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Fish On Fridays IV

March 23, 2012 1 comment

Earlier this week, sometimes-guest-blogger fishypoo submitted some content for today’s entry to BD00 for “approval“.

Here it is, fishypoo’s b’fore and afta “process improvement” flowchart submittal:

With a 2X  increase in delay from input to output and the addition of three new “enabling” actors,

the new process is a slam dunk and a shining example of the value-added that can be achieved from doggedly performing continuous improvement.

Fish On Fridays III

March 16, 2012 Leave a comment

It’s Friday, so it’s time to eat some more fish. Guest blogger “fishmeister” has fried up another tasty treat for you and me to savor.

Firefighter or Fire-proofer: The Tyranny of Today

Software coder.  Designer.  Thinker.

In those jobs, your primary purpose is to take a blank page and fill it with something that solves an identified problem or need. Often, this requires a great deal of cognitive thinking–noodling out an idea ahead of any actual work.  And this takes time.

Unlike a laborer, who’s efforts are immediately apparent as their manual activities produce something tangible, cognitive thinking does not take place on a schedule. You can’t just sit down and say “at 10:30 on Tuesday, I’m going to have a brilliant thought“. It takes time. Sometimes lots of time. And sometimes it happens at odd times when you least expect it.

That ‘eureka moment’ can happen in the car, in the shower, at your desk, in line for coffee–anywhere, anytime. Which brings me to the real reason for this post.

If your work time is spent on putting out fires and solving immediate issues at the expense of thinking strategically about long-term solutions–innovation–you end up getting stuck in the Tyranny of Today–being a fireman instead of a fire-proofer.

Jeffrey Phillips writes a blog that I follow regularly. (BD00’s humble writings and Jeffrey’s are #1 and #2 on my daily morning reading list).  ((I won’t say in which order, though)). 🙂

The other day he wrote about The Tyranny of Today. It resonated with me on so many levels that I had to share it with my boss. He outlines everything that we are currently struggling with in our business every day.

We have a large cadre of Designers in our organization, yet we are always being challenged because we don’t think ‘creatively‘. Our deadlines are short–sometimes less than a day between being given a project and expecting a solution to be generated. This creates a dilemma that up until now, I didn’t quite understand.  Mr. Phillips puts it most succinctly…

…[The tyranny of today is] An “all hands on deck” mentality, which means that all available resources are focused on today’s issues, today’s needs, today’s problems. Ever more efficient operating models have pared organizations to the bone, meaning that anyone not working on today’s issues seem superfluous. Until the new products and services cupboard is bare because no one was working on new products and services.

We’ve created very powerful “business as usual” engines, and increasingly, these engines no longer serve us, we serve them. The BAU models dictate how we think, how we deploy resources and how we reward people. The tyranny of today is based on our business as usual operating models and the perverted ways in which they drive our strategies, our thinking and the way we apply resources.

We live in an immediate-gratification society these days. Technologies surrounding us have been developed to speed up the processes required to get things done. Back when “I was a kid” designer, developing a concept meant several days of pencil sketches, thumbnails, doodling, and eventually working out a refined concept, that required an artistic skill to draw, paint, and color in a visual representation of an idea up to a sufficient level that someone else (with the purse-strings) would be willing to shell out cash for your idea. All this effort meant that you were “off-line” for any other projects that came along, and as a result, the # of Designers and Freelancers in our studio would increase or decrease based on the workload at the time.

These days, I can bang out a 3-dimensional computer model–complete with textures, surfaces, lighting, and visuals–that looks so convincing that you’d think I’d just taken a picture of a real object in the real world. And I can do this in less than an hour. The tech around me has allowed the mechanical process of simulation to occur at the click of a mouse. But my brain still works the same old way.

At the same time, the down economy has meant that we’ve been cutting back on personnel, letting Designers go and not refilling those positions immediately. Those remaining have to just pick up the load. (“Leveraging resources” is the euphemism we hear every day.) Which means that we rely on our tech to an even greater degree just to get today’s workload completed.

As a result, we have bursts where there is more work that is due right now, than we have bodies in place to handle. Which means that in order to get it all done, I have to take off my propeller-equipped beanie hat and put on my fireman’s helmet. And with all the immediate issues of short-term needs–the fires that take place every day-I put out those fires and sacrifice the time needed to think creatively on another project. I become a victim of the Tyranny of Today.

How about you–do you spend your day sitting under an apple tree waiting for the fruit to smack you on your noggin, or do you piss on fires all day? What can you do in your business to escape the pattern and grow?

Fish On Fridays II

By popular demand, he’s back! Who, you ask? Why, it’s guest blogger “my name is a different kind of fish every time I post a comment on BD00’s blawg“. Here’s the second installment of “Fish (Sometimes) On Friday“. Enjoy!

Surrounded by Marching Morons

 The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt.”~Bertrand Russell

I saw that quote on the back door of a tractor trailer while driving down the highway. It wasn’t scribbled by hand in the dirty road buildup – it was actually printed on the truck itself as part of the company’s on-road marketing.  Don’t ask me what the company was. I don’t remember, other than it was some printing/copying company delivery truck.  Not sure how that quote was relevant to their business, but it sure is relevant to mine (and maybe yours?)

Does it ever feel like you’re the only one in your org who knows what’s going on, what needs to be done, and ends up taking care of it because the clowns around you are clueless?

Ayn Rand‘s character John Galt in Atlas Shrugged has this to say:

The man at the top of the intellectual pyramid contributes the most to all those below him, but gets nothing except his material payment, receiving no intellectual bonus from others to add to the value of his time. The man at the bottom who, left to himself, would starve in his hopeless ineptitude, contributes nothing to those above him, but receives the bonus of all of their brains.

I scraped the above from  Mike LaBossiere‘s blog Talking Philosophy where he also says:

…innovations and inventions are developed by relatively few people and then used by the many who generally have little understanding of the technology, science, or theories involved.

All this started tickling the back of my head because I remember reading a short story from a Science Fiction collection back in the days of my youth and for the life of me, couldn’t remember what it was called or who wrote it.

After hours of fruitless explorations of my overloaded bookshelves (I did find an old quarter!), I sat down to an internet search where lo and behold, I uncovered the source of my memory.

Cyril M. Kornbluth published a short story in 1951 (no I don’t have the original, just a late 70’s paperback with a bunch of older recycled stories by Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, etc.) entitled The Marching Morons. I actually found the full text here, but to summarize, The story is set hundreds of years in the future: the date is 7-B-936. A man from the past, John Barlow, is reanimated in this future, where he discovers a fantastic world where people drive around in fancy souped up convertibles at hundreds of miles-per-hour with the wind blowing in their face, but very little makes sense, until he learns that due to a massive population explosion, there are only a small group of intelligent people in the world who struggle to support this ever growing population where the average IQ is around 45. (If you’re interested, you can cheat and read the ‘cliff notes’ synopsis here.)  My favorite part is when he realizes why the wind is blowing in his face, even though it doesn’t feel like he’s traveling very fast.

In my work, as I’ve said before, I’m a designer (with a lower case ‘d’, for style).  I went through lots of schooling to learn my trade – I even have a masters degree.  As a result, I’ve received a great deal of highly specialized training in how to think, look at the world, and solve problems.  Innovate.  All my peers are cut of the same cloth with years of experience, training, and successful problem-solving under our collective belts.  Programmers are the same–you don’t learn code from the back of a crackerjack box.  (or maybe you did, which could be the root of the problem).

Most of the other supporting cast in our company, on the other hand, lack this specialized focus – many have simply fallen into their current management and executive positions by luck, in-the-right-place opportunity, or because they fit the suit.  These are the people who set the parameters of a project, provide the starting information, eventually critique the solution, and the approach to that solution even though they themselves lack the knowledge to effectively ‘drive the bus‘.  And as Adam Bellows says, “… the more incompetent someone is in a particular area, the less qualified that person is to assess anyone’s skill in that space, including their own.”  As BD00’s post on interdisciplinary team effort complexity shows, as a business grows, the seemingly disconnected groups that influence the project direction also lack many of the skills to even complete it, so their own inputs add little relative value to the result other than increasing the size of the output pile – and it’s relative stench.

Fish On Fridays

December 23, 2011 2 comments
Note: Today, on 12/23/11, I’m delighted to present to you the first guest blog entry ever posted on bulldozer00.com. Woot! The following delicious blarticle comes to you from a frequent BD00 blog commenter who logs on using a myriad of creative names with the word “fish” in  them. Could it be Abe Vigoda in disguise?

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Seasons Greetings to the followers of BD00’s blog—Welcome to a not-so-periodic, occasional feature we’re going to call “Fish on Fridays“.

Everyone knows the Bulldozer here puts in a great deal of effort spinning his wheels and blogging about the world as he sees it.  And like everyone, he deserves a break–a vacation if you will.  So here I am pinch-hitting every once in a while so BD00 can enjoy that extra dirty martini over the holidays.

Yesterday’s blog about glorifying the Salesmen and the Accountants spelling the demise of a company got me thinking about the perceptions of the people that “Do” versus the people that “Don’t“.

I’m a creative–not a code jockey like the ‘dozer. I take blank sheets of paper (white-screen on a monitor these days) and I draw up conceptual design solutions to merchandise consumer products in appealing ways and dress up retail environments that will convince consumers to part with their hard-earned cash for that next great thing in the store.

This time of year, there’s always a huge battle that goes on at just about every company, where the people that “Do” decide to take time off from their work and take a well-deserved vacation; a break from the daily grind.  This leaves the people who “Don’t” holding the reigns while those that “Do” are away.  In my company, two things happen.  The people that “Do” (salesmen) all rush in with a whole list of new projects that require the people that “Don’t” to generate a great deal of output while those that “Do” are away.  Generally, this output has a well-defined deadline–the “First of the Year” or “Right after the Holiday“, or “As soon as we get back“.  This allows them to set up a huge flurry of new customer visits and get a ‘fresh start‘ on the year, while they take their break and kick up their feet in the sand with a cooler of Corona’s beside them.

As a result, the people that “Do” go away for a week or two, and the people that “Don’t” have a mad rush of activity that must all be completed right at the time when EVERYONE wants to take a break and enjoy the season.  Usually, this also means short-time frames as there are at least 2 and sometimes 3 or 4 workdays that have been turned into corporate days off, so the actual work-week is truncated and those that “Don’t” actually have much less time to complete their tasks than they normally would. This is compounded by the fact that at least a portion of the people that “Don’t” are also taking time off, leaving a skeleton crew around to cover and handle the work that comes in.

Quite often, particularly when your business activities rely on the support of other businesses  (suppliers, contractors, agencies, etc), everything at this time of year slows down or becomes impossible because everyone is short-handed. You can’t get answers from your customer, the salesperson is unavailable to help, you can’t find stuff, and the outside groups you depend on are unable to respond in the same timely manner as you are used to. As a result, the things you need to do can’t get finished until everyone else gets back and you get to start the year with a whole bunch of extra time in the office, sweating out the details while those who “Do” are off relaxing.

The perception is that there is this great holiday season and everyone should enjoy it, but in the great corporate world of BOZOs the reality is that there is usually one class of workers where the holiday time is one of the busiest and most stressful times of the year. I found this quote from an Apple employee that just about sums it all up…

You can expect that your needs will always come second to “the needs of the business”. In fact, anytime you hear that phrase, be prepared for the next sentence to describe how you’re going to be screwed. For example, “I’m sorry, Joe, but the needs of the business dictate that you can’t take a vacation between October and February, or June through September”.

I am reminded of the movie Ants, where the worker Ants–those that ‘Don’t‘ bust their little exoskeletons to feed the Grasshoppers who ‘Do‘.  There is a quote in this blog attributed to Tom Sutcliffe where he is looking at the recent uprisings in Egypt and comparing them to business. Sutcliffe mentions that:

It seems odd that people will endure, within the framework of a firm or an institution, a degree of subjection and speechlessness that would strike them as insufferable at the level of citizenship and that “office tyrannies” might end up becoming the target of mass uprisings not unlike those that we have been witnessing in the Middle East.

At a forward thinking company, the entire place shuts down for the holidays–no one is left holding the bag.  But with the glorification of those that ‘Do‘ as BD00 discussed, we are creating an internal separation between groups, which is part of the process of demise.  Look at your company and the people around you. Are you someone that “does” or someone that “doesn’t“?  What are you doing for the people on the other side of that equation?

Happy Holidays?

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