The Right Way…

By Guy Higgins

Leaders have to get things done. It is very difficult to do that when the organization becomes too big. Okay, how big is too big, and what does the leader do about it? “Too big” isn’t very big at all in modern terms. I think that “too big” is any organization larger than Dunbar’s Number. (largest number of people that can maintain a solid relationship with one another). Dunbar’s Number lies somewhere between 100 and 250 – at least I haven’t seen any assertions outside that range. So, an organization larger than about 100 people starts to get too big for a leader to “run” by herself. Being smart, she starts to organize and create parts of the organization small enough to be run by one person. As the organization grows, those smaller parts begin to need even smaller parts. Pretty soon, the Leader (the top of the hierarchy) sees inefficiency throughout her organization because there are borders or boundaries between all the small and smaller parts of the organization. These boundaries hinder the free flow of information and cooperation between the organizational parts. I’ll use a term from electrical engineering for that hindrance – I’ll call it impedance. The Leader understands this and calls the leaders who work for her together and tasks them to develop ways to work together and eliminate this impedance. These leaders, being smart people too, develop some standard ways of working together – within and across organizational boundaries. They create processes and workflows. The Leader looks out and sees that this is good. Continue reading

The Internet of Things – Rose Isn’t the Only Color the Glasses Come In

By Guy Higgins

Recently, my reading has included Chaos, Making a New Science, a book by James Gleick, a Forbes article, A Smart Home is Where the Bot Is, and an Aviation Week article, Why Are Airlines Slow to Enter the Digital Age? At the same time, I “enjoyed” a couple of encounters with the digital world. In the oft-quoted words of Inigo Montoya, “Let me ‘splain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.” Continue reading

Change, Learning and Leadership

By Guy Higgins,

I was reading an article recently, Principles for an Age of Acceleration. The basic premise of the article was that everything is changing so fast that we can’t keep up with it. That change is driven by the pace of advances in technology – all kinds of technology, not just information technology. Driven by, but not isolated to, technological change. Technological change is enabling or forcing changes in society, health, governance, and ethics (and, maybe, everything else). I was disturbed by the article. Will artificial intelligence create massive unemployment? Will we find ourselves in an ethical swamp as we use genetic manipulation to grow replacement organs in pigs (and yes, that’s something being pursued today)? What will society look like when humans are no longer a necessary part of the economy? Continue reading

Employee Turnover

By Guy Higgins

I watched the American and National Football Conference Championship games this year. After one game, the announcers observed that both the losing and winning teams would make some changes before next season. Every year NFL teams draft around a dozen players from outside the NFL and may pick up one or two free agents. The teams are prepared to deal with the new arrivals. Interestingly, some teams “hire” players cut from other teams and turn them into good or even excellent players. Continue reading

Leadership “At the Front”

By Guy Higgins

Let me start with a short story about a trip I recently took. On my return, I was booked on a 1055 departure from an airport from which I had not previously flown, connecting to another flight in Houston, TX. I had no idea how slowly (or quickly) the security line would move, so I showed up with plenty of time (and, of course, went through security in about two minutes). There was no airplane at the gate when I got there because the airplane was coming from another airport, and making a stop at Houston. The weather was very foggy and did not improve. The flight that was supposed to arrive at my airport at 0925 couldn’t get into Houston and had to divert. This was known at about 0820. By 0900, with no airplane, we were told that the flight was being cancelled because there was no airplane. I was rebooked on a 1915 departure that evening. You can imagine all the fun that I and my fellow passengers had waiting around the (very small) airport all day. At about 1840, we were told that the inbound flight was delayed, but that it would arrive at about 1930. By 1930, with no airplane at the gate, we were told it was scheduled to leave Houston at 1950 and we would depart at 2040. When the flight arrived, we boarded and pushed back from the gate only to be held because of weather at Houston (my connecting destination). After waiting on the airplane for an hour with two status updates from the pilots, we taxied back to the gate, and we all lined up to get rebooked. I tried to rebook via telephone while waiting for the other passengers to work with the gate agents. After explaining to the phone agent that I would not connect through Houston to Los Angeles in order to connect to Denver – all the next day, I finally gave up and, working with the gate agents, was rebooked for a 0830 departure to Houston to connect to a Denver flight. Over a period of more than twelve hours, we were informed of the situation no more than four times. I know I was extremely frustrated, and I think my fellow passengers were too. This was not the worst experience that any traveler ever had, but neither was it a good experience. Continue reading

Measure – Matter – Measure

By Guy Higgins

Last week, I came across an aviation article that urged airlines to adopt AoA (Angle of Attack)* as one of the “metrics” monitored by pilots to ensure proper airplane performance. AoA is very useful because it is self-compensating for airplane weight and remains an accurate indicator of wing stall. In fact, for practical purposes, the AoA for maximum range airspeed is always the same even though the actual airspeed varies with airplane weight. The same is true for maximum endurance airspeed and stall airspeed. AoA is a seriously cool, real-time, self-compensating metric for pilots.

Okay, fine – what has that got to do with non-aviation (which is a very large domain – sort of like non-dandelions)? To answer that, let’s look at the title of this post – Measure – Matter – Measure. We’ve all heard that what gets measured gets managed, and I think that is certainly true. The question I want to explore is whether or not what gets measured actually matters. Continue reading

Time to Think

By Guy Higgins

I recently read an article, Procrastination makes you more creative, research says. I actually got a different message from the article. What I read was, “It pays dividends to spend time actually thinking about stuff.”

The author of the article highlighted a couple of cases that she claimed validated her title:

  • Lincoln continued to work on his Gettysburg Address almost until the moment he gave it
  • M.L. King actually changed his “I have a dream” speech in real time (in fact, he ad-lib’ed the “I have a dream” phrase).

I don’t think that either of those cases represents procrastination. President Lincoln and Dr. King both worked on their speeches diligently. They didn’t goof off and then “wing it.” They invested significant time and effort – but in bits and pieces over a prolonged period. They gave themselves time to think. Continue reading

The Winter Solstice

By Guy Higgins

Today is the winter solstice – the “shortest day of the year.” That got me to thinking. We (that would be human beings) seem to feel compelled to get things finished by the end of the day, the week, the month, the quarter, the year – whatever time period we’re approaching. So, here we are coming to the end of all of those, and it’s the shortest day of the year (okay, so it’s only the shortest period of daylight – and only for the northern hemisphere, but I want to make a point). Continue reading

Problems or Symptoms?

By Guy Higgins

I recently came across a blog post on the risks of treating issues as the problem when they might only be the symptom. That reminded me of a story that Michael Roberto relates in his book, Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen.

Professor Roberto tells of a time when he was teaching at Harvard Business School and his class was visited by Robert McNamara (who attended HBS just shortly after he got off the ark with Noah). Mr. McNamara asked if they still used case studies at HBS because he was impressed with the value of considering actual business situations as a learning tool. He was told, “Of course. Case studies are the foundation for HBS courses.” Mr. McNamara then observed that such a focus, unfortunately, also created a problem – in case studies, the actual problem is presented to the students while in the real world, problems have to be uncovered.

That takes us right back to the title of this post – is an observed issue a problem in itself or is it a symptom of a deeper problem? Continue reading

Metrics – Meaningful or Merely Measurable?

By Guy Higgins

The age of scientific management – the idea that managers can measure “stuff,” understand what the measurements mean and then act to control or improve the performance that is characterized by the “stuff that has been measured” – is well over a hundred years old. We see references to it all the time:

  • You manage what you measure
  • Crunch the numbers
  • Metrics reviews
  • Professional athletes’ performance statistics
  • Performance-based management

I just finished reading an article in the Harvard Business Review, The Capitalist’s Dilemma, in which Clayton Christensen (author of The Innovator’s Dilemma) bemoans the absence of market-creating investment and innovation. He attributes this absence to the use of metrics. Christensen highlights some of the standard metrics: Return on Net Assets (RONA), Internal Rate of Return (IRR), and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC). He observes, correctly I think, that these metric are biased against long-term investment because they create a focus on conserving capital. Christensen claims that capital, today, is not a scarce resource, and therefore the traditional metrics are the wrong ones for businesses and industries that want to or need to emphasize market-creating innovations (a market-creating innovation is one that provides a radically new solution to an existing problem or a solution to a previously unrecognized need – think Palm Pilot). If the metrics being used today are the wrong ones, why are companies using them? Continue reading