Passions

During Thanksgiving it’s a time for food, family, and watching copious amounts of TV and movies. This year those movies included “Somm” which is a movie about 4 guys trying to take the Master Sommelier test. Which apparently only about 12% pass each year. Not a super low amount, but also not an easy exam in any way shape or form. It got me thinking about if I could become a Somm (as they are called in the business according to the movie). I think that I do have the right kind of mind for the job, remember flavors of wines the history of region of wine and all of that is right up my alley. I know that, because that’s what I used to do with beer. I used to be able to rattle of several types of beers that if you liked one kind or style that might push your boundaries and give some of the reasoning behind it. I was able to explain why a beer tasted the way it did, etc… That was something I loved and was really passionate about. However, wine just doesn’t hold the same level of interest to me. I don’t know if it’s because beer feels much more close to home, my friends drank beer and avoided wine or what it is. Even now that I cannot drink beer I still haven’t really replaced it with a beverage I’m passionate about. I drink both wine and cider, but I don’t feel a deep down passion for them. Likewise I don’t think I could do that with whiskey, even though I really enjoy drinking whiskey, it just hasn’t captured my imagination as a GREAT drink that I want to learn everything about.

More broadly, the movie has had me thinking about what I’m truly passionate about. I know that a great deal of my interests are reflections of what my friends are interested in. If I’m surrounded by people that love watching football, I’ll watch a lot more football, similarly for college basketball or hockey. I enjoy the games when I watch them, but I rarely will seek them out on my own. I think this is something that is driving my wife crazy, I simply don’t have a lot of things that I’m passionate about that I’ll invest a huge amount of time into. It’s frustrating for me too. I think that is probably the hardest thing about me being Gluten Free I’ve really lost a great passion of mine.

I think many people will agree that I’m passionate about certain things in our political system. I’m all about free speech, investing in science and technology to grow and enable our economy. But I’m also not 100% all in. I’ve been thinking about how to get involved and in what way I’d do this. Ideally, I’d work at a think tank, but there aren’t many around Portland and many of them are either left wing or right wing. I think on many topics I’m a moderate, so neither party truly inspires much confidence.

I’m also passionate about making people’s lives better at work, but I’m not really getting much support at my organization and I’m getting beaten down. It’s one of the most frustrating things you can deal with on a daily basis, knowing there’s a better way to do things, walking your leaders to the kool-aid, but seeing them spit it out and start drinking from the mud instead.

So this leaves in an odd position. The things I’m passionate for I can’t really follow through, which makes me ask What do I have passion for, what should I try to be doing to find things I could become passionate about, how should I act on the topics I do have passion for? I know that there’s something more out there that I could or should be doing, but i have no idea how to get there.

I’m surrounded by @ssh*les!

Everywhere I look I see bad managers these days. Which is surprising considering that there are articles being published every day with headlines like “People don’t quit companies they quit bad managers” or “Bad Managers are the no 1 reason why people leave their job.” This is a problem specific to one company or one industry, but rather it’s across industries and sectors. I’ve worked in Semiconductor manufacturing, semiconductor design, and now health insurance all of them have had their share of bad managers. It’s not even just home grown managers that make poor decisions, it’s managers that are specifically hired to come in to effect change that don’t have the right skills to do the job that needs to be done.

It is whenever managers are put into a position where they do not have the information they need or the right skills to do the job that they become assholes. This is especially problematic in complex environments and this complexity isn’t linear from person to person, which is to say that a given person might find one level of complexity manageable, while another person may be unable to handle it. So for one manager that could be managing the line at a fast food restaurant, while another it might be managing a project that has 5 internal stakeholders and 5 government regulatory agencies as stakeholders.

In large organizations complexity is only going to increase. In this way complexity is like entropy, it only increases. We implement new policies and likely never eliminate historic policies. This is especially true with government regulations. We rarely sunset those provisions. The only way to manage this complexity is to plan. Like all plans, they are pretty much worthless after you build the plan, but going through the process is invaluable.

For instance, my preferred strategic planning approach is to pull in three types of data, Voice of the Customer, Voice of the Business, and Voice of the Team. Voice of the customer is what your customers are telling you about your existing services and offerings. They can tell you how much you’ve screwed up and where you’ve screwed up. They might not be able to help you identify the next iPhone, but they can tell you not to build the next Blackberry device. Voice of the business is typically the loudest voice at any organization. This is what the C-Suite is telling everyone to do, this is the competitive landscape and the regulatory environment that you operate within. Together these voices are powerful and loud. Finally, the voice of the team is almost always ignored, mostly because the team won’t speak up. This needs to be a true analysis of the capability of the team using Capability Analysis of Business Architects or doing a SWOT. Using these three voices to have a frank conversation, you can build a three to five year road map. Then you can build out your strategy to enable your team to meet your customer needs as well as your business requirements.

Managers become less of an asshole whenever they have clear management processes in place. Clear reasons why they are doing what they are doing. Employees aren’t the only ones that need processes. Managers and leaders need them too. They prevent churn and waste if they stick to them.

What should a manager manage?

Managers should not be managers of people, they must manage processes. Managers should be leaders of people not managers of people. Managing people by watching them closely is not typically a very effective method to ensure that work is completed. Micromanagement breeds mistrust between employee and manager. Through managing the quality of the processes the manager is able to increase the likelihood of success of their people.

All work is a process. Even if there doesn’t appear to be a process if the work is to be fully completed there are a series of steps that must be completed. It doesn’t have to be a good process, a repeatable process, or particularly effective but if the work is completed it followed a process. Furthermore, if more multiple people do the same type of work without a clearly defined process it’s likely that there will inconsistent results to their work. A manager owns the overall output of all the work of their employees. If the work is consistently subpar or employees have a difficult time picking up the way to do the work that is expected of them, this is the responsibility of the manager to address. It doesn’t matter how amazing the employees are, they could have been consistently excelling in a previous, if the processes are terrible those employees will not succeed.

Not every type of work can effectively be managed through traditional software. For example, software and technology development in both these are “knowledge” activities that unlikely would benefit from a highly structured process. In these cases there are two things that help manage the process. First creating a regular process of checking in, managing what work the developers should be doing, and working to eliminate roadblocks – in software this is Agile software development. Second you create a standard process to feed in consistent data into the truly creative process and consistent outputs so that the consumers of the work are able to use the output of the creative process effectively in their work.

To manage the processes managers need to equip their employees and themselves with tools to do root cause analysis, conduct structured problem solving, and rigorous process improvement. Managers need to take ownership of the end to end process, the data their employees use to complete their work, and the quality of the results. It is important that this becomes the norm as it will switch blame from people, who generally want to do the right thing, to the process and how work is completed.

This is not to say that whenever people deviate from the agreed upon process that the manager shouldn’t address that or if people still fail to meet expectations while working in the process that they can’t be fired. However, leading employees to identify broken processes, supporting them in fixing them, and providing tools to do so becomes the role of the manager rather than micromanaging their employees.

Is AI going to kill or us bore us to death?

The interwebs are split over the question of if AI is going to evolve into brutal killing machines or if AI will simply be just another tool we use. This isn’t a debate being asked by average Joes like you and me, it’s being asked by some pretty big intellectuals. Elon Musk thinks that dealing with AI is like summoning demons, while techno-optimist Kevin Kelly thinks that AI is only ever going to be a tool and never anything more than that, and finally you have Erik Brynjolfsson an MIT Professor that believes that AI will supplant humanity in many activities but the best results will come with a hybrid approach (Kevin Kelly does use this argument at length in his article).

Personally I think a lot of Kevin Kelly’s position is extremely naive. Believing that AI will ONLY be something that’s boring and never something that can put us at risk is frankly short sighted. Considering that Samsung, yes the company that makes your cell phone, developed a machine gun sentry that could tell the difference between a man and a tree back in 2006. In the intervening 8 years, it’s likely that Samsung has continued to advance this capability. It’s in their national interest as they deployed these sentries at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Furthermore, with drones it’s only a matter of time that we will deploy an AI that will make many of the decisions between bombing and not bombing a given target. Current we have a heuristic, there’s no reason why that couldn’t be developed into a learning heuristic for a piece of software. This software doesn’t have to even be in the driver’s seat at first. It could provide recommendations to the drone pilot and learn from the choices when it is overridden and when it is not. Actually, the pilot doesn’t even have to know what the AI is recommending and the AI could still learn from the pilot’s choices.

AI isn’t going to be some isolated tool, it’s going to be developed in many different circumstances concurrently by many organizations with many different goals. Sure Google’s might be to find better search, but they also acquired Boston Dynamics which has done some interesting work in robotics. They are also working on developing driverless cars, which will need an AI. What’s to say that the driverless AI couldn’t be co-opted by the government and combined with the AI of the drone pilot to drop bombs or to “suicide” whenever it reaches a specific location. These AIs could be completely isolated from each other but still have the capabilities to be totally devastating. What happens when they are combined? They could at some point through a programmer decision or through an intentional attack on Google’s systems. These are the risks of fully autonomous units.

We don’t fully understand how AI will evolve as it learns more. Machine learning is a bit of a Pandora’s box. It is likely that there will be many unintended consequences, similarly to almost any sort of new technology that’s introduced. However, the ramifications could be significantly worse as the AI could have control over many different systems.

It’s likely that both Kevin Kelly and Elon Musk are wrong. However, we should assume that Musk is right while Kelly is wrong. Not because I want Kelly to be wrong and Musk to be right, but because we don’t understand complex systems very well. They very quickly get beyond our capability to understand what’s going on. Think of the stock market. We don’t really know how it will respond to a given quarterly earnings from a company or even across a sector. There are flash crashes and will continue to be as we do not have a strong set of controls over the high frequency traders. If this is extended across a system that has the capability to kill or intentionally damage our economy, we simply couldn’t manage it before it causes catastrophic damage. Therefore, we must intentionally design in fail safes and other control mechanisms to ensure these things do not happen.

We must assume the worst, but rather than hope for the best, we should develop a set of design rules for AI that all programmers must adhere to, to ensure we do not summon those demons.

What can Interstellar Teach us about the tragedy of the Commons? (spoilers)

This post will contains some minor spoilers for the movie Interstellar. If you don’t want to read any spoilers, then stop reading now.

The tragedy of the commons represents a common good that without proper communication and planning can be destroyed through maximizing an individual’s utility. What does that mean? Well, a group of ranchers are sharing a field. One of them decides to make some additional money by buying, just ONE more head of cattle. He lets it eat in the grass that everyone else is sharing. No negative impact happens, the farmers discuss the number of cattle, which they had all agreed upon beforehand to be a set number. Since he increased his, everyone else does the same, eventually the land will not be able to sustain all the extra head of cattle, and the next year cattle start to die of starvation. Creating a crash in the economy.

According to Stephen Gardiner climate change represents a tragedy of the commons. However, instead of the ranchers, we have our great grand parent’s decision impacting our climate today. Climate change effectively started during the Industrial Revolution and our actions will be impacting future generations. Since the future generation does not have a voice in the conversation, it’s hard for us to put off current needs for future needs. This is further exasperated by the fact that we cannot even work to improve conditions for our own children, let alone some faceless grand child or great grandchild down the road.

Interstellar offers a glimpse into why this is so difficult. First, there’s clearly gaps in education, Interstellar points this out through exaggerating what a lot of school boards are currently doing, they go to the extreme to say that the Apollo missions are faked as a propaganda tool to destroy the Soviet Union. Second, Matthew McConaughey is one of the few forward thinking individuals, but he knows that we are continually leaving worse and worse conditions for our children, as a farmer he can see how poorly we’re fighting the blight that is killing our crops. Third, the time dilation he experiences being close to a blackhole allows him, while he’s still young, to see the full effects of his generations decisions on his children. He’s fully impotent to do anything about it, but he knows that the choices they made have fully doomed his children. Finally and I think most impactful, is the scene where Murph dies. He sees his grand children and great grand children and doesn’t even acknowledge them. He did everything he could for Murph but had no interest in seeing how all of this impacted his’s child’s children. Furthermore, Murph didn’t seem to want him to try to bridge that divide. Rather than try to build a relationship with the world as it was she pushed him to reunite with a crewmate that came from the same “world” as him.

All of these indicate that we have a serious tragedy of the commons problem. That education is required to even have a hope to combat the tragedy of the commons for climate change. That we must figure out a way to see past the here and now and create a seriously forward looking plan. That we cannot simply rely on a few forward thinking people because even they are limited in how much they can look to the future.

This is a serious concern because we now have a leader on the environmental committee in the US congress that doesn’t accept the evidence presented by scientists. Furthermore, the fact that lawmakers aren’t scientists seems to excuse them from understanding what people are saying about climate change.

We cannot expect some “they” to come and allow us to rescue ourselves with “their” help. We have to figure this out on our own. We’re failing miserably right now.

Another book that does a good job outlining these intergernational problems is the Forever War.

Strategy and Business Management

As I mentioned in my Business and Silver Bullets article, there are a lot of different approaches to managing your business, or at least a portion of your business. None of these approaches are easy to implement and it seems that there’s a bit of a revolving door around what leadership approach is the best for a given business. Furthermore, it’s troubling to me that organizations are looking at initiatives like Lean and Six Sigma as only operational improvement opportunities. As I’m reading through how Business Architecture works, it’s obvious to me that many of the organizational deployments of LSS have failed in reaching their full potential. I saw it at Samsung, AMD, and I’m skeptical of the full reach I’m going to have at Regence. It’s not a failure of the individuals deploying it or of a given leader, it’s a failure of the full organization to accept that changes need to happen. Organizations need to integrate approaches like LSS into their core strategic planning process. Otherwise those methodologies will only impact a limited area and won’t appear to have a holistic approach to making changes to an organization.

From my experiences Lean and Six Sigma methodologies can indicate the need for organizational re-alignment. These require real change with serious effort to implement those changes. In many cases those are outside the scope of the project facilitator, the leader of the process improvement center of excellence, and likely the owner of the processes. It’s got to come from an executive sponsor. They have to be able to provide the organizational courage to make real changes to an organization. Through these tools it’s possible to identify redundancies and areas where organizations require massive change.

Why don’t organization implement these changes? Too many priorities is likely one problem. Another is that these changes are hard and unless they are well versed in Lean or organizational structures, they won’t understand why the changes are fundamental to continued success of an organization. They may not understand the changes because they weren’t involved in the redesign process intimately enough. Finally, it might also be that these changes are bottoms up recommendations and not top down.

I believe this is why Business Architecture eventually was a created as a discipline. I believe in organizations that are truly Lean that these types of roles are not needed. Simply because the bottoms up approach allows the leaders to focus on different things especially since a true Lean organization is always customer centric. In organizations that there is a great deal of legacy behavior and entrenched management fiefdoms, it might be a requirement to go through an organization like Business Architecture to give the true sense of ownership to the leaders. It makes the bottoms up recommendations that come from the BA team seem like it’s a top down approach that is sanctioned by all of leadership. It let’s people see that clearer tie between the different organizations in a way that a lot of Lean work doesn’t. It’s designed to be holistic not something grown into the whole over time.

This leads to a different method for developing strategy than what a lot of Lean practitioners utilize. Business Architecture focuses on the current capabilities and works to align the strategy from there. Lean starts with the 5 year vision and goals and figures out how to align existing projects and improvement efforts to enact those goal, through providing a metric for the person doing the work on the ground.

I think that these business management approaches are both valid, I’m really biased towards Lean, but I do believe that in many organizations Business Architecture is likely required. It leaves the control a bit more in the leadership rather than the Lean approach. I believe they both can impact strategy in an effective manner, but it’s likely that BA will be more tightly coupled from the start than many Lean initiatives.