I am now publishing posts on Medium.com. Please follow me there: https://pbrittan.medium.com/
I will start by republishing a few posts from this blog and LinkedIn articles there, and then begin adding new content. Many thanks for your readership!
There is an accepted wisdom that we — as individuals and as organizations — should focus on our 'core competencies' and avoid (or outsource) those things that are not a core competency.
Core competency is usually thought to mean 'what you’re already good at’. That sounds reasonable at a certain level. But it misses the fact that your core competency might not be your core value proposition at a given point in time. It misses that sometimes you need to become good at something you’re not right now, or stop doing something you are good at, in order to provide greater value (to whatever your constituency is) at this point in time. And it forgets that our competencies of today were not our competencies of yesterday — we learned those competencies, we became good at them, probably by conscious effort. With further conscious effort and persistence, we can have new competencies tomorrow that we don’t have today.
To use an example from personal experience, if I may be a bit immodest for a second, (I think) I was a good programmer through the early part of my career. I came up with creative solutions and I was incredibly productive, developing working code faster than any of my colleagues, sometimes astounding them with how quickly I worked. I am admittedly extremely rusty now, but I believe that if I sat and coded every day for a while, I would get back in practice and once again be a valuable programmer. That is a core competency. But it’s not my core value proposition today. It doesn’t really make sense for me to spend time coding vs creating more leveraged value by being a competent leader and manager. But I was a good coder before I was a good manager. I consciously developed my programming skills when I was young, and then I had to consciously develop my leadership and management skills, which is something I continue to focus on consciously developing. I had to leave coding behind, even though I love it and I’m good at it. Early in my career my core value proposition was coding, now it’s leading. And I developed skills to allow me to make that transition. I invested in that.
The same is true of institutions. As a team or a company, we may be good at certain things and bad at certain things. While it’s tempting to simply focus on the things we are good at and ignore the things we are bad at, that might not maximize our value as a firm. We need to be acutely aware of what our core value proposition is — as a company — and make sure we are good at all the things that contribute to that value proposition. We shouldn’t be afraid to outsource things that don’t contribute to that value proposition, even if we are good at them today, if outsourcing is more efficient or helps us stay more focused on what matters. But if we are not good at something that is part of our core value proposition, as defined by our mission, then we should not outsource it. Instead we need to become good at it. We need to invest in hiring people who can help us become good at that, invest in training, and invest in thinking through creative ways to become good at whatever we need to do to deliver our maximum value.
There was once a monk who would carry a mirror where ever he went. A priest noticed this one day and thought to himself “This monk must be so preoccupied with the way he looks that he has to carry that mirror
all the time. He should not worry about the way he looks on the outside, it’s what’s inside that counts.” So the priest went up to the monk and asked “Why do you always carry that mirror?” thinking for sure this would prove his guilt.
The monk pulled the mirror from his bag and pointed it at the priest. Then he said “I use it in times of trouble. I look into it and it shows me the source of all my problems as well as the solution to all my problems.”
Almost exactly 5 years ago, I published the post below on an internal blog. The trends I describe -- towards an increasing digitalization and thus virtualization of many aspects of our physical world -- have continued and, I believe, accelerated now during this Covid lockdown period. More activities have been driven quickly on-line by necessity, and others have gone into a kind of in-between place (restaurants turning into take-out only, for example). In light of this, I thought I should republish my post below:
I’ve been talking a lot with various folks recently about the “digitization” of financial services and of business in general. If you take a huge step back (which I hope those of you who reads my blogs regularly have seen that I like to do), you can see digitization of business as part of a larger, almost cosmological, trend: the world is disappearing into the electronic ether. All kinds of things that were once physical are becoming pure information and exist only in the world of computers.
Cash has been vanishing for years. Yes hard currency still exists, but is slowly being replaced. It went through some intermediate steps with checks and credit cards, which are less physical than currency in some sense, but still have physical manifestations, but even those are disappearing into “contactless” pure transfers of information. Mail (and yes I mean snail mail) has also been disappearing into email and other forms of electronic communication over decades. Amazon did away with physical books to a large extent. I now have a library of hundreds of Kindle volumes, all available to me through a variety of devices, wherever I am. Amazon has also been doing away with whole stores! They are simply vanishing into the digital world.
Experiences have been increasingly virtualized as well. A physical face-to-face meeting is approximated with video conferencing, and I can take what feels like a mini sightseeing trip to a distant land on Google Earth.
If you take this to the extreme, you can imagine that this will continue and that more and more of the physical world we know will dissolve into the electronic ether. If you think about it, we are fundamentally our genes and the sum of our experiences, which are both just information. In theory, we could be recreated from them. But that’s the realm of countless science fiction books and movies. In the very real practical world, we do see things like cash, books, and stores increasingly virtualized.
What else? How far do all of you think this can go? What are the next things you predict will disappear into the ether?
I am very sorry that I have neglected this Blog for far too long! I have simply been entirely engrossed the past couple of years with my start-up, Crux Informatics. And I do post a bit on LinkedIn. Please follow me there to stay up to date with my latest musings. Meanwhile, I do plan to continue to post here from time to time...
"Crisp" is a word I frequently use, especially in business. I love it. For me, it conjures up feelings of: quick and decisive, clean, clear, solid, reassuring, complete, awesome, 100% done done done and delivered to the client to delight them.
Not endless tweaking.
Crisp means done quickly but done really well with a nice unambiguous done-ness to it.
Crisp also has a quality dimension to it. Crisp conjures up excellence, that focused work of art, where all the details are right. Compact, in a wonderful way. Nothing missing, nothing superfluous.
It should go without saying that communication is critical in every aspect of our lives, and the ability to communicate well can make a huge difference to us and our ability to get things done and achieve our goals.
I have a simple formula to guide communication that consists of five Cs:
Clear: It is vitally important that your audience understand what you are saying. Sometimes ideas are hard to get across and it is worthwhile looking for just the right vocabulary, phrases, and analogies to help bring your ideas, concerns, and questions to life. You want to make sure that people can easily grasp what you are saying and that your message is not left open to varying interpretations.
Concise: “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication” (Leonardo da Vinci) . People have a much easier time engaging with your communications if they are simple and as short as possible. Practice the Art of the Minimum. English is a wonderfully rich language filled with many near-synonyms that have nuances of meaning. It is worth using them to get ideas across with fewer words. I readily admit I can get a bit-long winded verbally, especially when I am excited about the topic, but in written media I have the opportunity to edit and cut out much of what I say, paring my communication down to its essentials. When speaking, it is important to listen to yourself and reign yourself in if you start rambling.
Credible: People engage with your communication if they believe you know what you are talking about. It is critical to establish your credibility on a topic, even if just lightly, by way of your own experiences, education, leveraging other credible sources, etc. The way in which you present the idea should also feel intuitive to your listeners. If your message makes sense to them, it will carry more credibility. Sometimes we have to present non-intuitive things. In those cases, a shift of perspective may make the idea feel more intuitive and produce an “ah-ha” moment for your audience.
Consistent: Your message may well evolve over time, based on a changing world or your changing understanding of the world, but for the most part your message should be consistent. You can easily lose your credibility by changing your story, and people will not absorb a message that shifts.
Compelling: Compelling is a broad term. By it, I mean the ability to grab your audience’s attention, to get them nodding in agreement with your line of reasoning (even if they ultimately disagree with your thesis), to give them an experience with your communication that leaves a lasting and memorable impression on them, that may motivate them to follow through on your call to action.
I didn’t include Copious in the list because it in not always relevant and can at times be a negative. You certainly want to communicate Completely and people absorb a message better when delivered with Constancy, but too much communication, including unnecessarily detailed or repetitive communication, can turn people off, bore them, overwhelm them, annoy them, or otherwise cause them to tune you out. So find that right balance of volume of communication. It’s an art.
One might sum all of these up as Crisp.
As I said in my post on Combining Functions, a team gets far more done than a group of individuals does, if you can develop a culture and a way of working where the challenging/inspiring interactions between the teammates' brains gives you more than simply the sum of the brains involved, where you get a kind of multiplicative effect between the members of the team.
So how do you build a culture that achieves that kind of effect? By practicing collegiality.
Be civil - People can’t work together effectively if they don’t respect each other and treat each other with mutual respect. People are not computers. The deep and incomprehensibly complex emotional layer we all carry around can be a powerful positive tool when channeled as passion, but it is tricky and needs to be handled with care. A critical part of working together effectively is having empathy for others and understanding that how you communicate is just as important as what you communicate. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to challenge each other — you can’t get big hard things done if you shrink away from tough conversations! Appropriately challenging each other is key factor in getting that multiplicative combining function. Just do so with respect and empathy. Likewise, don’t make it hard for others to work with you and to challenge you. Be confident and have a thick skin. Debating an idea with the goal of getting to the best outcome for customers and your company is not personal. Check your ego at the door.
Collaborate - You need to actively engage with each other if you want to get things done together. Be open, let others know what you are thinking and what you know, let them see what you are working on. Be curious and ask questions, get to know your colleagues and try to understand their perspective if it is different from your own. Be hungry to learn from them. Discover, sincerely, what everyone's strengths and weaknesses are and learn how to complement each other. Don’t be afraid to let go, don’t have an overly developed pride of ownership. If the play calls for passing the ball, then pass the ball.
Be reliable - Be someone that others can rely on. If your teammates have hesitation about whether you are going to come through on your part of the puzzle, they will hedge and the result will be sub-optimal. Effective teammates demonstrate responsibility and earn trust through working together. Effective teammates know that when they pass the ball, the receiver will actually catch and run with it. Also, have each other’s back. Be ready to step in and help when you sense a teammate in trouble, but don’t shield them from appropriate consequences — that can reinforce bad habits.
Care - I use caring as a fundamental ingredient in a number of my culture virtues, and that’s because it is so vitally important. You can’t do anything if you don’t care. So, just as you care about your work, your customers, your reputation, etc, you must care about your colleagues. I you don’t care about them, you have no hope of treating them with collegiality.
Have fun! - We don't need to bore ourselves to tears at work. There will of course be up and downs, good days and bad days, tough days and easy days. But overall, the work you do should be enjoyable and it should be enjoyable to work with your teammates. You don't have to be best friends with your colleagues, but it's important to develop a healthy sense of camaraderie in the office and take some time out to play together. It makes your work together better as well as making you happier.
Without passion man is a mere latent force and possibility, like the flint which awaits the shock of the iron before it can give forth its spark. --Henri-Frédéric Amiel
We may affirm absolutely that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion.
--Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Passion is what drives us to get up in the morning every day. It gives us the strength to go above and beyond. It gets us fired up to take on any challenge and accomplish the impossible. Passion comes from a deep belief in the value of what you are doing paired with a deep belief that it is possible to do, no matter how daunting it may look at the outset. I believe that the number one motivator people have is a desire to 'win'. People want to accomplish great things, and they want to be on a winning team. Winning can come in many different forms (visibly delighting customers, winning awards, taking market share, doing good for other people, making the world a better place, making money, doing something considered 'impossible' by most people, driving shareholder value, ...), but that feeling of achievement runs deep in our human nature and passion is both motivator and the fuel for achievement.
Follow your passion — Do things you are passionate about! Life is too short to spend it doing things you are not passionate about. I know this is easier said than done, but it is worth striving for, to the best of your circumstances and ability. Remember that work is life: I believe strongly in a healthy work/non-work balance, but don’t think of work as something ‘other' than life. You spend most of your waking hours at work, so you should consider it a worthwhile way to spend your life. If you are doing something that you are truly not passionate about, you should consider changing, if you can. And remember there are two ways to change what you do: get another job (etc), or change how you do it, so that you can unlock passion in it.
Nurture your passion — Passion needs tending. It can whither and fade if it is not taken care of. Do things that validate and re-energize your passion. For example, when I’m in the office for too long, I can get too inwardly focused and start to feel my spark grow dimmer. Getting out in front of clients, who are the ultimate source of truth in business, always re-energizes me and reminds me why we do what we do.
Share your passion — Passion is infectious. The more you share it with those around you (teammates, customers, ...) the more powerful it becomes as a force for positive change, and frankly the better you feel as you get a positive feedback loop about it from those others. The best leaders are deeply passionate about what they are doing and they infect those around them with their passion. That’s how effective leaders get people willing to walk through walls to see the mission completed. And remember that it only takes 10% of a group believing something for everyone in that group to believe it eventually.
Channel your passion — Passion has a dark side. Don’t let it stray into negativity, blind you, or make you sound shrill. When passion hits a roadblock, it needs to find a way around or through that block. Don’t let it pool up and turn into frustration and eventually something destructive. Never forget to question and challenge yourself and make sure you still believe in your passion and that it is focused on the right things.
I posted the second installment in my Information Supply Chain series on the Crux Informatics blog.
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