Whiffs of Wisdom #6 – Managing People Managing Tough Decisions

I am getting a lot of encouragement to share more of my “Whiffs of Wisdom”.  Most are related to Managing Technical People, Technology situations and Managing Managers.  All of them have tongue firmly placed in cheek.  :)    Heres another one that came up recently:

Whiffs of Wisdom #6 

On Managing People who Have to Manage Tough Decisions

Never underestimate ones ability to avoid making a tough decision or having a tough conversation.  There is a nigh-limitless fountain of creativity in the work created, conference calls had, or meetings to attend –  to avoid having a tough conversation.  If only you could harness that creativity for good.  Vigiliance, personal support, and every once in a while a swift kick in the rear are the only known remedies.

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Whiffs of Wisdom #18 – Project Managers and Security People

I am not sure why but for some reason this topic has come up for me like 8 times this week.  Rather than continue to talk about it I figured I would just post one of my “Whiffs of Wisdom” some people call them “Manosisms”.  Apparently I am the worst person in the world at coming up with anecdotes but people get my drift so in my book that means success.

Whiffs of Wisdom #18

On Project Managers and Security People

Every Technology organization needs Project Managers and Security-focused Engineers.  There ACTUALLY IS a magic number of these individuals to have in your organization.  I don’t know what that number is, but I know when I have one too many of either.   These folks bring order to chaos (Engineers are notoriously terrible at project management) but the moment is starts becoming more about the process versus the END RESULTS I know we have gotten off track.  There is nothing more effective than a great project manager and nothing more destructive than an overbearing rule-nazi project manager.    You need to watch it closely because left to their own well-meaning devices these groups tend to create Bureaus of Business Prevention.

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Headed to #TCDisrupt this week, Looks like an amazing line up

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This week I am headed to the Tech Crunch Disrupt Conference in San Francisco.   It’s going to be hard trying to split time digging into the Startups in Startup Alley and a fantastic array of speakers this year.  My Twitter feed will likely play host to my thoughts throughout each day and I will likely post my thoughts here on Loosebolts after the close of the event as well.  If you would like to connect or reach out while I am at the event you can always reach me at  @mjmanos on Twitter or shoot me a quick email.

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Confessions of an Intentional Serendipity Coordinator

A few months back I had a great conversation with Pat McDevitt, a good friend of mine who at the time was the Engineering Leader for MapQuest.   MapQuest is going through some interesting changes and evolution from a product and engineering perspective and the topic of creating, sustaining, and driving a culture of innovation came up.  This of course led us to talking about the concept of Intentional Serendipity. 

We live in a marketplace where management-speak is fast, loose, and most of all abundant.  Most of it makes me sick and you immediately lose “lets go hang out and get a drink” points when I hear you babble one out.  You definitely don’t want to know what happens if you try to combine two of them together in a sentence.   But I have a dirty little secret to confess.   I have to say that no other management buzzword in the last five years has really captured much of my mind share as much as this phrase – Intentional Serendipity.

Now to be clear I am not really sure that it qualifies as “management-speak” just yet.  I really don’t hear to many people talking about it.  It hasn’t made it on to Bloomberg TV.  I haven’t read to much about it in the blogosphere although its definitely out there.  I have heard it only a smattering of times in podcasts.  I definitely know that it has not been thrown around ubiquitously at the conferences and industry events that I attend.    But it may be getting close to a break out.

Or perhaps I am just infatuated with the term because it most closely matches my style of how I like to cultivate innovation in my teams. 

I am not sure where it began and I am sure word-smithy pundits have thought to put these two words together for a very long time. But by and large I am an engineer at heart and its rare for us to be considered word-smithy pundits. 

The definition has to do with placing yourself in a situation where different ideas, processes, people, cultural norms are present (the intentional) and allowing those inputs to combine with your unique experience to create something new.  A new experience, a new idea, a new business, a whole new perspective, whatever.  There are lots of interesting definitions out there, but my personal favorite is short and sweet and comes from a Professional Learning educator for the YMCA in Toronto, named Peter Skillen.    His quote:

“Getting to where ideas can find you!”

 

I have always been fascinated about how the “Spark” of an idea comes to be and what drives the following ignition of that spark into actions and effort to turn into into reality.   Looking at my own life and career , its very clear to me that my own story is one full of Intentionally Serendipitous moments even though I may not have fully understood it at the time.  

Once you realize that it is indeed a real “thing” it can become an incredibly powerful force to harness in business, in your life, in anything.   But most especially for those of us in leadership positions in the Technology and Engineering disciplines.   The Institute of Design at Stanford University or “d school” basically operates on a very formal process by combining multi-disciplinary students and members for creating the fertile ground of amazing moments of inspiration.  Founded on the principles of Design Thinking it’s a pure application of Intentional Serendipity.   There is a great TED talk from Corey Ford at a TED event at UNC that I highly recommend watching.

As a technology leader in an organization I believe its my duty to create these opportunities to create this fertile ground. Referencing back to Skillen’s definition, Its my duty to create the place where the ideas can find members of my teams.   Oh sure, you have things like projects to get done, goals to accomplish, and the like – but providing these kinds of experiences for your teams is absolutely required if you want to create a culture where innovation can take root.

One of the ways I try to do that is by having “Out of the Blue Table Top Sessions” or as they have become to be known – Blue Table Top Sessions.  Bringing in engineering and architects with different skillsets, combine them with product and business people, provide a fun atmosphere, plenty of time, food, and a couple of key ignition questions or challenges to get the ball rolling.  

BlueTableTop1

Creativity is highly encouraged.  The tables are covered in blue paper and everyone is issued a silver marker, and a buzzer.  Drawing on the tables with ideas, notes, thoughts, diagrams, doodles, everything is encouraged.   Throughout the course of a session the ideas generated are captured, technologies explored, and an inventory is created for deeper follow-ups. The teams get to pick which they think are the best/most viable/ or ah-ha! ideas of the session and those are given extra attention. 

Throughout the session the ideas flow, conversation is spurred on, and the only BlueTableTop2requirement is that attendees come with an open mind, assume no constraints or live within the ones defined in the challenges or ignition questions and allow people to have fun.  The buzzers are there for when these basic rules are violated.  Its hard for people to truly get upset when they are buzzed with a loud cow mooing, or dog barking, or like sound.   Its all in good fun.  Someone also has to be in charge of pacing and timing.   The Coordinator.   The Coordinator is an equal member of the team in every way, except that they have the added responsibility to keep the day moving along either by distributing new challenges, making judgement calls, or taking bio breaks.   Its kind of like being the Dungeon Master playing a table top game of Dungeons and Dragons – except you get to be the half-elven fighter/mage too!

This process has been instrumental in many of the advancements on the tech and product sides of  the business.  Allowing the varied life experiences and unique skills of the people around you to contribute to the confluence of ideas is extremely satisfying as a leader and has a real benefit to the goals of your organization.

Whether you lead people formally or not, whether you lead an entire organization or just a small group – having a method of harnessing innovation is priceless.   Are you a Intentional Serendipity Coordinator?  If not…you failed your saving throw.

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Creating a culture of Creativity….

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I came across this talk by John Cleese (of Monty Python fame) from 1991 about the process of building creativity.   I could not help but think of the applicability of building organizations that are creative.  In my opinion getting people out of the grind, the day to day blocking and tackling, into a place where they can begin to solve for things is more about the attitude and engagement of the team.  Its also one of the key cultural things I try to build in an organization.   The video highlights the impacts of being too serious, to solemn, The importance of giving yourself the time and permission to think, how to think, the struggles of thinking, the importance of play, and the impact and multiplication of effort of  play with others.  It’s a serious talk with lots of jokes thrown in…but if you are tasked with bringing out the most of your teams its well worth the 36 minutes investment of time.   He ends by telling you how to stop your subordinates from being creative.    Its all in fun, but I bet you can relate to his examples and managers and leaders you may have had in your work life!

 

John Cleese on Creativity Video

 

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** EDIT **
Thanks to Patrick Dugan and Dave Ohara for pointing out that the original Vimeo link had expired. Switched to the YouTube version.