Linear or Logarithm?

The article Predicting the Future and Exponential Growth certainly caught my attention right from the beginning, by asking, “How many times would I have to fold a sheet of paper for the height of the folded paper to reach the moon?” It goes on to build on its thesis, “Human beings have terrible intuition for exponential growth.”

Looking in a historical rearview mirror can encumber our projections of the future, especially in a period of exponential growth. The article helped articulate my perspective on why now it is more important than ever to look at the business challenges of today and the factors contributing to those challenges, then create strategy based on what the emerging future might look like. The linear progression of the past may not be that relevant.

I am currently working on a technology plan for my organization. We find ourselves with a legacy architecture that has existed for a long time. Its not that we didn’t realized it needed to change—we saw that need several years ago. The factors contributing to the need for something different include new technologies, mobile workers, need for sharing work and a greater geographical reach of our business.

Perhaps what we didn’t see was how the change curve was continuing to accelerate. There’s a tricky bias in looking back. If you don’t look far enough, it’s easy to think you haven’t changed much, as any small portion of a curve look like a relatively straight line. We have to take a longer-term approach to be able to see the magnitude of change and how it accelerates over time. Here’s where logarithms come into play. In doing so, it becomes clear that if we don’t significantly increase the pace of change, we will fall further behind.

Breaking out of a comfortable speed limit of execution is really difficult. What must change to accelerate execution? It’s not just a headcount and funding solution, it’s revisiting historical approaches, beliefs and methods. The journey has just begun.

Reaping Lessons from the Farm

Photo by Mark Baker

Photo by Mark Baker

I often hear colleagues express frustration with their work life. Too many meetings. Lack of clarity on problems (and solutions). Limited resources. Being too busy. I, too, feel the strain at the end of the day or week.

On occasion, I think back to my childhood and the time spent with my father and grandfather discussing their farming heritage, working on various farms, or even working in the garden. It seems like that was such a simpler, basic and natural lifestyle. There was always plenty of work to be done. The chores could be endless, fluctuated a lot and weren’t always predictable (weather, animals, equipment breakdowns, etc.). It was hard and didn’t always deliver the anticiapted financial reward. However, there was a natural rhythm to farming, and a spirit of perseverance and hopefulness.

Upon further reflection, I can see parallels between farming and leadership that weren’t initially obvious:

  • There is a natural system at play with a variety of inputs, some of which we control and some that we don’t.
  • There are certain basic conditions that need to be present.
  • The timeframe is not one of immediate cause and effect.
  • The outcome isn’t always as expected or desired.
  • Quick fixes aren’t necessarily possible or effective.
  • Rewards are likely less tangible and longer term than what meets the eye.

Let’s break it down to see the lessons we can take from farming.




There is a lot of preparation.

Soil, equipment and facilities all need to be maintained.

What skills, education and resources are required? Do they fit the need?

Some things you can control, some you cannot.

Seed, timing, weather and luck all play a role in a successful crop.

Be clear on what you can influence and not. What do others see as necessary that you do not?

Learning comes from success and failure.

Observing and monitoring and keeping track of what is occurring along the way informs any changes for the next year. Ripping out the crop and starting over isn’t really a practical option.

Anything halfway done probably looks like a failure. Knee-jerk reactions akin to ripping out the crop mid-season aren’t likely to be successful. Be observant of the conditions for success. Do more of that, and less of what isn’t successful.

You can’t do everything.

A farmer carefully chooses what crops, how much land, how much investment is made and is sustainable.

Be disciplined in what you chose to do or introduce to your organization. What really matters?

Things inevitably will go wrong.

Things will break and won’t always turn out as expected. Have faith, learn and improve for the next time.

Understand what might go wrong in the big picture. What are practical contingencies?

Success may mean more than profits.

The majority of farmers aren’t rich, yet are successful, happy and are the cornerstones of community.

Over time, what does success really mean? Defaulting to money is likely not the dominant answer.

These well-know farming sayings are also applicable to business and leadership:

“Look before you leap for as you sow, ye are like to reap.” —Samuel Butler

“One generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests.” —Chinese proverb

They’re Here

It’s difficult to overstate the impact of millennials in the workplace. An interesting tension has developed as they have become the largest working generation, but their power is tempered by the fact that many organizations are led by their baby boomer predecessors. In roughly ten years, however, millenials will be taking the helm in droves. How differences in work styles, lifestyles and values are respected (or not respected) will shape the future of business.

startup-593341_640If you’ve ever found yourself questioning the work ethic of millenials or simply not understanding how and why they do what they do, take a gander at Why Millennials Understand the Future of Work Better Than Anyone Else. Maybe you’ll come to appreciate that, “…millennials are perfectly positioned to create the sustainable independent work economy that we—and they—need.”

If you haven’t done so already, getting up to speed on the nature and traits of millennial employees should be a priority for any leader. The payoff will be not only be easing the transition, but also maximizing the talents of this unique group.

Additional resources:

When Vaguely Right is Good Enough

Too often it is easy to fall into a trap of perfection—many of us experience this challenge from time to time. Simple decisions, such as what to wear or what to eat, can become daunting due to a proliferation of options. But is perfection always required? When is a decision good enough?

Recently I read Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts–Becoming the Person You Want to Be by Marshall Goldsmith. Essentially it is a book about the incredible challenge of personal and organizational change. Goldsmith cited one example that I found quite interesting. Goldsmith coached a senior executive who stated that one thing that would make him happy was to improve his golf game. In his late fifties, he had a lot of demands on his time, was never an accomplished athlete, and disliked practicing. Goldsmith asked, “Why don’t you quit worrying about getting better at playing golf and just enjoy it?” His point was that “marginal motivation produces a marginal outcome,” further elaborating:

“If your motivation for a task or goal is in any way compromised—because you lack the skill or don’t take the task seriously, or think what you’ve done so far is good enough—don’t take it on. Find something else to show the world how much you care, not how little.”

My personal take away is that what is most important is to choose what matters. Where do you really want to strive to be the best and make a difference? In comparison, when does being vaguely right and good enough get the job done? You will be much happier and healthier if you choose carefully where you spend your most valuable and limited resource: motivation.

For more on the topic of decisions and choices, see these earlier posts:

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.

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?

Emotional Intelligence

mind-544404_640I’ve touched on the subject of emotional intelligence a couple of times in this blog (here and here), but it’s such a fascinating topic that it bears addition discussion. Why You Need Emotional Intelligence to Succeed includes excellent graphics that capture the highlights. A large part of being effective has to do with what you see in yourself and in interactions with others. If we believe this, how do we incorporate it into our daily and weekly practices?

We are so busy and constantly wired in, filling every little bit of time with interactions on our mobile devices, that sometimes person-to-person connections get the short shrift. Recently I did an experiment to test how invested I am in the relationship with my cell phone. I challenge you to do the same.

  1. Set the timer on your phone for 30 minutes.
  2. Do not touch your phone until the timer goes off.

What happened? Did you feel anxious (as I did) to not be in possession of your phone for more than a few minutes?

I love the productivity and convenience of mobile devices, and they are crucial to my work. However, I also think there is a balance. To be truly effective, we also need to be self-aware and socially aware. We need to make space (time and place) in our lives to think and to engage with others and the world around us. Let’s regain the ability to be away from our devices and not experience withdrawal symptoms. I’m working on it!