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Doctor's Note - Issue 25 - The Greed for Speed
In this issue: The Greed for Speed / Shut up and do something / Guff of the Week / Power of Ten / Online Courses / The Linkhole / Book Corner
The greed for speed
I often see the same symptoms in the first sessions with my coaching clients. They're highly stressed, feeling overwhelmed, sometimes close to burnout, experiencing unreasonable time demands from bosses, each day of work never seeming to make adequate progress or have focus.
For the coachee to make progress about what they want to do and where they want to be in the next few years, they first need to make space and time to think and reflect. So the first sessions are focused on bringing stress levels back down, reframing priorities, and resetting boundaries between work and personal life. The effect is palpable in subsequent sessions. Coachees talk slower, more reflectively and start to see a life and future beyond work. But this deals with the symptoms, not the cause: the greed for speed.
Speed is considered a self-evident Good Thing™ in business. As with most apparently self-evident things, laddering up the whys gets to the underlying values. When I ask coachees why there is such pressure to go faster, they usually point to their line manager's demands. When we examine why those people are piling on the pressure to go faster, it's usually because the CEO is under pressure from investors. Those folks want the company to grow bigger, faster. It helps to remind coachees that these are already wealthy people wanting to become even wealthier, quicker. Then the question is whether the coachee's weekends and evenings or lack of time with their loved ones is worth it for that goal. Usually not.
It's not that the employees aren't going fast enough or that there is "too much work to be done." It's that the company hasn't put enough resources in place to meet their ambitions. They can either scale back those ambitions and shareholder promises or pressure employees into giving the company time they're not being paid for. No prizes for guessing what most companies choose. Organisational obsession with velocity is quite often simply greed.
Of course, if you are a proper start up you really do have pressures to launch and scale to a critical mass before you run out of funding. There is real pressure to become profitable or grow your customer base large enough to persuade someone else to give you even more money. This frequently fails and people lose out on their investment, which the tech industry is legendary for shovelling other people's money into a pit.
Nevertheless, this velocity should be a temporary state of affairs, in my view. It's unsustainable and unhealthy in the long term. It's one thing to sprint to the starting line of a marathon, quite another to keep the habit going and try to sprint the whole marathon.
I'm not suggesting deliberately going slow, though making space and time for reflection in business cadences is very important. The sad thing is that large enterprises try to save time in all the wrong places. They bleed time through hours of unnecessary meetings and processes in which small decisions are deferred, delayed or escalated (I was once told to get sign-off from a Managing Director to buy a box of Sharpies). Conversely, committee-based decisions risking millions of dollars can come down the whim of the single HIPPO in the room. (Ironically, that link is a story about Jeff Bezos who famously also wrote about high velocity decision making through one-way and two-way door decisions).
After senior leadership have burnt through time prevaricating, they exhort their staff to work harder and faster. If you're unlucky enough to work at Meta, you might even be asked to take part in an intense workathon by Mark Zuckerberg creating the ill-conceived metaverse that nobody wants (more on that in a future Doctor's Note).
The result is burned out staff, poorly executed products and services, and a high likelihood of having to re-do the work in a year's time. All this because there was "no time or budget for research" or "staff aren't allowed to talk to customers" (WTF?).
The primary reason, though, is fear. Fear of saying to senior leadership, "I really don't understand what we're doing here or why we're doing it. Can we get some clarity on this?" (Jonah Sachs's book, Unsafe Thinking, is excellent on this topic).
Almost all the coaching cases in which coachees are pressured are because leadership have no clear vision about what they're trying to achieve beyond scaling and hitting ever bigger numbers. If you're a leader who brags on LinkedIn about your ability to "drive" projects and results, consider who you're actually driving and why. You may well be driving everyone into an early grave.
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Shut up and do something
I wrote a little rant on LinkedIn the other day having heard same story from several of my female coachees within the space of a couple of months:
Dear male leaders, please stop telling your female colleagues they need to be “more visible” to gain promotion into leadership.
It’s a vague piece of feedback that contains nothing tangible anyone can respond to. Worse, you’re most often asking them to do this in an environment where men are dominating the conversations. It’s code for “be louder.”
But, you know, another way for women to be more visible and be heard? It is for men to be quieter. Try shutting up instead.
It garnered a lot of attention plus a couple of trolls (though a surprisingly small percentage) and I wanted to add a bit more clarification.
It was intended to be blunt and thus over-simplistic, but judging by the comments, it resonated with many, not just women.
Of course, this is not just about binary genders. People being "not visible enough" reveals tensions and biases across the gender, race, personality, age, body, neurodiversity, background spectrum, to name just a few.
The equally important part is that it is vague and unhelpful feedback that doesn't contain anything tangible the recipient can do something about. This is universal.
It also doesn't bother to consider the question, "Why isn't this person more visible?" That should lead to asking "Am I/are we just blind to them or are they hindered from being more visible because they are not given the space or don't feel safe doing so?" The answers to those will lead to more actionable changes for both the recipient of that feedback and for the organisation.
Finally, I'm not speaking from a position of holier than thou—ex-colleague will confirm I'm guilty of talking too much all too often. And the irony is not lost on me that I'm a cis, white, middle-aged male doing the talking here, but let's try to use that mic to be proactive allies.
Several commenters made excellent comments with great advice that are well worth reading.
If you doubt any of this needs to be said, here's a DM I was sent by a man I would guess is in his 30s who works at a major insurance company in Australia:
I mentioned my online courses to a coachee the other day who hadn't seen that I even offered them. Clearly a sign that I should advertise them more.
Over the years I have taught a range of subjects to everyone from school kids to postgraduates and design and business folks of all flavours. I wanted to do something with all this material that I also use for flipped-classroom training for clients, so there it all is. I will be adding to it over time.
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Guff of the Week
For years I've been collecting vacuous statements from people in business and consulting when they really don't know what they're talking about, but want to sound like they do. It's called The Big Book of Guff. This issue's one is from a management consultant manager:
“So, we would use the Sales & Marketing Op Model as a framework to drive B2B leadership, with brand and relationship management.”
(This is exactly one of those moments someone should have said "I have no idea what you are talking about. Please explain.")
Power of Ten
I have been tardy with the newsletter, but not with my podcast, Power of Ten. Here are some recent episodes:
I chatted with Jorge Arango all about information and knowledge gardens.
Thejus Chakravarthy spoke to me about organisational change and how to do it from an operations perspective.
I had a fun conversation with my friend and ex-colleague, Joff Outlaw, MD of Designit ANZ, about the perils of sourdough and the art of client engagement.
Subscribe here or wherever you get your podcasts and you too can have a picture of me smiling awkwardly on your phone.
I enjoyed Natalie Dunbar's From Solo to Scaled: Building a Sustainable Content Strategy Practice in preparation for her being a guest on Power of Ten.
Rosenfeld Media's Two Waves imprint will publish Alexandra Schmidt's Deliberate Intervention: Using Policy and Design to Blunt the Harms of New Technology next month. I have only had a chance to skim my advanced copy, but it looks like it will be a very important and much-need book indeed.
I am enjoying Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by William Kenower, which, like most books about writing is really about life.
Tamsyn Muir's Gideon the Ninth was one of the most creative and witty pieces of fantasy fiction I've read in a long while. Even more so than Liz Truss's mini-budget. I'm reading the sequel already (of the book, not Liz Truss's budget, which is likely to never have a sequel).
Check out Looking Out, a newsletter by Drew Smith and Joe Simpson all about the future of mobility "connecting the dots across the automotive industry, mobility, design, and culture" plus the accompanying podcast.
Alan Watts had remarkable insights into life and The Wisdom of Insecurity: a message for an age of anxiety is as relevant now as when he wrote it. Hat tip to Matt LeMay for that one. It's so good, here's a long quote and bear in mind he published this in 1951:
"The “brainy” economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse—providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions. The perfect “subject” for the aims of this economy is the person who continuously itches his ears with the radio, preferably using the portable kind which can go with him at all hours and in all places. His eyes flit without rest from television screen, to newspaper, to magazine, keeping him in a sort of orgasm-without-release through a series of teasing glimpses of shiny automobiles, shiny female bodies, and other sensuous surfaces, interspersed with such restorers of sensitivity—shock treatments—as “human interest” shots of criminals, mangled bodies, wrecked airplanes, prize fights, and burning buildings. The literature or discourse that goes along with this is similarly manufactured to tease without satisfaction, to replace every partial gratification with a new desire. For this stream of stimulants is designed to produce cravings for more and more of the same, though louder and faster, and these cravings drive us to do work which is of no interest save for the money it pays—to buy more lavish radios, sleeker automobiles, glossier magazines, and better television sets, all of which will somehow conspire to persuade us that happiness lies just around the corner if we will buy one more."
Eric Newcomer wrote a thoughtful piece titled The Endgame: The tech downturn persists, forcing startups to grapple with reality.
Like everyone else on Reddit, I've been playing with the AI image generation tools, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion and Dall-E. The results are very impressive and we're definitely on a tipping point of these shifting from being perceived as magic to just another tool. I wrote a long essay about design in the age of synthetic realities a few years back if you want some context and history.
In response (I guess?), this Twitter challenge to complete a picture of a T-Rex in way that proves you're not AI turned up some brilliant responses
Stacey Seronik posted on LinkedIn with a shout out to Judd Antin's one-pager website Remember That No One Has Any Idea What They're Doing. It's excellent.
In response to my "shut up" post, several people mentioned this research: Vague Feedback Is Holding Women Back by Shelley J. Correll and Caroline Simard.
Also read Stop Criticizing Women and Start Questioning Men Instead by Cindy Gallop and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic.
What's the similarity between Daft Punk's 'One More Time' and William Goldman's 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'? My ex-student, screenwriter and one-time Power Ranger James Maclurcan dives deep into this in his podcast.
This has been around the interwebs quite a bit, but it's a real treat watching iPod inventor Tony Fadell talk about the industrial design process of various generations of iPods, aided by CT scans of their innards.
Jorge Arango on aspiring to ever fatter markers – a nice analogy for the leadership journey.
Speaking of advice, Kevin Kelly updated his 103 Bits of Advice I Wish I Had Known
The Eames Institute is online - Power of Ten is named after their film, Powers of Ten.
I'm generally a bit meh about large consultancies telling people how to design, particularly opiate-peddling McKinsey, but McKinsey's insights on re-designing the design department has some useful data for those trying to persuade stakeholders why things need to change.
It feels like Airbnb's remote work policy is on the right track.
The service design folks at go.uk wrote 10 very good tips for working with a service designer
As someone who has seen this effect close to home via a family friend, Dove's film about Toxic Influencers is clever and hits hard.
If you're a manager, read Matthew Rech's post, 11 Promises from a manager.
Productivity is a cult, I say. Have a look at this list of failed productivity tools.
23 years later and The Cluetrain Manifesto's 95 Theses are as relevant as ever. They're worth a re-read.
Sara Wachter-Boettcher on why work needs to stay in its place
Jorge Arango on how to swallow a frog (spoiler: it's about procrastination).
My very first modem was a Prism VTX5000 Modem connected to my ZX Spectrum in the 1980s. It accessed the UK's "Internet" service Micronet's Prestel. It looked like Ceefax/Teletext, which someone has remade for the browser.
Whilst you're at it, play the original Prince of Persia, in your browser
I got a dachshund last year. Here's an art installation which sees them taking over a United Nations meeting. I think they do a better job. Via Andrew Barrie.
That’s it for this issue. Thanks for reading, sharing and listening.
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