I got my city right behind me

Birmingham skyline (source: britannica, photo credit Mark Segal – Stone/Getty Images )

“I got my city right behind me
If I fall, they got me. Learn from that failure gain humility and then we keep marching ourselves” – Macklemore

Failure helps keep us humble. Failure is essential to learning. But failing without support leads to hopelessness. Failing with a community allows you to grow stronger while remaining humble. You know that this life is not all about you. It’s only because of your “city” that you can do anything.

Who do you have behind you? Are you in a position where you can fail? Can you take a risk and know that it won’t cost you your job? Can you experiment with a new way of doing things without getting funny looks?

If you have a “city” behind you, congratulations. You are in a great spot. Not many people are in a position where their failures are looked upon as a necessary step in a life long journey or growth. You can be vulnerable and real with your friends, family and co-workers. You can take risks. You have a community – use it.

But what if you don’t have a “city” behind you?

First off, you are not alone even though it may seem like you are. Find your city. Find those are willing to accept your failure. Find those that will show you grace and patience. Find those who care about who you are as a person.

Secondly, be the city to other people. Forgive mistakes quickly. Applaud risk taking and approaching problems differently then you would have. Be the kind of co-worker, friend, spouse, etc that you would want others to be to you.

Almost anyone who has had any success, professionally or personally, has a story about failure. As you write your own story, don’t shy away from taking risk, just for the fear of failure. Get your city behind you and stay humble.

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Not everything is as seems

English: Shuhari, Japanese

English: Shuhari, Japanese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This shouldn’t surprise me, but learning methods in Japan (the east) and the US (the west) are completely different.

My earliest exposure to the eastern teaching style came while watching The Karate Kid. Daniel-san is utterly confused by the  tasks that his sensei, Mr. Miyagi has him perform. What does painting a fence, waxing a car and catching a fly with chopsticks have to do with karate? Nothing….and everything.

The Karate Kid

The Karate Kid (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the west, we want to be told the answers rather than discovering the answers for ourselves.

In the east, there is a structured teaching method, called Shuhari, that places much of the burden on the student (with guidance from sensei) to discover solutions. The process never stops…a student never arrives at the final answer.

More on Shuhari from the wikipedia entry

Shuhari roughly translates to “first learn, then detach, and finally transcend.”

  • shu (守?) “protect”, “obey” — traditional wisdom — learning fundamentals, techniques, heuristics, proverbs
  • ha (破?) “detach”, “digress” — breaking with tradition — detachment from the illusions of self
  • ri (離?) “leave”, “separate” — transcendence — there are no techniques or proverbs, all moves are natural, becoming one with spirit alone without clinging to forms; transcending the physical

Now back to The Karate Kid…check out the quotes below and see how they relate back to Shuhari.

Miyagi: We make sacred pact. I promise teach karate to you, you promise learn. I say, you do, no questions.

Miyagi: You karate training.

Daniel: I’m *what*? I’m bein’ your goddamn *slave* is what I’m bein’ here man, now c’mon we made a deal here!

Miyagi: So?

Daniel: So? So, you’re supposed to teach and I’m supposed to learn! For 4 days I’ve been bustin’ my ass, and haven’t learned a goddamn thing!

Miyagi: You learn plenty.

Daniel: I learn plenty, yeah, I learned how to sand your decks maybe. I washed your car, paint your house, paint your fence. I learn plenty!

Miyagi: Ah, not everything is as seems…

This last line, “not everything is as seems” is important. Being taught by a master sensei, there will often be times when you do not understand why a lesson is being taught. But remember, you are the student, not the sensei.

I admit, that I am not the best student or sensei. I want the answers directly and I’d rather not interpret a Chinese folk tale or sand a deck to understand the answer to a question. As a teacher, I’d rather not take the time to think about the appropriate exercise for the student for him or her to discover the answer on their own.

Shuhari is hard work, but the more I study the lean thinking and eastern culture, the more it seems like it’s worth the effort…not to mention, my deck is being sanded by someone on my team this weekend. (just kidding!)

Focus

photo credit: digital-photography-school.com

My guess is that most of my co-workers, friends and associates have no clue how un-focused I can be. At current I feel like I have 13 different projects going on, without sole focus on one thing.

Small batch theory advocates that we are more efficient when we focus on completing one project (or batch), rather than pushing along several projects along (as I am doing now). – See The Power of Small Batches

I am learning that focus and control of your schedule comes and goes. There are times when it is clear the one thing that must get done. There are other days when I push along 15 different tasks. My hope is that most days I am able to focus on a few important (small batch) task, but embrace the days where life and work get crazy.

How focused does your work/life feel?

Never ending work

When I travel, I am continually amazed at the lack of good design in airports. Check out the picture above. This is the scene that confronted me this morning as I waited for my bag in the jetway. We wait in a long line, then when our bag comes we go grab it, only to bump into every other passenger trying to grab his or her bag. This setup is by default, not by design. But why should this surprise me, you or anyone else?

Good design is hard. Really, really hard.

Hard, but not impossible. Running 26 miles is also hard, but many can do it with the right training.

I believe the most important tool for good design is empathy. The training mostly involves taking a stand, trying something, failing and then trying again to make it better.

It is an art – not a science. And one thing I am beginning to love and hate about making art – it is never finished. The artist is always trying to make “better” art.

Good design is hard because it requires time. Time to plan. Time to observe. Time to collaborate with others. Time to test. Time to refine.

Who has this kind of time? You do. I do. We all do. If you are doing something important (aside: what are you doing that is not meaningful in some way?) then it is worth taking the time to make your doing is “by design” not “by default”.

I failed on this front just yesterday (another entry for the #FAIL folder!)

I was leading an important meeting for our department to discuss some recent changes that occurred in the organization. I walked into the meeting having given it only a couple minutes of thought. This important meeting was being run by default, not by design.

How could I have designed this meeting?

Step 0: gain some empathy for the team
Step 1: establish the goal is for the meeting
Step 2: think through what behaviors would help accomplish the goal
Step 3: bounce this plan off of someone else
Step 4: refine based on feedback
Step 5: have meeting
Step 6: evaluate the meeting to see if goals were met
Step 7: use experience to do this better next time

This may sound tedious, but remember good design doesn’t happen by chance. It takes hard work.

While I’m a fan of learning from failures, I think a better approach is attempting to design for success – not to launch into something saying “this is probably going to fail, but I’ll learn something.” What is it you want to learn? Write those things down and see if after you learned them after you are done. If you didn’t you need another test.

But testing again is ok. Because like I said designing is making art. It’s never finished. It’s never ending work. But that’s a great challenge. There is always an opportunity to improve.

For me, it’s oddly freeing to know that I can never “arrive.” I am on a journey that I can never complete. This would lead (and has led) many to despair.

It’s freeing for me because if you can’t “arrive”, then the joy must be in the actual journey.

I am enjoying the journey.

Getting credit for learning

I sat in a colleague’s office several months ago and we actually googled “getting credit for learning.” We were in the middle of a difficult period in which we were making many changes. The two of us knew that the last six months had taught us many lessons that would prove beneficial going forward, but learning doesn’t lift ROIs, increase sales or improve margins. The CFO can’t spend what we had learned. So how do we get credit for learning?

Sadly, google failed me and I didn’t walk away with a good answer. It wasn’t until I read The Lean Startup that I found my answer.

…if the fundamental goal of entrepreneurship is to engage in organization building under conditions of extreme uncertainty, it’s most vital function is learning

 

In the Lean Startup model, we are rehabilitating learning with a concept I call validated learning. Validated learning is not after-the-fact rationalization or a good story designed to hide failure. It is a rigorous method for demonstrating progress when on is embedded in the soil of extreme uncertainty…

 

We were deep in the soil of uncertainty, so using validated learning would have aided us in showing progress. The key to Ries’s methodology is in it’s rigor. The Lean Startup method relies on a Build, Measure, and Learn cycle.

photo credit: http://e7systems.com/

My main take away from build, measure, learn is that you start work in reverse. Here’s how to use the framework:

  • What is it you want to learn? ex Do our customers prefer a new product feature?
  • How can you measure this? ex We will measure sales on a A/B basis. Group A gets the new feature, group B doesn’t
  • What do you need to build? ex We build the systems capable of issuing products with both features.

But the process can also work with process or something personal. Here’s an example of building a new process:

  • What is it you want to learn? Is the new product development process viable?
  • How can you measure this? How long in months does it take to develop a product in the new process?
  • What do you need to build? We take two similar products down two alternative tracks.

On of the reasons I am so attracted to the Lean Startup is that it borrows many of the principals of design thinking.

In other words, we need the scientific method. In the Lean Startup model, every product, every feature, every marketing campaign – everything a startup does – is understood to be an experiment designed to achieve validated learning. This experimental approach works across industries and sectors…

 

Source: static.ddmcdn.com

These decisions are experiments set up by design, for a specific purpose. An work done that doesn’t result in us learning something about a customer (or process) is waste. Also, it should be clear that iteration is an important part of the process.

In design thinking, the process is moving us towards prototyping and testing. It’s a given that your first idea will not be our best idea and we use prototyping as a way to gain empathy – so it would be wasteful to spend an extra 2 months on the prototype because what we’re really after are the empathy and insights.

In the Lean Startup method, we are trying to get to “learn” as quickly as possible and then the cycle starts again.

Do you (like me) want to get credit for learning? If so, please check out Ries’s book and become a student of the scientific method. Be clear ahead of time which hypothesis you are trying to test (what are you trying to learn?) and how you are going to measure success. Think of yourself as a scientist running a lab of experiments.

Please share if you have experience with lean methods. I’ve love how this book has helped me to re-frame work issues. Read the Lean Startup if you want to be stretched and waste less time on features, process, steps and don’t help create learning.