Processing speed

Concentrating on how fast we process data is a dangerous and unhealthy trap. Rather like fast food, we don’t consider what we’re consuming, and fall foul of the carb rush.

Instant gratification.

We’re entering (if not already in) an era where processing faster is ceasing to be an advantage. Except, maybe on trading floors, where milliseconds enables us to take advantage in a passing, temporary trade. It doesn’t add any real value to the stock being traded.

In areas of rather more substance, the data is valuable but partial. It will tell us where we’ve been (though maybe not why), but is a poor indicator for anything other than the very short term of where we’re headed.

Like the carb rush though, it’s as addictive as it is unhealthy.

Data is great for those judged on their operational strategy. Lots of numbers, comparisons, forecast returns. We become seduced and blinded by the beauty of the numbers, and judge the strategy at speed. Read the executive summary, maybe scan the rest. Compare the numbers to alternative offerings, Judge. Move on.

The foundation of strategy though does not lie in the numbers. It lies in awareness, purpose, spirit, relationships, agility, imagination, reflection. All qualitative, not easily measurable, yet vital.

The reason that the vast majority of operations strategies fail is because they are not grounded in these softer qualities. A fast food diet with little real sustenance.

I find it a sobering thought that most of the stuff of operational strategy is moving towards algorithms. Much better than us flaky humans at analysing history and projecting it forward and removing the extraneous, outlying data that is the harbinger of change, but not renowned for it’s imagination or thoughtful questioning.

The qualities that will define lasting success in the next era will be our ability to think, reflect and imagine. If we don’t make time for that, as individuals and organisations, we’re likely to have the useful lifespan of fast food packaging.

Clutter

I’m always surprised how the clutter build up.

Whether in my client’s organisations, or my own. We add new things – ideas, processes, connections – faster than we remove them.

In the early days, that’s fine – we have room and we’re growing physically – products, services, people, premises, but before long we become established and our task is to master what we do, more than add new things of maybe only marginal importance. Like unwanted guests at a party, they require our attention but don’t add much in return for it.

And these things that we add seldom arrive alone. They come as part of a package, like those software programmes and apps that are “fully featured” and contain far more than we want or will use. We may not need these extra features, but they still occupy storage and processing space.

The same seems to apply to organisations. We know what the Pareto principle tells us – that 80% of our impact comes from 20% of our resources but we often fail to follow up on it. De-cluttering an organisation can be complicated and contentious, and our loss aversion bias makes us reluctant to let things go – but if we want to keep ourselves flexible, resilient and effective we need to face it down on a regular basis.

Ideally, everybody in our organisation would be on form, on target, engaged, curious and committed. Every customer profitable. Every supplier reliable.

Reality of course is always different, but that’s not a reason for accepting it.

The clutter builds up unseen. We get used to it, walk past it, until it becomes invisible. It weaves it’s way, like bindweed, through the important stuff and like bindweed unless we get it early, is hard work to get rid of.

We are in times of rapid change, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon. If we are going to avoid falling behind, we need to have the capacity to be agile. To learn what we need to, and unlearn what we don’t.

Dangerous stuff, clutter.

The fourth addiction

I mentioned in yesterday’s blog Nicholas Taleb’s observation that the three greatest addictions are heroin, carbohydrates and a regular monthly salary.

On reflection, I think there’s a fourth.

Solutions

Most of the people I talk to in most organisations are busy. Too busy seeking efficiency at what they do to notice what’s going around them.

When an issue arises, they want a fast, reliable solution, preferably proven elsewhere.

I term it the “flu plus” syndrome. Something to take that masks a deeper underlying challenge so we can carry on regardless- at least until the underlying issue manifests in a more serious way.

We are all subject to it. Just because I write about it doesn’t mean I’m immune to it( just a little more embarrassed at my stupidity these days.

Most of the issues we have to address can be sourced back to a few common but complex causes. For us, stress, purpose, ego etc, and for the businesses we are in culture, leadership, purpose.

There are no “solutions” to any of these. They are systemic and often “wicked” morphing in response to whatever solution we try to apply.

Wicked problems require hand to hand combat. Curiosity, vulnerability, determination and an anchoring in purpose. It’s hard work, and there better be a good reason for facing the pain.

On the other hand, it’s energising. We discover things about ourself and the problem. We grow.

Other people’s solutions leave us stunted.

Solutions are easy, but come at a price.