Expert or Adviser?

Are you an expert? An adviser? Both? Experts have deep technical expertise, high expectations, and consistent performance. The job is to be precise and right. They take on the work and get it done to expectations and beyond. Think surgeon, financial investor, aerospace engineer, etc.

An adviser may have many of the same characteristics, but the primary focus is to be helpful. They provide input and guidance. They may assist in a decision-making process without taking control or responsibility. They often point out multiple options and the pros and cons of each. Think coach, instructor, family counselor.

There is nothing wrong with either role. Sometimes we might need both, or one might be more appropriate than the other for a given situation. Personal health care is a good example. Do I need a surgical or medical intervention, which would require an expert? Or am I considering changing behavior to become healthier, thereby needing an adviser for guidance and support?

hat-392732_640As a leader, what’s important is to recognize when you need to be in an expert role versus and adviser role. If you approach a situation that warrants an expert and you have your adviser hat on, you may be perceived as indecisive and perhaps lacking in competence. However, if you act as an expert when an adviser is needed, you may come across as too authoritative and not empathetic. Matching the role to the need on a situation-by-situation basis will increase your effectiveness.

A Curated Life

In last week’s post Less is More, I lightly referenced the problem of being bombarded with choices. Author Steve Rosenbaum, in a recent blog post, describes the challenge:

And yet — this abundance of connectivity has created a conundrum. It’s what author and psychologist Barry Schwartz calls the paradox of choice. Simply put — when we have too many options, too much input — we find ourselves overwhelmed with abundance. Young people called it FOMO, fear of missing out. And that fear leaves us often frozen in a blizzard of choice, unable to manage the volume of unfiltered input.

His solution? Living a curated life. Rosenbaum offers a five-pronged approach that is particularly useful in addressing the abundance of technology options and how to sift and winnow to a manageable number:

  1. Take a personal ‘rhythm’ inventory
  2. Right size your tools to your life
  3. Filter your friends
  4. Get offline and explore real world experiences
  5. You are what you Tweet and eat

The goal is to, “…not let devices or content drive how you live your life.”

Item two on the list gives me pause. I would hardly know where to begin itemizing all of the technology tools, websites, and apps that I touch every day. Rosenbaum suggests, “But if we’re going to curate our life, the first place to start is with our devices. Open your phone, look at each and every app you have — and delete 2/3’s of them.”


It’s so easy to be seduced by the many choices in the marketplace. Look at all of the choices we have as consumers.  Interestingly, there are companies that are leveraging this idea of curation.  Examples include: Canoe, Snow Peak, and Trunk Club.

What’s that saying about the first step toward recovery is admitting you have a problem? Yikes.


Less is More

516TXpkm6+LGreg McKeown is the author of the acclaimed book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. His website offers this description:

“The Way of the Essentialist isn’t about getting more done in less time. It’s not about getting less done. It’s about getting only the right things done. It’s about challenging the core assumption of ‘we can have it all’ and ‘I have to do everything’ and replacing it with the pursuit of ‘the right thing, in the right way, at the right time’. It’s about regaining control of our own choices about where to spend our time and energies instead of giving others implicit permission to choose for us.”

In an early 2015 Harvard Business Review article, McKeown argues that success is a catalyst for failure. The opportunities that we are bombarded with due to success causes us to lose the clarity that provided success in the first place.

His simple rules apply to both our personal and professional lives. To paraphrase:

  • What am I absolutely passionate about? In the absence of passion, don’t waste time on what is simply average.
  • What is absolutely essential? Once that is determined, eliminate the rest.
  • Beware of the weight of “sunk costs.” Just because you own something, don’t feel you need to keep it. Just because you’ve always done something, that doesn’t sentence you to keep doing it indefinitely.

I’m sure there are things at both work and home where I am holding onto something that I’m not passionate about and/or is not essential. It must be valuable because why else would I hold onto it, right? Perhaps its time for a little soul searching and spring cleaning to purge some of the “more” to fully appreciate the value of “less.” The tough question is where to start?

A Beautiful Mind

Last month, the national news headlines included a sad story of an elderly couple killed in a tragic accident on the New Jersey Turnpike. My family members, all avid moviegoers, recognized the husband as John Nash, the somewhat fictionalized subject of the move “A Beautiful Mind.”

For me, his name brought back memories of economics and game theory coursework in graduate school. In particular, I recall the “Nash equilibrium,” an expansion of win/lose or zero-sum models. Nash also broadened the concept of multiple people maximizing the benefits when they act in their own self interest, which is known as the “prisoner’s dilemma.” Over the years, I have used this model and drawn dozens of matrices along these lines:

My daughters had a bit of Nash’s theories as part of their high school math coursework—they tend to have a bit of “math nerd” in them just like Mom and Dad. After the news story broke we had a lively and interesting discussion about Nash and his work. I think my daughters were impressed that, for once, I could actually discuss the subject of a movie. This led to the later exchange of  articles written about John Nash’s life and work, including:

Nash was a Nobel Prize winner, a unique feat given his long history with mental illness and absence from traditional academics and academic research. However, his key insights were just that impactful. R.I.P.

Weekly Download 15.10


Here’s a recap of news and notes from around the Web that caught my attention over the past week or so.

First there was the bullwhip effect. Now, the new concept is called the Cobra Effect, a similar lesson expressed in a different way. I like it. These “effects” underscore that you need to understand the broader context (system) to effectively solve the problem. Systems thinking is a critical management and leadership skill.

Guilty as charged: I have lots of “Baker-isms.” None of them are original or unique, but supposedly there is at least one list being kept. It figures that this summary of crazy work-related phrases caught my eye. How many do we use within our organizations and never even think about it? Perhaps we could start a “swear jar” and have to put in a quarter each time we’re caught using one.

What makes a great bagel? Here’s one analysis. Regardless of the science behind it, I can still practically smell the bagels I would pick up on a road trip from Evanston back to Wisconsin. Kaufman’s is the master, IMHO. My local resident expert (Steve Lipton) would even agree.

The Amoco Pencil Retention Policy

You never know what you might find when looking back through your archives. The Amoco pencil policy memo came my way may years ago via a colleague, Rich Mac Millan, from the Amoco Joliet Chemical plant.

realiteamoco vintage pencilsThis historical treasure provides insight into business culture of the times. There is pronounced top-down management control. The company was introducing a new advancement in office productivity that came with a significant investment to be protected. They put in place a highly detailed implementation plan for a six-month trial, and it’s clear that the only acceptable response to this memo was, “Yes, sir.” No negotiating, no putting a personal spin on the process. Employee empowerment, teams, collaborative decision making, etc. were not in the business lexicon at that time. Imagine today’s Gen X and Gen Y employees working in such an environment.

Amoco pencil retention

P.S. The pencils in the picture are now mine courtesy of eBay. It will be a time honored reminder of how things change.

What Would Einstein Do?

albert-einstein-401484_640“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” —Albert Einstein

I was reminded of this quote recently when I was at an event where a group of CIOs were discussing current challenges. The cloud, security, and increasing demands to do more with less consistently floated to the top of the conversation. Instead of being energized with new ideas and momentum after these conversations, I sometimes found myself scratching my head. Without continually stepping back, challenging tradition and focusing on the larger business goal, we can stay trapped in traditional solutions.

Here are three such conversations that showed organizations stuck in outmoded practices.

Example #1: Security questionnaires from customers are becoming more frequent and detailed, and often include questions not grounded in in the reality of today’s environment. For example, one organization had two-factor authentication in place, thereby not requiring passwords. The questionnaire asked, “Do you have complex passwords – yes or no? The answer is “no,” which implies that there is insufficient security, but two-factor is actually better than complex passwords. In this case, traditional compliance requests keep us from moving forward to better solutions.

Example #2: Many organizations have been moving email to the cloud, decreasing retention periods but increasing mailbox sizes. Perhaps less quantity of email to manage, but email is still the defacto (now shorter term) document management and collaboration system. Perhaps the longer term view is to move towards newer ways of working together that don’t require email (see Un-Unified Communication). Over time, this would increase productivity and organically better secure data.

Example #3: One discussion thread suggested that the only workloads that make economic sense to move to the cloud are those where there is highly variable demand (seasonality), because renting capacity to support a steady workload would be more expensive. However, this premise neglects to consider that hard or direct cost is just one component of the overall price tag. New thinkers might ask, “Could I use this investment for something with a higher return or use resources to manage services/applications with greater value?” After all, most organizations choose to rent office space instead of buying – how is renting cloud space any different (see How to Wring More Value from the Cloud)?

In the end, I see the need to challenge our traditional thinking, step out of the box, and ask the big-picture question – what are we really trying to accomplish and why? Speed, flexibility, scalability, better value, and access to applications are only possible with different thinking. It’s not easy—and I have bruises and failures to prove it—but the direction is clear.