States of Thinking – Serial

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 3 of 4

Serial State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

The cumulative thinker wakes up one morning and sees the world in a whole new way. Not only are things in the world connected, but there are cause-and-effect relationships between them.

If this is the case, then this must be the result.

One thing causes another thing to occur. This is the state of thinking required to be effective at creating single serial systems. There is end to end accountability for the effectiveness of the system at this level of work.

Decision making and problem solving not only requires an understanding of steps to be included, but the duration of each step, sequence of steps, which steps depend on other steps to be completed (dependent steps), which steps may be worked on simultaneously (concurrent steps), lead times for steps and critical path. Trouble-shooting (problem solving) is an analytic process (root cause or comparative analysis).

Serial thinking creates consistency and predictability in each system. And then the serial thinker wakes up one morning to discover the predictable output of their genius system is impacted by the output of another system. To understand what is happening requires a parallel state of thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Cumulative

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 2 of 4

Cumulative State

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

If declarative thinking cannot connect the dots, cumulative thinking can. Cumulative thinking sees patterns and makes connections. A cumulative thinker can learn, not only through trial and error (declarative), but through the documented experience of other people. This documented experience could be an article in a trade journal or magazine, a book, research on the internet or perhaps a conversation with a colleague.

Standard operating procedures (documented SOPs) can be a powerful source for cumulative problem solving. Given a problem to solve, a cumulative thinker can see the pattern in the problem, connect it to a documented best practice, problem solved.

This works really great, as long as we have solved the problem before and documented the solution. This is the land of best practices. Best practices is an S-II cumulative problem solving strategy.

But, there are some problems we have not solved, some problems we have not seen. The cumulative thinker wakes up one morning and sees not just the connection between two elements, but the cause and effect relationship between those elements, the emergence of serial thinking. -Tom

States of Thinking – Declarative

From the Ask Tom mailbag – Part 1 of 4.
Question:
Last week, you created a chart that appeared to break down various states of thinking related to levels of work. Your biggest distinction seemed to be from concrete (short time span) to conceptual (longer time span) levels of work. But you used specific labels to describe states of thinking at Strata Levels I-II-III-IV. Could you be more descriptive in these states.

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)

Response:
When I look at work, I look at two things, the way people make decisions and the way people solve problems. That’s work.

Declarative State (I do declare!) describes the state of problem solving engaged in short time span problems. Something exists because it is declared to exist. In his most recent book, the Undoing Project, Michael Lewis describes the fallibility of such thinking, based on recency bias or vividness bias. Things get connected “just because.” There is an old wives tale that arthritis pain is connected to weather events. A study conducted by Amos Tversky, one of the subjects of Lewis’ book, demonstrates there is no statistical link between arthritis and the weather yet, “a single day of severe pain and extreme weather might sustain a lifetime of belief in a relation between them.”

Declarative State is a very disjunctive way of seeing the world. Connectivity is imagined, declared, without the requirement of supporting evidence. Given a problem to solve, a person engaged in a declarative state can see the problem, and can consider a small number of presented solutions. A declarative process would start with the most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution, without evidence of its probable effectiveness. Yet, if that solution does not immediately work, the declarative process simply moves to the next most obvious, most convenient, most vivid, most imagined solution. There is the old joke about looking for a set of dropped car keys, in the dark, down the street from the parked car. The person searches down the street, under the streetlight, because searching in the dark, next to the car is too difficult. This scientific process is known as trial and error.

And there are many problems that can be effectively and quickly solved through trial and error problem solving. And there are many people in S-I roles who can play through trial and error so quickly, their solutions appear astounding.

Until they wake up one morning and see the world in a whole new way, things are actually connected. They go from not being able to connect the dots to the next level state of thinking, cumulative. -Tom

When to Promote

From the Ask Tom mailbag –

Question:
I have a technician in an S-I role, but he shows promise to be a supervisor. Shows promise, he’s not there yet. If I promote him, he will fail. Yet, he is clamoring to be promoted. If I promote him and he fails, he will likely quit OR I will have to fire him. What to do?

Response:
Your instincts are solid. I divide each stratum level of work into three parts (Lo-Med-Hi). For example, Lo-S-II would be an emerging supervisor, may not have earned the title of supervisor yet, but is still in the learning and testing phase.

Med S-II is someone with the competence to be effective in the supervisor role, certainly has the role title.

Hi-S-II is someone, extremely competent and a candidate for consideration at Lo-S-III (emerging manager).

So, Hi-S-I would be your best technician, could be called at “team lead.” If the S-II supervisor is out for the day, this guy is in charge. He will struggle in most areas as a supervisor, but given time (couple of years) he may grow and become more effective at Lo-S-II accountabilities.

Let’s take safety as a key result area (KRA), for example.
S-III designs a safety system.
S-II selects elements of the safety system to focus on each day, coached by S-III manager who designed the safety system.
Hi-S-I may deliver a 3-min safety talk to the team, on a topic selected and coached by the S-II supervisor from the S-III safety system. Hi-S-I would be the role model for the rest of the team to make sure they all go home with fingers and toes.

As time goes by, Lo-S-II projects are assigned to the Hi-S-I team member. This will give the Hi-S-I team member low-risk experience making S-II decisions and solving S-II problems. At some point, everyone will realize the Hi-S-I team member is effectively completing task assignments at S-II. That’s when the promotion happens, not a minute sooner. -Tom Foster

This Business of Judgement

From the Ask Tom mailbag-

Question:
From Monday’s post A More Accurate Judgement of Capability, the question came – So how does one get into the judgement business?

Response:
Become a manager. Don’t give me politically correct rhetoric that we shouldn’t judge. Management is all about judgement. Work is making decisions and solving problems. Making decisions is all about judgement. Elliott called it discretionary judgement.

The Time Span of Discretion is the length of time (target completion time of a task) that a person has, in which to make judgements that move the task to completion (the goal). We make judgements about –

  • What is the goal?
  • What has to be done now?
  • What has to be done next?
  • Who, on the team, would be the most effective at completing this task or that task?
  • How effective was the team member, completing this task or that task?

Management is about making decisions. For better or worse, good judgement, poor judgement. -Tom Foster

A More Accurate Judgement of Capability

I do not judge a person’s capability. I am not that smart. I have no authority to try to climb inside the head of a teammate, a colleague or a spouse (careful!). While I took a course of study and a minor in psychology, I have no degree, am not certified nor licensed by the state to practice psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.

People are complicated, tough to figure out. So, stop.

But work, work I understand. I understand the decisions that have to be made and problems that have to be solved. As managers, we are all expert at the work. Don’t play amateur psychologist, play to your strengths, as a manager.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I do, however, judge effectiveness, effectiveness in a role that I have selected them to play. Either the person is effective, or not. That, I can judge.

So, get out of the people judgement business and get into the role judgement business. -Tom Foster

What Does It Take to Be President

I usually don’t talk about levels of work above S-VI, but today is inauguration day. A new president takes the oath of office and for the next four years, plays a role, making decisions and solving problems.

Levels of work were first explained to me in 2001. My teacher was Jerry Harvey, a colleague of Elliott’s. On this day, I imagine, Jerry is on some heavenly golf course, trying to make a side bet with Elliott about how things will turn out.

Jerry described the role of President of the United States (POTUS) as a Stratum VII role. We are talking about the role, not the person. Decisions made at this level of work will have 20-50 year impact, both good decisions and bad decisions.

The goals and objectives at this level of work have target completion times 20-50 years into the future. As Jerry put it, this is not a short game. Can you imagine putting the wheels in motion, to set out on a journey, the fruits of which we will not see for 20-50 years. And, yet the public expects the problems to be solved in the first 100 days.

The state of thinking required to be effective at S-VII is Serial (Conceptual). See the iterative chart below.

States of Thinking

  • S-I (1 day – 3 months) Declarative (Concrete)
  • S-II (3 months to 12 months) Cumulative (Concrete)
  • S-III (1 year to 2 years) Serial (Concrete)
  • S-IV (2 years to 5 years) Parallel (Concrete)
  • S-V (5 years to 10 years) Declarative (Conceptual)
  • S-VI (10 years to 20 years) Cumulative (Conceptual)
  • S-VII (20 years to 50 years) Serial (Conceptual)

Jerry described Bill Clinton as effective at S-VI for his first six years in office, effective at S-VII only during the last two years of his term. He joked about the year 2000 election, both Gore and Bush at S-V. That’s why we couldn’t tell the difference and the election ended in a stalemate, had to be decided by the Supreme Court.

I do not judge a person’s capability. I only judge the role. What is the work? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Then, my question is simple, was the person effective? or not?

What is the level of work in your role? What are the decisions to be made? What are the problems to be solved? Are you effective in your role? -Tom Foster

What Do You Look for in a Candidate?

“We are hiring for a new supervisor. And this time, there is no one on the inside that we can promote. We have a good crew of technicians, but none is going to be able to do what we need them to do. We have to go outside,” Roger explained. “What do we need to look for in the person we want to hire?”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean, what kind of person should we look for? You know, someone who is self-motivated, dependable. Someone who can project confidence to the team. That’s important, you know. We need someone who is flexible, who can adapt to change. Someone who is a team player, you know, someone who is good with people.”

“That’s all interesting, but what is the work?”

“It’s a supervisor. Supervisory work,” Roger floated.

“So, what is the work of a supervisor, in your company, what is the work?”

Roger looked at me blankly.

“Look,” I said, interrupting his stare. “You seem to be focused on trying to climb inside the head of the candidate without any real definition of the work that has to be done. In this role, what are the decisions that have to be made? What are the problems that have to be solved? I am more interested in whether the candidate has made those kinds of decisions and solved those kinds of problems.” -Tom

Whose Policy Book Is It?

“I have been working on this policy book, documenting our methods and processes so we can use them in our training programs,” Javier explained.

“Outstanding,” I replied. “So what gives?”

“We finished the book three months ago, but I can’t get the team to take it seriously. We have a meeting, everyone agrees and follows the process for the better part of a morning. But, as soon as there is the slightest hiccup, they go back to the old way and trash talk the policy book. Then I have another meeting where I sound like the critical parent.”

“Maybe you are the critical parent,” I nodded.

“Maybe so, but someone has to be the adult in the room,” Javier pushed back.

“Says who?” I asked.

“Well, I’m the manager, so I guess – says me.”

“You just told me the team doesn’t listen to you.”

“They don’t!” Javier pushed back.

“So, when the team abandons the policy book and goes back to their own experience, who do they rely on for guidance?”

“Well, they are hiding from me, so, they rely on each other and their own judgement.”

“Tell me, Javier, who wrote the policy book?”

“I did. I stayed late every night for a month. I am pretty proud of the thinking behind it. Some of my best work.”

“But none of your team’s experience, none of your team’s judgement is in the book. So, where do you think the problem is?” -Tom

Why? You Ask.

The most effective managers are not those who tell people what to do, but those who ask the most effective questions.

Yet, some people would rather complain about a problem they can’t solve, than execute a solution they don’t like. Or, you miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take.

You will never learn from questions you don’t ask. So, why do we hesitate?

  • It’s uncomfortable to admit we don’t know.
  • The answer is obvious to everyone. Or it should be obvious to everyone, even if it’s not.
  • Our assumption may be wrong, but to ask a question requires us to re-examine what we believe to be true.
  • We might be wrong, but no one will notice, unless we ask the right question.

Asking questions takes us out of knowing mode and places us in learning mode.

Homage to Lee Thayer and Wayne Gretzky.