Friday, March 30, 2012

Bunting For Singles

I played my fair share of baseball as a child, but I am not a big fan.  Each spring, as many of my friends get excited about spring training, I am left scratching my head.  That said, I have a few interests that may perplex others, so I am not judging.  Though not a baseball fan, I am a fan of sports analogies and an even bigger fan of getting stuff done.  While reading The Accidental Creative, I came across a baseball  analogy that struck a chord with me, the concept of "bunting for singles".

Those of us familiar with baseball are well aware that there are scenarios where bunting for a single is the right call.  Though, the idea of giving one batter after the next the bunt sign, or asking the same batter to bunt at each at bat, makes absolutely no sense (even if it is coach pitch, and that's another post altogether).  At the same time, a batter who decides to take the bat out of his own hands despite coach's direction is disheartening.  As a young Sailor, there were many times when I would come up to the plate knowing that all I wanted to do was make contact (i.e. not make a mistake) and would square to bunt.  I wasn't worried about making ground, my objective was merely to not lose any.  I did not have confidence in my ability to swing away and therefore rarely did.  With that approach, my swing never got better and my batting average was dismal.  But, I made contact and, at the time, that was good enough for me, as I wasted growth opportunity after growth opportunity.

Fortunately, I reached a point where I became less concerned about making contact and more interested in learning to hit the ball beyond the infield.  I also made it a point to spend time with people who took pride in their swing and were committed to not bunt unless specifically directed to do so (and even then tried to convince "the coach" otherwise).  The concept of "bunting for singles" quickly became foreign to me and my batting average slowly went up and the pace of progress across the team increased.

As a leader, I refuse to give any member of our team the bunt sign.  In fact, I become extremely disappointed when I see a Shipmate square to bunt.  Don't get me wrong, I understand the tendency to be more concerned with not losing than being interested in winning, but the sooner in life we get over it, the more likely we are to reach our potential.  I'd rather go down swinging away (and watch others do the same) than fouling off bunt attempts or even outrunning the throw to first base.

Swing hard, swing often - bunting leads us toward mediocrity (at best)...   

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

It's The Network, Stupid

I just finished watching "The Social Network" for the second time.  I don't know how much of it is true, but what an amazing story!  Makes me think of many things.  The first time I watched it, the main take-away was the reminder that good ideas are nothing without execution (yes, I side with Zuckerberg on that point).  The second time, the take-away was no less subtle, merely more evidence of the significance our individual network has on both our ability to get things done and our ability to enjoy life.  

Those of us who work in a computer related field are well aware of Moore's Law, which states that the number of transistors on a chip will double approximately every 18 months. Some are familiar with Metcalfe's Law, which states that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of the number of connected users. Those of us in the "getting things done" business might take a slightly different angle on both. I offer that the value of a personal network is proportional to the square of the number of quality people in our network. At the same time, the speed of that personal network getting things done exponentially increases through the deliberate growth of that network over time. In essence, these computing laws apply to the world of human interaction.  Clearly not rocket science, and though many will call it common sense, it is far from common practice.

As a junior officer, I was not the least bit interested in growing my network. I was going to repay my education by completing my minimum service obligation and nothing more. Due to that approach, I missed numerous opportunities to learn from my peers, grow in meaningful ways, and create partnerships that would only grow in value over time. I ignored the laws of both Moore and Metcalfe and my ability to contribute was marginalized. As I near the 20 years of service milestone, it is obvious that I did quite a bit more than my minimum five year payback and though time is a metric, in isolation, it is hardly a metric of value. What was different about the most recent 15 years when compared to the first five? Easy, I grew to understood the value of the network!

Like so many great lessons I continue to learn in my professional life, the source of this epiphany was my Chief Petty Officer. The way "My Chief" worked within his peer group to magically get things done was not lost on me. There were many times when we would hit a wall. He would simply excuse himself and return a short time later with a smile.  His smile came to mean, "Don't ask me how LT, just know that our problem is no longer."  We talked many times while underway about the strong traditions within the Chief's Mess and their uncanny way of working together to get things done.  I wanted that ability to get things done, yet I knew as an officer I would never "be accepted by the Mess."  From that point on, I committed to doing my part cultivate a "Mess-like" culture. A peer-centric environment focused on self-correction, teamwork, and selflessly getting things done.

Upon my decision to make the Navy my career, I purposefully...

- Reached out to strong nodes in hopes of plugging into their network
- Cast nets in hopes of collecting additional nodes with the intent of making them strong over time
- Created a Tribe of people who get things done regardless of their current job title or position description

I can tell you that 15 years later, that network is large in number and larger in strength.  I'd like to say there is nothing this tribe of deliberate actors cannot get done, but we do hit obstacles.  Obstacles in the form of careerists, those who are quick to remind us a given initiative is not our job, and those who are simply far more comfortable admiring the problem than helping to fix it.

Though I am thankful for "My Chief" helping me to see the flaws in my approach, I do wish I had changed my ways earlier.  It is said that the best day to plant a tree was 30 years ago, the second best is today.  The day I planted the proverbial tree, was a day that changed many things for me.  It simultaneously started me down the equivalent of Moore's Law and Metcalfe's Law.

I can tell you that I purposefully use Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ to varying degrees.  In each case, I don't measure the network by the number, I measure it by the strength of the nodes.  Those in the network are there for a reason.  They bring value to my life and I do my best to return the favor.  It's not necessarily about the on-line network, but it is about the network.

How strong is your network?
How quickly is your tribe getting things done?
How are you leveraging Metcalfe's Law?

If your interested in joining our tribe, let me know.  The only barrier to entry is a desire to add value and follow through...

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Luxury Items No Longer

It was a long time ago, but Plebe Year at the Naval Academy is an experience I will never forget.  As time goes on, the memories may become a little exaggerated, as we recall "The last real Plebe Year" just as any graduating class, but certain experiences will remain crystal clear.  I will never forget certain menus, the names of some influential upperclass, the friends I made, or our five basic responses to the many questions that came our way...

- Yes, Sir/Ma'am!
- No, Sir/Ma'am!
- Aye, Aye, Sir/Ma'am!"
- No excuse, Sir/Ma'am!
- I'll find out, Sir/Ma'am!

"I don't know, Sir/Ma'am!" was unacceptable and with good reason.  We had a responsibility to know and we made a commitment to learn (or at least memorize).  Back then (pre-internet), finding out often proved to be an arduous or at least time consuming task.  It might mean a trip across The Yard to the library, it might mean endless searches through various editions of Jane's Fighting Ships, or it might mean tutorials from classmates and upperclass inquisitions.  I have been away from The Yard for too long to even guess at what may or may not have changed, but that is not the point.  The commitment to finding answers to questions and not being satisfied with "I don't know" is something that was deeply ingrained in each plebe, year in and year out.  What has changed is the ease with which the answers can be found.

Last week, one of my many great Shipmates hosted a brown bag session about Safari Books On-line.  (If you are currently serving in the Navy or are a dependent, I highly recommend you get an account).  During the session, he astutely told the audience that "Being informed is no longer a luxury we can't afford."  Yes, there was a time when knowledge was a luxury item because the barrier to informing ourselves was too great. We needed access to teachers, involved parents, or other authority figures who had the knowledge and were willing to share.  We needed to purchase encyclopedias or find our way to the library that may or may not have been all that local.  Today, there are no barriers, there are no excuses, and the answers are at our fingertips.  In fact, information is so available, many are beginning to question (myself included) the value of the rote memorization and multiple choice test model still so prevalent today.  We ought spend more time learning critical thinking skills and demonstrating application of those skills, and less time regurgitating facts that in many cases we are likely never to use.  When we can "Google" the answer to any piece of trivia, do we care that we know the specific date of a historical event or that we understand and can apply the lessons we learned through the experiences of others as a result of said event?  I think the show "Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader?" demonstrates the fact that 5th Grade doesn't matter in the real world, and our current approach to elementary education does little to produce life skills of any meaningful value, but that's a different discussion.

Like many of the people with whom I serve, I am a big fan of creating growth opportunities and providing all interested parties with the tools needed to realize our individual and collective potential.  The challenge is in seeing so few people capitalize on the opportunities or take us up on our offers.  There was a time when people may have wanted to learn and become more informed, only to lack the resources needed.  Nowadays, the only resources needed are desire and follow-through.  People who don't walk through the doors others open for them need only look in the mirror when they don't get promoted, achieve a previously stated goal, or receive a less than stellar performance appraisal.  People who choose to go through life uninformed are fine with responding with "I don't know" and have trouble taking responsibility for a given outcome.  People who truly care enough to know rarely utter those words.  My Shipmate nailed it, "Being informed is no longer a luxury we can't afford" unless, of course, you don't care enough to "Find Out".  We have the tools, why not use them?