Quote of the Day

June 28, 2007

I just came back from a thought-provoking creativity conference. In attendance were hundreds of people, many of whom have been creativity practitioners for dozens of years. It was interesting to see how many of them are still using the same creativity techniques today as they did in their early days. During a lively group discussion, we discussed this phenomenon – what was referred to as the “calcification of frameworks.”

My response to the group was:

“If expertise is the enemy of creativity*, then a creativity expert can not be an expert in creativity.”

Think about it.

* If you are an expert in a particular area, you will find solutions quickly – and stop looking for new ideas. Unfortunately these solutions are often not new, not creative, and not valuable.

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How to Get More Done…By Being Lazy

June 23, 2007

Back in 1985, I worked for Unisys (then Burroughs) as part of an engineering co-op program while in college. This gave me hands-on experience working in the production control department for this large computer manufacturer. As I was leaving the company, the department head called me the laziest person he ever met. He meant it as a compliment. Let me explain.

When I started this job I worked 50 hours a week. My direct supervisor worked 60 hours a week. Life was good, until my supervisor was laid off and I inherited all of her work. Faced with having to work 110 hours a week, I decided to take a hard look at what we were doing.

Over the course of a weekend, I analyzed all of the activities I now needed to perform. I hoped to get my work from 110 hours to 50 hours (or less). Here’s what I found:

  • Only 20% of my work was high value add “knowledge work.” These were the items I still needed to perform.
  • Many activities we performed were non-value add. We had done them in the past, but they were no longer necessary, so I stopped doing them altogether.
  • Several activities were really the responsibility of another department or individual. Therefore, I worked to get these activities assigned to the correct parties. Not only did this reduce my workload, but it also reduced the overall time required by the company as a whole.
  • A large number of “transactional” activities were done manually and were candidates for automation (we used punch cards back then). None of these activities were very complicated, so I was able to write some simple programs in a matter of hours.

After only two days of analysis and work, I managed to get my workload from 110 hours to 20 hours. Given that I had free time on my hands, I looked for other activities in the company that could be made more productive.

I discovered a large computer program that was run once a week. It helped balance workloads across the entire company (don’t worry about the details). The software was exceptionally intricate and the data requirements were massive. It often took days to input the data. Due to the complexity of the program, it had to be run overnight. I analyzed the overall process and quickly developed a “rough cut” version of the software that took only minutes to input data and seconds to run. After using my program for a year, they found that its results were within 5% accuracy of the larger program that took over 100 times the effort to run.

Most people do whatever it takes to get the job done. I was “too lazy” to do it the traditional way. I don’t mind working hard, but I don’t want to work any harder than I need to. If I can get everything done in 20 hours rather than 110 hours, I can then choose how I spend my free time. I can spend my time being creative and develop new ideas, I can perform high value work, or I can take a break and relax. It’s my choice. And it is your choice too.

  • What work do you do that is non-value add? Stop doing it!
  • What work do you do that others can/should do? Delegate or outsource these activities. Get a “virtual assistant” to do your routine activities. Partner with someone who might be better skilled to do this activity.
  • What work can be automated? Buy off the shelf software to help speed things up. Or use eLance.com to find someone who can build you a custom computer program.

Focus your energies on the items that are truly value add AND differentiate you from the competition. Eliminate, automate, or delegate the rest.

What other strategies have you used to get more done with less effort?

P.S. If the concept of getting more done with less effort appeals to you, be sure to read my article on “compass-driven strategic planning

P.P.S. The picture to the right is the image on the cover of the Russian translation of Goal-Free Living. Looks more like “goal-less living” to me.

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Does the Pursuit of Major Goals Reduce Performance?

June 19, 2007

In today’s USA Today, an article discussed “players who are slumping in pursuit of milestones.”  The examples they give are:

  • Barry Bonds, who is eight home runs shy of Hank Aaron’s record of 755, has recently hit only 2 home runs in 124 plate appearances.  Earlier in the season he hit 11 home runs during 76 at bats.
  • Pitcher Tom Glavine needs only 5 more victories to reach 300.  He has failed to win his last five starts.
  • Craig Biggio needs 11 more hits to reach the 3,000 mark.  He is now in a slump hitting just .237.
  • Sammy Sosa has 599 home runs, just one shy of 600.  Although he has hit 11 homers this year, he has just one since May 22 with 75 at bats.
  • Jim Thome needs 20 homers to reach the 500 plateau.  He hit 42 home runs last season yet has only 8 this year.
  • Manny Ramirez also needs 20 homers to reach 500.  Last year he had nearly twice as many home runs by this point in the season.

I described in earlier blog entries how “over motivation” reduces performance.  Is that what we are observing here? These players are all performing worse as they get closer to their goals.  But are they performing worse BECAUSE they are getting closer to their goals?  Or is this just a coincidence?  Does anyone know of any studies that show the performance of athletes as they get closer to major – and highly publicized – milestones?  Do you have personal experiences that support or refute this perspective?

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How to Remain Detached

June 17, 2007

Doug Busch, former Chief Information Officer at Intel once told me, “The best things I have ever done in my career came shortly after I decided that the best thing that could happen to me is that they fire me.” Doug is referring to the concept of detachment. Detachment is not indifference. It is about acting with a commitment to the future while focusing on the present. For example, if you are in a job interview, remaining detached would mean that you listen carefully and answer honestly, without concern about the outcome.

In the book I describe one approach for remaining detached: Attach yourself to something of higher value. If you are in sales, attached yourself to serving customers rather than focusing on the sale. If you want to stop a bad habit, replace it with a healthier habit.

I recently had a conversation with a woman who claimed to use the detachment concept to “stay sane.” She said that husband and kids drive her crazy and that the house is always in a frenzied state of affairs. Rather than getting stressed, she detaches from the mania by “attaching” herself to making her house a better place to live. Her approach? She spends hours every day on the internet researching lighting, fixtures, and other ways of improving her house for her family.

I question if this is a healthy attachment. It seems like an escape mechanism or a distraction. It enables her to avoid dealing with her situation. And given the amount of time she spends online, it might even be an obsession.

How can you tell if your attachments are healthy? Healthy attachments should:

  • be present moment focused and not about achieving a future objective
  • have you engage and interact with others (rather than sitting on your computer)
  • (potentially) be in the service of, or contributing to others
  • increase the level of honesty in your interaction with others

In the book I quoted David Wood the (then) Vice Present of Sales for the Americas for the Bose Corporation. He said, “I’m personally satisfied at the end of the day if I made a difference for someone personally; if someone’s efforts were furthered along with my help. I have this intense desire to feel like I have made an investment in someone else and the company. I am not driven by money or status. I’m not even comfortable partaking in privileged company benefits. Rather, I am driven by contribution, what I do, and the value I add.” This philosophy must be working. David is now Senior Vice President and General Manager of GN/Jabra’s US operations. He continues to live a passionate, creative, and successful life.

How are your “future” attachments preventing you from being present, being honest, and playing full out?  How can you attach to something of higher value such that you achieve greater success with less stress?

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A Simple Test

June 7, 2007

I put together a simple test that takes less than 2 minutes to complete.

It tests your ability to perform a seemingly straight-forward activity.

Want to give it a try?

Click here to launch the video (WMV format – 7Meg)

There is audio associated with the video, but the test can easily be done without any sound. Viewing in “full screen” mode (Alt-Enter in Windows Media Player) makes it easier to see.

Thanks to Jordan L. LeBel, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Food and Beverage Management & Marketing at Cornell University. He is an expert in chocolate and provided the delicious picture included in this video.

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Interview by JD Messinger on CNN Radio

June 7, 2007

Last week I was a guest on JD Messinger’s Global Evolution™ show on CNN radio in Houston, Texas.

The hour long broadcast was recorded in four segments.

  • Interview with Stephen Shapiro Part 1 – Goal Free or Goal Less?
  • Interview with Stephen Shapiro Part 2 – People who do it
  • Interview with Stephen Shapiro Part 3 - Three secrets
  • Interview with Stephen Shapiro Part 4 – Does money make you happy?

You can listen to the recordings of our interview by clicking here

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