Designers (…) take the original problem as a suggestion, not as a final statement, then think broadly about what the real issues underlying this problem statement might really be (for example by using the “Five Whys” approach to get at root causes). (…) Most important of all, is that the process is iterative and expansive. Designers resist the temptation to jump immediately to a solution to the stated problem. Instead, they first spend time determining what the basic, fundamental (root) issue is that needs to be addressed. They don’t try to search for a solution until they have determined the real problem, and even then, instead of solving that problem, they stop to consider a wide range of potential solutions. Only then will they finally converge upon their proposal. This process is called “Design Thinking.”
In this TED 2013 talk, Bill Gates tells the audience his surprise when he found that teaching is among the professions that receive less feedback.
(Link to video: TED Talk: Giving Teachers What They Deserve)
He closes his talk showing the amount in dolars that would be necessary to implement a minimal feedback system in every classroom in the US, according to his foundation. Give the teachers the tools to diagnose their skills, and the tools to act upon the diagnosis, and this will have a direct positive effect on the students.
The system proposed is certainly interesting, and I agree that having the means to get feedback is important. However, the underlying affirmation is that if teachers are bad at teaching it is because they don’t receive proper feedback, and this is not always true. There are other factors to take in account when looking at teachers performance. Experience says that you can find extraordinary teachers in a system that provides no formal feedback.
How did these teachers become good at teaching? I think the answer has to do with motivation. Teachers that are truly motivated usually find ways to improve their teaching and achieve outstanding results in less-than-optimal conditions. But having motivated teachers is a harder problem to solve than implementing a technical platform for receiving feedback. It probably requires that each teacher has some kind of coach assigned. (Coaching may imply receiving feedback, but is not limited to feedback.) And for coaching to work, it is essential that the teacher agrees to have a coach, which may not always be the case. Such a system, obviously, doesn’t scale, and cannot be implemented just by funding.
Android, the operating system used by Google in its mobile devices, is distributed under several open source licenses. This essentially means that anyone, be an individual or company, can download the source and build their own version of Android if the have the technical skills to do so.
From a business strategy point of view, one could think that using open-source software as part of your competitive advantage lowers the barrier to new entrants. I think this is not always the case.
The threat of new entrants using Android to compete with Google is real, as Amazon proved when launching the Kindle Fire on September 2011. The Kindle Fire uses a modified version of Android that replaces Google’s application store with the Amazon Appstore, essentially cutting Google out of the revenue stream1.
As John Siracusa explains in his article Code hard or go home, building the expertise necessary to fork and maintain their own version of such a huge software as Android would take any company years of effort and lots of resources. That’s why Samsung, despite its impressive market share, licenses the operating system for their phones and tablets from Google rather than develop its own.
The barrier to entrance of open-source software is not it being open or closed, but its complexity and size. In the case of Android, its size and complexity effectively keeps out most of the could-be competitors.
Feedback is one of the most important ways you can engage in with members of your team1. Employees have the right to know what they are doing well and what they need to improve.
Sometimes, however, people in management or supervisor positions find it difficult to give feedback to their team members. They don’t want to be known as ‘harsh’ bosses, or they put up the excuse that they don’t want to dishearten or demotivate their reports.
You don’t need to be harsh or abrasive to give good, objective feedback. Harshness comes from using rough language —or being sarcastic— or recriminating your interlocutor. Good feedback seeks to improve the situation and the employee’s performance.
Practical advise when giving feedback
Feedback needs to be concise and straight to the point. Trying to sound exaggeratedly positive, or touching only tangentially related subjects to appear more friendly distracts the attention from the important issues of the conversation. For example, if the employee’s job is at risk, you must clearly say her so. Don’t just hint vaguely at ‘what could happen’ if she does not improve her performance.
Feedback should be as objective as possible. This is difficult because it implies basing your judgment not on perceptions but on validated facts. For example, if you ask others in the company for feedback about one of your team members (a common practice in some organizations), you must value the objectiveness of that feedback, at the risk of being unfair if you don’t do so.
Feedback should not be abstract but concrete. Avoid vagueness. If you are telling someone that in order to get a promotion she needs to develop her strategic skills, then you must explain what you mean by strategic skills, and by which criteria will she be evaluated. If one of your supervisors needs to be better at managing his team, then give him examples of what he is not doing now, and you expect him to do.
So, don’t improvise. Think in advance what you are going to say, the examples you are going to use, the goals your are setting.
Help others achieve their best potential
I like to view feedback as a way to help others achieve their best potential. Being good at giving feedback is hard. But if you are responsible of other’s people development —professional or otherwise— timely feedback is probably not just an option or tool, but part of your responsibilities.
Although in this article I refer to feedback to your reports, I think feedback should be given up and down, and laterally. ↩
Lucasfilm, founded by George Lucas in 1971, produced film franchises like Star Wars and Indiana Jones. It was acquired by Walt Disney Co. in October of 2012. ↩
Helped by Suster’s excellent questions, Christensen talks about how disruption can affect different industries. He also explains the perils he forsees for now market leaders like Harvard University and Apple.
From the voice Innovator’s Dilemma on Wikipedia: First published in 1997, Christensen suggests that successful companies can put too much emphasis on customers’ current needs, and fail to adopt new technology or business models that will meet customers’ unstated or future needs; he argues that such companies will eventually fall behind. Christensen calls this “disruptive innovation” and gives examples as diverse as the personal computer industry, milkshakes, and steel minimills. ↩
Clutter can be a source of distraction and an obstacle to getting work done. A cluttered desk, or its electronic counterpart, your laptop’s desktop and your mail inbox, can affect your productivity.
In your defense, you can quote Albert Einstein famous quote1:
If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, then what are we to think of an empty desk
But chances are that if our desk is a mess, it’s not because we are like Einstein, but because we postpone small decisions over the things that land on our desktop. Do it, delegate it, archive it, file it for later reference or delete it, but don’t let it linger on your desktop or inbox.
About the title of this post: I read (or heard) the original quote in Spanish some time ago, but I didn’t record the source: Un escritorio desordenado está lleno de decisiones no tomadas. I haven’t been able to track down the original author. The title of this post is my translation of the phrase to English.
Time management cannot be despised. Time is the scarcest resource, and unless it is managed nothing else can be managed, says Peter Drucker1. Everybody finds themselves with the limits of time.
While this is common sense, using time effectively and achieving high personal productivity is not easy. In a recent study of 1,500 executives around the globe by McKinsey, 48% of the respondents said the way they spend their time didn’t match their organizations’ strategic priorities.2
There is a lot of bibliography about time management, productivity and execution3. But in this post I wanted to explain a concept that I have found extremely useful for productively managing my time, and helping others manage theirs.
Manager’s Schedule and Maker’s Schedule
People in management positions usually have two types of schedules intermixed, which Paul Graham calls the Maker’s schedule and the Manager’s schedule.
The manager’s schedule follows the appointment book, where the day is cut into one hour or half hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if needed, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour. This is the time for meetings, making phone calls, reviewing reports, doing follow-up tasks, answering mails and the like. Interruptions during this time may be annoying or not, but don’t have a great toll on your productivity.
There are other tasks, however, that require a longer time span and great attention. An hour for this kind of task is barely enough time to get started. This is the maker’s schedule. Knowledge workers in particular need this kind of time. It is in this kind of uninterrupted work where you find relationships between ideas, get to the root cause of a problem, or where you are able to synthesize complex reasoning in simple and clear statements. You enter a state of flow, where you produce great stuff through absolute concentration4.
Getting in this kind of flow is not easy. According to some authors, it takes between 15 minutes to half an hour to achieve this state where you are at maximum productivity. More important, any interruption will throw you out of the flow. A phone call, interruptions by coworkers, an incoming mail… And to reenter the high productivity state again you may need another half an hour.
Consequences of the Maker’s Schedule
Embracing the maker’s schedule has consequences. A consequence is that you need to explicitly allocate time for tasks that require a maker’s schedule, and try to make it interruption-free.
Interruptions can come from other people, the environment, or yourself. Start by avoiding self-distractors, things which are under your control. While working on maker’s schedule, close your Mail application, turn off your corporate or non-corporate chat program, and silence your phone. This may not be easy.
Another consequence is that if you have people on your team that require a maker’s schedule, you should try to protect their time. This means avoiding unnecessarily interrupting them. (Don’t call if a mail will suffice, don’t expect immediate answers if immediate answers are not needed, etc.) This also means they should have a place were they can work without interruptions, ideally an office with a door that can be closed. (Dilbert-style cubicles farms are probably not the most productivity environment.)
Give the Maker’s Schedule a try
If high productivity is important for you, I strongly suggest you give the maker’s schedule a try. Try to allocate at least two hours straight of uninterrupted time to a specific task, and take note of how much of uninterrupted time you effectively work.
Be warned, because entering a high productivity state does not come automagically just from fencing oneself from distractions. It requires the habit of focusing and concentrating on the task at hand. And habits take some time to sink in. The good news is that habits can be acquire by anyone, as Aristotle taught centuries ago.
Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive, first edition. New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1967. ↩
McKinsey Quarterly, January 2013, Making time management the organization’s priority ↩
The classic book on ‘life management’ is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. This method is known as GTD among its followers. Leave no open loops. Collect all inputs and process them. With each input, take one of the following actions: if it can be completed in two minutes or less, do it now. If it takes more time, defer it or delegate it. If something requires more than two actions to accomplish, call it a project. If it doesn’t require an action, throw it into the trash, add it in your someday/maybe list, or store it in your reference filling system. ↩