Rise of the Expert Generalist

Enjoyed this profile of Charlie Munger on Medium, especially the description of the Expert Generalist, a rival to the 10,000 hour specialist:

The Rise Of The Expert-Generalist

The rival argument to the 10,000 hour rule is the expert-generalist approach. Orit Gadiesh, chairman of Bain & Co, who coined the term, describes the expert-generalist as:

“Someone who has the ability and curiosity to master and collect expertise in many different disciplines, industries, skills, capabilities, countries, and topics., etc. He or she can then, without necessarily even realizing it, but often by design:

  1. Draw on that palette of diverse knowledge to recognize patterns and connect the dots across multiple areas.
  2. Drill deep to focus and perfect the thinking.”

The concept is commonly represented by this model of the “T-shaped individual”:

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Four degrees of separation that help simplify work

From: http://changingminds.org/blog/0902blog/090225blog.htm

Much work these days is packaged up as projects, with plans, resources and time-bound deliverables. Managing projects is a skill as the various risks and issues can easily trip you up. In particular the sheer complexity can cause much extra work and conceal important issues.

Here, then, are four ways of making things simpler by separating out things that need your attention in different ways.

1. Separate rapidly changing things from slowly changing things. This makes changes (and communication about them) easier. For example a strategic plan, which changes little is separated from a rapidly-changing tactical plan.

2. Separate things that require attention now from points of information. This allows a sharper focus on action. For example items that require decisions may be covered first in a meeting, then information discussions continued in the remaining time.

3. Separate planned action from unexpected action. This allows both to be clearly managed and for plans to be revised as needed. For example issues are managed separately from standard project plans, thus allowing both onto the stage.

4. Separate internal project communications from external communications. Internal communications can be detailed, technical, textual and full of jargon. External communications should be focused, brief, visual and use Plain English.

You can also use the principle of separation to create clarity in documents and presentations by:

* Using colour, bold fonts, and other visual contrasts.
* Using lines and physical separation.
* Visual/physical separation into sections, pages, documents.

Selected Rules of Consulting

Photo by Peter Hayes (click for original). Creative Commons

Gerald Weinberg is the grandmaster of consulting and project management. From the hundreds of hints and tips on offer in his excellent secrets of consulting series, Adrian Segar explores his favorite 19 :

You’ll never accomplish anything if you care who gets the credit. (The Credit Rule.) Check your ego at the door.

In spite of what your client may tell you, there’s always a problem. (The First Law of Consulting.) Yes, most people have a hard time admitting they have a problem.

No matter how it looks at first, it’s always a people problem. (The Second Law of Consulting.) I learned this after about five years of being engaged as a technical consultant and repeatedly having CEOs confiding to me their non-technical woes…

If they didn’t hire you, don’t solve their problem. (The Fourth Law of Consulting.) A common occupational disease of consultants: we rush to help people who haven’t asked for help.

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (The First Law of Engineering.) Must. Not. Unscrew the tiny screws just to check what’s inside.

Clients always know how to solve their problems, and always tell you the solution in the first five minutes. (The Five-Minute Rule.) Unbelievably, this is true—the hard part is listening well enough to notice.

If you can’t accept failure, you’ll never succeed as a consultant. (The Hard Law.Everyone makes mistakes, and that can be a good thing.

Helping myself is even harder than helping others. (The Hardest Law.) The hardest things to notice are things about myself.

The wider you spread it, the thinner it gets. (The Law of Raspberry Jam.) Or, as Jerry rephrases it: Influence or affluence; take your choice.

When the clients don’t show their appreciation, pretend that they’re stunned by your performance—but never forget that it’s your fantasy, not theirs. (The Lone Ranger Fantasy.) “Who was that masked man, anyway?”

The most important act in consulting is setting the right fee. (Marvin’s Fifth Great Secret.) Setting the right fee takes a huge burden off your shoulders.

“We can do it—and this is how much it will cost.” (The Orange Juice Test.) Jerry uses an example straight from the meetings world for this one—event professionals will recognize the situation, and appreciate the insight.

Cucumbers get more pickled than brine gets cucumbered. (Prescott’s Pickle Principle.) Sadly, the longer you work with a client, the less effective you get.

It may look like a crisis, but it’s only the ending of an illusion. (Rhonda’s First Revelation.) A positive way to think about unpleasant change.

When you create an illusion, to prevent or soften change, the change becomes more likely—and harder to take.(Rhonda’s Third Revelation.) Notice and challenge your illusions before they turn into crises.

If you can’t think of three things that might go wrong with your plans, then there’s something wrong with your thinking. (The Rule of Three.) The perfect antidote to complacency about your plans.

The best marketing tool is a satisfied client. (The Sixth Law of Marketing.) Word of mouth is the best channel for new work; being able to satisfy my clients led me to a successful, twenty-two year IT consulting career without using advertising or agents.

Give away your best ideas. (The Seventh Law of Marketing.) When you teach your clients to handle future similar problems themselves, they’ll appreciate your generosity and are more likely to give you further work or good word of mouth to others.

Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

Jerry Weinberg is a legend in Project Management and Consulting circles. Here are his 10 Laws of Trust:

1. Nobody but you cares about the reason you let another person down.
2. Trust takes years to win, moments to lose.
3. People don’t tell you when they stop trusting you.
4. The trick of earning trust is to avoid all tricks.
5. People are never liars—in their own eyes.
6. Always trust your client—and cut the cards.
7. Never be dishonest, even if the client requests it.
8. Never promise anything.
9. Always keep your promise.
10. Get it in writing, but depend on trust.

Conferences That Work | Jerry Weinberg’s ten laws of trust

What you really do with OODA loops

These are some selections and notes from a brilliant essay by Dr Chester W Richards about OODA loops and the general application of military know how to business. From “What you really do with OODA loops” :

The key to the military notion of time lies in how practitioners of the art of war view strategy. Great commanders down through the years have used time-based strategy to cloud their opponents’ understanding and destroy their morale so that the battle, if it must be fought at all, is relatively quick and painless. In the language of conflict, we say that they move their opponents where they want them to be. Leaders in business and industry can do the same thing and with similar results. This paper explores this notion, first by looking at what today’s most avant-garde business theorists claim for the concept of time, and then comparing that to what the most successful generals and strategists aim to achieve. Finally, we will the translate the military goals and objectives back into the commercial world and look for examples where it actually worked.

…Building one new business after another, faster than the competition, is the only way to stay ahead.

a real strategist doesn’t like words like “respond” and is dubious about “anticipate.” These are passive sorts of things…

Now it is true that fast reactions have their place – if your opponent catches you by surprise, for example. Competence in this tactic, such things as staying cool, using the other side’s momentum against them, and so on, form an essential part of any competitor’s tool kit. Problems arise when, as in the above paradigm, reaction becomes the goal of strategy. First, under such an arrangement, if we don’t see anything, we don’t do anything. So much for initiative.

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“Looking for Ugly” in the honest workplace

[Update1: This was my submission to Executive Rockstar’s Best Career Advice competition ]

[Update2: This book look promising “Know What You Don’t Know: How Great Companies Fix Problems Before They Happen” By: Michael A. Roberto]

[Update3: Why Systems Fail and Problems Sprout Anew]

The best career advice that I ever received was from Steve O’Donnell, currently SVP IT Infrastructure & Operations at First Data International, celebrity blogger and former Global Head of Data Centre & Customer Experience Management at BT (where we worked together):

One day he said:

“Jonathan, I will never fire you for an honest mistake but if you lie to me, ever, you will be out the door in a minute. There is no mistake that you can make that I cannot figure out how to fix IF you tell me about it immediately. Be honest with me and you are safe, lie to me and you are gone.”

This is a golden rule in effective technical operations. It creates a culture of honesty and safety – not being afraid of reporting errors or lapses – that leads to true Kaizan:  genuine self-correction and organisational self-improvement because you are able to deal with errors systematically (i.e. by tweaking systems) and without the damage of the blame game and deferred responsibility.

His advice is particularly important in environments where errors are rare but extremely serious when they do occur – like executive boardrooms or aircraft maintenance hangers or hospitals.  The behaviour or practice of telling the truth about minor errors is central to the precursor-based error detection system (i.e. spotting the warning signs early)  which is in turn at the center of truly effective operations management (and every other system).

Kevin Kelly explains the issue in a  brilliant post about “Looking for Ugly“:

How do you prevent major errors in a system built to successfully keep major errors to a minimum?  You look for the ugly.

The safety of aircraft is so essential it is regulated in hopes that regulation can decrease errors. Error prevention enforced by legal penalties presents a problem, though: severe penalties discourages disclosure of problems early enough to be remedied.  To counter that human tendency, the US FAA has generally allowed airlines to admit errors they find without punishing them. These smaller infractions are the “ugly.” By themselves they aren’t significant, but they can compound with other small “uglies.” Often times they are so minimal — perhaps a worn valve, or discolored pipe — that one can hardly call them errors. They are just precursors to something breaking down the road.  Other times they are things that break without causing harm.

The general agreement in the industry is that a policy of unpunished infractions encourages quicker repairs and reduces the chances of major failures. Of course not punishing companies for safety violations rubs some people the wrong way. A recent Times article reports on the Congressional investigation into whether this policy of unpunished disclosure should continue, which issued the quote above. The Times says:

“We live in an era right now where we’re blessed with extremely safe systems,” said one panel member, William McCabe, a veteran of business aviation companies. “You can’t use forensics,” he said, because there are not enough accidents to analyze.

“You’re looking for ugly,” Mr. McCabe said. “You ask your people to look for ugly.” A successful safety system, he said, “acknowledges, recognizes and rewards people for coming forward and saying, ‘That might be one of your precursors.’ “

Looking for ugly is a great way to describe a precursor-based error detection system. You are not really searching for failure as much as signs failure will begin. These are less like errors and more like deviations. Offcenter in an unhealthy way.  For some very large systems — like airplanes, human health, ecosystems — detection of deviations is more art than science, more a matter of beauty or the lack of it.

Come to think of it, looking for ugly is how we assess our own health. I suspect looking for ugly is how we will be assessing complex systems like robots, AIs and virtual realities.

So, in short:  Create a professional environment that enables and encourages your team to detect, report and deal with the “ugly”.

[Update: I mailed Steve my submission and I was delighted to see he blogged about it on his Hot Aisle blog]