Friday, April 27, 2012

If You Are Always Right, You Are Doing Something Wrong!

There's a wealth of stories about what individuals learned from making mistakes, or how they recover from failures. Anyone who does not make mistakes (or admit them), will not be exposed to this expanded dimension of experience.

I once had a boss who would ignore an idea at a meeting this week, but would raise it at the next meeting as his idea – if it worked, he took credit, if not the original thinker would get the blame. Can't be wrong under this system.

Similar results happen when the goal is too easy or is not specific – when the bar is this low there's a danger of tripping over it – hard to make a mistake if the measure is simply coming to work.

In an early iteration of networks and the internet, my organization had an eclectic collection of PCs of various brands and capabilities, software which spanned the DOS and Windows worlds – we had 6 different versions of word processing software – a rag-tag collection at best. The equipment failed frequently and our techs could spend up to 30 minutes just figuring out the combination of hardware and software BEFORE they could work to fix the problem.

We were planning a patchwork solution for replacing network equipment and software within available budget - about to place the order - when a doer from production suggested leasing all new equipment.

With this new perspective, we worked the numbers and found we could accomplish a complete replacement of the network over 90-days by leasing everything. The monthly cost of the lease fell within our budget constraints and the savings from fewer and shorter service calls offset most of the greater overall cost of leasing.

We would not have made this decision, or moved the network forward had we not avoided the mistake of repeating what we've done before without investigating other alternatives. The outcome was better by avoiding the 'safe' do it because we've done it before approach.

Recovery is a powerful teacher – it only takes on time as a child touching the stove to develop great respect for the appliance – and we learn a great deal more if something does not come out as we had expected (or hoped). The critical element is how we use this knowledge – and, as leaders, that we permit error with recovery as a natural event of professional growth.
If you are always right, you are doing something wrong! What have you learned by mistake?

Friday, April 20, 2012

Advice – The Give and Take

Do people ever offer you advice?

How valuable is it when you request it? When unsolicited?

Earlier this week I heard from an entrepreneur – he had an idea, started a company, and successfully sold it in four years. He would make a change if he did another start-up: during the planning for the start-up, he would plan the exit strategy as well. In addition to avoiding problems with exiting the business, his experience was the entry and exit planning together would have helped him better focus on how to delivery the services more effectively.

For me, this was a useful data point in business planning. My experience in planning the start-up has been total absorption in the up and running phase. Later changes were needed to complete the spin up and provide efficient delivery of services. Some in & out planning could have avoided later modifications.

Why was this advice credible and of value?

It was grounded in experience and offered as 'I would' not as a 'you should'.

Is ego the reason for resisting 'you should' advice? No – in the above story, the individual knows what his situation was and offered that he would do things differently for another start-up. How can a casual observer offer specific advice ('you should') without knowing the details of my problem?

My acceptance would be different had the individual offered his interpretation of principles or approaches done by others, suggesting that next time he would do things according to this 'new' approach. It is a data point without verification – his theory but not his experience. Is it lessons from the past – no longer applicable in the New Normal - can't tell from a theory.

Unsolicited advice often comes with a preface of 'you should'. This causes me to wonder about the underlying purpose for offering the advice, in addition to its applicability to my situation – if there is an actionable situation. There is usually an abundance of unsolicited advice offered about how to improve your golf game or to change political, corporate, or government operations – valuable?

Hearing how others have faced similar situations adds to our knowledge, but does not substitute for personal experience.

We learn by doing. We learn a great deal by avoiding or recovering from mistakes.

This is experience.

Advice: What's your experience?

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Image courtesy of Idea go at

Technology is how we do things – not the things we do them with...they are simply the tools.

Image courtesy of digitalart at