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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Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in execution

Posted by on in Information Exploitation

Does it feel like you're spinning on your next big product idea instead of moving forward? That's a very expensive scenario when a data science team is involved.

I'm often called into companies to organize them and move them forward. Most of the time, they have an idea of what they want to do, but for some reason, they just can't move things forward. There's a lot of activity, and a lot of meetings, but no real accomplishments. Does this sound familiar?

There are several reasons why this happens, but all comes back to execution excellence, which is not intuitive or intentionally developed as a capability in most organizations. Even with great thinkers and doers, if you don't have a good frame for moving an idea into action, you'll probably spin. However, if you're focused and organized, your data science team can begin work on your next big idea in just five days.

It Starts With Leadership

The first day starts with you--the leader. If your organization is spinning around, my guess is that you're trying to get too many things done at once. If your next big idea is really important, your first job is to decide that it takes priority over everything else. You must resolve this for yourself before engaging with the rest of the team.

Once you've resolved that this is where your organization will focus, develop logical and emotional reasons why everyone should make the development of this product their priority. I had a leader tell me if they don't differentiate somehow, they're going to die. That's compelling and emotional! This is the message that you want to move forward with.

Start With the End In Mind

On day two, in the spirit of the advice given to us by the late Dr. Stephen Covey, start with the end in mind. Define what success looks like with your leadership team. This can take an hour or it can take all day--but it shouldn't take more than a day. The outcome of this exercise is more than a vision statement; it's a vivid depiction of how the future will look. I recommend doing this in three cycles: macro-environment, competitive environment, and internal environment; in that order.

In the first cycle, paint an outline of your future macro-environment, including political, economic, social, technological, environmental, legal, and other factors that affect your company. Fill in this outline on the second cycle with your competitive environment, including: customer, suppliers, new entrants, and alternative offerings. Finally, complete the vision on the third cycle with how your organization will look, including size, composition, culture.

You've Got The Brains, Now Start Storming

On day three, involve your entire data science team in a brainstorm. The goal is to understand how the team will achieve the vision. The pre-work on days one and two are important. Open the meeting with the logical and emotional reasons why this effort is more important than anything else they're working on and clearly articulate your vision.

During your brainstorm, let the ideas flow. Encourage free flow of thought, and capture ideas in an organic fashion (in a mind mapping tool) and not in a linear fashion. Most brainstorms like this will last a few hours, so make sure to incorporate breaks. When I reach most organizations, they've started here and they're stuck here because nobody's defined a cutoff period. You're cutoff period is the end of the workday--after day three, there will be no more brainstorming.

Making Sense Of It All

Bring the team back on day four to organize everything. It's important to reinforce the sequence--we're done with guidance, we're done with visioning, and we're done with brainstorming. Don't let the team regress at this point--that's how everything goes circular. The team must mentally switch modes from brainstorm to organize.

Organizing is about grouping and removing duplicates. This can be time consuming for some; however, it’s easier for data scientists. They are naturally adept at separating ideas into affinity groups. You should reduce the ideas in your brainstorm into tangible deliverables; this will be the basis for your action plan. One more day to go.

Moving Forward

Bring everybody back on day five to build an action plan. Set the expectation that by the end of the day, work will begin. Divide the day into two parts. The first part of the day is spent identifying the top priority deliverables (from the action plan) and when they will be done.

The second half of the day is a working session to get started on the top priority deliverable. While the data scientists are moving forward, the analytic manager completes the action plan and the change leader is starts on the stakeholder map. If you want to move forward within five days, schedule it into the agenda for day five.

Summary

If you have a great idea, and you have a data science team, you should be getting things done and not meeting to schedule more meetings. I've given you a simple, five-day agenda for moving forward. It starts with a resolution you make with the man in the mirror--so take that first step. If everything's a priority then nothing's a priority. Make this the priority, and in five days you'll be well on your way to the next level.

Submitted for Publication in TechRepublic’s Big Data Analytics Blog

This is the sneak peak of my latest contribution to TechRepublic’s Big Data Analytics blog. As editors do, when this gets published, some of the words and content may be arranged or deleted for a variety of reasons including SEO. What you’re looking at here is the uncut, unabridged, unedited version of the article that was submitted.

Update: TechRepublic published this article on April 27th under the title, “From big idea to action in 5 days: A step-by-step guide”

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Posted by on in Program Management

Blackouts remind me why I’m not a devout agilist anymore. My block in San Ramon had another one if its infamous blackouts a few days back. And just like the last major blackout we had, my productivity only decreased a tiny bit; I was certainly able to accomplish all the critical things on my plate, including an important client deliverable that was due that day. At worst, blackouts are a nuisance for me; they don’t really slow me down because I’m prepared. However, that wasn’t the case in the early part of this century when I was a born-again agilist. When it comes to execution, Aristotle had it right with his golden mean—you must find a good balance between the two extremes of classical waterfall and agile.

The ideology of agile management proscribes advanced planning, even when it comes to risk management. The way agilists handle risk—like everything else—is very empirically. In agile execution, there’s the concept of yesterday’s weather wherein the belief is that today—for all intents and purposes—will be like yesterday. So, instead of formally analyzing risk, agilists just assume they’ll crank out as many widgets in this cycle as they did in the last cycle. Axioms like this allow them to forego much of the upfront planning that classic (i.e. waterfall) managers would necessarily undertake. That’s all fine and good—until it’s not fine and good.

The reality is this: Murphy is far too mischievous to be that consistent. Tuesday I had power all day long, just like Monday, Sunday, and Saturday. However, on Wednesday I had no power from about 6:00pm until about 3:00am the next morning. That’s nine long, dark hours if you’re not prepared. This is one big area where agile execution simply falls short—I don’t care how passionate you are about the ideas.

Fortunately for me—long before Wednesday—I stocked up on candles, lanterns, tap-lights, flashlights, portable light-bulbs, and most importantly batteries of all shapes and sizes. Kim and I actually had a pretty nice time that night after I finished up my work. The house was well lit, we ordered some food from a local restaurant, and we watched TV together on the iPad by candlelight (and battery-powered lanterns).

Don’t get me wrong; I’m still very much in the agile camp for most scenarios. However, like Aristotle would probably say today, you cannot be a die-hard fanatic on one style or methodology. That’s why the consultant’s standard answer to any question is, “it depends.”

Don’t let your zeal for agile put you in a blackout without batteries.

Tagged in: agile execution risk
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Posted by on in Strategy

We’ve recently been entertaining some uninvited visitors in our cement pond. A couple of months ago, a cute avian couple landed in our swimming pool to hang out for the day. I knew it was a couple because male ducks are much more colorful than females. At the time, my wife felt compelled to feed them; they ate well, feasting on our 9-grain bread and stoneground wheat crackers. Well, the word got out, and now our pool is a popular hangout among the duck community. Although it was a bit surprising at first to be greeted by ducks in the morning, the truth is—they were here before we were here. Survival requires adaptation.

I had this epiphany a few months back when I saw a band of coyotes emerge from a nearby creek. It startled me at first, then I quickly realized that there were children playing at the grade school a block away that would not be thrilled to have coyotes join their fun, so my wife immediately called the school and I called animal services. That’s when I received my education. After assuring me that the coyotes were no threat, the gentleman kindly explained to me that we moved into their territory—not the other way around. The wildlife around here has had to make some significant adjustments over the last few decades to accommodate the disruption we call suburban progress. It was an unwelcome change for the incumbent fauna; however, survival requires adaptation.

To survive today, leaders must focus on keeping their organizations adaptable. Martin Reeves and Mike Deimler, partners at the Boston Consulting Group, assert that today’s companies must adjust their strategic focus from building out one strong competence to learning new things quickly (Reeves & Deimler, 2011, p. 137). I agree, provided your organization is suspect to wildly changing external conditions. This ideology ostensibly flies in the face of traditional strategy planning where a long-term vision is articulated; however—for some companies—survival requires adaptation.

If you’re trying to run a company where the rules of engagement keep changing, think about where your focus is. To be successful on a traditional program, you must firmly focus on what will be delivered; however, to be successful on an agile program, you must firmly focus on how it’s being delivered—with a deep respect for the effect change will have on the evolution of your product and how this change will be managed.

Take some time to evaluate your environment. If you sense radical disruption, you may want to focus more on adaptability than your articulated vision. This doesn’t mean abandoning your mission—this is your reason for existence. However, a radically changing external environment has engendered a different attitude in leaders who are running successful organizations. If this is your situation, adaptation is your only answer. If ducks and coyotes can do it, I’m sure you can figure it out.

References:

Reeves, M., & Deimler, M. (2011). Adaptability: The new competitive advantage. Harvard Business Review, 89(7/8), 134-141.

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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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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

For the second time this week, I’m typing this blog while the power is out. The last time came as quite a surprise; however, this time, I was more prepared as our electric company left a notice on the door yesterday stating that they would be doing planned maintenance at this time. I made a note on my calendar to that effect, and when planning my day last night, started considering how I would be impacted by the power outage. Not much came to mind, so I scheduled it like any other day. To be resilient, you must break dependencies.

In my practice, I’m not bound by continuous power. Even if my Uninterruptible Power Supply gives out, which keeps me 95% functional, I can still operate at close to 90% productivity for the rest of the day. I’m typing this entry on a MacBook Air which still has plenty of battery life, and I have a battery powered wi-fi device to get to the Internet if I need to. Most of my operational data is in the cloud, so as long as I have Internet access, I’m in business. My cell phone is fully charged, so no issues with calling people. The only thing I can’t really do right now is crunch large sets of data on my server—and fortunately that can wait.

There’s a concept in agile design called low coupling. This means, for your solution to be agile, it should not be bolted into other components of the system. This is what makes agile systems resilient, and it can make your business and your life resilient as well. If you like to play Jenga, you know exactly what I mean; removing one small block can bring the whole tower down. You don’t want or need these blocks in your organization or in your life.

When going through your improvement cycle, focus on decoupling strong dependencies. Don’t allow the power to go out on your business just because there’s no electricity.

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Posted by on in Strategy

Ebay announced earlier this week that it was shutting down the sale of metaphysical goods and services on its site, including psychic readings, potions, spells, and fortune telling. They should have also included some strategy formulation in this category. When you hire big consulting firms to build fancy strategies for you, are you buying a real vision, or a very expensive love potion?

In addition to information strategy formulation, I deal with all strategy execution, so I clean up these messes all the time. A small army of nicely-dressed consultants brandishing impressive credentials and expensive pens swoop in to patronize your company with an “environmental analysis,” then proceed to pontificate through glimmering, buzzword-ridden PowerPoint about the latest management theories coming out of Harvard. Then, with one of their hands shaking your hand, and the other holding your big check, they’re out the door to repeat the process with your competitors. That’s about the time you call me to ask, “John, how do we make this work now?”

Thanks a lot.

When I step into a situation like this, I don’t automatically look for problems with the strategy; however, it must be vetted. That’ doesn’t mean I correct their paper, it just means that to mobilize a strategy, certain things must be in place.

Strategy execution is very different from project or program execution. With program execution, you execute tasks to complete a relatively short-term objective. With strategy execution you monitor assumptions and consider possibilities and alternatives to move toward a relatively long-term vision. So, to vet a strategy, you must document and support your assumptions about the future. Until you do this, there’s no way to responsibly mobilize your strategy.

Unfortunately, in going through this process, you often see the big-strategy spell dissipate. It’s a painful realization; however, it’s better than spending the next three to five years committing resources to a strategy that won’t work.

Although the sale of metaphysical services has been part of Ebay since its inception, they finally decided to pull the plug, because customer service is tired of people complaining that their $20 love potion didn’t work. Who are you going to call when your $250,000 love potion doesn’t work?

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Posted by on in Information Exploitation

The right information is probably available, but are you sensing it? If not, this information is doing you no good. How in touch are you with your common sensors?

I just walked into my chiropractor’s office five minutes late. This is unusual for me, I'm usually very punctual. Unfortunately, I fell victim to my own informal control plan. No, I don’t track statistics on how long it takes to drive to my chiropractor; however, after going for several years I have an internal sense for the central tendency and variance of the drive time (a little Six Sigma lingo for you this morning). For good measure, I always leave 30 minutes prior to my appointment, which I did today.

As soon as I hit the freeway, I was in gridlock traffic. I thought there may be an accident; however, I didn’t see anything. It took a total of 35 minutes to make it to my appointment today; fortunately, my chiropractor wasn’t too upset.

What’s important to note, is the information for my travel time was available, I just wasn’t tuned in. Whenever you get directions on Google Maps today, not only does it tell you distance, but it also tells you driving time based on the current traffic. If I had a sensor to this information tied into my workflow engine, I would have known to leave a little bit earlier today.

Fortunately for me, this particular bridge isn’t critical to my daily operation or my strategic objectives; however, do you know what information you need to collect, and how timely it needs to be?

These are what I call common sensors. Sensors are the devices used to collect information. What makes them common is the fact that they should be baked into your organization. Don’t let the word common take away from their criticality. In fact common sensors are the most critical sensors you have. They drive your strategy and they drive your operations.

Know and instantiate your common sensors. It’s one thing to be late to the chiropractor—it’s another thing to be late to the market.

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Posted by on in Program Management

Being prepared for the obvious is not only a good practice, it’s just common sense. As I’m typing this, San Ramon is in another brown-out. That’s a delicate way of saying the power’s out, but we hope it will come back soon: unlike the devastation of the real black-out. Sometimes brown-outs last for only a few seconds, sometimes they last for hours.

Having lived in San Ramon for over a decade now, one thing I know for sure—I don’t care what you call it, the power goes out sometimes. I’ve been dealing with the effects of brown-outs from as long as I’ve lived here. Now, it’s not the end of the world if I’m not able to get this post to you this morning; however, it’s nice to know I can. I bigger brown-out irritant that surfaced when I first moved here involved my servers.

Since I do a lot of data crunching and analysis for clients, I have a a heavy-duty server sitting right next to me. Best practices learned long ago as a good, young Silicon Valley lad prevent me from loosing unsaved work because of a crash—that’s not the issue. The issue is that large servers really need to shutdown gracefully. You can’t just pull the plug out, which is basically what the electric company just did to me. If you do, it has a horrible time trying to recover, and there’s extra time spent making sure it recovered the way you want—it’s a big mess.

Fortunately, in addition to my server, I have a Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) sitting right next to me. It periodically issues a few loud caws to let me know the power’s still out. Even though I could easily figure that out myself, it’s a nice alert when a brown-out happens and I’m not next to my server. About a half hour ago when this happened, I was in the kitchen thinking about breakfast. When I heard the alert, I ambled into my office (there’s no rush, I had plenty of time), and brought the server down—gracefully. No muss, no fuss.

Preparing for times like this may be considered risk management by some, but not me. Looking forward to anticipate anything this obvious is actually part of execution planning. In fact, anything that has a better than 80% chance of happening shouldn’t be classified as a risk anymore, treat it like a certainty. For example, I didn’t decide whether or not I should buy a UPS on the chance that a brown-out may happen. I bought a UPS because I knew a brown-out would happen eventually—and here we are.

Uninterruptible power for me means uninterruptible productivity. So, instead of reading a good book right now, with nothing else to do, I’m sharing this wise advice with you. Plan for the obvious—that’s obvious, right?

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Posted by on in Leadership

In a perfect world, a leader inspires people into action. In the real world, you need to be tough: not all the time, but when it’s necessary. If you’re worried that things aren’t happening fast enough, and you’ve tried the motivational route, you may want to take off the velvet glove and break out the iron fist.

When I was young, John Waite released a popular song called “Mr. Wonderful,” where he sings about someone who’s just fed up with being nice. I don’t think leaders get to that point with their organization, but they do get frustrated and confused: frustrated because things aren’t going in the direction they want, and confused because there’s been plenty of communication going out, but the troops just aren’t rallying.

I’m not against the humanistic movement in leadership, but I think it caused a lot of weak leaders. The higher up in an organization someone goes, the more political they feel they need to be. Politicians carefully guard their exterior, paying close attention to how they appear to the public. The Republican National Convention is opening next week in Tampa with Ann Romney instead of Mitt because they feel she can add a softer side to the campaign. I agree, I don’t think Mitt has done a good enough job connecting with voters, and that will hurt him in the upcoming election.

However, this level of spin-surgery will backfire for a leader in Organizational America. To a large extent you must connect with the people of your organization, but you are also responsible for results, which you don’t always get by being the nice guy. I’ve had many organizations hire me to be the iron fist because they don’t want to get blood on their hands. I appreciate the business, but this is silly. As a leader, you are responsible for making (sometimes unpopular) decisions and holding people accountable. Both of these things are unpleasant at times, but if your magnetic personality isn’t winning them over, that’s the only way to get things done.

Don’t worry so much about your employees’ vote of approval. You’re not running for office, you’re running an organization.

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Posted by on in Operational Excellence

A few days ago I completed an experiment to see if it was safe to shower with my iPhone; here’s an update. Anxious to start my new morning routine in stereo, I jumped in the shower, cranked up the Wall Street Journal, and started about my business. In very short order, I realized there was a slight glitch in the production rollout of this process, and I needed a hot-fix. I found myself in a situation similar to my blog rollout, only a little less serious.

Everything I tested worked fine so no worries on the condition of the phone; however, I didn’t test for sound quality. The sound played fine through the iPhone, it just wasn’t loud enough to overcome the noise of the shower. In retrospect, even if I had tagged this as a CTQ (critical to quality—it’s a Six Sigma term), there’s no reasonable way I could have tested for this. So, I had to make an in-flight adjustment (aka hot-fix, and based on the temperature of the shower, this was literally a hot-fix).

I quickly searched Amazon for a bluetooth shower speaker, and I came up with the Hipe Waterproof Bluetooth Stereo Shower Speaker. With a product name like this how could I go wrong?!

I was right, problem solved. This thing is awesome. I’ve already tried it a few times, and this speaker cranks, much louder than I need for the shower.

When I posted the news of my original experiment, Olaf, a good friend of mine from grade school suggested that I post a picture from the shower to see what the quality’s like, so this one’s for Olaf! This is the Hipe hanging on the wall, a few seconds after I finished my shower. As you can see, the water’s not really an issue for picture quality; however, the steam fogs up the lens. If I tried to take this picture during my shower, it would be a big blur. Fortunately (for everyone involved), I don’t anticipate taking many pictures while in the shower!

So, there you go: test, release, hot-fix, success! All is good.

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Posted by on in Personal Development

It's a very peaceful morning in Silicon Valley this morning. I just grabbed a mocha from my Keurig machine, and I'm heading out to my deck to reflect, connect, and jot a few notes to share with you. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s important to slow down once in a while and smell the redwoods. Of course it helps when you’re in a Silicon Valley on a perfect day like this, but regardless of where you’re physically located, you can always adopt a Silicon Valley state-of-mind.

It’s shaping up to be another awesome day here. This is a perfect day to drive into San Francisco, and take a stroll along Fisherman’s Wharf; maybe do some shopping at Pier 39. Another great idea on a day like this is to take Highway 92 across the San Mateo Bridge, and all the way down the windy path to Half Moon Bay for a few clams and the freshest vegetables you’ve tasted in your life. I’m keeping my options open today; I’m not sure how it’s going to turn out, but it’s guessing it will be good.

As I’m writing this, it’s about 7am. It's a bit chilly outside, but not too cold--a comfortable breeze rolls by once in a while, and the sun is starting to make its presence which puts a nice warm touch on things. The Sammy lays quietly next to me in anticipation for Dad to stand up so she can shepherd me into the kitchen for breakfast. Kim has yet to awake. I can hear the sounds of several different species of birds at different distances, and the squirrels are playing tag as the run a circuit around the fence, palm tree, and solar panels. One squirrel just took a break to get a drink of water from the pool. He looked up at me in a rush, as if to say, “thanks, gotta go, I'm it.

We have a lot of stereotypes to deal with out here in Silicon Valley, most of which are true. Many people think we simply bliss out from time to time--they're right. This environment is conducive to a spiritual mood, whatever spirit happens to move you.

Different people have their beliefs, and I'm certainly not one to impose my religious beliefs on anyone. What I can tell you is that periods of calm reflection and a connection to a higher power made me a better person. You should use your quiet time to put your life into perspective. The biggest problem with extended myopic execution is it creates an over-inflated sense of self-importance. Trust me, the fate of humanity does not rest in your hands.

Take some time to spend with your partner and family. If you're a leader, take some time with your management team away from the office to reflect and improve. But most of all take some time for yourself: quiet, uninterrupted time to just rest and think about where you fit in the grand scheme of things. I promise, it will make you a better partner, parent, leader, and a decent human being. And wouldn't you agree that we need more decent human beings on this planet?

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Posted by on in Program Management

The subscription functionality on the blog works now, so please subscribe to my blog—really!

If you click “subscribe to blog” at the Silicon Valley State of Mind blog, a small window will appear asking for your name and email. As you may expect, when you subscribe in this way, you’ll get an email delivered every time a new post is made. When I rolled out the website a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t realize this wasn’t working. I guess I should have tested it, but it slipped my mind. So yesterday, my colleague Dave Gardner who runs the popular Business Execution Insights blog sent me a note to tell me my new blog had a bug.

Yikes!

Although it wasn’t the best news, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world, so I was working with the techies in Malaysia last night to figure out what was going on. Of course we resolved it, and it’s fixed now. Not only is this fixed, but since we were already under the hood, we tweaked a few more things that should make the site work better.

Although I’m not thrilled to fix this in production (i.e. after it has already been released to the world), I don’t have any regrets. It’s important to move when you think you’re ready—forget about set, and just go. Don’t get me wrong, there’s value in the set phase, but it’s usually not enough to justify the cost in time. Most people and organization undervalue time: as if it’s free. Time is not free at all! Time is probably the most precious resource you have because its not at your discretion to spend and it cannot be replenished.

By the way, you still need ready, don’t try to skip over that step! Planning is important, but over-planning is foolish. When you approach a project—large or small—think about your objectives and reasons first. Then, think about priorities to help you gauge your time. Finally, come up with at least one alternative or path that seems to make sense.

Then just go.

You’ll need to make adjustments, but that’s okay. Learn to anticipate these “realtime opportunities for improvement”, and build competence in adjusting quickly in the moment. Valuing time like this will pay dividends many times over. It took me less than an hour to fix the subscribe problem—if that’s the worst of my problems, I’m in good shape.

And, don’t forget to subscribe to my blog!

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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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