Silicon Valley State of Mind, a blog by John Weathington, "The Science of Success"
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    Welcome to a Silicon Valley State of Mind, thoughts tips and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "Silicon Valley's Top Information Strategist."

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Silicon Valley State of Mind

Tips, thoughts, and advice based on the consulting work of John Weathington, "The Science of Success."

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Archive, July 2012. Switch to list view

    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    I very rarely run out of shaving cream, because I think small. Here’s a good tip for making sure you don’t run out of necessary materials at the wrong time.

    I was inspired by lean management principles when I came up with this idea. Time wasted waiting for materials is a common target with lean practitioners, and before long it really becomes an unconscious competence to watch for these things. I picked up on something when I ran out of shaving cream a while back—I didn’t have any notice. The can doesn’t tell you you’re about to run out, like the red markings on the side of receipt tape signals to the cashier that the tape needs to be changed. Instead, one day you press the button, and it just splatters—no shaving cream.

    I order everything like this on Amazon, since I think it’s a horrible waste of time to drive down to a store when I can conveniently have it delivered to my house. The problem is, I need some lead time. Amazon’s usually fast, but we haven’t reached same-hour service yet, and me with a beard is not a good look.

    Then it dawned on me—I have a spare in my travel kit! Problem solved. Another thing dawned on me—this is a great reserve technique that eliminates any downtime waiting for my shaving cream order to arrive from Amazon.

    Now, whenever I order shaving cream, I order a normal size and a travel size. Once the normal size runs out, I start using the travel size and order another set. The travel size keeps me going until the new set arrives. Then I throw away the travel size, so they don’t keep accumulating. You may think it’s a waste to throw away perfectly good shaving cream, but you’d be falling into a common trap. The point of lean thinking is maximize efficiency, not reduce costs. You should feel comfortable throwing away the little amount of shaving cream left in the travel-sized canister. The insurance policy served its purpose.

    So if your process always requires certain materials to function—think small. It’s better than walking around with a 5pm shadow.

    Tagged in: inventory lean process
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    Posted by on in Innovation

    My favorite place for Chinese food is Orient Express, in San Ramon. There’s nothing fancy about the decor, there’s really no dining area (just two or three tables inside), and sometimes there’s a long line going outside the door. The food is pretty good, but definitely not fine dining. Most of the food has been sitting in warming dishes waiting for take out, although you can phone ahead for one of the specials.

    The reason why I love this place is because of the relationship I have with the people in the restaurant. They run a very small operation in a busy area of San Ramon (well, busy for San Ramon), so it’s not hard to get to know people, especially the people working the counter like Thomas and Michelle. Although they officially close at 9p, there have been many times when I’ve stopped in around 9:30p after a long day with clients, excited to see the doors still open, and happy to take whatever they have left over.

    Last night was one of those nights. I pulled into the parking lot around 9:15p, and noticed someone just a few seconds in front of me, walk in ahead. By the way he was looking over the available food, I could tell he wasn’t familiar with the place. Thomas and the crew had already started to clean up, so there were only a few dishes in the warmers, and some other packaged food up on the counter. Among the packaged food on the counter was my absolute favorite, Salt and Pepper Chicken. The Salt and Pepper Chicken at Orient Express is nothing less than awesome. It’s chopped, battered and deep fried with generous portions of salt and jalapeño peppers. Yum!

    Thomas was working behind the counter. He acknowledged the gentleman in front of me, then gave me a big smile and shouted, “Hello, John!” As Thomas reviewed the menu options with the gentleman in front of me, he touted all the wonderful dishes in the warmers, and with quick stare and a wink at me, politely “underemphasized” the Salt and Pepper Chicken which he knew I liked. It was already wrapped up on the counter, so even if the customer knew how good it was, he really couldn’t see it that well. As the nice gentleman walked out with his Kung Pao chicken, Thomas smiled at me and said, “I’m guessing you want the Salt and Pepper Chicken, right?” Needless to say, it was a great night for dinner and Big Brother (that’s another story).

    Having a good relationship with your customers and suppliers is not taken serious enough in business these days. There are three dimensions to innovation and “product” development when considering your offerings: products, services and relationships. Most companies focus just on products and services; however, relationships are the most critical of the three and they’re often completely overlooked. When it comes to Chinese food, I’m not going anywhere but Orient Express. Do your customers feel the same way about you?

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    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    The best way to avoid the process management trap is to impress yourself—with self-assessments. You can tell an organization that’s slipping into this trap when they start attaching undue value to process steps, and forget about why they’re executing the process in the first place. Use self-assessments to undo this.

    Of course this idea has a direct implication on compliance, but a more general and appropriate application is in becoming excellent at executing—operational excellence if you will. In compliance, they’re abused and over-used—we’ll fix that here. In operational excellence, they’re not used enough.

    The reason why you don’t see many self-assessments with operational excellence efforts, is the very reason people fall into the bureaucracy that cripples their efforts. In their zeal to create and document processes, the focus becomes the means, and not the ends. This is the why I emphasize process leadership over process management.

    A good operational excellence effort will deliver a control chart which is a structured tool for monitoring how the (ostensibly) critical process is doing. That’s better than nothing, but their complex nature is intimidating, and the tool itself needs to be maintained—another process!

    Self-assessments are a simple and effective way to make sure you’re focused on process outcomes, and not just following steps. You shouldn’t over-complicate this. Just create a checklist of outcomes. Ask yourself this simple question: “At the end of this process, what should the outcomes be?” Remember to include all the parties that have a stake, and all the supporting constraints. For instance, if I’m going through the process of throwing a party, the primary objective is for the guests to have a good time; however, a supporting constraint is for me to have a good time as well. And, my neighbors have a supporting constraint that involves the collective level of “disturbance.”

    Make sure everything on your checklist is an outcome, not just another step in disguise. For instance, don’t put on your checklist, “Was the garbage taken out?” This is just a task with an outcome’s costume on. The real outcome is “Is the place clean?” Also, self-assessments don’t have to be based on the final outcomes of the process. Try to put together some self-assessment checklists to gauge your success along the way. This will give you a structured way to adjust mid-stream if necessary. To build a progress self-assessment, just ask yourself, “What will it look like at point x if everything is going well?” The answer again, should just be a simple list of outcomes.

    In most cases, you are your own toughest judge. If you comply with your own self-assessments, you’ll probably stay out of trouble with others as well. More importantly, it will keep you focused on the real purpose of the process, and not just the motions. Take some time to impress yourself once in a while—you deserve it.

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    Posted by on in General Comments

    I just slammed the door in someone’s face. The same door that’s a few inches from the sign pictured here.

    I’m not normally that rude to people, but in this case enough is enough. About three times a week, a different person comes to the door asking if I want solar panels on my house. The first time they came, I politely listened to what they had to say, agreed it’s an interesting thought, and said I’d investigate it on my own time. The second time they came, I cut them off before they got started, and told them somebody just came by two days ago. The third time they came by, I cut them off and said, “tell whoever is sending you people here, to stop.” The story I was told is that they’re all coming from different companies, and every person I encounter has no relationship to the next. It’s like a beacon went off somewhere, signaling all solar companies that I would like someone to visit my house and talk to me about installing solar—I don’t.

    Well, this message isn’t being received. I’ve been dealing with this for weeks now. Tonight, this is how the exchange went. Shortly after I sat down to eat dinner:

    (Knock, Knock)

    Me: What?

    Irritant: Hi, I’m Mr. Jackass from Jackass Solar?

    Me: No soliciting, man.


    You have to be perceptive of your customers’ needs. There is a sign right outside my door that says, “No Soliciting.” This means—no soliciting! I don’t do this to be mean or rude, but I’m doing both me and the door-to-door salespeople a favor. I can assure you, I’m not going to buy something from someone that comes to my door—I just won’t do it. If I decide to get solar, I’ll do the research myself on the Internet, then I’ll talk to some people I know that have had solar installed, and I’ll get a referral. This is why I have the sign outside; I’m saving us both the time.

    How often do you keep badgering your customers with what you feel they need? Kodak was very late in the adoption of digital photography because they were too focused on what they thought was right. After breathing their own exhaust for too long, they finally filed for bankruptcy earlier this year. Their future is very questionable at this point.

    Value is in eye of the beholder. Your passion about an idea doesn’t mean anything until you’ve convinced your clients to be passionate about it. Maybe solar is a good thing for me, and I’m sure whoever just left my door is passionate about the benefits of solar, but if you think I’m just going to open my door and sign a contract with you to install solar panels on my house—you just don’t know me very well.

    And that’s the whole point of this story.

    Tagged in: customers ideas value
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    Posted by on in Innovation

    I was shopping for groceries the other day, and decided to get my wife some nice roses (‘cause that’s the kinda guy I am). At the time I had a basket in my hands because I was running in to get just a few things. After the second bag of charcoal, I realized two things: 1) I was going to need a basket and; 2) my roses were going get crushed if I wasn’t careful.

    So, I found a cart, loaded in the basket and the second bag of charcoal, and strategically laid the flowers over the fish in the front basket where children usually sit. At checkout, the clerk—who had obviously been working there a long time—said, “You might want to put those flowers in the cup holder on the side so they don’t get crushed. In all this time working here, a trainee just showed me that the other day!”

    Novel ideas in business and in life come from interacting with new people. They could be new employees, consultants, or even reconnecting with old friends. Don’t fall into the trap of doing the same thing day after day. Not only is it boring, but after breathing your own exhaust for a while, you’ll pass out.

    Great innovators are curious, humble, and persistent. Curiosity doesn’t need to be an obsession with perfection, but you should always have your antennae up for better ways to do things. Humility holds your ego in check and prevents you from being arrogant—a condition where you don’t have anything left to learn. Persistence requires not only patience but tenacity. Trust your instincts—if you come across a good idea, pursue it, and stick with it until it’s done.

    But great ideas come from new experiences; often with new people. Invite new people with different ideas into your life and listen to what they have to say. You might just pick up on a novel idea.

    Tagged in: ideas people
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    Posted by on in General Comments

    It’s opening day for my new blog, and we're off to the races! Are you ready? I am.

    After talking with my wife Kim for a while, we came up with the perfect title: “A Silicon Valley State of Mind,” and it couldn’t be more appropriate for how I’m feeling today.

    It is awesome in Silicon Valley today; this is truly God’s country. As I’m writing this seminal blog entry from my cozy abode in San Ramon, California (a little east from all the action, but close enough feel the energy from both Silicon Valley and San Francisco), The Weather Channel on my iPad tells me it’s a sunny 91 degrees with no chance of precipitation, and a soothing, gentle breeze of 13 mph cooling things down to a “feels like” temperature of an amazing 88 degrees.

    We’re going to have great fun on this blog. Unlike the previous blogs that I’ve written which carried more of a vertical focus of compliance or information strategy, this blog will be applicable to a wider audience. This blog will truly give you the perspective of a Silicon Valley insider, on topics ranging from high-level strategy to cooking the perfect meal.

    To kick things off, I want to share with you what I’ve been up to for the past few months. I wrapped up my third major project with Visa back in February, where I worked with the head of Global Loyalty to strategize, prioritize, and launch their major initiatives for the fiscal year. Since then I’ve had the opportunity to focus on renewal—everything from my internal branding to my website to well, this blog! It’s been an absolutely terrific exercise in revisiting my priorities, making necessary adjustments, and reinvigorating my approach.

    So, here’s the first takeaway for my new blog. You absolutely, undoubtedly, unequivocally must pause once in a while to refactor your business and your life. Refactoring comes from the world of agile software development, where you take some time to improve the codebase, without adding functionality. Coders know what happens when you don’t take time to do this—spaghetti code. Sure, the program works, but nobody (including the original programmer sometimes) can understand how!

    It’s critical to reset like this, not only for your own sanity (i.e. you have to take a break sometimes), but also for the objective at hand. Staying myopic in execution phase precludes you from seeing the bigger picture. That’s the whole point of the second half of Deming’s famous PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) model.

    In deference to the recently departed Dr. Stephen R. Covey, it’s vital that we take heed to his seventh habit of highly effective people—sharpen the saw. I was listening to an interview this morning between Tony Robbins and Dr. Covey, where he was talking about this and the other habits. In the interview, Dr. Covey uses a great metaphor—sometimes people are too busy driving to get gas.

    I’m an execution nut like the rest of us, so I know how hard it is to pull away from what’s staring you in the face. When I was leading a critical data migration project for Visa (my first intervention there), it was non-stop, pedal-to-the-metal—sometimes for many days in a row. During the actual cutover, I was running calls with the team at 3 and 4 in the morning. It was brutal; but you do what’s necessary to get the job done. At some point though, you need to pull away. If you’re too busy driving to get gas, you’ll eventually run out. Fortunately for me, I get to refill with a Silicon Valley state of mind.

    Hope you enjoy the blog—stay in touch!

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