Saturday, April 29, 2006

The 5-D Approach to Anything (sm)

Way back in the early ninties I started writing down some of what I was learning from experiences with technology, business, and other people.  Over the years, I kept writing,  sometimes publicly, sometimes just notes and scribbles.  From time to time I pull one of my notebooks out to review something applicable to what I'm working on, or just to keep my thoughts up-to-date.  When occasion arises I offer up my tidbits to friends or colleagues in situations where my advice or counsel has been sought.  And it so happens, I've had more than a few people remark that they appreciated my input.  Which I guess goes to show you that not everyone wants to learn things the hard way.  If someone can take a shortcut and not repeat the glorious chaos of my experiences then I'm glad to offer them up.  Since I have a minute today,  I thought I'd get started with one of my overview tidbits.

One of the foundational writings I did was The 5-D Approach to Anything (sm).  The 5-Ds are Dream, Document, Design, Develop and Deploy.  

It's pretty simple really.  Not as simple as "Is it plugged in? And turned on?" which by the way works in almost every stalled situation (people included!), but the concept is straightforward.  Follow the 5-Ds and you will increase your chances of success in any venture.  The idea applies pretty much everywhere, you just have to follow the steps.  For software, companies, and finance there are 6-D and even 7-D additions, let me know if you'd like the customized extras. For now, here's a quick overview of The 5-D Approach to Anything.

Start with the goal, the ideal, the vision.  If you don't know where you are going, how will you get there?  If you don't know what you want, how can you achieve it?  You've heard all this positive visualization crap before.  This is pretty much the same.  Let you mind be free to just imagine, envision, and well...dream.

In almost every aspect of human interaction, something can't be real unless it is written down.  That's why we have contracts, records, music scores, books, formulas, and even math.  So write down your dream.  Excruciating detail helps, but blocks and arrows, bullet points, napkin scratchings, and even audio recordings are all valid ways to document.  Just get it down in some concrete form so you can share it.

Once you have something concrete that represents what you are going for, you can share that with the people who can help you attain your goal.  Maybe those are your friends if the goal is personal. It's probably your financial planner if the goal is monetary.  Your employees and colleagues if the goal is career-oriented.  It's an engineer or architect if you want something built or constructed.  It's an editor if you want your book published, a personal trainer if you want to lose weight, or it's your banker if you want a line of credit.  See where this is going?  These are people who can refine your approach. Who can help you attack your problem, or obtain your goal, or make your ideas real.

You know what you are trying to accomplish, you've made it real, you've shared the goal, and refined your plan.  The people who need to be motivated and working can now being executing against the design you've laid out.  That might mean a mason can start laying brick, your broker can start buying stock, or you can head to the gym with confidence.  Whatever the doing step (or steps) of the plan might be, now is the time to get down to it.  Unleash the activities and charge forward.

With the execution over, you can do the most important step.  Share.  If it's your money you earned, enjoy it.  If it was time you freed up, relish it.  New body? Show it off! Amazing product? Sell the snot out of it. Company growing? Raises all around!  You see, once you get to where you were going, it's important to take that look around and appreciate the journey.  Assess the situation and make sure you like the view.  Learn from any mistakes, accept any blame, forgive any missteps.  Breathe a sigh, raise a glass and get some sleep.  Tomorrow you'll do it all again.

The 5-Ds are easy to master, but not obvious.  When you slow down and ensure you spend time on each step, you can make sure you aren't forgetting something crucial to your success.  Things like taking time to involve the right people, soliciting good advice, listening to your own reasons, celebrating your successes, sharing rewards with the deserving, and even being accountable for when you do screw up.  These are things that will attract good partners and friends and will ensure repeated success.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


I had to fill out this questionaire for one of the kids I'm "".  They made me think so I thought I'd share them with you.

Q: Do you think yor type of resume should depend more the job you are applying for or the specific company you are sending it to?
 A: The specific job you are applying for is more important.

Q: What is the best way to stay motivated when you own your own company and do not have a supervisor telling you what to do?
A: Written plans and delegated responsibility. When you write things down it can help you stay focused on what is really important. When you delegate responsibilty to your employees/service providers/vendors you have other people depending on you to keep things rolling. It's hard to slack off when you have an accountant who needs deposits made on time, or an employee how needs their worked reviewed so they can move on with the rest of their goals.

Q: During an interview what do you think most recruiters look for when hiring employees?
A: It depends on the company. Each company will have a different culture and focus. A very customer-oriented business will care more for your attire and presentation then actual ability or experience. A very technical business will care little for your attire or presentation and instead focus on your real experience or expertise and it's applicability to their bottom-line.

Q: When running your own business what do you do to seperate work from family and your outside life?
A: Set boundaries. Setting aside specific times for work and family is important. Not randomizing and trying to do a little of each is critical. Give yourself a bucket of hours to one thing, and then switch. Stay on task by turning off the phone when you are with family, and closing the office door when you are working. Be clear in your expectations for both sets. Let family know the proper way to interrupt, the appropriate and inappropriate reasons, and other boundaries. Do the same for your employees.

Q: What is the best job I can take after college to gain the experience needed to manage my own company?
A: Selling something is first. Working in customer service for a large company with volatile customer base is next.

Q: What are the qualities you look for in a good business partner?
A: Integrity. Attitude. Focus. Everything else is just gravy.

Q:If you start a business and it fails, how do maintain drive and confidence when beginning a new venture?
A: Make sure you have really learned from your mistakes. You don't really know something until you can teach it. At a minimum you have to be able to understand it. So write down your lessons learned. Go over them with your mentors and extract the key lessons, and hard truths. Put them in a form you can work into your daily thinking, like mottos or slogans or catch-phrases. Then use them. Doing a post-mortem on any venture is always necessary for any successful entrepreneur.

Q: Do you think it is essential to get experience at another company before starting your own business?
A: Yes.

Q: Would your recomend attending MBA school full or part time?
A: Full time. It's hard work and the socialization/networking aspects of the programs are much more valuable than the actual course content.

Q: Have you ever had a mentor? If so, how much do you think you benefited from his/her guidance?
A: I have and still do. Several, in fact. The objective viewpoint and the ability to speak to someone you can trust to have your best interests in mind is empowering and crucial.

Q: What is the most difficult part of starting/running your own company?
A: Realizing that the tasks you do which will make you successful usually have little to do with what your business is about. All businesses have the same challenges, those challenges aren't the business. The business is the output of addressing all those challenges successfully.

Q: What are the advantages and disadvantages of being your own boss?
A: An advantage is that you get to pick and choose which opportunities you want to pursue. The disadvantage is that you don't always get to pick the challenges that created those opportunities. Sure you get hoard the success, but you also get to hoard the sweat, the hours, the tears, and the failures.

Q: Do you think credentials or personality are more important when hiring new employees?
A: Almost always personality.   Of course, exceptions of particular kinds of work are common too.

Whatcha think?

Monday, April 17, 2006

Scribes, Ants, Artists

In the spectrum of people in the field of Software, there are three major groups. Those for whom it is a job, those for whom it is a religion, and those for whom it is an art.

Those for whom it is a job we'll call Scribes. They generally thrive in the periphery. They may be involved but are never widely impactful. They are continually consuming but very rarely of any influence. The great ones are dependable and performant.  The good ones are mostly useless except as seat-warmers and secretaries.

Those for whom it is a religion we'll call Ants. They can be found littering up the landscape, infiltrating even the best structures. They are hordes of drones, led by a small number of disassociated individuals who make proclamations and generally rouse the masses without ever actually doing any work.  The great ones can seem to fly in relation to their followers, but they have a limited shelf life.  Once their nest is established, the hordes just dig in and tear up the surrounding country-side. The good ones can carry off projects many times their own weight, but inevitably just leave a whole that someone else has to fill.

Those for whom it is an art we'll call Artists (didn't see that coming, did you?). They are the smallest group, but the most influential. They actually create things just to see what they look like, and they appreciate the creations of others.  They borrow heavily from the world around them for inspiration and direction.  Sometimes they infuse religion into their art. They try to get paid for their art, but it's never fully appreciated until after they are gone. Artists can be very eccentric, it is the true price for their gift. Their creations inspire others. But unlike with the Ants and Scribes, the inspiration takes different forms for each of them.

Ants all follow the same path, and like Scribes get their orders from somewhere else. Artists prefer guidelines.

A Scribe can get stuff done, but will often only be successful by leaving a bloody mess of spaghetti and chicken-scratching in their wake.  They pay attention to the latest engineering fashions only so much as it directly impacts their day-to-day.  For them, change isn't particularly good, unless glacial in speed.

Count on the Ants to always read the latest works and writings.  It is the Ant Queens to write the drivel that is gulped down by the masses.  With their focus solely on increasing their hordes, they don't care about the wholes they leave in the landscape, only that their insatiable appetite is appeased.

When I look around and assess my peers, my clients, and my workers, I try to remember what I am striving to become. All too often I see reflections of the ways I've yet to master myself.

Which bucket have you found yourself in lately?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Just Because

Some time ago I was following a behavioral research project being carried out on the subject of motivation. The underlying concept had more to do with how to get people to do things than why they do them. Along the way some interesting things were learned about both aspects of motivation. In any case, the basic flow of the experiment involved cutting in line.

A researcher would come up to people who were waiting to use a photocopier, and ask to cut in, "I only have a few pages, may I go first because I am in a hurry?" Something like 90% of the time, the person asked would let them in front. In another case they would come up to someone waiting to use the photocopier and ask to cut in, "I only have a few pages, may I go first?" To this approach only something like 60% of people let the researchers go first.

The intial thinking was that it was the "I am in a hurry" that prompted the different reactions. They then adjusted the experiment to include other fake "reasons", including some very poor ones like "because I have to make copies". It was quickly apparent that giving a reason always prompted more success than without. Much more success.

Simply including a "because" with their request created a dramatic increase in the percentage of success for the request being granted. This simple exercise demonstrated (albeit indirectly) how important having a justification can be for actions.

As individuals we love to have reasons for things, it makes us feel secure. When you are given a reason for something, your brain can go "Alright then, as long as there’s a reason!". People love reasons, so if you are in a position of trying to influence someone, just give them one.

Of course, it should be obvious that if the likelihood of someone complying with a request is zero, then increasing it by any percentage (even a large one!) is still going to be zero. For example, I have well publicized that I am willing to give Sarah Alexander one of my famous back-rubs for no charge, because they’re very relaxing. However, the chances of that happening are pretty close to zero and I have yet to hear from her. Sarah, if you’re reading this, the offer is still very much on the table.