Playing Business Like the Oakland A’s

If gross miscalculations of a person’s value could occur on a baseball field, before a live audience of thirty thousand, and a television audience of millions more, what did that say about the measurement of performance in other lines of work? If professional baseball players could be over- or under-valued, who couldn’t? Bad as they may have been, the statistics used to evaluate baseball players were probably far more accurate than anything used to measure the value of people who didn’t play baseball for a living.

—Michael Lewis, Moneyball, pg. 72, in reference to what Bill James’ Baseball Abstracts revealed.

Think for a moment how often you have heard people say, “Because I know it will work,” or “He just seems to work harder than his colleagues,” or “She puts in more hours and thus is more valuable,” or even “I was told this by x person and therefore y must be the case.”

Like baseball, business is full of mystery and assumptions. Because we feel or think something doesn’t make it true. Because it happened that way in the past doesn’t mean it will happen that way in the future. Because a few customers have that perception doesn’t mean the viewpoint is accurate.

Most people who are misplaced in a job are misplaced either because they were the wrong hire to begin with, or because no one took the time to train them properly. (Note the “most” qualifier—there are certainly exceptions.) But how can we properly train someone if we don’t measure their performance accurately, with statistics that matter and contribute to the bottom line?

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Impossible: Ban It from Your Vocabulary

The word “impossible” keeps many people from doing what they’re capable of. Along with many other words, “impossible” should be banned from your vocabulary.

Now, there are certainly things in life that are impossible, but you won’t know what they are until you try them and then try again. A lack of precedence doesn’t necessitate a reality of constraints. Biblical interpretation actually serves as a good example for explaining this point.

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Being My Dog’s Writing Voice

What is it like to be someone else’s writing voice? Fiction authors deal with this question. Editors contemplate this problem. Ghost writers live this dilemma.

Although I’m against the idea of ghost writing, and thus have never ghost written, I imagine that it teaches you a great deal about writing. When you have to be someone else’s voice, you learn to be more authentic to your own voice. You also learn about the art of rewriting.

I recently made one exception to my ghost writing rule—but it’s because the person I made the exception for can’t write (literally). I made the exception for my dog Milton.

Milton the dog recently started a birthday for a cause. If you like his writing voice, donate—he will appreciate you helping people living in extreme poverty.

Have you ever written in the voice of your pet? What did it teach you?

If It Doesn’t Ship, It Doesn’t Exist

If your ideas aren’t on paper, they don’t exist. If the project doesn’t ship, it doesn’t exist.

This simple mantra, which I likely learned from the software industry, should make us think twice about the rewrite and that one last proofread. It should also make us consider how long we’re willing to spend with the white rabbit named Research.

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They Don’t Care: Half the Battle Isn’t Showing Up

It was cold outside. I could see my breath. The section lead of the drum line didn’t show up. I was a freshman—third snare drum. I realized, “I’m going to have to lead this.”

I rallied the line and we went onto the field. My hands were shaking—part nerves and part cold. My drum roll at the beginning of the Star Spangled Banner was inconsistent. It was embarrassing. (Who messes up the national anthem?) We moved on. We began the pep band songs. I was off rhythm for two entire measures; it took four more measures to get the drum line back in sync.

We left the field. My band instructor grabbed my snare harness near my shoulders. He looked me in the eyes and yelled over the noise of the crowd, “Barry, what happened?” I replied, “My hands were cold. And I just learned the cadence last week.” He yelled, “You hear that?” He pointed towards the crowd. “They don’t care. They don’t care. They don’t care that your hands were cold. They don’t care that you just learned the cadence. They don’t care.”

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5 Principles to Lead By

Innovation without excellent execution will fail. And execution without innovation is a waste of time.

What makes a team different? What makes them unique?

I think the combination of five things can set any team apart:

  1. The Henry Gantt principle: Execute well and follow through
  2. The William Zinsser principle: Use art, story, risk and science to communicate
  3. The Jacqueline Novogratz principle: Solutions is the answer in an interconnected world
  4. The Seth Godin principle: Be a rebar company that creates tribes around linchpin products and people
  5. The Donald Clifton principle: Play to strengths, working as a unit

What type of leader are you? Where will you lead?

What principle would you add to the list?

It’s All About the Follow-Up

I have a massive sequence of reminders built into my life. This is for one simple reason: I don’t trust myself to remember everything that I need to do. I don’t even trust a task list; instead, it’s all on my calendar.

Most business partnerships I’ve developed have happened (in part) because of follow-up reminders. (Of course, this is after the partnership has been built on good will, honesty, and working towards a goal that benefits all involved.) It’s the reminders, though, that prompted the work to happen. I see the reminder and I immediately check on the status of the partnership. This principle is also true for project management in general.

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Frustrated? It’s for a Reason

Sometimes amazing things are started out of frustration. Other times, they’re created because someone wants to make a profit. And at other moments, the new comes to be simply because it seemed like a good idea.

Cameron Strang has some great reasons for creating Relevant, as this video illustrates. (And he rides a Vespa in the epic of MxPx. That dumb joke is for Cameron; don’t worry, he will get it.)

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Initiate, Plan; Initiate and Plan Again

It’s easy to spend most of our time reacting to problems. Some of us are built for this, meant for it even, but it shouldn’t be what we do with the majority of our time—unless that’s actually our job description. (Many IT people and Customer Service reps actually have this job description and rightfully so.)

Isn’t it just better to plan? As the boy scouts say: “Be prepared.” I would rather not have my inbox decide my schedule. I prefer to initiate over having my surroundings decide for me.

Much of the urgent is only urgent because we didn’t address it last month, last week, or yesterday. I’m a believer in the “clear the inbox” and “every problem should be addressed now” mentality—whenever possible. Yet, this too must be built into our planning. (I certainly don’t live up to this, but it’s a goal.) Problems often seem more manageable in retrospect; so, if we make retrospect now, we will be able to apply the lesson from today to tomorrow’s problems before they begin.

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Projects Are Like Toddlers

I now have a weekly time scheduled for re-planning current projects. When you hear the idea stated that way, it doesn’t make much sense. Wouldn’t current projects already be planned? Yes, but they will always need more strategic love.

If you’re not constantly evaluating a project, it will fall on its face, like a toddler learning to walk. The toddler will get hurt and something will be permanently damaged. And this has nothing to do with how competent your team is or how competent the people you work with are. You can work with some of the best people in the world–like I do–and projects will still fail along the way. Projects are still growing up, constantly, until they ship.

The goal is to put safety measures in place–as many as possible to prevent fatal errors.

Like real babies, no one loves your project as much as you do. No one cares about your baby’s cute looks like you do or how much it’s struggling.

Other people are also unlikely to babysit for you. So get over it now: don’t be upset when other people drop the ball on your project. They’re not the parent. They’re not even the babysitter. They’re the neighbor you asked to watch the kid for an hour. And who can blame them? Like the neighbor, they have other obligations. Again, you can work with some of the best in the world, and it will still happen, because the best in the world are always busy for good reasons on other great projects. You love it, they don’t. So love it and then sell them (as much as possible) on why they should love it too.

There is no perfect plan. There are always unknowns. You can try to plan for the unknowns and the unknowns will sneak up on you anyway. And that presents the second project strategy goal: prevent calling 911. And then, you pray and work hard.

How do you raise your project babies–any tips?

(P.S. I’m not a father of a real baby, but I convince myself that Milton the dog counts.)

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