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Author: Michael Cruse

I live in Orange County, California with my wife and two wonderful daughters. My eldest is now off to college in Arizona. I started in IT, have led IT groups, Data Warehouse teams, overseen Facilities, and Sales Operations groups. I am now moving my career into Corporate Operations where I can bring all these experiences together.
Photo Credit: "Fireworks of the American Flag" by Beverly & Pack
An Optimist at Heart

An Optimist at Heart

I am looking forward to the New Year as 2016 was not the best of years for the world.  The US elections were difficult and left most people angry for one reason or another. If you watch the cable news, it seems the world is heading to hell in a handbasket.  The over saturation and exaggerations by the media is depressing.

With that being said, I hope and pray that 2017 will be a better year for us all.  The past is behind us, and we can look upon the future in directed anticipation of making it better.  Whatever your slice of the world that you wish to address, it is time to get in motion.  Take it on and do something new. Success or failure, it is the journey that ultimately matters. Who is with us and the lives we impact is what counts in the end.

I am an optimistic realist and see no value in obsessing over the negativity we will confront. I will try to do something each day to make my slice of the world a little better.

Photo Credit: "second thoughts" (CC BY-NC 2.0) by laurabillings
Fear, Insecurity and the Scarcity Mindset

Fear, Insecurity and the Scarcity Mindset

I feel as if there is a significant volume of works adoring, in a sense, and vilifying the scarcity mentality in our culture. I was fist exposed to these concepts by Brené Brown, and I was challenged by her first TED talk. Personally, I was inspired and motivated for the longest time by the “greed is good” mantra. I felt the constant longing for more was a staircase that drove us to higher levels of personal and professional development. Life is not simple. I learned that it could just as easily be a death spiral that we were riding.  Having taken this train ride up and down over my career, I have learned one key element. The lack of satisfaction with what we have or achieved thus far in life is not the panacea of upward growth I once thought when it is anchored in the bias of scarcity. We are consumed with desires for more time, effort, energy, goodwill of others, and building our professional kingdoms (power) while burning ourselves and others out.  It will never be enough; there is always another mountain to climb.

Further thought provocation arrived when I was pressured to define scarcity and its possible causes. The conversation began to focus on root causes in our culture and my sub-culture. In Southern California, we, for the most part, do not suffer from any real form of scarcity.  So, the best causal idea was to attribute scarcity mindset to a misguided belief of insecurity.  Scarcity mindset and fear are interwoven, and I believe they are mutually reinforcing.  It might be a fear of loss, of limited attainment, sustainability, achievement itself, or not knowing what is coming next that develops the fear and sense of scarcity.  These fears are the life blood of insecurity and lead people to extreme levels of consumption.  It is the “more for you is less for me” taken to an aggressive stance. The void we try to fill by over consuming everything can never be filled because of a nagging scarcity fear.  It is a zombie-like craving that controls and takes away bits of our humanity and the enjoyment of everyday experiences.

At some point in your career, you arrive at a moment when you start questioning everything.  You wonder what will be the next challenge or goal that should be undertaken. I thought a lot about what I had received, and what I am giving back.  This was the first step for me.  I stopped and began to question my motives, desires, and long-term goals. I bounced ideas off people, sought out feedback, worked with a coach, and took more time to be with my family and friends.  I made no significant changes or jumping to a different track of life.  I made a few tweaks here and there and had a realization that my thinking had to change. Like everyone else, I am a work in progress, and each day I hope to make a positive contribution to my endeavors.  I am more content with what I have achieved, adjust goals and pacing, and finally appreciate how much I enjoy helping others to achieve their aims.

I intentionally did not edit or refine from my first draft…I just felt like writing tonight, and this was what was on my mind.

Photo Credit: Stream of Consciousness (CC BY 2.0) by jurvetson
Really, How Informed is our Decision Making?

Really, How Informed is our Decision Making?

Opinions are a form of judgment that require people to perform a decision-making process. In reality, these decisions are often supported by the thinnest levels of credible information and rational thought. Formation of these ideas is based loosely on questionable facts and flashy headlines. We can see evidence of this from the world of high politics to the simplest of daily conversations.

Decision-making is highly influenced by people’s internal scripts, biases, and cognitive maps and frames that allow for mental shortcuts in information processing. These shortcuts of our marvelous minds are wonders to behold and do their best to keep us moving forward with our lives. However, I am not convinced they are capable of maintaining the pace with the increasing onslaught of information.

Recently, I had my opinions about several political and social topics challenged.  I took the time to explore my thoughts and do some research. Looking into each of these issues took about an hour, and I limited myself to primary news sources, academic research, and speaking with people who had first-hand experience. No matter how people try to avoid it, everything has a bias one way or another. We are all human, and some skepticism in what information we consume is healthy.

What was my result? Many of my positions were ill-informed and based largely on drive-by exposures to mass media. I was a little shocked at how I formed many opinions through exposures to the headlines and 30-second media blurbs.

When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?
–John Maynard Keynes

Am I so different than everyone else? I started an active inquiry about topics when I found myself in casual conversations with friends and associates. I must say, my opinion formation experience is not uncommon. I am no different from these other educated and successful people who are in my life. We are in a wash of information, so we deal with it as best our minds can through the use of mental information processing shortcuts. We cannot be “informed” about a majority of topics because of limitations of time and mindshare. However, we need to be aware that others with knowledge on specific topics will use drive-by information tactics to sway public opinion.

We need to be cautious of our thoughts and ideas as they may not be as well informed as we think. Advertisers know how to move ideas through a population segment. In fact, we send people to school to learn these skills. I am not a black hat conspiracy theorist. This is not subversion, but effective use of marketing driven by various specific, and often competing, agendas.

A better practice that I try to follow:

I realize that I cannot be informed on all issues, so I stopped trying. When having a conversation with someone about a subject which I have not thought about deeply, I will share my current thinking, but let the person know they are my superficial thoughts. This feels like blood in the water with a shark circling. Watch how they will move to sway or reinforce your thinking about the topic.

When the topic is of particular significance to me, my family, business, or community, I do my research. Every information source has an agenda, so I expect it. I look for reputable sources that are fact based and not primarily opinions or interpretations. I try to spend an hour or two to develop a baseline understanding of the arguments. Warning: personal biases will quickly come into play – watch for confirmation bias in the information source selections!

I do my best to question my bias and rational. I want to understand what were the motivators and influences of my initial position.

After researching and thinking about it, I will wait a few days before making a decision or opinion formation.  I review my notes and thoughts before making a newly informed decision. I do not always change my starting opinion about a topic or issue. As often as not, my starting place remains the same, but I am better informed on the issue.

This is not the end. I do my best to stay up on the subject and look information that may cause me to reevaluate the position. I consider the ability to change my mind as an attribute of strength and not indecisiveness.

Always, remember that John Maynard Keynes quote!

Photo Credit: "Andy Grove" (CC BY 2.0) by jurvetson
Thoughts on KPIs from High Output Management

Thoughts on KPIs from High Output Management

I am a strong advocate for the power of key performance indicators (KPIs).  These indicators help guide and focus departments, act as leverage when requesting resources, and provide insight when diagnosing trends before they become significant problems.  They apply as much to a personal level of accountability as they do for a department or company.  I am re-reading Andy Grove’s book, High Output Management, and he has an excellent chapter covering KPI concepts.

In chapter 2, there are many pearls of wisdom for managing with the power of KPIs.  Mr. Grove’s thinking about this area has influenced me greatly over the years.  I do not agree with all his positions, but I am significantly aligned with his methods and have tweaked some of his concepts to meet my needs.  Take about six hours of your life and sit down with this book and a notepad.  His book is a quick read and worth every minute of your time.

Personal Key Takeaways from High Output Management by Andy Grove

Performance indicators provide specific focus points for people and elucidate elements of the highest value operations.  We are awash in information overload, and just because something is trackable does not mean it should.  A good performance indicator should focus on supporting organizational goals.  This may be done from a preventative position such as monitoring equipment performance to detect quality issues before a system failure occurs or maintaining expected levels of performance.  Andy Grove reminds us that indicators draw our attention, so we must be careful in our selection process, so we do not become myopically focused or blinded to other business factors.  He advises that indicators should be paired together to help prevent too narrowly focusing our attention.  This is an outstanding idea and naturally flows from using performance indicators to paint a story of operations.  Additionally, he goes on to discuss the concepts of leverage around the highest steps in the production cycle. This is an area that is simple to think about but often forgotten. The first letter of KPI is “Key.” Leaderships’ attention to the highest value elements of production is import and KPIs help keep attention where it belongs.

Mr. Grove advocates for the measurement of outputs as a more efficient indicator because results are what matters the most.  I differ here as I feel that both activity and production are too closely related in many industries and should be tracked as a pair.  For example, sales calls to the right customer targets are strongly correlated with sales performance.  Furthermore, salespeople activity should be monitored as a leading indicator of sales, potential diagnostic of marketing messaging, evaluation of sales training, and as a diagnostic for industry access trends for the customer base.  Again, we need to look back at his warning about focus and attention.  Managers need to pay attention to the right things.  What we track will become the focus of the team so a balance must be made to ensure that people do not go through the motions to make the KPIs look good while the underlying performance begins to falter.

Key performance indicators are hugely beneficial when combined with actions.  This is a straightforward concept but not often followed.  Mr. Grove cautions that performance indicators are useless if we are unwilling to take action based on the indicator’s signal.  If we are resistant to do what is necessary to keep our KPIs within acceptable ranges, then we either have the wrong KPIs, or we need to alter our management practice. It takes great fortitude to make changes when things look like they are going well on the surface, but the KPIs are beginning to tell us a different story.

Adjusting during the good times is often more challenging than making adjustments during the hard times.

If you have not guessed, I have great respect for Andy Grove.  He is one of the leaders I have admired for years, and I feel that his legacy will continue to shape management thinking and the technology that he helped bring forward.