Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hull-Speed – What If More Canvas Won’t Make It Go Faster

Hull speed is, from the viewpoint of design considerations, how fast a boat can move through the water.  There are all kinds of complex explanations and really neat formulas about why there are limits and how fast a hull can travel, but in simple terms the boat makes a hole in the water (displaces water) and when under way it pushes the water out of the way in the front (creating a bow wave) and it fills that hole when the boat passes (creating a stern wave).  The maximum hull speed is reached when the bow and stern waves coincide – and at that point the boat will not go any faster, no matter how much more sail or power you add – it just cannot go faster unless the boat is modified.

Think about a tugboat for a second – this squatty small boat has two huge engines – up to 1,000 horsepower each and do a great job of pushing the freighters and oceanliners around.  So with all that raw power one might think that the tug could scoot across the water at breakneck speeds when not engaging the big boats.  Can’t happen – even with the throttles full open.  Same is true of the tall ships – with their miles of canvas above deck – adding more will not get it to travel beyond its hull speed.

If more speed is your goal, the design can be modified to increase the hull speed – but at some cost…trade-offs of capacity, functionality, range and stability.  Some of the design methods to wring out more speed are to lighten the boat so it displaces less water, or to change the amount of hull that is in the water (catamaran or hydrofoil).  So, more speed is bought by less cargo capacity or maneuverability or stability in rough seas.

How does this apply to leadership of an organization?  It seems apparent to me that, after the organization has fine-tuned its processes and captured efficiencies, it has hit the equivalent of maximum hull speed.  Adding more canvas will have virtually no effect:
·    Sales are down – sales force is told to work harder…do more of the same things
·    Production capacity is at 100% - production is told to make more…using the same processes & equipment
·    Hard times> expense & staff cuts – everyone is told to hold to the original throughput – applying pretty much the same methods & controls
Typically most members of the organization will try to ‘push harder’ to meet the new reality until fatigue and frustration bleed away their energy.  Quite often there may even be an unsustainable short-term spike in results – but it is short-lived.

Whoa – is doom & gloom the only thing to look forward to???  Of course not!!!

As in the boat analogy, there are a number of things that can be done to improve things – leadership is recognizing what will have the desired effect to meet commitments with existing resources.  Some ideas:
·    Eliminate deadwood processes & procedures which do not directly add value – such as that report which is produced and ignored…if there is one or two key items of value, generate those and scrap the wrapper (i.e., all the rest of the report)
·    You may not be able to increase the capacity and output of existing equipment, but training for efficient use of the equipment will make a difference (I am still finding old documents files with hard returns after each line – just like the Selectric days)
·    Introducing a weekly status meeting – same time, short and mandatory – among and between related teams will increase accountability and collaboration…AND RESULTS
·    Applying the simplicity principle (KISS) wherever possible to whatever possible
·    Innovation comes from the ‘doers’ – seek their input
·    Use focused training – for specific results – to better prepare for accomplishing new responsibilities; mentoring is a great way to shorten the ramp-up period and get superior results
·    Do NOT expect technology to yield significant productivity gains, but do keep computers and similar equipment reasonably current and uniform (I still recall when my organization had 5 different versions of WordPerfect and 4 versions of Word on 3 generations of computers – compatibility was a pipedream and conversion was a nightmare).

To wrap up – let me return to hull speed for one more time – before making major design modifications and suffering the trade-offs of speed for functionality, why not scrape the barnacles from the hull (the list above)… this may give you that extra boost and make traveling toward your goals faster and a more pleasant trip.

Where have you seen this happen?

If this subject interests you, our next free event is "Harnessing Disruptive Innovation", in Rockville MD, June 22! Sign up at

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Why Write About Good News?

When you read the newspapers, what do you find?
  • Crime
  • Violence
  • Conflict
  • Mean-spirited actions
  • Sexual improprieties & excess
  • Malpractice & malfeasance
  • Political intrigue
Then there’s the Comics – Snoopy & Charlie Brown are in re-runs and Dilbert is relegated to the Op-Ed pages; the Comics are not comical – they are pretty sad.

Where are the articles about the kindness that one individual does for another; about the little acts of heroism which are so meaningful (and serve as lessons for us all); about the community pitching in to make a difference and do something wonderful; about the exceptional students and their accomplishments; and about the local citizens who are always there in service to others?  I don’t see them in the newspapers – publishers say ‘good news does not sell papers!’.

Perhaps not, but these and similar acts do drive the community and retelling the story of them is uplifting, inspiring, and instructive.  Good news helps to build strong communities.

When you peek at the newspaper in the dispenser on the corner, what do you see through the window?  Disaster, deceit, depression, distress, scandal, gossip, Stock Market drops, deficit of $13T – it just goes on and on in the same fashion.

Here’s a story told to me by a number of individuals – where do you think it fit in the newspaper?  A passenger was waiting to board a flight in a busy airport and overhears 4 guys in military uniforms talking and counting their money.  He heard that they had just returned from Iraq and were trying to figure out if they had enough money to buy something to eat before the flight.  Try as they might, there was not enough money to feed all four.  As the plane was boarding, the passenger spoke to one of the flight attendants and gave her $40 dollars for those box meals they now sell on the plane, asking that they be delivered to the 4 soldiers when food was served during the flight.  The soldiers at first were confused when they received the meals and even tried to give them back to the attendant – she assured them that there was no mistake and the box meals were theirs.  They were quite touched by this anonymous act of generosity and asked that their patron be thanked.  Word of the soldiers’ meals spread throughout the plane after that.

As the passengers were leaving the plane, the pilot and entire flight crew came out of the cockpit and they stopped the passenger who had bought the meals for the 4 guys – to acknowledge him for this grand act of kindness; as they were speaking other passengers heard that he was the one who arranged the meals for the soldiers and bills were forced into his hand as the others passed by and offered their thanks.  As the story goes, when he finally got off the plane, he had a fist full of money - $125 of crumpled bills in all!

He saw the 4 military guys waiting for their bags and gave them the crumpled money, offering a comment that they might get hungry before they got home…and then he just disappeared into the crowd.

Where was this reported in the newspaper?  Nowhere!

Now – doesn’t this story raise a wonderful feeling about this thoughtful act by an individual in acknowledgement of the selfless service by these 4 young men to help preserve our freedom?  Doesn’t it just capture what is RIGHT about people and what is great about America?  This story offers a model of behavior to emulate – not so much buying a meal for someone, but for initiating a thoughtful action just because it is needed, without fanfare and a ‘look-at-me’ posture; just because… Good news yields good acts.  But doesn’t the seamy ‘news’ also have an influence on us as well – a negative and depressing effect?

I was the President of an organization that captioned TV programs and for quite a while the popular format for the afternoon daypart was a ‘magazine program’- which had three separate segments during the half-hour.  Invariably they were a titillating or sexual segment, a violence segment and an excessive lifestyle segment.  All-in-all these programs were negative and unsettling but offered in the name of entertainment. Over time our staff found they were beginning to accept these situations as the norm of behavior in our society.  Nothing could be further from the truth – but it was taking on a perceived reality.  Isn’t the same true for all this ‘bad’ news being printed – at the edge of consciousness it is becoming perceived reality.

So, to answer why write about good news:
  • It reflects a positive reality
  • It is uplifting and a model for the actions of others
  • It causes joy and happiness
  • It acknowledges the good acts by individuals in our community
  • It offsets harsh and ugly behavior reported elsewhere.

A newspaper about accomplishments, positive activities, and local happenings is a strong glue to help build and maintain vibrant communities.  And – it is fun to read!

What's your experience? Where has good news led to good results?