Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Selling A Book That Has No Name, by Gene Logsdon, The Contrary Farmer

Selling A Book That Has No Name

In Gene Logsdon Blog on September 22, 2010 at 8:45 am

Prairie Public Radio interviewed me recently about my latest book, Holy Shit. The interviewer was kind about my writing. He knew a lot about farming which is rarely the case but always a relief when discussing agriculture before an urban audience. The only problem was that he did not mention the title of the book during the entire interview! He said that he would get fired if he did. Regulations forbid the utterance of that awful word, shit, even when it is in the title of a book.
It happened again. The excellent website, The Chronicle of Higher Education, referred to my book with kind praise, even calling it “charming.” But never once did the reviewer give the title of the book. Policy, he said.
Several years ago, I wrote an article for The Draft Horse Journal in which I felt obliged out of sheer honesty to use the naughty word. This proved to be a problem for Maury Telleen, the editor. He didn’t have a problem actually, but his lovely wife, Jeannine, (they are two of my favorite people) ruled the roost when it came to proofreading and she did not intend for the naughty word to soil her publication. They compromised and rendered the word as “sh#!” ! By now I’ve seen “sh*t”, “sh–”, and even “s…”, none of which is quite as ingenious or resourceful as “sh#!”. But it opens up a whole new frontier. How about “czhit” or “sh?t” or “sh[]t” or “shi”.
I should just have been content to call the book Holy Manure. But all this hypocrisy speaks eloquently to the main underlying point I wanted to make. We are so ashamed of our excrement and that of all the other animals on earth that we pretend the stuff doesn’t exist. It is as closely connected to us as our digestive tracts, and having been delicious food just hours earlier, it becomes in the very instant that it leaves the colon, obnoxious and poisonous. So fearful is our attitude in this regard that we have scrubbed the most common word in the American language (well maybe the second most common word) from polite language. We have even made excrement disappear in real life. Flush it and forget it.
Because flushing seems to be so handy, agriculture is making one of the biggest blunders in its history. For some thirty years now it has been trying to handle uncountable tons of livestock manure by flushing it out of animal confinement buildings with water and electric power into large ponds lugubriously called “lagoons” or into underground, fly-infested toxic pits. These “manure handling systems” have led to some of the worst cases of polluted waterways in our history.
The amount of manure we are talking about is beyond comprehension, at least mine, especially when the water to do the flushing and treating the sewage is included. Each of the 300 million plus people in the U.S. excretes about a thousand pounds of fecal material a year. Every toilet flush takes about two to three gallons. You can do the arithmetic. An expert in these matters whom I quote in the book says if the whole world flushed like we do, it would be impossible to handle all human manure this way.
It takes about ten tons of barn manure and bedding to fertilize an acre of corn adequately. The cost of commercial fertilizer is averaging a little under $100 an acre. That means that just in pet horse, dog and cat manure, (9.5 million horses, 73 million cats, 68 million dogs) there’s about two billion dollars of fertilizer much of which is being thrown away, as I pointed out in an earlier blog. There are about 100 million cattle in the U.S., each of them defecating 80 to 100 pounds a day. The latest figures show an ongoing pig population in the U.S. of about 60 million. A hog defecates at least as much as a human does. There are over a billion chickens in the U.S., each of them contributing as much manure as a cat. I don’t even want to try to do the totals.
This could be charged off as just the necessary cost of doing business. (My elders used to refer to a bowel movement as “doing your business,” another euphemism to avoid uttering any dreadful words.) But the sources of commercial fertilizers are rising in price and declining in easy availability. We need to find alternatives. Manure is the best one as centuries of farming traditions have attested. Even farm manure that is being returned to the land now (as slurry out of animal factories or as material artificially dried at great cost) has lost much of its plant nutrient value because of improper handling. The book that often has no name describes how we can turn this situation around. Shit really is holy.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Reality-Based Leader's Manifesto, by Michael McKinney, Leading Blog

The Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto

“If you believe that leadership is tougher today than it was in the past, you’re not alone,” writes Cy Wakeman, author of Reality-Based Leadership. “We are living and working in dramatic and demanding times, but that is not our biggest problem. The source of our pain is the absence of great leadership that is based in reality. …The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances, the leader who engages hearts and minds.” To that end, she offers the Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto:
  1. Refuse to argue with reality
  2. Greet change with a simple “Good to know”; defense is an act of war
  3. Depersonalize feedback—whatever the source
  4. Let go of our need for love, approval, and appreciation at work so we can focus on the goals of our organization and not on satisfying our egos
  5. Are very careful about what we think we know for sure
  6. Ask ourselves, “What is the next right thing I can do to add the most value?”
  7. Ask others, “How can I help?” instead of judging and blaming
  8. Work to find the opportunity in every challenge
  9. Work harder at being happy than at being right
  10. Work with the willing
  11. Lead first, manage second
  12. Value action over opinion

Do You Argue with Reality? by Michael McKinney, Leading Blog

Do You Argue With Reality?

Chris Thurman wrote in The Lies We Believe, “The number one cause of our unhappiness are the lies we believe in life.” Too often, we operate apart from reality. Given a choice between reality and our version of it, we are inclined to choose the latter. It is a central tendency of human beings. The result is drama not peace. 

Instead of getting the results we want,” says Cy Wakeman, “we end up with reasons, stories, and excuses for why things didn’t work out—leading to more drama, disengagement, judgment, and ineffective leadership. 

In Reality-Based Leadership, Wakeman presents a much-needed wake-up call. We can ditch the drama by getting in touch with what is. Quit making up stories. Quit arguing with reality. Ditching the stories that are causing us stress. “We all tell ourselves stories and live with the resulting drama.” It sounds like: 

“I shouldn’t have to do this—it’s not part of my job description. 
“Our department is always having to clean up after others’ mistakes.” 
“The boss just doesn’t get it.” 
“Management only care about the bottom line.” 

“You are arguing with reality whenever you judge your situation in terms of right and wrong instead of fearlessly confronting what is.” You need to respond to the facts, not the story you create about the facts. This is easier said than done. Interwoven in our stories are our egos, insecurities and identities. (At one point Wakeman suggests we ask, “Who am I as a manager or as an employee when I believe this story?”) We like our stories. They make us look better. They place the blame somewhere south of us. If other people are always coming up short in our stories, then it’s all about us. But letting go of our stories is not always easy as we have a lot invested in them. 

Too often our criticism is about setting us apart from others and not about helping them. It says a lot more about us than it does those it is directed towards. 

Wakeman says, “When you are judging you are not leading.” In her analysis of case study about Steve and a team he dreaded working with, she concludes, “his biggest obstacle is his belief that they are a negative group. What if he just dropped that whole story and simply responded to reality directly? The phone rings? Answer it. The team asks a question? Answer it, or teach them where to find the answer. The team shares what worked in the past? Listen and lead them into the future. The team requests some time with the leader? Engage with them—lead! When Steve began to lead the team rather than judge and criticize, the team began to change for the better.” She adds, “When you focus your energy on what you are able to give And create rather than what you receive, you are truly serving.” 

Do you see any applications in what you and involved in? Wakeman insightfully writes: “What is missing from a situation is that which you are not giving. 

Operating out of a judging mindset of “I know” or “I am right” effectively shuts down the potential to learn or accomplish anything. Moving on based in reality requires setting the story aside and asking, “If I set the story aside, what would I do to help?” 

The minute you start judging is the very minute you quit leading, serving and adding value. When you’re in judgment, you are dealing with your story—not with reality. Wakeman suggest that when you get off-track:
  1. Do a reality check. Get back to the facts of the situation b y editing out anything that you can’t absolutely know to be true. “What is the next right action I can take that would add the most value to the situation?” Direct your energy on that action.
  2. Get clear about motives. Seek to be successful rather than right. Is it about you?
  3. Be the change. Practice those virtues that you have determined to be lacking in others.
  4. See others through a lens of love and respect—not anger and fear.When faced with those whose personalities are different from ours, or whose behaviors have reached a stress-induced inappropriateness, work to see through those behaviors and identify their needs or goals. Ask yourself, “What are they striving for?” Then ask, “How can I help them achieve it?”
  5. Invoke a clearer, higher perspective. When you sense that conflict is getting personal, be prepared to return to a professional perspective by asking your team to clarify the overreaching goal of their work together. “Given our goal, what do you think is the best way to move forward?”
What stories are you telling yourself that causing you to operate in your own world? While it may be cognitively economical, it is costing you far more in every other area. 

Saturday, September 18, 2010

De-Cluttering Your Organization, by Ron Ashkenas, HBR

Why is it so hard for people — and organizations — to throw things out? I've been thinking about this question since our offices moved a few weeks back. We had been in the same place for the past ten years, and I had to complete the daunting task of going through all of my drawers and cabinets and bookshelves to decide what was worth keeping and what was not.
The process felt like an archeological dig as I went through layers of files, presentations, notes, schedules, reports, and accumulated debris. It would have been comical if it weren't so much work: Why was I saving the instruction manual for the Palm Pilot that I last used six years ago? Why did I keep the acetates for dozens of presentations that would never again see an overhead projector? Or those conference binders from twenty years ago? Or that box of old, unsorted files from the last time we moved?
Of course there are good explanations (or at least rationalizations) for why all of this material had accumulated. In some cases I felt that my hoarded items had unique value and could be leveraged in the future, or reminded me of a great project. With other materials I may have intended to sort through them and then never gotten around to it. And on a deeper psychological level, I just didn't want to let anything go.
Moving offices was an obligatory catalyst for cleaning house and overcoming these barriers. I tackled the clutter with one rule: if I haven't looked at this material in the past ten years, then I probably won't need it for the next ten years. With that criterion alone, hundreds of pounds of debris hit the waste bin. And while it was painful at first to see my treasured acetates and conference binders disappear, eventually I felt liberated and de-cluttered. With a little hard work I had simplified my life.

Although we don't think of it this way, most organizations are pack rats just like me. 
They accumulate things over time that eventually lose value, take up space, and make it hard for them to move quickly. Some of these are physical goods — inventory, facilities, equipment, sales collateral, etc. Some are processes that just keep going long beyond their useful purpose. Organizations also have a hard time letting go of customers, even when those customers are no longer profitable. And although it may sound harsh, organizations also accumulate people whose skills no longer fit what is needed.
Jack Welch understood this dynamic. He used to compare GE to a big old house that accumulated lots of junk in the attic which needed to be periodically cleaned out. But while this is easy to say, it's a hard thing to do. After all, organizations are made up of hundreds or thousands of people who have all the same reasons as I do for not getting rid of clutter: "We might need it later." "There's no time to sort this out." "I'm attached to this product/customer/process/person." In other words, the complexity that is caused by accumulated clutter in organizations is largely a psychological and very human phenomenon.
Because of these dynamics, de-cluttering an organization — or your part of it — needs the same kind of jolt that forced me to clean up my office. No, you don't have to literally move. But you do have to identify where your business — or your unit, function, or team — needs to "move" in order to be exceptionally successful. This will give you and your colleagues the motivation to get rid of the clutter that's slowing you down. For example, the head of a financial services firm recently challenged his team to increase their face-time with customers by 10%. This "move" forced them to examine what they should stop doing, how they could streamline work, how they could improve the collaboration between the customer-facing teams and the back office, and more. Without this kind of obligatory demand it's a lot easier to let the clutter continue to accumulate — until it might be too late to get moving.
What's been your experience with reducing organizational clutter?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Simpler Way to Make It Simple - Michael Schrage - Harvard Business Review, MIchael Schrage

A Simpler Way to Make It Simple - Michael Schrage - Harvard Business Review

Before rolling out an enterprise innovation, Tesco (the UK's supremely innovative supermarketer) insists that it must meet three conditions.

The first is that innovation must in some way be better for customers; second is that it should ultimately prove cheaper for Tesco; and, finally, the innovation must make things simpler for staff.

While doing work with the company a decade ago, I quickly found Tesco's innovators had little trouble arguing their proposals would be better for customers and successfully take costs out of the firm. That was the easy part. What killed roughly half of Tesco's innovation ideas was the stubborn challenge of simpler for staff. Innovation champions are great at selling visionary benefits and kneading numbers just so. But supermarket employees are skeptical that innovation will actually make their everyday working lives simpler. They don't take simple for granted. They want demonstrable proof. So does Tesco. Simple is hard. Show me — don't tell me —. It's simple.

The most important thing I learned wasn't how the supermarket giant made innovations simpler to understand and use. Tesco's secret sauce for innovation simplification was, appropriately, astonishingly simple: the company made people — and held people — accountable for simplicity.

This may seem astonishingly obvious. It's not. I've gone into scores of organizations, conferences and exec ed programs and asked senior-level line managers and executives alike a very simple question: How many of you have a "VP of simpler-for-staff" or someone who "owns" innovation simplification within the enterprise?

Usually, there's murmuring and nervous laughter. Occasionally, a hand goes up. Most of the time, that person says that "training" is responsible for making sure people find the innovation simpler and easier to use. That answer reveals one of the pernicious pathologies afflicting so many organizations. Precisely because people know there's an organizational training department, they don't take extra efforts to take out the complications and complexities of their innovation. In the same way Hollywood productions say "We'll fix it in post (production)" to compensate for a bad shot or bad acting, internal innovators and change champions shrug and say, "They'll fix it in training and orientation." Training's very existence is used as an excuse not to further simplify. What's more, the training department is happy to go along with the clunky complexity because that makes them more important. Training can argue, correctly, that nobody could effectively use the innovation if they hadn't been fully trained. Instead of addressing the simplicity/complexity challenge, training effectively perpetuates it. Talk about perverse incentives.

Sometimes the person who raises a hand says their organization has a human factors or usability group that determines "simpler for staff." Two follow-up questions later and we discover that, usually, these groups don't "own" ease-of-use, they simply evaluate it. The group is more "innovation editor and auditor" than partner in designing simplicity into systems. That's better than nothing, but this group is not held accountable for simplicity's absence or the business consequences of that absence.

Of course, a rare hand or two is attached to someone whose company takes the Tesco ethos seriously. One CIO at an executive retreat told the crowd he had completely redesigned his company's IT department systems deployments and upgrades around "ease of use" and "speed of adoption." Users are brought into the interface and process design developments much earlier. The most effective change he implemented? Program managers had to survey affected employees to see if the new systems were "easier" to use than the existing ones. The systems didn't just have to work well, on time, and on budget — they had to work more easily for their users. If not, certain compensation was forfeit. You could hear the eyebrows arch.

You will not be surprised to learn that more people went to talk to this CIO than to me after my workshop session.

Simplicity is best facilitated by accountability. Improved simplicity is a byproduct of improved accountability. Don't allow a disconnect. The real reason organizations see so many complicated and kludgy process innovations is not because their people are stupid or lazy — or even because these improvements are inherently difficult — it's the absence of clarity around accountability. For any given innovation initiative, if it's not clear who "owns" simplicity, you can be confident no one does.

Accountability means that someone has sat down with the process owner or appropriate business team leaders and asked, "What does 'simple for staff' mean and how do we measure it?"

Pick whatever measures of effectiveness you like — time, number of steps, rework, etc. — but doesn't "simpler for staff" deserve respect comparable to "better for customers" and "cheaper for the firm"? After all, those get measured.

With its three simple innovation heuristics, Tesco ostensibly forbids the shortcuts and cheats that allow perfectly good proposals to get "improved" into a morass of complex features and functionality. The essential simplicity is hiding there somewhere, but it will take hours of your employee's times to find it. That's not good management. That's bad design.

So let's put it this way: If you're not making things simpler for staff, the odds are you're making things more difficult for staff. That's a bad place to be.

Who should be held accountable for that?