My 10 Standard Operating Principles

Teams operate best when they have perfect clarity and focus. This can be challenging to almost impossible at times, but one thing I have learned is we all need a common set of operating principles to fall back on when clarity and focus are in short supply. These basic principles  are intended to help an individual or team to keep moving. The list provides basic tools to help create clarity or to allow for action to be taken without fear of a mistake.  I have found that 7 out of 10 principles generally work for any team and only need minor adjustment or 2 or 3 additional principles.  I am also constantly looking for ways to refine the principles to make them more clear and actionable without being specific instructions.  So here they are in no particular order:

  1. 2 in the box.  Escalate until you have someone with shared responsibility or accountability. Batons get passed not dropped.
  2. Lead with a straw man. No one likes to be put on the spot, give them something to work with or to save face with if they are not prepared.
  3. A problem has a cause and a solution bring both.
  4. Decisions are made better with data.
  5. People understand what they know.  Give examples using what they know.
  6. Outcomes first, then focus on the means and the credit.
  7. Your communicating enough when you feel like you are bothering people.
  8. UNODIR (Unless Otherwise Directed) Take measured action, adjust and communicate.
  9. Draw a picture.  A picture is worth 10 meetings (at least), even one hand drawn in pencil and scanned.
  10. Here Be Dragons.  There are many risks, challenges and issues mark them for others.

These 10 aren’t perfect but they can only get better.

Unconquered

One of my favorite poems, I find myself re-reading it on occasion.

Invictus
By: William Ernest Henley

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.

Three Interesting Things about Me

  1. I have done every terrible job on a construction site, and know firsthand the value of a working trash pump.
  2. I wrote my first BASIC program in the 5th grade and was the only 11 year old in programming class full of adults.
  3. I could eat pizza everyday of my life, It is my favorite food.

2 lessons I learned that were critical in my career

Key lesson #1:
One of the most powerful things you can do for the people around you is provide clarity. Clarity empowers people, improves execution and allows for greater accountability. I always try to keep in mind the quote by Lewis Carroll “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there”. 
 
Key lesson #2:
We all need help along the way and my success can not be attributed to my efforts alone. I have succeeded because others helped when I needed it, sometimes without my knowledge. So having been a beneficiary of many investments of help throughout my career, I have an obligation to repay those investments by helping others when they need it. 

 

Some Travel Highlights

I have been fortunate enough to travel a bit, so I though I would share some highlights to date.

Traveling through the Swiss Alps one fine Saturday in early June.

Looking out at the Alps

Looking over the Edge at Dun Aengus on the Aran Island in Ireland

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via Ingo Mehling

Watching the Fog Roll in on San Francisco

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via runner310

Experiencing the power of Niagara Falls up close

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Looking out over Chamonix from atop the Aiguille du Midi

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The Amazing views of the London Skyline

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Quotes for the week

Jeff Bezos in the December 3, 2012 issue of Fortune Magazine

Your margin is my opportunity.

Amazon’s willingness to operate on lean margins, with a customer focus, and a long term perspective creates a powerful competitive advantage. Mr. Bezos and Amazon may be drinking your milkshake next.

Matt Honan in January 2013 issue of Wired Magazine

Even the sharpest 4K set, with the thinnest of bezels and darkest of blacks, isn’t going to help you track down that episode of Breaking Bad you missed.

Even with great design and technology, a product still must solve the right problems.

Data Trumps Everything

When Apple released its mapping application for iOS it confirmed what many big data evangalists had been preaching, Data Trumps Everything.(eventually)

Best design, worthless without data.

Sophisticated Software, worthless without data.

While Apple won the first round in the mobile platform wars using world class design and excellent user experience, they have shown the gap in their strategy, their Achilles heal. The rapidly  approaching next generations of personal computing will be built on a foundation Hardware and software differentiated with DATA.

This reality was made even more visible at the Gartner  Application Architecture, Development & Integration Summit, during a Keynote interview of Michael Abbott,  a partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Mr. Abbott expressed concern about the walled gardens of data (read Google, twitter, Facebook)  becoming significant barriers to competition and innovation.

Michael Abbot is exactly right. The next innovations, as we move to a cognitive economy, will require access to data, massive amounts of data. Scale and access will become huge advantages and barriers. Start-up organizations will be hard pressed to innovate without having access to these sources of data.  While some innovative companies will be able to create ways to collect and build their own reservoirs of data, others will have to partner to gain access.  But the bottom line is excellent hardware and software are table stakes in the cognitive economy, but data will be the coin of the realm.

In the case of Apple Maps, it is hard to believe Apple would ever catch Google. Google has long held an advantage with search and it’s velocity of innovation and improvement are difficult to match. Apple would have to exceed the rate at which Google is innovating and collecting data. With the ever increasing population of google powered devices it doesn’t look good for Apple.

Never Give up the Tools

My Father, was a carpenter by trade, He once told me “Tom, never give up the tools. Anyone can make lists and give orders, but only a small number of people can make something out of nothing. Someone will always be willing to pay you to make something out of nothing or pay you for something you have made.” Being a 20 year old, his point was lost on me, I didn’t know any better.

Now 20 years on and seeing and mentoring others, I understand the points my Father was trying to make. So this is what I think he was trying to say:

  • You lose more than you think when giving up a skill so choose wisely.
  • Money and power won’t satisfy your need to create and see things completed.
  • People value what you can do more that what you say.
  • There is no substitute for hard skilled work.
  • Always have something to fall back on. (Or as Reid Hoffman in the The Start-Up of You called it a plan z,a backstop)

What do you think about giving up the tools?