“We” vs. “I”

“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

This 4 sentence letter was written in pencil on a 4 1/2 x 7″ piece of paper by General Eisenhower on June 5, 1944, the eve of D-Day. It is extraordinary in many respects, from the fact that it was written by hand on a plain piece of paper, not stationary emblazoned with “Supreme Commander of Allied Expeditionary Force”, to the lesson of leadership it contains.

He would have been justified in writing that his forces had failed because the German fortifications were more resilient than expected, that the beaches more heavily defended, that the paratroopers missed their landings, that Rommel reinforced with a Panzer division, that casualties on the beaches prevented a full invasion force from proceeding, that General Montgomery was a prickly schemer and sowed discontent among his leadership, and much more that went wrong in an operation the scale that Overlord was.

Eisenhower did not have a second letter that said, in effect, that he had succeeded and the credit was his alone… credit for success belonged to the Allied Force, blame for failure was Eisenhower’s alone. This is the burden of leadership that anyone who is responsible and accountable for delivering a stated objective understands, the team wins or I fail… and regardless of the circumstances I failed because I was unable to lead in a satisfactory manner.

The reason I write this is that culturally we have conditioned ourselves to operate in a collective mode and reflexively go to “we” when we really should be reinforcing “I’. In companies this forms a cancer that eats away at teams when things don’t go well… failure is spread around because accountability has not been reinforced. As a leader it is incumbent upon you to lead and that doesn’t mean move with the group but rather ahead of the group knowing full well that if failure is the outcome that you alone are accountable for it.

Command and leadership are different concepts and leaders do not always command but leaders always carry a sense of personal integrity that form pillars of strength, trust, and personal integrity that compel them to take responsibility when accountability is demanded.

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Everyday Protests

I was cleaning up my wallet today and had a giggle while going through my cash. The older bill features “Ron Paul for President 2008” while the upper, newer, bill is stamped “Tax Cheat” in honor or Timmy “Turbo Tax” Geithner’s signature on the bill. I love this… ordinary people expressing advocacy or protest using something inherently viral, currency.

When Open Space Isn’t

For several years now the California budget train wreck has put state parks in a precarious swing position of being used by elected officials as a visible example of what we, the people of California, won’t have because Sacramento can’t manage a budget (well they don’t say it this way, they position it as “if you don’t vote for more taxes you won’t have parks in your life”).

I recently read about a group of people in Marin who banded together to raise money that would ensure China Camp State Park (a wonderful park btw, you should visit it) stays open. Their plight perfectly illustrates the broader issue of state parks and recreation facilities in the pecking order of budget priorities, but it also serves as a cautionary tale of how bureaucrats and politicians in California have successfully executed on a public policy campaign to put us all on the government teet.

These parks were here long before the state government deemed it necessary to deploy park rangers to all corners of the state, and the parks will remain here long after we are gone. Public spaces are just that, public spaces! We do not require services or supervision in order to enjoy them so the argument that parks will close without taxes is itself a red herring… what will happen is that the state will close off public spaces because their full employment is not ensured.

A reasonable compromise for a state with no money would be to remove the padlocks and open public spaces like parks and lock the doors on facilities that require staffing, such as visitor’s centers. If concession services are available then contract with private entities and remove the state from the providing of services to one of managing contact vendors who render a concession fee to support oversight.

So ask yourself, why is it necessary for a park ranger to be at his/her post in order for me to use a park that is by definition owned by the People of California. They pay no rent for the park, have no mortgage, provide basic services that are not essential for the operation of the park, and already have infrastructure to support vehicle, foot and bicycle traffic. Why can’t state parks remain open without a staff presence and rely on volunteers for basic maintenance? #occupystateparks


The Role of Intuition in Business

I attended the SV2 Sprint Meeting on Tuesday night and one of the presenters made a point that has stuck with me all week, I will make my best effort to replay the moment but I will also take editorial license to paraphrase:

“We have become too metrics driven, we look for historical data to inform our future direction but historical data is a reflection on the past and ignores the value of intuition.”

The point the speaker was making is that the Silicon Valley style of management, in business and elsewhere, focused on discrete problem sets with specific solutions, coupled with modern management theory about benchmarking progress against objectives (this is the OKR framework). The challenge with this approach is that every disruptive technology advance in the Valley and beyond has come as a result of trial-and-error, intuition about changing behaviors, and a healthy dose of luck, so in essence we are pursuing a management model that is incompatible with the Silicon Valley ideal of changing the status quo of the world we live in.

To quote another Tuesday night speaker:

“Big change doesn’t come from small change.”

The emphasis on data has led to an unfortunate behavior that I also want to highlight, which is the weaponization of data, for the purpose of frustrating progress rather than enabling it. I see this play out in many conversations when specific strategy proposals bring together people with different perspectives and, ironically, intuitions about the problem set.

Rather than moving forward with imperfect information these folks will insist on more data to validate a point of view that they know is subject to a lot of interpretation and one which will unlikely be conclusive with even a massive amount of data. This is a toxic behavior in any company and the result is a frustration that develops into lost trust and isolation.

We hire smart people not just because they are skilled but also because they can exercise judgement about moving a business, or project, or philanthropic endeavor forward. If we accept iterative small change then we inherently accept mediocrity and lack of relevance because over time these turns of the crank will not add up to disruption at scale. Intuition and judgement have a role in business and using data as a foil for intuition does disservice to the individual and to the business.

There is a role for management tools, such as OKR (I use them and find immeasurable value in the technique), but I am increasingly of the mind that the devotion to discrete management measurement is incompatible with the strategy role that a management team must accomplish, and an insistence on data to make decisions can become a crutch for people who lack the confidence in their own intuition about what is often quite obvious.

With reward comes risk and the contrary is also true, without risk there is no reward.