Process vs. Creativity

These two seem like opposites, yet there is always an intermingling. It takes creativity at times to figure out what the process should be, while at the same time when talking about creativity, people often use the term “creative process.”

There is some intermingling to be sure. In my context, a process is a series of defined activities that produce a result. Creativity is the ability to create.

If a process creates something, then it is by definition creative. Using that thought process, they shouldn’t be seen as opposites as they are. What most people are discussing if they place these two apart is a task-based approach vs. an outcome-based approach.

When Pixar makes a new movie, they may have a mix of both, but on the macro-level they are taking an outcome based approach. They are going to adjust constantly until they make a great movie. Conversely, there are companies so large that they take a task-based approach. Follow the script for the sale, and if they don’t go with us, that’s fine, we did it the way we are supposed to.

Task-based approaches are much easier to manage. They require people who don’t want to make decision-making part of their job, nor accountability. The one place where task-based approaches are a god-send are the factory floor. Since this was a significant amount of the jobs, society took this and tried to slap it on every job. Sales. Marketing. Engineering.

Task-based approaches work well when defining a process with a clear, well-defined input, and getting a clear, well-defined output. I have a 4’x8′ piece of sheet metal, that I need to turn into 24 stamped parts for an automobile. They need to be laser cut, then stamped with 3 different dies, the edges knocked off so they don’t cut people, then packaged and shipped. The output is 24 stamped parts according to the customer specifications and the input is a piece of sheet metal.

Pixar works differently, they basically start with “we need a popular family movie.” That’s not well-defined. What is the plot? What are the characters? What is the tension in the story that pulls us in? These are all decisions that are made as the movie develops. There is no well-defined input. The output isn’t well-defined either because no one knew what the story of Wall-E was going to be until it was significantly deep into development. As a result, this is an outcome based approach.

Knowing which game you play in is important as a business. Knowing which game you play in as an employee is even more important. If you’re in the outcome-based positions, don’t sell your value short.

If you want to break plastic…

It’s easier to melt the middle of it with a lighter than to cut it with scissors. This is the result of the hyperelasticity of polymers. They stretch significantly making them hard to cut. Melting it doesn’t have that issue, though you also won’t get a clean cut.

An important part of the work is having the right tool for the right situation, making sure that the tool needed is in the hands of the people who need it. If you took my story about plastic above and you had a 1000′ of plastic in 100′ lengths that needed to be broken down into 1′ strips, giving someone a lighter will be less efficient than finding other means that are more efficient due to the how many times it needs to be repeated. If one 2′ strip needed to be split into 1′ strips, the method efficiency is mostly a non-issue. After scaling up, the efficiency matters.

Moving from a scale where efficiency doesn’t matter much to a scale where it does is a common experience for businesses. Unfortunately, often times in their success, they get caught up in doing more of their current methodology rather than thinking those old methods don’t work at the new scale.

Work from home tips.

Add a transition time.

When I used to drive home, traffic sucked, but it was actually a useful mental transition time. Being at home all day, then turning off immediately at 5 and transitioning into husband and dad is hard. A little time for transitioning is good.

It’s easier said than done. My wife may have had a hectic day with my daughter, and she sees me home and wants to transition as well. Just recognizing it and talking it out may help.

If that doesn’t work, try building a fort out of blankets and hiding in there for a few minutes before anyone can find you. It’s amazing how a change of space can make you feel. 🙂

What does accountability mean?

Accountability means the people reporting to you have some level of control or judgement over what happens after delivering/failing to deliver the results you were tasked with.

To be accountable means to be subordinate. For example, a company owner may still be accountable to his customers. A mayor is still accountable to his citizens, as is a governor, and as is a President.

I’m seeing so much unaccountability in the world right now. We have a sever shortage of accountability, and the demand for it is possibly at an all-time high.

Who are you accountable to, and are you living up to it?

Facebook vs a regular book

They are both reading material, but this is the story of breadth vs. depth. It’s the difference between speaking to one person for a few hours vs speaking to dozens of people in an hour.

It’s likely after having spent 6 hours on Facebook, the value of what you know or what you are capable of is unchanged.

It’s unlikely that after reading a book for 6 hours you feel as though you aren’t somehow better for it in some way.

I’m diminishing the connection to others. My parents use Facebook to see their grandchild. It’s a wonderful medium. The problem is when people start to default to it. To feel as if they are going somewhere to feed their brain information.

A book can be a wonderful thing, and a wonderful break from a screen filled world. Perhaps it’s time to up your book quota, and decrease your social media time. You may come out more clear headed, with better thought out ideas, and happier for it.

Supply and Demand of Role Models

Contributing online in many different places, I come across all types of people. One thing I have noticed, the world is severely lacking in role models. Not the far off kind. Not the popular twitter personality. Not the superstar business person on the news. I’m talking about the down to earth, in-person role model.

The one who may have a successful career, and shares their knowledge not only with their children, but also with their children’s friends who may have been born into lesser luck.

The supply and demand of this is unusual compared to other goods. While there is an obvious lack of supply, that is only getting worse, as online distractions eat up the attention of possible role models, but there is also a demand problem. Those who need it the most, aren’t even aware they need it. It’s as if the supply has to go out and sell their time for free. That means the entire supply is made up of the most generous people there are, which by definition is a scarce amount of people.

If you have something to offer someone, share it. Don’t wait for them to ask. The worst that can happen is they ignore your thoughts, the best case is that their life is changed. While you can’t help everybody, you can definitely help a few people throughout your life. If everyone who was successful did that, we’d have quite the positive society on our hands.

Work harder.

The world is losing the setup for hard work to get ahead anymore.

When I make that claim, I’m talking about hard work being synonymous with labor. While that’s not the only work that is hard, it’s the work that is traditionally referred to as hard work.

From the mythology I was told, the word “Spinster” people used to describe a woman past typical marrying age came from the fact that many of these woman were able to support themselves from their skill at spinning yarn or other textiles. They didn’t have to depend on a man. In a time of piecework pay, they were efficient workers.

The world as it fills up with computers, machinery, and other automation and tools is rewarding this kind of effort less and less. For many labor based tasks, if a person can do it, a machine can do it faster, with less variation, and around the clock. Working harder is the race to the bottom. One that will chew you up and spit you out if you’re not careful.

That means that instead of work hard, it’s time do the difficult work. Connecting with other people. Planting a flag in the ground with what you are offering. Messaging and promoting your own work in a way that resonates with people, figuring out how to finance the work you want to do, doing something that is uniquely you. All of that is difficult work. It’s also the way to build something for yourself, something for your family, and something that the world needs.

Financial Analysis vs. Physics Analysis

In both cases, mathematics is being used to solve a problem. The difference is the financial analysis is done to convince people to act in a way that makes it true. In physics, there is no convincing the atoms and particles to simply behave how you want them to.

To illustrate this, let’s say that a stock price has a pattern to it, that has been fit well with an equation. The equation with good confidence says Microsoft is going to be worth at 10% more in 2 months. A brokerage who owns millions of dollars of Microsoft stock takes this information, types it up, and tells it to as many of their customers who will listen. Then those customers who are convinced buy a bunch of Microsoft driving the price up and fulfilling the “prediction”. Was it the analysis? Was it the behavior induced by the analysis?

In physics, when we are calculating how electrons flow, or how steel bends, or any other physical phenomenon, the particles aren’t told about how they should behave based on the analysis.

Differentiating between these two ways of using analysis is where many people fall on their head. When we have a lack of trust in science, it’s possible it comes from someone who has been burned by trusting in something similar to the financial analysis, where the result doesn’t actually come from a fixed behavior of the universe. It then leads a person to believe that they can’t trust people who run numbers and analysis and perform “science”. However, it’s a false dichotomy, not all analyses is the same, and distinguishing which type you are engaging with is important.

Data creating leaders who follow.

Look at any growing organization today, and you’ll find a high likelihood that they are tracking data that wasn’t possible to track 10-20 years ago. They are looking at how much people like the words on their website, how long they stayed, what they clicked on, and figuring out where their customers are leaving the sales funnel instead of making their purchase.

This is good in some regards, and a failure in many others. It’s good for the economy. It allows companies to edit, adjust, and reap financial benefits.

It’s a failure in ways because it is creating leaders who follow, measuring popular vs. unpopular opinions. We see politicians not holding their own beliefs strongly about what is right and where the country should go, instead looking to the data of what’s popular.

When America launched the idea of putting a man on the moon, we never could have measured that from social media if that was around at the time. People weren’t thinking about it.

I encourage you to watch the speech about it if it’s been a while:

We don’t seem to have leaders like this anymore. Perhaps society is different. Perhaps our politics has changed, however, one thing that has changed is the way campaigns are done. The goal is to win rather than measure. At one time, most of our leaders gave speeches and professed their beliefs against each other, then the population voted on which most aligned with them.

Now, campaigns measure. Measure the existing sentiment, and adjust our campaign to reflect that to make us popular. This is a societal feedback loop. If the country is leaning one way, the politician gets up there and tells society how he agrees, instead of saying his true feeling and why he feels that way, which may possibly sway society back towards the middle. By having leaders who follow, we’re radicalizing ourselves and social media amplifies this radicalization.

The goal of a political campaign should not be to win, it should be to make the campaigners beliefs clear against challengers, and educate the voters as to why they may benefit to believing or voting a certain way. A loss means your country didn’t fully align with those beliefs, but putting those out there may change the country for the better, even in the event of a defeat.

Data doesn’t create leaders, convictions do. Data creates followers, and that’s never who we want leading a nation.

A little wrong vs. a lot wrong.

People correct those who make slightly incorrect statements.

People don’t bother correcting statements that aren’t even in the ballpark.

This leads to a strange dichotomy. Those who are off by just a bit, can correct course, those who are off the mark by a lot continue to be off the mark for years, decades or even their whole life. After all that time, convincing them otherwise becomes impossible, as all those conversations that they were incorrect about and no one corrected them makes them think that was agreement, even though no one actually agreed.

Figuring out yourself whether you are right or wrong is the process of education. It’s important to attempt to correct yourself through knowledge as much as possible, that way when you are just a little wrong, people will tend to fill in the last gaps you are missing as you have conversations. This allows your perspective to grow.