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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The T-shaped people

A friend of mine became the CEO of a company. He is very good - in solving technical problems - in the past he designed single-handedly new IT systems and solutions to complex problems.

Now since he became the so called highest level executive manager of the organization, he was forced to get away from technical problem solving - he was suppose to lead the company, take it the next level as per the market needs, think customers, think relationships, think conflict resolution, think creating future capabilities. Well so much and so many thinking needs - where is the execution part. However, whenever he get the nitty-gritty technical problems he will contribute much more. In fact, he designed technical systems (based on his past memory) in the board room - everything for him can be automated. His only direction to solve any problem is how to automate and everytime he gets a kick out of automation solution to any problem.

Secondly, since the CEO himself by his action setting up this direction, everyone of his reportees also got into technical problem solving - in fact designing technical solutions for the day-to-day problems - trying to automate everything and getting their Techie Kicks out of it.

However, Employees, Clients, Suppliers and partners who were suppose to work through the highly automated systems that the CEO was interested in designing became extremely frustrated with no focus in the big picture communication and design.

His company suffered. He got out of the job, with enough money - and he got into technical problem solving as R&D Scientist in one of the companies.

Well the lessons are -

Higher you go in the organization - bigger the picture should be - even if the depth in one or two areas may not be there. However, there is a concept of "T" Employees which IDEO talks about (http://www.ideo.com). The design employees needed should have broad exposure, interests, aptitute and attitude while having deep competencies in one or two key areas.

Can the CEO's get away with only Breadth or only depth? Come to think about - can anyone of us get along with only depth or only breadth? The new world - where emphasis is on change, learning, knowledge, networking and Innovation - it is the T shaped people who will succeed. Is that so?

The way we solve problems

How do we solve problems?

First we acknowledge something to be a problem only when it becomes a pain in the, well, neck. Unless it becomes a monster hitting us where it really hurts - we dont look at it at all. May be - since we have been told to Stop Worrying Be Happy, we forget about any active problem hunting. Here in lies the first danger - Stop Worrying doesnt imply Stop Thinking. How can we be proactive in hunting problems - (1) Be there to observe how and what our customers need - dont ask - all Feedback systems fail to get to the essence of what is needed (2) Spend time in observing, getting inputs, looking at how our customers do their work and then think some more - well our Top Managers must be saying - you cant keep on thinking DO - Act - Execute - Well execution without thinking or what the Japanese call Hansei, is a recipe for disaster.

Second, we invariably or 99% of time design the solutions for wrong problems. This is for the simple reason we have not spent time in developing the problem - describing it from multiple perspectives - looking at it from inside and outside.

After we have developed a solution for the wrong problem - which also by the way will be a sub-optimal solution - we find the actual problem to be different because in our cause-effect mind, the solution that we proposed havent triggered the desired results. Then we say Oh - the real problem is not what we solved but THIS. Now comes the fantastic ingenuity of human mind and lethargy in letting go of partial success - we say any way we have a solution that we designed for what we thought is the problem - now how can we use the solution to solve the newly identified problem. We work on tweaking the solution, refining it adding more components to achieve new functionality needed. This leads to the solution becoming more complex than the orginal problem. In fact, the Monsters that we create need to be managed now - we will create infrastructure to manage it - we will not let it go at all. After all that has given us past success. Any body knows how many Enterprise IT systems have become these monsters?

This is a problem fission reaction - that keeps on building bigger and bigger complexity rather than Value needed by the end customers. Had we spent more time in thinking about existing and future needs of the user - may be we would solve problems that really need to be solved?

Think - Think deeply - however Observe and Learn are two very strong - unfortunately highly neglected ACTION verbs in solving problems.

This is not about too much analysis leading to paralysis (thats where may be the Post Facto Data Analyts get into - Six Sigma Experts (The pseudo ones) are listening!) - it is about active processing of experiences.

It has to be beyond Politics, beyond specific persons, beyond specific relationships, beyond petty personal gains - it has to be at a higher selfish goal - as My selfish goal is that I win if my customers create more- everyday!

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