The Military and Powerpoint redux, Jon Stewart style

Here’s another view of the PowerPoint debate , thanks to Jon Stewart of the Daily Show.   Stewart offers a behind-the-scenes look at military’s greatest heroes who use PowerPoint to get their troops motivated for battle.

This obviously provides a bookend to my posting on the subject earlier this week and hopefully brings a smile to your face.

Must Read: Switch by Chip and Dan Heath (out Feb. 16)

     Great book, chock full of great advice and tools.  If you haven’t pre-ordered it and this post is a reminder to do so, I won’t be insulted if you jump right now to the bottom of this post and click through to Amazon (or your own favorite bookseller). 
     I’m never sure how much I should give away with a review like this, but the basic idea of the book (beyond the sub-title, which is How to Change Things When Change is Hard) is that our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider and “any time the six-ton Elephant and Rider disagree about which direction to go, the Rider is going to lose.  He’s completely overmatched.”
     I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release copy from the authors (Dan and Chip Heath, who also wrote another of my favorite books, Made to Stick)…and I understand that the idea is to generate excitement so people will go out and buy it.  I only have a couple of quibbles about the book, but let me highlight the overriding themes with the plea that you buy the book and read the stories that surround these themes to really effect change in your life.
     Theme No. 1:  Direct the Rider.  Basic idea here is that because resistance is often due to a lack of clarity, you need to provide crystal-clear direction.  You do this by finding bright spots in otherwise dismal situations and then giving direction to the Rider, creating a sort-of sandwich where you describe both a start and a finish and provide what the Heaths call a “destination postcard.”
     Theme No. 2:  Motivate the Elephant.  Here we’re focusing on driving change through motivation and we need to find the core emotional message that will get your Elephant moving.  The Heaths argue that what sometimes looks like laziness is often exhaustion (i.e., the Rider can’t get his way by force for long).  Knowledge isn’t enough to motivate change; you also need the confidence that you are capable of overcoming the challenge, that you are “big” enough to do it.  The answer:  Shrink the change and/or grow your people.
     Theme No. 3:  Shape the Path.    As the Heaths put it, what looks like a people problem may actually be a situation problem, and changing your environment can often make change much easier.  You can change the rules or the tools needed to do the job  (i.e., “tweak the environment”) or create new habits.  They offer a time-tested tool to marry these two approaches: checklists (which the authors promote with some nervousness).  You can Rally the Herd (of Elephants) and get them to convince each other about the value of supporting change.  And they introduce ways to keep the momentum going.
     I go through books like this with a highlighter and pen, and transfer my notes into a small spiral notebook that helps me remember key points from everything I read.  I took a lot of actionable ideas out of this book that will change the way I approach my life (business and personal).  Had I read this book six months ago, my blog might well have been called Elephant Simplicity. 
     My only quibbles?  It took awhile to get into the flow of the book’s structure — there’s a lot of bouncing between stories making them sometimes feel a bit redundant.  And the Heaths use a tool they call a “Clinic” in which they describe a real-world situation and ask the reader to apply the Switch framework to create change.  It’s a great idea — and they say you can read them as you go or come back to them later.  I suggest you come back to them later, since they’re introduced in Chapter 3 but incorporate materials you’ll find throughout the rest of the book.
     But again, those are quibbles.  This book is a terrific investment.  Here’s an excerpt.  And here’s one place you can order it.  My understanding is that pre-orders get aggregated and help the authors jump to the top of many bestseller lists in Week 1 and the discounts can more than offset the cost of shipping.
     Please come back after you’ve read it and let everyone know what you thought.

Don’t use a capacity solution to fix a complexity problem

If you only have a hammer in your toolbox, every problem looks like a nail.

Successful problem solvers often struggle to identify the root cause of the problem they’re trying to fix.  Ron Ashkenas, the author of a new book called Simply Effective, offers up an interesting way to define organizational challenges, seeing them as either capacity problems and complexity problems.

Capacity problems require more, fewer, or different resources to solve them.  Complexity problems require new thinking and a creative approach, says Ashkenas in a recent Harvard Business blog posting.

Too many executives decide their problems are “capacity-based,” and focus on the resources they need to solve them.  All too often, they find themselves solving complexity issues with a capacity solution.

Ashkenas uses President Obama’s decision to send troops into Afghanistan as a potential capacity solution to a complexity problem (i.e., the need to leave a functioning and secure country behind when we leave).  I believe a lot of companies have similarly used layoffs (a capacity solution) because they couldn’t figure out how to deal with changing customer demand for their products, increased regulatory oversight, or competitors who developed a better mousetrap.

Some might argue that they lacked the will to find a complexity-based solution.  Perhaps.  But it’s been said that if a hammer is the only tool in your toolbox, than you’re going to see every problem as a nail.

Think back to the last few problems you’ve had to resolve.  Would you have dealt with them differently if you had taken the time to consider whether the problem was capacity or complexity?

Manning demonstrates value of preparation; JaMarcus doesn’t

Preparation enables Peyton Manning to make what he does look easy

I’ve long been a proponent of the adage that preparation is the only things over which you have total control.  And I’m always glad to get reminders of that…from the world of sports or wherever.

I was reading Sports Illustrated’s NFL Midseason Report on an airplane the other day and smiled as I read how Indianapolis QB Peyton Manning texted Connecticut running back Donald Brown just hours after he had been drafted by the Colts:  “Meet me at the facility at 8 a.m. tomorrow.  Warmed up.  Ready to go.”

Former Colts coach Tony Dungy talked about Manning’s great season so far — despite a number of challenges — saying, “To understand why he hasn’t struggled, you have to understand the way his mind works.  It drives him every day that the offense will be better, not just as good as it was.  The new guys will fit in.  He’ll make them fit in.”

Juxtapose that with a conversation that Mike and Mike had this morning on ESPN Radio with analyst Tim Hasselbeck about Oakland QB JaMarcus Russell and his challenges.  The discussion centered on whispers around the Raiders camp that the now-benched quarterback is always “last in, first out” of meetings and practices.  He won’t put in the work necessary to prepare for the next week’s game.

There are other reasons Manning is a future hall-of-famer, but preparation can overcome many things — rookie wide receivers and running backs, injuries in many positions.  Lack of preparation just exposes you.

How have you helped yourself through preparation (or hurt yourself because you didn’t take the time)?  If you don’t know where to start to help yourself prepare more effectively, please contact me.

The argument for surrounding yourself with great people

Nice interview on Wednesday’s edition of Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio with St. Louis Cardinals Pitcher Adam Wainwright, who won the MLBPA Players Choice Award as the National League’s Outstanding Pitcher.
carpenter wainwright
Chris Carpenter (L) and Adam Wainwright made each other better in 2009.


Wainwright (19-8, 2.63 ERA, 212 Ks) beat out Giants P Tim Lincicum and teammate Chris Carpenter for the award, but his comments about Carpenter are what will stick with me as I talk to people who continue to fear for their jobs and worry about how they compare to their co-workers.

“In the beginning of the season I really battled and was constantly having to get out of a lot of jams,” Wainwright said, explaining that he sat down with Carpenter for a “big-time film session” that resulted in him adjusting some things and having everything “fall into place.” 

When asked about how he got along with Carpenter — who got more publicity during the season because he was coming back from surgery last year, Wainwright responded  that Carpenter “was a pacesetter…he’s a special talent…the great thing about Chris is he’s so talented but he is also a really good teacher and finds ways to help other pitchers…He’s got a great eye for it…he can watch a bullpen session and notice something different pitch to pitch and he just helps you get locked back in.  And his pitching was solid every time out.  He sets the bar and makes you want to be right there with him. 

Wainwright went on to give props to a third pitcher in the rotation, Joel Pineiro, for his role in helping the other two perform well.

The message:  Seek out the best people in your company and work with them.  Competition brings out the best in people. 

And if you take a look at Carpenter’s 2009 statistics — 17-4, 2.24 ERA, and 144 strikeouts — and Wainwright’s comments, you’ll also see that it is possible to be both a top performer and a great mentor.  Give it a try.

Five simple paragraphs help military communicate clearly

Despite the quality of my Syracuse journalism program, I probably learned even more about communication as a young second lieutenant back in the early 1980’s. 

Use the five-paragraph field order to clearly communicate the mission and how you're going to achieve it.
Use the five-paragraph field order to clearly communicate the mission and how you're going to achieve it.

If you like simplicity, you can’t do much better than the five-paragraph field order.  Designed for small combat-unit leaders, it provides a way to plan and communicate under pressure that translates well to the business world.  Through this format, you can explain a mission and describe the plan for accomplishing that mission.  For those of you who like acronyms, it’s SMEAC and breaks down like this:

  • Situation:  What’s the current situation, issue, or problem that we need to resolve?  Who are your friends and who are your enemies?  And who’s around that can help you?  In military terms, it’s enemy forces, friendly forces, and attachments/detachments).
  • Mission:  What do we have to accomplish?  Use the journalistic five W’s (who, what, where, when, and why).  If you can answer all five W’s, you — and your people — should understand the mission.
  • Execution:  Here’s how we’re going to accomplish our mission?  Define it in detail and make sure everyone understands their roles.  You’re breaking down tasks and assignments.  Include a time frame for accomplishing each task and who’s responsible.
  • Administration and logistics.  The military calls this service support, but it’s basically a list of the resources that we have to accomplish our mission and who is providing that support.
  • Command and Signal:  How will we communicate and who’s in charge?  This will include project deliverables, timetables for updates, and knowing who to go to if you need help or approval.  The military version stresses things like frequencies and call signs, pyrotechnics, passwords and code words along with the chain of command.

In recent weeks, I’ve watched a podcast with David Meister (The Trusted Advisor) favorably comparing military experience to a Harvard Business School degree and read a terrific Harvard Business blog by Col. Tom Kolditz about Why The Military Produces Great Leaders.  It reminded me that many of my business successes were due to getting the opportunity to lead 50+ people right out of college.  As a result, I was able to take on additional responsibilities (e.g., moving from reporter to editor) without having to worry about whether I could handle the people-management part.

Being good at the five-paragraph field order requires practice and a commitment to using it on a consistent basis.  You can use it to communicate a mission to your own “troops,” to create marketing and communications plans, and to help your preparation for negotiations.

There’s enough here for you to get started, and I can help as part of my consulting business if you’re interested.  Good luck!

Simply put, “I’m not a moral-victory guy.”

I keep a notebook on my desk where I capture great quotes for presentations and other uses.

“I’m not a moral-victory guy” got added to the book during the 49ers-Cardinals game yesterday.  I Googled it this morning.  Apparently, San Francisco coach Mike Singletary showed up at a State of the Franchise meeting in San Mateo back on Feb. 16 and laid this one on the crowd.  For the past few years, San Francisco has looked for rays of sunshine in otherwise dismal games (e.g., close games, goal-line stands, great individual performances).  When asked about this, new coach Singletary responded,  “I know you don’t know me real well.  I’m not a moral-victory guy.”

The crowd erupted and a new ad campaign was born.  Travel around the Bay Area these days and you’ll find quotes like “I’m not a moral-victory guy.” and “I want winners.”

The 49ers marketing department concedes the campaign is a bit of a high-wire act, since it implies a promise of a return to winning ways.  But Singletary has brought a whole new attitude to the team.  And attitude often paves the way to better execution and bottom-line performance.

And Bulldog Simplicity has a new favorite coach.