Self-Management: Goal Setting, Decision Making and Control
Master your environment...
Aquarium , La Rochelle
"Find something you like to do and you'll never work a day in your life."
"Throw yourself into a new creative project, something you've been excited about, but which feels a little daunting. You'll be so consumed by it that it will fuel you for ages. - 365 Days of Happiness, Lizzie Cornwall
"It's in the moment of decision making that your destiny is shaped." - Anthony Robbins
"Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than being able to decide. " - Napoleon Bonaparte
Milton Erickson in My Voice Will Go With You gave one of his favorite prescriptions for enjoying life, perhaps even for prolonging it: "Always look to a real goal, in the near future... it is necessary for us to have goals - immediate and achievable." (This doesn't rule out intermediate or long term goals, because we have to accomplish short term goals along the way to achieve the longer term ones.)
Portraits of Courage: A Commander In Chief's Tribute To America's Warriors - George W. Bush
Many will remember, with probably some surprise, that former President George W. Bush decided to take up painting in his retirement. It started off with some paintings of small animals that most people thought were "cute", likely thinking that he wouldn't progress far beyond that, but with his wife Laura's encouragement and the training provided by some fine teachers, he's gone far beyond that, and not simply as an improved painter. He set out a mission for himself and by my observation, he has done a lot of good in accomplishing it.
Often it's said that we save the best for last. In this case, I'm giving you the best first. In this segment, you will read many thoughts about the importance of self-management and organizational management and good suggestions for how to become better in both. But few managers of themselves, or others, will ever face the self-management post-traumatic stress, traumatic brain injuries, physical disabilities, depression, addiction challenges, social withdrawal, surgeries in the dozens (one soldier had one hundred), and long term hospitalizations that these disabled men and women, ninety eight of them, faced - everyone of them being honored by their being painted by former President Bush for this volume. Most of them lost one or more limbs.
As I read through the book, I could only think about how any problems I have had in my life have paled by comparison to those faced by these veterans who have risked life and limb for us in serving our nation.
I lead off with this reading because you may be facing, or perhaps may face, serious challenges in your own life. I hope you will read all the individual stories that President Bush has chronicled and painted with such great heart. And I hope they will inspire you as they have me. Whether someone's politics are Republican, Democratic or Independent, most will be able to appreciate the feeling President Bush has for these warriors, all of whom he spoke with personally and has interacted with during the Bush Center's golf tournaments, mountain bike races, dinners and other activities. With these projects, and the other initiatives that he has established for wounded veterans, President Bush joins President Carter in having one of our most admirable ex-presidencies.
Proceeds from the sale of the book are all donated to benefit veteran's causes. It would be an excellent gift, and perhaps a great help, to give this book to anyone, particularly to any veterans who are facing, or who have faced serious challenges in life as a result of their military service. As I read the book myself, I thought often of someone I know who served in Vietnam, and problems he has dealt with silently and courageously, who I am going to give my copy to.
You probably know that our veterans who have been in combat in the Middle East and in Vietnam and in other conflicts have little desire to recount what happened to them. It’s best not to ask, a mistake I asked once of a very good friend. For most of us, it would be like their trying to explain what the color "green" is to someone who’s been blind from birth. The only ones who can truly understand, and the only ones that combat vets care to speak with about such things, are others who have been in the same situation or those who have long experience in helping disabled veterans. That's also why veterans groups are so important for our vets. The book is also an excellent primer on how we, as members of the general public, can be more helpful to our vets by doing more to interact with them in ways that they find more helpful to them and by making productive employment opportunities available to them.
I would also encourage anyone who reads the book to not blow past the two "Forwards" written by Laura Bush and General Peter Pace, the former Chairman of The Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the "Introduction" written by President Bush. They are excellent and revealing.
For anyone, including veterans, to learn about all the assistance that is available for our disabled veterans, further information is available at: www.BushCenter.org. Bring it to the attention of someone you care about.
I'd be very remiss, after this extended preamble, not to share some of the words of our disabled veterans. There is no way that these few words, and all the others the book contains, can convey the impact that these stories had on me, and would likely have on you:
Melissa Stockwell (1st Lieutenant, USA)
"I joined because I loved our country, short and simple". On April 13, 2004, three weeks into her deployment in Iraq, her vehicle hit an IED. She lost her left leg and was the first female to lose a limb in the war on terror. She went back to college and studied prosthetics so she could learn to fit other amputees with artificial limbs. She became a great runner, swimmer and cyclist. President Bush painted them dancing together, the only painted portrayal of himself in the book.
Jeremy James Valdez (Chief Warrant Officer, USA)
"In 2009, his helicopter went down and burst into flames. Even though he was hurt, he pulled five of his team members from the helicopter and saved their lives. He recovered from his injuries, but had headaches, losses of memory and cognitive function and the haunting images of the ten soldiers he couldn't rescue from the flames." In his final deployment in Afghanistan, he met an Army Airborne trauma nurse, Erica, and they were married on June 15, 2015. Bush said he couldn't attend the wedding, but was with them in spirit - in a way you could probably never image. I'll let you investigate that on your own in the book store or when you buy the book. If I told you, I’d have to give you a “spoiler alert" first.
David A. Wright (Sergeant, USMC)
"Combat took a toll on David's body. He left the Marines after a triple deployment in Iraq at the very front lines going on patrols, kicking doors in, and going house to house. On Christmas Day, he ate dinner by himself in the basement while his family was upstairs. He didn't know why and neither did they. A few days later, he had a massive panic attack. “That was the kickoff to what PTSD did to me for the next ten years.” He started drinking , the only way he knew how to deal with the symptoms. (This was a frequently mentioned way that many disabled vets in the book said they had tried to deal with these problems.) "You're never really taught to ask for help as a Marine. You don't want to show those signs of weakness." Thankfully, his family intervened in time to save his life. He gave up drinking and now is in the process of fulfilling his lifelong dream of opening his own business. "I'm excited for the future, he says, "Now I'm in control of my own destiny". All of us should be. Most of us can be to a decent degree if we get help when we need it, as Sergeant Wright did.
Matthew Zbiec (Sergeant, USMC)
On October 10, 2005, Matt was leading an infantry squad into Fallujah, Iraq when an IED detonated just eight feet away. "It was a significantly large blast and it really changed my life." He lost some of his fingers and was diagnosed with hearing loss and traumatic brain injury. Matt's recovery continues.
He has learned to cope with the anxiety, anger and depression - what he calls the "demons" of PTS. Much of the credit he gives to his wife, Emilia. "My loving, supportive and beautiful wife has played a huge role in my recovery,” Matt says. “Her unwavering faith in God, and in me, gave her the strength and courage to pull us both through the hardest times." A good reminder for all of us that we may have times when we need help. We should never be ashamed to ask for it. (The book contains dozens of stories about how the wives of disabled veterans played a major role in the recovery of their husbands, truly the unsung heroes, joining the legion of other caregivers in civilian and military life.)
The book contains many more tragic stories of injury and remarkable, motivating recoveries. If they could do this, so can we in our own lives.
Adam Jahnke (Lance Corporal, USMC)
Corporal Jahnke's story, a victim of TBI, is the final large portrait in the book. His remarks provide a fitting conclusion:
"I was proud that President Bush was at the top echelon in charge of me when I was fighting, and that he cared about me". President Bush said, "Adam's words stayed with me as I painted him. I hope he and his brothers and sisters in arms know that I care about them still, and that I will until the day I die."
Clear Your Head: De-Clutter First - Lawrence J. Danks
Before you start thinking about anything, or doing anything, simplify your life as much as possible. De-clutter. Don't carry excess baggage around with you. It will clear your head, so you can concentrate more fully on what's really important.
How can you de-clutter? Get rid of things in your home, your closets and your car that you don't need. When things are straightened up, you don't have observable clutter to distract you. (By doing this you'll also succeed in finding many things that were "lost.") There are many helpful books in bookstores to help with de-cluttering. A good test for whether or not to keep something is to ask yourself whether you have used it in the last year, and if you are likely to use it in the near future. If you're not using it, donate it to agencies who can make it available to help others.
What about your life? Are you wasting too much time texting or e-mailing, or socializing with people that you really don't want to be with? It's especially important to free up your head by eliminating people who are toxic, distracting, annoying or discouraging whenever possible, or by ending non-productive relationships. You don't need any emotional drag-downs.
Get rid of anything, including thoughts, that are draining you or bothering you. Andy Warhol put it this way: "Sometimes people let the same problems make them miserable for years, when they could just say 'so what."
We can also be drained by what other people think, especially if they are higher up in the food chain: parents, bosses, experts and others. But as Arianna Huffington astutely reminds us, "In death, everybody ties and gets a participation ribbon." Seriously evaluate all input you get, but do what you think you should be doing. It's your life. Even though others may seem to be ahead of you now in one way or another, in the end, they are simply participants just like you are.
What about activities you spend your time on, such as: organizations, going to meetings, meeting requirements, and so on? Which ones can you off-load? I had a real estate broker's license and approved instructor license for over forty years. I gave them up several years ago. I knew I wasn't going to be selling real estate or making referrals anymore, and I wasn't going to teach any more pre-licensing courses either. So did I need to keep paying license fees and attending required meetings? What do you really need in your life to go forward with? You'll feel a whole lot lighter and ready to do more improved thinking and enjoy faster progress when you can travel lighter.
Take a Principles of Management Course
It can either be lecture or online, or read a simplified Principles of Management text. Management is required in every field, not just business. Basic management principles are not only applicable to business, but also necessary in hospitals, law firms, art museums, charitable organizations, and just about any other organization one can think of. They also apply to us. We should follow good management principles in our own lives too.
Before trying to solve a problem, you must know what the problem is that you are trying to solve. The "proper" solution doesn't help much if it's the answer to the wrong problem. Do not be concerned about whether the answer you determine is deemed to be "the right way" to do something. You will think far more creatively if you don't concern yourself with that. Think Like A Freak notes: "Whatever problem you're trying to solve, make sure you're not just attacking the noisy part of the problem that happens to capture your attention. Before spending all your time and resources, it's incredibly important to properly define the problem - or, better yet, redefine the problem." Otherwise, you may find yourself tearing down a road, only to find later that it's the wrong one.
When setting goals, set ones that make sense for you. John Maxwell in How Successful People Grow provides a handy list of areas in your life that you should assess when doing strategic planning to reach you goals. These area include:
- Personal Growth
Just add any others that are also important to you to assist you in setting your targets.
Find out what the right thing is for you as soon as you can by taking courses, through interest testing, reading, work experience, and by trying different things that attract your interest, so you don't waste time and motion unnecessarily. Read things outside your normal area of interest and speak to those in fields other than your own too. That can help widen your perspective.
Interest testing can be expensive. Try looking for something online or better still, check with your local community college's Advisement Office to see if they can arrange for you to take one. You may also be able to get counseling regarding the interpretation of your results too.
Sonya Lybormirsky suggests the following in setting goals:
· It is important to have strong dreams or aspirations
· The best way to own your goals is to choose ones that fit you well
· Goals should complement one another
· Write a personal legacy that you would like to leave after you die and an obituary. Keep working on it until you are satisfied
· Developing skills requires a great deal of practice, patience and labor
· Sometimes you must take risks
· Keep your eyes and ears open for new possibilities
· When you have thoughts of quitting, or low motivation, make a conscious effort to return your attention to the task at hand
· Revise or change a goal or even question its priority
Once you've established some goals for yourself, do a "gap analysis". There's a gap between where you are now and where you hope to be. What things do you need to do to bridge the gap?
When setting goals or objectives, remember that they should be:
- Time Bounded (Have a deadline)
After you've established your goals, develop strategies and tactics to help you accomplish them. Strategies are the broad directions used to reach a goal. Tactics are step by step ways to achieve the strategic objectives.
In Tal Ben-Shahar's Happiness, he credits his philosophy teacher, Ohad Kamin, for suggesting a way to choose a path toward happiness. He demonstrated this by showing a set of four circles:
- Make a large circle and label it "Things I can do" near the top.
- Then inside that circle draw another one, label that one "Want to Do"
- Inside that circle make another one and label it, "Really want to do"
- Inside that circle make one final one and label that one "Really, really want to do.
By having him create these four concentric circles, with appropriate goals listed inside each of them, he was able to identify what pursuit would make him the happiest.
To Do Lists
It's easy to forget things we want to do or to have them crowded out by other items that come up. One helpful aid is to have a "To Do List".
I've always had one, labeled "TTD" - Things To Do. Not very sexy, but it's worked for me for a long time. What works even better is to have a prioritized "To Do List". Show three categories: "A" Priorities, "B" Priorities and "C" Priorities. (This isn't my idea. I read about in a time management book a long time ago, so I give credit to the time management expert whose name I can't recall.) Focus your time on getting the "A" priorities done, first, then move on sequentially to the "B's" and the "C's. This is the goal. Naturally, there may be times when the "B's" or "C's" can't be put off and have to be done, even if their level of importance isn't as high.
Items will come and go on your lists. They're your lists, so make them reflect what you want them to be. Thought of something new? Just place it on the proper priority list. Feel that something isn't as important as it once was, or that has lost importance to you altogether? Then just relocate it on your priority list, or delete it.
Arianna Huffington mentions in Thrive: "I did a major 'life audit' when I turned forty. (We can do one anytime we think it makes sense for us to do one. Since you're planning some personal growth, now would be an excellent time.) I realized how many projects I had committed to in my head - such as learning German, becoming a good skier, and learning to cook. Most remained unfinished, and many were not even started...It was very liberating to realize that I could 'complete' a project by simply dropping it - by eliminating it from my to-do list. Why carry around unnecessary baggage? This is exactly my initial point. De-clutter before you get started trying to accomplish goals - and keep de-cluttering as you go along. That way you can focus on what you really want to get done, then taking the action steps to do it.
Finding A Better Way To Work
Milton Erickson in My Voice Will Go With You says, "We grow up thinking we have to finish...The coercive feeling that we must finish can easily block spontaneity and creativity. A far more effective way of getting something done is by 'starting and stopping' according to one's inner rhythm." Erickson said he found this technique to be effective in helping patients overcome blockages, such as writer's block. (I can attest to this. I've written eight books. It makes sense to take breaks for many reasons. Sometimes I'd get to the point where I couldn't get things to work the way I wanted, so I'd go out in the yard and do something, go read, or watch television, then go back to work later that day, or on another day. I found that when you try to force nature too much, it doesn't work. Just listen to your own instincts. Stop when you think it's time, and go back to it when your enthusiasm and a fresh perspective returns. It makes a difference.)
Managing Oneself - Peter Drucker
Being More Effective
Peter Drucker was a world famous management consultant and writer of many books for decades. In this small, simple book he applied management principles and his philosophies to the task of self-improvement, effectiveness and success.
Drucker says most people think they know what their strengths are. They are usually wrong. We need to know our strengths to know where we belong. He says the only way to discover them is through "feedback analysis". Whenever you make a key decision, or take a key action, write down what you expect to happen. Nine or twelve months later, compare the actual results with your expectations. Within several years, this will show you where your strengths lie. (It should also provide helpful clues before that.)
Concentrate on your strengths and work on improving them. Equally important is to remedy your bad habits. (Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, that you'll see later, will be a big help in doing that.)
Work does not stop when a plan is completed. It must adapt and change as it is put ito action. Feedback also reveals when there is a lack of manners. Simple things like saying "please" and "thank you", knowing another person's name, or asking after her/his family can help people work together, whether they like each other or not. Brilliant work can fail for lack of courtesy.
One should waste as little time as possible on improving areas of low competence. It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity, than it takes to improve from first-rate performance to excellence. (As Bernard Baruch said, "Do what you do best and leave the rest to others.")
Just as people achieve results by doing what they are good at, they also achieve results by working in ways that they best perform. (That's not only important to apply to ourselves, but to use it as a guide if you're a manager. Try to put round pegs into round holes as much as possible.)
Some people work best as team members. Others work best alone (including me.). Do I produce results as a decision maker or as an adviser? Some people need a good adviser to force them to think and to keep them on track so they can make faster and more courageous decisions. They can also help to keep a decision maker on track.
Do you work best in a big organization or in a small one? Few people work well in both kinds of environments.
What are my values? What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning? To be effective, your values must be compatible with the organization's values. Decide where you belong and where you don't belong.
Don't look too far ahead into the future. A plan can usually cover no more than eighteen months and still be reasonably clear and specific.
Very few people work by themselves and achieve results by themselves. Managing yourself requires taking responsibility for relationships:
- Accept that others are as much individual as you are. To be effective, you need to know the strengths, the performance modes and the values of your co-workers. (That means that you have to observe them and talk with them about these things. Drucker says few people pay attention to this. They should. Yo do otherwise is to simialr to having a multi-purpose tool at our disposal and not knowing all the different things it can do.) The first secret of effectiveness is to understand the people you work with and depend on, so that you can use their strengths, their ways of working and their values.
- Take responsibility for communications. Make sure others understand what you're trying to do, why you are trying to do it, how it's going to be done and what results to expect. (We shouldn't be quick to say, "No, you don't understand." The focus should be on "I'm sorry. I didn't make myself clear." The principal responsibility in communication should be on the sender.)
Managing oneself increasingly leads one to begin a second career. There are three ways to develop one:
- Actually start one, such as moving from one kind of organization to another or moving to different lines of work altogether.
- Prepare for the second career by developing a parallel job while staying in the current work you are doing, such as starting to work for a non-profit ten hours a week.
- Becoming a social entrepreneur where you already are by becoming a leader and role model.
One prerequisite for managing the second half of your life: You must begin it long before you enter it. Drucker say that it's important "to be somebody" who can be respected and thought well of, either in their primary work or in an outside interest can furnish that opportunity. That's a good goal to aim for.
Decision making always involves a certain amount of "crystal-ball gazing". We're trying to decide something now, based on what we think the future will be like. We do this when we're deciding whom to marry: "I know how I feel now, but how am I going to feel three years from now?" The same would apply to whether a testing company should compete in trying to do testing in Eastern Europe. As Nils Bohr, the renowned Nobel Prize winner in Physics, and also a philosopher said, "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." So no one should expect that this is going to be easy.
The best we can do is to be guided by information, relying upon the experience we can garner, and our own "gut reaction". We have already seen though that, according to positive psychologists, our insight into our own skills and abilities is not good. We have a tendency to overestimate and to underestimate our abilities and outcomes. We should also be careful about placing overreliance on the advice of "experts".
The decision making process involves these steps:
- Define what the problem or opportunity is
- Generate all possible alternatives
- Evaluate each alternative
- Select an alternative
- Follow up to ensure that the alternative has been properly implemented and that the desired result has been achieved
It's important to generate all conceivable alternatives, even weird ones. The function of those is to stimulate thinking.There should also be a safety net of contingencies in place. If you have no alternatives, you begin to drift if an alternative doesn't work out and you waste time. In order to make good decisions, research and testing need to be done, information has to be gathered, and evaluations have to be made. In combination with this, or in place of it, "gut instinct" or intuition can also be used.
Intuitive Decision Making ("Gut Decisions")
The more experience someone has in a particular area, the more likely that they might able to use increased intuitive thinking. As you gain more experience, you too may develop an intuitive feel for making judgments. You'll also know how much to "trust your gut" with different kinds of decisions. Most people are more intuitive in some areas than in others.
So why not just operate just on gut instinct all the time? Because sometimes facts and figures, and the opinions of others, can help guide you and also help to keep you out of trouble - sometimes a lot of it. But as Malcolm Gladwell points out so well in his best seller Blink, there are times when relying on instincts can produce the same good decisions by using "thin slicing". He shows that such snippets of experience can yield decisions that are comparable to, or better than, those reached through more laborious processes. He says "our snap judgments can be educated and controlled."
For example, he cites the case of Professor John Gottman and his "Love Lab" at the University of Washington where couples were videotaped, interacting to solve a problem, then evaluated using a point system Gottmann developed. "If he analyzes an hour of a husband and wife talking, he can predict, with 95% accuracy, whether the couple will still be married fifteen years later. If he watches a couple for fifteen minutes, his success rate is around 90%.
Gladwell offers many similarly interesting examples of how "thin slicing", the ability of our unconscious to find patterns in situations and behavior based on very narrow segments of experience, can be effective. I've readmany of Gladwell's books. I believe Blink is his best. It's a fascinating book to read, not only for pleasure, but for some real takeaway value. His stories and examples are memorable.
No Decision: When in Doubt, Do Nothing
Famed NBA coach Phil Jackson, in his book, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success points out nicely that we don't always have to make a decision. We really having three choices: deciding to do something, deciding not to do something, or not deciding. He says, "There are occasions when the best solution is to do absolutely nothing. T.J. Simers, a Los Angeles Times columnist commenting on this characteristic of Jackson's quipped, "No one does nothing better than Phil."... "On a deeper level, I believe that focusing on something other than the the business at hand can be the most effective way to solve complex problems. When the mind is allowed to relax, inspiration often follows. (So deciding not to decide and holding off, isn't dereliction of duty, it can be an effective strategy to ultimately finding the right answer.)
Improving Prediction and Decision Making
When making a decision, often we have a number of options to choose from. The question is which one should we pick? New York Times writer Charles Duhigg offers results from some helpful research in Smarter, Better, Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and in Business. This summary is from his chapter on decision making:
In 2011, the Director of the Office of National Intelligence asked selected universities to participate in a project to dramatically enhance the accuracy, precision and timeliness of intelligence forecasts. Most of the universities sought out the typical academic specialists to be part of their team, but Penn and Cal-Berkeley, working together, created a group called the Good Judgment Project" (GJP), comprised of lawyers, housewives, master's students, voracious newspaper readers, and others, and trained them in forecasting that taught them different ways to think about the future.
The participants were instructed to think of the future not as what's going to happen, but rather as a series of possibilities that might occur. The future should be envisioned as an array of potential outcomes, all of which had different odds of coming true. The idea is to combine contradictory future outcomes into a single prediction.
He cites the example of the French political party, the UMP, now Les Republicans and their candidate then incumbent French President Nicholas Sarkozy running against Francois Hollande. Data were analyzed showing that an incumbent could expect to receive 67% of the vote, however Sarkozy had low approval ratings for a variety of reasons, reducing his chances of being reelected to 25%. The French economy wasn't doing well and economists said he would be likely to get 45% of the vote. The three percentages were averaged and showed a 46% chance of reelection. Sarkozy received 48.4% of the vote and lost to Hollande (who turned out to be even more unpopular than Sarkozy was).
The training the GJP panel received said that the estimate for relevant factors should be given equal weighting, unless a variable demonstrated it should be weighted differently. (It's useful to note that perhaps sometimes one factor alone might be used too. Knowing which one is the question. In elections here in the States, the economy is usually the number one issue that voters are concerned about. In France, the economy had a weight of 46% and Sarkozy got 48.4% of the vote. If one critical factor is properly selected, using that alone might tell you what you need to know.
Exposing participants to probabilistic training was associated with as much as a 50% increase in the accuracy of their predictions. Participants were taught to turn hunches into probabilities, which they honed almost daily in online communication with the other project members.
To become better at predicting the future - at making good decisions - we need to know the difference between what we hope will happen and what is more or less likely to occur, : Even though you know with 100% certainty that you love someone right now, thinking about the future can force you to think through things that might be fuzzy today, but that are really important over time. That honesty can get you to start thinking about things you aren't too sure of. For example, what impact will wanting or not wanting children have, actually having them, having higher intellectual growth of one partner over another, having a higher income earned by one partner than the other? How could that cause the relationship to be likely to change? A good rule of thumb in life is not simply to decide based on what seems like a good decision in the present, but to ask how it's likely to end if we continued on the same course?
Cognitive science Professor Joshua Tenenbaum at MIT began a large scale examination of the causal ways that people make everyday predictions. Being good at forecasting and making decisions are based on knowledge we have, or acquire, and predicting outcomes from that to help us make good decisions. For example, if it were Sunday morning at 8:00 AM and you had to drive to Trenton from South Jersey, you'd probably figure that the fastest way to get there would be to take I-295. But if you were coming down from Trenton to Haddon Heights, and it was 4:00 PM on a Friday afternoon, you might say that you were going to get off before the local exit and "take the back way" because we have already calculated the odds of running into a traffic jam and don't like your odds.
Distinct types of reasoning patterns should also be used in different situations. For example, if you were told that someone is thirty-nine years old and asked how long you would predict that person would live, Tenenbaum says you would probably be likely to say, about fifty more years. If you were told that a movie had grossed $60 million so far, how much would you estimate it would gross overall? He said that the age question is simply one of thinking of a normal distribution curve, while the movie question is one of a final factor being influenced by a known one. "Bayes Rule" from psychology says: Even if we have very little data, we can still forecast the future by making assumptions, then skewing them based on what we observe in the world. Humans can make these types of calculations without having to think about them very hard, Tenenbaum says, and we tend to be surprisingly accurate.
However, he makes a critical point: "It's incredible that we're so good at making predictions with such little information and then adjusting them as we absorb data from life ...but it only works if you start with the right assumptions." He used the example of predicting how long an Egyptian pharaoh would live who had already reigned for eleven years.
The respondents equated the pharaoh to a European king and estimated a reign far longer than the actual ones the pharaohs had, due in part to an important fact: the life span of pharaohs in that era were far shorter than those European rulers who came later,
So how to you get better assumption? Tenenbaum says from making sure we are exposed to the full range of experiences. In particular, paying more attention to failures, and information we can derive from that of why, versus focusing on success which the media and individuals have more a tendency to do. He says many successful people spend an enormous amount of time seeking information about failures. We shouldn't handicap ourselves by just paying attention to good news. So "devil's advocate thinking" shouldn't be thought of as annoying, but essential and useful.
Force yourself to find out what happened in failure situations. Then use those insights to forecast more potential futures, to identify more possibilities of what might happen. The more you learn about which assumptions are certain and which ones are flimsy, the better your odds you can generate for each scenario to make an improved decision.
Break The Rules, Delegation, Control, "Have-To's" and "Want To's"
This doesn't mean to always break the rules. Rules, as well as quotations, often stand the test of time because they've been found to produce good results. But that doesn't mean the thought process shouldn't include a different approach when it might be called for. The same logic applies to organizational policies and procedures. They've been developed because they are typically consistent with achieving stated goals. However, there are clearly other times when it is far wiser to take a different course and not to simply follow them blindly.
All of the Freakomomics books use fascinating examples of how we need to think a lot differently than we usually do. No better example of that is found in Think Like A Freak , when detailing hot dog eating contests. They tell the story of a young, very slight Japanese man, who was the world champion of hot dog eating six times in a row. The contest at the time lasted twelve minutes. When he began his quest, the world record for eating hot dogs on a bun was about 25. A very prodigious feat. Mr. Kobayashi ate 50, then followed that by eating 53 3/4. (Beverages were permitted in unlimited quantities.) His thinking had a great deal to do with it. Here are some of the elements of his success, achieved by redefining the problem:
- "Kobayashi wondered if perhaps there was a better way"
- He broke the dog and bun in half before eating (It provided more opportunities for chewing and loading, and it let his hands do some of the work that would otherwise occupy his mouth
- He questioned eating the dog and bun together (So he started removing the dog from the bun. Now he could feed himself a handful of bunless dogs, broken in half, followed by a round of buns.
- The bun was still a problem...As he ate the dogs with one hand, he use the other hand to dunk the bun into his water cup. Then he'd squeeze out most of the excess water and smush the bun into his mouth...Eating soggy buns meant he grew less thirsty along the way, which meant less time on drinking. (Sounds like a really fine dining experience.)
- He experimented with water temperature (He found that warm water was best, as it relaxed his chewing muscles. He also spiked the water with vegetable oil, which seemed to help swallowing.
- His experimentation was endless"
What lessons can be learned from this about problem solving?
1. Problem Redefinition: "The competitors asked, "How do I eat more hot dogs?" Kobayashi asked: "How do I make hot dogs easier to eat? Only by redefining the problem was he able to discover a new set of solutions" - and obviously, more relevant ones. How might you redefine problems you have or decisions you are facing.
2. Success has to do with the limits we accept, or refuse to: "Since earlier competitors had been asking the wrong question about eating hot dogs, he saw the record as an artificial barrier...He instructed his mind to pay zero attention to the number of hot dogs he was eating and to concentrate on solely how he ate them." The takeaway from this can not to set limits on ourselves, but to think more broadly.
When the four minute barrier for running the mile was broken by Roger Bannister, a feat heralded around the world at the time, it was thought to be an unreachable goal. Similar to that was the "seven foot" barrier in the high jump. Now high school athletes sometimes eclipse both of those world records.
Bannister, later a neuroloigist, said, "It is the brain, not the heart or lungs, that is the critical organ." Now apply the thinking you've read about here to your own problems. "The next time you encounter such a barrier, imposed by people who lack your imagination, drive and creativity, think hard about ignoring it. Solving a problem is hard enough; it gets that much harder if you've decided beforehand it can't be done.
Use delegation to free yourself from having to do some of the things you are handling personally now. That can also help you de-clutter and save time that can used more constructively. For some, it may be easier to effectively throw money at problems, so that the time saved can be used more productively.
Some people feel they "need to do it all, so it get's done right." But there is only so much that anyone can do personally. You multiply yourself, and increase productivity, when you learn to delegate. J.C. Penney said that his business didn't really take off until he learned the art of delegation. The key corollary to that is the delegation must be made to properly trained and selected others for it to be effective.
Control Your Progress
Use control to chart your progress. When goals are established, sub-goals should be developed that need to be accomplished to stay on schedule. Standards need to be established for all goals, describing the level needed to be achieved to be considered a satisfactory level of accomplishment. Both goals and sub-goals should each have specified time limits. Use those benchmarks to measure whether you are accomplishing what you need to, and whether you are getting it done on schedule. If not, take the necessary corrective action to get back on track.
Have To's and Want To's
In Tal Ben-Shahar's Happiness, he says we should ask how much of our day is spent on activities that "I want to do" versus those "I have to do?" ...The challenge is not so much to get rid of have-to's, but to reduce them and, as much as possible, replace them with want-to's. How happy we are depends to a large degree on the ratio between have-to's and want-to's, he says. (It's probably almost impossible for most people to get rid of all their have-to's, but Ben-Shahar's suggestion provides an interesting technique to show how much progress we're making in finding increased happiness and personal satisfaction.)
The Definitive Drucker - Elizabeth Edersheim
Peter Drucker was probably America's most famous management consultant. He wrote many books and advised corporate clients for decades. This is a truly remarkable book that highlights management principles he espoused during his career. These can be used not only for organizational management, but for "self-management" too. It's difficult to manage the activities of others, if you can't manage your own reasonably well, so I offer some selected thoughts from Drucker to guide you:
1. Focus on the few right strategies and decisions that will make the greatest difference...reduce complexity to simplicity
One of the world's fathers of Total Quality Control (TQC), W. Edwards Deming spoke similarly. In trying to improve quality, he said that it was important to, "Focus on the big things first. If you focus on the small things, all will be lost." Stay focused, and direct your efforts toward what will expeditiously get the needle moving most. Keep things as simple as possible.
2. Don't confuse motion with progress
When I was 31, I managed a congressional campaign for a seat for The US House of Representatives. I worked virtually non-stop from April to Election Day. I was as busy as I could be. In retrospect, we had a nearly impossible task in terms of winning the election. Nevertheless, I mistakenly thought I was getting farther than I was because I was in perpetual motion. Don't make the same mistake. Stay busy, but be sure you're doing what needs to be done to make the difference.
Even if I had done everything perfectly, the outcome in my case would not have changed. But the same is not very likely to be true for you. Keep measuring your progress along the way to see if you're really moving forward to where you want to get or just deluding yourself into thinking that you're getting somewhere. If you determine that you aren't, then it's time to reassess what you're doing and how you're doing it, and making necessary changes.
3. Focus on your strengths and find someone else to do the rest
Many organizations have clearly done this by outsourcing functions such as: manufacturing, maintenance, security, payroll, human resources functions, and others. How can you do it to save more time, so you'll be able to do more of what you want to be doing? Many effectively outsource functions such as: child care, lawn maintenance, house cleaning, home improvements, and so on. Think about what else you might be able to get others to do for you. It will free up valuable time for you and help them too.
4. With the right questions, the right judgment, and the right mindset, the manager who walks outside the box, and thus liberates himself or herself, and others, from the confines of "what you think you know", is more than capable of rising to the occasion.
It's been said far too many times that people should start "thinking outside the box". One of the practical limitations to that is that few realize that the box is much larger than we think, which brings to mind the story of the frog in the well. The frog was describing his environment when he lived inside the well. It was pretty limited. But one day he peered out over the top of the well and his perspective changed dramatically. What might be keeping you in the well - and how can you climb out of it to get a better look?
Archaeologists spend time looking for ruins to examine. In a search through South American jungles, it's even more difficult. An ancient temple could be twenty feet to the side and could be easily missed due to the dense undergrowth. Some researchers found a ruin using a map, then asked for help from others back at the home base, who looked at aerial photos of the area. Someone noticed ("thinking like no one else thought") that the foliage seemed to have certain patches than appeared greener than others. He speculated that this might have some connection to the location of other ruins, so on a hunch he told the people in the field to go to particular coordinates. They doubted the theory as they moved slowly and laboriously through the hot jungle, coming ever closer to the target location. Surely enough however, as they got about twenty feet away--another ruin. It worked over and over again. Apparently the limestone leeching from the structures made the surrounding vegetation greener. Lots of things can happen when you break old stereotypes and climb out of the well.
The Art of War – Sun Tzu
An Application to Management, Business and Everyday Life
This book was written in the 6th century BC. It is composed of 13 chapters, each devoted to one aspect of warfare. It has long been praised as the definitive work on military strategies and tactics of its time, and is one of the basic texts on the subject. It has had a huge influence on Eastern military thinking, business tactics, and beyond. The Art of War is one of the oldest and most successful books on military strategy in the world. It has been read by Napoleon, Montgomery, Patton, MacArthur and many other renowned military leaders. Other books have tried to apply the principles in The Art of War to business and management situations. Think of yourself as the leader and your team members or employees, or yourself , as your army:
(Note that Sun Tzu has made planning pre-eminent, and indeed in business and in life, it is also the first matter we should attend to when attempting to reach an objective.)
- If the enemy or the competition is secure at all points, be prepared for him. If he is in superior strength, evade him. (In selecting strategies to achieve objectives, it is important to recognize what is possible and what is likely to be a fruitless exercise.)
- The general who loses a battle makes but a few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win and who is likely to lose. (Calculations don't just mean mathematical, but also statistical and other types of research, following trends, staying up on the news, speaking with those in your field and other fields, and using one's own gut instincts, properly honed by education, technical knowledge and experience.)
Waging War - Though we have heard of stupid haste in war, cleverness has never been associated with long delays. (Achieving results often requires advance thought and planning, but it's important not to become a victim of "the paralysis of analysis". Better to get going and to try something, then improve upon it as you go along. Progress is much faster when we learn from our mistakes and improve as a result, rather than analyzing something to death and trying nothing.)
(Tactics are the steps by which one accomplishes a strategy which has been designed to achieve an objective.)
-The good fighters of old first put themselves beyond the possibility of defeat, and then waited for an opportunity of defeating the enemy.
(Security gives you strength and more options. Pay attention to your financial security first. Getting a degree, or training in an area in demand, will help you earn more money over your lifetime. From that position, you will be able to take more risks than one could from a position of weakness.
Establish an emergency fund of 3-6 months income. Obtain life insurance 6-10 times your annual income to protect those who depend on you, obtain health insurance, buy a well located home or condominium in a good neighborhood with an excellent school system. Sometimes renting can be a more sensible strategy. Then you might take the risk of investing in stocks, bonds or a small business. By then you have already secured yourself to some degree and will not be subject to the blowing of any strong breeze that could sink your boat.
This is not to say that you shouldn't start making some smaller, regular investments earlier, such as funding your 401K account to the maximum or making other modest investments through payroll deduction, such as employee stock option programs, buying US Savings bonds, etc. Never invest all your money in one investment, even your own company. Remember Enron. Hedge your bets. Don't put all your eggs in one basket.)
- To see victory only when it is within the ken of the common herd is not the acme of excellence. (If you are good at what you do, and are doing your homework, you should be able to see options well before others do..)
-Energy may be likened to the bending of a crossbow; decision, to the releasing of a trigger. (You build your energy, your knowledge and experience, by studying and exposing yourself to opportunities to learn. It is important to stay up with what's going on your field, or in one that you aspire to. New learning can motivate you and guide you to move in the proper direction. After you gain that energy, you will expend it by making decisions that will improve your life and your results.)
Weak Points and Strong
- Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. (Adapt what you do to the situation at hand. Just because something worked before, doesn't mean it will work in the new situation. Similarly, just because something didn't work before, doesn't mean that it might not work now. Maybe the decision was poorly implemented before or the proper people weren't selected to implement it. )
-As water retains no constant shape, so in warfare there are no constant conditions.
(The situations you will face in life constantly change, so you need to be flexible to react to such conditions.)
- Now a soldier's spirit is keenest in the morning; by noonday it has begun to flag; and in the evening, his mind is only bent on returning to camp…This is the art of studying moods. (Make decisions and perform important tasks when you are freshest and avoid overtaxing yourself. If possible, it may well be better to do what's left to be done today with fresher eyes and a clearer, well rested head tomorrow.)
Variations in Tactics
If in the midst of difficulties we are always ready to seize an advantage, we may extricate ourselves from misfortune. (We should remain alert at all times, for the ability to improve our situation may be near at hand. Sometimes what can make all the difference is attained by simply continuing to move forward when we were thinking about quitting.)
Using "Serengeti Rules " Management"To Benefit Organizations and Ourselves
How might knowledge of the environment be beneficial in organizational pursuits? Let’s consider the structure of the natural world of plants and animals by looking at some of the concepts from The Serengeti Rules by Dr. Sean B. Carroll. Below are principles from Dr. Carroll's book which I've taken and applied to management. In the interest of efficiency, I’ve listed some of the concepts below (most of the headings are mine), not always in consecutive order, nor with specific reference to particular scientists who were involved in the ecological research mentioned by the author:
The most critical thing we have learned about human life at the molecular level is that everything is regulated. Diseases, it turns out, are mostly abnormalities of regulation, where too little or too much of something is made. There are molecular rules that regulate the numbers of different kinds of molecules and cells in the body and there are ecological rules that regulate the numbers and kinds of animals and plants in a given place. I will call these the “Serengeti Rules” because that is one place where they have been well documented. (The Serengeti is Tanzania's oldest and most popular national park, also a United Nations World Heritage Site, recently proclaimed a seventh wonder of the world. It is a vast ecosystem of almost 10,000 square miles and is the location of one of the last remaining mass animal migrations on land.)
Just as human health suffers when the level of some critical component gets too low or too high, we now understand from the Serengeti Rules how and why entire ecosystems can "get sick” when the populations of certain members are too low or too high.
(We might add organizations as ecosystems too. They can get sick when certain factors get out of balance. There might be too many managers, or nor enough of them. If an organization gets too large, it may need to be divided and made smaller to make it more creative, more agile, or more manageable. If an organization is too small, it might not have the diversity of talent to be competitive in today’s global marketplace, or to properly manage itself because it lacks requisite specialized knowledge. Of course, such knowledge can be purchased by hiring needed talents, or by effectively renting it from outside providers. The question of bringing the ecosystem back into balance becomes one of who, how much and when.)
What Are The Big Threats?
Wouldn’t it be terribly ironic if, while we race toward discovering more cures for the problems of human life, that we are ignoring the greater threat regarding how life works on the larger scale? No doubt most passengers on the Titanic were more concerned about the dinner menu than the speed and latitude at which they were steaming?
(As was the case with the Titanic, unobserved dangers can lurk below the surface. There can be so much emphasis on getting the job done day to day, and focusing on this quarter’s or this semester’s results, that the broader and longer view doesn’t get the attention it should. What might things like this be? Key people who could leave the organization, leaving it unprepared because no redundancy was created? Competition from unexpected products and services that could make yours less desirable or even unwanted?
On an individual level, do we take the broader view or are we just focusing on the day by day without a view to the future. Self-management requires having goals and a plan to get there.
Are you envisioning such threats personally or organizationally, or just proceeding merrily along, like some travel agencies and insurance agents were prior to the advent of the internet, believing that nothing would ever change their business, or like local real estate agencies who always thought of themselves as “locally focused businesses” who weren't vulnerable to the consolidation that affected banking, for example. That is until a new paradigm came on the scene with real estate franchises like Century 21 and others. What once seemed impossible, and unforeseen, put people out of jobs and businesses out of business. It has also put colleges out of business or has put them on the ropes. Planning might well speculate on what these kinds of threats could be for your organization - or for you.)
The regulation of populations must be known before we can understand nature and predict its behavior. The Great Serengeti. It is home to an astounding number of different kinds of animals – over seventy species of mammals, more than five hundred species of birds, and even one hundred different kinds of dung beetles. What rules regulate the numbers of such different creatures?
The ecological community generally accepted that each level limited the next higher level, that is, populations were positively regulated from the bottom up: decomposers (fungi and worms), producers (plants and algae), herbivores (plant eaters), and carnivores (meat eaters). New research showed that impacts of some species on others can have a far broader impact:
A researcher removed all the starfish from a twenty foot by six foot stretch of rock. On an adjacent stretch, he let nature take its course. The results showed that one predator, the starfish, could control the composition of species in a community, affecting both animals it ate, as well as animals and plants that it did not eat.
The biggest role of the starfish was to keep the mussels in check. Without the starfish, the mussels took over and forced other species out. The predatory starfish were “keystones” or keystone species. Just as a keystone at the top of an arch is necessary for the stability of a structure, these apex predators at the top of the food web are critical to the diversity of an ecosystem. Dislodge them and the community falls apart. This prompted research into other communities for keystone species.
(What are the ‘keystone species’ in your organization?” Who are the key people? What are the key products or what are your key service offerings? What is your core business and what might be better being outsourced? How can you alter the organization for the better by changing or removing the keystones? Peter Drucker often pointed to the fact that many companies' resources were wasted on products or services that made little difference to the overall profitability, health and growth of the organization, but took a lot of management’s time. It’s an analysis all organizations should make. We should do the same on a personal level. What activities are really the most productive for us to be engaged in - and by productive I don't just mean economically, but for whatever facets of life that hold meaning for us.)
Sea Otters and Urchins Research
Otters love to eat urchins. What effect did urchins have on algal diversity? Where there were large urchin populations, there was very little algae. They ate it. When they removed sea urchins from an area, algae burst forth.
In another region, researchers found that the presence of otters reduced the urchin population, which otherwise suppressed the growth of kelp, so otters “induce” the growth of kelp by repressing the sea urchin population, and otters have an effect on multiple levels below them. These types of “trophic cascades” have been discovered in all sorts of habitats. (What trophic cascades in the organizational world might have similar scenarios?)
Not all species are equal. Not all predators are keystones, and not all keystones are predators. Nor do all ecosystems necessarily have keystones. Some species mediate strong indirect effects through trophic cascades. (I think most organizations, however, would be likely to have keystones and trophic cascades that should be identified. In an interesting sidelight, Charles Duhigg in his fascinating book The Power of Habit describes how it is critical to recognize “keystone habits” that can help us make or break a habit.)
A vaccination program was begun in East Africa targeted to eliminating the deadly rinderpest virus in domesticated cattle, but it also had the added side effect of eliminating it in wild animals too. The virus, that had previously suppressed the number of cattle having been eliminated, caused the wildebeest population to increase to 1.4 million in The Serengeti, twice what it had been four years earlier. Both the presence and absence of rinderpest were demonstrated to act as keystones. Their introduction, or their elimination, had cascading effects through ecosystems, as shown below:
•Less grass (Wildebeests feed in a six hundred mile circuit. In that area, the increased number of wildebeests ate the grasses lower – from fifty to seventy centimeters to just ten centimeters)
•That resulted in fewer forest fires that killed fewer animals
•That produced more trees, particularly acacia
•There were more giraffes produced because there were more acacias, their primary food source
Wildebeest are a keystone species. Without them, there would be no Serengeti.
(We can see unexpected consequences in our personal lives too. There can be an amazing connectivity between events that we never would have expected. Look back over your life and try to identify keystone events in it. i.e., "if this hadn't happened then a number of other developments wouldn't have either. It's good to try to recognize such patterns because it can help us predict the connection of the dots in the future and help us to make improved decisions.)
Some species compete for common resources. Species that compete for space, food or habitat can regulate the abundance of other species. (This certainly applies to businesses,non profits, and people too.)
Predation rates depend on prey body size. Smaller antelope largely die from, and are regulated by, predation. Larger mammals such as giraffes, hippos and elephants experience little or no predation: their populations are regulated by food supply.
(Like small businesses and larger ones, as well as contrasting the advantages of organizational size to organizational agility. The lower one is on the organization chart, or in a competitive environment, the more threats he, she or it faces too – just like the animals. This is why having a college degree or training in an area in demand is so important. It provides choices and flexibility and protects us from the predation of others taking a job that we could have had.)
Migration: How To Eat More Without Getting Eaten
Besides body size, what else distinguishes species? One stays put, the other doesn’t. There are two kind of wildebeests on the Serengeti: the vast migratory herds, and smaller “resident populations” that remain year round in parts of the system near water supplies. Predation on those resident populations account for 87% of wildebeest deaths, whereas predation on the migrants accounts for only about one-fourth of the migrant deaths. Moreover, only about 1% of the migrants are taken in a given year, while up to 10% of the residents might be killed. (Predators can’t follow the herds because they are confined to territories to raise and protect their own young.)
(So, as in organizations, it’s beneficial to keep on the move, rather than standing still. Change is good and it's necessary to survive and prosper. It’s easier to defeat a stationary target than a moving one. It's analogous to the flexibility of online sellers contrasted to brick and mortar ones. It can often be better to make product offerings, and yourself, more accessible than trying to encourage, or depend upon, the target physically come to you. Also, a broader market reach can be achieved when organizations reach out their tentacles into a region rather than being restricted to those in the immediate market area who can dry up, periodically or permanently.
I operated a state approved real estate school in New Jersey for 20 years. When I started in 1977, other schools had been in business quite a while. They had fixed locations. Students had to come to them. I decided to operate as part of evening adult school programs. I made myself more convenient and eliminated the necessity for students to drive longer distances. I’d like to tell you that it was a prescient, strategic decision on my part, but it was more one of necessity. I couldn’t afford a fixed location, so I went where I could find facilities convenient to the areas I served, at a very reasonable expense and with little overhead. Only after the fact did I realize that it gave me a competitive advantage. I combined that with a lower price and a high state test pass rate. It also made me a moving target so to speak, not easy to compete with when my competitors operated from a few fixed locations. One of the Serengeti Rules says: "Migration increases animal numbers by increasing access to food (my new students) and decreasing susceptibility to predation." I was far less subject to defeat from larger schools by being a moving and multiple target.
Similarly, individuals who "stay on the move" by obtaining continuing education in their fields, or in a new one, either for credit, non-credit or obtaining certifications will be far less subject to the predation of layoffs and terminations, and far more likely to become employed again faster.)
Pope Francis and Ecology
The author cites Pope Francis’ encyclical “On Care for Our Common Home”:
“We need only take a frank look at the facts to see that our common home is falling into serious disrepair.”
(What is the status of your organizational or your life home? In fact, don’t all organizations and people meet the definition of being ready for “reengineering”:
•Ones that need to make changes to maintain and improve their current success
•Ones that have problems that need to be addressed
•Ones that are facing elimination if serious changes aren’t made
How do you do your work? Before asking how your work can be improved, the first question should be: Should the work even be done in the first place? And if it does need to be done, how can it be reorganized to generate more efficient results? Do you need to really be doing what you're doing now or could the way you do your work be reorganized to be more rewarding financially and more satisfying?)
Dealing With Smallpox
Just fifty years ago (in 1956), the smallpox virus was still affecting as many as ten million people, and killing two million people per year. Bill Foege, a Lutheran missionary doctor working in Nigeria for what is now the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) came up with a strategy to deal with the problem other than mass inoculation, which was impractical.
He thought about the “ecology” of the disease, how the disease spread from person to person and when people were most likely to infect others. He decided he should focus only on vaccinating those people in places where infections were ongoing. He also identified three places where the patients might have traveled. They created a “ring of vaccination” around the infected people, trying to stop the virus from spreading beyond the ring. As a young firefighter with the US Forest Service, Foege learned that to stop a fire from spreading, remove the fuel ahead of it. Ring vaccination removed the fuel ahead of the virus. Even though just 15% of the population had been vaccinated, within six weeks, the outbreak had been stymied, and no further cases occurred.
(In organizations, targeted approaches with proper intelligence, might produce the same beneficial results rather than engaging in a full-blown, and more costly, offense or defense. The same approach might also work in rumor control, using a surgical policy to deal with the problem, instead of a universal approach.
The very question of "contagion", which typically has a highly negative connotation, might also be looked at in a positive way. How can an organization spread its "good contagion" to generate more business, leads, contributors, students, etc.? How can we spread our own "good contagion" to produce better results?)
House on Fire
(All organizations have “house fires” from time to time. If there was ever a truism in management, it’s that managers often complain that they can spend a large part of their day “fighting fires”.) Foege’s book House on Fire offered eighteen lessons he thought were applicable to other public health projects. A few I’ve mentioned here might be good for organizations too in helping to head off problems at the pass:
Coalitions are powerful
Turf battles and competition among individuals, teams and organizations, public and private competing for resources, for power, or for credit must be suppressed by an unwavering focus on the common goal. (This could easily apply to line-staff issues, department v. department problems, seeking recognition, etc.)
The objective may be global, but implementation is always local.
Local cultures and needs determined which tactics were most useful in the smallpox campaign. While the objective may be the same organization wide, the manner in which the objective is achieved might more often be left to local, autonomous control, rather than having everyone follow a centralized dictate. That can result in improved staff development down through the organization and also lead to more creative solutions. (A video I saw a long time ago said that top management should make it clear that they recognize that they aren’t “the wellspring of all ideas”. Far more creative solutions can come from giving employees the slack to develop creative solution to problems. When’s the last time you encouraged this in your organization or when is the last time you were given the flexibility to develop your own solutions? When was the last time you gave yourself extra slack?)
Solutions rest on good science, but implementation depends on good management. For both organizations and individuals, it's not simply knowing what we want to have happen, it's managing the effort well enough to get the results we want.
(Even in non-scientific organizations, "good science" could equate to good research, and good technical or factual knowledge. Even if that can be properly discerned, it takes good management to lay out the proper objectives consistent with it, that can be adequately measured and time bounded with strategies and tactics that will make it happen.)
The Film: "Indignation" - It All Comes Back To You
(Spoiler Alert! - If you haven't seen this movie yet or think you might see it in the future, hold off on reading this.)
This movie adaptation of a Phillip Roth novel tells the story of a Jewish college freshman who is the only son of his parents. He works hard with his father in their butcher shop. He received a scholarship to attend a Christian college in Ohio. His parents encourage him to go. They have obsessive worry about him since a number of his classmates who didn't go to college, and were drafted, were killed during The Korean War.
While attending college, he met a beautiful girl who was drawn to him immediately and who took the lead in his sexual initiation. She had previously been expelled from another school, had undergone therapy at The Menninger Clinic, and also had slit one of her wrists. The scar was still visible.
After the boy had an appendicitis, his mother came to the hospital to visit him and met his girfriend. At the same time, the mother's marriage was going very poorly. She told her son she was going to seek a divorce. The son asked her not to. Then came the grand bargain. His mother had observed the scar on his girlfriend's wrist and said that she would not divorce the boy's father, if he swore to stop seeing the girl. The mother said that she didn't care if anyone else he met was Jewish or not, just not this girl, whom she viewed as damaged goods. He reluctantly agreed and never saw her again. He discovered subsequently that she left college and had a nervous breakdown.
I found a few lessons in all of this. First, while it's often good to listen to your parents' advice, or that of others you trust, make your own decisions because you are the one that is going to have to live with them and the results they produce.This was a great example of where he should have just said, "Mom, I love her and I'm not going to give her up." No one knows how it would have turned out of course, but it could hardly have been worse than what did happen. So Moral # 1: Listen to advice, but make your own decisions.
The second lesson was made clear from the very beginning of the film, was underscored throughout it, and came full circle at the end.
Moral # 2: We are the product of all the decisions we make. Everything is connected to something else. The boy's doing what his mother told him led him to stop seeing his girlfriend, to her leaving school, having her nervous breakdown, and spending the rest of her life in a sanitarium.
His parents worst fear was always that something would happen to him, so they were obsessed with his being safe and being involved with the college's Jewish fraternity. After he stopped seeing his girlfriend, he joined the fraternity with his parents urging. He had previously told the fraternity and his parents that all he wanted to do was to concentrate on his school work, and untold to them, on his girlfriend too.
The college had a chapel attendance requirement. His fraternity brothers encouraged him to pay a substitute to go for him. He did, got caught doing, it and was thrown out of school for the violation. Then he went into the military and was killed. The irony of the whole thing was that in their strong urge to protect him they effectively wound up sowing the seeds of his destruction as a person and as a living human being.
So look beyond the surface, project potential outcomes out to the end as much as you can. Short-term thinking, and thinking controlled by others, might cause long term problems.
Even if you have read this summary and not seen the movie yet, it is an engaging, well-acted story. A number of scenes, such as the student in the Dean's Office and the boy's interaction with his mother when she urges him to give up his girlfriend, are mesmerizing. The outcome may be bleak, but the lessons to be learned from it provide guidance and hope for the future.