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, September 2012. Switch to list view

    Posted by on in Leadership

    My trees this morning are filled with little men in fluorescent jackets. Fall is right around the corner, and the huge oak trees on our property will soon start dumping leaves and nuts in our pool creating a huge mess. It’s been a few years since we’ve done anything with the trees, so a tree intervention is required. In times like this, I turn to a specialist—no questions asked. If you forgo the services of a specialist when one is required, you do far more damage than good.

    As I see it, I have a number of options, I could:

    • Do nothing,
    • Try to do it myself,
    • Try to find cheap labor,
    • Try to find a new specialist,
    • Use my friend, who is a tree specialist that has done great work for me in the past.

    I’m sure you can guess which route I took. If I do nothing, the pool will soon be filled with leaves and acorns, and next year the problem will be worse. I’m not inclined to do it myself because I don’t know anything about trimming trees, and there’s nothing about my life strategy that involves building a competence in tree trimming. There are two problems with cheap labor: they probably don’t have insurance so the risk is too high, and they don’t know enough about tree trimming to ensure my objectives are met. If I didn’t already have a relationship with a tree specialist, I would probably look for one. I’m not about to let the problem continue, kill myself by falling from an oak tree, or fight a personal injury lawsuit.

    Leaders face decisions like this all the time—and often make bad choices, typically guided by a short-term purview. They either ignore problems that need to be addressed; try to solve problems in-house when they have no competence, experience, or strategic alignment; or pursue a shortcut at a lower price. In all three cases, the result is an unnecessary, estimable cacophony that wastes both time and money.

    If you extend your purview a bit, and focus on value instead of cost, making good decisions in this situation are easier. If you need a specialist—hire a specialist. It’s really that simple. The last thing you need is detritus floating around in your waters.

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    Posted by on in Leadership

    Details on the much anticipated iPhone 5 were released yesterday—a much anticipated State of the Union by Tim Cook, the highly scrutinized successor to Steve Jobs, who was one of the most visionary leaders the world has ever seen. Since Jobs’ passing last year, many have been closely watching to see if Cook can fill Jobs’ shoes. I feel yesterday marked his chance at a real first impression of his leadership, and I regretfully admit, I’m not impressed. There are not too many pivotal moments in a leader’s career; when they come around you must seize the opportunity, not fizzle it away.

    Cook gets a pass on the iPhone 4s; to me, this was a dot release that basically glided on the vision of Jobs. Some might argue that the iPhone 5 is at least in part propelled by Jobs’ petroleum; however, in the iPhone 5 release, I’m already noticing signs of a product that was released by a COO, rather than a CEO. Much of the buzz on the iPhone 5 was about a slimmer design, a bigger screen, and a faster processor. And, it seems the new iPhone 5 can plug into the LTE network, which may open up its use to a broader audience. These are nice features, but that’s about the most I can say. Where are the earth-shaking benefits Apple is known for? The iPhone 4 changed my life; now the iPhone 5 makes it a little easier. For the first major release since Jobs’ passing, Cook really needed to come out stronger than this.

    It’s not like Cook didn’t have the chance, and his competitors are having his lunch. Cook decided to focus on slimmer design, while many new smartphones (BlackBerry, Android, Motorola) have already released near-field communication capabilities, which drives mobile payments. Cook decided to focus on a bigger screen when the same competitors are exploring advanced biometric security like face recognition.

    I refuse to believe that Apple can’t follow an amazing release with another amazing release. It may be too early to judge, but the Jobs Factor is what brought Apple back, and if Cook and the new Apple can’t invoke that mojo, they’ll be in trouble.

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    Posted by on in Leadership

    Now that both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions are over, we’ve had a chance to hear both sides talk about what’s on their mind. To me, it seems like both sides are focused on the incumbent leader, President Barack Obama. The Democrats are focused on how President Obama can further strengthen the nation by proceeding with his political approach. The Republicans are focused on preventing President Obama from further damaging the nation by proceeding with his political approach. I think there’s an overall consensus on the objective of strengthening the nation; however, there’s an overall disagreement on whether or not the alternative that Obama has promoted since he started running for office, will eventually lead us there. Politics aside, from a leadership standpoint, the Democrats have it right, and the Republicans have it wrong—it’s a crime of leadership to focus on what won’t work, especially if you’re passionate of your convictions.

    I can’t understand why the political strategists on the right would expend so much political passion on attacking the left. A more effective strategy would involve a constructive review of what happened in the last four years, followed by a candid discussion with the American public about how, if elected into office, they would build on what went right, and improve the areas that fell short.

    What you focus on matters: in strategy, in projects, and in everyday activities. Focusing on avoiding what you don’t want, counterintuitively puts your tropism in the wrong direction. After a magnet has pushed away from it’s polar equivalent, where is it left to go? If there’s no attraction to a polar opposite, it goes nowhere.

    That’s why a strategic vision is so important; if done right, it tightly focuses you on where you want to go. You should do the same with your critical programs, projects, and processes. And once you get clear on your vision and need to communicate it to your organization, hire Bill Clinton to deliver the message—what an amazing speech, huh?

    Now, I’m off to focus on having a great weekend. I hope you have one too!

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    Posted by on in Leadership

    I visited my bank’s website recently, and was greeted with a sparkling new home page. They really upgraded their look with fancy graphics, and more advanced web technologies. The interface is clean and inviting, without changing the base functionality: a good refactoring practice. Unfortunately, it only took one click to get back to the same tired design they had 10 years ago. Whoever said first impressions are lasting impressions missed the mark for leaders.

    Now my bank has disappointed me in the real and online world. Going through the effort of simply updating your home page is like putting a Biltmore hat on a valor suit. If you look at this blog or my corporate website, the design is consistent through and through. As you travel through my website, it reinforces what you’ve been introduced to on my home page, providing increased levels of depth and understanding. In one click, instead of navigating to a stale, out-of-date annex, you have access to a free article on strategy or innovation. And, as you deal with me as a consultant, you’ll find even more depth and breadth of knowledge than you find in my website, blog, and press kit.

    This is the way people should discover you as a leader. You must be a leader from the inside out. Anyone can see through a brilliant exterior covering up a shallow, indecisive dolt. Although it’s important to follow Henry Ford’s lead and surround yourself with intelligent people; they’re there to support you, not compensate for your lack of leadership. When I consulted for Sun, I knew a front-line manager that made all the decisions a Vice President couldn’t make. I never talked to the Vice President—I didn’t need to.

    Take proactive measures to invest in your decisiveness, charisma, and self-esteem. To play at the top of your game, hang out with other great leaders and hire a coach. True leaders have a magnetic personality to match their magnetic appearance. Don’t throw out the hat—you still need it. Just make sure your head’s straight before you put it on.

    Picture Source: Biltmore Hats

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    Posted by on in Strategy

    I went into my bank last week, and I thought I walked into the wrong building. I’ve banked there for at least 10 years now, building relationships with all the tellers and account managers. I go there frequently, at least a few times a month; however, last week when I walked in, I didn’t recognize one person. You cannot build a relationship with your clients if you’re constantly introducing them to new people.

    The foundation of your relationship strategy is the people that interact with your customers. There are other things that contribute to customer loyalty like your brand; however, any real relationship involves at least two people: your customer and the person in your organization that comes in contact with your customer.

    Banks have a bad reputation for turnover, so seeing one or two people leave is disappointing and demeritorious, but doesn’t really come as a surprise. Last week however, was jolting. There were at least a dozen people working in the bank, and I didn’t recognize anybody. I made a comment to the teller asking, “Where did everybody go?” I started naming names, and one-by-one, she notified me that they had either transferred to another branch, or left “for a better opportunity.”

    For me, this isn’t my bank anymore. I’m not leaving or canceling any of my accounts, but it’s just another place for transactions now. I can get the same experience at the grocery store, and since I shop more often than transact with the bank, I probably won’t go to my branch anymore. It’s a shame when I feel more comfortable picking up Chinese food than sitting down with my banker to discuss a loan.

    Employee retention is vital in all areas of your organization, but especially where these employees touch your customers. Whether you like it or not, your customers are more loyal to the people in your company than your company’s brand or values. If your employees are leaving for better opportunities, your customers are probably walking right behind them.

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    Posted by on in Operational Excellence

    Have you ever tried to drive in white-out conditions? I remember driving to Reno once, and the falling snow was so blinding, the only thing I could see were the red tail lights of the semi-trailer truck in front of me. If that truck had gone over the side of the mountain, I would have followed right behind. We all know it’s important to be clear about your objectives and goals; however, it’s also important to be clear about your progress. To clearly define your key performance indicators (KPIs) you need operational definitions.

    Operational definitions are about means as opposed to ends; they’re used to clarify key performance indicators, which are used to gauge progress. A strategic vision is a desired strategic outcome, and it’s good to have a clear vision, but you also need to know whether or not you’re moving in the right direction. I just wrote an article for TechRepublic on how to define Big Data to build a competitive advantage. In it I dissect what it means to be strategically competitive, and overlay that with how Big Data can foster those objectives. In going through this exercise, I help you realize that competitive Big Data must be valuable to one of your target markets. That’s all fine and good, but how can you tell if your Big Data is valuable? To properly answer this question, you must create an operational definition.

    The key to creating an operational definition is to be precise. Operational definitions come from the world of Total Quality Management, and they’re a required component in any Six Sigma project. As a Black Belt, when I’m building the data collection plan for a Six Sigma project, I spend a considerable amount of time precisely defining what each measurement means. The result is a set of operational definitions that are used to collect, analyze, and monitor the metrics that are critical to quality (CTQ). The same must be done for your important efforts.

    When building an operational definition, consider the acronym ACT: accuracy, completeness, and time. An operational definition will usually fall into one of these three categories. Accuracy deals with how closely your measurement comes to a desired target. This is extremely common; in our Big Data example, you may consider creating a value index that’s based on customer feedback. Completeness deals with coverage. An example is testing software, where you want to measure how much of the code has been tested. Since time is such a common measurement, it has its own category. And, since time is on a continuum, operational definitions that deal with time always have an upper and a lower bound.

    Knowing where you’re going is great, but knowing you’re headed in the right direction is just as important. Don’t run your strategy in white-out conditions, you might head over a cliff.

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