Un-learn to Re-learn

I just did not feel like writing for my little blog this week, as my thoughts are focused both on my company, Geiger (www.geiger.com promo) and the interesting and fun components of the Promotional Products industry that I am gleaming from the great people here.  So, external inputs had little input into my world this week.

To put it into a visual, think of a room filled with flip charts of drawings, text, snapshot pictures of people, applications, hardware, department and division names, roles and processes.  That is what my head is filled with and yes, several pages of flip charts, because big thoughts must be on big paper.

So, what do I write this week that would provide something worthwhile and also have my perspective – rule #1 of a good blog.  Well, without getting into too much trouble, it is that these first 45 days at a new company provide you a unique vision of people, processes and relationships between those two things.  Why could we not capture this vision more than once, when we start with a new organization?  There is a way I am learning, it is called un-learning and re-learning.

The book by Stephen M. Covey (son of Stephen R. Covey) called The Speed of Trust discusses the importance of un-learning.  The first time you learn something, like I am doing now, you are exposed with very little bias to limit your learning.  However, once you learn enough to get started (regardless of what it is), the rest of the training is slanted based on your initial biases which are difficult to avoid due to the manner in which our brain captures and interprets information.

Another book Pragmatic Thinking & Learning by Andy Hunt discusses in detail using the Dreyfus model how the brain learns.  Mr. Hunt offers a way to train your mind; he calls it refactoring your wetware, to recreate these first 45 days of unique vision.  I will let the few readers of this blog to explore those writers and their works for their own impressions.

But let me impress upon you this perspective of un-learning and re-learning on an annual basis.  For us in the technology realm, it is critical for us to un-learn and re-learn so that we can provide the proper judgments of emerging technologies and their impact on our businesses.  I know I have in the past become enamored with the technologies that took the team of people I worked with, months, if not years to design and implement.  When new technologies emerged that could replace it, the review process compared the old technology versus the new technology instead of comparing what the business people and processes do versus what the new technology does.

Comparing it anew as if the old technology did not exist was not part of the process.  But, it should have been.  Because we continuous change the people and the processes adapting (evolving) the old technology to these change whole new ways of doing things are often not part of the process.  Old technology evolves, it does not revolutionize as a new technology could possibly do.

The example of companies changing their marketing firms every 8 to 10 years comes to mind.  Often the issue is not that the old marketing firm is performing poorly, just the customer company knows that a new perspective could bring better marketing results.  The customer company un-learns by hiring a new firm so they can re-learn.

So a business can hire a new firm every few years to un-learn and re-learn, which results in us getting the benefits from this process spread out over far to many years and also ending close relationships that have served us well.  Or, develop the process of internal un-learning and re-learning, along with a utilizing a new firm strategically to perform certain functions tactically that create a new perspectives and thus new options.

I strongly recommend The Speed of Trust (The One Thing That Changes Everything) and Pragmatic Thinking & Learning (Refactor Your Wetware) to help you understand more in depth these processes.  For me, I am re-learning those parts of technology that I have experienced before by asking those around me to teach me anew, from their perspective.


Business App vendors need to wake up in regards to marketing

SAP, Oracle, Infor, Ariba, ACCPAC, IBS, Microsoft, NetSuite and many others – listen up folks.  You all need to find a way to get to not those people who use your product to do their jobs excited about your products.  The drug companies got it.  They just do not market to doctors (for you that is the C-level types), but also directly to the patients.  Turn on the TV after 9pm and see how many drug commercials are targeting their prospective patients (end-users to you all).

As I was considering what topic to write about this week, I traversed through my feeds from Twitter, to LinkedIn to a variety of other blogs (most more interesting than mine) seeking some inspiration.   Not finding anything, I went through my favorite news sites and something started to form an idea in the back of my mind.  It has been there for several weeks now but it formed a more solid thought as I looked through Business Week, New York Times Technology, and CIO.com.  Where the heck is the news about business applications?

I admit I am not the king of RSS feed aggregation, but the only story I came across was on CIO.com about Infor buying SoftBrands (owners of Fourth Shift and some other products).  Wahoo — NO more like blah blah, accept if I am a Fourth Shift customer than I would feel like acting like Yosemite Sam (for those under 35 click here – http://tinyurl.com/zzae3) .

No stories for weeks on end about what wonderful things business software like ERP, CRM, EDI or even CAD can now do to help a business grow, have greater profitability or let their associates become super efficient and effective.  Not a one.  Missing the boat folks, big time!

All the top stories are about consumer or desktop apps – iPhone, Office 2007, Bing, Facebook and Twitter.  So, not one to just tell people what they are doing wrong I have some suggestions and an offer of direct help.

There is a company called Kinaxis that has a great marketing idea, just has not gotten it promoted well enough (need to hit mainstream TV or Hulu.com Kinaxis people).  Check out http://www.kinaxis.com/supplychaincomedy to seek Kinaxis’s skits regarding supply chain organization and software utilization.  There are only a few, but they hit the mark.

Come on Microsoft go ahead and steal Apple’s commercial concept and do the same thing but you are in the Apple role against SAP or Oracle who would be ah, well you in the Apple commercials.  In the ERP space, you are the cooler company.  Yes, hard to believe but trust me out of SAP, Oracle, Infor and the others – you are cool, well cooler.  Create a skit of a accounts payable clerk getting frustrated by the problems processing a payment from multiple vendor invoices with the SAP guy spouting off about their ‘best practices’ in the background.

Market your products to those who go home each night begging for a better way to get their work done then using the dumb, old, not set up for our business and so on software they use today.

Yes, ERP is not sexy.  Nether is CRM or EDI.  But, it is necessary, so make fun of yourselves and your competition and talk about how effective your products.  Call me if you need any ideas, where I work now I am surrounded by smart, creative people who appear to know how to make fun of themselves – geiger gets it (just a little self promotion for my new diggs).

What’s your problem?

a questionAs the song What’s your problem by the Zutons demonstrates this simple question invokes strong defense responses and often is used as an aggressive attack.  I won’t go into how culturally one of the most important questions people should ask each other became a verbal assault.

I have been both good and lucky enough to be joining a great organization as their CIO within the next few days.  As I prepped for this new challenge I gave some deep thought to my approach to problem solving.   I have read books, been through training seminars – Six Sigma Plan Do Check Act, Lean and ITIL problem solving approaches.  Each has helped form my problem solving ability.  However, for me it comes down simply to not what is the right solution, but what are the right questions.

As humans we develop bias’s very quickly which become experiences and therefore translate into our assumptions.  It is one of the main reasons we are at the top of the food chain.  In today’s economic world, you will not live long basing your solutions on your assumptions of the past.  To get to the right questions you need to constantly challenge your own biases and assumptions. This is easier said than done.

I prepare by taking an approach towards continuous learning and exposure to different situations, experiences, approaches.  Along with when I discuss how someone resolved a similar problem that I have, I seek to understand how they came upon the solution.  Was it trial and error, shotgun, machine gun or using something like the wisdom of crowds (see book recommendation below).  As I said, for me I focus on the questions and using the old axiom ‘ask the right questions and the solution will present itself’.

Turning the problem over or on its side is a great way to have fun with even a difficult problem.  In the book Jump The Curve a hotel manager asked his employees for solutions to customer complaints about waiting for elevators.  The hotel had installed the latest fastest elevators available, yet the complaints continued.  An employee turned the question around and asked how to make people want to wait longer for an elevator.  As it happens, this problem came up in my own life when I was discussing with my wife a problem she had with a Habitat for Humanity charity event and the long line guests had to wait to pay for their silent auction items. Her thought was to add another credit card machine to speed the efficiency of the process.

I asked her when has she waited in a line and did not realize the time it was taking.  She did not notice the wait time when she was otherwise engaged in some activity that took her attention away from watching the line move slowly.  For the hotel, the solution was to install mirrors on the elevator outer doors.  It allowed people to inconspicuously devote time to their own vanity.  Complaints went down immediately.  For the charity payment line, I suggested that board members approach those in line to discuss the items they won, add a story about who donated it and engage them in conversation about Habitat.  Asking the right question reduced complaints and can impact the bottom line by avoiding unnecessary expenses.

When NASA recently announced that the retirement of the shuttle fleet and that they were going to return to the use of a rocket launch platform to go to space, I heard many who commented that NASA was taking several steps backwards.  Yes, there were cost implications that drove the decision, but also there is the fact that rocket technology has now advanced both in lower cost, reliability and safety that it is the right solution.  The question was not what the next shuttle should be.   The question NASA asked is what the best way to get to space is.

The statement ‘that when you are a hammer everything looks like a nail’ is appropriate here.  I will be faced with a large number of problems (challenges, opportunities, issues, call them what you will) without a doubt over the next several months and my foreseeable future over the next several years.  I commit to not being a hammer, unless my problem is a nail.

Recommendations from me on problem solving:

  • Jack’s Notebook: A business novel about creative problem solving – by Gregg Fraley
  • Being Logical: A Guide to Good Thinking by D.Q. McInerny
  • The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki
  • Jump The Curve by Jack Uldrich
  • Any book or reading material that is new or counter to your current thinking
  • Learn a new language
  • Toys – puzzles, LEGOs, Mega Magz, and blocks