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Latest insights and trends in Personal Analytics, Organizational and Operational Intelligence.

Jul 26
In Us We Trust

Teamwork is a tricky thing. While personal effectiveness alone is a difficult matter to understand, coupling people into well working teams had been always giving specialists a real headache.
What's the problem? – you may ask. If there's a work to be done then divide it among group members and get to it, instead of debating! Here comes well-known question about how long it will take to dig one water well for a well-motivated group of 10 people with shovels…

We may really be not quite aware of the range of the problem here. Note, that people are working in teams not even for ages but for millennia and efficiency was a real question of their survival in the past. We should already be expert in that, but are we?

Past time cases show how extraordinary, as well as how devastating, can be the result of team cooperation. We all know the story about small, well-motivated division of 300 Spartans that had stopped the Persian Army in spite of being completely overwhelmed by them in numbers. Not exactly winners in a strict sense, but treated as such in history, they were the team that amazes us even now.
On the opposite side there was a typical example of armies – huge organizations that should crave for a good teamwork, though they seem to desperately avoid a real one. The structure and ranks system make each function being always managed by one person, by principle of discipline forcing the others to just obey and not to contribute.

However, this one-man responsible approach may not look as such a bad idea if you look at other (in)famous example of military teamwork, which was American "Bay of Pigs Invasion" on Cuba in 1961, where CIA collective decisions had led to an epic failure of the operation. They seemed to be the worst possible choices from available ones, although they came from a team of most professional and outstanding specialists in the field and mostly included US president in their meetings.
In this case the most important reason of teamwork failure came from the very fact that the participants were so respectful, that their opinions were judged and favoured not by their concepts real value, but by person's position. Instead of forcing right solutions, participants were busy finding ideas that didn't contradict others. Honesty and expertise were buried deep under overmuch esteem.
The only positive effect of the whole operation was that it made the weaknesses of a teamwork so obvious, it triggered intense scientific research of the problem (as well as serious funds availability).

In today's world most of the work that needed common cooperation, like agriculture or industrial production, traditionally managed by simple tasks division among many workers, became automated. The importance of huge armies also decreases, as people, slowly and unevenly but gradually, start to understand that it is much better to talk before attempting to fight.
What gets important are creative tasks that require real team cooperation and positive thought exchange. How do we all respond to that? You can see it all around - if there's any problem or decision to make or even just a new thing we encounter at work, we invariably say: Let's make a meeting!
(If you are one of these persons, this decision tree can be a good hint.)

Talking seriously, there is quite a lot of practices that succeed in supporting innovation and cooperation in many offices, like rapid development cycles, user-centered design, open office layout or flat hierarchy and autonomy, to name some of them. They work so well, that they are being spread between companies and their divisions in many countries for an amazing effect they provide. But what really lies behind them and allows people to work and cooperate creatively?

Short cycle of development idea, that came up from a start-up culture, in its core bases on taking more chances on a new approach and accepting failure as a way of learning and innovation. Other practices facilitate team's internal communication and avoid organizational obstacles. These are not always easy to implement, as some companies could see trying to transfer them to other cultures as shown in Pamela Hinds research.

Surprising picture on how to make things even better comes from a Google team that research Google working teams (funny, isn't it?), trying to process and analyse all details about them and come out with recipe for perfect group that works like a dream.
Watching groups with really good teamwork quality, they found some intriguing things. First they saw that every member of such group was talking equally long on their meetings – that was a simple fact. It was not by design or some group rule or by leader's management. Participants by themselves took care not to neglect anybody. Then it was found that communication concerns a lot of private matters. Their meetings were not very well "organized" – topics changed often and moved easily from team objectives to unrelated themes. In spite of that disorder, results were amazing in terms of innovation and progress.

The values that came as the keys in these groups were: understanding, trust and safety. Closeness that developed from sharing personal matters transferred to interest and care in professional tasks. This provided environment where all opinions as well as comments could be accepted but honestly judged. What is more important, it provided conditions for 'safe failures' that facilitate learning, thought sharing and lead to creativity.

If you think about it, this recipe was always known and sometimes intuitively used. The 'Spartans team' I mentioned earlier, could be a good example of that. Close personal contact, communication and apparent lack of fear of failure were their main advantages over their enemies. But it seems that people always tend to think that there must be an easier way. Is it that hard to trust each other?

May 04
Be positive about your success

​Whenever we talk about personal success in today's world, we think about new ways to achieve it. We look for new ideas, approaches, opportunities and new tools. Is it really reasonable?

The positive answer is mostly based on the vision that the world is in constant progress. No matter how much we like to complain, it is obvious that knowledge an​d means accumulate and are being used for the best, (whatever this "best" means in particular case). It makes the chance to have an advantage.  But if you do not get all the "news", you will be soon outdated and others will get your success. Cruel world, I would say.

Then what about "olds"? It wasn't so long ago, when people didn't like novelties but still some of them were really successful while some other not. People valued tradition and reliability over creativity. They focused on rudiments. Every apprentice would learn this the hard way in the beginning of his career and surprisingly seemed to appreciate it still after he became the master. Maybe this is what we should look for?

The positive psychology's answer to questions about success is mostly motivation but it's not that survival motivation that I mentioned earlier nor the severe external motivation imposed on us by rules and requirements. It is intrinsic reward motivation that comes from job well done and interesting problems solved. It is the gratification that comes from the work itself that triggers us the best to do things successfully and efficiently. It is called Motivation v.2.0 by Daniel H. Pink, an author of the book: Drive: The Surprising Truth about What Motivates Us, where he explains scientific research that lead to this conclusion, as well as the reasons why it is more important nowadays then it was in old times.
I would add, that as this motivation stays with us, there is no reason to ​refrain from enhancing it by taking life into own hands with the help of Omnicontext™ Personal Analytics​.

Then why so many of us aren't that eager to have their work done as soon as they can and doesn't get this satisfaction that easy? Why some of us even repeatedly put off what they should do or even what they have chosen to do? While motivation leads us towards our tasks, there are certain emotions, coming from our past, that stand in the way, providing obstacles and difficulties that act against our engagement. In spite of our rational attitudes, these emotions aren't easily controlled and become a real threat to our aspirations. Applying pressure doesn't really help, as these emotions are us, so the more we fight them, the more it hurts. The solution is a positive approach, rebuilding confidence and reducing stress.  Surprisingly supportive, great book by Neil Fiore, The Now Habit, can help such people get on tracks with their productivity. ​Self-awarness and self-observation is a part of the process, so ​honest record of your daytime activities by Personal Analytics is an objective help.

 

The real success requires the best of us. That is why positive psychologists discover how to free the most creative and rewarding activity of our mind in a state called the flow. It was investigated in studies on great artists, successful athletes, martial arts masters and then described by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi from University of Chicago, as well as by researchers at Harvard. The main characteristics of this state are: being calm but highly concentrated at the same time, disappearance of distractions from consciousness, guiding actions by immediate feedback, levelling challenges with abilities and the familiar concept of the activity being rewarding just by itself. The flow can be learned, allowing to reach the functioning on a genius level.

While positive psychology is relatively new branch of this science, it can be easily noticed that these ideas intuitively appeared in most of religious and philosophical systems for ages, in the form of meditation, self-knowledge or faith ​attitudes, ​​thus being modernly researched reflections of very old concepts.

So, should we really look only for the "news"?

Mar 18
The end of the managers ?

Who can pretend that his job will still be existing in 10 years? Do we really have a choice? World is changing every single day, how we work, how we produce also. Having the best organization is a good leverage. What is sure is what is expected today to find a job and to have a good job. Skills below will be your favorite assets to have an exciting career:

  • Adaptation
  • Anticipation
  • Communication
  • Versatility
  • Team-working
  • Leadership
  • Empathy

Some of them, not to say all of them makes me think about what a manager must have, as skills. But … By the way, what a manager supposed to be or to do?  There are so many definitions, so many visions that it seems to be hard to have it definitely. I browsed the web and I liked this one:

managers.jpg
"A manager or supervisor is someone who oversees a project and/or one or more members of staff. They are responsible for getting the job done and motivating people, whilst overcoming issues such as limited resources and time."
  

All skills above are necessary and are very welcomed to hope filling these responsibilities. But as we saw, and you can check by yourself, these skills are required for most of us, for most of the jobs.

There are several reasons for that.

  • It is a good way to stimulate you, letting you deduce that you are potential candidate to become a manager or to become more important, later
  • Short-term, priority changes and lack of vision on the future pushes recruiters to have flexible and profitable people, immediately
  • Manager role is losing its substance


Yes, I insist. Losing its substance … Let me tell you why

  • It is asked more and more to managers to engage themselves in operational tasks.
    • You can be the best manager in the world, it is absolutely useless if your company is not making money
    • It would be a shame not to take advantage of managers skills and experience in production, sales or marketing activities.
    • Managing 100% of your time, nowadays, does not show the brightest side of your work. It can't discredit you or your team (which is supposed to be independent)
  • Many companies have invested a large amount of money in business intelligence, communication, reporting, collaborative tools.
    • By their usage, manager's responsibilities are done automatically and implicitly
  • A company have to change fast, so it is necessary to lower as far as possible all obstacles and too much managers make it harder.
  • Team-working, brainstorming are claimed. Best ideas or profit sources don't come from managers, automatically, but by people, working intensively on production. Which credit can have a manager when his team is bringing more and more profitable material?
  • Authority vision has changed. Who can deny it? We are more influenced and stimulated by objectives rather than authority. Also, who really cares if you don't respect authority whilst you are reaching, by default, or exceeding your objectives?
  • Having too many managers add dependency to owners or CEO


Call all of it as you want, reality, trend or future. But let me give an advice to owners, who are supposed to be one step beyond from competition.

role-of-Managers.jpg 

OmniContext TM Personal Analytics is bringing to every user a very useful information to make him, first, his own manager. Which means that he can have a better control on his own work to reach or exceed his objectives.

Associating this tool with a good communication and an intensive team-working makes people more involved and more recognized, so more stimulated. Obviously, OmniContext TM can also bring a global vision in order, for you, owner, to keep control and to prevent all excess.

This way, we, all, become managers by assuring a mix of operational, reporting and management tasks. That means that none of us is a manager. As always, all and nothing leads to the same conclusion.

Is it to tell that managers will disappear? Yes, or, at least, managers will become rarer and higher in the hierarchy.

Today, you're an owner, you need three things to be done:

  • Use skills listed above to recruit your staff
  • Forget about managing
  • Start using OmniContext TM Personal Analytics
Mar 02
Who Said Measuring Yourself is Good?

Originally I thought of writing a post about the strange fears of analyzing yourself at work and how that is in contradiction with having no fears of improving your health by using fitness trackers. Now it looks like that intention is obsolete, because the contradiction is being seriously questioned.

In the not so distant past, we all knew that exercising is good, that every responsible person has to work on staying fit, and that the culture of regular exercise helped us to the longest life expectancy (well beyond 80 for most developed countries) ever seen in human history.

So far so good, but the resistance is apparently mounting, and largely it has to do with insurance contracts and fitness trackers. You exercise more, prove that with your fitness tracking data, and your health insurance will cost you less – this concept now quickly makes its way into the insurance business. And we hear more and more that it is “grossly unfair”. The reasons range from the fundamental human right to “not be penalized for non-exercising” all the way to fully blown conspiracy theories about malicious tech companies wanting our very precious personal data for making billions in profits through some mysterious mechanisms (just as a side note: in one of my recent blog posts I showed the calculation of those very precious data bringing the profit of about five dollars a year in the best case).

Following this logic, should we agree that personal analytics at work is the same if not more problematic? That the “culture of fitness”, when applied to workplace, would unfairly penalize those who are willing to stay as they are and not surrender to the pressure of ever increasing productivity?

I would not agree, and I have two reasons to say so. One reason is that our productivity is for the most part not where it has to be, the same perhaps as the fitness of many of us. I am collecting the various relevant numbers and shall write a separate post on this topic next week.

The other part is that one does not have to measure every own action by whatever instructions are presented to us. Sometimes we listen too much to all sorts of (often self-proclaimed) authorities and too little to our own common sense. Exercise is good for your health, and if a fitness tracker helps you do it, just use it and benefit, no matter what all the warning voices say. In the same way, personal analytics tells you how you spend your time and how much you do of those things that are important. Once you know this, you can do more of those important things in the same time. Do we have to keep thinking that it is “unfair” to somebody who just does not want to improve? There is really no reason in the world.​

Feb 06
The Revelation about Engagement: You Have Homework to Do

The opening talk at a conference earlier this week, where we went to present OmniContext Personal Analytics, was by Marshall Goldsmith. This was a brilliant presentation, and its topic was a new approach to engagement at work.

The essential message from Dr. Goldsmith was about engagement actually being the person's own responsibility rather than multiple complex obligations from the company. I found it very unexpected. Not the concept as such, which is very logical, but the apparent fact that it goes against all established rules of conduct in today's businesses. Those rules of conduct obviously are that improving engagement means for the company endless thinking how to give me some new or additional perks, incentives, and all possible warm and fuzzy feelings so the miracle would happen and I would become engaged. And it does not seem at all that something would be expected of me.

Well, Marshall Goldsmith suggests that I have my own things to do as well, and those are based on asking myself a series of questions about what I did today and what efforts I applied myself to do what I think I should have done. This makes perfect sense. And still, what has happened to this world that we have to be convinced of this now, as if it were really something unheard of?

Probably it has to do with different types of persons. An entrepreneur would not wait for somebody else to come up with a set of perks to make him engaged. Now we know that many businesses are trying to make their employees think and act as entrepreneurs. This is the single most powerful factor in increasing individual productivity and efficiency. So this personality type will probably grow in numbers.

It is for this sort of professionals that we develop Personal Analytics. Understand what you do and how you work, and verify every day that you are doing what you think is right.​

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