Error

Chapter five about error. I’m still getting my mind around it and I’ll probably get it wrong before I get it right. The chapter does not contain the popular story about Edison saying he has now figured out 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb. Which is where a lot of people go when they talk about error. While persistence in the journey of trial and error is important It’s not the message here. Johnson points out a different nature of error, it occasionally drives people to continue in a direction that might not lead to what they think they are trying to achieve. However, this often leads to something useful any way. To me that sounds a lot like serendipity and we covered that in the last chapter. From Darwin to today.... Johnson finds examples that illustrate this concept that error is important. He cites the classic entrepreneurial phrase, popularized by the magazine Fast Company, "Fail Faster." It is the siren call to get out there and make mistakes and learn from them more quickly than the competition.

I get it, persistence is important, accepting error is important, error is part of the process, but I still think I need to read the chapter again.

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"Crazy Business Ideas" Yes, I want more of them!

Business Idea for Today: A chain of resort, casino hotels on "oil platforms" off the cost of major cities along the US side of the gulf of mexico. Phase II, expand to the Mexico side. Ships could cruise from Padre Island to the Keys and make stops along the way. There could be a variety of ways to get to and from the Platform Hotels; speed boat, dinner cruise, helicopter, submarine, or by cruise ship. It would also make a great stop over for the start or end of a cruise. 

    One could make a trip from Galveston to New Orleans and stay there until the ship returned from the keys and go back to Galveston. The possibilities are amazing. The cost for entry is high. This project requires a floating platform with a luxury hotel on top. Plus auxiliary craft and business partnerships with cruise lines and other vacation businesses. But this could be a gold mine at sea. 

    If you have ideas on the best place to locate the first of these hotels let me know. Any other ideas on how to make this kind of sea travel, transportation, network a reality bring 'em out. What a great space to work and live in. This could revolutionize the cruise and vacation and travel industry. What is your 'crazy' business idea for the day?

Serendipity!

Serendipity is that beauty of the internet that allows you to click on a single thread and an hour later find yourself a million clicks away. For a definition you can click here: https://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/serendipity

    Johnson uses it to mean those unexpected, unsought, or unintended collisions and experiences that we happen into that we learn, grow, or gain inspiration from. We all sort of know what this is... going to the office supply store and running into a business contact, or working for an hour in a meeting to figure out you're missing a piece to the puzzle and nobody knows what it is. But you get back to your office to find a note that while you were out, Mr. Ash from the Weyland-Yutani Corporation stopped by and has the missing 'thing' you need. Yeah, that kind of thing is Serendipity.

    Co-Working spaces, coffee shops, and bars are great places for these kind of collisions to occur. There are lots of ideas colliding in chapter four, also. The random nature of serendipity brings on the obvious question, 'how do we plan for the unplanned, the unexpected, and the unintended?' Well fortunately, some of the discussion is geared to answering just that line of questioning. In Tony Hsieh's video, he talks about having an apartment that overlooked the space his company wanted to change. Elon Musk has an office over the shop floor at Tesla. The old school barber shop and places like that where people can meet and talk business or just talk are designed for serendipity. Google has a portion of the week set aside for engineers to work on whatever interests them. So there are ways of bringing this about. Part of designing with serendipity in mind is simply being aware that it needs to happen. Set aside that time on your calendar that is reserved for doing nothing, then go out and do something ... like watch the video below to hear Stephen Johnson say it for himself on the TED stage. 

The Slow Hunch

In chapter three of Johnson's book, he talks about the "Slow Hunch." I don't want to spoil his story about the FBI, so I'll just say go read it. But he dashes the notion of the "Ah ha!" moment. Sure it might feel like that when all the pieces fit together, but what goes untold is the development and collection of all those pieces. By studying Darwin's journals Johnson was able to determine that Darwin had all the relevant pieces of the Theory of Evolution, quite a while before he had the "Ah ha" moment. That means even though he had all the facts it still took some time to put them all together in the right combination to bring forth the full idea.

    The notion that each time we gather a relevant piece of information it guides us to other relevant pieces of data, he calls the "Slow Hunch." This process might not and probably does not happen in a logical sequential order. Like following the trail of sources in an author's end notes, one might read all those same books and come to a different conclusion or even never draw them all together in a conclusion at all.  When telling the story of how an idea came to them, people tend to focus on the dramatic moment of fruiting and not the years of growth from sapling to tree. Newton did a lot of math before that apple fell on his head. But for a visual representation of the idea and a dramatic point in the story that apple to the head really sums it up. 

    It is also in chapter three that Johnson illuminates the idea of the "Common Place Book." Like a staff officers green notebook or bullet journal (Federal Supply Service 7530-00-222-3521), it keeps all the relevant information in a common place for easy reference. The idea being, that one copies the relevant stuff from the last journal into the new journal, dumping all the dumb and extraneous stuff. At some point the journal is full of only relevant and good stuff. So the process begins again with a new journal. This way the journals that are saved are full of relevant items and worth keeping. It is important to recognize that even in this example of a way to capture the slow hunch, came about as a slow hunch, becoming molded over time until John Locke popularized it and and enterprising publisher, John Bell, brought to market "Bell's Common-Place Book" to which he added the subtitle "Formed generally on the Principles Recommended and Practiced by Mr. Locke" it included eight pages of instructions on how to index and catalog things for easy reference.

    If anyone can come by a copy of those original instructions, please contact me!

    Johnson goes on with some interesting ideas relating to modern word processing, search engines, data bases, and artificial intelligence. All of which I recommend you read on your own. What strikes me as interesting is that as a writer Johnson has walked the reader through the adjacent possible, liquid networks, and slow hunches and his example of the common place book not only ties these together but yields to the next topic; Serendipity.
 

Liquid Networks, plus a little ranting of my own.

Liquid networks are on my mind today. That is the second chapter from "Where Good Ideas Come From" but my mind strays, perhaps serendipitously away from the book. The variety and diversity of social and business networks that are fostered by the internet these days blows my mind. I feel like Darwin standing on a coral reef and seeing the variety of life thriving there. 

    I once thought, 'Hey if an Internet Service Provider (ISP) wants to manage it's content and keep some people off and provide access to others, it's their business, let them do it.' But that is not how the internet works.  The reason the five person panel of the FCC is in a position to enforce or dismiss the net neutrality rules that have developed over time is because, the internet is considered by law and most folks, as a public utility. That is why only a handful of ISPs are granted the privilege of being able to control access to the internet. That is why those companies get exclusive franchises to operate in a specific area. Similar to a radio station, but more like the water company or department of a city. 

    If there was a robust market of Internet Providers, citizens could shop around. Like radio stations, we could tune into the one we thought provided the best Internet Service. But there is usually just one, in some big markets two, internet provider in any given metropolitan area. Just one. To let that company decide that they can charge whatever they want, require customers to purchase certain features that they might not want in order to get features they do want is not in the public interest. 

    Yes, I think public servants should work in the public interest. They are appointed to do what is in the best interest of the American public. I understand that there is plenty of room for honest people to disagree on what is best for the citizenry of the nation, but I think establishing government sponsored monopolies on local communication is objectively not in the best interest of 'we the people.' 

    Also if we're simply focusing on the principles listed in Johnson's book, getting rid of net neutrality would go against the principle of "Liquid Networks." The internet enables ideas to mix and mingle. Not just ideas that are good for a few industry giants, but lots of idea. Yes, some very bad ideas too. Those things tend to sort themselves out. Like one flat earther said, "There are flat earthers all around the globe!" I think he might have followed the word globe with four or five exclamation points for emphasis.

    Coffee shops were the internet of the enlightenment. People could mix and talk and sober up. One of the issues with water is that without our modern purification techniques, it made people sick. So generally, every one drank alcohol, even kids. Coffee used boiled water and is considered by most a stimulant, if not an essential, or a nootropic drug. In any case, it is the mixing of ideas that is important. So, duh, the internet. I plug 1 Million Cups a lot, but for entrepreneurs, especially veteran entrepreneurs, it's a great source for coffee ... I mean,  business ideas, contacts, conversations, networking, and connecting.

    Again focusing on "Where Good Ideas Come From" the idea of liquid networks is important to creating environments where good ideas can thrive. When I was young, I said to my father, 'I have an idea' to which he replied, "Treat it kindly, it's in strange territory." At five or so, it took me a couple of seconds to catch that right. But, my father went on to cultivate that remark into a lesson. All new ideas are in new territory and just like giving directions to a friend, they are more likely to arrive at your house and if treated kindly more likely to stay. So good ideas need to be cultivated and encouraged. 

    Places where discussion is encouraged, where people can recover from mistakes, where information flows well, these are the places where ideas are cultivated, grown, and harvested. This is true for business, charity, military, government, relationships, and pretty much any human organization. Having the internet broadly and generally available to people helps transmit good ideas through out our society. So while Johnson's bo!ok does not cover the timely issue of net neutrality, it does provide concrete evidence in support of keeping the internet open to the public.

The Adjacent Possible

My thoughts on the first chapter in Steven Johnson's "Where Good Ideas Come From"

The Adjacent Possible

The idea of the adjacent possible is something I'd considered for a long time and see or used in different contexts throughout my life. I found it refreshing to have a simple handle to put on the idea. Now that I sit down to write about it I find it even more useful to have such a handle, since I still feel a bit unequipped to provide an explanation of the idea. 

    Johnson uses the analogy of a house (in addition to chemestry) to communicate the idea and I think a simpler example is in order. The idea that one cannot get to the last step of a journey without going through the intervening steps. With a house, consider standing at the front door. One cannot simply step into bedroom, it is not possible. It is possible to step into the entryway, and from there more possibilities exist; left to the library, right to the living room, or up the steps to the bedroom. In this case more possibilities are adjacent to the entryway than to the front stoop. In most cases backtracking is quite possible. One can go into the library get a book, come back out, and then go upstairs. There may be more possibilities adjacent once upstairs. These possibilities could not be reached from the rooms downstairs without developing the possibility of the stairway. I trust I'm conveying this well enough to be understood. 

    In military campaigns, video games like Age of Empires, and development of technology some possibilities may become closed once others are exploited. A great example is the development of the car & roadway system in the US. This is a case where resources were laid out and allocated to favor a singular system of technologies; petroleum burning cars, asphalt roads, etc. over other transportation technologies like trains or walking zones.

    Likewise our choice of nuclear power technology in this country was based on the type of energy generation that also produces weapon grade uranium. Now that we have embarked on these technologies, it is difficult to switch tracks {so to speak} to rail or pebble bed nuclear energy technology.     

    So while the planet is made up of the same carbon atoms that were around when the place was primordial soup, we didn't jump directly from there to  human life forms, rather we went through a series of changes based on the possibilities that were adjacent at the time. First forming membranes, then single cell organisms, multi-cell organisms, etc. until Life could reach more complex shapes and forms. Now, with CRISPR CAS9, even more possibilities are open or adjacent to us.

    OK, I've rambled about this idea for a few paragraphs. What does this have to do with where good ideas come from? Ideas multiply and improve by "rubbing up against" other ideas. Like people, when ideas meet and mingle, new ones are sometimes formed. 

    For entrepreneurs this is really important. Maybe it takes a million cups of coffee to get the door opened. Each of those conversations hones a business idea with more and better ideas. Capturing customer data is a great idea, but until your business has customers that possibility is not adjacent. So start where you are, with what you have, now. Each action taken will bring you and your idea into contact with other ideas and create more adjacent possibility.

    The next chapter is about Liquid Networks or making those connections between ideas more fluidly. Entrepreneurs will obviously recognize that this as a metaphor for coffee. But wait ... there's more.

Where Do Good Ideas Come From - By Steven Johnson

    I recommend Steven Johnson's excellent book, "Where Good Ideas Come From." I recommend it to damn near everyone I come across. I find that telling people what is good about this book helps to reinforce the value in it for me. Everybody can use more good ideas, right? Well maybe. Maybe you are already full of good ideas, but it is the putting them into action that you need help with. This book is good for that too. 
    A lot of business books can communicate their main ideas simply by providing the table of contents. Once you have the idea, actually reading the book conveys no significant additional value. I said business books but this unfortunate fact holds true for other categories as well, life coaching books, productivity books, leadership books, and many other non-fiction books. 
    "Where Good Ideas Come From" is not that kind of book. I have found my appreciation of the materiel to grow deeper with each reading or listening. {yes it is on audible} Today, I want to share the table of contents with you and maybe a little more. My thoughts on the book in general. In subsequent days I'll tackle writing about each chapter and how it has helped me. At ten pages a day you can read it in a month. If you drive a lot you can finish it in less than a week on audible. Please don't confuse my simple thoughts with a substitute for purchasing the book. I want to get people discussing the ideas in Johnson's book. I want to hear your ideas once you've read a chapter. Maybe you'll have a different take on it. 
    I know what I think about the book. However, standing beside me is another mind that can generate different thoughts.  Imagine all the possible different thoughts that could be had about this book, just from a small group of people in one room. For example in a 1 Million Cups meeting on a Wednesday morning at 0900 in Fort Worth Texas. What would be possible if the ideas of the people in the adjacent room considered the same topic? For 1MC in FW, the adjacent possible is the Ensemble Co-Working space with lots of creative business minded folks.  So please read the book for yourself and develop your own thoughts.
    How about we each think our own thoughts but never share them with each other? That's obviously not why I'm writing this blog. People need to share ideas. The processes of transmission and reception help sharpen and clarify our own ideas. I want to encourage the ideas in this book to get networked among Veteran Entrepreneurs and everyone else. It would be nice if the language in this book were common currency in our culture. Not just among a small network, but like a liquid flowing among every network of which you're a member.
    I don't expect a brilliant flash across the nation where all of a sudden, everyone gets connected into the language of where good ideas come from and starts to build environments that encourage good ideas and that put good ideas into practice immediately. Probably things go much slower. A conversation here, a blog post over there, a book review at a reading group ... each conversation adds up over time. Some times the best things build slowly, connecting to each adjacent network possible over time.
    As predictable as that sounds, things like ideas rarely travel in strait lines. No matter how fluid the network, the growth is rarely a steady expansion in all directions. Dribs, dabs, drops, spurts, springs, and flows, all of these things happen before rivers are formed. Rivers do not flow in strait lines either. It takes time to carve the Grand Canyon, or to cut off a bad idea in an ox bow lake. The surface that water flows along varies and with each new type of terrain there may be a slight change of course. The route that awareness of a good book follows might be based less on marketing and more on serendipity.
    I'll stop here for now and simply share the table of contents. Go Read the Book! I'll look more deeply at individual chapters in the future. As always I'm interested in what you have to say on the topic. Feel free to reply.

Where Good Ideas Come From - by Steven Johnson

Introduction: Reef, City, Web
The Adjacent Possible
Liquid Networks
The Slow Hunch
Serendipity
Error
Exaptation
Platforms
Conclusion: The Forth Quadrant

Today's Thoughts on Leadership

Leadership

Tuesday, December 1, 2017

 

What makes a good leader?

              This is a great question to consider. In my 55 years of experience, 30 of which were in the military, I have found there is a handful of things that people must choose to lead well. It's never just one thing. Though many good leaders will rely on one trait more than others, I think the key to becoming a good leader comes from building a cluster of skills, traits, and attitudes.

              I think the easiest way to frame leading well is in setting a good example. This means demonstrating for others the characteristics you want them to possess and the actions you want them to take. The people we call “Good Leaders” choose to do certain things. They care. They take responsibility. They maintain situational awareness. They communicate effectively. They take feedback. They develop skills or expertise. They learn about themselves and appreciate others. The value of different attributes may vary from situation to situation.

For the astronaut in a craft punctured by a micro-meteor, action and commitment are essential; “Patch the Hole!” For the mission support team on the ground, long term analytical thinking serves best; "Ok, you broke the telemetry module in the haste to patch the hole. Now that the environment is stable, we're sending instructions on how to fix that and a list of the least useful parts of the interior that can be re-purposed for a long-term fix of the hull breach."

Both activities involve emotional control, in addition to all the other characteristics mentioned above. The leader in each situation must model, demonstrate, and set the example of how to behave. In every case deciding on leadership means setting an example of what is needed. Imagine a hot head running around mission control screaming at everyone to hurry because there is a puncture of a space craft or an astronaut sitting back and taking an inventory of least useful parts of the interior while air streams out into space. Easy to see what a bad leader looks like in each situation. To lead well one must see what is needed in the situation. The decision to lead effectively means shifting emphasis among the factors in the skill cluster.

A prerequisite is caring, but just caring is not enough. Lots of people care. Some do a little bit. Some say they, 'do their part.' A good leader decides to go beyond that and takes responsibility for outcomes. This personal investment in the goal is essential and an inspiring example.

Taking responsibility also means understanding the situation. A good leader must be faithful to reality. If the situation is a flaming hot spot or a smoldering potential flash point, understanding the situation enables making good leadership decisions.

Communicating effectively helps people lead. If you look behind you and no one is following, you're not leading, you're just out for a walk. Yes, you must walk the walk, but you must also talk with others, share your vision, explain simple steps that others can follow, and this includes the often over looked part of communication; listening and taking feedback. How would you ever get any better without attending to feedback. That is reality telling you how effective your decisions and actions are. Sometimes it comes in the form of other people telling you, possibly not by using words at all, maybe they just walk away. Communication is not only about what you know and say, but also about what you do. You must demonstrate that you care. Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.

With all that said, you still must know something. You can be a jack of all trades, but you must be a master of at least one. Developing an elevated level of skill or knowledge in a concentrated area helps people that choose to lead, by providing the experience of getting good at something. It can teach you about yourself and help you appreciate what others went through to become experts at what they do, even if it is different than what you do. You must learn what tools you have in your personal tool kit, so when you care about a situation enough to take responsibility for the outcome, you recognize the situation and the actions required to reach your desired goal, then you can communicate with others and bring together a team of experts to reach that next end-state.

If you could do it alone, you wouldn't need to lead. Leading is a decision to bring other people with you on your journey, for their expertise and skills sure, but also for their company, and the sheer joy of accomplishing a goal together. Appreciate what others bring to the solution set as well.

And ... please give this topic some thought. I have given this thought over the years and I'm sure I haven't reached the definitive answer of what one must care about, choose to learn, and decide to do, in order to lead well. I hope my thoughts (wall of text) will encourage you to write your own opinions below or take exception to mine and let me know how I can improve. I look forward to your comments on this important topic.

Genesis, Book 1 of the Idolatry series, by Quent Cordiar

              Reading and listening to Genesis, book 1 of the IDOLATRY series, proved to be a joy. I reached the end of the book while listening to the audio version in my car. My heart and mind were on fire. Fortunately, I had already purchased the audio version of A New Eden, book 2 in the series, and could begin listening immediately.

                             Orson Scott Card used the acronym MICE to discuss the Milieu, Ideas, Characters, and Events of a story. I recommend Genesis on each of these aspects. The background, shortly after the fall of the Roman Empire, seamlessly caulks history with fiction making the milieu a plinth upon which the characters are uplifted, chiseled from marble, bronze, or clay as befits their character. They contend with ideas that continue to vex mankind and are as relevant today as ever. The events of the story, based on the happenings of the times are brought to a human scale for appreciation, much the same way relics from the time are brought to a museum for study. But the author sculpts then into a compelling three-dimensional story that illuminates the people and ideas that continue to shape our world.

              Okay, I'm out of superlatives. I thoroughly enjoyed the book and I recommend it to fans of history, love stories, or anyone who enjoys a well-crafted story with compelling characters.