Otis Redding wrote the song “Respect” in 1965.  Aretha Franklin made it mainstream in 1967.

Respect is clearly important.  Most people, I think, want to be able to both give and get respect.  But giving and getting respect is not easy.  Indeed, some of our most painful moments may come when we recognize that we are not respected, or when we fail to respect other people.

One of the times when we can fail to either earn or show respect is when we are responding to an idea.  We respond to ideas all the time.

For example, when you submit a resume to a company in hopes of landing a job, you’re really presenting them with an idea (“You should hire me!”)  How they respond to that idea is almost certainly going to change how you view that company.  If they treat you with real respect, even if they don’t offer you a job, you’ll probably still respect them.  But if they treat you like dirt, well, then you’ll probably have a very negative view of that company going forward.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization, you will both offer ideas and be asked to respond to ideas.  I think all of us have been in situations where someone has come to us with an idea and we hesitate to give them a response.  Why do we hesitate?  As it turns out, there’s a good reason for it!

And finally, what if you are in the position of wanting to offer an idea to someone else?  Maybe someone you really care about, someone who you desperately want to help.  In these situations, offering an idea can carry all kinds of risk.  One of the risks is emotional.  It can hurt when we offer what we believe is an excellent idea only to have it ignored or rejected out of hand.

My good friend Mike Round sent me this poem,  Please check it out, paying special attention to the last two lines:

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I believe that how we respond to the ideas people bring to us has a huge effect on our personal success and the satisfaction we receive from our work.  If we respond to ideas in a good way we will greatly improve our interpersonal relationships and, ultimately, come to earn real respect from others.  On the other hand, if we respond poorly to ideas offered to us, is it surprising that we would not gain the respect of others?

I think this subject is also important in being able to understand how people will often react to ideas we bring to them.  While I don’t think we can completely eliminate the sting of having our ideas ignored by someone we are trying to help, understanding what’s going on under the surface can help us to properly process the situation and ultimately let go of our anger.

Dr. Goldratt shares his insightful analysis of this subject in his “Satellite Series” of presentations. He did this set of presentations years ago but I still find them invaluable. If you have the opportunity to do so, I think they are worth seeing.

So what is it that makes giving a proper response to an idea so difficult? It is that responding to an idea usually puts us into a conflict (a dilemma.)

Let’s say that you want to respond in the best possible way to ideas that people bring to you. What does it really mean to respond “in the best way?”

Dr. Goldratt identified two necessary conditions.

The first necessary condition for a good response is to ensure that if the idea is implemented, it will not lead to negative outcomes. Said differently, if the idea is implemented, it must bring about a net improvement in the performance of the system itself.

The second necessary condition is that a good response cannot hurt, or damage, the relationships between the person bringing the idea (the “inventor”) and the person to whom the idea is being presented (the “evaluator.”)

Is it clear that we have to achieve both of these conditions in order to be “giving a good response” to someone’s idea? Allowing bad ideas to be implemented cannot be said to be giving a good response. And yet, at the same time, offending someone who is simply trying to help improve the system is also not a good response.

If people always brought us good ideas, there would be no conflict, no dilemma, no problem to speak of. But isn’t it almost always the case that when someone brings us an idea, we have some reservations about it? Maybe we believe that implementing the idea would lead to some bad things, but we can’t immediately say what those bad things are. And even if we can identify some concerns regarding the idea, aren’t we very careful about how we share our concerns with the inventor? Why are we careful? Why do we try to choose exactly the right words? Because we care about the relationship with the inventor. We recognize that he or she might have spent weeks, months or even years thinking about the idea. So we treat it with great care.

Dr. Goldratt has said that “Ignoring a person’s idea is a rude form of disrespect.” I fully agree with this.

If you disagree, please consider the “Town Hall” meetings that were held earlier this summer. Where is all of this anger coming from? I belive it is coming, in part, from a sense on the part of ordinary citizens that their government has not been listening to their ideas (their suggestions, their complaints) for many, many years. The citizens can see what’s happening. And yet, when they present their ideas and concerns, those ideas and concerns are largely ignored. The government, in other words, is responding in a way that is “a rude form of disrespect.”

When you want to share an idea with someone, is it fair to say that you are enthusiastic about the idea? Probably, and usually, the more you have thought and sweated over the idea and its details, the more enthusiastic you become. If the idea seems to be a good one, you might even take some big risks in terms of presenting the idea.

I once had a powerful idea for a client of mine. The idea was so good that I risked getting fired in order to present the idea to the client’s Executive Committee. Do you know how big a risk that was? I jumped about four levels in the command hierarchy to do that. It was a huge risk. Fortunately, the idea was so good that I did not lose my job as a result of it. But I still paid a high price for doing it. And I will probably never take such a risk again for that client.

As the inventor, not only will you often be enthusiastic, but you will often tend to focus on the benefits of implementing the idea (“This is going to be so great ….”) and you will tend to be blind to any problems that would result by implementing the idea. When people ignore the negative ramifications of their ideas, we often call this “hand waving.” It means not giving a satisfactory answer to a perceived problem with the idea.

If inventors are usually blind to the problems that their ideas will create, then when someone brings you an idea, it’s quite likely that you will recognize those negatives. You will, in fact, have valid reasons for wanting to criticize the idea.

And yet, if the inventor is enthusiastic about the idea and expects that it will bring big benefits, then he or she is almost certainly expecting to be praised for the idea. When presenting the idea the inventor does not expect to be criticized; he or she expects profuse thanks.

So now the final elements of the confict are clear. When someone brings you an idea, it’s often the case that you find yourself having to criticize the idea and, at the very same time, praise it. Criticize the idea so that the negative aspects of it are identified and hopefully corrected. Praise it in order to maintain good relations with the inventor of the idea.

It might seem as if there is no solution to this dilemma. Isn’t praising something exactly the reverse of criticizing it?

As he always does, Dr. Goldatt has a solution to this dilemma. I’ll talk about that solution in my next blog post. Perhaps, in the mean time, you can think of your own solutions to this dilemma.

I have long thought that TRIZ and TOC are more related than we understand.

For example, take a look at this video (warning: possible long download for now).  If you understand the TOC concept of a conflict (dilemma, cloud, or problem) then the first few minutes of this video should resonate with you.

In the presentation, Valeri discusses the critical role that “contradictions” play in TRIZ.  He gives an excellent example at the start of the video, when we he uses the example of a movie screen as a contradiction.  On the one hand, we want our movie screens to be very big, so that everyone in the room can see all aspects of the presentation clearly.  But at the very same time, we want the screen to be small, so that we don’t need a very powerful projector (which is costly to buy and costly to run) to project our materials onto the screen.

So at once, we want a screen that is as large as possible and as small as is possible.

In this situation, most people reach for a compromise.  They try to find a screen that is big enough to be easily visible, but small enough to not require an expensive projector.  And in the end, no one is really happy with the trade-off. There is always someone who wants your fonts to be bigger, and you are always wishing you had a brighter, and better, projector.

What Valeri suggests — and this is completely in line with TOC — is that we should resist the urge to compromise.  And in his presentation, he gives an elegant solution to the movie screen problem I have described.  And in fact, there are companies that produce products that address this issue.

There is another aspect of TRIZ that I want to debunk.  That is the idea that TRIZ is only for “physical” products.  I have a friend who makes this (annoying) claim from time to time.  Perhaps I need to send him this article and tell him that even the TRIZ masters think he’s wrong.  But heck, he would probably argue with them too.

xmas-momAt last I get to search naughty websites for suitable images for a legitimate article for my blog!

In the TOC world we build Future Reality Trees to try to anticipate how things will play out when we start making changes in the systems we seek to improve.  Another tool used at this time is the Negative Branch Reservation.  With this tool, you can say “Oh yeah, now I see how if we do X, it will lead to Y, and Y will lead to Z, and Z is really bad.  We better fix that.”  The NBR is a very good tool for doing this and it’s not hard to learn.

It kind of looks like the good folks working on Bing could have used this tool.  As it turns out, what makes Bing good at finding videos also makes it good at finding porn.

Here’s a link to the article.

I have said for years that TOC applies to software engineering, even once going so far as to write a somewhat tedious article (warning: pdf) on applying the Evaporating Cloud to software engineering. In fact, I once showed it to a really bright guy who is now the CEO of a respectable company.  He said, “It’s good, but you didn’t give the answers.”  Perhaps that shows the degree to which I missed the mark.  The paper wasn’t about giving answers to specific problems in software engineering; it was about sharing a general technique for problem solving.  Oh well.

At any rate, here’s an interesting post and video for folks interested in Agile and systems improvement methodologies like TOC and Lean.

I still attend meetings of our City Council. How much longer I will attend I don’t know.

These good people are caught in chronic conflict. They are divided into two tribes. Contentious votes usually come out 4 to 3. Being in the minority sucks because you lose every critical vote.  But being in the majority also sucks, as Roberts Rules of Order ensures that each tribe has plenty of time to attack each other verbally.

I found this diagram interesting:

I have a little theory.  I’d welcome your thoughts on it.

Let’s say your a member of the Council.  You go to a meeting one Monday night and for three or four hours, you’re the verbal punching bag for the other tribe.  You try to defend yourself, but everything you say is twisted and distorted into all manner of false claims.  Roberts Rules of Order prevents you from responding to their comments as they are being made.  You have to sit patiently, and smile, while the other guy is painting you as a modern-day Charles Manson.

When it’s finally your turn to talk again, you can’t help but want to get a little payback.  So you respond in kind.  Now, it’s someone else’s turn to sit there and take it.

This goes on, as I said, for three or four hours.  Finally, it’s time to go home.

But wait, you’re not done yet.  You go home and recount the evening’s events to your spouse.  You maybe spend half an hour or more going over what happened, who said what to whom, etc.  Finally, it’s time for bed.

So you climb into bed, and you replay the evening’s events in your mind again and again as you try to fall asleep.  Eventually, you fall asleep, but your hard-working brain is still at it.  It’s busy trying to make sense of all of the events of the day, trying to consolidate them into memories and beliefs that will help you and it to survive.  So while you are sleeping, your brain is writing this kind of stuff in your neurons and neural pathways :  Members of the other tribe are the enemy.  Members of the other tribe cannot be trusted.  I should never collaborate with members of the other tribe.  I should try to kill the members of the other tribe.

In the morning you wake up and try to go about your week.  Fortunately, you have a prefrontal cortex, and so you don’t act on every negative belief you hold.  You might fantasize, briefly, about injuring members of the other tribe, but you don’t act out those thoughts.  But of course, during the week, you’re still thinking about what happened last Monday night.  It still bugs you and you definitely don’t want to have it happen again.  So, you start planning.  As you’re planning, you’re replaying your memories of what happened that night. With each replay, the idea that members of the other tribe are “the enemy” are reinforced.  The connections in your brain change physically.  New neural connections are made and the “sensitivities” neurons are adjusted to reflect your now-more-strident beliefs.

So what happens next Monday?  When you see the members of the other tribe, your ever-faithful brain prepares you for the fight it knows is coming.  Hormones are released.  Your heart-rate and respiration goes up as your body prepares itself for the fight.  Mentally, you’re on guard for the attacks that you just know will be coming.

In this heightened state of guardedness even a neutral statement by a member of the other tribe will be interpreted as hostile.  So even if, by some miracle, a member of the other tribe tries to be polite and respectful, you will misinterpret it.  In fact, it’s going to be almost impossible for the members of the other tribe to say or do anything to “change your mind” about them.  Even if they go out of their way to be polite, your very clever brain is going to say “I think I’m being set-up.”

So how to escape such a situation?

I certainly think competent therapy would help.  Perhaps Council meetings should be moderated by a disinterested third party until the Council members have done the self-work necessary to break free of their addiction (yes, addiction) to seeing the members of the other tribe as the enemy.

It is also the case that using the Thinking Process tools would be helpful in breaking this kind of behavior.  Now that I think about it, when the Thinking Process tools are properly used, they do act as a “moderator” who serves to keep the whole process on track and focused on solving problems versus fighting.

So this is my thinking.  What should I change about it?  What seems wrong or bogus to you?

I heard the sound of laughing last night as I passed down the hallway on my way to refill my cup of tea.   I found the rest of the family huddled around the computer in my daughter’s room. Not being one to want to miss good times with the family, I decided to check it out.

Everyone was having a great time reading and commenting on the results of some personality-type tests they had taken. One person would read a few paragraphs and then everyone would chime in with examples (and the occasional denial!)  I have taken these tests in the past, and I think there is some validity to them.  Are these tests really valid?  Beats me.

One of the people I hired into my business years ago was Toni, a professional therapist. I would like to say that this was one of my better ideas, but the credit really goes to my wife, Stacey, and our good friend Wendy, who passed away in 2005.

Let me say this right up front: If you’re a high-tech business, or perhaps any significant business, seriously consider hiring a therapist into your HR department.  Business today is challenging.  You need to be very effective at solving problems in order to succeed.  If everyone in your business is upset with each other, unable and/or unwilling to communicate, and manifesting other forms of dysfunctional behavior, you simply can’t be effective at problem solving.  Unless your competition is similarly broken, you’re at real risk of having them put you out of business.

I knew from Toni’s help that my Keirsey Temperament classification was “Rational / Architect,” which apparently maps to “INTP” in the Meyers-Briggs domain. As my daughter read the description of the the INTP type out loud, I was surprised at how well it captured what I’m like on a day-to-day basis.

So here is one my key take-aways for myself: I’m often too theoretical. I don’t take often take the time to give practical examples of what I’m talking about. I’m resolved to push myself in that direction, to try to give more practical examples of my abstract theories.

It’s either that, or go nuts. I’m only just now closing in on fifty years old, so I (hope I) have a lot of life left in me. I think I’d rather not go nuts, at least, not right now.

I think I delivered some shocking news at the Woodinville City Council meeting last night.
youngwomanamazedinsunglasses

During Public Comment I shared some data provided by Realization on their website.  This data documents some of the successes organizations have had when they implement Critical Chain.  For the record, while I believe it’s fair to consider Realization as the top-tier provider of Critical Chain implementations, other companies and organizations that have implemented Critical Chain have reported similar results.

Here are some of the examples I shared last night, with results before and after Critical Chain implementation:

  1. Medtronic USA
    Before: 1 software release every 6 – 9 months.
    After:  1 software release every 2 months.
  2. Medtronic Europe
    Before: Average cycle time 18 months.
    After:  Average cycle time 9 months.
  3. Valley Cabinet Works
    Before: 200 projects / year
    After:  334 projects / nine months
  4. BHP Biliton
    Before: 25,800 man-hours to be completed in 8 months.  2 weeks late.
    After: 19,500 man-hours used.  Projects finished 3 weeks early.  25% productivity increase.
  5. HP Digital Camera Group
    Before: 6 cameras launched per year; only 1 on time
    After: 15 cameras launched per year; all were on time; R&D 25% lower

When you’re inside an organization like the City of Woodinville and enmeshed in the day to day affairs of the City, it’s easy to believe that big jumps in the performance of the organization are not possible.   And so perhaps it’s a bit shocking when reality proves that other organizations, far more complex than yours, have made big jumps in their performance.

Please note that Realization provides many customer testimonials in video format on their website.  If you want to see some of the full presentations you can contact me.  For a period of time, Realization was giving away DVD sets from their yearly conference.  I have some of those for recent years.

On a related note, the Japanese Government’s Public Works reform, for example, has mandated that all contractors working for the Ministry of Land Infrastructure and Transportation must use Critical Chain.

You can also find references to Critical Chain in the Project Management Institute’s “Project Management Body of Knowledge,” also known as the “PMBOK.”  It’s important to understand, however, that because Critical Chain’s “new rules” for managing projects sometimes clash with what PMI has been preaching for many, many years, PMI is not yet embracing Critical Chain as vigorously as (in my opinion) they should.

Finally, I can give you a personal data point.  When I have used Critical Chain to manage projects it has always worked “as advertised.”  It’s hard to put into words the level of focus that Critical Chain (and Buffer Management, which is a critical-but-sometimes-overlooked aspect of Critical Chain) brings to project planning and execution.

I shared this data with the Council last night.  I asked them to look in to Critical Chain.  My hope is that some of them will do this.  If they do, I think they will find that the City of Woodinville could complete projects in about 2/3rd’s the time that those projects would take if managed as projects are managed today within the City.

Finding success stories on Critical Chain is not difficult.   Any City Council member that can use Google can find such results.

Understanding how Critical Chain delivers its improved performance is more challenging.  Council Members that want to understand how Critical Chain really works will have to invest a little “mental sweat equity” to do it.  However, once this investment is made, I think they will understand why I consider Critical Chain to be an integral part of the “pot of gold” that I believe is waiting to be claimed by any City Council Member (current or future) that is willing to do the hard work required to claim it.

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