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“Slip the Jab”

Fan’s of Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky series may recognize the expression “Slip the Jab”.  During the fifth sequel, Stallone’s character, Rocky Balboa, returns to his Philadelphia origins, and location of the gym willed to his son by his late trainer Mickey Goldmill.  After entering the abandoned, dusty gym, Rocky is overcome with emotions as he flashes back to his gym training days with Mickey insisting “Slip the jab, Rock, slip the jab!”.

Rockey and Mickey in Rocky V

During this flashback, Mickey offers Rocky remarkably wise lessons on life.  These lessons carry with them a curious applicability to knowledge work,  which is the subject of this post.

1. “Slip the jab”

Mickey’s insistance that Rocky “slip the jab” refers to a common practice in boxing whereby a boxer learns avoid incoming punches, while also quickly regrouping in order to seize the vulnerability resulting from the missed punch.

A knowledge worker requires similar preemptive and reflexive abilities in order to look ahead, avoid oncoming industry, organizational, or career perils, while simultaneously positioning herself for success once the peril subsides.

“Slipping the jab” for a knowledge worker allows her to operate as the CEO of her professional life.  To do so effectively, she should borrow from leadership models such as Peter Drucker’s Effective Executive, or career management techniques such as Charles Handy’s Sigmoid Curve.

2. “Mesmerize”

“Mesmerize!  See that bum in front of you, see yourself do right and you do right”.  What a wise set of words from Mickey as he instructs Rocky to the benefits of looking ahead and envisioning the result during his shadow boxing session.

Effectiveness is wisdom, and wisdom requires prediction.  What better way for a knowledge worker to boost his effectiveness than to envision the scenarios that may unfold in his project, while also imagining the best possible ways he can respond.

An example of this predictive component can be found  in some software development practices.  Consider test-driven development, whereby a programmer “envisions” his future implementation by first establishing the boundaries for success.

3. “Motavisation”

“The fact that you’re here and doing as well as your doing gives me the, what do they call it  – motavisation – to continue on.” Here Mickey opens up with Rocky, revealing just how important his relationship with the promising young fighter truly is (while succumbing in his struggles to correctly pronounce the word).

Motivation has become a key lever in management’s quest to build  high-performance knowledge worker teams.   Daniel Pink’s Drive offers a simplistic but helpful understanding to the components of this Motivation, as does Fredrick Herzberg’s Two Factor Theory.

But the real essence of a knowledge worker’s Motivation is implied in Mickey’s words.  Think about it – Rocky’s career is doing well, Mickey is his trainer, and so he has every reason to believe he is being effective as a trainer.  Effectiveness brings motivation as is the case with Mickey.  A highly-motivated Mickey will only increase Rocky’s chance to be a successful boxer.

The same applies to knowledge work.  Staying motivated requires an individual increase the chances her efforts will lead to the desired effect.  Aligning work with strengths offers one such way for an individual, as does a strengths-based hiring approach for organizations.

4. “Nature’s smarter than people think”

“People die when they don’t want to live anymore, and nature is smarter than people think”.

Not only is nature smarter than people think, as Mickey suggests, but there’s a growing pervasiveness to incorporate the principles of Evolutionary theory and Complexity Science into management and engineering disciplines to prove it.  Just look at the recent successes of adaptive approaches to management and software development, for example.

5. “Outside the ring”

Later in Rocky’s flashback, Mickey is heard saying “When I leave you, you’ll not only know how to fight but you’ll know how to take care of yourself outside the ring”.

The idea of improving not just one aspect of an individual’s life, but larger aspects is not unlike principles we see in software development and/or manufacturing.  Consider, for example, the “See the whole” principle which is a cornerstone of Lean software development and Continuous improvement.   In order for Rocky to remain a champion fighter for a long time, Mickey realizes he’ll need to ensure Rocky’s success outside the ring as well.

This fits the continuous improvement mantra.  Sustaining and leveraging the improvements in knowledge worker processes requires improving their dependent aspects as well.

6. “Angel on your shoulders”

Finally, towards the end of Rocky’s flashback, Mickey is seen removing his most favorite possession, a cufflink given to him by Rocky Marciano.  He offers this as a gift to Rocky suggesting it will serve as “an angel on your shoulders”, while also suggesting when Rocky feels himself going down “the little angel will scream at you saying: get up you son of a bitch cause Mickey loves you”.

Whether we’re talking about mentors, coaches, retrospectives or daily stand up meetings, to name a few, the key point is to establish necessary feedback channels in order to help individuals and teams adjust early and often.

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I hope you enjoyed this post.  For any questions or comments please email techdoer@gmail.com.

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How vs. Why

Here is an interesting parallel between the Data, Information, Knowledge, Wisdom pyramid and the knowledge worker roles and responsibilities defined by Peter Drucker.  Depending on what you read, there exists a tendency to refer to Knowledge as “doing things right”, which happens to fit Drucker’s classic definition of “efficiency”.  On the same token, there’s also a tendency to see Wisdom as “doing the right things”, which also neatly fits Drucker’s definition of “effectiveness”.

DIKW  Pyramid

So from Drucker we know that management represents efficiency, leadership represents effectiveness, executives need to be leaders, and all knowledge workers need to think and act like executives.

This leaves us with a curious relationship between [Knowledge, Management, Efficiency]  vs. [Wisdom, Leadership, Effectiveness]. Description is at the heart of the former, which defined work in the 20th century.  Prediction, on the other hand, is at the heart of the latter, and it will define work in this 21st century.

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Best (mal)Practices?

What if I tried to sell you on the notion of “best practices” as just a bunch of superfluous hogwash?  You know, the kind of waste another best practice – Lean’s “Eliminate Waste” principle, attempts to eradicate.  I’d try hard to convince you of the uselessness of pair-programming, ineffectiveness of test-driven development, or the wastefulness of the more appropriately named Sick Sigma. “You’re just wasting time and money”, I would plead.

You might try to convince me otherwise by showing how it’s clearly possible for a best practice, like SWOT, in helping a naturally deliberate person find his new career path (read part 1 and part 2 first), or how there’s not a lack for imagination in applying Theory of Constraints to electronic trading.  Heck, you could even remind me of my own past success with Charles Handy’s Sigmoid Curve, or the undeniable boost in software quality brought by test-driven development.

Backpedaling, I would formulate my own rebuttal, including convincing and equally dizzying material from David Snowden on best practices in complex adaptive systems.  “Those examples worked because the system was ordered!”, I’d bark.

I had the pleasure of listening to David Snowden speak on the issue of effectiveness in Complex Adaptive Systems.   He suggests to lay off best practices, particularly in knowledge management when applied to complex domains.  To understand why, simply imagine what comes of trying ‘to fit the square peg to a round hole’.   A best practice represents a codification of knowledge, and “knowledge cannot be entirely codified”.  He instead advocates using approaches which promote the discovery of shared context:

“…shared context is vital to knowledge exchange, and such context always involves some human trusted validation.  This is not to say that codification of material in advance of need is not advantageous, but the effective reference is nearly always human.” – David Snowden

Returning to our discussion, the lightbulb finally goes off for the both of us.  “To boost effectiveness in complex domains, practices need to be adaptive and promote continuous feedback, the software industry must have known this all along when they moved away from predictive practices towards adaptive ones like Agile”, I conclude.  To which you respond,  “yes, but even David Snowden suggests there’s still plenty of value to glean from a best practice.”

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Visit the newest version of Boost Practices – the strengths based knowledge worker practice tool: http://boostpractices.freebaseapps.com.

 

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Social Skills

LinkedIn recently introduced a “whole new way to understand the landscape of skills & expertise, who has them, and how it’s changing over time.”   So essentially they have created a social network around knowledge worker skills.  Although the site confuses skill with technology (e.g. Wii, Blackberry and iPod as skills?), it nonetheless represents an innovative step towards better understanding skills and their relationship to the larger topic of competence (i.e. talent, skill, knowledge).

With LinkedIn Skills, I can now see the who, what, where and when of a particular skill, which is inline with the people-oriented features we’ve come to expect from other social media technologies such as Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.  With Skills, I can track the growth of a particular skill, determine which skills are on the up and up, and which should be dropped in favor of greener pastures.   As the idea matures, I’m sure we’ll see commercial opportunities such as: Click to …”Verify, Improve, or  Share” your skill, but the precedent has been set.  Skills are now first class citizens in the world of social media technologies.

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Manager != Leader

All too often we see knowledge workers, media and other professionals confusing the role of a leader with that of a manager. Peter Drucker spelled it out clearly for us – leadership is about ‘doing the right things’, in other words about being effective. Management on the other hand is about ‘doing things right’ – it’s about being efficient, the first looks outward, the latter looks inward. What’s the big deal in confusing the two you ask?  There are two general problems:

  1. A manager who strives for the glory of leadership, without understanding the essence of his role as a manger, will increase the risk of demotivating the team he manages, while also increasing the probability that goals and objectives go unmet.
  2. A leader who strives for the operational control of a manager, without turning his focus and vision outward,  will cement the ineffectiveness of his decisions.

This begs the question, can an individual be both a great leader and manager?

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