The Most Important Thing a Manager Does

(1 of 5 in The Rules of Naked Management)

Lies about Management

Last week I asked:

What’s the most important thing a manager does? Sure, a manager has to “get stuff done through a group of people”, that’s a given, but what’s really the most important thing? Is it training your team? It is hiring A+ people? Is it keeping executives informed? Is it growing your employees’ careers? It is protecting your team from the “craziness above”? Is it removing roadblocks for your team? Is it keeping morale high? ….

Depending upon the month of the management-advice fad calendar, each of the above items is the “most important thing” a manager needs to do. You can find books extolling all of them as paramount. And it goes through phases as magazines like Harvard Business Review gush over the need for better communication, or the need for morale-management.

But want to know something… it’s all lies.

The most important thing a manager does is almost never hiring A+ people; it’s almost never keeping executives informed; it’s almost never “protecting the team”.

The most important thing a manager does is the thing I glossed over: figure out the right stuff to do, and then get it done through a group of people.

Keep reading, and I’ll tell you how to do that.

A Tale of Two Managers

Is “figuring out the right stuff to do” the most important thing? It’s easy to prove by comparing two managers.

The first manager, let’s call him Bob, hires A+ people, is amazing at keeping executives informed, and works hard on growing his employees’ careers. His team really feels that Bob has their back, and that he’ll do anything to help them grow. But Bob never really thinks about what his team’s job is supposed to be, and as a result, while they do stuff, they don’t get the right things done.

The second manager, let’s call her Alice, doesn’t particularly shoot for A+ people, doesn’t do a great job informing her management, has poor people skills, micromanages everything, and her people hate working for her. But Alice drives a tough shop, knows what her team is supposed to do, and viciously makes sure it gets done.(1)

What happens in this scenario? Bob is either let go (the good, but rare solution) or left to languish in middle-management (the bad, but usual result). Alice meanwhile is promoted until she is no longer effective at getting the right stuff done, and then is either demoted (the good, but rare situation) or left to languish in senior-management.

Put another way: Executives talk about the need to hire A+ people and keep morale high but reward getting the right stuff done even if done with D people who hate their jobs.

So if you don’t take the time to figure out the right thing to do, or then you don’t make sure you get that thing done, you’re not going to get rewarded.

Why Don’t We Do It?

Therefore the most important thing a manager does is figure out the right stuff to do because if you don’t do that, how can you know you’re doing the right thing (I’ll talk later about how to get the right stuff done). Reading this you probably think “well duh, of course.” Really? If that’s the case, why don’t people do it?

I’ve worked for managers who, while great people, could never tell me what our team did and did not do. They couldn’t tell me why we were a team at all, instead of just part of some other team. I’ve worked for Bobs and I’ve worked for Alices. Sound familiar?

If you’re a manager reading this right now, can you articulate in 10 seconds what your team does? Can you articulate in 10 seconds what your team does not do (I mean the things a reasonable person might assume you do, but you don’t)? If not, the good news is you’re like most middle managers. The bad news is you’re part Alice, part Bob, or part both.

In my first job as a manager, I couldn’t answer what my team was supposed to do. Eventually I did find the time to ask what “the right stuff to do” was, and I came to a startling conclusion: Having a team structured like mine actually got in the way of the company getting the right stuff done. The result: I proposed a different organization to my manager where my team was split up and reorganized to better get the right stuff done(2). And this was far better for me, my old team, my new team, and the company.

So why doesn’t every manager first figure out the right stuff to do? Well, it’s because we’re excited to start, we think we know what we’re changing, and we’re often wrong.

WHO, SARS, and Management

During the SARS epidemic in 2004 my wife attended a lecture given by someone at the World Health Organization (WHO). This particular lecture was about disaster and crisis management. Afterwards J (knowing I like to think about crisis management) asked me for my thoughts on the following scenario:

You are a local government mayor in Indonesia. You have read about SARS in the local paper but there are no cases in Indonesia. Suddenly you get a phone call from a local hospital where the head of the hospital informs you they have a patient who seems to have SARS-like symptoms. What’s the first thing you do?

There are lots of options. You could quarantine the hospital. You could quarantine the town. You could inform the local military to be on guard. You could immediately get on Television and Radio and warn people. You could…

And every one of those things is the wrong first thing to do(3). The right thing, according to the WHO, is to do the following:

  1. Sit back, breathe deeply, and think. Figure out how much time you have until you must act.
  2. Then, take time to listen to as many people as you can reasonably listen to within available time (which is always longer than it first appears).
  3. Then, sit back, breathe deeply, and think again.
  4. Then act!

Why is that? Because if you don’t think, your first step will likely make the situation worse, not better. But if you pause to think, you’ve done something rare in a crisis and started the path to recovery.

Your First Steps as a New Manager

I’m not saying that managing the SARS crisis is the same level of complexity as become a manager for the first time, but the first steps you take should be the same. In order to figure out the right stuff to do, you should do 4 things:

1) Think: Write down what you think your job is. Write down what you think your job isn’t. Write down what you think the first things you need to do are. Then stop and…

2) Listen: Talk to your new team, your boss, your bosses’ peers, your peers, etc. about what they think your job is. What do they think your job isn’t? It’ll be different than what you thought, and different than what you interviewed for (it always is). Don’t argue about it with them, just get their input and tell them you’ll get back to them soon with your plan.

3) Think: Now, go back to your list in step 1, think about all the feedback, and revise what you think your job is and the first things you’ll do. Don’t necessarily follow every instruction that people gave you — independently come to your own conclusions about what you should do – but do let their feedback influence your plans. Every time I do it I’m amazed. I always find the first things I thought I needed to do, are never the first things I actually need to do.

4) Act: And then act. The steps you just wrote down should tell you how to get the right stuff done. And sometimes, yes, it involves hiring A+ people, increasing morale, improving executive communication, but sometimes it doesn’t. Only do those things if it helps get the right stuff done. By first thinking about the right stuff to do, you make sure you focus on the ends, and not the means, and you’re free to choose whether this job actually requires.

The Truth about the Lies

If you’re a manager dealing with knowledge workers with inherently undefined jobs, in reality the things I dismissed above such as growing employees’ careers and hiring A+ people are means that often help you achieve your ends. But let me stress that by far the most important thing as a new manager you need to is, “figure out what you need to do”. Then, pick or don’t pick your means as necessary.

So, that said, the rest of this series will concentrate on a set of means that I find are very flexible for getting the right stuff done. They are the rules of Naked Management and are useful when:

  1. You have teams of highly skilled knowledge workers who
  2. You need to be effective over multiple projects not just a single project, and
  3. You expect will need to be resilient to constant change and chaos from the market and from other management shifts

If you’re a manager of a team like that then may I recommend Running Naked Teams!

(which I’ll continue next week…)

- Art

I’m running the NYC Marathon on November 4th for Team Continuum. Click here to donate.

(1) Some people will claim my examples of Bob and Alice are facetious because in reality it’s incredibly unlikely that Alice will be successful by shitting on her people. Wrong. It depends entirely on what “the right stuff to do is”. For example, if Alice and Bob’s job is “night shift manager at a fast food restaurant”, where high-turnover rates are the norm, and many aspects of the job are independently measured (and so don’t rely as much on the manager self reporting), then Alice will be quite successful at that job. And Bob will waste lots of energy trying to grow the careers of people who likely are going to quit in 40 day anyway. It depends on what “the right stuff to do” is.

(2) My team did get the stuff assigned to us done, mostly through good people, and a lot of micro managing. But the fact was we were getting stuff done in a completely different way than other client-facing groups in the company, and this was causing a lot of pain in every other part of the organization that had to do things in a centralized way. And this “pain” was showing up as tension on the floor, longer ship times, buggier launches, and projects going over budget.

(3) My guess was quarantine the hospital. Wrong. If you want to know why, e-mail me and I’ll tell you because I’m too lazy to write it in a footnote that no one reads. J
click here.

Nude Numbers (#15)

For reference, here’s last week’s data. Curious what this post is about? I’m tracking my training progress for the New York Marathon. Click here.

Summary

A week of good and bad news. On the good side, I got new shoes and now I can run much faster and further without the sharp pain. I got back into the gym, and ramped up my running mileage (actually ramped up a little too much). On the bad side, I got a bone scan and confirmed I have a stress fracture and some tendonitis in my right leg. That said, provided I try to not run every day and rest well between runs, coaches and doctors still think I have a chance at a (slightly painful but) safe marathon. 5 weeks to go.

Subjective Data

On Monday I figured out that if I run slowly (<11 min mile) I can avoid the pain for short distances (2-4 miles) so I started doing that. I also saw my ortho guy again, and got set up for a bone-scan to check for stress fractures.

On Wednesday I went to a running store, and bought new shoes. I did a test run on Wednesday, one on Friday, and then a long run on Sunday.

And in the new shoes, I found I could increase my speed (up to 8.5 min miles) without the pain occurring, which is a good sign.

That said…

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.

The other piece of objective data to add is the results of my bone scan. The radiologist said he saw “nonspecific focal fusiform radionuclide activity in the distal right fibula suggestive of a stress fracture.” He didn’t see any problem with the bones in the bottom of my foot, which is good, but didn’t explain the sharp pain. However, switching shoes has made that pain go away.

Assessment

Buying a new pair of shoes was a god send. The sharp pain doesn’t show up now provided I keep good form and my speed slower than 8.5 minute miles. Awesome.

I did well sticking to last week’s plan, but ran a little more than I should have on Friday (I had a blast running with an old friend and let myself run too far). I moved my Saturday 10-mile run to Sunday to align better with some of my training partners, and that run was easy. That said I woke up this morning with a slight limp so I need to remember to ramp up slowly.

The confirmation of the stress fracture is bad news, but it’s not necessarily a marathon-killer. It just means I’ll need to do light training (try to get in 1 or 2 but no more long runs) and then try my best on November 4th. At this point I’ll be happy with finishing, really happy with less than 5 hours, and will probably kill myself if I shoot for less than four.

I kept weight room work and other activities to a minimum, and kept with my gaining weight plans.

Plan

Getting down to the final 5 weeks here. Here’s my plan for the week ahead. The basic theme is to keep cardio up through spinning and running, and save up for the long run on Saturday.

  1. Monday: Rest after 10 mile run on Sunday. Try to make the limp (pain in right heel) go away.
  2. Tuesday: Weight room and short run if pain isn’t there. If there is pain, skip the run.
  3. Wednesday: Weight room and 4-6 mile run.
  4. Thursday: Weight room, and swim.
  5. Friday: Weight room, and maybe a swim or spin.
  6. Saturday: 15 mile run.
  7. Sunday: Rest up.

Presentation Notes

No changes to data presentation this week. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

The Rules of Naked Management

Pop Quiz

What’s the most important thing a manager does?

Sure, a manager has to “get stuff done through a group of people”, that’s a given, but what’s really the most important thing? Is it training your team? It is hiring A+ people? Is it keeping executives informed? Is it growing your employees’ careers? It is protecting your team from the “craziness above”? Is it removing roadblocks for your team? Is it keeping morale high? ….

The First Time Manager

The first time I became a manager I asked a lot of folks that question, and read a lot of books and articles. And I got all sorts of answers back. Every one of the items above was “the most important thing” I needed to do according to some sources.

I tried to follow a lot of the advice the first time out, without really understanding WHY I should follow it, and I’ll bluntly say I wasn’t successful at it.

Sure, the individuals who reported to me got all the stuff done my managers wanted done, but my victims employees had to put up with a lot of mistakes as I learned what being a manager was actually about. Certainly at no point did we have a team working to achieve the same goals. In reality I was just an individual contributor checking in on other individual contributors, playing at being a manager, and usually just getting in the way (see pigeon management). Two of my employees ended up quitting, and another (high performer) transferred to another group to avoid me.

In retrospect I realized it was because I didn’t have my own answer to what’s the most important thing a manager needs to do. So for my second big outing as a direct manager, I tried a different approach: I figured out what’s the most important thing I needed to do as a manager, and then I did that. I didn’t worry about any of the other crap unless it directly helped the most important thing.

And I got more successful.

So, what is that “most important thing”?

The Rules of Naked Management

Well, that’s what the next series of articles is about. Some folks have asked me to write a little more about the concept of naked teams, and how to be a first time manager, so here goes. In this series, I will talk about:

  1. The Most Important Thing A Manager Does;
  2. The Rules for Running Naked Teams;
  3. The Rules for Growing Naked Teams;
  4. The Rules for Growing Individuals;
  5. and The Rules for Keeping Your Sanity

My apologies to anyone who has been through this before, as this series of posts is based on some training programs I developed for first time managers. But if you’re a first time manager, think you want to manage people, or have been managed by someone and you wish would be a “naked manager”, then hopefully this series will be useful.

As usual, there’ll be at least one update per week.

The Rules for Rules

This series will be laid out in a series of rules, with reasons why the rules are the way they are. You’ll see there are quite a few rules to follow. To help guide you in how to follow the rules here’s the two most important rules.

If you take NOTHING else from this series of articles, just remember these two rules and you’ll be well served:

#1) Rules should be followed

I’m not claiming I came up with these rules myself. They are based on my experience (yes) which I’ve now reapplied successfully many times. But they are also based on studying at a lot of effective managers at companies I’ve worked at, and at effective people in other companies. They’ve been tested on thousands of employees. And in general they just work. If you see a rule, and you’re doing the opposite, you owe it to yourself to ask, “why am I not following this rule?” Usually you’ll find you become a better manager by following the rule.

Still think you shouldn’t be following the rules? Swallow your pride. Put your ego aside. Shut up and realize you’re no different than anyone else. Seriously! That “special circumstances” bullshit doesn’t fly here. You’re not really different. Follow the goddamn rules!

Still think you shouldn’t be following the rules, and you have “good reasons” why you shouldn’t? Well, enter rule #2:

#2) Rules must be broken

Management is an art, not a science. If we could break it down into a series of rules that are followed 100% of the time, then some smart person would write a computer program to be a manager and I for one would welcome our new management overlords.

But management is an art, and as with all art, requires judgment to be effective. If you’ve tried to follow rule #1 above, really put your ego aside, and still think you should not follow one of the rules, then break the rule. Truly great managers, like truly great artists, don’t follow the rules. However, like truly great artists, they KNOW the rules (e.g. Picasso learned classical painting first), KNOW when they break the rules, and KNOW how they break the rules.

Trust Yourself

Put another way, rules are no substitute for judgment, and over time you’ll find your own way through this mess. So please read and learn these rules, but ultimately you’re going to have to learn to trust your own judgment and discard the crap (mine included) that folks tell you about management if it doesn’t work for you.

I’m just sorry I had to experiment on Jim, Nolan, Craig, David, Aileen and Scott to figure that one out (sorry guys).

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers (#14)

For reference, here’s last week’s data. Curious what this post is about? I’m tracking my training progress for the New York Marathon. Click here.

Summary

This was a bad week for my training as my right foot developed a sharp pain immediately upon returning to running. I let the depressing thought of not running the marathon weigh me down all week.

Thankfully part of the reason for “Running Naked” is to force myself to admit to folks when I stumble, and I woke up this morning more determined as a result (thanks everyone, even if you don’t believe you actually did anything!). I got an x-ray done this afternoon (no obvious breaks in foot), scheduled a few more specialist visits this week, got back into the weight room and I may have found a way to run at least short distances that keeps the pain away (I ran across the Queensboro bridge).

This week is all about figuring out what is wrong without getting annoying or depressed at the hand of cards I’m playing with.

Subjective Data

I rested on Monday after the ride, and then tried to run on Tuesday. Even though I had absolutely no foot pain during the ride, I got a half-mile into my Tuesday run and the same pain I had two weeks ago in the top of the foot returned. It’s was a very sharp pain, and not runnable-through.

The next day my scale broke.

And in general, I let myself feel a little depressed and annoyed at my body, and the things around me, breaking down. This led to me being very (relatively) inactive this week. I stopped going to the weight room. By Friday I convinced myself to try a short run (still painful) and did a low-key bike-ride supporting a long training run on Saturday. On Sunday I just hung out with friends.

But all week, I was annoyed at myself for being annoyed at myself. Sigh.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.

Assessment

I went from a high to a real low when I couldn’t even run a half-mile without collapsing in pain. And I let the disappointment at that take me completely off my training track. Last week sucked, but in retrospect (as I write this) I know I’m going to have those weeks. For some reason the thought of publishing my “laziness” last week spurred me on today to resume my training, so thanks in advance to everyone for at least viewing this blog and giving me encouragement.

That said, I’m still shooting to win The Six Pack Charity Challenge, and finish the NYC Marathon. So I’m going to focus everything on the Marathon until told otherwise (by my body or a doctor).

As usual, if you have suggestions, leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at) abclarke.com”.

Plan

The big thing is remember to keep smiling, and that I’m doing this for charity. I’m going to slowly ramp up mileage as I test out the foot and try to find a way to run without pain, but where the marathon was “at risk” before, it’s now a long shot. But I’m also going to let everything else take a back seat to running and not worry if I don’t spend every spare moment at the gym. So:

  1. Short runs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday (no more than 6 miles on any run)
  2. Leg permitting, perhaps a long run (10+ miles) on Saturday.
  3. Swim if I feel like it, but don’t sweat it if I don’t.
  4. Keep the weight room work going, but again, only as I feel like it.
  5. Keep eating sensibly but continue gaining some weight.

Presentation Notes

No changes to data presentation this week. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

A Plea for Purple Voters

Demographics, Democracy and the Blues

Here’s a map of the US with population density graphed in the z-axis (from Time magazine):

And here’s how people voted in the 2004 presidential election with number of winning votes by county graphed in the z-axis:

The more densely populated the area, the more likely they were to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

Another view can be seen below. In this one, the color scale changes between red and blue in each county. If a county voted 100% Democrat, it’s blue. If it voted 100% Republic, it’s red. If a county voted 50% Democrat and 50% Republican, it’s purple. Again, higher density areas tended to vote democratic in the 2004 election.

The Color Purple

I have two theories about why the pictures look the way they do.

The first theory is that living each day in close proximity to lots of people (with competing interests), where you can’t possibly get to know them each personally, forces people to compromise more on a daily basis than those who have the luxury of knowing all their neighbors. This tends to encourage social-liberalism (or social laissez-faire) where you agree to stay out of someone’s business with the expectation that they in turn stay out of your business. For example it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-gun (a position generally correlated with social conservatism in the US) if you personally know and trust each and every one of your neighbors. It’s much harder if you don’t know everyone you see every day. This causes most highly dense urban areas to vote Democratic (the large party in America more associated with social liberalism).

My second theory is that if you live in a highly dense area that is also highly culturally diverse, you are forced to interact with people with opposing points of view, and are likely to be more accepted if you have less extreme views. For example, it’s very easy to be rapidly pro-choice and believe that late-term abortions need to remain legal (to avoid “a slippery slope” where abortion eventually becomes illegal) if you live in Berkeley, CA (an extremely homogenous liberal enclave) where everyone takes pro-choice for granted. Try being rabidly pro-choice in a multi-ethnic neighborhood in the Bronx, NY, see the moral pain on a very religious Muslim’s or Christian’s face at the prospect of a late term abortion, and it’s much harder to maintain the extreme. This forces dense urban areas with heterogeneous populations to be more trend more bluish-purple than pure blue.

Perhaps the key to moving elections and candidates back to the middle in the 2008 election is to relocate all the people who live either in sparsely populated areas of the country or in culturally homogenous areas to a densely packed 100 square mile area of the country (I hear Billings, Montana has space). If we did that I suspect all the graphs above would get much more bluish-purple and we’d end up with candidates who are much more reasonable than the current set of Democratic and Republican candidates (who are all veering to the far left and far right).

Spending Purple Money

But we’re not likely to relocate everyone with extreme views to live next to each other (I am firmly against forced relocations of anyone, although I’d love to see Al Franken and Bill O’Reilly share an apartment). However, there is one thing I believe we can do to move American back to the middle ground.

If you are a Purple Voter, always vote in every primary election! Especially the small ones.

For example, New York has a (very unpublicized) local primary election on Tuesday. I’ll be voting in it. I consider myself (currently) a socially liberal, fiscally conservative, internationalist. In other words, I’m a bluish-purple voter, and I’ll vote for candidates as close to that as possible.

You might not think it matters, but the people we vote for in primaries are very influential. They choose the rosters of candidates that we’re presented with for many higher offices. They form the staff of national campaigns. They are listened to by the national parties when drafting policies, candidates and platforms.

Somehow in America many purple voters (like me) believe that if the candidate they voted for didn’t win then their vote didn’t count. And often in primary elections today, the middle ground (purple) candidate loses. But our votes do matter; politics, like business, runs on a market economy. Only in politics, votes are the currency. The mere fact that someone got our vote will cause other politicians to veer in our direction to try to woo us the next time we spend our vote (see how John Kerry veered left in 2004 to try to recapture the voters that went for Nader in 2000).

Purple voters have become convinced that our voting dollars are worthless, and therefore we don’t spend them in the elections where they are actually worth the most – small local primaries.

As a result, purple voters don’t vote in primaries, right and left extremists do. Then our low-level politicians run to the edge of the political spectrums and they nominate candidates for higher offices who also pander to the edges. And that’s how we get the crap national candidates and crap policies they spout (all but one Republican presidential candidate views the Theory of Evolution as suspect; all but one Democratic presidential candidate is firmly against the concept of free-trade). What do we expect? The politicians, like good businessmen, are responding to the market that spends money!

If middle-ground people are consistent about spending our purple money and voting in primaries, the local candidates will eventually notice us voting, and they will start having to pander more to the middle. This will lead to more purple candidates for higher offices. And as the map above shows, America is a lot more purple than red or blue, so if we consistently vote purple in all primaries, we will take back this country.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

Riding with the Devil


Not the Devil’s Children

“Let’s get him”, they yelled.

We had hit Bridgeport, Connecticut late in the day on Friday on our way to New Haven(1), and we were already riding well behind schedule. I was riding alone about a half-mile ahead of the pack, scouting the route, and looking for major hills or hazards to warn the less experienced cyclists about.

I didn’t see them until they yelled, and as I turned to look behind me, 10 to 12 young black teenagers on street bikes start speeding up to catch me.

My heart leapt into my chest: This wasn’t a nice neighborhood; the rest of my group was nowhere in sight; and all I had on me was two water bottles and skin-tight spandex biking outfit. It was stupid of me to get so far ahead.

But almost as quickly as my heart leapt into my chest, I started to calm down: on my road bike I could easily outpace my pursuers; in reality I didn’t know they meant me any harm; and for god’s sake, they were just kids. I breathed in deeply, started slowing done and called back, “come on guys… we’re going to Rhode Island.”

And they laughed, pulled up beside me, and we started racing each other in the streets. For about five minutes, I was a kid again, racing between cars, and laughing with my unexpected friends; five minutes that my heart had almost cheated me of.

The Devil Cometh

And then the fun ended in a way I hadn’t expected.

The ride I was doing was in support of the Jack Brown Appeal. An amazing man named Mark Edwards in the London Metropolitan Police Department had convinced over 30 of his co-workers (fellow Bobbys) to travel to the US and do this ride on mountain bikes. He had convinced the New York, Providence and Cranston RI police departments to provide support crews (and additional riders). He had convinced Paul Nichols at Team Continuum to raise some money and provide some riders (like me) to help get the rest of the folks to Rhode Island safely. He had raised over $125,000 for Jack.

But most relevant to this story, Paul and Mark had convinced BMW of America to donate the use of a BMW car for the ride. The Bobbys had brought decals and a light bar with them and had dressed up the BMW to look exactly like a London Police car.

Five minutes into my ride with the young kids, this fake police car crested the hill and came into sight.

One of the kids looked back, saw the car with its flashing lights and 30 bike riders behind it, and yelled, “Shit, he brought the devil with him!”

Within two seconds, every kid had disappeared. It looked like a well rehearsed military maneuver! All the kids scattered in separate directions to make pursuit impossible, jumping over curbs, ducking behind cars, and shooting down alleys.

And I was left alone to wonder what happened.

The Evil in Men’s Hearts

I don’t consider myself a racist, and I doubt anyone would characterize me that way. And yet, in a moment of panic, with nothing but instinct to guide me on how to respond to “let’s get him”, my heart told me to run away from a bunch of kids because they were black and poor.

I can argue with myself that it’s a sensible reaction on my part. I can say it was a bad neighborhood which increased the chance of harm coming to me, so the rational thing to do was run.

But I know nothing about Bridgeport. I based my “bad neighborhood” point above on the fact that the neighborhood looked poor and black. But here’s an interesting fact: I grew up even poorer (but white) and that didn’t drive me and my family to crime. Why assume poverty would drive people to crime in this neighborhood?

What’s more while I “don’t consider myself a racist” I don’t test that theory often. I live in an almost exclusively white neighborhood, I have few black friends, and my community involvement to date has been to meet other similar folks who do athletic events to raise money for less fortunate people we (almost) never see. I’m the text-book example of an open-minded intellectual who preaches on the evils of racism, but is afraid to take the subway in Harlem because, well, it just isn’t safe.

But perhaps as sad as my initial reaction to the kids, was their reaction to the fake police car. The reality was the children were in no danger – in fact, they missed an opportunity to ride with some of the nicest and funniest people I’ve met in years. But their instinctual response, I’m sure ingrained through both experience and stories about the police, have trained them to automatically mistrust and run.

I believe mistrust and racism are taught to children through the reactions of adults – it’s not something we’re born with. I’m sure the kids in Bridgeport originally saw my hesitation and learned a little, just as they see their parents avoid law enforcement, and just as I saw my parents frown if black people moved into our neighborhood in Florida. Through our actions, we make the world a different, but not always better, place.

Where the Journey Takes You

I originally meant to write a light article chronicling how the ride went and relaying some of the fun stories, but I started with the story of the kids, and this is where the article took me. It got me thinking: I have to force myself to find more diversity in life, and find a way to separate mistrust that is prudent from mistrust that is based solely on racial or economic characteristics.

So once I finish up with the current charity commitments I have (training and fund-raising for Team Continuum), I’d like to try something that forces me to get out more in the community, and meet people who are leading wholly different lives from me.

I’m looking for suggestions, and would appreciate your input. If you have ideas for things or organizations to look into in the New York area, I’d love to know. Please either e-mail me at aclarke (at) abclarke.com or leave a comment here.

Thanks for reading my ramblings. By the way, here are some photos from the ride.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

(1) As most readers know, I was riding 180 miles from Manhattan to Providence, RI this weekend to raise money for the Jack Brown Appeal.

Nude Numbers (#13)

For reference, here’s last week’s data. Curious what this post is about? Click here

Summary

I successfully completed the New York to Providence bike ride to raise money for the Jack Brown Appeal. And I met Jack, who was so cool! I’ll write about it in a separate post.

I am sore from 3 days in the saddle, but seem to have emerged injury free and ready to switch to running. I also gained 1-2 pounds without adding a lot of fat, which is cool. Now, 7 weeks to go until the marathon, and time to get back to running.

Subjective Data

  1. Completed the NYC-Providence 180+ mile bike ride without any injuries. And had a blast doing it.
  2. Weight lifting was good this week, but admittedly it was stupid to do heavy leg lifting two days before the ride started.
  3. I ate whatever I wanted this week, but after spending over 25 hours in a bike, I’m not too worried.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.

Assessment

The ride was a blast, I rode very well (for me), and I’ll write about it separately. My leg injury didn’t even play in, even the foot bruise I got last Saturday, and although I am sore today, it’s the good kind of sore. That’s one of the two major events out of the way (just the November marathon remains), which is awesome.

I will post photos later (we’re still gathering them together).

On the sad side, it likely means my bike goes into storage for the winter season. I’ll miss it.

I cut back on the swimming this week because of time pressure, but my form was good when I did get time and my speed is improving. My weight control was on track. I gained 1-2 pounds without a major increase in body fat.

I’m still shooting to win The Six Pack Charity Challenge, and finish the NYC Marathon.

As usual, if you have suggestions, leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at) abclarke.com”.

Plan

Time to switch over to running. I’ll do a short 1.7 mile run on Tuesday, and then work with my trainers to come up with a short-time plan to ramp up for the marathon. More details next week. I’ll also keep lifting, do some swimming, and eat around 2,875-3,125 calories a day to gain some weight.

Presentation Notes

No changes to data presentation this week. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

Silence for Charity

Hi folks,

There will be no long essay update from me this week as I’m triaging my time pretty tightly this week. That’s because I’ll be taking Friday, Saturday and Sunday to ride 200 miles to Providence, RI in support of the Jack Brown appeal (a portion of the donations made to Team Continuum goes to this cause) and that, coupled with training and starting a company, puts me pretty tight on time this week. Click here to donate if you haven’t already.

So think of it this way, I’m saving valuable real-estate in your e-mail or blog reader. As you enjoy this blog silence, please consider donating
J Did I mention please donate?

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

Nude Numbers (#12)

For reference, here’s last week’s data. Curious what this post is about? Click here

Summary

I may have reinjured myself slightly running, so I’m resting my leg just in case (yes Susan, you were right L ). My 200 mile bike ride starts this Friday so that’s the focus this week. Separately, given the consistent feedback on my CA trip that I was scary thin, I got professionally measured for body fat percentage this week. I’m actually around 9% body-fat when measured correctly. That means, my goal of 10-12% by November has been hit, and it’s time to start increasing calories and adding more muscle.

Speaking of goals, we passed $11,000 in fundraising this week. Thanks to everyone who has donated so far. You guys are awesome! But let’s keep going – anyone up for $15,000?

As promised J and I are matching the first $10,000 in donations with a $2,500 donation of our own.

Subjective Data

  1. Back to swimming and lifting after my rest week. My swimming form continues to improve. My lifting continues to be fun.
  2. The bad news is I did another run on Saturday, but wore the wrong pair of shoes (I have two pairs that look the same, one of which I meant to throw out). I appear to have bruised the top of my right foot, but hopefully that recovers in time for Friday’s ride.
  3. I was traveling in California for most of the week, and saw a lot of people I hadn’t seen in over a year. The consistent feedback I got was that I’m too thin.

Objective Data

Click here for a PDF version of my dashboard.

Assessment

Last week’s rest did me good, and most of my (non-leg) aches and pains are gone. I returned to the weight room as planned. Due to traveling in California, I didn’t get any bike rides in. My swimming was on track though, and my balance and kicking has improved a lot. My running is still problematic, and even though I ramped back to just 5 miles this week, I may have reinjured myself. We’ll see, but I’m staying off my feet until Friday (I’ll do a test ride on Wednesday to make sure my foot is ok). Friday is the start of my 200 mile ride to Providence, RI.

My trip to California was eye-opening. Everyone was shocked by how much weight I lost, and their perspective was valuable. J and I (and our NY friends) have seen the change gradually, so the shock value wasn’t as high for us, but I was at 155 this week from 185 when I left CA. Still, the comments of folks in California convinced me to get professionally measured for body-fat %, instead of relying on my scale. The result is I’m at 9% body fat, when my goal was 10-12% by November.

So I’m switching my diet to “maintain and gain” from “lose” mode. I’m starting to eat more, which means I need to make sure I do good work in the weight room to really take advantage of the extra calories. Nice to have the “feed bag” on again though J

This may mean I’m blowing my chances to win The Six Pack Charity Challenge, but I’m still optimistic.

As usual, if you have suggestions, leave a comment, or reach me at “art (at) abclarke.com”.

Plan

This week is all about making the ride to Providence. There is a slight chance I’ll be visible on the CBS Morning Show this Thursday morning (around 7-7:30am EST) if you want to see the group of us doing the Jack Brown Appeal ride (we’re doing a little PR to try to raise extra money). I’ll be riding with 40 British Cops for the appeal J

  1. Stay off leg until Friday except for test ride on Wednesday. Do 80 mile bike ride on Friday, 80 mile bike ride on Saturday, 40 mile bike ride on Sunday, and collapse as an exhausted heap on Sunday afternoon.
  2. Increase swimming to keep pressure off the leg.
  3. Increase calories to 2,875-3,125 calories a day. Keep lifting to take advantage of this.
  4. Keep smiling.

Presentation Notes

No changes to data presentation this week. As with last week, data is presented in SOAP Note format.

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

Starting a Company with Boxes and M&Ms

This article talks about the importance of projecting confidence while innovating, but that your confidence needs to be firmly based on principles, and regularly subjected to transparent review. It also has a short teaser about my new company and a commitment about that company.

The Law of the Box

Think back to high school. You’re wandering through the hallways skipping your class and a teacher sees you – It’s an instant recipe for detention.

Now, imagine the same scenario, except this time you’re confidently carrying a box on your shoulder when the teacher sees you. Suddenly the teacher assumes you’re doing something for another teacher, and lets you pass.

By looking and acting like you know what you’re doing, you can directly influence the behavior of others, even when there is no way you could actually know what you’re doing – This is the Law of the Box.

I first discovered the Law of the Box while carrying a box of text books for my English teacher in 9th grade: Three different teachers let me pass without even blinking.

Once I recognized the phenomenon I kept a collapsed cardboard box in my locker. I would skip class, run to my locker, reassemble the box, and walk off campus to get bagels, confident that I would not be stopped by any teacher for any reason. (I was a nerd in high school, but I was a sneaky nerd.)

Evil and the Law of the Box

The Law of the Box is a very powerful tool in the hands of fourteen year old kid. In the hands of an adult, the ability to project confidence in the face of the unknown can be even more powerful, and like Faith can be used for both good and evil.

It’s the evil examples we remember most. By looking like you know what you’re doing, by following the Law of the Box, you can do horrible things (even if you think your principles are sound). For example:

  • You can convince employees to invest and lose their retirement savings in your company;
  • You can convince 38 people to commit suicide simultaneously; or
  • You can convince a country to invade another country to rid a dictator of weapons of mass destruction.

As I start my own company(1), I’ve given a lot of thought to the Law of the Box. To some the Law may seem Machiavellian, or manipulative, and just plain wrong. And it can be.

But the truth is all successful people follow the Law of the Box at times. And in order to accomplish anything truly innovative with a team of people, you absolutely must follow the Law.

It cannot be avoided.

So if following the Law is necessary to do something innovative, and I will be forced to use it as I get my company off the ground, how do I ensure I use the Law of the Box for good?

I believe the way to do it is state clear principles that we’ll operate by (with Mr. Bush did do), but be transparent in my decision making (which Mr. Bush did not do). In other words, I must Run Naked.

Read on for why.

A Confidence Game

I made the claim that “all successful people follow the Law at times”. Does that mean that all successful people claim confidence in an area they really can’t be confident in? Yes, it does. Does that make them conmen? Not at all!

Take the world of medicine again… Doctors are constantly treating people with unknown illnesses. (In fact during the diagnosis stage, all patients have “unknown” illnesses by definition.) But good doctors are trained to always present themselves with confidence even if they don’t know the actual problem, and while they try not to lie, they do present their thoughts in a way that attempts to maintain the confidence of the patient.

For example, my mother tells me that she has “primary idiopathic hypertension” and that her doctors are on top of it and treating it well. “Primary idiopathic hypertension” is the official name of her illness, and I believe her doctors are, in fact, treating it extremely well.

But my mother has no idea that “primary idiopathic” just means “the most common form of blood pressure, but we have no idea what’s causing it”. Her doctors present the term to her in way that disguises the uncertainty, my mother feels more confident, she takes her medicine, and hence feels better. (If you like “idiopathic”, also check out “iatrogenic,” another term often thrown around by doctors.)

Physicians are not doing it to be malicious – they are doing it because they know that if a patient loses confidence their chances of a successful recovery decline. In other words, it is in the best interest of the patient for the doctor to act with confidence.

I’m not harshing on doctors – I have immense respect for anyone who goes into that field. My point is in order to effectively do their jobs in an inherently uncertain environment, they must always look like they know what they are doing, or patients will lose confidence and get sicker.

Doctors follow the Law of the Box. So does any person who needs to change, inspire, comfort, lead or manage other people in an environment of uncertainty.

Innovation, Faith & Confidence

This is why innovators and entrepreneurs must follow the Law of the Box all the time. By definition, if you’re accomplishing something new and innovative, you’re doing something that has never been done before. It’s therefore completely impossible for you to actually know completely what you’re doing.

Like with doctors, lack of confidence is contagious; if you don’t project confidence, your team will not weather the squalls of uncertainty that you’ll encounter on your voyage.

Could Columbus have manned a fleet of 3 ships to find a “passage to India” if he had not projected confidence in his ability to navigate (which he clearly overestimated)? Unlikely.

Could the US government have maintained the support of the nation to put a man on the moon of they had not projected complete confidence in their ability to safely do it? Unlikely, and yet if you look inside the Apollo program you see countless examples of uncertainty, and even cases of death on the way to the goal.

To innovate, you must (1) have Faith in your mission and (2) you must project a confidence in excess of the facts on the grounds (the Known) in order to keep your ship sailing. You must follow the Law of the Box.

Hippocrates liked M&Ms

So, the Law of the Box is pervasive, must be followed by all entrepreneurs, and can be used for both good and evil. How does one ensure it is used for good?

Again, let’s return to the medical world. Doctors, a group of the world’s best confidence-men and women, manage to use the Law of the Box for good. They do so by clearly stating the principles they operate by, and by having a method to ensure transparency.

The principle is Hippocrates’ oath: Do no (unnecessary) harm. Most every non-doctor has heard of this. And ask any physician and you’ll find they take the oath quite seriously.

But most lay people (non-doctors) have not heard of the medical culture and concept of M&Ms, and it is just as important as Hippocrates’ oath. M&Ms for doctors are not tasty chocolate candies – they are “Morbidity and Mortality” conferences. All major hospitals hold them regularly.

In an M&M conference, physicians present their own cases where their patient had a poor outcome and review their mistakes openly in front of their peers. They face critique. They get advice from other doctors on how do better in the future. They force themselves to get honest assessments for how well they live by the Hippocrates oath.

And in this way, they have a check and balance on their projections of confidence. Unlike Mr. Bush as he went to war in Iraq, Doctor’s regularly check themselves and hold themselves accountable to their principles.

In other words, doctors run naked.

How Naked is “Naked”?

But just as important as what happens in an M&M conference is what doesn’t happen in an M&M conference. M&Ms do not criminalize mistakes – doctors are human and recognize that mistakes will happen. They view the mistakes as a way to learn.

And doctors don’t open the M&Ms to the general public.

Wait, isn’t that a violation of Running Naked? Shouldn’t you Run Naked completely openly?

No.

The point of Running Naked is to make sure you allow some independent people to review how you adhere to your principles, but Running Naked does not require everyone to see everything.

In fact, you can often expose yourself, your organization and the world to unhealthy harm by being too naked.

It’s a balancing act of independence of your reviewers versus their familiarity with the problem space, and while I do believe you should lean heavily towards independence over familiarity, sometimes you must choose familiarity.

Consider this case of life and death. A non medical person may find it appalling that a doctor could deliver a fatal dose of a drug to a five year old child by misreading a syringe, and will often look to punish the doctor (for proof of this, just look at the medical ‘malpractice’ industry). But this is likely not going to help the emotional wellbeing of the patient’s family, the doctor in question, or the world at large, and certainty will not bring the child back to life. (It will often however help the legal malpractice attorney’s, and the patient’s family, financial wellbeing.)

An independent, but not public, M&M conference will look at the surrounding circumstances where the patient was in the emergency room, chaos was everywhere, and a split second decision needed to be made. The doctor being reviewed is a lot more likely to share unflattering details about his or her performance. The committee may see the doctor got distracted half way through filling the syringe when the patient’s heart beat stopping. They will see that the doctor tried to live by the Hippocrates motto, but made a mistake that any human could make, and will concentrate the remediation on fixing the system (as a result, some dangerous medicines now come in pre-packaged syringes that guarantee the correct dose).

In reality, they make the system stronger by not being 100% naked.

Want other examples of organizations that project confidence in a world of intense uncertainty, but still ensure they use the Law of the Box for good without being 100% naked? Take a look at how the FAA consistently projects confidence in the safety of the air travel industry, and how they use post-accident review processes to hold themselves and their industry accountable to their principles (note: these are mostly public, but not completely).

Starting a Company

So what does this have to do with my new company? I’m not posting exactly what the company is doing here because that’s not yet in the best interest of my (future) customers, team and investors. (I will tell you the company’s working-name is Vlideshow).

Instead, let me talk about confidence. To get this company off the ground, I’m going to have to deal with a lot of uncertainty. I am 100% confident there is an opportunity here, and a customer base with a need that we can serve better than everyone else. I am 100% confident that Vlideshow will meet that need with aplomb. But my confidence has many unknowns and assumptions underlying it. How can I be sure that my confidence guides me in a direction that will actually be good for my customers, team and investors?

To solve this problem, I plan to do two things. First, I will publish (openly) a set of Operating Principles that Vlideshow will live by. And secondly, I will set up a group of independent reviewers where I present the mistakes I make while trying to adhere to those principles for review and learning. This will not be a public review committee – as some of the things we learn would help our competition in ways that is not good for our investors or team – but the committee will have real teeth and I will follow its advice.

Now’s I recognize it’s lame of me to claim this post is about starting my company and not tell you what the Vlideshow product is, so if you’re curious as to what I’m up to, feel free to give me a buzz and I’ll happily chat with you about it.

I’m especially interested in hearing from you if you’re an engineer:

  • experienced in streaming media and/or web-applications;
  • always have an eye for scaling architecture but absolutely believe in “ship first, ask questions later”;
  • have a burning yen to change the world with the most fun product you’ve ever worked on; and
  • you’re up for some excitement (and some risk) in co-founding a company (I’d prefer if you’re based in the Bay Area or New York City).

If you’re that person, I want you to help decide the Operating Principles with me.

415-378-4554 is my cell, or e-mail me at “aclarke(at)vlideshow.com” (replace the (at) with @).

Thanks,

- Art

Help me raise money for people suffering from cancer

(1) For those who don’t know, I left Stolen Bases about a month ago to pursue my own company. It was a hard decision, and while I continue to believe in the Stolen Bases mission and assist the Stolen Bases folks (and they advise me on my new company), I was at a good transition point and I’m so excited about the opportunity my new company is pursuing I found I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So here I am.