Office Speak: Skate to where the puck is going to be

Imagine that you are sitting in your team meeting and you are in mid flow pontificating about your favourite subject, but you have a problem, you know that at the end of this sentence you have nothing left to say. There’s a real danger that you are going to fall off the cliff and into a dark void of silence. You need something to say and you need it soon. Fortunately you have a stock of cliches ready for this very occasion. Which one will you use? Which of the many are you going to leap to? Are any of them appropriate to this meeting? You flash through the memory cards in your head and settle on an old favourite:

“We need to skate to where the puck is going to be.”

And with that you conclude.

The team nod in agreement as your timely words, everyone apart from the young graduate who has just joined the team. She looks at you blankly:

“I’m sorry, but what does that mean.”

You open your mouth to explain and then realise that you don’t have a sensible explanation. You’ve used this term so many times before, but you’ve never really thought about what it really means, you can’t even remember where you first heard it. You’ve heard it used so many times that it’s become embedded in your psyche.

The reality is, this cliche is a quote:

I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.

Wayne Gretzky

As you may have already guessed, it’s an ice hockey reference. Wayne Gretsky was apparently quite good at it, not that I would know, I’m trusting Wikipedia.

The basic idea of the quote is that if you are going to intercept a puck your only hope is to go to where it is going to be by the time you get there. There’s no point in trying to intercept it by going to where it has already been.

The term is regularly used in the technology arena to describe the plans of organisations and their latest innovations. Steve Jobs used the term to describe the approach at Apple:

“There’s an old Wayne Gretzky quote that I love. I skate to where the puck is going to be, not to where it has been. And we’ve always tried to do that at Apple.”

Quotes from Steve Jobs tend to hit management-speak over-use in no time at all. Every manager dreams of being Steve Jobs after all.

How often the term is relevant in day-to-day business is debatable. There are times when it is very appropriate, but all too often it’s just being used as a filler and not got any authentic meaning.

The blog was brought to you by the word “puck” and the letter “w”.

Concept of the Day: Campbell’s Law

Campbell’s law is defined by the following quote from Donald T. Campbell:

“The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

In other words: the higher the stakes associated with a measure, the more likely it is that the measure is corrupt and in so doing that the system being measured becomes corrupt.

If you put high stakes against a school exam the more likely it is that people teach to get a high pass mark and in so doing teaching become corrupt.

If you put high stakes against a business measure the more likely it is that people manage to the measure, or even falsify the measure, and in so doing corrupt the business.

There are numerous places where you can see this being worked out historically; the more important question, though, is where is this happening today?

What effect does it have if you stop people’s benefits if they don’t fill out a defined number of job applications?

What effect does it have if you pay a traffic warden on the basis of the number of fines they manage to issue?

What effect does it have if you fine rail operators for late trains?

What effect does it have if you pay doctors on the basis of the number of appointments they complete?

I’m sure there are many, many more.

This little video does a really nice job of explaining Campbell’s Law:

Office Speak: Sunsetting

The other day I received an email along the lines of:

On the first of the month after next we will be sunsetting the whatamI4 system.

I knew what it meant, but it struck me as a strange phrase to use.

I suppose I ought to explain what it meant for those of you who don’t understand the meaning. I’ll replace the word sunsetting with something else to see if that helps:

On the first of the month after next we will be turning off the whatamI4 system

That’s right sunsetting = turning off.

Sunsetting with 10 characters = turning off with 10 characters.

Sunsetting with 3 syllables = turning off with 3 syllables.

I suppose that’s my question, why not just say that it’s being turned off.

Returning to the original sentence, why not say:

On the first of the month after next whatamI4 will be turned off.

There you go, that’s shorter and simpler than either of the previous ones.

Or even:

whatamI4 will be turned off on the first of the month after next

I prefer this because it gives a much better call to action.

I’m not objecting to sunsetting it just feels like redundant complexity.

Perhaps I’m not being entirely fair though. There is a picture being drawn here and there is a difference between turning off and sunsetting. The term sunsetting is trying to communicate that the light is drawing in on a the application and that it’s time to move over to something else. Turning something off happens quite quickly, even instantaneously; sunsetting may happen over an extended period.

It’s not a word I hear people use in normal life though – it’s office speak.

Axiom: 4-to-1 – Compliment-to-Criticism Ratio

Is there a correct compliment to criticism ratio?

I’ve carried around the ratio of 4-to-1 for a long while now, but never really investigated it’s origins, or whether it has any basis in fact.

It’s an axiom and hence feels about right, but is it too simplistic? Why 4-to-1? So off I went to do a bit of research.

It turns out that the axiom has an interesting history. I’m going to keep it short, Wikipedia has a longer chronology.

Our brief history begins in 2005 when Marcial Losada and Barbara Fredrickson publish a paper in American Psychologist called “Positive effect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing” in which they outlined that the ratio of positive to negative affect was exactly 2.9013.

So not 4-to-1, ah well.

Barbara Fredrickson went on to write a book in 2009 titled: Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life. In the book she wrote:

“Just as zero degrees Celsius is a special number in thermodynamics, the 3-to-1 positivity ratio may well be a magic number in human psychology.”

The idea of a positivity ratio became popular and entered mainstream thinking, taking on names like the Losada ratio, the Losada line and the Critical Positivity Ratio. I’m not sure when I picked up the idea of a positivity ratio, but I suspect it would be around the 2009, 2010 time-frame.

Then in 2013 Nick Brown, a graduate student, became suspicious of the maths in the study. Working with Alan Sokai and Harris Friedman, Nick Brown reanalysed the data in the original study and found “numerous fundamental conceptual and mathematical errors”. This the claimed ratio completely invalid leading to a formal retraction of the mathematical elements of the study including the critical positivity ratio of 2.9013-to-1.

So not only did I get the wrong ratio, it turns out that the ratio is mathematically invalid anyway.

This is where axioms get interesting, scientifically the idea of a 3-to-1 ratio of positivity is rubbish, but there’s something about it that keeps the idea living on. Instinctively we feel that it takes a bucket load more positivity to counteract a small amount of negativity. We know that we hear a criticism much louder than a compliment.

We only have to think about it a little while, though, to realise that a ratio is a massive over simplification of far more sophisticated interactions. As we interact with people, one criticism can be nothing like another one. Imagine the difference between a criticism from a friend and one from a stranger, they are very different. The same is also true for compliments. Thinking on a different dimension, we know that a whole mountain of compliments about triviality is not going to outweigh a character impacting criticism.

Perhaps, worst of all, though, is no feedback at all?

Imagining a Different Perspective

The other day I was driving through the English countryside when a pulled up to the back of two Volvos.

The Volvo in front was almost new and still glistening silver.

The Volvo behind was a convertible, with the roof down. It wasn’t so new, but not too old either.

First question: What are you imagining that the rest of this story is going to be about?

The road we were travelling down together is one of the high passes in the Lake District and is the widest and best maintained of these high altitude roads. For most of the length of this road cars can pass each other with little need to slow down. Anything wider than a car and you have to exercise caution and very occasionally you have to make use of passing places for larger vehicles. This road climbs rapidly to a height of over 450m, twisting and turning as it goes. The views are fabulous as you make your way through steep high sided valleys and onto the top where you can see for miles, the route down is just as steep with an extra steep option if you’re so inclined.

Second question: What is your emotional response to what I’ve told you about this road?

The Volvo in front was driving cautiously, very cautiously. They would drive down the middle of the road to avoid being too close to the stone walls at either side. When a vehicle came in the opposite direction they would apply the brakes and practically stop to let the other vehicle pass. Many of the vehicles coming in the opposite direction would pass at speed.

A couple of times we approached a group of cyclists exercising their respiratory system of the steep slopes. The Volvo in front would only pass in the safest of places.

There are several places on this road where it’s possible to pull over and to let others pass. It’s quite a popular tourist route, it’s also a route people use for everyday activities, I’ve regularly had people pull over and let me pass as they stopped to enjoy the view. This driver never took any of these opportunities.

Third question: What word would you use to describe this first driver?

Every time the first Volvo slowed down the driver in the second Volvo would break heavily to avoid a collision. The braking would be accompanied with a set of hand gestures and articulations to the driver in front. At almost every turn the driver of the second Volvo would vigorously shake their head at the driver in front. The driver of this second car had the roof down so I could see that they were an older gentleman, in their 60s perhaps, there was a lady in the passenger seat of a similar age. His favourite hand gesture was to make the shape of a hand gun and articulate to shoot the car in front.

As the first Volvo accelerated after each passing vehicle the second would accelerate loudly as they applied a heavy foot on the appropriate pedal.

The two cars would repeat the sequence of brake, heavy brake, hand gestures, accelerate, accelerate loudly, brake…

Fourth question: What word would you use to describe this second driver?

It was a glorious sunny day and I’d just completed a fairly long walk from which I was feeling a weathered glow. As I watched these two drivers making their way through the glorious scenery I decided that it was time to challenge my own perspectives on the drivers immediately ahead.

I had my initial words for both of them, neither complimentary.

Could other words be applicable? What about different perspectives?

Fifth question: What other words could apply to both these drivers?

After descending down the other side of the steep pass it was time for me to leave the duelling dancing duo and to plot my own course. They carried on towards one of the Lake District’s major centres, I took a short cut to avoid it. There were no vehicle on this road and I was free to drive at my own pass in my on flow.

I recently heard someone suggest that people will decide on whether they are coming back to a place within the first 15 minutes of being there. if you run a restaurant and make people wait more than 15 minutes it doesn’t matter how good the food is they’ve already decided on the likelihood of a return visit. that’s how quickly we define our perspective.

One of the things that defines the human race is our ability to imagine, yet, so often we choose not to exercise that skill.

I’m reading…Tom Peters

Tom Peters is a writer on business management practices, I suppose you could call him a motivational speaker but that term has become so clichéd I’m not sure you would understand what I meant by it.

Tom is very active on twitter, he’s written over 60,000 tweets:

But the thing I love about Tom are his PowerPoint presentation decks. They are the most remarkable things. He publishes the slides that he uses at events and has also compiled a master copy called The Works while has over 50,000 words in it. A recent one from December 2016 comes to over 108 slides and obliterate many of the design rules that our modern corporate slides abide by, but the contents are thought proving and challenging:


be-the-best


design-rules


women


whoever-tries-and


At the beginning of this post I said that Tom was a motivational speaker, but I also said that you may misinterpret what I meant by that, this is what I mean: I love to read through Tom slide decks because they motivate me. They motivate me to be a better leader. They motivate me to see that things can be better. They motivate me to keep trying new things. They motivate me to keep seeing new things. They motivate me to adjust my priorities.

Every time I sit in a dull, pointless meeting Tom’s words about meetings ring around my head and make me determined that we are going to do better next time:

Prepare for a meeting/every meeting as if your professional life and legacy depended on it. It does.

Most of Tom’s material is highlighted through his blog which I subscribe to via Feedly to make sure I don’t miss out. His most recent post on collected quotes has some gems in it.

I’ll leave the closing thoughts to Tom himself: