From Builders and Maintainers

zur deutschen VersionI so far met basically three types of human characters within – esp. larger – companies: Builders, Maintainers and Destroyers.

Builders

post20130120Building is their passion. They are restless. The status quo never is good enough. After the implementation is before the implementation.

Builders are thinking forward, innovatively and constructively. They see changes as tools for improvement and development. But they set a high value on a well-founded and provable rational for any changes needed as part of their overall plan.

Builders know that for being successful they have to convince others (like Maintainers) and bring them in. They are usually quite clever in positively influencing people, and they can be very inspiring and motivating for others. On the other side of the coin, Builders can be quickly frustrated by resistance to – in their view – obvious room for improvement. E.g., Builders have the tendency to underestimate the importance of politics, esp. when going beyond factual businesslike objectives. If they fail it is often due to a outflanking by games at work.

Beyond that, Builders will always be strong drivers of innovation and development.

Maintainers

Maintainers merge into ensuring stability and consistency … of processes, services, tools, etc. They can do the same set of tasks over and over again, day after day, year after year. Continuity is their mission. As a convenient side effect, Maintainers are extremely good in identifying deviations and threads.

So, Maintainers love the status quo. But they are not just resistant to changes, a common misunderstanding and complete misinterpretation. Factually, they just insist on a well-founded and convincing justification for a change. What is actually a fair approach!

Factually, Maintainers are the backbone of most companies, ensuring business continuity. They bring overeager Builders back to earth, and steadily mop up behind Destroyers.

Destroyers

The dilemma of Destroyers is that most of them are deeply convinced they would be Builders. So, a mismatch between self- and external perception is definitely an issue with Destroyers.

Well, basically they are right. Building often needs changes, and changes sometimes also need destruction. But they make 2 major – to my opinion – mistakes. First, they are biased and fixated on change. And second, they generally mistake change with destruction.

Many Destroyers follow the illusion that the event of a change itself would be good. They are disciples of change. In their thinking it boosts organizational creativity and evolution. The origin of this misconception is an outdated and wrong sociological interpretation of the biological evolution paradigm. On top, Destroyers often undervalue the importance of sound change management – not in proclamation but in implementation. Then, destruction is not an intrinsic consequence of the change but of bad (or no true) change management.

“Chopper managers” are typical Destroyers. So, you don’t know “chopper managers”? I am sure you do!  “Chopper managers” are hopping from one position to the other, like tourist doing a helicopter sightseeing tour. They simply fly in (whencesoever), make a lot of wind when landing, create a maximum of confusion, and fly out again soon enough before they need to face the outcomes or take responsibility for long-term consequences.

Unfortunately, Destroyers have the highest impact in many companies, giving Builders and Maintainers a hard time.

So, what are you?!

I found myself without doubt having a very strong Builder component. I love to develop, to implement and to provide new solutions. I can also be a Maintainer … for a while. But sooner or later this stops satisfying me, and I start looking for opportunities to do some “building” and improvement at least within my proximate range. I am also open to destruction, but I insist on well-founded and convincing rational as well as sound change management. And I absolutely hate destruction of a so-called “running system” without true need, or doing a change just for its own sake.

Altogether, it looks like that I seem to be a Builder, with a secondary Maintainer facet, and only constructive Destroyer qualities.

Builder, Maintainer or Destroyer … what are you?

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Warning: Harvard Business Review may cause depression

Do you know that experience? You are reading the latest “Harvard Management Review” (HBR), and sooner or later you are reached by a melancholic mood.

Because you simply realize that – regarding recent management methods – there seems to be such a huge gap between aspiration and everyday reality.  On the one hand you are reading in HBR how things should be, or at least could be … and in real-life you have to stand the complete opposite. This can really get you down. So, a warning notice on HBR saying something like “Reading this journal may cause depression” could really be no bad idea.

OK, of course even in HBR all that glitters is not gold. There are also articles containing complete rubbish. Ultimately, HBR is no bible but a kind of discussion platform on new ideas and approaches. Some of it even being quite theoretical. And not everything reported for having worked in one branch of business or a particular company can be generalized.

But … I need to honestly admit that a lot of stories I read in HBR really convince me, because they obviously make sense. My particular interest is with articles on leadership. And there I regularly find a lot of extremely good and inspiring stuff written – at least to my opinion. Out of the practice and for the practice. Solutions which are often already proven to be successful, and always put into showcases.

However, something is obviously going wrong. Either not really all people who preen themselves on being regular HBR consumers actually read the HBR articles. Or the read is somewhere getting lost on the way to the brain. Or it is in a spontaneous amnesia instantly forgotten again. I really have no other explanation for the observation why so many managers behave such contrary to the state-of-the-art methods published in HBR. By the way, I experienced something similar with management trainings. The complete antagonism between leadership methods learned in a training … and real-life behavior. Does this not sound unfamiliar to you? Do not expect me to be able to provide an explanation, please. I am still searching for myself. As mentioned before, spontaneous retrograde amnesia is my hottest favorite so far.

But what can I do? Well, I can start with myself, that I don’t follow – intended or not – the same behavior. Reading HBR and not making anything out of it anyhow is inefficient and unproductive. This would be beneath a smart and successful manager. Beyond that many approaches you can read there just work. So, I am having a true benefit by not being just a HBR reader but a HBR implementer. Yes, it is a good cause to permanently work on yourself. To again and again self-critically challenge your own leadership practice. To learn from others. To change your own habits if being needful. Not just to read and to vaunt that, but to “digest” and implement. To actively develop yourself further.

Therefore, I would like to propose a new warning notice for “consuming” HBR: “Warning: Reading this journals may cause changed managing habits and personal development!” And subsequently result in more success. Your choice!

What are Trappers famous for?

zur deutschen VersionYou might have asked yourself already, why I selected “TrapperPhD” as my online nickname?

The story behind TrapperPhD …

To make a long story short … during my university time my nickname was “Trapper” (honestly spoken, one out of a couple). And after finishing my doctorate, “Trapper PhD” was a logical consecutive consequence … but also a tribute to “Trapper John, M.D.”, a famous TV series in the 80s of the last century (when I grew up, “those times long ago”).

Last not least, I like this name because I like the qualities, trappers stand for.

What trappers are famous for …

  • they are successfully using and sharing knowledge of at least two worlds
  • they make the best of slender resources and possibilities
  • they are pragmatic and often need to flexibly adapt to changing conditions
  • they are real businessmen (entrepreneurs) not just managers
  • they start well-founded changes only
  • they are lean for good reasons
  • they are results-driven
  • they do not give up, but also know when to stop … for them vitality management is essential
  • they are palmy in operating independent as well as part of a team
  • they love nature (OK, they have no choice, but take it as a romantic presumption)
  • they can make fire without an iPone app
  • they can communicate without a Blackberry
  • they make it to stay in touch with friends over great distances … without Facebook
  • they depend on optimism
  • and … for them, results are more important than good looking

The Knowledge-Carousel

It is turning around … around … around … and around. Always the same turn, always the same things in view. With changing perspectives, but actually always  at the same place. Sooner or later just boring. And once you overwind … well, mhh … might become unsavory.

I exactly feel like sitting in such a carousel since I seriously entered the world of Knowledge Management (KM). I regularly find myself hanging around at places where people interested in good knowledge working meet virtually or physically, like KM blogs or meetings of like-minded colleagues. In any case, places where people with a greater awareness for the importance and value of Knowledge Management are, many of those knowing each other already for quite a while. “Knowledge workers”, “knowledge experts”, “knowledge managers”, “knowledge enthusiasts”, “knowledge evangelists”, gurus, consultants, etc. pp..

We then intensively discuss the meanings of terms, theoretical and innovative concepts, as well as why so many companies are such ignorant regarding the benefits of KM. Assumed that you are such a rational guy like me, you can glory in that, and without doubt you will meet a lot of interesting people. And normally all will agree, that they know how it works … or as it actually should work.

And it’s true. We know how it could be done, efficiently and with maximum value for a company. But … it is completely for nothing! Well, yes, it always has been nice to talk to each other again. But finally with zero impact on real life. At the end all together spin around, and ever and anon the same people are having the same (philosophical) discussions. They feel comfortable with each other and don’t need anyone else. People know each other, appreciate each other, understand each other.

Just to avoid any misunderstanding. The strategies and concepts developed and discussed by us “knowledge experts” are in general really good and trendsetting. They have the potential to substantially change and improve enterprise knowledge sharing. It is just never applied. Somehow none of all the good ideas and solutions becomes real, in a true implementation. I frankly do not understand so far what leads to failure, and I am thankful for any hint.

By the way, this general tendency for parallel universe seems to be common with all “managements” (Information Management, Knowledge Management, Innovation Management, …). Perhaps a fraction of the problem is within the name already (also see “”Knowledge management is the wrong attitude“).

As a first step I decided to have real life feasibility and implementation as my personal benchmark in the future. I say yes to hot air … if a turbine is driven by it. And I don’t really expect it to be the big strike, the complete new knowledge strategy within the company. I also accept minor steps and improvements, if they go into the right direction. And by the way, this fits to the latest crowd-intelligence-social-media-hype in Knowledge Management (which to my opinion is absolutely overrated … but that’s another story).

One important thing with carousel rides is not to miss the right moment to get off and back on solid ground. Otherwise … as mentioned before, well mhh …

Does Google already control your business?

zur deutschen VersionYou would be surprised (and shocked) by how many people use Google as the major or even sole information source for daily business. In the worst case for business-critical decisions. And many of those are actually convinced that Google serves their needs. The problem simply is that you never know what you do not know.

OK … no bashing! … Google is not bad. Assumed that you always keep in mind what kind of tool you are working with and use it properly. Google suggests to give an answer, but factually it does not. Google only provides sources (= webpages) of answers.

But there is a limitation with the ranked sorting of the Google results. The hits on top of the list neither necessarily give a reliable answer nor a comprehensive answer nor the right answer at all. The webpage with the best answer (or the right one at all) can be hidden somewhere on page #5 or #11 of the results. And – let’s be honest – with many searches people do not go beyond page 1-2 of the Google results.

This is no issue when a you are looking for a movie you would like to see with your girl friend, or the map of the zoo, or the true age of Lady Gaga. But it is bad for business and potentially threatening the existence of a company when decisions are based on superficial Google use. You give the responsibility for your business … to a biased ranking algorithm not under your control.

Well, this constraint and menace is not new. But sometimes people take the bait to disregard, owing to a general tendency to concede time pressure, to oversimplify and to prefer quick answers instead of sound ones. But now, the well-known “soft” evidence once again has been proven by hard facts. A recent study by Nadja Hariri on the patented Google PageRank mechanism found that …

  • documents ranked by users as most relevant were on positions 5 (most), 1, 2, 18, 20, and 36 – so, do not trust the ranking
  • the mean values for the precision for most relevant documents were nearby between 38.82% and 31.18% on pages 1-4 – so, do not ignore results down the list
  • altogether, the correlation between user’s and Google’s rankings was rather low
  • “it is better for users of the search engines, especially Google, to examine at least three or four pages of the retrieved results”

Hariri’s conclusion: “users evaluate retrieved information in such a subjective way that search engine ranking cannot be in complete accordance with their views of relevance”. Search tools are simply far away from being able to equivalently replace human brains. While a decade has gone by, Hariri still is hooking up with Hawking et al. (1999) who stated that “the standard of document ranking produced by public web search engines is by no means state-of-the-art”.

So, watch out! Do not trust search engine rankings. And take care that Google is not taking your business into his hands.

P.S.: Please allow me to anticipate expected criticism. Could those results be biased by surrounding cultural conditions? The study was done at one location only. And – this frank note has to be allowed –  at a location not expressly known for goodwill regarding the US including US-based services. Well, sure, some influence can never be completely excluded. But Hariris’s findings are support by a series of earlier studies. And, by the way, it is also in line with my own decent but extensive experiences.

Be a Fish!

A couple of days ago, I had lunch with a colleague, and we once again reflected on the question why big companies work internally like they just do. That one might get the impression of a stone field, where the stones are obvious to everybody … but are not moved away by anybody.

But perhaps this is basically the wrong attitude.

Later the picture of a fish leaped into my mind. A fish who moves through wild and troubled whitewater. People like us would probably say: well, let’s take out the stones first. This will calm the water and make our way easier. But the fish … gets ahead without difficulties and without our strategic approach. And finally reaches his goal even against the stream. On top of that, he most likely reaches the goal more efficiently and faster as if he would have waited for the calming of the river.

He just swims.

He does not moan about the troubled water and that this was caused by the last reorganization. He is not annoyed at the “not well elaborated structure” of the river. He does not stop in front of each stone philosophizing if this particular rock is at its right place or how this could be changed.

He just swims … around the stone, passing underneath, passing over, or perhaps sometimes vaulting it. But always with a smile. And finally reaching his goal.

I also resolved to be more like a fish in the future. Not to wait for big changes and ideal conditions. Not to be annoyed at wrong corporate structures and management decisions. But just to lead the way every single day, by using existing possibilities and opportunities, to bring things forward. Not to moan about the drawbacks of actual conditions, but to use their odds. Not to wait for the big changes and improvements, but to take the small steps. And to never lose sight of the virtual goal. Because the stones are neither the goal nor the mission …

Addendum: One saying should not be missed in that context: “Only dead fish swim with the stream!” Well, in fact this is not completely true. Fish always swim to where the food is. And they actually do not really mind if they have to swim with or against the stream to reach it. But this should now be enough of animal allegories … 😉