Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Interview request: What do C-level executives want from middle managers?

I am working on a magazine article about what C-level executives want from the middle managers that work for them in terms of character traits, experience, and knowledge.

To make the interviews as brief and simple as possible, I am doing most of the interviews via an online questionnaire.

All information will be treated confidentially, and anonymously. Participants will receive a copy of the report I will prepare as a basis for the article.

If you want to participate, send an email to self@henrikmartensson.org, and I will return a link to the questionnaire.

I will not put you on any email list, or spam you in any way. You will get a copy of the report, that is all.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Strategy game play - Using cheng/chi business strategy to create great photos

Can you apply business strategy principles to any strategic game? Yes, you can!

Is it useful to do so? Yes, it is! It teaches you a deep understanding of the principles involved. That understanding will help you apply the principles better in business, in your personal life, and in any other strategic game of your choosing.

The photo above just got selected for the 1x gallery. 1x.com is the world's largest curated gallery. It has attracted some of the best photographers in the world, and it is only the top 3% of the photos submitted that makes it into the gallery.

I took that shot, using strategic principles derived from Strategic Navigation, the business strategy framework originally created by Bill Dettmer. Dettmer based his business strategy framework partly on Maneuver Conflict, a military framework great for dealing with high degrees of uncertainty and complexity, and the Theory Of Constraints, which kicks ass in the domain of complicated cause and effect.

I started using Strategic Navigation, wrote a book about it, and, as consultants are wont to do, tried to make a living by teaching others how to use it.

I found, as many have done before me, that just because you know something really, really valuable and useful, and is willing to share it, other people will want to learn for themselves.

As you may know, I decided to rethink my entire strategy a couple of years ago. I learned photography, because I wanted to build skill using the methods I advocate, while at the same time getting a visible, unambiguous track record. I did of course use the feedback to improve my skills further, using the OODA loop as a guiding framework.

I employed a range of strategic principles, and tactical techniques, to learn to take photos good enough for 1x. Actually, I use 1x.com as a source of feedback, which I feed into the OODA loop.

I'll write only of one of them, because it is a strategic idea that is very visible in the photo: Cheng/chi.

Cheng/chi is an idea from Sun Tzu's Art of War. Cheng means orthodox, and chi means unorthodox. Cheng/chi means that to win in battle, or any strategic game, you need to employ a combination of the orthodox and the unorthodox.

Let's have a look at the cheng, the orthodox, parts of the picture. There are rules for what makes a good photo, and the picture follows them:

  • The rule of thirds: The legs, or rather the knee, where it intersects the shadow, is located one third from the left edge, and one third from the bottom edge.
  • The rule of odds: There are three, evenly distributed, vertical shadows in the photo.
  • The rule of complimentary colors: The bricks in the background are orange, the trouser legs are blue. Orange and blue are complimentary colors, that go well together in a picture. (There is also orange and blue on my business card, and my usual business attire includes a blue shirt and an orange tie. This is not by coincidence...)
That is the meat and potato part of the photo, the bits that correspond to day-to-day business-as-usual in a company.

What is the chi? Better yet, why the chi? The chi part is the surprise, the part that draws attention, the edge over the competition. Everyone knows the cheng, so it is the chi that becomes the decisive advantage over the competition.

The chi in the photo is the visual illusion: The legs seem to be disembodied, living their own life, independent of a torso, and other body parts. There is no image manipulation involved. The illusion worked in real life, as I captured it. (I do a lot of trick photography, but I abide by the rules of the photographic genre I am working in, and cloning out body parts is a no-no in Street Photography.)

I am sure you can figure the illusion out. If you do, why not comment on this blog post?

So, cheng and chi, working together, convinced the curators at 1x that my photo was in the top 3% category.

 This is just the top of the iceberg, of course. For example, humans learn best when learning with other human beings, and when certain conditions are right. I, with several close friends and colleagues, have spent a year and a half building an organization for learning photography and other media skills, and executing advanced media projects.

Without the mentoring I have got from great photographers, like Petri Olderhvit, and Julia Reinhart, in that organisation, I would not have had the technical skill to capture this photo.

Without the skills I have learned from my business strategy mentors, I would not know enough about serendipidity to be able to stack the odds in my favor, so that I can take interesting street photos, not only once, or twice, in a good while, but repeatedly.

Working with photography has also allowed me to build contacts of a kind different from those I make as a business consultant, but at least as useful, and fun.

I will write more about that, but not now. I have got tons of work to do.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Falsification - A gullibility defense

"When there is no time to think, you cannot think." Quote by Tim, my 9 year old son. Photo: Henrik Mårtensson
Unless you live alone in a cave in the mountains, you are awash in a flood of ideas, from the time in the morning when you greet your significant other, or start up your computer, to the moment you fall asleep at night.

Some of those ideas will be good ones. Once in awhile, very rarely, you will encounter a great idea. Most ideas, however, are bad ones. They range from doing minor harm, to being lethally dangerous.

Unfortunately, our brains are designed to be rather gullible. We tend to believe stuff, even if there is little or no evidence. We tend to believe simple ideas, and disregard ideas that take significant mental effort. However, reality can be quite complex. Simple does not mean true, or even likely. If we want to avoid getting into trouble because of bad ideas, we need defense mechanisms against our innate gullibility.

Some time ago, I wrote about why management models are useful. One of the models I wrote about, the Deming system, lists epistemology, knowledge about knowledge, as a field of knowledge vital to managers. The reason is that epistemology has some excellent gullibility defense tools, or, if you will, tools for bullshit detection.
Human brains tend to favor extreme predictions, either extremely optimistic, or extremely pessimistic.  Project duration estimates are often overly optimistic. So are most people's estimates of winning big on lotterys. At the pessimistic end, we find end-of-the-world scenarios. Photo: Henrik Mårtensson 
One of these tools, falsification, provides a defense against a common cause of bad judgement: inductive reasoning. Inductive reasoning is the process of deriving a general rule based on a limited set of observations. Inductive reasoning is inherently uncertain, because it is always possible that if we make one more observation, it would break the rule.

Here is a classic example of inductive reasoning:
All of the swans we have seen are white.
Therefore, all swans are white.
–John Vickers
However, the conclusion that all swans are white can be proven false. Finding one black swan is enough.
A Black Swan. Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. From Wikimedia Commons.

This is very interesting if you are an ornithologist, but what if you are a manager?

Well, companies are designed according to rules, There are rules for how to organize a company, rules for how to design processes, rules for what to do, and rules for how to do it, and rules for what not to do.

These rules are rarely questioned, but most of them are "white swan" rules. That is, someone has made a limited set of observations, and then devised a general rule based on those observations. Applying them uncritically can lead to disaster.

Here are some examples:
Toyota did certain things, and was very successful. Therefore, if we do the same things, we too will be successful.
In 1948 Toyota embarked upon a complex process of trial and error, and developed a set of tools, techniques, an organisation, and a culture, that worked for them. The end result of that process, without the process itself, is not necessarily what your organisation needs to solve your problems in 2015.

If you can find a company that implemented Lean without becoming successful, you have falsified the rule.
Whatever we make, we can sell. Therefore, items in stock are assets.
A basic assumption of Cost Accounting, which was developed around 1920.
Whatever we make is difficult to sell. Therefore, items in stock represent debt.
 A basic assumption of Throughput Accounting, developed around 1990.

Here you get the opposite assumptions, because the rules have been induced from different sets of observations. You can't pick the accounting model appropriate for you unless you understand which assumption is true for you. Even then, you cannot be certain one of the assumptions is always right.
Whenever I praise people their performance gets worse. Whenever I yell at them, their performance gets better. This is always the case. Therefore, I should yell at people, but not praise them. 
When a person performs a task exceptionally well, it is likely future performance will regress to the mean. The same thing happens when a person performs a task exceptionally badly. Future performance regresses to the mean. This is just statistics.

The rule above is completely false, and the long time effects are the opposite of what the rule says. See Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, if you are interested in more details about this example.

However, this observation is one of the underlying assumptions of Scientific Management, and it is related to the idea of enforcing compliance, which is something many companies do routinely.
I used a homeopathic remedy and got well. So did Susan, and Patrick, and Jane. Therefore, homeopathy works. 
Confusing correlation with cause-effect. Can be caused by apophenia rather than inductive logic.
We increased cost effectiveness, and profitability increased. We increased cost effectiveness again, and profitability increased again. Therefore, we should always increase cost effectiveness.
Works only up to the point where reduced capacity costs are balanced by increased queueing costs. 

All of these rules are either completely invalid, or valid only under certain conditions. Working out a better mental model can be difficult. For example, working out a better rule than "increasing cost effectiveness will always increase profitability", or "homeopathic remedies work", requires a fairly sophisticated understanding of mathematics, in the fields of queueing theory, and mathematical variation respectively.

However, finding a clue that something is wrong with these ideas is much easier. If you can find a single instance where the rule did not work, then the rule is under suspicion. That is falsification.

Here is the essence of falsification:
No matter how many observations you make that confirm a rule derived from inductive reasoning, the rule may still be false. You need only make one observation that does not fit the rule, to prove the rule wrong.
Thus, if you can find an instance where a company could not sell what they had in stock, or could sell what they had in stock, or a case where someone was praised, and went on to do something very well, or was yelled at, and still continued to perform badly, or used a homeopathic remedy that did not work, or a company that increased cost effectiveness without becoming more profitable, then you have managed to falsify at least one of the rules above.

Falsification can be a powerful defense against management cargo cult, but also against pseudo-science, racism, sexism, idiotic legislation, empty election promises, propaganda...

If you can express something as a falsifiable statement, you can test it. Falsification won't tell you what is true, but it can clue you in to what is false. This makes falsification an important tool for distinguishing between facts and false beliefs.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why smart people get depressed, and what you can do about it

About a week ago I posted an article on the IHM Business School blog about an important, but very taboo subject.  At more than 15,000 unique page views the first few days, it is probably the most read article I have ever written. With more than 130 comments on the IHM Blog, it is certainly the most discussed.

I was amazed, not only that the article arose such interest, but of the very thoughtful responses, and how many people that have had similar experiences.

Leif Claesson, one of the commenters, even took the trouble to translate the article into English.

Because of the interest in the original article, I am publishing Leif's translation here.

Here is a link to the original article on the IHM Business School blog.


This was a very difficult article to write. If you prefer reading easy pieces regarding easy subjects, you should skip this one.

Robin Williams recent suicide, received a lot of coverage. The speculations with regards to why one of the world’s most gifted comedians would take his own life have spanned the entire gamut from “cowardice”, an unfortunate statement from a news anchor, to depression, resulting among other things from the fact that Robin Williams had been diagnosed with Parkinsons.

“Depression is an illness” say many well-meaning people, and “we have to start talking about it”.

It’s actually only half correct. Depression is not an illness! Depression is a collection of symptoms. It is however correct that we have to start talking about it.
Depression can have many different causes, for example physical brain damage, and a genetic disposition for depression. That type of depression can be treated medically and therapeutically. There is a third cause. A cause that is so taboo that not even the ones who say they want to talk about depression, want to talk about this particular one.

It’s a type of depression that afflicts highly talented and intelligent people. Highly intelligent people are often depressed, but certain research has shown that they commit suicide with lower IQ. One possible explanation is that intelligent people more often find concrete and workable solutions to desperate problems. They are more introspective and can monitor and understand their own emotional reactions in a way that most people cannot. Another explanation is that smart people often have smart friends. They know how to express their feelings, and they have friends who understand what they mean. This creates safety valves which not every person has.

But, if smart people really have a higher than average resistance to depression, what is it that makes them depressed more often? What can one do about it as a manager?

Let’s start by trying to wear a smart person’s shoes. I’m not talking about real geniuses, but about people with an IQ of about 120 and up.
The average IQ level is 100. A person with an EQ of 120 is above the 95th percentile, but we all tend to use ourselves as a reference. A smart person often views himself as fully normal. For the highly intelligent, it is average people that look weird: Doesn’t like to think, has trouble with simple mathematics, cannot create logical models, does not understand elementary statistics, cannot think critically, never attains a high level of competency in any particular field, isn’t curious, has no endurance for learning new things…

To illustrate the difference: Many people photograph their food and post the pictures on Facebook. It usually looks rather disgusting. I’ve never quite understood why people do that, but I figured I’d give it a try. If I did it myself, perhaps I could gain a better understanding.

Just taking a picture was of course too boring, so in order to make things interesting I decided to challenge myself: Create a short cooking show. Record and edit everything on an iPad, just to see if it was possible. To heighten the challenge, simultaneously record both a Swedish and an English version. How did it go? Rather well for an amateur video, thank you. If you want to see a show about how to cook Paccheri with minced meat sauce, drop me a line in the comments and I will post the link.

The point is that above-average performing individuals make more of an effort, almost whatever the subject. Others often appreciate the result, but want no part of the process.

If the work that the above-average performing individual results in others having to alter their workflow, the reaction is often negative: “We’ve never had to do that before.” Often there is a return to the old way of doing things, no matter how bad the old way was.

On top of that, one is inundated with “good” advice: Don’t think so much, dumb down your resume, try to be more like other people, stop dreaming, do as you’re told (no matter how stupid that is)…

Have you seen the movie Dumb and Dumber? Imagine living in a world where 19 out of 20 people you meet are like the main characters of that film.

A world like that is no fun to live in! For many people high intelligence is a curse, a torment that means you can never fit in, cannot laugh about the same things as others, cannot agree with others, cannot sit and chit-chat with others at parties… One becomes uncomfortable and therefore one goes to the trouble to find out why, when most would just accept the status quo.

A normal brain is designed to save energy. As the frontal lobes activate, the pain center of the brain also activates. This is why many people think solving math problems is uncomfortable. This is also why many people consider talking to intelligent people to be an uncomfortable experience. It’s difficult to follow the logic, evaluate facts and see correlation.

It’s not much fun for smart people either. It’s not fun to present a logical thought process, only to see the face of the person you’re talking to distort into a painful expression. Even worse when the person you’re talking to is a friend, relative or colleague.

So, you learn. You learn to hide what you’re thinking, to always wear a poker face. Never let down your guard at work, around relatives, when you’re out among people. Only among a small subset of people, those who suffer the same affliction as yourself, can you relax.

A good friend connected me with one of his friends, who happens to be a highly skilled mathematician. My good friend doesn’t live in my home town of Gothenburg, but the mathematician does, so we went out for coffee together. It took more than eight hours. We were both so starved to have a conversation with someone, without having to adapt, without slowing down, without having to be afraid of not being understood.

And, please note, I’m not all that smart! The problem is that much worse for people with really high intelligence.

I have a friend who is a brilliant programmer. Early in his career, he was an international troubleshooter at a well-known American technology corporation, and travelled anywhere there was a difficult-to-solve problem to be found. He has a photographic memory, speaks seven languages, is nice and pleasant, and enjoys working with others. He is even a good dancer.

Unfortunately, it was difficult for him to find a job for many years. Nobody wanted to hire him. Other programmers didn’t want to work with him. As he told me the story, I was bewildered. I’ve worked with him, and pair-programmed with him. He’s one of the two best pair-programming-partners I’ve ever had the honor of working with. So, why was he ill liked? Simply because when he is part of the team, it becomes impossible for anyone else to retain any illusions of their own competence.

Not that I could either. After working a day with him, my brain was like a wrung washcloth. And the next day, and the next, and the next… and I loved it! Fantastic challenges, every day. It was one of the most educational and most developmental periods of my life. For someone with low self-esteem, on the other hand, it could have been devastating.

He never did manage to find a job in Sweden. He finally moved abroad to find employment.

I once applied for a job at a large Swedish corporation. As part of the procedure I had to take an intelligence along with many other applicants. Afterwards, two of the testers took me aside. One of them asked me:

“Do you have any idea how intelligent you are?”

“No,” I said. I had a serious cold, my head was pounding, my nose was running, and I felt anything but smart.

After some time, I found out my application was not accepted. I assumed they had been looking for smarter people than me, but about a year later I talked to a recruiter who was very familiar with both the tests and the company:

“The tests purpose is to filter out people with excessive intelligence and initiative,” he said.

They simply didn’t want to have too smart people among the employees. Too great a risk that they have ideas of their own. Note that this was a technology company.

Many years have passed since that intelligence test, but I recently ran into another “knowledge company” which rejects people with a high level of knowledge. When they hire managers they filter out applicants with knowledge of Deming’s knowledge model: An appreciation of a system, understanding of variation, psychology, and Epistemology, or a theory of knowledge.

Reject! This is akin to searching for writers but only hiring illiterates.

I do realize that it’s not a direct goal to have incompetent managers, it’s just that the people responsible for hiring do not have a knowledge model to reference the applicants against. (Oh yes, I’ve checked, there is no other knowledge model either. It really is “no knowledge model”.) When they run across phrases they are unfamiliar with, such as “An appreciation of a system”, the reaction is negative.

No wonder intelligent people are often disillusioned and depressed. You throw yourself into working life to pitch in, help people, accomplish something good, and rather brusquely find out that the only thing that counts is the ability to fit into the system.

The first few years the effects are hardly noticeable, but it’s easy to let one-self wear down over time. When you’re young you fight the battles. When you’re a bit older you learn to choose which battles are worth fighting. Eventually there comes a time where you start thinking that, even though you have exactly the same need to participate and belong as everyone else, it’s just too strenuous. You pull away. Withdraw from associations, lose touch with friends, and at work you hide in your office. You stop presenting ideas or make suggestions because you know they will only result in fruitless arguments.

The need to think and do things is still there, but the possibility of finding an outlet for the energy withers away. Yet you become more and more isolated.

A few years ago, I had an idea: I realized how to reduce the energy consumption of the average home by 10-20%. Wise from the experience of previous attempts, I did the following: “I wrote the idea down, printed it on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope, and mailed the letter to myself. When I received the letter, I put it in my book shelf, and that’s where it stays. I’m not going to do anything with it. A year or so ago I heard of a team in the states who is working on an almost identical idea. I wish them success. (Update from Henrik: After I wrote the article, an Innovation company has expressed some interest, so I am going to present the idea for them after all. I can't stay grumpy all the time.)

Nowadays choose easier ways to express my creativity. I choose things I can handle myself, or with a small group of interested friends. I avoid things that require people outside the inner circle to think, because it usually ends badly.

Does it sound cruel and egotistical? Is my view of humanity all too dark? Let me tell you about the last time I engaged myself in something important.

I was working on risk analysis and discovered that a product at a company had a design flaw: The operator could end up in a position where he must make a crucial decision first, and only afterwards get the information which would have been the basis of the decision. Unfortunately lives could depend on the decision of the operator. That is, the wrong decision could have deadly consequences. I started evaluating competing products and found that they performed in the correct order. Then, I noticed the same procedural error was in the next generation of product the company was in the process of developing.

I sounded the alarm. Which resulted in: Nothing at all! Nobody wanted to correct the problem, because that might have led to extra administrative work. Implied: They might have to recall already sold units. It could also lead to the authorities critically looking into the company. They didn’t even want to correct the problem in the next generation of products, because that would be admitting that something was wrong.

This wasn’t the only problem at the company which could cause death. You can probably guess what happened when I tried to start these discussions.

So, you live and learn!

Depression because of these kinds of events is no illness. It’s simply a normal response to the situation. Once the depression is there, it in itself of course becomes yet another reason to stay depressed. It feeds itself. Additionally, if the self-esteem is tied to the ability to perform, as it often is, there’s the perpetual worry to lose the ability to think clearly, and that the energy to get things done may never return.

So, what can you as a manager do in order for highly intelligent employees not to break down?

It’s actually very simple: Let them floor it and go full speed, even if the rest of the company is still traveling by horse and carriage.

Within the field of strategy there is a very important principle, the Interaction and Isolation principle:
Strengthen the bonds between your own forces and allies, isolate your enemies.
The principle applies to war, chess, love, revenge, and business. You need to strengthen the bonds between the high-performing individuals in your organization. You must also isolate them from those who can, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt them. Thus, you have to make it easy for the high-performers to find each other, and organize themselves. You must also protect them, because people around them often feel threatened.

I’ve worked in environments like this. We employees were told which tasks had to be performed, but we ourselves got to organize ourselves and figure out the best way to get the job done. This resulted in us studying work methodology, organization, queueing-theory, psychology, and a host of other things. We then applied this knowledge in practice and learned how to work as efficiently as possible.

It would not have been possible for a manager to get close to organize us as effectively. We became a tightly welded gang. We made use of each other’s strengths, and we helped eliminate weaknesses.

It was fun to go to work in the morning, and sad to leave in the evening. When we were in the middle of a project, our bosses used to walk rounds in the evening and order people to go home. On Friday you couldn’t wait until Monday.

One more example:

My first real job was as a programmer at a marketing department. This was quite a while ago, so programmers were regarded as slightly mythical creatures. Not quite as rare as unicorns, but still magical. I was seventeen and knew better: I didn’t feel magical at all.

I’d learned to program by reading programming books at the library, and writing programs on paper. The school I attended had a computer room, but students had no access. Luckily there was this one teacher who didn’t mind smuggling those of us who were really interested inside. Qualified for product development I definitely was not, but all I could do was to try.

The first time I met the boss of the marketing department, he said: “I don’t know the first thing about programming, so I’m not going to tell you what to do. If you tell me what you need, I’ll take care of it.” He then took me out to one of the company’s customers, so that I could learn not only what needed to be built, but why.

It was wonderful! Many years passed before it finally dawned on me that most managers do not work this way.

When I subsequently worked on the project, I got to do it at my own pace. I stayed closely in touch with the hardware developers, but had no unnecessary brakes. The result? It went well! Everybody was satisfied beyond expectations, the work was done on time, and there were no bugs.

I’ve seen many companies where skilled managers have managed to create habitats where creative people can work without someone souring as soon as they get a new idea. Unfortunately these habitats are often dependent on individual managers. They’re not a part of the structure of the organization as a whole.

It’s also risky. A good manager gets loyal workers and a highly effective organization, but it’s also easy to make enemies. The manager who built that first effective organization I just told mentioned, where you didn’t want to go home at night, was reassigned in a subsequent reorganization. He quit about a year later.

I wish I could give you a recipe. Five easy steps that ensures the well-being of the people who work for you. Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. You can do a lot of good things just by caring, helping with practical things, help the person find meaningful tasks and connect them with other high-performing individuals. The truth is of course that you need to have a strong position in your own organization in order to implement this without risking your own job and your own career.

You have to be the type of person who puts ethical principles before the instinct to fit in and be like everyone else. This of course means it’s likely that you yourself is a high-performing individual and have yourself experienced the problems that other high-performing individuals experience.

Good luck!


Don’t forget to write in the comments if you want to see how to cook Paccheri with minced meat sauce.

Note: A lot of people have asked about Paccheri with mincemeat sauce. Here is a link to the video: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=2572665214719&set=vb.1796957830&type=3&theater

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Why gifted people commit suicide

Robin Williams at the Stand Up for Heroes charity benefit in 2007. Photo was taken by John J. Kruzel/American Forces Press Service, and placed in the public domain. Downloaded from Wikimedia.
I used to think the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It's not. The worst thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel all alone. 
Lance Clayton (Robin Williams) in World's Greatest Dad, 2009. Written by Bob Goldthwait.
By now I am sure you have heard that Robin Williams, a brilliant actor and comedian, took his own life on August 11, 2014. His death has sparked an incredible amount of discussion and speculation about the causes. The opinions I have seen range from the incredibly stupid (he killed himself out of cowardice), to the well meaning, but wrong (he suffered from depression, which is a disease, and it killed him).

Out of all the pieces I have read about the death of Robert Williams, only one gets it right, Why Funny People Kill Themselves, by David Wong at Cracked.

However, there is more to it. Wong focuses on comedians, but the causes apply to anyone who deviates from the norm. Humans are social animals. We need other people. If we cannot connect, we get depressed.

This means depression is not in itself a disease. It is a symptom! Depression can have many different causes. There may be organic damage, a genetic disposal to a chemical imbalance, or you may be a perfectly healthy individual getting depressed because you are in an unbearable situation.

Being isolated from other people is one of the hardest things to bear.

Your default level of happiness and energy may be very high, but if you cannot build close relations with other people, you may still get depressed.

People who are smart, dedicated and principled are often shut out and isolated. Thus, they are prone to depression. There does not have to be any disease involved, no genetic or physical damage. Just isolation will do the trick.

Why do intelligent people become isolated? Neuroscientific research has showed that the human brain is designed to save energy whenever possible. Thinking requires a lot of energy. So does diligent practice.

Thinking actually triggers the pain center of the brain. No wonder solving math problems is perceived as very unpleasant by a majority of the population.

Intelligent people tend to have active brains. They delve deep into problems. They notice inconsistencies other people pass by. They come up with solutions instead of ignoring the problems. They spend many thousands of hours practicing their skills.

Most people do not want to do that. While everyone loves their results, normal people do not want to spend time with people much smarter than themselves, at work, or in their spare time. It is mentally exhausting, and actually painful. Thus, avoiding smart, dedicated, principled people becomes an autonomous response to the pain caused by the thinking, and other activities, required to keep up with them.

Thus, intelligent people will find themselves rebuffed or ignored, over and over again. They soon learn that reaching out, at work or in their own time, is to invite rejection.

No single one of these rejections is likely to cause a significant mood change, but tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, will.

Even a very resilient mind can, over time, be bent and broken by a barrage of tiny, and not so tiny, rejections.

Having strong principles can cause the same kind of rejection as high intelligence. People with strong principles are often unwilling to go along with illegal or scatterbrained schemes because someone in authority tells them to. They may be unwilling to go along with group consensus, if the group is clearly wrong.
Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.
Steven Winterburn (often incorrectly attributed to William Gibson
Depression is a mood, and moods are, to a large extent, dependent on our surroundings. Thus, if you are depressed, the cause is likely to be external. If not in whole, at least to a significant part.

If you are highly intelligent, and depressed, you may need smarter friends and workmates. Because you spend most of your time awake at work, finding a job with better colleagues, not necessarily with a better job description, may be your best move.

Same thing with friends. Which ones lift you up? which ones bring you down? Not to forget, take a long, hard look at yourself. Are you a positive influence in their lives? Don't assume that you are. Observe! Study your interactions.

There will be good days and bad days, but on the whole, try to create feedback loops that bring you a positive mood and the energy to do things. And, don't be afraid to let your friends help you. Your real friends will do that, just as you would help them.

Actually, helping others is one of the best ways to lift your own mood. Be a bit careful though. Some people will not understand when you are doing them a favor, or going out of your way to do a kindness.

Giving a small amount of money to a beggar will generally work. Giving serious advice on process improvement when someone asks for it is far more risky. If you do not tell people what they want to hear, or force them to think, they are liable to interpret it as hostility.

If you are a highly intelligent person, if you study and practice, and hone your skills, if you do your best to be kind and thoughtful, and yet, you are often rejected. If people like you less the more skilled you become, if they reject you when you hold on to principles you thought you shared with them, if you feel depressed by it, even to the point of wanting to end it, you may be surrounded by assholes.

Try to get a job with better colleagues. Spend more time with your true friends. If you do not have any, make more of them. Surround yourself with brilliant misfits!

I am in the process of doing just that. If you are interested in how I do it, or want to share your own experiences, please do comment on this article.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

The Lost World – A vacation project

I recently had to jump head first from a cliff to escape a T-Rex. I am on vacation, and I can't stand having nothing to do, so, I decided to run a little vacation project. Because I am interested in photography, never outgrew my fascination with dinosaurs, and read the occasional comic, I decided on a Lost World photo comic project.

If you are into management, I highly recommend running a non-profit, all volonteer project now and then. Because people won't get paid in coin, you have to do something else: You have to make it interesting and educational.

You also have to find the right people: People who share your interests. Preferably people who get a bit obsessed when they are doing something interesting. They need to be creative, and learners willing to try new things. Oh, and they have to be able to work well together.

The Plan: The Lost World

Running from dinosaurs
When I was a child I read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's book The Lost World (Wikipedia article) about an expedition that finds dinosaurs on an isolated mountain plateau in South america.

Doyle's book spawned an entire literary genre. Edgar Burroughs (Pelucidar), Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park) and many others have written Lost World genre books. Doyles's book has been filmed eight times, directors who have made genre movies include Steven Spielberg (Jurassic Park) and Peter Jackson (King Kong).

Writing a Lost world book would not be original enough. Making a movie would be fun, but also much too expensive. There was however another option. 

One of my little hobbies, is photography. My idea was to make a Lost world photo comic. I knew it would be possible to accomplish this with a very small budget.

Putting the team together

Team members clockwise from the left: Petra Brewitz, Petri Olderhvit, Jesper Andersson, and Robert Johannesson. Not in the photo: Marie Eriksson and Lennart Guldbrandsson.
For this project I knew I would need help. I needed to put together a team of dedicated people, willing to do a lost world project just for the fun of it.

I have spent about eight months building a loosely coupled network of photographers. When I come up with one of my over-the-top photography projects, this is where I go to recruit.

Anyone in the network can initiate any kind of event, ranging from having lunch, to launching a major project. Of course, most members are not interested in the more advanced, and time consuming projects, but with 120 members, we do have a pretty good base to recruit from.

Thus, recruiting for the project was pretty easy. I wrote a one page proposal, and published it in our Facebook group.

I also put the ad out in a couple of other forums. While a few people responded and joined, when it came down to the crunch, the people showing up where already members of the photography network. The exceptions are Lennart and Marie. Lennart is an old friend, and Marie just happened to be in a café where we held a meeting. She was interested in the project, and joined up.

Prestudy and planning

We did not have the budget, nor the time, for a Hollywood movie quality project. I decided to simplify a bit. I would have liked to go with 3D dinosaurs, but we simply did not have the prerequisite 3D modelling skills.

Instead, I opted for a much simpler solution: Toy dinosaurs. The toy manufacturer Schlecht makes a line of very realistic dinosaurs. we could use them, and use digital composition to make people and dinosaurs interact.

Good as they are, close up the Schlecht dinosaurs are not quite photo realistic. It is possible to fix this by digitally adding skin, but it is very time consuming. Also, compositing people into a miniature set, or a miniature into a full scale set, is difficult and time consuming.

A simpler solution is to change the viewers expectations: A photo is expected to be realistic, but a drawing is not. Converting a photo into a drawing is a quick and easy process, so that is the route I decided to go.

Even with this simplification, we'd have plenty of challenges.

Lots of planning, but very little scheduling

After each session, I update the panels we have shot. When all panels are done, the project is done!

For a project like this, a plan is indispensable. A long term schedule, on the other hand, is not. There is a lot of uncertainty in a project like this, and this makes long term scheduling inappropriate.

Instead, I made a plan: I layouted the entire story, as a comic, with empty panels, and brief descriptions of what was to go into each panel. I also scripted the dialogue.

This gave us a framework to work with. It also gave us a lot of flexibility. If something changes, adapting the outline is quick and easy.

We do have to schedule photo sessions, of course, but these are scheduled with rather short notice. We use a Facebook chat to discuss scheduling and other topics, and then schedule an event when we are as certain we can be that everyone needed will be able to attend.

If you are familiar with agile planning methods, you will recognize the similarities.

So far, so good!

After each major session, I put together a collage. I publish the collage in the photography group. The purpose is dual: It keeps everyone informed that the project is progressing, and it may entice more people into joining future projects.
As of now, we have had six photo sessions, and we are more than half-way through the project. There is a lot of photo editing and compositing work to be done, but that is no problem. The priority is to get the principal photography done.
A sample page from the comic.
The project has begun to attract some attention, from dinosaur buffs, photographers, and also from the IHM Business School in Gothenburg. I blogged about the project there, and they asked for pictures to publish, which I of course sent them.

I still have a bit of vacation left, so now it is back to the project for me.

Be seeing you!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Management models - Why they are useful

Put yourself in the shoes of a CEO. What is your primary goal? There are many different ideas about that, but I like this one:
To ensure that the organisation can survive and thrive on its own terms!
Not my idea by the way, but the idea of Colonel John Boyd, U.S. Air Force.

No matter what goal you, as the CEO of your organisation, subscribe to, you have a problem:
How do you make the organisation move in the right direction?
One of your most important tools is the set of managers in the organisation. According to Gallup, companies recruit the wrong kind of talent for management jobs 82% of the time.

Why is that? Gallup puts it down to failure to identify the right personality traits, or talent. Though that is probably true, it is unlikely to be the whole truth. There is another thing that matters:
Skill matters!
Talent alone won't make a manager great, or even good. Talent is just a measure of the aptitude a person has for a certain kind of tasks. To be good at it, it is necessary to develop the right skill set. Before you can do that, you need to figure out what the right skill set is.

That is what this article is about: How to identify the skills that will enable your managers to be really great.

Try to stay in the role of CEO throughout reading this article. The managers work as an extension of your brain. (Or, you are part of the same organisational hive mind, depending on how you view the organisation.) Managers are supposed to detect and correct problems, and continuosly strive to innovate and improve the organisation.

That takes skill. Actually, it requires a fairly complex set of skills. Your managers must hone their skills to a quite high level to be efficient. If the managers are unskilled, or have the wrong skills, your organisation, and your own job security, is toast.

Therefore, you, the CEO, need to think about the skills you want your managers to have,

That is where management models come in! Models are useful because they help us visualise, and think about things. Management models help us think about management.

Specifically, a management model can help when hiring or training managers. As the CEO of a large company you cannot personally oversee all hiring and training, but you can, and should, make sure that the people who do use relevant models.

There are many such models. The ones I write about in this article are models I have found useful. They are by no means the only useful models.

Beware of models that don't work!

Many organisations have only implicit models for how management, or any other kind of work, works. The problem with implicit models is that it is very difficult to see if they really work or not. It is taken for granted that they do. Often they don't!

For example, during my more than 25 years as a software developer I maintained a work portfolio, showing things I had done, from design, to code samples. Not once in my career, not once, did any recruiter or HR person want to see my portfolio.

Hiring a programmer without looking at code is like hiring a juggler without actually seeing the person juggle anything. It is completely daft, and yet it is common practice.

The problem is that many organisations delegate hiring and training to separate departments, but in these departments very few people have the skill nessesary to assess the level, or relevance, of the skills of the applicant.

The people who were assessing me had no clue how to distinguish a great programmer from a poor one. Instead, they fell back on checklists of tools and frameworks, i.e. things a programmer learns very quickly, and have very little to do with the ability to work well with other programmers, solve programming problems and write code that works, and can be maintained.

To assess the skill of a knowledge worker you often need to have the same skill yourself, at a very high level. This means you have to be a highly skilled programmer to assess the skill of other programmers, and a highly skilled manager to assess the skill of other managers.

Think about it: How would you estimate the competence level of an aircraft pilot, a surgeon, a chef, or an optician, just by talking to them? Unless you yourself have relevant skills at a fairly high level, it is not possible to do it reliably.

Same thing with managers!

To make it even more difficult, most of us overestimate our own skills. We know what we know, and that is what we make our assessment based on. We have no way to assess the importance of the things we don't know, because we don't know them. This is sometimes called The Asognosic's Dilemma.

If you have a good model as a base, you can at least get started in the right direction. You know what you need to learn. By comparing your model with other models, you can begin to understand where the gaps are, and how to fill them in.

So, let's look at some management models.

Fayolism, the Classic

Henri Fayol divided management into six functions
Henri Fayol described a management model in his 1916 book General and Industrial Management. Fayol divided management into six functions, and laid out fourteen principles for managers to follow. In this article, I'll just briefly discuss the functions, and the skills necessary to execute them.

Now, let's do some magic: We can look at Fayol's model and figure out what kind of skills are necessary to perform the six functions. There is more than one way to do this. there are different skills that can support the same function. A function can also be interpreted differently depending on the situation, and the skill and background of the person doing the interpretation.

When Fayol's book was translated from French to English, there was an error in translation. This error caused a fundamental change in the ideas about how to manage:

The French word "contrôle" means "check", or "inspection". "Contrôle" was translated into the English word "control", which means "to influence or direct people's behavior". Thus, the idea that a manager must know how to inspect results was replaced by the idea that a manager must direct people's behavior.

That is a pretty big change. For the purpose of this article, I am retaining Fayol's original meaning:

Fayole's management functions mapped to management skills. This is a modern interpretation. Most of these skills  did not exist in 1916.
Of course, you do have to be familiar with the skills in the figure to be able to assess their relevance. For example, why is statistics relevant to planning? It is partly because of the Planning Fallacy, the tendency for people and organisations to underestimate the time and cost of projects.

Nobel prize laureate Daniel Kahneman, and his colleague Amos Tversky, showed that the key to avoiding the planning fallacy is to use statistical methods of planning. However, this does require that managers have a basic grasp of statistics.

Queueing Theory is also important, because once a project is under way, and the workload builds up, processes will start to exhibit non-linear phenomena that has a great effect on time and cost. Knowing Queueing Theory allows a manager to avoid a great part of the adverse effects. It also has a great impact on how processes are designed.

However, if you do not know about statistics and Queueing Theory, there is no way to assess their importance. Of course, it is the same thing with Systems Thinking, Network Science, and Psychology.

Do you agree with my mapping of skills to functions? If not, still thinking as a CEO, what skills would you map to these functions?

Even more importantly, is Fayol's model still relevant? A lot has changed since 1916.

Deming's System of Profound Management

Deming's System of Profound Knowledge
After WW II Japan set about rebuilding their devastated country. The result was unprecedented economic growth throughout the 1950's through the 1980's. (And unfortunately an economic bubble that burst in 1991, and caused a decade long depression.)

W. Edwards Deming, an American statistician was sent to Japan by General Douglas MacArthur to help with the 1951 Japan Census. While he was there, Deming taught hundreds of Japanese engineers and managers Statistical Process Control  (SPC) and concepts of quality.

Some of the people taught by Deming were top management, like Akio Morita, co-founder of Sony.

In the 80's, Japan became so successful it was a threat to the U.S. economy. Deming developed a knowledge system for managers that was designed to enable U.S. industry to catch up again. His 1980 book Out of the Crisis is one of the most influential management books ever.

By Deming's time much had changed compared to the world Fayol lived in. And, new sciences had emerged, which enabled Deming to be more specific as to the skill set a manager would need.

Deming designed his management model in a manufacturing society. Since then, we have moved into the information age, so the skill sets of managers would need to evolve and adapt.

What would Deming's system look like if he had created it today?

Deming's knowledge system updated for the information age. Neuroscience and Complexity Thinking have contributed greatly to the understanding of management over the past 10-15 years.

Amazingly, these skills are still rare among managers. They are more common among management consultants, although I must admit, we consultants far to often focus on sales skills so much that the skills for getting the job done are in danger of atrophying.

Mintzberg on Managing

Henry Mintzberg's 2009 management model
Henry Mintzberg is considered to be one of the world's foremost experts on management. In his 2009 book Managing, Mintzberg presented a management model based on his research.

Mintzberg's management model with mappings to to skills and entities in Tempo!

I read Mintzberg's book while working on my own book Tempo!. Tempo! is intended as a practical guide for managers, so I was interested in how well the things I wrote about mapped to Mintzberg's model.

Though I did not have Mintzberg's management model in mind when I wrote Tempo!, the mapping is pretty good. This is not surprising, because good management models are bound to have similarities. After all, they all describe the same thing, albeit from different perspectives.

IOHAI – Boyd on leadership

The IOHAI leadership model is part of the Maneuver Conflict strategic framework developed by Colonel John Boyd, U.S. Air Force.
The 1960 book The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor presented a new way to view organisations, Theory X and Y. The U.S military, who understood the limitations on the classical functional hierarchy very well, were much quicker to pick up on McGregor's work than the business world.

In general, the military is more focused on leadership than management, so their models are a bit different. When Colonel John Boyd of the U.S. Air Force developed the Maneuver Conflict strategic framework, his IOHAI leadership framework was an important part of it.

Boyd stressed the importance of being able to shift from one point of view to another, in order to better understand and solve problems.

For example, an IOHAI trained business manager would be able to shift between useful frameworks such as Systems Thinking, Lean, Statistical Process Control, Self-Determination Theory, Theory Of Constraints, and others, to come up with innovative solutions to problems.

The Power of Paradigms

Donella Meadows's famous System Intervention points.
The Systems Thinker Donella Meadows wrote a famous essay about places to intervene in a system. A manager who understands this model has a powerful tool for applying effective change.

Like Boyd, Meadows considers the ability to consciously switch between different frameworks for thinking, the most powerful ability of all.

To be able to do this, a manager, or leader, must of course be trained to use more than one framework. If the framework is implicit, that is, no one thinks about how the thinking is done, shifting frameworks becomes impossible.

Now, still putting yourself in the place of a CEO, would you like to have explicit management models in your company, as references, to help you decide what skills to hire for, and how to train your managers?

Assuming the answer is yes, do any of the models I have written about fit the needs of your company? If not, what are the needs of your company? What skills do your managers and leaders need to master to fulfill those needs?

Do you have anything like an explicit management model in use today? If not, what is stopping you, and how do you fix it?