Archive for January, 2011

Dynamic Equilibrium in People

January 31st, 2011

Why have you struggled with changing your behavior or the behavior of people in your organization?  You may desperately want to change and have made several attempts.  The lack of results is not indicative of your desire for change.

Perhaps it is because in addition to the burning drive to make a change, there is a stronger desire to maintain the status quo.  And it isn’t just avoid change.  It isn’t just that your co-workers are afraid of something new.  Rather, there is something else you or they are pursuing that maintains things as they are.

This is a core concept form the book Immunity to Change.  It has stuck with me (although I can’t fully recommend the book as it is a bit long and dry).

Rather than Immunity to Change, I like to call it Dynamic Equilibrium in people.

A physical system can be at rest because no forces are acting on it.  Or it can be at rest because intensely strong opposing forces are acting on it.  The first is known as static equilibrium and the later as a dynamic equilibrium.  I think this happens in people and in organizations.

An example to make this more concrete: a manager wants to work fewer hours at the office, have more control over his time and focus on the most valuable projects – all-in-all increasing personal productivity.  He sets a goal of delegating more and leaving earlier.  Yet he struggles to follow through on the goal.  Perhaps it is because of a competing goal or desire?  For example, the manager may be deeply committed to “being a good manager”.  And the internal definition may include “being there for my people” or “removing obstacles or solving problems for my team”.  As this may play out in practice, the desire to be a good manager leads to encouraging employees to interrupt with day-to-day issues without taking the time to learn how to resolve them on their own.  It can lead to longer hours in the office, because “being there for my team” because a physical act.

Do you see how the manager is committed to two separate belief systems?  Identifying this conflict and learning how to resolve it is a topic for another time.  (And I’m not sure I’m an expert at it!)

Do you have any other examples of Dynamic Equilibrium?

Book: The Choice

January 28th, 2011

Recently finished The Choice by Eliyahu Goldratt.  He is the author of The Goal and I have read many of his books, yet had not realized he has some new ones in the last few years.  Finished it in a single sitting.

The book is told as a Socratic dialogue regarding living a full life (not the same as easy) and supply chains in retailing.  I won’t cover the tips on supply-chains here as I think that topic is well covered elsewhere.  Or you could read the book.

Rather, I wanted to share another part of the book that revolves around a quote from Issac Newton:  “Nature is exceedingly simple and harmonious with itself.”  Goldratt explains is philosophy of life is tied to at least three pieces of this statement.  And it is more than just Occam’s razor or some scientific mysticism:

1.        Inherent Simplicity: the world we live in everyday is run by humans and therefore we already have the inherent knowledge and intuition to make sense of it.  In his experience, the belief that a few causes (or often one root cause), allows people to reach greater understanding and find powerful changes they want to make.  A systems complexity should be thought of not as the number of parts and their interconnections, but rather the number of things you need to change in order to control the system.

2.       Complex Conflicts Aren’t Real: Apparent contradictions or bad compromises are based on faulty assumptions/beliefs.  If we look at a deeper level, we often can find a way to resolve the apparent conflict and achieve both ends without a strict trade-off.  Which leads to the next one…

3.       Win-Win  Harmony: Harmony in relationships between people or companies means win-win solutions are assumed to be possible (non-zero-sumness).  Instead of focusing on how to divide up the existing pie, consider what can be done to grow it.

On the flip side, each of these can be states as one of the barriers that keep people from achieving:

1.       We assume the world is complex and too hard to understand.

2.       We believe that a conflict (or some problem) is just part of the “way things are” and therefore is unsolvable.  Sometimes we are so used to the biggest problems we grapple with that we cease to see them and therefore ignore the biggest opportunities for solutions.

3.       We blame the other party and therefore do not attempt to change things under our control. (I think this is also known in physiology as the fundamental attribution error.  When something goes wrong, it is assume to be a mistake if I’m involved and a character fault or you acting in bad faith if you were involved.  It’s believed to be pretty fundamental to humans.)

There is more to the book, but this part alone was very motivating to me.

Wanted: Full Text Search for Call Center

January 27th, 2011

Here’s another software application that I’d love to see.  In fact, I think if someone built it, many companies would pay good money for

In many live customer service environments, all the calls are recorded.  In addition, notes are taken and surveys are conducted.  Managers listen to calls, run reports on tickets and ask frontline staff to count things and give feedback.  All this is the state of the art and works fine as it goes.

But what if you could use really good speech recognition (does it exist yet – maybe?) to transcribe every call.  Then allow any authorized person to do a full text search across calls to find examples of issues they are looking to address.  Or better yet, have the software automatically make a word cloud every 15 mins and project it on the wall.  Have it flag trending issues and bubble them up for resolution.

For extra points and added security, automatically remove personally identifiable information from the transcription.

I bet you’ll get much better feedback and information from service lines to be able to solve problems and improve products/process/communication.

Anyone a taker?  If it exists already, please come talk to me.

Geolocation Shopping App

January 23rd, 2011

Ben, Kam, Jeff and I were kicking around ideas the other night.  We came-up with a business we wish existed.  Has anyone built this yet?

Imagine that you have a smart-phone app that helps you get a good deal for items you want to buy online and offline.  And it reminds you when you should buy something offline.

There are various apps that helping you keep a shopping list (for example, my wife uses GroceryIQ).  You can scan a UPC of something at home to remind yourself to buy more of it. Or you can type in the item you want.  When you’re at the store, you can pull-up the app to review your list.

If the app could use geolocation and an inventory feed (or guess?) for when you’re in (near?) an appropriate store, it could remind you to buy items.  For me personally, I can forget to buy certain drugstore items for quite some time.  Real-time couponing is an obvious revenue stream.  If more merchants sent SKU-level data via credit card networks, the app could know what you bought and check things off the list for you.  We were trying to come up with a way to crowdsource the inventory fees, although that might not be easy.

I think there are also apps (for example ScanLife) that scan a UPC and tell you where to buy online for a better price.  You can use this offline in-store if you can wait for the item.  It would be nice to combine those into the same apps.

And the next step is that the system maintains your shopping list for you based on your usage as home.  I guess it could track RFID tags on products as they move in and out of the house.  That sounds a bit further off.

Been Busy

January 23rd, 2011

I know it’s been a while since I blogged.  My excuses include: an IPO, a marathon and most of all a first-born son.  Will you forgive me?

I have been blogging for our internal Higher One company blog, although that probably doesn’t help you much.  On the other hand, I have been more active with my twitter account.  In fact, we’ve been experimenting with another Twitter handle for Higher One-related things at @MilesHigherOne.  Follow either or both if you’re interested.

I was playing around with and set-up a page for myself.  In the process, I realized that my bio here was out-of-date.  I’ve updated it to make it current.

The main item is that I’ve come off the Yale Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility (reviewing social, environmental and other similar issues for the Yale endowment) and joined the board of the Yale-New Haven Hospital.  It is a fascinating time to be more in healthcare and I’ve been learning a lot.  If you have any ideas or tips for me, please let me know.