Friday, November 27, 2009

i-TFTD #231: On Conversation

i-TFTD #231: On Conversation

#231-1. The real art of conversation is not saying the right thing at the right time, but leaving the wrong thing unsaid at the most tempting moment.

(Thanks to D. Karthikeyan for sharing this.)

231-2. "Diplomacy is nothing but a lot of hot air," said a companion to French statesman Georges Clemenceau as they rode to a peace conference. "All etiquette is hot air," said Clemenceau. "But that is what is in our automobile tires; notice how it eases the bumps."

(Thanks to Amlesh Kanetkar for sharing this.)

231-3. What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.
-Salman Rushdie, writer (b. 1947)

Not saying wrong things sounds simple but the problem is our judgement of what is wrong. There are clues that could help: (i) if the temptation to say what has occurred to me is felt as a compulsive need to impress (ii) if I intuitively sense that my point could be misconstrued and thereby rendering my communication i! neffective (iii) if I have received feedback to tone down or polish my speech. The simple act of pausing and examining whether something should be said and if there are better ways to put it across would itself help.

It is fashionable in todays business world to deride diplomacy and praise straight talk but in reality bluntness seems to get most people into trouble. Etiquette is just a commonly agreed form of symbolic interaction that occasionally degenerates into meaningless ritual when used without u! nderstan ding its spirit. Every organization culture, every subgroup and every layer of management has its own coded language that one is expected to learn gradually through observation and imitation. Some rare books or articles elucidate this but they tend to sound too cynical.

On the other hand, too many people take what they think to be a safe option of keeping
their dissenting views unstated. This does have serious consequences but that is not visible. Healthy debate is the hallmark of a progressing society.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

i-TFTD #230: Paul Hawken to Youth

i-TFTD #230: Paul Hawken to Youth

This is from (highlights mine) and has been quoted or linked in many blogs recently. Takeaways for me from this speech:

-Good style with a mix of humorous one-liners and hard-hitting reality
-Inspiring without sounding too touchy-feely
-Makes any reader ask some fundamental questions

Healing or Stealing?
Commencement Address at University of Portland
May 3, 2009
By Paul Hawken

hen I was invited to give this speech, I was asked if I could give a simple short talk that was "direct, naked, taut, honest, passionate, lean, shivering, startling, and graceful." No pressure there.

Let's begin with the startling part. Class of 2009: you are going to have to figure out what it means to be a human being on earth at a time when every living system is declining, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Kind of a mind-boggling situation... but not one peer-reviewed paper published in the last thirty years can refute that statement. Basically, civilization needs a new operating system, you are the programmers, and we need it within a few decades.

This planet came with a set of instructions, but we seem to have misplaced them. Important rules like don't poison the water, soil, or air, don't let the earth get overcrowded, and don't touch the thermostat have been broken. Buckminster Fuller said that spaceship earth was so ingeniously designed that no one has a clue that we are on one, flying through the universe at a million miles per hour, with no need for seatbelts, lots of room in coach, and really good food—but all that is changing.

There is invisible writing on the back of the diploma you will receive, and in case you didn't bring lemon juice to decode it, I can tell you what it says: You are Brilliant, and the Earth is Hiring. The earth couldn't afford to send recruiters or limos to your school. It sent you rain, sunsets, ripe cherries, night blooming jasmine, and that unbelievably cute person you are dating. Take the hint. And here's the deal: Forget that this task of planet-saving is not possible in the time required. Don't be put off by people who know what is not possible. Do what needs to be done, and check to see if it was impossible only after you are done.!

When asked if I am pessimistic or optimistic about the future, my answer is always the same: If you look at the science about what is happening on earth and aren't pessimistic, you don't understand the data. But if you meet the people who are working to restore this earth and the lives of the poor, and you aren't optimistic, you haven't got a pulse. What I see everywhere in the world are ordinary people willing to confront despair, power, and incalculable odds in order to restore some semblance of grace, justice, and beauty to this world. The poet Ad! rienne Rich wrote, "So much has been destroyed I have cast my lot with those who, age after age, perversely, with no extraordinary power, reconstitute the world." There could be no better description. Humanity is coalescing. It is reconstituting the world, and the action is taking place in schoolrooms, farms, jungles, villages, campuses, companies, refuge camps, deserts, fisheries, and slums.

You join a multitude of caring people. No one knows how many groups and organizations are working on the most salient issues of our day: climate change, poverty, deforestation, peace, water, hunger, conservation, human rights, and more. This is the largest movement the world has ever seen. Rather than control, it seeks connection. Rather than dominance, it strives to disperse concentrations of power. Like Mercy Corps, it works behind the scenes and gets the job done. Large as it is, no one knows the true size of this movement. It provides hope, support, and meaning to billions of people in the world. Its clout resides in idea, not in force. It is made up of teachers, children, peasants, businesspeople, rappers, organic farmers, nuns, artists, government workers, fisherfolk, engineers, students, incorrigible writers, weeping Muslims, concerned mothers, poets, doctors! without borders, grieving Christians, street musicians, the President of the United States of America, and as the writer David James Duncan would say, the Creator, the One who loves us all in such a huge way.

There is a rabbinical teaching that says if the world is ending and the Messiah arrives, first plant a tree, and then see if the story is true. Inspiration is not garnered from the litanies of what may befall us; it resides in humanity's willingness to restore, redress, reform, rebuild, recover, reimagine, and reconsider. "One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began, though the voices around you kept shouting their bad advice," is Mary Oliver's description of moving away from the profane toward a deep sense of connectedness to the li! ving world.

Millions of people are working on behalf of strangers, even if the evening news is usually about the death of strangers. This kindness of strangers has religious, even mythic origins, and very specific eighteenth-century roots. Abolitionists were the first people to create a national and global movement to defend the rights of those they did not know. Until that time, no group had filed a grievance except on behalf of itself. The founders of this movement were largely unknown — Granville Clark, Thomas Clarkson, Josiah Wedgwood — and their goal was ridiculous on the face of it: at that time three out of four people in the world were enslaved. Enslaving each other was what human beings had done for ages. And the aboliti! onist movement was greeted with incredulity. Conservative spokesmen ridiculed the abolitionists as liberals, progressives, do-gooders, meddlers, and activists. They were told they would ruin the economy and drive England into poverty. But for the first time in history a group of people organized themselves to help people they would never know, from whom they would never receive direct or indirect benefit. And today tens of millions of people do this every day. It is called the world of non-profits, civil society, schools, social entrepreneurship, non-governmental organizations, and companies who place social and environmental justice at the top of their strategic goals. The scope and scale of this effort is unparalleled in history.

The living world is not "out there" somewhere, but in your heart. What do we know about life? In the words of biologist Janine Benyus, life creates the conditions that are conducive to life. I can think of no better motto for a future economy. We have tens of thousands of abandoned homes without people and tens of thousands of abandoned people without ! homes. We have failed bankers advising failed regulators on how to save failed assets. We are the only species on the planet without full employment. Brilliant. We have an economy that tells us that it is cheaper to destroy earth in real time rather than renew, restore, and sustain it. You can print money to bail out a bank but you can't print life to bail out a planet. At present we are stealing the future, selling it in the present, and calling it gross domestic product. We can just as easily have an economy that is based on healing the future instead of stealing it. We can either create assets for th! e future or take the assets of the future. One is called restoration and the other exploitation. And whenever we exploit the earth we exploit people and cause untold suffering. Working for the earth is not a way to get rich, it is a way to be rich.

The first living cell came into being nearly 40 million centuries ago, and its direct descendants are in all of our bloodstreams. Literally you are breathing molecules this very second that were inhaled by Moses, Mother Teresa, and Bono. We are vastly interconnected. Our fates are inseparable. We are here because the dream of every cell is to become two cells. And dreams come true. In each of you are one quadrillion cells, 90 percent of which are not human cells. Your body is a community, and without those other microorganisms you would perish in hours. ! Each human cell has 400 billion molecules conducting millions of processes between trillions of atoms. The total cellular activity in one human body is staggering: one septillion actions at any one moment, a one with twenty-four zeros after it. In a millisecond, our body has undergone ten times more processes than there are stars in the universe, which is exactly what Charles Darwin foretold when he said science would discover that each living creature was a "little universe, formed of a host of self-propagating organisms, inconceivably minute and as numerous as the stars of heaven."

So I have two questions for you all: First, can you feel your body? Stop for a moment. Feel your body. One septillion activities going on simultaneously, and your body does this so well you are free to ignore it, and wonder instead when this speech will end. You can feel it. It is called life. This is who you are. Second question: who is in charge of your body? Who is managing those molecules? Hopefully not a political party. Life is creating the conditions that are conducive to life inside you, just as in all of nature. Our innate nature is to create the conditions that are conducive to life. What I want you to imagine is that collectively humanity is evincing a deep innate wisdom in coming together to heal the wounds and insults of the past.

Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years. No one would sleep that night, of course. The world would create new religions overnight. We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God. Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television.

This extraordinary time when we are globally aware of each other and the multiple dangers that threaten civilization has never happened, not in a thousand years, not in ten thousand years. Each of us is as complex and beautiful as all the stars in the universe. We have done great things and we have gone way off course in terms of honoring creation. You are graduating to the most amazing, stupefying challenge ever bequested to any generation. The generations before you failed. They didn't stay up all night. They got distracted and lost sight of the fa! ct that life is a miracle every moment of your existence. Nature beckons you to be on her side. You couldn't ask for a better boss. The most unrealistic person in the world is the cynic, not the dreamer. Hope only makes sense when it doesn't make sense to be hopeful. This is your century. Take it and run as if your life depends on it.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

i-TFTD #229: Dogfooding

i-TFTD #229: Dogfooding

Eating one's own dog food (Dogfooding)

To say that a company "eats its own dog food" means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. Dogfooding improves software quality, because the developers best able to fix bugs are likely to be personally confronted with them. It's also a means of conveying the company's confidence in their products: imagine the public relations nightmare if it were to emerge that Apple's iPod team all owned Zunes, or if the Yahoo! Search team used for their personal surfing.

The term is a variation of the marketing slang term "...but will the dog eat the dog food?" which is a shorthand way of saying that the product may look good and have many positive qualities, but the most fundamental point is whether the consumer actually likes it. The slogan refers to the early days of television, when programming and commercials were live, and things did not always go as planned, particularly if one of the actors was a dog. Dog food commercials frequently ended with a dog actually not eating the product. Thus, no matter how good the food looks on camera, or how good its story sounds, the commercial is not a success until the dog actually eats the dog food. This term became popular in the technology industry during the dot-com craze as many services seemed to be developed because they could be developed, rather than because consumers wanted them. The metaphor of a company "eating its own dog food" takes this idea one step further to say that the company has not merely considered the value of the product for consumers (that is, whether the dog will eat the dog food), but actually is a consumer of the product. When properly executed, this can add a new level of sincerity to advertising and customer relations, as well as helping to shape the product.

The phrase entered the industry in the following way. In the late 1980s Brian Valentine was test manager for a product at Microsoft called Microsoft LAN Manager. His manager, Paul Maritz, challenged him in an email, titled "Eating our own Dogfood", to increase internal usage of the product. Paul Maritz had in turn got this phrase from a past manager and colleague of his, James Harris, who had served in the military and often used colorful language, and who was fond of challenging technical types in review meetings by asking, "But will the dogs eat the dogfood?" As a result of this exchange, Bri! an Valentine set up an internal test server at Microsoft called "Dogfood". From this initial usage the term spread through Microsoft, to the point where reaching the "Dogfood" stage (i.e. good enough to use it yourself) became an important step. From there it spread to the wider industry.

Using one's own products has four primary benefits:

-The product's developers are familiar with using the products they develop.
-The company's members have direct knowledge and experience with its products.
-Users see that the company has confidence in its own products.
-Technically savvy users in the company, with perhaps a very wide set of business requirements and deployments, are able to discover and report bugs in the products before they are released to the general public.

(Thanks to Shuja Rehman for sharing this.)

In a way, without intending to, this is what my company did long ago with a timesheet, defect tracking and project management tool. What started as a small internal automation project became a revenue-generating product that also helped establish our organization as a process pioneer and thought leader in quality management processes. Some banks have a Staff Testing phase a! fter UAT and before go-live of an important new facility like ! Internet banking. This is done separately or as part of a Friendly User Testing phase.

A few months ago, before launching a strengths coaching initiative, we dogfooded it by rolling it out to our HR and Training team.

Monday, November 16, 2009

i-TFTD #228: On Choices

#228-1. The bad news is time flies. The good news is you are the pilot.
-Michael Altshuler

#228-2. The best way to have a good idea is to have lots of ideas.
-Linus Pauling

#228-3. History has demonstrated that the most notable winners usually encountered heartbreaking obstacles before they triumphed. The won because they refused to to become discouraged by their defeats.
-B C Forbes

It is a simple but harsh truth that each of us has 24 hours and we choose to fill it with things that we value at the moment. Even when we say, "I have no choice but to do this..." what we mean is that I am giving this (or the person wanting this) a higher priority than some other things I wish to do.

In the world of creative/lateral thinking, quantity leads to quality. Most of our genius is undiscovered because of mental laziness.

Getting discouraged or feeling demotivated is also a choice we make. Simply starting to use positive words and phrases to describe situations itself helps in a big way. Try it.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

i-TFTD #227: On Being a Leader

i-TFTD #227: On Being a Leader

#227-1. If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.
-John Quincy Adams

2. The leader is the person who is able to take credit for things that happen on their own.

3. Leadership is not so much about technique and methods as it is about opening the heart. Leadership is about  inspiration—of oneself and of others. Great leadership is about human experiences, not processes. Leadership  is not a formula or a program, it is a human activity that comes from the heart and considers the hearts of  others. It is an attitude, not a routine.
-Lance Secretan

We tend to think of leadership as getting others to do something and acquire ways to induce others. Inspiring others to act can be done in many ways, some active and some passive, some by saying or doing something ourselves, others by not saying or by not doing.

Amidst the positive reminders, I find the Dilbert-ian sarcasm a healthy dose of humour that can also make us pause and wonder if we are guilty of the kinds of behaviour that Scott Adams spoofs about.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

i-TFTD #226: The Missing Ingredient

i-TFTD #226: The Missing Ingredient

Every time you're in front of an audience, don't forget to add the secret ingredient... yourself.
by Dan Strutzel

There is a well-known story that's been oft-repeated by motivational speakers across the globe about a famous chef and his young apprentice. As the story goes, the chef was teaching his young student how to prepare his famous Key Lime Pie.

Now, this pie wasn't just good, it was what they call a "culinary experience." The creamy lime filling not too sweet, not too tart, succulent and downright tasty. The graham cracker crust lightly browned, holding together just long enough to meet your tongue before it crumbled and released its rich caramel flavor. Then there was the dollop of homemade whipped cream on top, light and fluffy and filled with real lime wedges. Yes, this was Key Lime Pie unlike any that anyone had ever tasted.

Eager to pass on his craft and increase his sales, the chef sought to teach his art form to his young apprentice. So he had him gather all of the ingredients and took him step by step through the entire recipe. The apprentice watched the chef closely, add limes here, mix cream here, add eggs here, a teaspoon of vanilla there, caramel flavoring there ... on and on it went. Then they each inserted the pies into the oven and waited for the masterpieces to bake.

When they pulled the pies from the oven, the apprentice was shocked. His crust was slightly burned, but the chef's was a golden brown. His filling tasted tart and made his eyes squint, while the chef's was as smooth as silk. His whipped cream had curdled, yet the chef's rested on the pie like a soft white pillow.

"What happened?" the apprentice blurted out to the chef. "I put in every ingredient that you did, I followed all of the directions, just as you did, and I couldn't even sell my pie at a grocery store, while yours is next to perfect."

The chef smiled, leaned over, put his hand on the apprentice's shoulder, and said, "Son, you forgot the most important ingredient of all." "What's that?" asked the apprentice. The chef winked and said, "You forgot to put yourself into it."

During my tenure as Vice President of Product Development for Nightingale-Conant, and having been an avid audio listener long before that, I have heard literally hundreds of speakers on almost every topic under the sun. I've come to conclude a key insight about public speaking: You can take every course on public speaking, learn all the right jokes and quotes, use all the right body language, and dress for success. Yet if, like the apprentice, you leave yourself out of the recipe, you will never have a lasting impact on your audience.

Many speakers say that fear is the major obstacle to good public speaking. They quote the familiar statistic that most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. This is certainly true. But in my experience, "overcoaching" of public speaking techniques is just as much of a barrier. You know what I'm talking about. This is the speaker that treats his or her speech like that Key Lime Pie recipe. Begin with a joke, then insert a story about yourself to identify with your audience, then tell the audience what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you've told them, an! d then add a great quote (and a dash of salt)... and there you have the "perfect speech."

Applies to more things than just public speaking. Like many advanced tips, this has to be absorbed and implemented in stages. Simple techniques, do's and dont's have to come first, we have to apply them in practice and then we are ready for the magic step of doing it naturally and well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

i-TFTD #225: On Confidence

i-TFTD #225: On Confidence

#225-1. Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow."
-Mary Anne Radmacher

#225-2. Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.
-Peter T. McIntyre

#225-3. The trouble with the world is that the stupid are always cocksure and the intelligent are always filled with doubt.
-Bertrand Russell

Quiet inner strength always wins over noisy aggression. It makes persistence easier, and is sustainable. It comes from spiritual maturity.

In my view, any of the following could lead to spiritual maturity: (i) reading any deep subject including science, mathematics, philosophy (ii) interest in star-gazing, astronomy (iii) trekking (iv) passionate involvement in any task at work or as a hobby (iv) music (v) any of the classical or fine arts (vi) reflection on one's own and others' behaviour with a positive, accepting and learning orientation (vii) ability to laugh.

On the other hand, overconfidence is common amongst the ignorant!

Über-coach Marshall Goldsmith posted five useful tips on Build Your Self-Confidence at his Harvard column on Oct. 30, 2009. In my comments to the article, I mentioned the following:

Self confidence could be looked at as being confident about oneself, not necessarily about one's view being correct. On the path to developing as a leader, if we anchor all our thoughts and actions in a basic trust on our sincerity of purpose, our ability to find a way and our flexibility to change direction, then the difference between self confidence and arrogance remains clear.

Being confident and projecting confidence could at times be different things. This could also be analyzed as: confidence derived from content and confidence in style.