Category Archives: tracking tools

Routines to the Rescue!

This quote caught my today (from an article about a person by the false name of Mr. Butteran) who achieved great results in sales)

1. He had a routine.

Everything for Mr. Butterman had a routine, from what he ate for breakfast to when he paid his bills, to where he blew off steam on a random Monday night. In fact, he even prepacked his streamlined little briefcase with the following day’s to-do list (personal items circled in blue).

This offers an idea for a meta-routine. If everything you do should fit into a routine, do you track whether these things do? If you find something that is not part of a routine, should you consider making a correction?

Nice idea for a tracking tool.

Innovation for Lunch

Some food for thought from Forbes

We don’t expect someone without training to build a discounted cash flow model or develop a marketing segmentation. Nor would we expect someone new to an industry to already understand its structure and dynamics. So why do we expect our colleagues and leaders to suddenly manifest an ability to innovate? And why don’t we expect them to study innovation systematically—both the methods they should apply in different contexts (e.g., when to use lean and agile methods vs. design methods) as well as meaningful innovations in the surrounding landscape (e.g., what can we learn from companies like Uber)? Like any other business function or discipline, innovation has tradecraft that we can learn, practice and hone.

That tradecraft includes (1) how we frame our thoughts, (2) how we communicate to build teams, (3) how we track what to improve, and (4) how we reward success and learn from failure.

The Year of Learning

2014 was a great year in at least one respect. It was the year in which “learning” came out of the classroom with MOOC’s and other tools. I would like to take this a step further this year. That step is to link learning and the good life.

Think about it for a second. The old fashioned notion of the good life revolved mainly around status and pleasure.  “Living like a king” was the ultimate. It is no huge surprise, therefore, that the consumer revolution of the 20th century idolized the types of excesses that kings would crave. James Bond’s family motto “The world is not enough” fits the century rather well.

In fact, humans can take only so much pleasure in a given time period. And after we reach that point of satiation, the objects of our desire lose their charm. And more alarming than that, being satiated does not equal being happy. So the good life as a life of ultimate pleasures has its obvious limitations.

Time to re-think things? In fact, we do not automatically feel happiness from an experience. It is instead an interpretation of experience. You might say that we give the experience a happy feeling when we believe that it is appropriate to do so. So if we equate the good life with a happy life, we need to understand how this interpretative process works.

To understand how we interpret experience is to learn about the self. And there you have it. Learning as the good life. Not just the experience of consuming but generating value from experience.

Looking Behind the News

One of the biggest news stories of this autumn has been the dramatic fall in the price of crude oil.  Few predicted it, and as far as  I know, none predicted that prices would fall to this level. Let’s categorize this, therefore, as a surprise.

Surprises happen and when they do they carry strategic consequences. Most important, we need to re-think what is behind the news. Why were we surprised?

The funny thing in this case is that we really do not know for sure. Sure there was over-supply. But why?

One line of thought is that conventional wisdom about the path of global economic growth was wrong.

The “well known fact” with regards to oil over the last decade read like this: because of huge GDP growth in emerging markets like China, there were going to be 400 million new middle class citizens born of uninterrupted prosperity; they were going to want all the autos, consumer goods, $10,000 watches and food that Americans have.

The demand for commodities was going to be endless because capitalism practiced under authoritarian control was going to be better than the “invisible hand” of the free market. No recessions or depressions required.

Hmmm … keep in mind several things about China as you think about this. First, we know that the accuracy of data coming out of China about its economy is lacking. In other words, we hear what the Chinese government wants us to hear. Second, even based on that data — the stuff we can get — , there are signs that the Chinese economy is in some distress.

I do not propose here that this explains everything. I do propose that we should be keeping our eyes open in the next months for more information about global economic trends. We might be in for a wild ride in 2015.

Starting off on the Right Foot?

I had an unexpected surprise today when I started going through old files. I met my old self.

I got to know this guy again and I found out something interesting. I found out that in some respects he was really smart. Very clever at finding solutions to immediate problems. I also was reminded of stuff that did not work out as planned or expected.

The documents about stuff that did not work out were a lot more interesting than the stuff about success. And I noticed a strategic issue — once I took over a vision of what I thought was “the right thing to do”, it became a whole lot harder to remain objective on whether the right thing to do was possible to achieve.

I think this is pretty common strategic problem. We easily get stuck on “right and wrong” questions and when we do, we take on risks that in hindsight are pretty alarming. We can do better, and a strategic thinking model helps! I had to learn the hard way!

Building Experience Threads

So what is learning, anyway?

Dan Kahneman suggests that it is informing our intuitions. Intuition, as you may recall, is “fast thinking”. We use fast thinking when we apply what we believe to be true. One plus one equals? You don’t need to reflect in order to come up with the response. That is fast thinking.  When we stop at strategic moments during our lives and reflect on what is going on, we can update our intuitions.  We can educate how we think fast. Perhaps that is the best way to think about what learning is all about.

This requires an “open mind”. But what is that? Perhaps it is a willingness to suspend our preconceived notions of how things work in the world and who we are within it. The stronger the intuition, the less open our minds are. The less we can learn.  For this reason, strong emotions can cloud or vision. They give us tunnel vision.

So how do we open our minds? Meditation? Free association? Exercises that take us out of our routines such as these can help. But on a more basic level, opening our minds comes down to what we value. How much do we value what we know versus how much we value learning.

I have experienced this balance many times in my own life. When I was focused on a single powerful belief, it was difficult to open my mind to things that were not directly relevant to it.

For that reason, I like the distinction between “collecting things” and “collecting experiences”. We value things based on their past or present value. What we think we know. So a house is our home because it has been that way and because we use it now. The more we think of it that way, the less we want to experience leaving it behind, even if it is a burden financially or otherwise. We value experiences because they create new memories.  That might be just going for a walk, or it might be competing for a gold medal or it might be playing the role of parent.

This suggests that keeping track of our experiences — especially what we learn from them — is valuable. It brings us closer to having an open mind about what we do. What does this look like? Well, it does not look like a “to do” list, where you cross off tasks one at a time. Nothing wrong with “to do” lists, but they do not elevate tasks into experiences.

How do we elevate tasks to the level of experience? I like to call this using a “to learn” list with a “learned” list based on a log of experiences. You can think of it as a series of translations. From event (a task or obligation) to experience (what happened) to expected learning (building a thread) to actual learning to learning agenda. Notice that there are fives steps. Quite a lot actually, which means that you need to selectively use this tool.

Can we learn to do it better? Of course! Stay tuned!

Digital Tonto: Best Practices

People who obsess about productivity are result focused. They want to cross things off the old “to do” list. But doing lots of stuff doesn’t help us see why we do them. As a result, we lose track of how to do stuff better.

That is it in a nutshell. Why strategic focus is more important than productivity thinking. One of the things you get from strategic focus is seeing best practices – things that represent your best understanding of how to do an important thing well. As Digital Tonoto points out, you get there by benchmarking.

Abstract Universals versus Problem Solving

How should we track what we learn from what we do? Perhaps we can get some guidance from the field of “knowledge management” (KM) systems. It appears that KM systems implemented as problem solving tools are more often successful than ones imposed as a universal set of rules.

So, students of strategic learning might reflect on the importance of having problems. Without them, we will have difficulties tracking how we solve them.

Knoco Stories: “After Action” Review

I didn’t take “after action” review seriously when I first started in law practice. I was too busy going from task to task. My “to do” list was exploding and the clock was always ticking to bill out time.

But after a while I began to realize that I did not have clear idea of what I was learning from what I did.  This became an issue when I started to realize that I could do stuff more efficiently if I had a better record of how I did it before. I became a convert to process and as a convert to process, I started making time for after action review.

This is not just for lawyers. It is a key part of strategic learning that forces you to decide what is it that you are “doing” and what are you learning from it. The questions are more complex than they appear on the surface. “Doing” is not just what is on your “to do” list. It is what activity you are involved in that produces value. When you phrase it that way, your eyes are opened to how the doing connects to the living. Things come alive.

How Do You Keep Track?

This is not a productivity blog. It is instead a blog about how to get more out of what you do. This may help you achieve more success. But it is not meant to make you work faster. To the contrary, the idea here is to slow down, at least a bit, in order to see more clearly why you do what you do, and how you do what you do.

Tracking tools should help you do this. But sadly, they are generally made by folks who think in terms of productivity. You see this in how people review task manager tools, and even how to keep a paper to do list.

I think of this a bit differently. We track what we do to learn from the experience. More precisely, we want to figure out whether our doing accelerates our strategic learning — in other words (1) why we have this focus, (2) are we leveling up, (3) does this connect us to others and (4) what is the underlying storyline?