Book Review: Switch

July 13, 2010

Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is HardSwitch

Chip and Dan Heath provide an easily readable text on change. and in this case, the definition of change being both organizational change and self actualization.

Written in made to stick allegorical format, (the elephant and the rider) the text explains much of the psychology of change in an easy to read, easy to understand format. And let me clarify – they are not attempting to demonstrate some pop-science idea, they use current learning in psychology and behavioral theory  and package in a way that makes it intuitive for those of us who did not major in psychology or the behavioral sciences.

One interesting concept they explore is what behavioral theory calls self fulfilling prophecy. Simply put; if you think of yourself, (or more importantly, about others) in either a positive or a negative fashion, the more likely that we (or they) begin to act or to behave in a fashion that matches those positive or negative perceptions.

And a statistic that the authors identify?

..in an analysis of 558 emotion words – 62 % were negative

So at least in the English language – we humans seem to come pre-wired to think negatively about ourselves or others rather than positively. We demonstrate this by relentless focus on problems, or what was wrong, we don’t look at solutions or what went right.

To paraphrase the authors, four A’s on a child’s report card always seem to be eclipsed by the one F grade don’t they?

The SMB Takeaway

Problems are easy to spot, progress and success is  much harder. So make an effort to celebrate the successes. Celebrate the positives.

You may find that they become more visible, and more frequent.

PS: the italicized made to stick is a reference to the authors first book of that title!

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SMB Business Executives, Please Return To Class!

Why do only 27% business leaders claim to feel ‘smart’ or informed about their corporate IT?

That statistic comes from a Harvard Business Review post by Susan Cramm titled; How IT-Smart Is Your Organization?

First, that number is much too low. As a manager in the small to medium enterprise do you consider your self ‘IT Smart’?

I will guess you feel the same way as those statistics, and together we absolutely need to get that number higher.

Do you know how much money you are spending on your business technology?

The referenced article is referencing large enterprises, I guarantee for most SME businesses your small business IT costs will still be one of your larger expenses.

And of the money that you currently spend, 71% may be doing very little for you.

Does this mean that that as a general manager you should be signing up for that computer science program at your local university?

No, not at all.

But I recommend that you understand at a relevant level of detail.

The SMB Takeaway

And the good part for you is that this executive class can start with just some basic questions.

The Teacher is in!

Photo Credit OntCopper via flickr

The folks at Plan-Net pointed me to their post titled; Experiential Learning explained through Confucius

The above post is targeted at teaching IT staff understanding of, rather than the just the theory of ITIL(Emphasis mine);

The know-how is more important than the know-what, therefore certificates may not be enough if they do not give practical experience of the knowledge they provide.

For managers in the small to medium business space, this issue goes much farther than just ITIL.

Hiring IT Staff

If you are a manager in the smaller business, you may not have the full technical ability to validate a prospective candidates actual technical skill sets.

So when it comes time to look at hiring, what do we do?

One thing we commonly use is a proxy that we hope proves that particular candidates have the skills that they claim they do, and that proxy?; The certification.

Cognitive vs Experiential Learning

What happens when a young child touches a hot stove? Experiential learning (direct experience). You can accurately predict that they won’t likely touch a hot stove again. Experience effectively demonstrated that it is an unpleasant thing to do!

As we move beyond infancy and early childhood, we begin to utilize cognitive or academic learning.  In this case we learn without having the direct experience ourselves.  We learn from having been told, we learn that there are positive or negative consequences in particular actions, even if personally never have performed that action before.  (I have never been in an air craft accident, but I don’t need personal experience to know that I never want to either!)

This experiential vs cognitive has nothing to directly do with age, we are individuals, some of us learn better one way (ie experiential) than others. Just as some are graphic learners, others auditory learners etc.

Because different people learn in different ways, the certification can be a fairly weak proxy of usable skill sets. Certainly, many people can can study mounds of material and be be able to apply much of it to real world issues, many others won’t. They may have memorized the material needed to pass certain exams, but do not have the ability to directly use that learning to apply to real world issues without the experience of trial and error in the real world.

This issue with how people learn leads to an issue where technical certification of a candidate exists, but the candidate has trouble finding the On / Off switch when dumped into an unfamiliar environment.

The SMB Takeaway

While technical certifications can be a minor proxy for technical skill. Do not rely on it as the one and only metric. If you do not have the ability to actively test for the IT skill set you are looking for, perhaps a member of your peer group, or a contracting firm can.

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Confident And Capable

December 9, 2009

An excellent note by Kevin Dee titled; Confident in Your Abilities AND Capable, thats Good!! The post is concerned with the all to common issue of hiring individuals who confidently over promise particular capabilities, and then their skills under-deliver. As Mr. Dee states;

It is important in the hiring process to be “analytical” about the skills you are looking for and not be “snowed” by personality.

A great post, and there are actually two points I want to collect from it.

For the smaller business, one issue that crops up is the we don’t know what we don’t know problem. If you think about it, As a business technologist, what would my probability of getting snowed in this way be if I was trying to intelligently interview a senior cost accountant?  (pretty high I would think!)

For smaller business, when it comes  to hiring IT staff, they are often in that we don’t know area where  lack of expertise in technology makes it difficult to ask and understand the questions and responses necessary to overcome some of the difficulties in reaching a determination if an individuals confidence can be backed up by capabilities.

And let me also throw in the challenge of digging through paper capabilities! Even as a technologist I was once bitten by this one; an individual who has every possible technical accreditation and certification known to technology, and could recite all of them from memory – but lacks the ability to transfer that education into practical, capable application.

In fact, after that one incident I tended to rely more on hands on interviewing in support of the verbal part.

The second point I wanted to address when it comes to capabilities, is the responsibility those of us (myself included) that write. That includes writing blogs such as this one, to properly disclose relevant experience and capabilities.

I write this blog for non-technology managers in the small to medium business, about improving your technology. As such, many of the things I write about are things that I know well – call it the been there, done that, got the T-Shirt items.

Then there is the information that I think may provide value to some people who regularly read this blog – even though I cannot consider myself as capable in the execution of that information – I feel I must ensure that in those cases, that information must be disclosed appropriately, for example in this post (at the bottom) where I identify that the information provided was beyond my pay grade.

Because no one wants to be snowed.

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Photo credit ramen junkie via flickr

Here it is, David Silversmith at Internet Evolution

The SMB Takeaway

Now is the time to act

Banning social media does not work. Your people go home sometimes – but you need to educate.

Now.

Or it will be too late

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A number of years ago I was looking to hire a junior tech staff member.

Once I reached the point where I had my short list of candidates, I set up a computer with a few common things “broken’.

Nothing really difficult or strange, but common things that often need troubleshooting on our SME computer networks.

After the interview questions  process, the candidates were turned loose on that computer. I was not looking over their shoulder, but I was close enough to observe their behaviour.

Of that days candidates, one of them started using the Windows Help system to assist him in fixing some of those problems.

I hired that individual on the spot.

We cannot always know the answers. And I want people who will go out of their way to find the answers.

That candidate was with me for a couple of years and was later hired by a large organization as a senior tech staff member. Even working with different (UNIX) servers. 

I knew he could do it!

I knew it because he was not afraid to dive and learn what he did not know.

Let me tell you people, folks like that are solid gold.

In IT, or any where else in your business.

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Book Review; Disrupting Class

December 29, 2008

Disrupting Class

Disrupting Class

Being a member of a family of past and present educators, I picked up Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton M. Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson, and Michael B. Horn.

If you have any responsibility for learning, inside or outside of the education system, (i.e. Human Resources or training staff)this book is worth a read.

The text applies Mr. Christensens’ disruptive innovations theories to the (primarily Western) education system.

The book does not require familiarity with his previous books on disruption, but I found knowing them was beneficial in understanding – in depth, the disruptive innovation context that the authors are describing.

My only issue would be that major projects are often late and cost more than they should. So in the student centric timeline estimated by the authors, I would extend that timeline until all boomers are retired, and even the first waves of Gen-X retireing.

Maybe then we see the much needed context changes described by the authors.