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The Power of Three

8 Jan


Earlier this week there was an interesting article entitled The Power of Three in the NYTimes. The core idea is that in persuasion type communications the optimal number of claims is three and the addition of more will often reduce the effectiveness of the message.  It’s a fun read but the authors don’t seem to understand why this is the case. Aha! A perfect example of a phenomenon needing an explanation.  Of course the explanation comes from cognitive psychology: CHUNKing and KISSing aka how the human mind processes information.  Great communicators understand this intuitively.

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Comm Series #16: The Information Continuum

15 Jun

From tacit knowledge to executive wisdom.

A workable empirical definition of wisdom is: the application of tacit knowledge in pursuing the common good. The common good is a term that can refer to several different concepts. In the popular meaning, the common good describes a specific good that is shared and beneficial for all (or most) members of a given community. Based on this definition, it is reasonable to project that the common good in executive wisdom is focused on the organization and the larger community that the organization exists within.

The central difference between wisdom and executive wisdom is that executive wisdom comes with considerable power.  In general effective executives must be largely strategic in their outlook.  They need to cultivate:

• a high level of understanding of the context the organization functions within

• an ability to comprehend how every decision cascades throughout an organization and will have both positive and negative consequences

• an awareness of the law of unintended consequences

• a keen perception of who the key stakeholders are, what each values and will fight to preserve.

This understanding then needs to be coupled with an ability to understand and use both formal and informal power.

Comm Series #15: The Information Continuum

18 May

In the last two posts we reviewed data, information, explicit and tacit knowledge, now for scientific knowledge.

Science, in the broadest sense, refers to any system of knowledge which attempts to model objective reality. In a more restricted sense, science refers to a system of acquiring knowledge based on the scientific method, as well as to the organized body of knowledge gained through such research.  Scientific knowledge can be thought of as “why” knowledge and gets us closer to the issue of ultimate verities.

Comparing management and medicine is useful to help understand these types of knowledge.  Medicine is a scientifically driven art.  This means that the science can be learned in a conventional manner but there is enormous tacit knowledge that makes the difference between a mediocre practitioner and an expert.  Medical Schools recognize the importance of tacit knowledge in the manner they train physicians.   In physician training huge amounts time are spent on-the-job under the close supervision of experienced mentors.

Management is a principle driven art.  The best managers I have encountered report they have or had mentors that helped them develop their style.  Food for thought.

Next week: Wisdom

BIG NEWS:  Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal and it looks marvelous on an iPad.

Comm Series #14: The Information Continuum

11 May

Last week we reviewed data, information and explicit knowledge, now for tacit knowledge

By definition, tacit knowledge is knowledge that people carry in their minds and is, therefore, difficult to access. Often, people are not aware of the knowledge they possess or how it can be valuable to others. Tacit knowledge is considered more valuable because it provides context for people, places, ideas, and experiences. Effective transfer of tacit knowledge generally requires extensive personal contact and trust.  It is reasonable to think of tacit knowledge as “how” knowledge.

To fully understand the difference between explicit and tacit knowledge consider the fate of a recent college graduate in an information-driven job.  Such a person leaves school with a large fund of explicit, “what” knowledge.  But consider how long it takes for them to learn “how” to do the job, to master the tacit knowledge that cannot be learned in the classroom and is most easily learned with guidance of a skilled and experienced mentor.  Interestingly much of this tacit knowledge is intuitive and thus has an emotional intelligence content.

Next week: Scientific knowledge.

BIG NEWS:  Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal and it looks marvelous on an iPad.

Comm Series #13: The Information Continuum

4 May

To fully comprehend communication, the management of information, it is necessary to understand the four way points on the information continuum: Data, information, knowledge and wisdom.  From this simple base we build the continuum.

Binary data is the most fundamental form of information and consists of 0 – 1, on – off, up – down etc.  It is the basis for our digital world.  Human beings, because of their anatomical structure, function comfortably in base 10.  Computers like base 2 (bit) and base 16 (byte).

Information is what the human mind can comprehend, learn, recall and act upon: The fundamental principle here is the chunk.  The chunk gives us the structure to organize data.

Knowledge allows us to organize data into information. Peter Drucker says “Information is data endowed with relevance and purpose.  Converting data into information thus requires knowledge.”

Knowledge comes in three flavors: Explicit, tacit and scientific.  Explicit is knowledge that can be codified and stored in media.  It can be readily transmitted to others.  Explicit knowledge is “book learning.”  It is useful to think of it as ”what” knowledge and is the basic operating material of formal educational systems.

Next week: Tacit and scientific knowledge.

BIG NEWS:  Beyond Luck is now an e-book on Amazon.  At $6.95 it’s a great deal and it look marvelous on an iPad.

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Comm Series #12: What People Need to Know (4)

30 Mar

The last three posts we have over-viewed “what employees need to know” to maximize their job performance.

People at work need to understand three sets of information:

• Their jobs

• How their jobs contribute to the work; product and/or service

• The “big picture”

These categories also define who has the primary responsibility for assuring that employees understand this information.

The responsibility for understanding the job is jointly shared by the immediate manager and the employee.  Employees who understand they have a stake in their performance are more effective than those who have the attitude “just show me what to do.”

How the job contributes to work is the shared responsibility of the managers who own the process.  This almost always includes the first level managers and where the organization is larger, their bosses.  These are the people who essentially own the process of work.  How many managers understand this?

Communicating the overall condition of the organization is the responsibility of executives.  How they frame and present this information can motivate or de-motivate employees.  One critical point, executives should always share this information with their managers before they tell employees.  To bypass managers is discourteous and confuses the organization.

The allocation of responsibility in organizations is often communicated implicitly, it needs to be explicit.

Comm Series #11: What people Need to Know (3)

23 Mar

Two weeks ago we noted that being well informed about their jobs was the first thing people at work need to know to drive their performance.  Last week, that understanding how jobs fit into the process of work is essential to understanding work flows, minimizing sub-optimization and building quality. The third is an understanding of the “big picture.”

Most people have two major organizations in their lives: Family and job.  During our working years many of us spend more time at work than with our families. People in the workplace are naturally very interested in the place where they spend much of their lives.  They want to know:

•What is the strategy?

•Who are the competitors?

•How the company is doing?

•What does the future bring?

• And more……..

These are a few of the key aspects that interest employees. Experience shows that such information, when thoughtfully shared, serves to motivate employees by making them feel connected to the organization. Some management development experts argue that properly framed, this information can build involvement and improve productivity.  The most formal of these approaches is called open book management.

Next week: Who is responsible for managing this information?

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Comm Series #10: What People Need to Know (2)

16 Mar

Last week we noted that being well informed about their jobs was the first thing people at work need to know.

The second is an understanding of how their jobs fit into the process of accomplishing work.

Consider the above Venn diagram.  This could be two jobs (people), units, teams, or even divisions.  The work flows sideways through these structures.  This is the simplest version of a process improvement model.  It shows individual and shared responsibility: yours, mine and ours.  Add more circles and you have the diagram of a process designed to deliver a product or service.  This diagram is the basis for process mapping.

Deming, the quality guru, noted that most of the quality problems happen at the hand-offs or boundaries.  Sub-optimization happens when actions designed to improve individual or unit functioning fail to account for negative effects on other parts of the system.  In the workplace, understanding how your actions may enhance or degrade the performance of others is critical to building team spirit and improving quality and productivity.  Simply put, most people want to know how their actions help or hinder others and how they can contribute the making products and services better.

Comm Series #9: What People Need to Know

8 Mar

Remember the principle: Better informed = better performance.

People in the workplace seem to perform best when they know three key chunks (how I know this is a long story).  These are:

1.   As much as possible about their jobs

2.   How their jobs fit into the process of work

3.   The “big picture”

This week let’s examine #1.  People live in their jobs.  The job is one of our most important social roles.  It provides:

  • Compensation
  • A social system (friends & colleagues)
  • An identity

The negative effects of losing a job involuntarily demonstrate how much adaptive behavior a job supports.

Every one of the tools we have discussed in the previous eight blogs, if properly used by a person’s immediate manager, can support and enhance understanding of and performance in a job.

Consider also this more overarching fact:  A job is fundamentally a set of responsibilities.  How many people in the workplace fully understand this idea?  An effective technique in new management practice is to define the core responsibilities of jobs. This is an example of principle-driven management. These are the elements of the job that, if not accomplished, cause the job to collapse. For example, one of the core responsibilities in my job (which is also my company) is marketing and sales. No sales, no work, no job and no business.

Next week: How the job fits into the process of work.

Comm Series #8: Persecuted By An Integer

2 Mar

In 1956 George Miller opens a classic article titled “The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing Information” stating the above.

People mentally store and retrieve information in “chunks,” and the maximum size of a chunk is seven plus/minus two. Thus if you want to have people remember what you say and write, simply follow the “KISS and chunk rule.” Keep It Short and Simple and make sure that your chunks do not exceed seven to nine. Also odd numbers seem to be better.  Think of all the ideas we organize in 3s, 5s, 7s and 9s.

If we say or write a “chunk,” others can easily remember and act on it. Many managers are ineffective because they practice “information overload.” When you communicate too much information others will chunk the information and choose the topics of interest to them, this is how much miscommunication happens.

Large amounts of data can be reduced to smaller chunks and organized hierarchically. The next time you read a newspaper or report or hear a speaker, ask yourself What are the main points in this communication? Once you identify them, recalling the information will be much easier.

Think about ways to apply these principles. The use of “bullets” in written communications can make letters, memos or reports much more effective. In oral communications, define the chunk of information and organize supporting material around it. When in a meeting, look for the important “take-aways.” Remember, the ability to chunk is a measure of cognitive efficiency.

For more in-depth go to chunking.