Posts Tagged ‘Leadership’

TED Talk by Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world

April 2, 2010 Leave a comment

It really has been a long while since I blogged. The usual life and work suspects to blame which I suppose isn’t enough explanation for the several months of absence. Glad to be back and nothing like having another TED2010 Talk classic to move me to blog it. Jane’s talk about gaming and making the world, life, and people better hit the sweet spot.

The key points which bear remembering are:

  • 1. Passion and energy are often neglected or dismissed as irrelevant in the drive for all things “better”.
  • 2. Gaming is an wonderfully liberating way to teach and to learn. Try it sometime and don’t be afraid to let others try as well.
  • 3. The inner creative genius in all of us can be stimulated through “play”. Gaming like WoW or in my own gaming life, Ultima, Wizardry, Netrek, Pinball, Chess, can develop team-skills, analytical smarts, discipline, self-confidence, community and leadership skills.
  • Nowadays I find that the emphasis in education is away from play and more toward standardization, memorization but this is a mistake. Innovation, creativity, the lack of fear of failure are losing out because it’s hard work. And likewise, gaming is hard work but necessary and from Jane’s inspirational case for more gaming efforts to be used and harnessed.

    Unleash your inner-gamer!


    Quick blog update – Back in the saddle

    September 8, 2008 1 comment

    Dear readers,

    Past couple of weeks, I’ve been busy with filling my own gas tank while also navigating the way forward. As my team likes to joke with me, for-better-or-for-worse, I’m now the captain of the ship… the Titanic ship to be exact.

    Sometimes gallows humor can help ease the daily grind but it can also be as happy as a ice cold shower during the winter time (sorry, I’m not a polar bear!). Juggling the here and now with the there and after, I brought the team together for a couple of days and figure out what we have and what we want to do and how we want to go about doing it. The other part of it was getting key folks (re)acquainted with the ABCS of business financials – specifically, the business case.

    While we struggle with the change management aspect of companies adjusting to harsh business challenges and other realities, we need to find an anchor point to tie it all together. Otherwise, the loss of focus and meaning for why we are here every day will take a huge toll on the organizational effectiveness and health. I decided to peg the anchor on understanding the business – namely what, why, when, how part of what we do – finding meaning through understanding the business case surrounding our BAU and Projects/Portfolios. Then as a team we can better prioritize and figure out what we are doing right and wrong (and even missing altogether).

    So far, the impact was quite positive. One of the best part was listening to the troops, I actually had some of my perceptions shot down or seriously altered. That’s a good health check result for any manager or leader. As I’m fond of saying, 20 brains are better than 1 (see Francis Galton on his work that the wisdom of the masses is better than a single expert – Simon Kuper writes in FT Sept 5 2008).

    Setting up the IT organization for success – Part 1

    August 22, 2008 1 comment

    Continuing the series started from the past few posts this week*, we started with the situation of Building an IT team/organization – namely how would one go about it. (Incidentally, I think this is generic enough to apply to any organization, not just IT.) Drawing from various sources, I looked at startings points to help me construct a blueprint, a framework to start the process. At the end of a pretty tortuous route, it seems that the key guiding point was to build for organizational sustainability**. Perhaps it seems like a commonsensical if not obvious approach, but I can’t say for certain that most managers and leaders hire with this intention in mind. Often times, I hazard to say that managers hire for immediate need, not long term sustainability. (If you asked me what is “long term”, I’ve no idea exactly what it is. For me, it seems that we’re talking about a period greater than 24 months but less than 48 months.)

    Characteristics of an organization built for sustainability means that we would have to get a “diverse mix of skills, capabilities, expertise, personalities togethers as broadly and deeply as possible” in place. That’s quite an order:
    1. Skills & Capabilities – Soft skills
    2. Expertise – Functional/Technical/Business know-how
    3. Personalities – psychometric testing for “chemistry” – knowing the Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes in your team seems awfully sensible but why so many organizations don’t use them? I tend to prefer the 4 quadrant tests such as DISC, because it is KISS and satisfies the 80-20 Rule. However, I’ve taken other tests as well such as Belbin Team Roles and MBTI*** and are all useful in their own way.

    So now that we’ve got the blueprint, it’s time to find people – based on one’s own competencies and capabilities defined in your foundational blueprint. Personally, after the technical expertise questions out of the way, I go straight into behavioral interviewing mode. That’s not exactly the prescribed methodology but I prefer it when I’m trying to understand how the person ticks and whether or not they’ve got transferable skills. This is important in IT because the IT individual I’m looking for is (1) a generalist in outlook and (2) a technologist at heart. For good measure I throw in some work-related hypothetical scenarios to see how they problem solve. This means that on average I will spend approximately 3-5 hours (my company runs an HR assessment center which I sit in on) with any candidate before being hired. This may seem excessive, but the cost of wrong hires do a lot of organizational damage that may be fatal, especially at management grade levels. Failure is not an option.

    So, now you’ve identified the folks for your organization and have hired them on board, all ready, willing and able to go…where no man has gone before? Star Trek missions don’t work so well in corporate life usually so you need to have to continue building – directional setting now, mission, vision, values/culture.

    The last, values/culture, to me is the key****. Mission and vision will change. But values/culture are/should be enduring and the bedrock for an organization to succeed and thrive even when the going is tough. It’s elusive and difficult for a manager to instill. Hence the leadership question comes into play. What does one do?

    Stay tuned for Part 2 as the journey unfolds…

    *See Article 1, Article 2, Article 3
    **An example of organizational sustainability comes from Vincent van Wylick’s nice story on what makes a good sports coach:

    In my opinion, the important qualities of sports-coaches are these three things, and I hope they translate to other disciplines as well:

    Knowing your craft really well;
    Planning for different abilities in your team;
    Making your craft transparent so others can take over

    If you make yourself obsolete to the organization, you’ve achieved the ideal model of organizational sustainability.

    *** I’m an INTJ
    **** Check out Scott Berkin’s interview with Grant McCracken on winning by studying culture.

    Managing in Economic Tough Times revisited

    August 15, 2008 3 comments

    For sharing on a theme I recently blogged about, a good post from thesavvyPM titled: Project Tips: Leadership through Turbulent Times.

    Commonalities exist between project managers and traditional line managers (shouldn’t be a surprise as both roles involve “management”). thesavvyPM mentions several good points for those in the hot seat, what to think of and know, and I paraphrase here:
    1. Leadership qualities one needs to exhibit
    2. Acceptance of the realities and prepare for the times
    3. Establishing a sense of urgency (she mentions crisis)
    4. New business strategy
    5. Open communications and involvement through the changes

    Tough Times Leadership

    August 6, 2008 3 comments

    All across the world, companies are facing the day of reckoning due to rising costs across the board. Actually, that day was a while back but it’s all catching up quick, fast, and in a hurry.

    Two scenes capture this unfolding scenario….

    As a result, many company boards, senior executive teams are experiencing a sobering up, a facing the music, smelling the coffee, or worse, have taken the head in the sand approach. Either way, the stress in the workplace has certainly gone up with predictable behaviors: Hard times drive some mean bosses over edge.

    When the going gets tough, the tough get going: In the face of adversity try harder. But try harder to do what? You’re a manager/leader of others or of other (senior) managers and unlike the Titanic watchouts, you see coming up fast in the horizon the icebergs that will sink your ship. How you navigate through these times will be a defining moment – personally and professionally*.

    As I wrote in a previous mindless meandering, management-by-walking-around is a key trait for successful managers. The key learning out of this in tough times is YOUR VISIBILITY to others. It’s important that remaining unflappable and resolute by being accessible helps immensely. If there’s nothing one can do during these times, using the 80-20 rule, do this one thing. Classic example of this kind of leadership is illustrated by Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson – a classic model of outstanding leadership.

    Dennis Zeleny’s May 9th Management column from Forbes How To Lead In Tough Times provides good sound advice. He writes,

    1. Communicate continually and honestly.
    2. Hatch a plan based in reality.
    3. Hang on to your best talent.
    4. Act decisively.
    5. Alter your perspective.

    It’s basic because when you’re engaging in MBWA, it’s got to be real, authentic. Firstly, treat people like adults and don’t insult their intelligence. Honesty is a very good policy to adopt here. That obviously leads to the second point that acknowledging the facts, no sugar coating, will be easier to take than loads of baloney or worse, BS which seem to pile high and deep during tough economic times. Resist it and come clean. Zeleney’s third point is unfortunately a real tough test of leadership. When the ship is sinking, the best people always seem to leave first. But you’ve got to find a way to resist because hope rests with them, not the survivors. Acting decisively comes with seeing things as they are, no rose-colored glasses here, and then using general common sense and principles to make the call and then communicating that clearly. Lastly, the point Zeleny makes is critical not just during tough times, but is part-and-parcel of the MBWA management style. One needs to get around and talk to people vertically and horizontally in the organization in order to get the right insights into what’s making things things go round-and-round. 20,000ft views don’t work, got to get on the ground with the grunts. It’s common sense, but not so common strangely enough. Maybe it has something to do with 4 walls and its perks…

    Last but not least, I wanted to share from Robert Townsend, his view on People and Theory Y from Up the Organization:How to Stop the Corporation from Stifling People and Strangling Profits . This frankly is hard for me to digest being an avowedly and admittedly cynical bastard about people. It’s right there on p 93, he lists out Theory Y in its glory:

    1. People don’t hate work. It’s as natural as rest or play.
    2. They don’t have to be forced or threatened. If they commit themselves to mutual objectives, they’ll drive themselves more effectively than you can drive them.
    3. But they’ll commit themselves only to the extent they can see ways of satisfying their ego and development needs (remember the others are pretty well satisfied and are no longer prime drives.

    It seems to fit though. Give it go and see what happens. Worse thing can happen? The same thing that would happen if you didn’t do it. Maybe this way would be the difference.

    *My defining moment(s) came during my one experience in a dot-com startup. When we failed to IPO, the VC money ran out. Those days were exhausting and I’ve never forgotten how it was like – such as my whiteboard being used as the Wall of Remembrance after each RIF rather than a list of on-going client projects (i.e. revenue). We were definitely not in Kansas anymore!

    Simple Change Management Lessons: What we can learn from the US Olympic Basketball Team

    August 3, 2008 4 comments

    We all know the story of the US Olympic Basketball team – Dream Team[tm] of 1996 to a non-compete at the 2002 World Championships and a dismal Bronze medal showing at the Athens Olympics. For those not from America, basketball is to the US as football/soccer is to Brazil, Italy, Argentina etc. Many words have been written and the latest from Alan Abrahamson,, Colangelo’s meeting of the minds shaped 2008 team shows how the change has progressed. While we won’t know for certain the outcome of the change, many people following the story believe the US team is well back on track to the top.

    From Abrahamson’s article, we find how we can learn the simple lessons of effective change management:
    1. Culture change – team beats all-stars (a point I made in a previous posting regarding talent)

    The Athens Games proved that a bunch of all-stars not only could but almost certainly would be beaten by others relying less on individual talent who played together as a team.

    Thus — as any corporate consultant would have plainly seen — Colangelo needed to effect a culture change within the U.S. basketball program.

    Simple, but so extremely difficult. Firstly, there must be a recognition that there is a culture problem – whatever “culture” means. In other words, I would say that there must be an awareness that the situation is really bad now. Secondly, people must believe it can’t be allowed to get worse. It is drawing that proverbial line in the sand and saying enough is enough. Without this, there cannot be what Bobby Knight says is the “will to prepare to win” by the people (senior executives, management team, other key employees) who first need to have that desire and preparedness to do whatever it takes to win.

    2. Get commitment – You need to get these people together who is going to make the culture change happen and find out who is on board and who is not. This is the team building stage to ensure you’ve got the team – emotionally and mentally. No one man armies here (when you get this wrong see classic example). This team build event – I think you don’t have much time in a turn around situation – must take as long as necessary but not longer. I prefer a lock up of the people and don’t let them out until there’s an agreement of the way forward. Time is of the essence and the sooner everyone is on the same page, the probability of success improves.

    On June 25, 2005, Colangelo convened an all-comers meeting at the National Italian-American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago. He invited, as he recalls, everyone — players and coaches — who over the past several decades had been part of the U.S. Olympic basketball effort….But if, as expected, the 2008 U.S. men’s team goes on to win Olympic gold in Beijing, it will clearly go down as history-making. …

    To be eligible to be considered for the 2008 U.S. team, players had to make a three-year commitment. Role players (Tayshaun Prince) would be solicited. …

    All of these elements came out of this meeting. [A]nd … an understanding that those players chosen would affirm in their words, their attitude and their conduct before and during the Olympics a respect for the game and the Games.

    3. Practice and prepare – now put into action what was just agreed in steps 1 & 2. This is where the will to win and the preparing to win comes together – where the rubber meets the road. In fancy management speak, it’s all about “executional excellence”, turning strategy into action.

    Colangelo cleaned house – brought in coaches starting with Coach Mike Krzyzewski that reflect the same values and sense of purpose with respect to Olympic basketball. Then they went to each of the players personally to recruit and get the same agreement and commitment.

    Following that, they practiced and competed in international tournaments. Culminating with the FIBA tournaments in the US, the team seems to be headed in the right direction with the Olympics merely a few days away.

    “We had to change the culture,” Colangelo said. “I think we have come a long way in doing just that.

    “Our guys get it. They know why they’re here and what’s expected of them.

    “And they buy into it.”

    4. Celebrate success – I’m jumping the gun here but just doing the above religiously, with discipline, with rigor, with commitment, excellence naturally results.

    I leave you with the following thoughts to ponder on change management:

    “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

    “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”
    – Lao-Tzu