Posts Tagged ‘CONOPS’

Use the Four P’s To Get Your Ideas MOVING:  Be Pleasant, Be Professional, Be (Somewhat) Patient and Promote Like Crazy

Picture this scene:  You are the new person at your office.  You’ve been there a month and a great idea just occurred to you.  This idea will help your group save money and deliver a better product or service.  You describe the idea to your colleagues and they like it.  So you mention it to your boss and she likes it too.  You are now very excited!

Adopting the idea won’t cost your group much money and the savings are remarkable, so you would like to get the idea adopted . . . yesterday. . .  immediately.  But nobody else seems to share your sense of urgency.  So what should you do?   Pick one.

  1. Push like Hell.  You probably have enough people believing in the idea already.  Make this your signature cause and get noticed.  Stand out as a change agent and do it now.  If you back down now, people will see you as a quitter.  This would be a bad reputation to get when you just arrived.  Make as much noise as needed to get that idea adopted and senior management will have to notice you!
  2. You are just too new to push ANY idea.  Convince your boss, who knows the group and how to make things happen, to push the idea, hopefully bringing you along.  Organizations fear change anyway, especially if the change is pushed by somebody new like you.  If your boss won’t champion the idea, drop it like a hot potato.
  3. Change jobs. If your group will not act on a great idea that is this OBVIOUS, you will never get them to change.  And if you cannot contribute, why are you working there?  You haven’t been there long enough for the job change to even show up on your resume.  Move on.  These people are dinosaurs and you will never fit in.
  4. Push the idea gently but don’t lose focus on your job and your career.  If you can’t get this idea adopted with gentle, steady persuasion, there must be some other reason(s) for the resistance.  Walk away.  Rethink it.  Repackage it.  Growing in your current job is more important than satisfying your ego.

Before we give you OUR answer, we’ll give you the secret to making things happen at work:  the four P’s – – – Be Pleasant, be Professional, be Patient and Promote.  Do these things and you will get your ideas accepted, guaranteed.  [Unless they are bizarre, aluminum-foil-on-your-head ideas, in which case you need the fifth P – – – Prozac.).

The four P’s are easy to do.

  1. Be Pleasant:  This doesn’t mean you have to suck up to anyone or abandon your deepest principles.  To be pleasant just think “face and back” – – –  Smile whenever you meet or greet people face to face.  Make it look like you are genuinely glad to see them.  Even better, BE genuinely glad to see them. Every time.  With everyone.   And never, ever say anything behind a person’s back that you haven’t already said to their face.  Ever.  And lastly, let others have their say.  This applies to your idea or to any idea or concept or world event or . . . well . .  . anything.  Let other people talk and don’t feel that you have to correct their opposite-from-yours view on the subject.  Practice letting it go. Go reread “Desiderata” and practice it!   Whenever tempted to go nose-to-nose with a real dufus, remember the phrase “Never wrestle with a pig.  You both get dirty but the pig likes it.”
  2. Be Professional:  You were hired to do a job.  Learn to do that job better than anyone on the planet.  And stay focused on that huge task.  Every day.  Be passionate about learning everything there is to know about your job.  (See our previous post about passion titled “Get a Fire going In Your Belly”).  Talk with other inquisitive, curious people about the work you do, why things are done the way they are, what problems existed previously and how they were solved, etc.  Always take the wide view of a situation and ask “what am I missing here?” when tempted to snap at someone.  The PAUSE is a powerful thing and it is sooooo easy to use!  More on that in a future post.

Next week we’ll show you that a little patience is desirable but that too much can be a very bad thing.  We’ll also show how you can promote your idea without becoming that boring/aggravating person everyone avoids at the lunch table

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corp.

Last week I told you about my passions and I described what a mess they make of my life and of our house and office!  But how do baby birds fit here?  And how do YOU fit here?  Those college students I mentioned are the baby birds.  They seem to always be waiting for the next college class to feed them information, the next semester of study that will give them what they need to be good . . . and so on.  They seem to be intentionally ignoring information on medically-related subjects because . . . well . . . I am not really sure WHY they are doing that.  Here are four possibilities:

  1. Other Plans. They are secretly planning to go into car repair instead of medicine and they just haven’t told anyone.
  2. Embarrassed to Admit: They have already secretly earned their PhDs in their chosen fields and are embarrassed to admit that they have already read those articles, or maybe wrote them.
  3. Hedging. They are hedging, not allowing themselves to get excited about a career, not digging in and investing time now, because they are afraid they may not make it into the medical field they have set their sights on.  And they don’t want to set themselves up for disappointment later.  If this is the case, they need to snap out of it.  Viking ship captains burned their boats on the beaches so the message to the disembarked troops was clear:  We are STAYING here, boys, so make it work!  Same for mamby pamby students – – – get committed, get resourceful and make it happen.  Immersing yourself in the subject now could teach you something arcane (look it up) and give you just enough head start on other more hesitant colleagues that you might beat them out of a slot in medical school or in that nursing program you want.  Being hesitant or unsure now might keep you from learning that one item which, in a competitive interview, could actually have WON you the admission slot!
  4. Waiting to be FED. Like baby birds, they are just waiting to be FED all the information required for their profession, as part of upcoming college and medical/nursing school courses, and they see no reason to try to learn any of that stuff now.  (This is my current theory to explain their behavior, although I also like the second one.)

I am the opposite of those people.  I am voraciously hoovering-up information like a human vacuum cleaner, wherever I find it.  I am “going for it” and sucking the marrow out of the bone, licking up every tidbit of info I can find on the subjects that interest me.  And I have waded in with both feet, by DOING those things, not just reading about them.  I saw a great T-shirt that read:  “When I have money, I buy books.  When I have extra money, I buy food.”  That’s me.  The family usually will not enter a bookstore with me because it is so hard to get me out of there.  And now that they all have coffee . . . oh . . baby.  Plus, the family gave me a Nook Color so my nose is going to be welded to that thing!  I’ll be LIVING at Barnes and Noble, surfing through the e-books there!

And I have news for any baby birds out there.  Wake up! Get out of the nest and get up to your EARS in your chosen field.  Make it a job/profession that people are (or will be) making a living at.  Whatever it is, you can spend an (enjoyable) lifetime in it, if you just will get all the way IN IT.  Business, retail, real estate, banking, dentistry, chiropractic, farming, nursing, appliance repair, EVERY FIELD can provide you with a lifetime of thought and involvement if you will just dive in and commit to being the best at it.  Commit to a lifetime of learning, and staying current, and pushing the edge of the enterprise.  Plus being the go-to person makes YOU the expert.  It means other people will come to YOU on that subject.  And here is the good news – – –  the years will FLY by, you’ll travel and meet great people, and you’ll feel GOOD about yourself.  An entire profession will be indebted to you, as well as all the professionals in it!   And on that pillar of respect and success, my friends, you can build a great life and support a family.

As we asked in a previous blog, do you have a “fire in the belly”?  Three years ago I saw a plaque on the wall of a castle in northern Germany that said:  “Most people believe they need money to be happy.  But all you really need is something to get lost in.”  Go find that subject (or two or three) and get yourself lost for life!  Trust me, It’s great!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corp.

Leader driven Harmony #8: Get a FIRE Going in Your Belly!

by Mack McKinney on January 21, 2011

Let’s pretend you have a major, life-threatening disease and are seeking treatment.  Do you want to be treated by a physician, physician’s assistant or nurse who just kinda likes their job?  Who just muddles through the day?  Who is about as good at the job as most other physicians?  OF COURSE NOT!

You want to be seen by someone who lives, eats and breathes medicine!  Someone who is a voracious reader of all things about the diseases he/she diagnoses and treats.  Someone who is sought out by other physicians for their in-depth understanding of people with your disease.  You want an expert who gets patients from other doctors who are unable to help them.  So how will you know when you have found such a specialist?  Well you should look for these unmistakable signs:

  • They have a visible and tangible passion for the subject (in this case, the disease).
  • They subscribe to every journal, newsletter, bulletin or other publication on the subject.
  • Their name is mentioned by several reputable sources, not just one.
  • They seem to have read every major book on the subject and may even have written (or be writing) one of their own.
  • They frequently talk (in person, on the phone, on email, etc.) with other specialists and recognized experts on the subject and can hold their own in discussions with anyone on the subject.

What does this have to do with you or with your business or your job?  Well, aren’t YOU providing some service or product to someone?  Don’t YOU help people solve problems?  Then this same level of engagement, commitment and proficiency is what other people expect of YOU!  Whether you are a plumber, IT specialist, car mechanic, piano tuner, grocery clerk, investment banker or military officer, people expect you to be the very best at your job!

How do you get to be the best?  How do you rise past the others in your field and become the “go-to” person?  You discriminate yourself, that’s how.  You set yourself apart from the herd by doing what they don’t (or won’t) do:

  1. Being Passionate: You decide that you are going to become passionate about your job and that, for at least awhile, you are going to let it dominate your life (this is why you want to choose careers that excite you – – –  it is hard to get passionate about a thing you are not fascinated by).
  2. Get Excited. Even if you have not been really excited about your job until now, decide to GET that way.  As Hollywood says, fake it until you make it.  (In a future post we’ll explain why this actually works, but take my word for it, it DOES!)
  3. Get fired up.  Get what the venture capitalists say they see in the people who come to them for investment money and walk away with a check for their new business enterprises – – – they have a “fire in the belly”.  The investors want to see someone so bursting with sincere enthusiasm for their idea that the subliminal message they transmit is “I believe in this idea and I am going to make this a success with or without your money!”  People can sense this passion and it is infectious.
  4. Infect others:  For a new venture, find kindred spirits who can get excited with you, and get them to help spread the word!
  5. Do your homework, everyday. In every field there are new advances, new technologies, new things to learn.  Get plugged in to those sources. Learn everything you can.
  6. Join professional organizations that let you commiserate with your fellow wizards.  From landscaping to electrical contracting, there are technical seminars and conferences that let you learn about the latest and greatest products and techniques.  Join and attend.

Some of the above advice applies to you if you are planning to stay in your existing career and just need to kick it up a notch.  But if you are pondering a major career change, you need to add a few actions to your to-do list:

  • Try on a career like you would a pair of shoes:  You slip shoes on and walk around in them awhile to see how they feel when you are walking, turning, kneeling, etc.  Do the same mentally with the new career you are considering.
  • Mentally place yourself in the job. Envision what you’ll be doing, your daily tasks and the people with whom you will interact.  See how it “feels”.
  • Read everything possible about the new career:  Pay scales, legislation that impacts it, what existing practitioners think of it and their forecasts for the future.
  • Talk to people actually doing that job right now. Ask if they would do it again and what they would do differently.

Most importantly, make up your mind to be a lifelong learner!  You cannot be the best at anything unless you commit to constantly learning, for the rest of your life, everything you can about that field of endeavor.  Every job can be stimulating if you examine each aspect to see how you can do the work better, faster, with fewer mistakes, and with better customer service.  And every job can be challenging if you decide that you are going to do that job better than anyone else on the planet earth!

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation

Why should you read this post?

Because this little crash course in effective writing is the collective intelligence of thousands of people just like you.  It is a living document and benefits from ongoing improvements suggested by our students.  Their suggestions and observations, especially in the final section, make us all much better writers.

Clear, sharp writing is almost a lost art.  And it is sad because to get along in life you must be able to explain yourself clearly.  Texting and its shortcuts and abbreviations let us communicate simple thoughts quickly but texting is not suited to explaining complex issues, refuting others’ positions or reporting on a technical approach.  In business if you cannot craft a grammatically correct, well-written document that people find pleasing to read, you will always be working for someone else who can.  Heck, if you cannot write, you may not be able to get a bank loan for your business or even get a letter-to-the-editor published in your local newspaper!

Once you get the basics right, it also helps to write in a flowing, friendly style that makes people want to read what you write.  But why are some documents, even long and involved ones, easy to read while others are difficult to get through?  It turns out there are five key considerations in writing: Purpose, Audience, Content, Style and Mechanics. In discussing the first four considerations we will give you some basic rules for creating effective, efficient papers of all kinds (especially the fear-inducing technical reports and business studies).  Then in the “Mechanics” section we will help you avoid the wince-inducing writing errors often found in popular articles and papers.  The goal is to prevent readers’ getting balled up finding annoying mistakes, and to instead relax, understand your points and enjoy reading the things you write.

Why should you listen to us?  Our company, Solid Thinking, teaches short courses in building Concepts of Operations or CONOPS.  These documents are combinations of systems descriptions and user’s manuals, brought into one document for use by end users and systems engineers.  CONOPS are hard-hitting documents that provide continuity for multi-year (and multi-million $$$) systems development projects, ease reorganizations of major enterprises, and help describe the operational uses of things.  CONOPS are read by senior people who have little patience for long, meandering, wordy documents so we have learned to write crisply and succinctly.  You will find references to CONOPS throughout this document but in each case, the lesson also probably applies to any written document.

We also teach Project Dominance courses which are basically Project Management courses on steroids.  Project Managers are constantly writing and reading, editing and enhancing documents.  Our courses teach people to sort out, structure, organize and manage major projects of all kinds by helping them make the best possible use of the talent on their project teams: young and old colleagues, rookies and grey-beards, scientists and business managers – – – everyone has something to contribute.  And crisp, clear, unambiguous writing by each person on a team can save time, avoid frustration and help achieve the workplace harmony we all seek.

Note that this paper uses masculine and feminine forms interchangeably.  Some people like it, others don’t.  Also, a friendly warning: Please do not edit this paper.  Editing will cause you to focus on the minutia and you will miss the learning value.  Just relax, stay at the 50,000 foot level, read for meaning and content and resist the perfectly human urge to improve everything.  But if we have entirely forgotten something really important or we have gotten a concept or technique completely wrong, please tell us in an email.

In our classes we find that just about everyone gets something beneficial out of this paper.  But if you are working in a large company or in a government organization (Federal, State or local), or you plan to someday, you will really benefit from reading this paper and applying the no-nonsense lessons.  Now let’s get into the meat of effective writing!

Purpose

Decide on the ultimate purpose of your document and make the main points up front. Make your key point in a single sentence, succinctly and in plain English, in the first part of every section/book.  Then support your conclusion/results with as much detail as needed to meet the objective of the report (inform, persuade, support, etc.).

Is the report intended to inform a sponsor (via documentation) about work recently completed?  Is it intended to persuade a sponsor to support a new idea or to award a follow-on contract?  Or will the report be used by other people, perhaps people in the sponsor’s chain of command, to secure funding for additional work?  Perhaps all three uses are foreseen for the report: it is usually safest to assume as much and then write for a technical audience but introduce each major section and key point with layman-language.  After the main point has been made, support your contentions with text and graphics and with the appropriate technical depth.

This writing technique of main-point-first is the reverse of how many scientists and engineers tend to write.  Most judge each other professionally on the thoroughness of their reasoning and on the extent to which they thought-through the various aspects of any given problem.  Consequently, when they write down their solution to a problem, they tend to present their solution using progressive-discovery.  This involves disclosing a little bit of information at a time, to lay the groundwork for their assertions and arguments.  This is supposed to convince the reader of the author’s qualifications and reasoning skills before the assertion or conclusion is unveiled.  The hope is that the reader will then be more inclined to accept the writer’s conclusion or position. Here is how this typically unfolds: First the scientist or engineer defines the problem they faced then they discuss aspects of sub-areas of the problem, weaving a web of complex interrelationships.  Then they discuss key issues associated with each aspect they uncovered.  Next come the assumptions they had to make (because nobody ever has a 100% complete data set) and then the trade-offs they made and why they made certain choices.  Lastly they describe the various conclusions they could have reached, and only then do they tell you their actual conclusions.

Why would people write this way?   It is human nature.  People inherently fear rejection of their ideas so they lay a supporting foundation prior to springing their solution on the audience. This minimizes the chance of initial rejection.  But if an entire section of a technical report is written in the discovery-style, it will inevitably have an unintended consequence: managers, technical and non-, who are reading for conclusions will be forced to wade through the entire document to understand the writer’s main conclusions.  Similarly, scientific and engineering professionals from disciplines other than that of the author must also wade through the text, and the often-unfamiliar acronyms, to get to the nuggets.  These readers will also find the detail too tedious.  Do not do this.  Use an “elevator speech” to state your conclusion up front and then support it as needed.

Always be clear, blatantly so if possible.  Whenever your chosen approach will result in clear benefits to the customer or user, say so! If faster processing will display results faster, or higher fidelity information will aid decision makers, or fewer boards will lower acquisition and life cycle support costs for your system, say so and do it up front in the section where you also present your conclusions.  But do not exaggerate: whereas engineers are likely to omit key competitive discriminators in technical reports (a serious mistake), marketers are likely to lean too far the other way (almost as serious), sometimes embellishing the benefits of a study’s findings.  To a technical reader, this may appear as an exaggeration of the facts, a “sales pitch” at best and dishonest at worst.  One way to highlight your competitive discriminators, without alienating the technical reader, is by quantifying the benefit and couching the description of the finding/result in terms of the benefit to the user. You can also write about how your approach reduces program/technical risk or reduces program cost.  An example might be in the case of a redesign effort that permits an assembly to be built using two processor boards instead of three.  One way for your team to subtly take credit for the positive aspects of this redesign would be as follows:

“While not required in the government’s Statement of Work, our team wanted to decrease the board count and believed it would be worth the 15 man-hours spent in redesign.  Our initial calculations were born out in the cost reduction assessment that followed our redesign: dropping from three to two boards in the receiver will have four major benefits – – – the initial acquisition cost of the prototype will be reduced by $3K (and each subsequent system will be $2K cheaper); we will save at least 110 man-hours in software development for the prototype because we eliminated a very complex board; one entire module can be deleted from the user’s maintenance training sessions; and a chapter can be removed from the course manual we will write as part of our contract.  Perhaps most importantly for the users, the system will now be much easier to configure and maintain.”

Remember a business or technical report may be initially written to inform but 80-90% of the time a technical report will be eventually used somewhere as a proposal to sell an idea.  Often this reuse of your report will take place without your knowledge or involvement and a later audience may be very different from the original one for whom you wrote the report.  Since the intent of a proposal is to persuade or convince someone to take an action, write every report with that possibility in mind.  Write the opening part of every document and every section with the assumption that the audience will be relatively unfamiliar with the subject matter.  Then dive as deeply as needed into the technical discussions.  Just remember the old Sears© slogan: “Something for Everyone” (technical and non-).

Next week we will discuss the critical importance of knowing your audience.  Mess this up and you’ll be writing for . . . well . . . nobody.  And we will briefly discuss content and style.

Copyright: Solid Thinking Corporation