October 30, 2010

The Coloring Book of Leadership


In a leadership course this week, I was introduced to the “Insights Wheel of Color Energies,” a framework for understanding people’s personalities and leadership styles.

In the Color Energies framework, there are four types of personalities/styles:

  • “Fiery Red”—The Director—competitive, demanding, determined, strong-willed, purposeful, and driving— they seek to “do it NOW.”
  • “Cool Blue”—The Observer—cautious, precise, deliberate, questioning, formal, and analytical—they seek to “do it right.”
  • “Sunshine Yellow”—The Inspirer—sociable, dynamic, demonstrative, enthusiastic, persuasive, and expressive. They seek to “do it together.”
  • “Earth Green”—The Supporter—caring, encouraging, sharing, patient, relaxed, and amiable—they seek to “do it in a caring way.”

There is no one best type—each is simply a personal preference. And further, each of us is “incomplete and imperfect”.
  • The one who seeks to “do it right” may miss the point with their “analysis paralysis” when something needs to be done in a time-critical fashion.
  • Similarly, the leader that’s focused on “just getting it done now” may be insensitive to providing adequate support for their people, or collaboration with others in the organization.

We saw this clearly in the class. After each person was asked to self-identify which color they were most closely aligned to, it was clear that people were oriented toward one or maybe two types, and that they did have an individual preference.

While no framework is 100% accurate, I like this one as it seems to capture key distinctions between personalities and also helped to make me more self-aware. (I am Cool Blue and Fiery Red, in case you ever decide to “tangle” with me :-).

Combining Color Energies with other personality assessment frameworks, like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and the Strength Deployment Inventory (SDI), can help us to understand both ourselves and others.

With that knowledge we can work together more productively and more pleasantly, as we empathize with others rather than puzzling about why they act the way they do.

Once we start to identify the “color personalities” of others whom we know and work with, we can better leverage our combined strengths.

To me, therefore, leaders have to surround themselves with other excellent people, who can complement their personality and leadership styles so as to fill in the natural gaps that we each possess.

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October 24, 2010

Pain Points, More Potent Than Wish Lists

Organizations are all interested in what sells—what’s hot and what’s not!

Of course, as advertisers learned long ago, “sex sells.”

What else? Fear sells. All the basic emotions seem to selleverything from affection and anger to wonder and worry.

When people experience an emotional drive, their internal (biochemical) and external (environmental) states elicit a psychophysiological response that drives mood and motivation.

The result is that when effectively selling to people’s emotions, we address or meet their explicit or implicit “pain points.”

Fast Company (November 2010) has an interesting article called “The Felt Need” that differentiates wants from genuine needs.

A want is one thing, but a genuine need or “pain point” is something entirely different. Getting something we want may be satisfying a nice to have on our wish list, but getting rid of a pain point is something that we literally crave to fulfill from physiological and/or psychological motivations.

A good analogy to satisfying people’s wants versus needs is that it’s better to be selling aspirins than vitamins, because “vitamins are nice; they’re healthy [and people want to live healthier]. But aspirin cures your pain…it’s a must-have.”

Similarly, the article tells us that just building a better mousetrap, doesn’t mean that customers will be beating down your door to do business, but rather as organizations we need to figure out not just how to build a better mousetrap, but rather how to get rid of that pesky mouse. The nuance is important!

In technology, there is a tendency to treat almost every new technology as a want and almost every new want as a need. The result is vast sums spent on IT purchases that are unopened or unused that perhaps looked good on paper (as a proposal), but never truly met the organizational threshold as a must-have with a commensurate commitment by it to succeed.

There are a number of implications for IT leaders:

1) As service providers, I think we need to differentiate with our internal customers what their genuine pain points are that must get prioritized from what their technology wish list items that can be addressed in the future, strategy alignment and resources permitting.

2) From a customer standpoint, I’d like to see our technology vendors trying to sell less new mousetraps and focusing more on what we really need in our organizations. The worst vendor calls/presentations are the ones that just try to tell you what they have to sell, rather than finding out what you need and how they can answer that call in a genuine way.

In looking at the emotion, the key to long-term sales success is not to take advantage of the customer in need, but rather to be their partner in meeting those needs and making the pain go away.


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October 23, 2010

Beyond The Stick

Over a number of years, I’ve seen different management strategies for engaging employees. At their essence, they typically amount to nothing more than the proverbial “carrot and stick" approach: Do what you’re supposed to do and you get rewarded, and don’t do what your superiors want and you get punished.

Recently, the greater demands on organizational outputs and outcomes by shareholders and other stakeholders in a highly competitive global environment and souring economy has put added pressure on management that has resulted in

the rewards drying up and the stick being more widely and liberally used.

Numerous management strategists have picked up on this trend:

For example, in the book, No Fear Management: Rebuilding Trust, Performance, and Commitment in the New American Workplace, Chambers and Craft argue that abusive management styles destroy company morale and profitability and should be replaced by empowerment, communication, training, recognition, and reward.

In another book, Driving Fear Out of the Workplace: Creating the High Trust, High Performance Organization, Ryan and Oestreich confront how “fear permeates today’s organizations” and is creating a pandemic of mistrust that undermines employee motivation and commitment.

I can’t help but reflect that the whole concept of managing employees by the carrot and stick approach is an immature and infantile approach that mimics how we “manage” children in pre-school who for example, get an extra snack for cleaning up their toys or get a demerit for pulling on little Suzy’s hair.

As leaders, I believe we can and must do better in maturing our engagement styles with our people.

Regular people coming to work to support themselves and their families and contribute to their organizations and society don’t need to be “scared straight.” They need to be led and inspired!

Monday’s don’t have to be blue and TGIF doesn’t have to be the mantra week after week.

People are naturally full of energy and innovation and productivity. And I believe that they want to be busy and contribute. In fact, this is one of life’s greatest joys!

Leaders can change the organizational culture and put an end to management by fear. They can elevate good over evil, win the hearts and minds of their people, and put organizations back on track to winning performance.


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October 16, 2010

Five Lessons From The Chilean Rescue

This week, we as humankind were renewed by the rescue of the 33 miners in Chile.

“Viva Chile! They Left No Man Behind” writes Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal (16-17, Oct. 2010).

The Chileans took what was a human tragedy and instead turned it upside down and inside out into a worldwide victory!

Yet, as the rescue unfolded first with the search for the miners, their discovery, their being sustained while rescue tunnels were dug, and then ultimately as each miner—one by one—was brought to the surface safely—clean-shaven and smiling, I couldn’t help thinking to myself how perfectly everything was going—each time again and again—and then starting to worry that something has got to go wrong here (almost by Murphy’s Law)—this is too perfect!

Yet, nothing went wrong, it was a watertight rescue of all the miners.

As flawed human beings with all our warts and all, I think we were at some level shocked with disbelief by the flawless events that unfolded.

No cost overruns, no schedule delays, no one was hurt, no glitches in equipment or otherwise. It was a run of complete success that almost never happens in real life and yet, we all saw it unfold one, two, three…thirty-three before our very eyes.

This doesn’t happen in real life—only in fairy tales, right? This certainly doesn’t happen in most information technology projects! ;-)

But even more stunning to us than the success of the rescue itself was the undercurrent of the prevailing of good over evil manifesting before us—almost like G-d was revealing himself to us again, as he did in Biblical times. As one of the miners poetically said: “I met G-d. I met the devil. G-d won.”

The shocker here was that a people, nation, and in effect the entire world was focused on saving these 33 simple miners. This in our day and age, when we have become more accustomed to those who dehumanize and devalue human life, rather than those who genuinely value and safeguard it as the Chileans did.

As Ms. Noonan puts it: “They used the human brain and spirit to save life. All we get every day is scandal.”

Recent events remind us of the huge contrast between those who value life and those who don’t, such as 9-11, almost daily suicide (read “homicide”) bombings for political aims, the blatant proliferation and threats of WMD (and now cyber warfare), the violation of human rights by dictatorships and thugs around the world, including political imprisonments, rigged elections, restrictions of free information flow, and more violent acts such as mass rapes, female genital mutilation, genocide, slave prison camps, and more.

Moreover, while we witness events going wrong everyday and governments, companies, and peoples seeming unable to set things right, in Chile, we saw a nation and a people that set their minds and might to bringing the miners home safely and they did, period.

There are some important lessons here for us for the future:

  1. Find the moral good. It starts with valuing and safeguarding human life. Our agenda should always be to prioritize helping others and saving lives. The Chileans did just that when they didn’t wring their hands and just walk away from the tragedy saying it was over. Instead, saving the lives was a national priority. Similarly, providing the speedy drill to the Chileans from the U.S. that tunneled in half the time to the miners was a gesture that we too value life and are partners with them in saving the miners.
  2. Contain the problem. The problems we face are “ginormous” (read: gigantic and enormous) and the only way we are gong to be able to overcome them is to break them down into pieces and attack them at their source. The Chileans took a big rescue operation and by decomposing it into plan A, B, and C, etc. and tackling each piece of the problem (locating the miners, sustaining them, rescuing them, etc.), they made the solution doable.
  3. Leverage technology. We are hampered in our abilities by our own human limitations. But we can extend our capabilities and expand those limits through technology. The rescue of the miners used many new technologies in drilling, communications, and materials to make the rescue not only possible, but also probable. We need to constantly innovate and use technology to make the impossible, possible.
  4. Stand united. No question, we are stronger together than apart. The Chilean nation and people united in their efforts to rescue and bring home the miners. It was a mission they believed in and which they stood together in accomplishing. Politics, infighting, and mudslinging can divide us when we need to be unified. We need to understand that when we take pot shots to score points, we undermine the mission and the successes we desperately need.
  5. Stay positive. Even in the face of what seems like assured calamity, we must keep our wits, stay strong, and focus on solutions. If we do this, we can say goodbye to Murphy’s Law, and helpless and hopelessness be gone. A renewed spirit of optimism and a can-do attitude can carry us forward to new heights that we can all be proud of.

As the article states: the Chileans “set to doing something hard, specific, physical, demanding of commitment, precision, and expertise. And they did it.” And we can again do it too.

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October 13, 2010

Customer Service Design

I really liked the article in MIT Sloan Management Review (Fall 2010) called “Designing the Soft Side of Customer Service” by Dasu and Chase.

The authors write: “Even in the most mundane [customer] encounters, emotions are lurking under the surface. Your job is to make those feelings positive.”

Wow! That is a pretty powerful statement.

Think about it. How often do you genuinely deliver on that positive experience for your customers versus how often do they come away feeling slighted, taken advantage of, maybe even cheated of the service they know they deserve.

Sometimes of course, there are justifiable reasons why we can’t make a customer happy—maybe the customer is simply being unreasonable or is a knucklehead or maybe even some sort of nutcase. We have to use good judgment when it comes to this.

But often there are other problems that are getting in the way of us delivering on that positive customer experience:

Problem #1: We get caught up in the policies, processes, personalities, and politics of a situation, rather than focusing on the customer and their satisfaction. We forget who our real customers are.

Problem #2: We don’t think like the customer. We don’t genuinely listen to the customer or try to understand where they are coming from or what they even want. We are too busy talking the “company line,” playing defense, or taking an adversarial role. We don’t put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, not even for a minute.

Problem #3: We often don’t put the customer first; we put ourselves first. We are more concerned with not making a mistake, getting into trouble, or maybe don’t want to even work “that hard.” In general, we should, but don’t go the extra mile for the customer, let along deliver on first mile.

The MIT article tells us that we can improve customer experiences by designing-in how we manage the customer’s emotions, trust, and need for control (ETCs), as follows:

  • Emotions—have empathy for customers and generate thoughtful interactions that limit negative customer emotions and accentuate positive ones, so that the customer comes away feeling joy, thrill, happiness rather than anger, anxiety and stress.
  • Trust—provide consistent performance, a high-level of engagement and follow-up, and clear and open communication. These contribute to building an enduring relationship.
  • Control—provide customers with ample information, so they feel “cognitive control” over what is happening to them, and provide customers with the ability to make significant service delivery decisions, so they experience “behavioral control.”

Designing for positive customer ETCs experiences will go a long way to resolving the problems of poor customer service, where we know and stay focused on who our customers are, can think as they do, and seriously deliver on their needs the way you would want your customer needs addressed.

I suppose if I have to sum it up in a couple of words, it’s about being professionally selfless and not selfish in all our customer interactions.

It takes some maturity to get there, but I think it’s why we are here to serve.


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October 9, 2010

Is Technology Measured by Progress or Unrealized Potential?

Is technology progress measured by how far we've come or by what remains to be achieved?

The Wall Street Journal (9-10, October 2010) ran an interview with Peter Thiel, who in ranked #377 in Forbes 400 (2008) with a net worth of $1.3 billion. Thiel was a co-founder of Paypal. In 2004, Thiel made a $500,000 investment in Facebook for 25.2% of the company. Nice!

Remarkable for someone who has made a fortune in technology, Thiel now believes, as the Journal puts it, that “American ingenuity has hit a dead end.”

According to Thiel, “people don’t want to believe that technology is broken…Pharmaceuticals, robotics, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology—all (of) these (are) areas where the progress has been a lot more limited than people think.”

Thiel bemoans our inability to achieve the vision of The Jetsons, as he states: “We don’t have flying cars. Space exploration is stalled. There are no undersea cities. Household robots do not cater to our needs…” According to Thiel, we have reached and are stuck in a long-term stagnation.

Thiel’s theory of technology stagnation is completely contrary, I believe, to the reality that most, if not all, of us are living each and every day, where technology is constantly on the move and if anything, we as organizations and individual struggle to keep pace.

For me personally, the refresh rate for technology is 2 years or less, depending on available cash flow for all the new stuff constantly hitting the market.

In my experience, technology is as dynamic as ever, if not more so. In fact, I have seen no evidence that Moore’s Law has been overcome by events (OBE).

Across government, I am seeing the interest and rate of adoption of new technologies steady or on the rise in areas as diverse as cloud computing, mobile computing, social computing, green computing, knowledge management, business intelligence, and geospatial information systems, and more.

There is no shortage of technology investments to make, IT projects to work on, and new technical capabilities to bring to the business.

While we may not have achieved the full vision set out by Hollywood and other technology visionaries, yet—rest assured, we are well are on way and barring unforeseen events, we most certainly will!

I don’t know about Spacely Sprockets’, but I’d place a few good investments bets around on a future that looks pretty darn close to The Jetsons, along with a good dose of Star Trek ingenuity for measure.

Perhaps Mr. Thiel’s views are a result of frustration that we have not achieved all that we can, rather than a reflection that we have not gotten anywhere. In any case, I enjoyed reading his views and look forward to learning more.


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The Spirit of A Warrior

Meaningful in life and in leadership...


“The spirit of a warrior is not geared to indulging and complaining, nor is it geared to winning or losing. The spirit of a warrior is geared only to struggle, and every struggle is a warrior’s last battle on earth. Thus the outcome matters very little to him. In his last battle on earth a warrior lets his spirit flow free and clear. And as he wages his battle, knowing that his intent is impeccable, a warrior laughs and laughs.”


- Carlos Castaneda


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October 8, 2010

You’ve Got An Alert

You’re all probably familiar with the capability of signing up for alerts to your computer or mobile device (phone, blackberry, pager, PDA, etc.).

By signing up, you can get notifications about severe weather (such as tornados or earthquacks), transportation troubles (such as street closures or metro incidents), utility disruptions (water, telephone, or power), government and school closings, Amber alerts, or breaking news and information on major crisis (such as homeland security or other emergency situations).

Unfortunately, not everyone bothers to sign up for these. Perhaps, they don’t want to bother registering for another site, giving and maintaining their personal contact information, or maybe they just prefer to rely on major news sources like CNN or social networking sites like Twitter for getting the word out.

The problem is that in a real crisis situation where time is of the essence and every minute and second counts—envision that tornado swooping in or that ticking time bomb about to go off—we need to let people know no matter what they are doing—ASAP!

According to GovTech (October 2010), the California Emergency Management Agency is planning to deploy a new system called Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) to “deliver warnings and safety information via text alerts to wireless phones in specified areas without requiring individuals to subscribe to the service.”

A pilot is scheduled to begin in San Diego in the fall.

With CMAS, emergency information can be targeted to an area affected and transmitted to everyone in the receiving area without them having to do anything. Just like your televisions receiving the emerging alerts (which is great if you happen to be watching), now your mobile devices will get them too.

I remember hearing the stories from my father about World War II how the German Luftwaffe (air force) would blitz (i.e. carpet bomb) London and other Ally cities, and the sirens would go off, blaring to give the people the chance to take cover and save their lives.

Well, thank G-d, we don’t often hear any air raid sirens like that anymore, and with CMAS having the potential to someday grow into a full national network of wireless emergency alerts, we may never have to hear sirens like that again.

(Photo: Courtesy Oak Ridge National Laboratory Emergency Management Center; http://communication.howstuffworks.com/how-emergency-notifications-work1.htm)


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October 6, 2010

A Flying Boat, Machine Gun Included

New Iranian "Bavar 2" stealth flying boats with machine guns and surveillance cameras at ready.

I guess this one tops the Terrafugia flying car, if not in terms of innovation, then in terms of lethality.

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October 3, 2010

Policing, Armed And Data-Rich

http://news.yahoo.com/video/us-15749625/predictive-policing-22251759

Watch how COMPSTAT (COMPuter STATistics) and technology is being used for predictive policing.

Data, geographic information systems (GIS), and business intelligence/analytics come together to predict and fight crime in major U.S. cities like LA, NY, and others.

As one officer said: "Information can predict the future. Information can lead you to make good decisions and it's shown in a business model everyday!"

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October 2, 2010

You Can Slow Them Down, But You Can’t Stop Them

What happens when someone does something and you don’t like it—I mean you really don’t like it (and that something is painful—physically, emotionally, or even financially)—you try to get them to stop.

You see it all starts when we are little and growing up and big brother Johnny pulls our hair or takes our toy and we go running to mommy, yelling to make Johnny stop. Mommy comes out standing straight and tall and pointing her sharpened finger at Johnny, and looking Johnny straight in the eyes says stop bothering you’re little sister. Johnny looks down, sulks, and says okay (maybe even expressing a barely audible, and hollow, sorry). But then what happens when mommy leaves the room for a few minutes, Johnny’s at it again.

And that’s what happens when Johnny is doing something wrong…imagine if he believes he is doing the right thing all along, of course, he continues on his merry way doing what he was doing.

Organizations, like people, seek to stop the pain as well and if they can’t compete in the markets, they take it elsewhere.

The Wall Street Journal, 2-3 October 2010, reports “Microsoft Lawsuit Seeks To Slow Google.”

Like Johnny, Google (although technically smaller than Microsoft revenue-wise) is doing something that Microsoft really doesn’t like; Google is walloping Microsoft in smartphones: “Microsoft’s share of the worldwide smartphone market this year is expected to fall to 6.8% from 13% in 2008, while Google is forecast to jump to 16% from less than 1% two years ago, according to IDC.”

Microsoft like the kid, who wants the hair pulling to stop, and they can’t make it stop themselves through a competitive product at this time, is running to “Mommy,” in this case the courts, and seeking relief by suing Motorola, the handset maker for the Android.

As one patent lawyer put it: “My gut feeling is Microsoft is losing the hand-held wars and they’re using their patent portfolio to get some of it back.”

Certainly, Microsoft isn’t alone is using this slowing tactic, for example, recently HP filed to sue Oracle for hiring their ex-CEO Mark Hurd, even though as 24-7 press release notes California tends to favor the free movement of employees and do not enforce non-competition agreements.

While Microsoft believes their new Windows Phone 7 (i.e. the Windows Mobile replacement) is the answer to their smartphone operating system prayers, and will help them to compete against the Google Android (and the Apple iPhone), the market results remain to be seen.

If Microsoft continues with an inferior product, then like a Johnny in the right, Google will continue to go right on beating Microsoft at their own game (unless of course, the courts say otherwise).


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October 1, 2010

Awesome Emergency Management Technologies

Obviously, I am a technology aficionado, but there is none more awesome than technology, which saves lives.

So to me, defense systems (a topic for another blog) and emergency management systems are two of the most fascinating and compelling areas of technology.

Recently, I have been closely following the story of the Chilean miners trapped beneath 2,200 feet of rock and earth due to a cave-in on 5 August.

It took 17 days to even find the miners in the winding underground mineshaft, and since then the ongoing determination and ingenuity of the emergency rescuers has been incredible.

The Wall Street Journal, 1 October 2010, in an article called “Inventions Ease the Plight of Trapped Miners” describes this unbelievable rescue effort.

Here are some of the technologies making their way a half-mile underground to the 33-trapped miners:

- The Paloma (or Pigeon)—supply pod that is “a five-foot-long hollow cylinder that works like a pneumatic tube.” Rescuers stuff it with supplies and lower about 40 of these every day through a 4 inch diameter shaft to supply the miners food, medicine, electrical supplies.
- The Phoenixrescue capsule, 10 feet tall, 900 pounds, with its own oxygen supply and communication systems designed to extract the trapped miners and bring each of them for the 15-40 minute ride it will take to get them to the safety of the surface.
- Fiber Optic Communications—the miners are using a fiber-optic video camera and telephone link hooked to videoconferencing equipment. This has been cited as one of the biggest boosters of the miner’s morale.
- Video Projectors—cellphones with built in projectors have been sent down to the miners allowing them to watch films and videos of family and friends.
- iPods—these were considered, but rejected by the chief psychologist of the rescue effort who feared that this may isolate the miners, rather than integrate them during this emergency.
- Modern Hygiene Products—Dry shampoo, soap-embedded hand towels, and self-sterilizing socks, have helped reduce odor and infection from the miners.

NASA engineers have exclaimed about the innovation shown by the Chilean emergency rescuers: “they are crossing new thresholds here.”

There are some great pictures and graphics of these devices at an article in the U.K. Telegraph.

What was once being targeted as a holiday rescue, by December, is now being envisioned as an October-November rescue operation. And with the continued application of innovation and technology, the miners will soon we back safe with their families and loved ones.
Also, ongoing kudos to the heroic rescuers!

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