyclical preference based citizen participation in the democratic process. Throughout the history of representative democracy in the United States of America, the cyclical nature of town hall meetings defined the essence of active participation in the process.

Scholars, philosophers, and critics often turn to the writings of Alexis de Tocqueville who during the course of writing the 1835 classic Democracy in America described the relationship between representative democracy, civil society, and individualism. At some level, democracy lives and breathes beyond abstract or ideal definitions. Consider the value Tocqueville placed on town meetings comparing them to the relationship between primary schools and science curriculums empowering the people to be able to participate (Sirianni & Friedland, 2001, p. 23-24). At the most basic level democracy involves the communication of opinion within a society. Town hall meetings represent one part of the democratic process. Throughout the necessary development of democratic institutions in the United States of America town hall meetings provided a proven and accepted method for gathering a community together.

Contemporary public administration scholar H. George Frederickson in the Spirit of Public Administration argued that citizens previously functioned by taking direct collective action in the form of town meetings, militias, and community activities like barn raising (Frederickson, 1997, p. 12.). H. George Frederickson went as far as to draw the conclusion that the tradition of citizens choosing to engage in direct collective action has been lost (Frederickson, 1997, p. 13). Representative democracy requires a mechanism for citizens to share ideas within a community. Town hall meetings are a way to facilitate citizen participation in the democratic process. I’m not sure that modern town hall meetings are very informative or engaging.

Large nations like the United States of America require the maintenance and availability of numerous methods of communication for participatory democracy to function. Not only can a society not forget the past, but also a society cannot ignore the future. E.J. Dionne in Community Works: the Revival of Civil Society in America argued that society has to recognize individuals and organizations that work toward building civil society (Dionne, 1998, p. 3). Public meetings, town meetings, or town hall meetings all represent a method of public assembly for the purpose of discourse within the community. Before the formalization of democratic institutions in the United States of America, the primary methods of political discourse involved informal communication. Communication is a necessary element of community.

Publicly disseminating knowledge about politics is the best way to ensure political dialogue and communication occur within the community. Looking at how town hall meetings have provided a forum for community dialogue from 1776 to 1965 provides a degree of perspective about the nature of citizen participation.

The next topics I will be writing about include 1) my 2015 Disneyworld experience, 2) the power of investing in people, 3) the importance of pracademics, 4) the intersection of technology and modernity, 5) omnichannel contact strategies, 6) runbooks, 7) strategic planning, 8) irregular operations management, 9) building quality executive presentations, and 10) citizen participation essays

On writing a stop doing list

The odometer on my Honda Pilot read about 17 miles for the trip. John Paul has been having a hard time going to sleep at night. That is a truly challenging obstacle to overcome. Three year children pretty much do what they want. Having a lengthy conversation with a 3 year old is an interesting experience. Several nights along the way have involved up to a thirty minute car ride. That could involve up to four laps around the neighborhood. It seems to happen more and more. At one point, I was listening to ESPN radio via my satellite radio and got sucked into thinking about what was being said. The sportscasters were talking about the civil unrest in Baltimore. My mood really has been very somber since learning about the situation.

This would be a good place for a solid segue. The topic under consideration is about to segue to the fine art of either making “to do lists” or “stop doing lists”. This segue should have been better. It should have been more elegant. However, I’m just going to transition away from a serious topic and write about both to do and stop doing lists. I may spend some time writing about economics and employment in the United States later this month. Managing time is the topic that I’m prepared to write about this evening before heading off to bed.

My interest in this topic was principally sparked by hearing Jim Collins talk about “stop doing lists”. I really would go see Jim Collins speak again. I can see why Jim gets financially compensated as a professional speaker. Hearing Jim Collins talk about business is an opportunity that I would seek out again at some point.

I really did enjoy hearing Jim speak at the 17th Annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium. The Denver Convention Center is a huge venue. It really is a large building. I’m not really a fan of parking downtown, but this event was worth it. The last time I visited the convention center was to attend the Saturday portion of the 2014 Denver Comic Con. The parking at that event was way more chaotic.

In practice, writing a Jim Collins style “stop doing list” is actually a rather difficult thing to action. I could not complete that task in one sitting. I’m not sure it is something that really should be done in one sitting. It is probably something that would be easier with a handout or a guided framework of some type. I’m guessing that it is something that gets easier with practice. It is something that I started thinking about right after learning about the topic, but ended up stopping in the middle of the list creation process. I got stuck on the details during the creation process of the list. It is pretty easy to start making a list, but it is rather difficult to both figure out a plan to actually stop doing things and to make a complete list.

It will probably be easier to start recording my daily count of productive hours vs. trying to figure out what things I should actually stop doing. I spent some time trying to figure out what I considered productive. For the most part it boils down to either reading or writing. At some point down the road, I will probably end up developing a more nuanced operational definition of productivity. Of all the things that Jim Collins said during the course of a two hour presentation the idea of being productive for at least 1,000 hour a year resonated with me. That seemed like a goal that would be worth exploring.

Meanwhile — writing a minimum of 1,500 words per day has changed my approach to getting things done. Any and all available time that could be spent writing is going to have to be spent writing. I’m trying to focus on making sure that any current projects receive a full second pass. That has created a multiple day writing cadence of production and review. Writing much longer passages has changed the way I view investing in creativity. I rarely sit down and write 1,500 words in a single sitting. It seems like I write about 500 to 750 words then pause for a bit. I’m trying to figure out how to open up the flood gates and push my writing session to 1,000+ words at a time.

Earlier this week I made a special trip out to the Home Depot to buy a new light fixture. The installation process was actually pretty easy. My office now is being illuminated by three full size bulbs. My office is now very well illuminated. I realized that good lighting is an important part of staying focused. I did not realize what a difference the change in lighting would make. It has inspired me to make an investment. I’m going to invest the time necessary to write at least 1,500 words a day on 10 different topics. The topics have already been setup and it will be very easy to package them into a book.

My “stop doing list” should probably include a few items:

  • One of the items that I realized that I should stop doing recently was writing short items that could not be published. I need to focus on writing a chapter a day vs. trying to write a book in one sitting.
  • For the most part, I have just said yes to pretty much any tasking over the last year. On a go forward basis, I need to be more careful about what I agree to do. That should probably include both work and personal tasking.
  • I really do try to work everything in real time. That seems to be the speed of the parts of business that matter. However, I recognize that some things need to be prioritized.

In the end, I had to make a list of everything that I was doing. Making that list took a substantial amount of time. Pen and paper was the only way that list was going to get completed. I picked up a pad of yellow lined paper and started writing things down. It took an entire day to try to capture everything I was working on. The list was not something that I could easily just write down. It should have been easier to make a list of everything that I am working on. I change topics very quickly and move from document to document at a whim. That approach to getting things done is problematic. It is not a focused method of getting things done.

I could have posted the complete list, but that just seemed unnecessary. A highly condensed list of things I’m doing:

  • Teaching online business classes
  • Writing 3 conference/journal articles a year
  • Writing a book every other year
  • Writing daily weblog entries
  • Surfing online for high end computer parts
  • Listening or watching technology podcasts/videos
  • Reading biographical novels via the Kindle service
  • Reading public administration and project management journals
  • Traveling all over the country

I realized at the end of writing that list that it was not granular enough to make a “stop doing list”. At this point, my routines are pretty solid. Over the years, I have trimmed out most of the things that got me into trouble.

Writing has always been my passion project. I take the time to write. Right now I’m trying to figure out how to best manage my time. Throughout the last two weeks I have been working on developing a Jim Collins style “stop doing list”. I had not really sat down and auditing the things that occupy my time. Maybe that is an exercise that should have been completed on a regular cycle. Building a process to complete that assessment took some thought. It took about two weeks to capture all of the items that occupy my time. Some of the things that received significant time investments were surprising. In order to better facilitate my writing endeavors, I have to figure out how to better manage my time.

Jim Collins talked about capturing 3 hours a day of productivity. That idea really resonated with me. I’m still thinking about it two weeks later. Between working on things related to my salaried full time job, teaching online, and writing that should be relatively easy to accomplish. A problem arises when teaching online and working occupy almost all of my time in a given day. From time to time my full time job occupies huge amounts of the day. Working 20 hours a day on a project really does create chaos. It creates chaos in my family life and physically it is not sustainable. It happens, but you have to make sure it does not become an everyday thing. I try to really only invest that much time in things that will pay dividends. In the end, I wondered what Jim Collins really considers to be productive.

The next topics I will be writing about include 1) my Disneyworld experience, 2) the power of investing in people, 3) the importance of pracademics, 4) the intersection of technology and modernity, 5) omnichannel contact strategies, 6) runbooks, 7) strategic planning, 8) irregular operations management, and 9) executive presentations

Evaluating the KQV Productivity Triad

The following passage is the start of a series of vignettes related to the business world, business decisions, and omnichannel strategies. Some of them will be adapted to book chapters at some point. At this point, the vignettes are essentially a form of intellectual sandboxing that allows me to write about complex situations.

Tentative Title: The first steps in fixing a team: Evaluating the KQV productivity triad concept

Introduction

Imagine for a moment that you work for an organization as a fixer. Some people really do take on this role as a profession. Most people end up getting involved for a short time out of necessity. Within this role your core function within the organization or as a temporary work assignment is to parachute into a situation and fix something. For the most part, you know that you are going to be deployed to fix a significant problem. Where you are going will be clearly defined. However, for the most part how you are supposed to achieve the desired outcomes will be and will remain highly mysterious. It will be a real challenge. It has to be a challenge that is worth overcoming. That has to be the stage and it has to be well understood.

Most of the time the fix will involve working with a group. The following paragraphs of insightful prose relate specifically to working with groups or organizations that have team members. Perhaps at some point a general theory will be proposed, but at this time please accept this evaluation of a special case scenario that involves evaluating a group. Building a general theory can at this point be considered a topic tabled pending future research. The rest of this intellectual inquiry focuses on introducing a framework that can be used for evaluation. Making sure that people do the right things at the right teams for the right reasons is even harder than it sounds. This framework goes a layer deeper than my general philosophy of letting leaders lead, managers manage, and employees succeed.

Evaluation

Evaluating groups is about understanding how knowledge, quality, and velocity drive meaningful productivity. In the end, making major changes to the productivity of a group requires a combination of planning and opportunity. I call that path to evaluating productivity the evaluation of the knowledge, quality, and velocity (KQV) productivity triad. Understanding KQV requires a great depth of understanding about the group being evaluated. It is very rare that you will start an evaluation of an organization that is mature enough to have a key performance indicatory (KPI) compendium and performance dashboards. Those types of artifacts are usually evidence of organizational maturity.

Before breaking down the components of the KQV it would be prudent to talk about why a fixer has to have a solid exit strategy. I ask myself this core question every day during the course of evaluations, “If I walked away today without any warning or preparation, then what things would people keep doing and why would they keep doing them?” People steal great ideas. You can accept that as an almost absolute fact. Another thing that should just be accepted is that good ideas are sticky. People keep doing things when they believe in them to the point of taking ownership in them. Taking ownership of something is a very powerful motivational factor. Both great and good ideas are generally sticky. They tend be very sticky. They benefit from ownership and from sustained interest.

The concept of stickiness really matters when you are evaluating an organization. Any and all recommendations or corrective actions have to be the right suggestions. They have to prove to be sticky. They have to be great. People have to want to steal them and move forward with full ownership of them. If you want to drive any one element of organizational knowledge, quality, or velocity, then all of those changes have to be things that people would steal and they have to be sticky. I always try to channel Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People philosophy and begin the process with the end in mind (1989). That is why being focused on ensuring that all recommended changes are the right changes that will end up being incredibly sticky.

KQV

Each topic involved in the productivity evaluation needs to be explored in more detail. Specifically we are about to examine the knowledge, quality, and velocity (KQV) components of the productivity triad.

On Knowledge – The knowledge part of the KQV triad describes what the group needs to know to be successful within the organization. It is all about the collective understanding housed within the team. Organizational knowledge is easier to talk about than it is to define. An organization includes a number of people who have a unique set of knowledge, skills, and abilities that make up the people capacity of the group in total. The knowledge part of people capacity is defined by what people know. It is about how the combination of information and experience is translated into action by a team of people. When you parachute into an organization and start mapping out what is going on it is pretty easy to start evaluating tribal knowledge, daily work instructions, and new hire training materials. It takes practice to truly map what is happening. That mapping has to include what people need to know along the path to do what they are doing.

On Quality – The quality part of the KQV triad is always a little more elusive than the knowledge part of the equation. The opportunity for exceptional quality exists when the steps in a process are well documented and repeatable. If a situation exists where team members are following a well-defined set of repeatable steps to achieve an outcome, then the adherence to those steps could be measured in terms of quality. Any high quality recipe for success includes things that are repeatable. A team member working on the same set of repeatable tasks might do things flawlessly for the first 5 hours of a shift. During that sixth hour the team member might get distracted for a moment and miss a step. That lack of adherence to the well-defined and repeatable steps could generate a problem down the line. That problem could be a serious gap in quality. Most of the time quality is not that easily defined. It is something that has to be observed via some form of sampling. A number of quality related items will probably end up in the KPI compendium. They will also probably be featured in any major departmental dashboard.

On Velocity – The Velocity part of the KQV triad is usually very easy to understand and describe, but incredibly hard to measure in a detailed way. Velocity in this case can be operational defined as the speed between completing elements in the well-defined set of repeatable steps mentioned above. In general, figuring out ways to measure velocity is difficult. Most of the time team members are performing work without any real tracking system. Very few work streams include a defined time stamp at each step along the way. Those system are easier to study via numerical analysis. Most of the time datasets have to be built out via sampling and or other methods of observation. Introducing velocity tracking into an organization requires an extreme amount of planning and a defined process that includes traceable steps.

Conclusion

Parachuting into a situation to help fix something creates some interesting dynamics. Outside of those dynamics a certain set of objectives have to be achieved. The prime objective usually includes fixing something. That fix typically includes rolling out a plan to improve the knowledge, quality, and velocity of a group. Throughout the course of building out a plan an evaluation usually occurs. All of the steps in that plan have to ultimately lead to the creation of a KPI compendium and dashboards. Getting that built out is the key to ensuring ongoing oversight and accountability.

If a clear line of sight exists into the organization, then it will be easier for leaders to understand where the group has been and where they are going in terms of trends and results. That level analysis drives the foundation of solid evidence based decision making. The KQV triad sets the foundation for evaluating an organization. By understanding all three elements it makes it easier to understand how the organization functions and what is necessary to sustain that organization.

The bottom line on KQV is simple. It is pretty straightforward. At some point you are going to be asked to help a department increase productivity. Those increases are going to expected to occur with increases in quality. That is only going to happen based on a balanced KQV improvement strategy. Helping increase productivity in the right ways means a high degree of quality and velocity. High quality velocity is normally paired with an increase in overall departmental knowledge. People have to know what to do and what they are doing before they can transition to the next level of productivity.

The Next 5 Topics include writing about 1) my stop doing list, 2) the power of investing in people, 3) the importance of pracademics, 4) my Disneyworld experience, and 5) omnichannel contact strategies

That one with a project management symposium

Taking the time to engage in professional development is critical to growing and developing. You have to be actively engaged in things that help you gain experience. Seek out those type of opportunities. However, being actively engaged in things can quickly consume all of your available time. Great contributors stay busy and tend to continue receiving more and more tasking. That is why it is so important to make sure that your professional routine includes reflection, education, and development. That call to action is much easier to write about than to achieve. Friday was one of those professional development days on my calendar. It is one of those rare days that my efforts and energy were devoted to focusing on nothing short of improving and getting better. It was also nice to have a three day weekend.

This morning after dropping off John Paul it was time to head downtown to the Denver Convention Center. The schedule showed the event running from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. I know that is a large block of time to spend focusing on project management. I was ready to attend the 17th Annual Rocky Mountain Project Management Symposium. The 45 minute drive to the Denver Convention Center was worth it. I knew it was worth it before I even got into the car. Today I had the distinct privilege of listening to Jim Collins talk for 2 hours about project management and leadership. About 1,600 project management industry professionals have made the choice to attend the symposium. Jim is a pretty powerful and engaging speaker. 1,600 people within a large convention hall were all very focused on the presentation. The presentation seems to be focused on delivering stories related to “Jim’s 12 Questions” article.[i]

I was surprised that the majority of people in the room stopped working on other things and focused on the presentation. They were really locked into the presentation. The room was full of people sitting at 10-12 person tables. Everyone could have had a laptop out and been working, but I could only see 3 laptops out and within my line of sight in a room full of 1,600 people. More people had tablets or actual lined paper notepads that they seemed to be taking notes on. About 25% of the people in the room were just messing around with smartphones. I would say roughly 1% of people were using laptops, 10% were using tablets, 10% were writing on a notepad, and 25% were messing around with smartphones. That means that about 54% of the people in the room were doing nothing but paying attention to Jim Collins talk. In a room full of professional multitasking professionals that is a powerful testament to Jim Collins as a speaker. Jim talked for 2 hours and the time seemed to go by quickly without any real slow spots or pauses. Both the content and the delivery of the content were very appropriate for the audience.

I’m not sure why Jim Collins spent so much time talking about climbing during the presentation. Beyond the stories about climbing Jim shared a story about visiting West Point that was printed in Inc Magazine that turned out to be a pretty interesting read.[ii] The audience probably would have been pretty happy to just sit around and listen to a series of stories or factoids. The entire presentation really did seem to be anchored by the 12 questions. They stories were just abstract enough for people to process them vs. their current situations.

During the course of listening to Jim Collins talk, I started to think about what 2 hour presentation I would be able to deliver to a room full of people. My stock presentation on allowing leaders to lead, managers to manage, and employees to succeed takes about 20 minutes. That presentation is pretty well defined and rehearsed at this point. I normally follow that up with my 10 minute diatribe on openness and transparency in the workplace. That means that I have about 30 minutes of reasonably well prepared content to present at my disposal. At this point, the things I would want to say to that room would not cover a 2 hour lecture. A secondary question exists related to if the content would be meaningful enough to hold the attention of the room for 2 hours. Beyond just holding the rooms attention it would be a real challenge to get 54% of the room to focus without any multitasking. My Big Hairy Audacious Goal (BHAG) would be to get to a point in my career where I would be able to deliver a 2 hour speech on leadership to a room of 1,500 plus people. I’m not overly sold on how using the BHAG concept could drive things forward, but I’m trying to give it some serious consideration.

I’m working on putting some of my thoughts from the presentation together. For better or worse my thoughts are still in a very raw bullet point format. They need to be flushed out, but that is not happening today. It might be something worth focusing on later this week.

  • One of the items that I plan on researching later on is why it would be dangerous to aggressively study success. That is a take away that I want to spend some more time trying to better understand. The audience seemed to accept that argument, but it seemed like something that deserves to be questioned. Maybe it was something that seemed out of place due to the context.
  • I found it really interesting to hear Jim talk about finding historical matched pairs that have dramatically different outcomes. It was really interesting to think about the possibility of zeroing out circumstances and figuring out what other factors make a difference. A large amount of literature within the management and leadership space should be devoted to the idea, “Never confuse urgency with crisis.” Working with a sense of urgency is an interesting topic to think about. Some people seem to always be more motivated. They approach things with a sense of urgency that can be overwhelming to some coworkers.
  • It was informative to hear somebody talk about what it means to build a great enterprise. You do not often hear somebody openly declare that greatness is not a function of circumstance it is a function of conscious choice and discipline.
  • I thought the following observation about project managers was interesting. Jim said that the one thing about being project driven is that it suspends all existential angst. Everything you do is certain and wrapped around the project.
  • The following quote was brought up at one point. It was noted that Dwight D. Eisenhower once said, “Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.” That quote seemed to stand out from the rest of the content.
  • I really want to spend time focusing on understanding how to put all the brutal facts related to a situation on the table. I’m going to make sure to read the parts of the Good to Great (2011) book that talk about confronting brutal facts.
  • How do you develop a business practice that includes postmortems without blame? People have to be able to explore root causes for issues without making the exploration overly personal.
  • I’m not overly sold on the whole BHAG idea. It seems like an interesting idea, but it seems like something that might evolve via iteration at some point.
  • It was argued that not only should anyone who has a “to do list” also have a “stop doing list”, but also that “to do list” needs to be treated like a balance sheet. Somebody asked Jim during the Q&A about important items from “stop doing lists”. Jim responding by talking about, “Stop hitting send and start hitting save” and something about “stop dwelling on past mistakes.”
  • I’m going to spend some time reading about Peter Drucker.
  • I need to spend some time thinking about how failure is accounted for in projects and what efforts have to be made to manage failure.
  • Every single time somebody asked Jim Collins a question during the Q&A period Jim would take a few moments and think before speaking. A number of the responses seemed to have been repeated from other things. A number of the responses included one to three responses.

At some point this weekend, I’m planning on acquiring a copy of Good to Great (2011). I want to get an actual copy of the book. The other take away item I have from the presentation today was how to use the following item in my everyday routine. I really enjoyed hearing Jim Collins talk about keeping track of how many creative hours a person logs each day. It sounded like Jim really did keep some type of productive hour spreadsheet. That seemed like an interesting thing to keep. It made me ask the question, “How do you hit a goal of logging 1,000 creative hours in a year?” That type of creativity is worth exploring, but it is also somewhat daunting. The real question would be about how that type of productivity translates to work product. 1,000 productive hours could translate to a variety of different things.

[i] Article on “Jim’s 12 Questions” is free in PDF form here http://www.jimcollins.com/tools/TwelveQuestions.pdf

[ii] Jim referenced this article http://www.inc.com/magazine/201310/bo-bulinghamo-burl/jim-collins-re-learns-leadership-at-west-point.html

Denver Convention Center Bear

Denver Convention Center Bear

On the subject of long-form prose

My plan still involves writing about a new topic every day. That will probably remain the plan for some time. However, the long-term plan has been tweaked. All writing efforts moving forward will be focused on producing long-form prose. For example, yesterday the topic of the day was household technology. My first pass at that topic only produced about 1,000 words. I’m going to have to revisit the topic and rewrite parts of it and expand others. That additional effort will help push that passage of prose to over 1,500 words.

Writing long form essays requires a certain degree of passion and persistence. At some point, I want to transition into producing either audio or video content. That type of interest in other mediums seems to pop up from time to time. My last podcast only existed for a few weeks and then essentially disappeared. That might happen again this year at some point. Understanding or forecasting what creative outlet will come into focus never seems to be a good idea. Those other mediums might end up being a secondary creative outlet.

Things are about to change. I am going to force the issue by setting a strict publishing standard of 1,500 to 2,500 words for any weblog post. That standard would dramatically change the way I write. It is a necessary change. Writing a sub 500 word post takes a few minutes and can generally be facilitated via stream of consciousness writing. It just happens. That mode of writing is devoid of planning. Moving to a 1,500 word standard would require a more targeted, focused, and organized approach to writing. That type of rigor could enhance my writing routine. It could be a real step forward.

Everyone has a unique set of knowledge, skills, and abilities. Our experiences change the way we interpret the world around us. I took a step back and started to think about how my knowledge, skills, and abilities are being used every day. I started to assess my potential vs. my current contributions. My recent contributions to the world have not been game changing. I could do more. I should be doing more. On a go forward basis, I need to put in some real effort and make sure my routine helps focus my efforts on doing more. I am hoping that the move to longer form prose will help focus my efforts on more meaningful endeavors. You would have to be incredibly word economic to write a game changing 500 word essay. The argument would have to be game changing, exceedingly elegant, and the prose would have to be very concise.

I could probably write more than 1,500 words related to taking the time to pick the right flight. That is probably not the best use of my time. That type of inquiry would be interesting, but it would probably fall short of being meaningful. For example, writing about how most of the time my airline flight tbooking happens in the afternoon is not very inspiring. It may not resonate with anyone that for some reason in the afternoon it always seems like a good idea to book the earliest flight. Within my world view that pattern of behavior seems very unacceptable this morning. That pattern of behavior does not really tell a compelling story.

I should probably abandon this narrative thread and move on, but that is probably not going to happen. I’m going to continue writing about how earlier this week my flight started boarding at 5:30 AM mountain time. That piece of information setts the state for why I elected to carry my bag on and try to make it to the gate with no time to spare. I actually made it to the gate just after 5:30 AM. I was the last “A” group passenger to board the airplane before the “B” group passengers filled out the baggage racks. On most Southwest Airlines flights the entire “A” group will have overhead bin space. At some point during the boarding process, members of the B group will face a sudden and definite shortage of overhead storage space. It happens pretty much every flight.

Writing longer passages of prose will inevitably involve creating better transitions and pivoting into asides. For example, the bag I took on my flight was a recent acquisition. I picked up a Timbuk2 copilot rolling luggage bag. Picking up a Timbuk2 messenger style bag was a solid purchase. It fits in the aisle seat under chair space on a Boeing 737. The Amazon website provided the best price on the bag. It is lightweight and rugged. The wheels are really quiet on tile vs. the sounds I would expect from rolling my previous bags throughout the country. For the most part I am replacing all of my luggage with Timbuk2 products. I have previously written a review (that is still valid) of my Timbuk2 messenger bag.

Writing about luggage should provide a large enough spectrum of things to keep me occupied. At this point, I must be out of practice. Writing is a habit that has to be nurtured and developed. During the entire flight from Denver to Phoenix I only produced about 1,000 words of prose. That level of output would not meet my new standards for production. Adopting a stance geared toward the construction of longer form prose should also provide additional opportunities for editing my work. Writing for 20 minutes straight then publishing without any editing is probably not the best method to generate readable prose.

Right now it may change my publishing rate for every other day to a few times a week. Taking the time to writing longer pieces of prose is an investment. It is an investment that could pay huge dividends moving forward. I need to me more selective on what I focus on producing. This particular post could be a key turning point. It could be the moment in time when my focus and dedication to my craft start to translate into meaningful and insightful prose. However, it has the potential to just cause my production levels to falter.

Writing a minimum of 1,500 words per topic will require a better selection process for what receives attention. The clouds outside the airplane window are beautiful. The horizon is covered with a larger of clouds that could really hold my attention. Over the years, I have gotten used to looking at the countryside from 35,000 feet. Acceptance of that can of beauty should not diminish any inherent aesthetic value, but inherently the constant presence of that type of beauty starts to diminish our appreciation of it. We accept the world around us and focus on other details.

The things we choose to focus on are incredibly important. For most people one principle interest or focus will come to the forefront of their thoughts. It receives far more attention than anything else in our lives. That reality defines just how important it is to ensure that the right things come to the forefront of the public mind. Right now a snow covered mountain peak just caught my attention. In about 2 minutes it will no longer be in my line of sight. It caught my attention and it was appreciated. It was appreciated up until the moment that the album I was listening to ended. The sounds of the jet engines brought my attention back to picking a new album to listen to and continuing to write.

A daytime flight from Phoenix to Denver involves traveling over a number of mountains. Depending on the weather the views can be absolutely breathtaking. I spend a lot of time up in the air. Views of snow covered mountains from an airplane window are one of the few things that strike me as extremely beautiful during a flight. That might be a point of personal preference or it could be something that is generally accepted as being true. I’m not worried about that distinction at the moment. At the moment, I’m worried about making a solid contribution to the world. This passage of prose and the time that it took to create it was probably well spent.

Airplane window view of the Rocky Mountains

Airplane window view of the Rocky Mountains

Finding larger blocks of time to write will be challenging. Writing a few hundred words is easy. Spending more than 30 minutes writing at time is more challenging. I am going to need to pick a time to write and stick to that schedule. That is my plan. It could end up being a great plan. This cloud be a real turning point.

Working on 1,500+ word articles will inevitably lead to a backlog of ideas. It may be prudent to close each passage of prose with a listing of the next 5 topics understand consideration. The list could be dynamic. The list would not have to be the same each time. It could be a snapshot of a dynamic and constantly evolving list. My interests change from time to time. It would be very problematic to adopt a one out one list of future projects. I think it would be valuable to sign post and really think about keeping a project list. Time needs to be invested in the right projects verses whatever seems to be in the now.

My Coca-Cola Life Review

Buying a 6 pack of Coca-Cola glass bottles conjures up pleasant memories of years past. That positive nostalgia was enough to trigger an impulse purchase at the grocery store of a 6 pack of Coca-Cola Life glass bottles. The green bottles of soda apparently include a mix of real sugar and stevia. I poured some into a glass and was ready to enjoy a refreshing beverage. I have not had any soda products in over 180 days. I was ready to enjoy a few ounces of soda and watch some NBA playoff basketball. Unfortunately, the Coca-Cola Life beverage has a bitter and off-putting aftertaste. The taste lingered for a few minutes and I poured the rest of the glass out in the sink.

Coca-Cola Life bottle

Coca-Cola Life bottle

On Flickr as a photo backup tool

I have been taking a lot of photos with my Nikon D3200 camera. Apparently, the D3200 was a solid purchase back on May 5, 2012. I have been using it for almost 3 years. A quick web search of Amazon bestselling DSLR camera bundles provides the data necessary to indicate that people are still buying that particular model of camera. It really does take better photos than my HTC One Max smartphone. It also takes better photos than Joni’s Samsung Galaxy Note 3. All those photos have to be backed up somehow and somewhere.

My membership on Flickr dates back to March 2005. It is a Yahoo branded service that I still pay for. You can find all of my photos here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nelslindahl. A number of them are publicly viewable. I’m strongly considering using the Flickr service as an additional photo backup tool. It will not be my primary photo backup tool, but it would be a retrieval option. My usage of Flickr dropped off after John Paul was born. The Flickr service is currently hosting 9,233 of my photos. We elected to only share digital photos of John Paul with the closed network confines of Facebook. That pretty much locked down the photos to friends of friends.