Thursday, December 30, 2004

Remarkable People

The following quote came to me in one of the email newsletters that I subscribe to from Kirk Weisler.

“Breakthrough performance is rooted in remarkable people. To attract, retain and leverage remarkable people YOU must weave the connection between their passions, their work, and one another.”

Dick Eaton
Founder and Chief Energizing Officer
Leapfrog Innovations

I think the essence of this statement is that you have to connect the people with the right talents with the right roles. If they have the right talents or passions then they will thrive in the corresponding role. I think oftentimes we are obliged to accept people with acquired skills rather than holding out for true talent.

One thing I believe is that every person has valuable talents and sometimes they don't realize what they are. Sometimes a manager needs to help his or her people identify what those talents are and steer them in a direction that will allow them to apply those talents on a daily basis.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Talent vs Skills vs Knowledge

In one of my new favorite movies, "Napoleon Dynamite," Napoleon laments the fact that he doesn't have any good skills and that girls only like guys with skills. While girls may look for guys with skills, I am learning that talent is the most important attribute in the workplace.

I am in the middle of a book called First, Break All the Rules: What the World's Greatest Managers Do Differently by Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman of the Gallup Organization. In it they describe the difference between talent, skills and knowledge. Talent is hardwired in the person over time. Skills are abilities that can be learned. Knowledge is the accumulation of information or experiences that enhance your ability to process your surroundings or activities. Talent is the most important of the three in the workplace because you need people with the natural ability to excell in the role that they are placed.

They describe talents as the result of the natural filters that we use to perceive our environments and stimuli. If I have a filter which allows me to stay calm under fire, then they say that is a talent. I agree with this to a certain extent. I also believe as I wrote earlier that some people have a talent for changing their filters and are therefore very adaptable, but this isn't the main point.

The main point is that you need to look for the right set of talents for each particular role. If you are lucky enough to find people with the right combination of talents, your projects will have a better chance of succeeding. While this may seem obvious, it is not something that is put into practice very easily. We seem to have the notion that we can mold people into what we want them to be, that they can change and improve. While it is true that people can change, it is also true that people rarely ever change that much. You can coach someone to be more assertive if a role calls for it, but if they don't have a talent for being assertive it will always be a challenge for them.

The authors really emphasize the need to focus on talent. If you think about it, this means that they are advocating that you hire someone with the right set of talents over someone with significantly more knowledge or skills applicable to a particular role. I am not sure yet how to identify whether someone has the right set of talents through a resume and one or more interviews. Maybe that's later in the book.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Project Moxie

I am finding that the success of any project can be traced to one or two people with the drive to solve problems and make things happen. That person can be any member of the project team. If somebody on the team has the desire to get things done and the time to focus on it, chances are good they will push through.

I think this is true even when a project is structured in a formal or semi-formal project lifecycle with PMI-certified project managers. Project management adds a level of predictability and visibility to the project that is difficult to achieve otherwise. But a successful project can always be traced to a few people with moxie. Oftentimes it is a project manager who provides the moxie.

After a while you can tell those who have it from those who don't. It is important to note here that it is not realistic to expect everyone to have the same amount of moxie. We all have different talents, and there is a need for hardworking people with lower moxie levels. The tough thing to do as a hiring manager is to find talented people with moxie. It happens less than 10% of the time.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Enterprise Architecture

As I wrote previously, I am working on an enterprise architecture for my employer. It's an exciting thing to work on. Never has the development of an enterprise architecture been more important to companies. IT and business strategies are becoming more and more interdependent, and vendors are responding by creating on-demand services and by providing granular applications.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Thoughts on Blogging

I started my first weblog while I was working for the state of Utah. Phil Windley, then the CIO of the state, encouraged state workers to start weblogs. I was one of a small handful that followed his suggestion. It was a very educational experience in two ways: first, I learned about the power of blogging, and second, I learned that state employment and the open communication encouraged by blogging do not mix well.

Phil has suggested recently that I start blogging again. I had been thinking about it and his suggestion pushed me over the edge. In order to blog you really have to get over yourself, especially if it is a collection of your thoughts and ruminations. It's going to be out there for everybody to read. That's just the nature of this medium. You have to be OK with that.

Recently I was at an event in the town I grew up in. A person I knew from my childhood came up to me and mentioned that he had read about me on the internet-and in my own words. He had found my blog somehow. At first I was a little caught off guard. What did he read? What had I written about? I finally had to tell myself to let it go, to get over it, and that it was ok.

Now, I am not saying that I am going to write about just anything. If you look at some of the more successful bloggers, like Windley, you will see a very narrow range of subjects on their blogs. Sure, you will see the occasional posting on something off the wall, but mostly they stay on topic. I guess that's a safe way to go, especially if you want your blog to be your own little PR tool. That's not a bad purpose for a blog. It only works if you can write something interesting.

People Patches

I have a social theory that goes something like this:

People need patches just like operating systems. Sometimes a person or a situation will come along that you are not currently equipped to handle. Maybe they have a strange personality or have difficulty communicating, or maybe it is a situation that you have never encountered before. These situations require that you install a patch to handle this new situation or deal with the person. The trick is figuring out what that patch is.

Before you install the patch you have to evaluate the situation and ask yourself, "What do I need in order to deal with this?" If you can answer that question and act accordingly, then you have successfully installed the patch and you can move on.

I am also convinced that some people are not capable of patching themselves. Generally speaking, no one else can apply the patch for them. For example, we all know someone who, no matter how hard they try, they can't get along with a particular personality type. Or another example would be people who just want to stay in their own comfortable job and not expand into new situations or opportunities.

Really what I am talking about here is the ability to learn and adapt to new people and new situations. If you can do this you can deal with almost anyone effectively. It takes a certain level of mental and emotional flexibility and a high degree of maturity. Something to work on.

Book Review: Hackers and Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age

The best part about Hackers and Painters by Paul Graham is the explanation at the beginning of the book about why nerds are unpopular in high school. It went downhill from there. In the end it turned into what I felt was a self-congratulatory diatribe about the Lisp programming language. It was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end. No, actually I kept reading because of my compulsion to finish whatever book I begin reading.

Actually, someone I know had personal dealings with the author, Paul Graham during the heyday of the dot coms. Their opinion of him matched the tone of my review.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Napkin Analysis

One of the interesting challenges of my current job is dealing with enterprise architecture. I know, I know, enterprise architecture spans not only IT systems, but also business processes and ultimately the strategy of the org. There are all sorts of books and theories and processes and models that are available out there, but nothing beats just getting things mapped out on a legal pad or a napkin.

It is very interesting how many little systems we have supporting discrete insular business processes. The relationships between these systems and processes start to become visible with the smallest amount of analysis. I am starting to formulate in my own mind a picture of what the enterprise should look like.

Late Nite Deploy

I am the director of development for Sento Corporation and I am currently observing a major deployment for a major customer. It is going relatively well, given the complexity of the system. These middle-of-the-night pushes are significant events in the culture of any group that produces web applications.

Friday, December 10, 2004

You May Already Know Me

I have decided to start blogging again. Some of you may already know me as I have used Radio off and on for a few years now, but I just couldn't bring myself to pay another $39.95 when I could blog for free here.