Monthly Archives: May 2012

The magic of the mundane

I’m a great believer in regular, scheduled meetings. Weekly team meetings, monthly project reviews, monthly board meetings, annual appraisals. Routine, regular and mandatory. I even like to have set agendas for them.

Now, you’re probably thinking that sounds bureaucratic, just lots of pointless meetings that waste everyone’s time. I mean, everyone has far too many meetings and NOTHING happens in meetings, right? So why fill your calendar with lots of routine boring ones?

Here’s where we differ. I don’t think they’re boring, I think they’re magical. They makes sure people focus on the objective. They hold people to account for their actions. They build team spirit and relationships. They keep things on track. In fact, they do more than that, they create momentum. Perhaps it’s because of the mundanity of the arrangements, the repetitiveness, but it seems to free people up to be creative, think outside the box and come up with new stuff.

I’ve lost count of the times a meeting’s started with someone saying “We don’t really need this, do we? There’s nothing to talk about, really”, only for it to turn into a key meeting where some major issue is uncovered, or some great new idea is developed. 

Routine is often the framework on which we hang our art.




We don’t use the A-word

This was a mantra of mine when running product management teams and I would repeat it everytime they explained some problem by saying “Well, I assumed that they would do that….”. I would reply “We don’t use the A-word. We check.”. It drove them to distraction but they got the point. It was easier to check than to put up with my put down.

We all fall into this trap, though. It’s a combination of wishful thinking and laziness, and sometimes a bit of shyness. We don’t like to ask the obvious questions because we think the other person might be offended. We imagine they’ll indignantly retort “Of course I’ve done that!”, affronted that you have questioned their professionalism.

The problem is assuming that someone will do something is that just because it’s obvious to you, it may not be obvious to them. Just because you think it’s their responsibility doesn’t mean they see it that way. And, most importantly, just because it’s important to you doesn’t mean it’s anywhere on their priority list. If you don’t check, then by the time it becomes apparent they haven’t done what you had assumed they would, you are up against a deadline with hardly anytime to find another solution. Which causes the project to slip. And makes me VERY unhappy.

Actually, people don’t get offended when you check. If you explain why, and say “I’m sure you’re probably onto this but I just want to be absolutely clear”, then they are happy to give you the status. They’ll actually be glad if there’s a different understanding because no-one wants to let others down, even if it’s unintentional.

I don’t use the A-word. I suggest you don’t either.


Interesting times

I remarked to someone the other day that we were living through the most turbulent period of our lives. It is not just that there are disruptive events, but that they are more frequent and are impacting every aspect of out lives. We had both been around through the ‘IT revolution’ and seen the move from mainframes, to mini-computers, to microcomputers, and the spread of software into all aspects of business. But since the interent arrived, the pace of change has ramped up several levels. Now it has extended into our social lives, with evidence that social media is actually rewiring our brains. The same has been happening with economics and finance, which have changed out of all recognition.

But then, think of a century ago. Electrification, the spread of the car, telephony, air travel, mass production, radio and television – that all happened is a relatively short space of time. So, is it really so different today?

I think it is in one particular aspect. The interdependency and connectedness of things. Economies, countries, businesses, people, cultures, religion. When there’s an event in one sphere, the ripples spread much more widely, with more power and much more speed. One ‘disruption’ inevitably leads to another, because there is less space and distance for the power to disippate.

Instead of looking to steady things and ‘return to normal’, we need to be looking for the next disruption. And be ready to respond, and harness the energy and power.