As improv comedians, the same philosophy and principles that work so well for us on stage also work very well when we apply them to our business.
First of all, flat organizations aren’t strictly flat. In order to grow, allow communication to flow, and projects to move forward, certain principles start to emerge. The flat terminology isn’t about grouping or structure, it’s how the decisions flow inside the company, which is more peer-to-peer and less top-down.
“Don’t think companies haven’t studied how far they can take things in providing the minimal level of service,” Mr. Robbins said. “Some organizations have even monetized it by intentionally engineering it so you have to wait an hour at least to speak to someone in support, and while you are on hold, you’re hearing messages like, ‘If you’d like premium support, call this number and for a fee, we will get to you immediately.’”
A coworker posed a question today on one of our internal discussion areas looking for thoughts on the differences between knowledge management (KM), Lean Six Sigma (LSS), and Continuous Process Improvement (CPI). I know a little about KM, not so much about LSS and CPI, but took a stab at a response anyway. Here’s what I came up with:
- KM is about things you don’t yet know how to do or that you have never done
- LSS is about doing better that which you already know how to do in the way you already know how to do them
- CPI is about finding better ways to do what you already know how to do
Each has its place, depending on what you are trying to accomplish, it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Just as organizations need a good mix of structure and fluidity, they need a mix of sustaining and improving on the things that are necessary and learning new things. And, yes, I’d say that there is some correlation between these, where the infrastructure will typically benefit from increased efficiency (LSS, CPI) and operations needs the ability to learn and grow (KM).
Unfortunately, “all or nothing” seems to be the default approach of many as they try to improve an organization. But just as the means of keeping the human body healthy is different and distinct from learning a new language, the processes and tools we implement to keep our organizational infrastructure healthy differ drastically from the way we interact with our operational environment.
A better analogy may be the training of an athlete. The athlete trains both body and mind together towards a single goal, building up from perfecting the basics (LSS), learning how to combine the basics into effective combinations (CPI), and ultimately pulling on this past training and effective interpretation of the environment in which they are performing to achieve something they had not done before (KM).
How would you describe the differences between KM, LSS, and CPI?
I didn’t have any business training. I used design skills to solve business problems.
If the government were run like a business, what kind of business would it be? It’s easy enough to think of the President as CEO, and the Congress as the Board of Directors (kind of), but who would be the shareholders? The customers? How would this effect government employees? What would be the “product”?
Most importantly, where do citizens fit into this model?
Small is not just a stepping stone. Small is a great destination in itself.
I’m a fan of growing slowly, carefully, methodically, of not getting big just for the sake of getting big. I think that rapid growth is typically of symptom of… there’s a sickness there. There’s a great quote by a guy named Ricardo Semler, author of the book Maverick. He said that only two things grow for the sake of growth: businesses and tumors. We have 35 employees at 37signals. We could have hundreds of employees if we wanted to–our revenues and profits support that–but I think we’d be worse off.
This is kind of a follow up to yesterday’s post, Living life for a living, which got me thinking again about the 37signals philosophy. What it really comes down to, it seems, is the difference between a businessperson – who wants to run a business that makes money; big is better – and a person in business – who wants to build a business around something they do; the bigger the business gets, the less they get to do what they got into business for in the first place.
An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
“How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked.
“Only a little while.” The Mexican replied.
“Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked.
“I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said.
“But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?”
In the conversation around cutting government spending, the education system always seems to get caught in the middle. Especially the teachers. Do they get paid enough? Too much?
Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, programming from the Scripps Network – which includes channels such as Food Network and HGTV – disappeared from the AT&T U-verse lineup last Friday. This surprised just about everyone, since media reports earlier in the week seemed to indicate the two were working amicably toward a resolution of ongoing negotiations. Not so unexpectedly, both Scripps and AT&T very quickly released statements defending their actions and soundly blaming the other for the problems.
AT&T came out of the gate swinging, with the title of their press release, AT&T U-verse TV Customers Denied Fair Deal by Scripps Networks, giving a pretty good idea of their view on the issue. Scripps, on the other hand, came out with AT&T U-verse customers: This is not about money!, letting viewers know that Scripps was only interested in the viewers while implying that all AT&T cared about was money. Of course, both of these companies care about money – they are in business to make money, after all. They just look at it from two different perspectives.
AT&T wants to minimize the amount of money they have to pay to Scripps (or any provider) for programming while maximizing the way they can make money from that content. In this case that means paying once for content, and then being able to distribute the content on as many media and in as many ways as possible and charging their customers for the ability to access the content on all those media. When AT&T says, “With such an uneven playing field, they are harming AT&T’s ability to provide customers with a new video choice”, what they mean is, “With such an uneven playing field, they are harming AT&T’s ability to provide customers with a new video choice and make money doing it.”
On the other hand, Scripps (or any provider) wants to be paid as much money as possible for their content. In today’s media environment that means getting paid not for the content itself but for the rights to distribute that content, with each different possible medium (TV, web, mobile, etc) being another possible revenue stream. So when Jeffrey at HGTV says, “Accepting their demands would have restrained our ability to deliver our programs to viewers like you in new and innovative ways”, what he really means is, “Accepting their demands would have restrained our ability to deliver our programs to viewers like you in new and profitable ways.”
These two companies are not fighting over the best ways of providing programming to viewers, they are fighting over which one of them will get the most money out of these new delivery methods. We, the viewers, will pay for the programming one way or another, it doesn’t really matter who the money goes to. Do these companies really think that we believe they are acting out of some altruistic, self-sacrificing urge to make us happy?
Of course it’s about money. What’s wrong with that?