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Author: Charles Gallagher

Don’t Be a Victim, Break the Rules

“You are remembered for the rules you break.”
Douglas MacArthur

gallagher Nov26Anyone who has studied the history of medicine will notice that some of our biggest breakthroughs have been the result of a single scientist breaking the rules. History tells us these are the same people who have also effectively changed a conventional paradigm. For example, the world is flat, wash your hands, earth revolves around the sun. Often times, the rule-breaking scientist pays a considerable price for being a change agent. The pain of change forces an outlandish idea to become a piece of conventional wisdom.

Even in the social sciences, we often see rule breaking as a means to progress and enlightenment. Just look at Rosa Parks and others like her during the Civil Rights Movement. Nelson Mandela in the face of Apartheid. Ronald Reagan challenge to Gorbachev to tear the wall down.

We face outlandish ideas (rules) in the work place all the time. One popular one is “this is the way we have always done it.” How many times have we heard that? Breaking this single rule can often yield great rewards in professional wisdom and in productivity. In our often over-stimulated, over-technical workplace environment, we often find ourselves powerless in the face of bureaucratic electronic fences and complexity. It is easy to get overwhelmed, easy to submit to the way we have always done things. I have found in my career that people often follow rules simply because of inertia or because no one is measuring outcomes in a meaningful way.

When we measure our outcomes and keep score during our work it becomes increasingly more difficult to utilize flawed logic or to cling to the way we have always done it. It forces us to break the rules. It forces us to stop being victims to the mindless way in which we often work.

Often when we are executing projects the biggest operating constraints are the rules established by the firm. Many times these rules are really just old habits and typically they have no logical, timely or relevant basis other than “this how we have always done it.” Many firms cannot let go of their stodgy industrial mindsets and cultures (even though most of them have been hard at work in a knowledge economy for quite a long time now). The firms brave enough to break the rules are truly emerging and re-emerging, boosting productivity, increasing effectiveness and accelerating execution speed.

This week examine your daily routine and ask yourself what rules could I break? When running a project, challenge yourself to play the curious anthropologist— ask why you do what you do. The movie Office Space was infamous for outlining the ludicrousness of the TPS reports. My guess is that you have your own TPS reports in your organization. The bottom line is simple: If the rule is not adding value or making life better for someone it probably should be broken.

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The Power of Now

Time isn’t precious at all, because it is an illusion. What you perceive as precious is not time but the one point that is out of time: the Now. That is precious indeed. The more you are focused on time—past and future—the more you miss the Now, the most precious thing there is.
Eckhart Tolle

Project teams are often tasked with predicting the future in terms of delivering the project within the classic triple constraint: Time. Cost. Quality. Teams are tasked with doing this utilizing various software tools and also in the midst of the sea of technology that we all carry with us along with the latest and greatest social media apps. As a result of all these mental threads, we often attend our project team meetings pulling this entire cognitive load into the meeting room.

gallagherAug26The result is a room full of people, all of whom are multitasking and moving between the past (what happened yesterday) and the future (what will happen tomorrow) often missing the most important information (which was the point of coming together to the meeting in the first place). I have laughed out loud viewing online parodies of the types of meetings we all attend all the time. The reason they are so funny is because they are so true. It is very easy to become the parody, especially as technology enables this pattern and the speed that comes from the technology creates a social expectation that encourages it.

The challenge is that our brains are not designed to perform optimally and multitask too. In fact, multitasking flies in the face of the ability to truly think critically or creatively— both of which are required to trouble shoot issues and to ultimately produce meaningful results. My experience has been that it is almost impossible to be creative and to multitask simultaneously. The creative process and the ability to critically think require us to slow down and BE IN THE PRESENT. For example, I tend to be much more creative and quicker on my feet after a long weekend or vacation. Unfortunately, the half-life of those little breaks is always short lived and the immediate stress upon re-entry to the technological noise kills your quiet mind and pulls you right back into the raging sea of information, multiple cognitive threads and, of course, multitasking.

Some of us know mindfulness or being in the present as our inner voice. In the biography by Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs is quoted as saying, “I began to realize that an intuitive understanding and consciousness was more significant than abstract thinking and intellectual logical analysis… intuition is a very powerful thing, more powerful than intellect, in my opinion. That’s had a big impact on my work.” Even Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

In conclusion, I recommend that you experiment with different techniques that allow you to be more mindful in your work. Try closing off communication channels during meetings and be fully present in the “now” of your work. Create space and time in the information you receive. Have fun with it— see if you can challenge yourself to achieve balance in an unbalanced world. If you are like me, you will find you can actually enjoy your work more and ironically you won’t have to work as hard.

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Image Source: Mary Mattingly; Pull

The Key to Success is MEASUREMENT

Every line is the perfect length if you don’t measure it.”
Marty Rubin ― 

On Saturday June 14th I will be competing in the 7th Annual Paddle for a Cause to raise money for cancer patients via the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation. The race is a 22.5 miles around Absecon Island through the back bays, inlets and ocean. If the race could be boiled down to just one word it would be—grueling. It was designed that way to reflect the fight against cancer. The Stand UP (SUP) Paddleboard race is so demanding that you have to commit to a strict training schedule or you simply will not finish. For those who do finish, it takes over five hours to complete and the time is chock full of physical and psychological challenge.

When training for the race you have to measure everything. Your stroke count, your fluid intake, your sleep, the tides, the winds, the weather patterns, the air temperature and the ocean conditions. It can be a highly dynamic task. The measurement tools of this trade are predominantly a Garmin watch which allows you to set and record various parameters as well as a good friend who will keep your stroke rate honest after two hours of hard paddling. In the figure below you can see a snapshot of one of my recent training sessions and the parameters that we (me, my Garmin and my trusty friend) recorded.

cgallaher June6

The quantified self-movement takes on a whole new meaning when you are three hours into a “grueling” paddle, especially when you are alone (without the friend this time) and nearly two miles off the coast. It is at that moment when you not only realize how critical the training measurements and tools really are, but you also truly understand the value of the metrics as it relates to the leading and lagging indicators in relation to your performance (and to their ability to bring you back to shore).

For example, the metrics tell you were you are in the present, the lagging indicators tell you where you were in the past and the leading indicators tell you where you will be in the future. So, if I want to look at my present performance, I would read the metric for distance paddled. If I want to see how my performance has been since the start of the race, I would look at the lagging indicator which would be my average speed. If I want to know where I will end up in the future, I would look at a leading indicator which would be my current pace in terms of miles per hour.

The point is this: The key to any success is MEASUREMENT. It shows you where you have been, where you are now, and where you have the potential to go tomorrow.

Business leaders are no different than Stand UP Paddle athletes. Once you sift through all the noise (weather, rough surf, market dynamics, competitive landscape), there is always one thing that can be counted on and this is our ability to measure the right things at the right time. Measurement done right is one of the highest leverage activities any individual or organization can perform and the single greatest asset in driving improved performance. Find any successful athlete or business person and you will find someone who has mastered measurement.

To test the power of this assertion, pick one habit that you want to change and really start to measure it. Place a defined metric against the habit and then track your results. For example, if you want to walk 10 miles per week, write the number of miles walked on your sneakers after each workout. If you want to improve your project performance, start with something simple like measuring the amount and the average duration of open action items. Another key point to remember when selecting a metric is that you want to utilize the “measurement” for the purpose of improvement— not to make judgments or to prove a point. Measurements that are property selected and executed can truly optimize efficiency and create positive performance for everyone involved.

When I make my 22.5 mile paddle around Absecon Island in a couple of weeks, I will be relying on my training— my methodical measurements over time— to bolster my confidence and to sustain me through tough seas.

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