Teaching is Learning

NY Times Interview of Kon Leong Interviewing for Brains and Drive

Do you really want to learn something quickly? Try teaching it to someone else. Consulting work often puts you in the position of augmenting the expertise you may have in a one particular area with deep knowledge of a subject matter you may be relatively new to working in. Our team is often in the position of building applications in the cloud to support all different types of organizational requirements from inspections and facilities management to capital planning and portfolio management.

 

Over time we have developed expertise in a variety of different types of systems but their is always a new wrinkle or new angle. For clients, who are pinning the modernization of an application whose business rules and execution they depend on, it can be nerve wracking if you are stammering through the basics of their business.

 

I never try to pretend I know more than I do, but I do try to learn as much as I can, as quickly as I can so I can be more effective and put the clients mind at ease. One trick I’ve learned over time is to teach the client’s business to someone on staff prior to a project kickoff. You may wonder how much benefit you can get from one person who is admittedly not an expert teaching another who knows nothing about a subject.

 

In my experience the act of attempting to teach someone else forces you down a deeper learning path. The simple act of thinking through how to teach something to someone forces you to find ways to map the new material to the world you know so you can express it to someone else. It forces you to begin to chunk and categorize the information as well as making it easier to identify gaps in your own understanding.

 

It usually takes me a couple of attempts to complete my teaching assignment with a colleague, but at the end I inevitably find myself with a deeper understanding of the subject matter and a deeper confidence in speaking about it. At the end of the day this better understanding not only puts the clients mind at ease but it positions me to be better prepared to service their requirements.

 

So if you really want learn something fast…maybe you should start by figuring out how to teach it to someone else.

 

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Hard work beats talent that doesn’t work hard…

Be better, not just bigger

Be better, not just bigger

I never missed a meal growing up…ever. As the oldest of six kids you can tell who made the dinner table a priority. Our family has five skinny kids and me, the guy who never met a menu item he didn’t like. Along with it came all the stupid big kid nicknames like Moose, Big Poppa, and BigUn. One thing you get told over and over again when you are always the biggest kid is to be careful not to hurt the other kids. Of course it wasn’t all bad and being a bit bigger helped me get recruited by schools and pay for college, something that was otherwise going to be a challenge.

As I’ve gotten older and taken up jiu jitsu as a means of staying in shape I’m still often the biggest guy which still means being careful not to hurt people. It also means focusing harder on technique and the proper way of doing things. One thing that is easy to do when you have a 100 pounds on the guy you are working out with is to become focused on the outcome and use size to ensure you win. This may make you feel a little better about yourself in the near term but it is a surefire way to slow your development. In fact it completely ruins any feedback loop you may be trying to establish that would enable you to measure your progress. One thing I have done because of this is to really try to focus on proper execution over results and ensuring that I’m doing things correctly so that I can compensate for some of the natural advantages that size and strength bring, so that I’m prepared should the day come when I don’t have those advantages. I’ve also made it a habit of finding people who are better than me that can expose my weaknesses despite any physical advantage.

These are the same challenges that many of us face in developing new skills as managers and executives. Its sometimes hard to tell if we are getting better because the power of the position makes the feedback loop a bit more fuzzy. Nobody really wants to tell their boss that the new skill they are working on really isn’t hitting on all cylinders. Because of this is is critical to focus on your execution and really try to build your own ability to gauge your progress. It is also critical to identify and encourage those that are willing to provide you with constructive feedback to be forthcoming. As we move through our careers and advance it becomes harder and harder to get feedback on our performance because there are fewer opportunities and individuals that can provide that feedback. Contrary to the popular belief that things get easier as you advance in your career, increasing your skills often actually gets harder. Figuring out ways to ensure that you continue to progress means improving your internal capability to critique your performances and cultivating relationships with others that are willing and capable of providing this feedback to you becomes more and more critical as you refine your skills and advance in your career.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Got a presentation? Ask the right questions, bring the right stuff.

Did I bring the right stuff?

Did I bring the right stuff?

As many of you know my day job includes running software company that develops apps on the Salesforce.com platform (ExAM4Enterprise.com). This means I spend lots and lots of time giving presentations and demos. I recently sent out my standard demo prep question list to a prospective customer and got an incredibly kind note back from the person asking if they could share it with their staff. I said “of course” and a blog entry was born.
The trend in recent years has been that more and more presentations and demos are virtual, but I still go onsite fairly regularly. Over time I’ve developed a standard set of questions I ask two days prior to the meeting and a standard list of stuff I bring. Please feel free to use my list and of course let me know what I should add.
What I bring?
  1. 10 one page summaries of the presentation 
  2. Laptop (even if they have their own equipment and room)
  3. Portable Screen (I leave it in the car but I always have it. I once set it up in a restaurant’s back room to do a demo after a very successful lunch meeting)
  4. MiFi + Charger
  5. Notepad
  6. 4 pens
  7. Business cards (20)
  8. 4 AA batteries (mouse)
Note: I make those  one page summaries for three reasons:
  1. Summing it up in one page helps you focus on telling a story instead of speaking in bullet points.
  2. It can help you tailor the presentation to the audience by forcing you to think through the message.
  3. One person will show up late, one  will leave early and one will miss the presentation entirely. Providing your own summary helps ensure the right message makes it to those audiences. 

What I ask?

Hi (meeting coordinator),
I have a few questions I hope you can help me with so I can be fully prepared for (date of meeting).
1. Should I bring a projector or will we be in a room that has dedicated meeting equipment? All I really need for the demo is a computer with a browser and a screen to show it on. If needed I can bring a projector, screen and my laptop, but if you have a meeting room that is already set up I will simply use your equipment.
2. Will I have access to the internet? I will have a portable MiFi device that I can use to support an internet connection and the demo, but it uses a cellular signal and is a little slower than a regular WiFi or LAN connection. If you have connection I can use that is the ideal situation. If I am using your computer, internet and screens this question is irrelevant.
3. Can I have access to the room 15 minutes prior to the demo to set up? Our application is easy to use and only requires an internet connection and a browser, but I’ve been doing this long enough to know that being early and testing things ensures that I don’t waste everyone at the meetings time troubleshooting some small issue.
4. How many people will be in attendance? I will bring be bringing some presentation and reading materials and I would like to know how many to bring. I should also ask if there is a sensitivity to my bringing printed copies. I can certainly provide electronic instead and I know some offices are trying to minimize the amount of paper that is used. If the preference is for electronic I will simply send the materials out after the meeting.
5. Are there any security procedures or special instructions I will need in order to enter the building/find the meeting room?
Thanks in advance for any help you can provide. I’m looking forward to meeting with you all, if you need to reach me for any reason my cell phone number is xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Regards,
Joshua Millsapps
Millsapps, Ballinger & Associates (MBA) A Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) TOGAF 9 Certified ITIL Foundation Certified josh.millsapps@mbaoutcome.com www.mbaoutcome.com
As always – I’d love to know what I missing and hop you get some benefit from my lists!

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Customer Focused + Results Driven = Success

Success math problem

I’ve been working in my selected field for many, many years.  For at least the last ten of those years I have been in an owner/senior leadership position within my organization.  Over those years I have learned countless lessons on the do’s and don’ts of entrepreneurship but I’d like to discuss two of some of the most important ones today. The first one I’d like to discuss is a commitment to being customer focused. I’ve found that one of the biggest keys to success is an absolute commitment to customer service.  For more than 10 years I‘ve given every customer I’ve ever had my cell phone number and told him or her they can always call the owner of the company; and I have never regretted giving them that option. Customer service is often the easiest thing you can provide and the thing they will remember most. Repeatable quality is important because your customers will always remember your failures more readily than your success.

If you do have a customer service set back it is critical to immediately be accountable. Accountability is critical in every facet of leadership but with customers, not being accountable will result in a lost customer that never comes back. Real leaders own their mistakes, learn from them and move forward. Occasionally you can even profit on the heels of a customer issue because it highlights an opportunity for improvement. These opportunities are the lifeblood of the entrepreneur.

Another important lesson I’ve learned is that being successful isn’t just being able to spot the opportunity in the mist of trouble but it is being able to tease out the problems you will encounter along the way and work with others to take the data available and make the right decision. Often this means making decisions without all of the information. Entrepreneurial activities often require working in uncharted territory with less than perfect information; this makes ensuring the analysis you have that much more important.

Once you have the information necessary to make the decision or reach the point at which either no more information will be forth coming or where the value of making a decision in the near term outweighs any further certainty in awaiting additional information it is critical to act decisively. Not making a decision is making a decision.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Leadership: the dangers of “yes-men”

Leadership and diversity

Spock – Not a “yes-man”

One thing I have learned unequivocally over the course of my career is the importance of diversity in achieving success. Leaders should be skeptical of too much agreement and actively work to bring in people that complement rather than duplicate their own viewpoints, backgrounds and beliefs. This diversity leads to an organization that is better prepared to handle complex challenges and more likely to develop a diverse set of innovative solutions to challenges. Innovation cannot truly flourish when you are surrounded by “yes-men.”

Of course with this diversity also often comes differences of opinion with regard to decisions making and other aspects of organizational leadership. I have learned over time that in order to reap the benefits of a diverse workforce you must be able to work within your team and organization to ensure that the inevitable conflicts are resolved in a manner that lends itself to the ability to achieve success as an organization.

This can often mean working within your organization and teams to develop the capability to handle this type of tension. The ability to develop others and to mentor and improve those in a manner that enables them to provide better leadership to their own teams and peers is a core building block of developing a high performing organization. It is also a key component of team building as a whole. The ability to develop others and the openness to enable others to facilitate your own development is a core component enabling the team as a whole to accomplish its objectives.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

Critical leadership skills in uncertain times

6805754462_1a60ab513aThe current environment including the government shutdown, sequestration, and a slow recovery from a long recession have all made the need for real leadership an even more critical resource for organizations than ever.  It’s not just the technical capabilities or their ability to execute that becomes so important, although that is of course critically important because mistakes in this environment are even more punishing; it’s the other factors that become even more important. It’s the ability of leadership to inspire hope and productivity in the work force.  It’s their ability to assure the workforce that the organization will weather the storm, that it’s headed the right direction, and to be able to say that both confidently and honestly.

I believe it’s also important to have transformational leadership in times like these.  People that aren’t afraid to see things form another perspective, that have the courage to think outside the box, and have a willingness to pivot the business in order to ensure continued success.  It is in these times that it’s critically important to have somebody at the helm of your organization or team who is able to inspire confidence, lead change, and manage execution flawlessly; not just at the top but at every level.

As we continue to move thru these uncertain times, I think it’s important for each of those leaders to reach down into their organizations and work to instill real leadership qualities. They need to talk about those things in terms of helping people understand why those qualities are important and how they help the organization build as a whole towards success.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.

You can’t fix apathy

You can't Fix Apathy

One of the most frustrating things that you’ll ever find when you’re working with your team or with people from your organization is apathy or a lack of work ethic.  There’s nothing more frustrating then watching somebody perform at a subpar level. Actually it doesn’t even matter if they’re performing up to standard but if they’re operating beneath where you believe they can perform its incredibly frustrating; particularly when that apathy is sort of written all over their faces.  When someone is less than engaged when you’re sitting in a meeting, they’re checking their phone, or clearly have other things that are of greater interest to them; that to me is the quickest ticket out of the organization.

I feel that an apathetic attitude is the sort of thing that catches. It only takes a few of those types of folks to ruin the spirit and fight of the team. You can cure a lack of training. You can address that. There are many other failings on a team that you can have that you can address in a fairly straight forward fashion either through training, educational opportunities, or helping someone through an area where they’re having difficulty, but it’s hard to cure a lack of desire, broken work ethic, or just a lack of caring.

I’ve found turn for turn that you can address just about anything else on a team. If you care and you’re willing to put in a little bit of work, you can overcome just about anything and I think that is true in your work a day world and just about every aspect of your life.  There are very few things that can’t be cured through training, education, and effort.  When the problem is someone doesn’t care or they exhibit a lack of effort, that’s the type of thing that as an employer or a team leader you have to identify that and root it out immediately. Whether that means getting that person off of your team or out of your organization, I think it’s something that if you don’t address it; it catches.  People see that and they go, “Well why do I care, why am I trying so hard when this person is not.” It’s unfair when you’ve got people that are pushing as hard as they can possibly push to achieve something.

There’s nothing that drives me over the edge faster than a lack of effort. I think, as with many things, you have to address it with the person directly first. I think, as with many things in the office place, you owe it to the people that work for you and with you to address things head on and ask. Maybe there is something that is correctible that’s causing it or maybe you’re misinterpreting something. Either way I think that once you’ve addressed it on that level, if there’s not a change then you have to find a way to move that person out of your organization or off your team. Otherwise they will absolutely cripple your ability over time to achieve things. Eventually they’ll end up poisoning the rest of your team and the rest of your organization.

I’m not sure how other people feel about this but it’s something that I feel incredibly strongly about. When I see this happening, it’s almost painful to watch. I try to address it immediately and it’s something where I’ve don’t have a lot of tolerance. I’ll take a lot more time trying to help somebody through an issue on delivery then I will on apathy.  You can hand me things that have mistakes in them a lot more times if I feel like you’re really trying, you’re pushing, you’re just maybe not getting it, or maybe you’re struggling with how to put the pieces together. I’m ok with that if you’re working hard or if I can see that you’re working hard and you’re trying to take advantage of what you’ve got around you. I am willing to accept that and work with that, but you can’t fix not caring.

Thanks as always for reading my blog, I hope you will join the conversation by commenting on this post.

If you liked this post, please consider subscribing to this blog and following me on twitter @jmillsapps. I regularly give talks via webinar and speak at events and other engagements. If you are interested in finding out where to see me next please look at the my events page on this blog. If you would interested in having me speak at your event please contact me at events@joshmillsapps.com.

If you are interested in consulting services please go to MB&A Online to learn more.