Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Spirit That Animates the Machine

Creative people have a great advantage and a great problem. The great thing is that they have Spirit. The problem is they tend not to have Machines (systems, processes of delivery, etc.). What you get is a lot of great ideas that never get done. Great art created but never seen. Amazing investments in the soul of a culture that goes unnoticed.

Administrative people have a great advantage and a great problem. They have great Machines. The problem is they tend to not have much Spirit. They miss the reasons why the Machine was created. What you get is great information that doesn't mean anything. A better widget that no one wants to use. The minutia of timelines, deadlines and deliverables that doesn't get anything done that needs to get done.

If you lean towards more Spirit partner with someone that makes Machines. If you are someone that makes Machines partner with someone that has great Spirit.

It's amazing to see what happens when the Spirit animates the Machines.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Take a Little Piece of My Heart

What captures your imagination? Where are you devoting time and more importantly money? What have you bled for? Sacrificed? What distracts you from these great projects?

In Nehemiah the haters have come and their plans have been thwarted but now the project is really dealing with problems. In the project management world it's called "mission creep". Other things are vying for attention. Important things. So much so that the people are working on the wall with one hand and carrying a weapon with the other. The Bible says they didn't take their clothes off at night. They were perpetually in a state of preparedness while doing intense physical labor to complete the wall.

Just a few verses earlier it says that "the people worked with all their heart." My guess is they weren't now. They were still committed to the project. That's obvious by the conditions that they were dealing with. But my guess is there was a piece of that heart being taken and focused on their own well-being and safety, on the distraction caused by the haters and by their own fear.

Mission Creep is dangerous. Life happens and there is no way to avoid every distraction but beware of losing a piece of your heart from the greater vision. Critics are not going away. Distractions are not going away. Challenges are not going away. But you can still build something great if you continue with all of your heart.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Measures of Success - Last Call

I've continued to have some great conversations wrestling with this idea of success and how to measure it. I don't have it all worked out but here are some final thoughts on processing success.

1. Define Success - Andy Stanley calls it "defining the win". You have to define the win for yourself and for those around you. This is important because if it's too general the goals will be too easy to interpret differently. "Have a lot of people show up to my film screening" is different than "Have 300 in attendance at a film screening on July 22 ."

2. Make a plan - I think this is a step that is often left out. It's great to say have 300 people in attendance at the film screening. Great. Now what are the tactical, strategic steps you have to take to get 300 people in the seats? You might not know 3oo people so you have to figure out how to connect with them. Maybe that means a website, some kind of invitation, going on the radio. Without some kind of specific plan and some idea of what needs to happen it will be like driving a bumper car blindfolded and expecting to hit a target on the other side of the arena.

What this will end up doing is letting you know that your original goal is too big or too small. It will also give you a path to follow in order to achieve success.

3. Check in regularly - This is setting up small goals and deadlines along the way. And this is critical... use the information to make course corrections. If everything is on track everyone is happy. But maybe you find an opportunity to make even better use of your resources or come up with another idea to achieve the win. If the smaller goals aren't being met the tendency will be to start stressing out, maybe pointing fingers, maybe giving up.

Use the information to make course corrections and make tough decisions. Don't use the information to beat yourself or others. It's just not productive. And this is difficult for creative people because it so easy to think more highly of ourselves than we should when we're on a creative high but more often it's easy to think very little of ourselves or those around us.

It's just information. They are facts. Use them.

4. Celebrate the win or learn from the loss - This connects with the previous point. If you knock the ball out of the park, celebrate! If you were expecting 300 and 25 people showed you have to realize the event was a failure not you. The planning was a failure not you. Learn from the pain and move on.

There is a lot more about success and how to measure it but I'm still processing all of it. In some areas I'm better than others. I tend to do better in work environments and not as well in the family environment.

What about you? How do you process this? Are you better in some areas than others?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Measures of Success - Roller Coaster

Recently my 3 year old rode a kids roller coaster at a zoo. When describing it he motioned with his hand the waves and the turns while saying, "And it went up, up, up and then swoosh," as his hand swings round and round.

When thinking about how to measure success it seems that there is often no simple trajectory. If you work for a large corporation you will have vast differences in the success level of departments and there is a huge averaging of the whole company. So one department might be failing miserably but another department is wildly successful. The end result is that the company is average. The problem here is that large problems can be hidden in measuring success. In smaller organizations the numbers are more difficult to hide and the impact on the overall picture is more pronounced. If you are looking at your individual life there are many areas that you can keep failure under wraps for a long period of time.

So how do we counteract this roller coaster? Let's face it. If the numbers are up everything is fine. People get their bonuses, the boss is happy and we tend to stop paying attention to signals and information coming in. If the numbers are down there is a great upheaval, there is the temptation to fudge the data, defensive postures are taken within the organization and all manner of other internal issues that compound the problems.

I think one of the reasons we have this roller coaster affect is the choices we make in what we measure (and maybe as important, what we don't measure), how we interpret what we measure and how we define success. If the measure of success for my children is becoming a professional sports player it won't be good for any of us. I can measure their height, speed, strength. And I will see that they just aren't going to measure up. That will affect how I interact with them because I have defined success for my children as being something that they never will become. This works in reverse as well. If I set my standards so low that I don't ask anything of my kids I will not be helping them to grow or shape the future that they could have.

How we define success and what we choose to measure (or don't measure) will play a huge role in how the ups and downs of the roller coaster play out in our organizations, in our families and in our individual lives.