Knowledge Management

How to Think Simple

Is there a way that I can get started and gear myself towards thinking that way and trying to simplify things? – jd

Don Sull: Absolutely, I mean my advice would be to try it. I’ll just give you a concrete example. I’ve used simple rules many times in my life but I’ll give you a concrete example. About a year and a half ago I ordered a bunch of shirts and they were the same size as the shirts I had always worn and I get them and I’m a cheapskate so I ordered a lot of them because they were cheaper if you ordered a lot. And, I get them and they’re all too tight. I’m like “Oh, this is terrible.” I tried to send it back, they wouldn’t accept them back. I had a very concrete problem which is I wanted to fit inside these shirts. To do so, I need to lose about 15 pounds. The first step is to have clarity on the objectives. On that case, it’s pretty straight forward. I wanted to lose about 15 pounds.

The second step is identify a bottleneck, a critical activity or decision that keeps you from hitting that objective. So, in this case, the way I did it was for about a week I got an app on my iPhone. I got an app and I tracked how much I exercised and how much I ate and when I ate it. You know, it’s trivial now. Ten years ago it might have been a pain in the neck to do that. Today it’s trivial. There’re probably a dozen apps to help you do that. What I found was interesting because what I wanted to find was, should I focus on exercise, should I focus on how often I walk, should I focus on eating, what should I do? Complicated Problems

What I found was the following, exercise was okay. I was exercising, reasonably enough, probably didn’t have time to do much more. Eating during the day was okay. The real problem was after dinner, snacking after dinner and that’s when all hell broke loose. Basically discovered once I collected data for a week that I was eating the equivalent of a lunch or two every day after dinner in snacks. I said “Okay, great. My bottleneck wasn’t all these activities, it wasn’t exercise, it wasn’t even eating, it was after dinner snacking.” That’s a nice specific bottleneck and that allows you to develop concrete rules. Then, you go to the third step. You’ve clarified the objective, lose 15 pounds. You’ve identified the bottleneck, specific bottleneck, after dinner snacking. You develop the rules. And, here again, we come to this point, there’s not, you don’t take the rules off the shelf, you don’t read, you know, some book that says ‘this is the right diet’, instead you follow a process of, you know, talk to some people, look on the internet a little bit, play around with it and the rules are your rules. You develop them and they’re appropriate to your situation.

In my case, my rules were, well, initially I said, “I’m never going to eat dessert again.” Well, that’s not going to work. I came and said, “I’ll only eat desserts on the weekend.” Another one was I read some research done by a guy named Brian Wansink who has done a lot of work on portion control and what he finds is that if you eat snacks out of a bowl rather than out of a bag, you can cut your calorie consumption by half or more. So, I said, “Okay, I’ll eat snack, I’ll eat the chips out of a bag, sorry, out of a bowl rather than the bag.” Another rule is not to stockpile snacks. If you buy a case of Snicker bars, you’ll eat all the Snicker bars. If you buy one Snicker bar, you can only eat one unless you got out to the store again. Very simple rules from multiple sources but they were right for me and, you know, in that case it worked. I lost 15 pounds, so. It took me a couple of months but I did it.

Related Podcast and Transcription: Creating Simple Rules to Handle Complexity

Dr. Donald Sull  is a Senior Lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches courses on Competitive Strategy and Strategy Execution in Volatile Markets. His recent book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World offers some great thoughts on reducing complexity.

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Solving Complexity with Simplicity

Dr. Donald Sull  is a Senior Lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches courses Don Sullson Competitive Strategy and Strategy Execution in Volatile Markets. His recent book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World offers some great thoughts on reducing complexity.

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Three Ways of Setting Simple Rules

A global expert on strategy and execution in turbulent markets, Dr. Donald Sull  is a Senior Lecturer in the Technological Innovation, Entrepreneurship, and Strategic Management group at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he teaches courses on Competitive Strategy and Strategy Execution in Volatile Markets. His recent book, Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World is a great summer read. Don will be in an upcoming Business901 podcast. Below is an excerpt from the podcast.

Joe: What I took from the book is that you actually group rules. Was that done on purpose? Is there some truth to that?

Don: I think there’s some truth to it. On purpose, I mean when we started this project 15 years ago, you know, we didn’t have a strong sense of, you know, we didn’t have a strong theory or strong biases to how the rules would sort out. One of the things that was interesting is we studied rules and creative domains like Elmore Leonard’s rules for writing a book and Tina Fey’s rules for producing 30 Rock and then social biology, how bees find a new nest and how ants coordinate their activities and, you know, monetary policy, how the Federal Reserve uses simple rules to set policy.

What was interesting is we’ve studied the rules, simple rules across these different domains is that these 6 categories of rules emerged. What we learned are that basically 3 types of rules that are around decision-making. The first one is boundary rules, what’s in and out. Examples of this would be the rules that doctors use to diagnose the celiac disease for instance. They use a set of simple rules, you’re either diagnosed with the disease or without it. The second set of rules is prioritizing rules. These would rules like the rules that Darfus uses to decide how much money to give to specific projects. The third set of decision rules is around stopping rules when you decide to stop doing things.

It turns out, we’ve had this, Mt. Everest has been in the news with this tragedy over the past couple of days. Up to today, one of the most fatal days for climbers on Mt. Everest was caused because the climbers, a group of 16 climbers ascended the summit and they ignored what was called the 2 O’clock rule which basically said if you’re not at the peak by 2 o’clock you turn down no matter what because it’s very dangerous to descend as the weather turns and as it gets dark. A group of climbers, about 2 o’clock, they’re a couple of hundred yards away from the summit. They started arguing with the guide. The guide ignored his own rule. They climbed, hit the summit about 345 and it turns out that the delay of an hour and 45 minutes was fatal for five of the climbers. That 2 o’clock rule is an example of stop and will help to remind us when to stop doing something.

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Software and Product Development Leads into HR?

The founder of OdBox, Matt Barcomb, partners with organizations to help leadership teams develop and deploy strategy, optimize product management and development, and evolve traditional HR functions into modern talent development practices. Matt can be found on LinkedIn or on Twitter.

Related podcast and transcription: Matt Barcomb’s Journey into Lean Software

An excerpt from the podcast:

Joe:   One of the things that I associate you with, of course, is software and product development, but it seems that umbrella has started to incorporate more parts in the company, and it’s affecting and becoming an integral part of other parts of the company. How is that affecting your work because you talk about a lot more type of organizational work, a lot more type of work with HR – is software the push into it or is it just your growth in trying to make people work together?

Matt: That’s a good question. I would probably say it’s a nice little cocktail of both. One of the reasons I got into human resources, talent development is again through client work. I would go into a place, and they were having problems hiring people that could fit for the skills and we started talking to them and then they’re kind of following a very traditional or recruiting through Monster or whatever, and they ask for help, like how do you find talent, and so we can talk about that. We wound up kind of rejiggering how they do recruiting, we kind of talked a little bit about how should they do promoting, what are their current performance plans and structure, what do those things look like, do they make sense. It’s just sort of pluck a little thing here, and you try a lot of things; a lot of companies are willing to try some things. Not every company has been willing to try all my crazy ideas, but some of them are just things that make sense. I mean I can’t remember ever being at a company ever who thought that how they did ratings, and rankings, and performance, and tying it to compensation was a wonderful, fair and equitable system that everybody enjoyed. So given that that’s never happened, one of my first principles is like well what happens if we get rid of it? Instead of trying to figure out a way to make it better or improve it or add something to the system, what if we try to simplify it first? Not that that will solve the problem, it will very likely cost other problems. But let’s take the thing away first, so when we do try to inject something, we’re injecting something into a simpler ecosystem.

Like HR is one area where we try to grow it more towards talent development, where to find people, how to promote people, how to make that a collaborative thing and I’m kind of a proponent of setting up structures such that transparent salaries could be possible. I want to be clear that I don’t necessarily advocate for going all the way towards actually making salaries transparent; it just really depends on the context. Working with sales organizations was sort of the same way. I started working more with product management as part of product development, this idea that you’ve got a group or an organization that’s sort of incented or they’re going like this to help create a product or sweeter products that has a strategic fit for a market and that they’re sort of always butting heads with this other department in the organization who’s incented to hit quarterly revenue targets at almost whatever sales price, that incented to drive some crazy behavior. I’ve seen product development departments get thrown under the bus because they couldn’t make the features fast enough, and they could have made their numbers if product had just delivered faster. I’ve seen sales departments reel because the BP of product are really hard-lined pricing strategy, and that was not allowing them to make their numbers. So trying to encourage them instead of trying to just throw sales under the bus and say, “Oh sales guys are coin-operated, evil, moron people. They should just go all be car salesman…” Let’s figure out what we’re really trying to achieve through sales.

I mean that’s a pretty obvious problem, we need the company to make money. So how we change sales and how do we change software and how do we change the product to all work together? I mean again this just taking a page out of the systems thinking kind of playbook of how are we not aligned? We have these different functions, we need a strategic fit to a market, we need to make sales, we need a revenue, we need to develop product – how do we get these three things to swim together instead of feeling like they’re often tearing the company apart?

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Can Arguments Help in Collaboration?

Joe:   Can argument mapping help in collaboration?

Timo:   Yes, a lot of us are working — as teacher’s we are working with groups of students, and they built together some argument around an issue. Argument mapping does when you present it with a beamer on a screen or something like that, it makes it possible to have a discussion on issues that can be very precise, and that generates something from a shared thinking process. For instance when you’re working with people who have to defend a PhD and they present their Ph.D. or parts of their Ph.D. to the head of dissertation on a map on a screen and people can be very precise in asking questions connected to some claims people make. The fault is it enables having an argument that before all the people involved, it allows to focus on specific issues and you can be very clear about what you are talking and what not because everybody sees the issue involved before their eyes; so it facilitates a process of shared thinking.

Joe:   One of the things you talk about in Rationale is Essay Planning and being able to build an essay, and that’s like somewhat of a step-off than an argument. What’s the connection there?

Timo:   In an essay, you try to give a contention, a position to defend the position by giving reasons and objections, etcetera and you write it in a form that you hope that the readers of your essay will comprehend what you are saying or what your logical structure is in your argument and have fun reading. Every teacher of writing will explain to you that you should think first before you start writing. What you’re doing in an argument map is making visual your thinking in an argument map, and when you’ve done that, you can export your arguments map into prose by using the essay function within Rationale. And then you have the hardcore of your essay is available within Word or whatever editor you use, and you can build your essay around the argument map you have been exporting. So what you’re doing is, first you think about a subject and you come to a position, you build an argument around it and you think, well this is okay, this is really a good argument for a position you want to defend or to do research in and only then you export it as a text file to your editor, and then you have to edit, the bone structure of your essay is ready, and then you can fill it in, flash it out with all kind of details, background information, things that are fun to read. But the hardcore of your essay, you’ll be making first.

These comments were from a podcast that I had with Timo ter Berg is the CEO of Critical Thinking. They help people visualize and organize their thoughts combining innovative graphic display tools with the latest research on how to make complex thinking more organized and accessible. They host several products called Rationale and bCisive which can be found at http://www.reasoninglab.com.

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30% Time Wasted Looking for Data, 50% Success Rate Finding It

A fact that Kim Robertson , the author of over 100 discipline specific training packages, 3 fiction books and articles for CM Trends and various other trade publications from industrial arts to Configuration Management, stated in a recent podcast.

His latest collaboration Configuration Management: Theory, Practice, and Application is

Excerpt from the Podcast:

Joe:   One of the parts that jumped out of me was some of the statements right away that you made in the heading of the poor handling of data. I think you mentioned that 30% of the knowledge worker’s times are used for looking for data and even at that, there’s only a 50% success rate.

Kim:   Yes, that’s a problem across industry. That one actually came from another book that I got that information from. Basically, we don’t have the data linked. So for example, if you have a subcontract; with the subcontract you have a purchase order, you have a statement of work, you may have some specifications. After that, you have data that they’re going to send it to you which is usually supply chain data lists. Nobody is hooking those together within their product data management or product life cycle management systems. They can tell you every piece part and who the vendor was that goes into the buildup of the final item, but they can’t tell you where the data was, what the receiving’s factual report actually said about the information or much else. That’s very bad when you’re trying to do any type of quality assessment on why things aren’t working the way you thought they would within test before you field something. Or in the case of things like the switch the GM had, where did you go wrong with that piece of it and basically that gets back to one of the premises that if two things don’t look the same, aren’t of the same quality, don’t look alike, don’t keep the same number and we find that that goes on quite a bit. There have been cases of airlines where it’s time to replace an engine and they order a new engine for the jet aircraft, the engine shows up and it doesn’t fit on the wing because they made a change, but they didn’t change the top assembly number.

We have all of those types of activities that we need to take a look at and integrate them together somehow. We have this problem with the Lean-type activities as well. Lean Six Sigma is something that is very popular right now. Lean Six Sigma I believe says you’re going to have two bad parts after every million or so. A couple of years ago, there was a company that ordered a couple million resistors all of the same value from another company and they had a Lean Six Sigma requirement and the company they’d ordered from, the supplier kept saying, we’re going to have to hold off a couple weeks, giving you this last supply data management report. I said well okay, and so then eventually the report came in and there was a shipment of resistors and there were two resistors typed to this note on top of it saying, we didn’t know why you wanted two bad resistors, but it took us eight weeks to find them, since they were working at an Eight Sigma level. So a lot of that, you have to know what your suppliers are capable of before you let your requirements on them because otherwise you may be forcing them to do work and costing you money that you don’t have to spend.

Joe:  I think about the data, I think that the inaccuracies that you point out in the data and the lack of cross-references and coordination between all these data, and from a layman’s standpoint it sounds like here we are back to this old file cabinet thing that 80 to 90% of whatever we put in the file cabinet, we never retrieve again. What we did retrieve, a lot of it was inaccurate and though that was in the paper world, is data much better?

Kim:   One advantage you had with the paper world was at least you could retrieve it. What we see a lot with the information technology, these activities are that some people make uninformed decisions that the data isn’t required, and so they may dispose of it. We’ve had some cases where I was involved in a program where the decision was made, we’re just paying too much for backing up servers and so we’re not going to back anything after three months. We’ll backup nightly, we’ll back up weekly; we’ll backup monthly. We’ll save three monthlies and then when we save the fourth; we’ll throw the first one away. Lo and behold an entire program’s worth of data went missing and it happened four months or more before it was discovered and the customer was asking questions because the units were still on the field, and nobody could find any of the information. As far as data retention itself goes, I don’t think that we’re much better because the IT organizations and the programmatic aren’t really communicating or understanding if they are talking what the actual requirements are and often its retention for 10 years after disposal of the last unit which with an automobile maybe 40 years from now. On a space asset, some of them would have been up there 35 years. Voyagers have been up there almost 30 years I believe, and it is still going. All of that data is still being retained some place.

Which brings us to a secondary problem is what happens, because the computers are going and involving so quickly. You’re talking about possibly having quantum computers now which would give us something besides buying a recode because you’d end up with 16 possible states for an answer making things not black and white or ones and zeros but shades of gray or Technicolor if you would. So we have some of the missions where we actually archive the computers, the operating systems, the software and everything else because 15 years from now, all of that evolve and there will be no way to actually communicate with a spacecraft that was in orbit. The same thing is going on, on the ground. The last launch of the space transportation system, they were sourcing all 86 boards off of eBay to keep the systems running in order to make that last launch because the hardware was so old, and we have the same thing going on with the data. How do you keep it current and we’ve been struggling with that for a long time. The portable data format or PDF has been a great help with that because PowerPoint and those types of things, when you move them from one server to a lesser cost, storage type of retention sometimes get corrupted and you can’t ever retrieve them again, but PDF’s still seem to be good.

Joe: Configuration management is supposed to help us with all these problems and to me, it sounds good but how does configuration management or what are the keys there to make all these things right as we just talked about?…….

Related Podcast or Transcription: Configuration Management

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Making Complex Thinking More Organized

Timo ter Berg is the CEO of Critical Thinking, a leader in the development of software. They help people visualize and organize their thoughts combining innovative graphic display tools with the latest research on how to make complex thinking more organized and accessible. They host several products called Rationale and bCisive which can be found at http://www.reasoninglab.com.

Argument Mapping

Are discussion centered on Argument Mapping, a unique mapping process that is very useful for structured, critical thinking & writing and debate preparation.

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