Tag strategy

A Mind Forever Voyaging II.

Several months after I stopped writing in August 2011, I noticed my creative and thinking abilities had lessened (I label this collective “design”).  While I was still thinking of new ideas and concepts, I found they lacked the time (and “environment”) to develop.

Now that I’ve restarted this process, I am slowly regaining a sense of “flow” that I have been able to periodically achieve over the past several years.  It’s this sense of flow that ultimately drives new ideas and initiatives, both of which help pave the way for new opportunities.

The basis for building a solid design foundation is to continuously create.  In my opinion, writing, drawing, programming, building and reading are activities that  positively contribute to this “foundation” and are a method of creation in their own right.

While creation is key, it’s important to heed frog founder Hartmut Esslingen’s warning:

The way of design is only achievable via creative model-making and prototyping by the designer. Tools, both real and virtual, connect our mind with the real world. However, tools also define how we shape things: tools’ limitations enhance our deep involvement with them and the materials, and honing our skills ultimately leads to mastership. The curse of “easy” digital tools is to become complacent after relative early “successes.” This can lead to mediocrity and a loss of creative excellence. Like the new “polystyrene slates” of many new electronic products, where excellence is defined by how well the corners are shaped (a re-run of 1950‘s boxy design), our modern-day digital design software is the cause for zillions of repetitive and bland products. Charlie Chaplin’s classic film of mechanized dehumanization, Modern Times, is a déjà vu of our current state.

While his opinion is perhaps based in the industrial design arena (frog helped develop Apple’s foundation design language), his comments clearly apply to design disciplines outside of ID.

This is one tension of many that I will need to factor into my development strategy, and will be further explored in future posts.

The Easy Button.

The first thing that I think most people think of when they see or hear this phrase is the office supply chain – Staples.  Shira Goodman, Staples’ executive VP for marketing, launched this advertising campaign (and underlying business strategy) in 2006 and the company has reaped the rewards ever since.

Ms. Goodman believed that “Customers wanted an easier shopping experience” and fortunately she was right.

One of the things I’ve learned over the past several years is that a critical factor in one’s success (at least in the workplace) is how easy you make other people’s lives.  For someone who naturally places logic before reason, it’s amazing at just how simple things are when you utilize this principle.

Let me share a few personal examples of past behavior and how I do things today.

Email: It is very easy for me to compile detailed messages to colleagues describing a particular issue / topic, and pointing out exactly what I need from them or how I may need their help.  Logic has always told me it’s more efficient to document one’s thoughts to:

  1. avoid interrupting that individual via phone (i.e. “context switching” reduces efficiency on both sides)
  2. take the necessary time to think about what you are asking for before submitting a formal request
  3. create a record for future reference (i.e. what did I ask for again?).

Fortunately for me, this approach has strengthened my writing and thinking capabilities over time, but guess what?  The recipients of these narratives don’t have time to read what I’ve sent them!  Are they lazy?  Perhaps; in 99% of cases they simply have other things they need to do and reading isn’t high on their priority list.  It’s an unfortunate truth.  I’ve seen countless circumstances where a carefully constructed email (that is actually read and responded to) could have eliminated many hours lost in verbal “crosstalk.”

So, what is my approach now?  There are still times where email narratives are still constructed, but they are few and far between.  Instead, my emails are typically 2-3 sentences in length – any longer, and it’s best to have a phone call or meeting.

Documentation: Similar story here.  Of course, this doesn’t mean that documentation should be immediately classified as non-essential.  Rather, documentation can be written in such a way where it is less verbose and to the point.  Have you ever seen documentation that is full of unnecessary content?  Title page?  Documentation credits?  Heavy formatting?  Seriously. Get rid of the fluff and you’ve reduced the document length by 50%.  Go even further.  Start with a blank page void of formatting / templates; if you can boldface and underline you don’t need the overhead.  Create a mission statement for the document – what are you trying to convey?  Make it your goal to keep the document to as few pages as you possibly can.  Throw content in the appendix where ever possible.

As I alluded to in an earlier post, this reduction strategy is psychologically very powerful.  By reducing the length of the content, it gives the readers a boost of confidence that says “Yes, they can read this!” (to completion of course)

Colleague Interaction: In the past, when I started to work with other project managers or colleagues that were clearly leading a particular initiative, I made it clear that I was there to help them in any way I could.  While I always have a sense of what needs to be done, I like to give the benefit of the doubt and let them set the initial direction (i.e. you don’t need two leaders).  I quickly learned that this approach backfires.  Why?  Because by not immediately suggesting ways to offer assistance you are asking them to do it for you.  Remember, people are lazy; they don’t want to take on more responsibility than they have to.  “Don’t make me think!” is the underlying message.

So what do I do today?  The first statement I make when meeting new colleagues is that I want to make their lives easy.  I immediately follow-up by suggesting some of the ways to that end.  How can anyone argue with that?

In the book Living with Complexity, the author challenges the notion that people want things (products / services) to be simple.  But when you look at the facts behind product and service design, you’ll find this really isn’t true.  For example, would you like a DVD player that only plays DVDs?  What about when presented with an alternative that also connects to the Internet, streams movies and tells you the latest news headlines?  If you want simple, the first option is your obvious selection but most end up buying the latter.  People want options – even if they don’t end up using 99% of them.  Marketing almost always wins.

A similar situation exists here. When it comes to working with people, reason trumps logic.  People can (and do) say that they think logically and they want very clear interaction paths between others, but they really don’t.  If they did, my lengthy narratives would all be read, and they would respond naturally (and willingly!) to simple gestures of assistance without an explanation of how.

Interpersonal connections and behavior are messy.  People are irrational and basing your working relationship on a foundation of logic is a poor choice in the long-run.  You can try to fight it but you won’t win.

For those who take logic off the shelf when it’s absolutely necessary, you are well ahead of my realization and I admire you.  As for me, I’ve since thrown in the towel and I am starting to see the benefits of stepping out of the ring.

Key Principles

  1. Accept that everyone (including you) is lazy.
  2. Find the path of least resistance and utilize it.
  3. Make it your mission to serve others.
  4. Reap the rewards through stronger partnerships.



Take a look at virtually any career guide and the underlying message is “consistency” and “traceability” – i.e. does your career tell a story?  Does it show a clear progression and overall strategy?  Are you building to some higher goal, or just going from position to position?

In my particular case, it’s a combination of both:

There is an article in a recent issue of Forbes by Tamara Warren that showcases Dodge CEO Ralph Gilles.  Mr.Gilles is a talented forty-year old who has had a clear sense of what he wanted from the very beginning and has since risen to the top from his early beginnings at CCS.

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I have always dreamed that there would a day where I would find myself in similar shoes. The work and personal sacrifices I’ve made will have paid off.  I will be able to thank everyone who believed in me since the beginning and I’ll be able to finally tell myself that “I did it.”

In some ways my abilities are like a river – some parts of the river are fast-moving and accelerate my progress in ways I had never imagined, while other stretches are dead calm leaving me to wonder if I’ve reached the end of the journey, but I don’t think this “river” has an end.

While I don’t have the benefit of a linear career path, I have many other qualities and talents that continue to open doors for me even today and will continue to do so in the long-run.

Ralph Gilles is a beacon for what’s possible.

The Crystal Ball.

“Begin with the end in mind” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. There’s a mental or first creation, and a physical or second creation to all things. – Stephen Covey

One of the many things I’ve learned in project management is that “starting with the end in mind” is one of the best methods to ensuring a successful outcome.  When your team has a clear sense of what need to do from the beginning, task definition and assignment activities come naturally and the team is able to spend more time focusing on the “day-to-day” issues vs. continuously wrestling with an ever-changing scope definition.

A similar approach can work extremely well when envisioning your future.

An article in the Futurist magazine entitled “Envisioning your Future: Imagining Ideal Scenarios” suggests that:

… having a vision is to be an idealist.  This idealism should not be confused with unrealistic ideas; it should be used synonymously with having “a standard of excellence”.  A person that is by nature a visionary looks into the future as though it is filled with possibilities, not probabilities.

If I look at my future based from who I really am, and document a clear description of what that future looks like, my life starts to become what I’ve created for myself.

After much thought, I came up with the following personal vision:

“My vision for the future is comprised of positive experiences that intertwine my ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ lives into a single life structure.  Because of this, the long-held notion of “work-life” balance is lessened, and at its extreme, no longer required.  By thinking strategically, I am able to spend my energy on activities that pay dividends over both the short and long-term.  A continuous and purposeful stream of explicit and implicit challenges allows my mind to expand at an accelerated rate.  With this expansion comes possibilities, and possibilities spark further action towards an ideal state called “Ultima”.  My relationships are continuously expanding, but only at a rate where the relationships themselves are developing at a natural and lasting pace.  My ability to see the unique qualities of each person and strive towards relationships that are, at their core, genuine, helps build strong partnerships that ultimately become central figures in a life structure built around growth, energy, complexity, awareness and intensity.”

Fortunately, I think this is fairly representative of what I want my future to look like.  The next step is to take this concept and apply it to my design firm.

What does my business vision look like?  I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Twilight Struggle: Starting Off.

In another way of opening new “mental horizons”, I purchased a boardgame called “Twilight Struggle”.  Here’s the description from the rulebook:

Twilight Struggle is a two-player game simulating the forty-five-year dance of intrigue, prestige, and occasional flares of warfare between the Soviet Union and the United States.  The entire world is the stage on which these two titans fight to make the world safe for their own ideologies and ways of life.  The game begins amidst the ruins of Europe as the two new ‘superpowers’ struggle over the wreckage of the Second World War, and ends in 1989, when only the United States remained standing.

Here’s the official website for the game: http://www.gmtgames.com/nnts/main.html

The game is comprised of a fairly large board (referenced from here on as the “game map”), 103 cards, 228 cardboard markers, the core rulebook and two “aid” cards (one for each player).

You can see what the board looks like here: http://www.gmtgames.com/nnts/TSsamplemap.jpg

As I have some familiarity with games such as this, I know from experience that it’s helpful if you can identify three main things:

  1. What is the objective of the game? (this helps set your destination)
  2. Are there any optional rules? (this helps you “eliminate” rules from the core set)
  3. What is the sequence of play? (this helps you gain context and increase your focus)

Having some very basic experience with more complex games, such as Squad Leader and Advanced Squad Leader (more on the latter in future posts), I have learned how not to be overwhelmed with the amount of content (rules, pieces, etc.) and instead focus on the core elements to get a “basis” from which to operate (play).

Let’s start by answering the questions posed above.

What’s the objective? According to the rules:

The object of the game is to score Victory Points (VPs).  Regional Victory Points are scored through geographic Influence over the six Regions.  VPs can also be received through the play of certain Events.  Each region has its own ‘scoring card’.  Playing a scoring card causes Victory Points to be scored, based on how much influence each superpower has in that region at the time the card is played.

Let’s stop here and analyze this paragraph.

The answer to the original question is summed up in the first sentence: “score Victory Points (VPs)”.  That sounds straightforward enough.  What else?  Well, we know that Victory Points can be attained in two ways – 1) through geographic Influence over the six Regions, and 2) through the play of certain Events.  The capitalization of the words ‘Influence’ and ‘Events’ is not random – these represent concepts that we’ll need to understand as we get further into the rulebook.

Are there any optional rules? It turns out that there are some optional rules – these are found in section 11.0 of the rulebook – entitled “Tournament Play” – and at the very end of the manual which are entitled “Designer Optional Rules”.  Since we’re just learning how to play, we can ignore these sections.

Going a step further into the rulebook, we can also identify other sections that we may be able to (temporarily) ignore.  (Again, our goal at this stage is to learn how to play in a short period of time.)

The manual is 28 pages in length and is comprised of the following six sections:

  1. Core Rules (pgs. 1-9)
  2. Extended Example of Play (pgs. 10-15)
  3. Card Histories (pgs. 16-25
  4. Designer Notes (pgs. 26)
  5. Counter Inventory (pg. 27)
  6. Miscellaneous (pg. 28)

In scanning through these sections, we only need to pay attention to sections 1 and 2.  And if we are brave enough to ignore the “example of play” section, we’ve narrowed our focus to a third of the manual!

What is the sequence of play? Our last step is to find out how the game is structured.  We first need to know how many turns there are in a typical game.  Sometimes games can go indefinitely and are not restricted to a specific turn count – Twilight Struggle is not one of them.

According to the rules, Twilight Struggle has ten turns and each turn has the following structure:

  1. Improve DEFCON Status
  2. Deal Cards
  3. Headline Phase
  4. Action Rounds
  5. Check Military Operations Status
  6. Reveal Held Card (Tournament Only)
  7. Flip ‘The China Card’
  8. Advance Turn Marker
  9. Final Scoring (after Turn 10 only)

Given this, a standard game of Twilight Struggle will contain 80 discrete steps.  If you spend two minutes on each turn (as an example), the game will take a little less than two hours.  While you are not bound to any specific deadline, it’s important to have a high-level assessment of how long the game will likely take.  It’s a good barometer to help you improve as you gain more play experience (more on this later).

At this stage, we now have a better understanding of what we’re dealing with!  This small time investment will start to make things significantly easier for us as we take a closer look at the rules.

Part of the enjoyment for me is to learn the mechanics of the game, but real enjoyment ultimately comes when you can get beyond the sheer mechanics and really start to think about strategy and winning the game.  That’s our ultimate destination in this journey.