Squeezing the Trust Out of Life

Lance Discipline, Integrity, Leadership Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 1 minute

The task of holding water in your hands demands calm, relaxed, open hands. Brute force and a tight grip are utterly counterproductive to the effort.

People are no different. Whereas Trust and Persuasion create a relational flywheel that makes trust and persuasion easier the next time, Control and Coercion/Manipulation create the opposite effect. Each iteration in that direction becomes less effective, requiring even more brute force the next time.

Being a Control Freak can produce great results, but it doesn’t scale. The larger the mission and the group of people needed to accomplish it, the harder it becomes to keep control of all the variables. The impulse is to squeeze harder, but that just drives more cooperation, good will, and people away. For the Control Freak, the notion of letting go of things is beyond merely counter-intuitive — it feels absurdly crazy.

Too bad: it’s the right thing to do.

Simplicity: the Herculean Task

Lance Discipline, Simplicity Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 2 minutes

But the hydra wound itself about one of his feet and clung to him. Nor could he effect anything by smashing its heads with his club, for as fast as one head was smashed there grew up two.

simplicityadIt’s easy to buy into the idea of Simplicity, what with the likes of Steve Jobs and anyone associated with him preaching its gospel. The secret sauce to Apple’s success isn’t a secret at all — they’ve been telling anyone who would listen since the beginning:

Of course, there’s a world of difference between nodding one’s head in agreement at the obvious wisdom of using Simplicity like Apple and actually slaying the hydra of Complexity. The ever-present default of over-complicating things is the Second Law of Thermodynamics applied to organizations:

  • Try to apply Simplicity as merely a tactic, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to build a process for simplifying your business, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to do Simplicity on the cheap, you end up with more complexity
  • Try to do Simplicity with minimal effort, you end up with more complexity

Take it from Steve Jobs himself:

When you first start off trying to solve a problem, the first solutions you come up with are very complex, and most people stop there. But if you keep going, and live with the problem and peel more layers of the onion off, you can oftentimes arrive at some very elegant and simple solutions. Most people just don’t put in the time or energy to get there.

Or from Ken Segall himself (he’s the guy who put the “i” in the “iMac” … and everything else that then followed):

Complexity is far too clever to allow a company to attain Simplicity through proclamation. If the love of Simplicity isn’t instilled into its people and burned into its products, if people aren’t rewarded for acts of bravery in support of Simplicity, the concept will come and go like Human Resources’ annual benefits meeting. … Simplicity is an all-or-nothing proposition. If the company’s culture doesn’t support this type of behavior, it will never be more than window dressing.

Anyone can make the simple look complicated. Sadly, too many do just that, thinking complex solutions or answers are a sign of intelligence. (They’re not.) And just as it took both brains and braun for Hercules to defeat the hydra, it takes real genius and courage to make the complex appear and feel simple.

Simplicity needs a hero.


The Trap of Walking the Planck

Lance Creativity, Ideas Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 2 minutes

On March 17, 1905, Albert Einstein submitted for publication a paper on the particle/quantum nature of light that completely upended the classical understanding of physics, and for which he would later win his only Nobel Prize. He did this while working in his first steady job out of college — not as a member of academia or the scientific community, but as a lowly junior official in a Swiss patent office.

Interesting as that story is, this post is not about Einstein at all, but the man whose work formed the foundation of Einstein’s quantum discovery: Max Planck.

In 1900, Planck devised a mathematical equation that explained how radiation wavelengths related to temperature. In order for his formula to work, a mathematical constant, minute in size, was required. This tiny value, which Planck considered to be merely a calculation correction and not a measurement of any physical reality, is now known as Planck’s Constant and is “one of the fundamental constants of nature.” Max Planck was a physics giant in his own right.

And yet …

What Einstein saw as the revolutionary extension of Planck’s discovery, Planck himself refused to accept as valid for years afterward: Planck’s Constant was actually a measure of the light particle itself. (We now know them as photons.) While Einstein’s creative thinking rewrote the science of physics, Planck’s inability to let go of conventional wisdom left him behind the times as the new understanding of physics unfolded before his eyes. At the end of his life, Planck lamented this fact:

My futile attempts to fit the elementary quantum of action somehow into classical theory continued for a number of years and cost me a great deal of effort. Many of my colleagues saw in this something bordering on a tragedy.

How often do we as people, as leaders, and as organizations, do the same thing? A new way of thinking or doing things comes along — something truly innovative and unconventional — and we dismiss it out of hand because it can’t be reconciled with what we already “know”?

Kodak engineer invented the digital camera in 1975, but because the corporate leadership couldn’t let go of the classical view of photography (film and prints), digital photography killed Kodak instead of reinventing it.

Sony had, on the one hand, the creative history of inventing portable music with the Walkman, and, on the other hand, the legal rights to the music industry’s biggest artists. What Sony didn’t have was leaders who could imagine letting go of the conventional way of distributing music (via the forced bundling of record/tape/CD sales), even as the rise of Napster signaled the end of that business model. The opportunity to reinvent the music industry then fell to Apple — a computer company with no experience working in the music industry.

  • “Conventional wisdom”
  • “The way things are done”

You Don’t See Me Here

Lance Creativity, Excellence Leave a Comment

Reading Time: 1 minute

Surprise a rabbit in your front yard and you’re likely to see neither Fight nor Flight but the third oft-forgotten option: Freeze. “Don’t move. Hide in plain sight. Blend into the background and survive” the amygdala screams.

This strategy isn’t just for surprised rabbits in suburbia. In organizations large and small where Fear and Uncertainty are the norm, hiding becomes an all-too-rational option for employees. When it becomes standard practice for companies to meet short term financial targets by laying off people (wrapped in the anti-septic euphemisms of “reorganization,” “restructuring,” or (the lamest of terms) “right sizing”), surviving becomes the focus of employees’ work lives. This means blending into the background, avoiding risk that could go wrong, and never sticking out. When the Layoff Lion comes as he always does, hiding in the middle of the pack is the safest bet.

Of course, bland, beige, conventional effort and ideas is the precise opposite of what companies need when they are failing to meet expectations … yet their choices in those moments setup the very cycle of their own demise.

No matter the size, no leader leads an “organization” — Leaders lead PEOPLE, and people react to uncertainty and fear in predicable ways. If it’s excellent work and creative innovation you need from your people, lead in a new way: quit stirring up the cortisol and build a large “Circle of Safety.”