Performance Management Company Blog

Ideas on People and Performance, Team Building, Motivation and Innovation

Category: Metaphors for business improvement (Page 2 of 6)

The Neuroscience behind Square Wheels: Behavioral Neurobiology

The Science of Brain and Behavior, explained through LEGO and using Square Wheels images for anchoring ideas and concepts

Neuroscience is “hot” right now in the leadership development and organization improvement literature and I got one of those “doctorate thingies” in behavioral neurobiology* from UNC-Chapel Hill a long time ago, before this “brain science stuff” became popular as a solution to business and training problems. The basic reality and an insight to some training people is that the brain is actually involved in learning and memory and a variety of other human behaviors. We have actually known this for a long time… 😀

Scott Simmerman quote on neuroscience (grin)

Wikipedia defines Behavioral Neuroscience, as the application of the principles of biology to the study of physiological, genetic, and developmental mechanisms of behavior in humans and other animals. The American Psychological Association publishes Behavioral Neuroscience®  for original research articles as well as reviews in the broad field of the neural bases of behavior. They are seeking empirical papers reporting novel results that provide insight into the mechanisms by which nervous systems produce and are affected by behavior.

Me, I don’t publish many empirical papers these days… I design team building games and use cartoons and I blog and try to publish readable, actionable thoughts on people and performance issues. But I DO study behavior and I do know about the brain and so I thought to elucidate a couple of understandable pedagogical conceptualistic  frameworks that underpin my use of stupidly simple illustrations and how they relate to things like communications, engagement, learning, facilitation, creativity, change and quality. My one word to describe the underlying key principle is “perspective.” Change perspective and you change a lot of things.

Generating change is a complicated thing to accomplish and there are some great books written about it, with “Immunity to Change” by Kegan and Lahey (2009) being a really solid work and a good read. I think that perspective is also key to Daniel Kahnemann’s book,”Thinking, Fast and Slow.” And I still like the elegant simplicity of Peters and Waterman’s “In Search of Excellence.” All these books (and so many others) work by generating a more objective view of behavior and the working environment around it, much like what behavioral counseling is designed to accomplish (“Please, tell me about that…”).

Let me use LEGO to show you how the brain works:

First, we have a whole big bunch of input from all of the senses, information that comes in all at once with little structure or organization. It looks a bit like this:

LEGO Neuroscience 1 - How the Brain Works using LEGO

If that looks too complicated and confusing, maybe flipping it upside down will make it clearer?

Scott Simmerman LEGO Model of NeuroscienceWhatever…

Anyway, what all that electrical activity you have heard about really does is to allow different areas of the brain to add some structure and pattern and “brain-shape” to the information, prioritizing some information and ignoring other input. It uses the brain’s learned preferences, along with some innate / cognitive biases, for putting things into categories and cubby holes and relating one thing to another, something we call categorization and association. Memory storage is based on link new information to old and creating some blocks.
(Note: biases and storage link to lots of explanatory info on Wikipedia, if you want to click through…)

Structuring looks like this, which is not so confusing:

A LEGO Model of how the brain sorts information

Once the brain has learned a few things, which actually happens pretty early in life and which continues for most people their entire lives  is that we begin to see some patterns in things. Alzheimer’s, dementia and some other cognitive disorders are generally disruptions in information storage and retrieval, where these processes no longer work smoothly. Over time, more and more gets linked and related based on personal experiences and memories. This is normal learning; over time, more and more things get linked and the flexibility of sorting information decreases as these biases filter out more and more. Their behavior becomes more rigid and some tunnel vision can affect their perceptions.

If people start using a new model or framework through which to filter information, we can change how things are viewed and sorted. If they learn the metaphor of Square Wheels, for example, new information sorting can take place. Square Wheels can be framed in a metaphor about things that work but that do not work smoothly. Now, you can see them scattered among the blocks below, representing some new categories for how information can be filtered:

Square Wheels LEGO model of brain functioning

For those of us that are focused on process improvement and doing things more better faster, we will also look to identify some best practices or other choices that we might then label Round Wheels. Generating peer-level discussions of issues and opportunities and resorting and re-categorizing can refresh the learning process and generate more active involvement and engagement.

When there is something that is thumping and bumping along as a Square Wheel, most of us will think about ways to improve it. Seeing the gap between the way things are and the way things could / should be is motivating for most people, who will consider ways to close that gap. Leon Festinger discussed this kind of approach in his theory of Cognitive Dissonance. That might then look like this as they begin to consider some Round Wheel possibilities:

Round Wheels already exist

Now, obviously, your brain is not built from LEGO, at least for most of us, and I am being relatively simplistic in my descriptive model of basic neurophysiology. There are underlying structures in the brain that handle information in different ways, adding speech and comprehension and motor skills and all other sorts of output processes to the input of information.

But the basics DO apply, in that people’s brains focus on repetition and patterns and things that mesh in with past learnings are more readily integrated into what we know — ideas that are radically different are paradigms that are simply ignored. (See Joel Barker’s work video on Paradigms (from my pals at Star Thrower), based on the research of Thomas Kuhn and published in the 1960s.

Okay. Enough already on The Brain. How about some ideas on people and performance and how all this applies to the workplace!

Okay. The use of my Square Wheels images is really well-grounded in a variety of principles of learning and thinking that you might find interesting. So, I will try to share some of the underpinnings as to why such a simple approach can be so powerful and effective. Think about it!

NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP) is a tool that helped me understand more of the links of behavior to how the brain handles information. My training took me to the Master Practitioner level and I led ASTD’s NeuroLinguistic Network for a couple of years a long time ago. It shares some interesting tools, like the Information Sorting Styles approach to thinking patterns. NLP focuses heavily on using dissociation as a tool to generate perspective. I call it, “stepping back from the wagon” in my simple approach and frame the concept of collecting ideas and generating participative involvement like this:

Don't Just DO Something, Stand There

Only by stopping the action and looking at how things work can you possibly identify new or different ways of doing things. By dissociating from the current reality, it is possible to see new relationships and gain new perspectives. Plus, if this is done with a shared approach, with more than one person adding ideas and viewpoints, the impact can be more better faster and the ideas can have more breadth and depth.

Dissociation and perspective also serve to decrease the emotional aspects of managing and leading change. In counseling, being able to simply view the situation without all the heavy emotional hooks is a desired outcome. The same thing occurs in the workplace. Talking about the THINGS that do not work smoothly is much less emotional than addressing issues that might be taken as a personal attack and thus generate defensiveness and active resistance. This is another reason why using Square Wheels as a metaphor is so effective.

Most of you are familiar with inkblot tests, properly called Rorschach tests. The visual has no reality but people will project their ideas onto that image based on their own information processing. (Look, a squirrel!) A related psychological test is the Thematic Apperception Test, which has situational drawings and people are asked to tell a story based on what they see happening. Both of these tools push people to put personal viewpoints and frameworks onto the images, which have no “internal construct” of their own. They are not pictures, but images that allow for differing perceptions and interpretations.

We do the same thing. Heck, this LEGO block is not even a wheel; it is actually a window! But it works for us as an image to use on the wagon, and if we calONE Yellow Square Wheel SWs LEGO 70l it a wheel, it must wheely be a wheel, right? (And I remember the time when I presented the illustrations to a software development group, who identified the Square Wheel as the Windows platform they were programming on! That was a hoot, as well as a surprise…)

Perception is a key to understanding. And people benefit by having a language on to which they can hang ideas. If the word for it does not exist, it is really hard to categorize it. That is another reason why Square Wheels work in the workplace, since they give everyone a common anchor point against which to pull and push around ideas for improvement. By its very nature, it could and should be improved and something that gets labeled a Square Wheel sets itself up for improvement.

“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend” is a relevant quote from Henri Bergson. Having an image against which to overlay systems and processes allows for a better understanding of the issues around performance improvement.

There are two other aspects to perception that link to the theme of motivation. One is that having some vision, preferably shared with others is important. Knowing where you are going is beneficial. The second is ownership, in that having a sense of active involvement and engagement is important. I can illustrate with another of the Square Wheels images along with one of my most favorite organizational development quotes.

The View at the back of the Square Wheels wagon

The View at the back of the wagon is not motivating

and

SQUARE WHEELS LEGO IMAGE OF MOTIVATION 

Metaphors such as the Square Wheels / Round Wheels dichotomy are easily remembered and incorporated into workgroup language. The simple basic concept of a Square Wheel, something that works but that does not work smoothly, combined with the perception that the Round Wheels already exist in the wagon sets up a motivation for continuous continuous improvement **

Stepping back from the wagon allows a sense of decreased emotion while expanding perceptions, and often “considered alternative choices.” The latter are critical in order to conceptualize a different future. If you cannot see alternatives, you cannot choose from them. Simple.

Daniel Kahneman Illustrated Quote with Square Wheels and LEGO

and

Square Wheels LEGO image ALl of us know more

My goal was to present our simple concept of organizational involvement and transformation, the Square Wheels theme, which is general and flexible and adaptable to a wide variety of personal and organizational development situations. People have a generally favorable memory of LEGO and play, and the links to the issues of combining different perspectives on issues and opportunities lend itself to improved communications.

I will switch to this metaphor to close this out:

Caterpillars can fly lighten up round

I think we can all improve all things if we just take the time to lighten up and look at things from a different perspective,

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

* back before we became enlightened, we called it “physiological psychology.” Heck, the whole department is now called, “The Department of Psychology and Neuroscience” even though the website is still psychology.unc.edu so go figure… I might as well try to move into the mainstream of popularity.

** Idea from the Department of Redundancy Department and the concept that the Round Wheels of Today will, invariably, become the Square Wheels of Tomorrow. Failure to continuously improve is a design for disaster. Think of land-line telephones and MySpace.

 

Facilitation and Motivation – Ideas for workplace improvement

“Fear is the Mindkiller,” was repeated incessantly in the Dune books of Frank Herbert. Fear is numbing and generally not useful. Overall, the “Fear of public speaking,” remains America’s biggest phobia – 25% say they fear speaking in front of a group.

Clowns are feared (8% feared) and are officially scarier than ghosts (7%), but zombies are scarier than both (9%). Funny, eh? And research says that Democrats are nearly twice as likely as Republicans to have a fear of clowns, which might explain some of the interesting political events we find today. (Chapman University survey)

Watching workers working for nearly 50 years and trying to get a grip on the issues of engagement and motivation lead me to this conclusion:

Fear, the mindkiller

is a real fear in workplaces and for many managers — probably impacts people and performance more than most senior managers (who have to be accomplished presenters) more than one thinks. A lack of general confidence with facilitation skills can decrease leadership effectiveness, absolutely.

What we often do is promote that good worker into a Supervisor, because of their technical knowledge and their tendency to get things done. But are these new leader / managers actually good at involving and engaging their people for continued workplace improvement? Or are they just trying to keep things moving forward and more pressured to do things themselves? Do we actually give them training and development support to impact their leadership behavior?

Let’s also add in some additional leadership fears such as fear of loss of control and fear of not having the best ideas and all that other “am I worthy of this” personal competency thoughts and we can readily generate a list of reasons why so many managers simply find it hard to:

Ask for Ideas

for ideas.

It really is understandable. There are a lot of common fears about leading and involving and engaging and asking might indicate that you do not know…

At the same time, it is my consistent discovery that so many workplaces tend to look something like this:

Square Wheels Facilitation

The people are working hard, pushing and pulling their wagons, but it is the same thing, day after day and week after week. No wonder that Sirota Research found that 85% of new hires say that their morale declined significantly after spending 6 months in their job and that employee engagement remains so poor (Gallup, Mercer, and others).

We are apparently not doing a lot of asking
and probably doing a lot more telling!

My guess is that the reality of how organizations are working is not so much like that shown in the above illustration but seemingly more like what we share in the one below:

Square Wheels for improving facilitation

So, what is really so hard about facilitating a group discussion? Not a whole lot, actually, speaking as someone who was a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) by the International Association of Facilitators and who has been leading organizational improvement workshops teaching simple facilitation ideas since 1978.

Really, it is really simple, really. Seriously, it is really really simple:

  • Share an illustration with them that has printed on it, “How might this illustration represent how organizations really work?” And let them think about it and then discuss it in small groups.
  • Ask them to share their ideas and let them think, share and work.
  • Ask them to share how some of those same ideas might represent how things work in their work initiatives.
  • Ask them what we might try to do differently and if anyone is already doing something differently than everyone else.
  • Ask them if they could try to implement a change in how they do things or to recommend something that you might change to make things work better.

That, in a nutshell, is motivational engagement facilitation.

You can read lots more about facilitation, engagement and intrinsic motivation in my blog posts, since I often talk about these issues and opportunities as being straightforward. You can also read about Russian Poets and nutshells and Hamlet, if you want, since all this stuff does connect to motivating people and improving how things work. And, you can find a simple, free guide to facilitation by clicking below:

Elegant SolutionsFacilitating Engagement – an overview

The simple reality is that the Round Wheels already exist in wagons everywhere, but our people are seemingly too busy to stop and step back and identify issues and opportunities that are really visible and often relatively easy to fix. You can make that happen!

So here is some really simple advice for supervisors and facilitators:

Things I can do to improveSauare Wheels poster on Motivation

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on themes of People and Performance is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

Robots and Work – Where will you fit in?

Square Wheels theme of Scott Simmerman

If you have not read the thoughts of Geoff Colvin on the rapid rise of workplace robotics and the impacts on people and jobs, you need to. Fortune magazine had a nicely done adaptation from his book, Humans are Underrated, and the information is really thought-provoking.

And here is another good article about robots and jobs you might find interesting.

Robots are taking over. At a lunch social get-together recently, a woman introduced herself and talked about finishing school and working as a pharmacist at one of the Walmart stores. Good job and apparently reasonably well-paying. But as we discussed what her work actually entailed, she was essentially counting pills and putting them in bottles labeled by the computer. And while she said that her special competencies included being able to talk about the medication and its interactions with other drugs, all I could think of was the way my Medicare Drug Plan fulfillment company did all that with an automated phone call and a computer printout showing the specifics of my simple prescription.

Remember the show Jeopardy and the IBM Watson computer back in 2011? That amazing artificial intelligence is now being packaged and sold to medical organizations because the intelligent system can scan the millions of published articles and databases and do a lot better intuitive investigative work on diagnosis than any team of physicians could possibly do. Computers are now complex thinking machines — even Siri on my iPhone is pretty amazing at intuiting and then learning the kinds of questions I ask and the information I need, getting better and better over time as it learns.

This trend toward “artificial intelligence” is both exponential in nature as well as inexorable. Many of the “sports stories” we read online are done by computers taking information and generating the article — there are no humans involved other than in some of the data collection.

I took two MOOCs, one on designing online learning courses using Moodle and one on blended learning techniques. Basically, I am learning to teach over computer rather than doing it in the classroom, and many of my training materials will be delivered in an interactive, collaborative online way, rather than me standing up in front of a group somewhere. I am actively trying to work myself out of work!

With an upcoming trip to Ecuador, I am working through a free online course (Duolingo) to teach me Spanish. If I move there, I may enroll in a language school taught by an actual person to really get a hang of the nuances and idioms, but the basic stuff is pretty easy to learn online. And there are lot of impacts on people and performance when training can be designed by computer without a lot of input from people and delivered instantaneously over mobile devices on demand.

So, the question becomes what tasks and activities can people continue to do, with the assistance of these computing machines and this newfound intelligence? Where will people continue to be important for production and performance?

The most common job these days is truck driver — there are about 2.9 million people moving trucks from one place to another and getting paid for their efforts. But rapid advancement in “self-driving automobiles” is finding that machines may be better at inputting data and making decisions than people. They respond faster, have better sensory input, process information a lot more effectively and they do not get drunk or distracted by kids in the back seat or pretty girls or handsome guys on the sidewalk. They can share data and make predictions and basically operate a lot more efficiently. And we are just beginning to use this technology; it will get better and better and will be totally different in 10 years than it is right now — and right now, it is pretty good.

When do we let computers do the surgical interventions on people rather than human doctors, who are subject to nervous movement and distractions and who do not – even now – have anything like the control of small movements that can be accomplished with robotics? They can perform with precision and can work 24 hours a day.

Where is human judgement going to be more valuable than that of the computer information processing on the data that is collected?

Colvin focuses on the key issue of empathy.

Maybe our training and organizational development activities need to focus a lot more on that kind of social interaction quality?

Me, I am going to continue to work in the areas of teamwork, collaboration, engagement and innovation using my teambuilding games and my LEGO and line art Square Wheels themes. We will use learning technologies to make the materials more accessible and to deliver some of the training, such as our plans with our basic supervisor facilitation training using the cartoons to generate ideas and involvement. I want to improve the quality of the interactions between people as a way of improving performance and even generating more workplace happiness.

As Colvin says, “Being a great performer is becoming less about what you know and more about what you’re like.”

Interesting stuff,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Best Practices – Performance Shortcuts that need sharing

My thinking for the past 30 years has been about people and performance, about innovation and peer support for change and all that stuff.

In LinkedIn this afternoon, Ingrid Kelada shared an image from Arvin Jayanake that caught my eye since it illustrated so much about how things really work in so many organizations. (I do not know the source for this, even after a search, so please advise if you know the ownership.)

shortcut

If you have spent any time on a college campus, you have seen this reality.

The best way to build drainage for a new road is to build the road and then watch how it floods… THEN, build the drainage. A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world, especially when you are trying to generate optimal performance and “control behavior.” Do what works best; design from that perspective.

It is the same thing in organizations. The best way to operate is the best way to operate!

In reality, lots of organizations REALLY operate like the illustration above, with the exemplary performers using the shortcuts and doing things differently (to generate the exemplary results) and the average performers using the walkways like they were trained. We see these Best Practice paths everywhere, but a typical HR or management response to this situation is to build the wall across the shortcut!

My approach says that we simply need to step back from the wagon and look at how things are really working, finding those square pathways that can be improved in some way so that more people can operate more effectively. It looks like this when the top performers can get the attention of leadership:

Square Wheels and teambuilding games by Scott Simmerman

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There! Those best practice ideas already exist and we simply need to take the time to share some of them with the people who are pushing the wagons forward.

POEMS For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

We just released our new toolkit for improving organizational communications. Check it out:

an engagement toolkit by square wheels guy Scott Simmerman

 

 

Perspective: Stepping Back from The Wagon

Life is funny. Seriously…

There is a great story about Scott Adams and how his Dilbert cartoons got started. It was shared in LinkedIn, which had the hotlink to the article. You can go to that story by clicking on this link. It is a laugh, and goes on to share some of the realities of “Corporate Life.” (Is that an oxymoron?)

I shared that HBR – Dilbert link with my partner and my son, who is getting involved with the business and my son reflected back to me with a simple email:

Very clever….sort of.  Funny how a lot of people could have done the exact same thing, but he was able to step back and disengage from it and see look at it from afar to bring it into perspective.  There’s a lesson here somewhere…

My partner / his mother saw his response and then emailed me:

Yes, I just read that from the email you had sent to Jeff and saw Jeff’s comments about it. Quite interesting and shows how one person can, as Jeff said, step back and take a different kind of initiative.

My reaction to the second, anchored in the first is an email back to her, saying:

THAT is the whole point of what I have been trying to teach for 20 years!!! The Round Wheels are already in the wagon!

I’ve been talking about the need to step back from the wagon to see things that might not normally be seen for 20+ years; this is one of the key learning points underlying my thinking around Square Wheels.

Don’t Just DO Something, Stand There!

Step back and see things from a different perspective. Take a few minutes to talk with other people who might see things differently. Everyone brings their own viewpoint to a discussion so ASK instead of TELL.

For example, there is this poster:

square wheels image by scott simmerman

And there is this one, about Team Perspective:

square wheels lego image by Scott Simmerman

Sometimes, it takes a whack in the side of the head to realize that one has maybe not communicated that well. A major point to all these images and themes that I have been sharing is that perspective is a most wonderful thing.

Ya think?

Generating a new perspective on things is an important skill for coaching, innovating and change. The skill of “stepping back from the wagon” acts to generate dissociation, the viewing from another perspective. Seeing things from different angles allows you to generate alternatives, and these considered alternatives form the basis of managing change and innovating services. If you keep seeing things the same way, change and improvement are simply much harder.

For employee engagement, can’t each of us figure out some way to get our people to look around and see things from a different perspective once in a while? That is what my tools are for, in part.

Square Wheels Icebreaker is simple to use

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Poem on Team Innovation and Motivation

Most of the time, I blog up my poems (and posters and quips) on my other blog, www.poemsontheworkplace.com. But, I thought to pop two up about motivation in here, since they impact on a lot of organizational realities of people and performance and to demonstrate my poetic genius. (grin)

My hat is off to the cat in the hat guy, who serves as a positive inspiration to a lot of us who don’t get iambic pentathlon and that other allegorical alliteration allusion stuff. Just keeping it simple and fun here, folks…

So here goes:

Square wheels image in LEGO by Scott Simmermanand, one of my favorites about the perceptions surrounding management and leadership:

square wheels poem by Scott Simmerman

If you are looking for some really easy to use tools to improve your communications, check out this $20 toolkit using the Square Wheels One image:

Square Wheels image Icebreaker icon

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels® is a registered trademark of Performance Management Co.
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Square Wheels Business Toys – an idea

As many readers know, we have been slowly moving the line-art Square Wheels images into the LEGO representations. The latter are more colorful and three-dimensional but not really hands-on, since they are only pictures…

Square_Wheels_Images_by_Scott_Simmerman

But I have still not really added the kinesthetic learning element to this package of tools nor is there anything for desktops. So, when I saw that Quirky was doing a toy-development focus with Mattel to develop some new toy ideas and that LEGO is now the number one toymaker in the world, AND the reality that LEGO does not actually make Square Wheels nor any toys around my theme (and my intellectual property and copyrights and trademarks!), it seemed to make sense that I pop up a business toy idea around the themes. Right?

So, I pushed out some wordiology around the basic idea that we could develop some plastic toys that we could use in training and development around creativity and innovation, things that could be that hands-on kinesthetic learning link for workplace improvement ideas and team building.

If you think that this basic idea makes sense, check out what I popped up into Quirty:   https://www.quirky.com/invent/1648222/action/vote/query/view=trending

It’s just an idea, but it sure seems like it would be a fun thing to have when working to improve workplace communications and engagement, right? And your vote for the idea would be appreciated, for sure.

One result of all this is that you could have some cute reminder “statue” of your own design right on your desk, one that reflected the business improvement and corporate team building ideas and that could be used as a hands-on toy to improve organizational performance. Simple and direct, visual and kinesthetic.

PMC sells some simple to use and inexpensive toolkits for improving communications, and this would simply be another basic part of a memorable toolkit for employee involvement,

Square Wheels Icebreaker is simple to use

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Poems and Haiku on People and Performance – Square Wheels themes

I was trying out some new image capture software and got into taking some screenshots of some powerpoint slides that I then thought to change and then to redo some poems and haiku about people and performance. I got a goodly number of these done, which I will share on my poems about the workplace blog. You can go there by clicking on the poem image below:

a Square Wheels poem by Scott Simmerman

The poems blog is full of posters, quotes, one-liners and some other quick stuff that I have tried to capture over the past 2 years. It is my place for having a bit of fun. Here is a haiku poem that I will upload there tomorrow:

A square wheels haiku poem by Scott Simmerman

and here is one more poem:

A square wheels poem on workplace reality by Scott Simmerman

Hope you like these. I have a good time playing with these kinds of things, and if you want me to illustrate any writings of yours with my Square Wheels LEGO images, let me know,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

lyrics:

Teamwork’s the way to get more good things done,
Those difficult changes that ain’t any fun.
It’s hard work to mesh with those not like you,
But stopping and talking is always the glue.

Passion for change? Yes?
Get the job done fast and cheap.
Labor is intense.

The Boss may just be unaware.
Of the Square Wheels always thumpy.
The wagon can roll with much less care,
If communications not so lumpy.

 

Beautiful Math – Euler's Law and Square Wheels

This post is a little off the beaten path for the blog but I thought that this article was really pretty interesting and easy to understand. I like it because of how cleanly and simply it explains some really complicated but elegant math.

Like my Square Wheels theme, I really like things that are simple and elegant and this little equation:

e + 1 = 0
(
e to the i times pi plus 1 = zero)

is pretty amazing, as well as very common in the world as we know it!

It is an equation about numbers, constants “pi” and “e” — you can remember the latter from Einstein’s famous equation. Both are transcendental in that they are infinite quantities when expressed in decimal form. You will know pi from the simple math about circles, though. “e” is about compound interest, Moore’s Law and everything that moves about and accelerates.

Leonard Euler figured this out in 1748. Basically, pi and e are connected in a dimension perpendicular to the world, a place that is measured in units of i (the square root of -1, an imaginary number which actually does not exist. But its expression in visual forms is amazing:

The_Baffling_and_Beautiful_Wormhole_Between_Branches_of_Math___WIRED

Check out this article by Lee Simmons for a more detailed explanation and some more graphic representations of how this simple equation explains so much about the world of math and physics and our understanding of how things really work. Beautiful stuff, for sure, like my Square Wheels representations of how things really work:

Square Wheels represent how organizations really work - by Scott Simmerman

In Square Wheels, things will just roll on and on and on and on unless someone takes the time to stop the wagon and look for opportunities for improvement and change the math. The round wheels already exist…

Euler’s Law and Square Wheels roll on,

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Note:

Pi goes on to infinity. A few digits are here and you can find it out to one million numbers at this website. Infinity is SO large that, when letters are expressed as digital numbers (a = 1, b = 2, etc.), you can find the entire contents of War and Peace expressed digitally in sequence within its string of numbers. In fact, infinity is SO large that you can find the contents of War and Peace along with all of my blog posts in sequence. It is an unimaginably large number…

3.141592653589793238462643383279502884197169399375105820974944592307816406286208998628034825342117067982148086513282306647093844609550582231725359408128481117450284102701938521105559644622948954930381964428810975665933446128475648233786783165271201909145648566923460348610454326648213393607260249141273724587006606315588174881520920962829254091715364367892590360011330530548820466521384146951941511609...

 

 

 

Susan Saves Santa Saving Christmas – a LEGO Square Wheels Story

I just posted up a blog about creativity in my poems blog, illustrated with some random LEGO pieces. And doing that prompted me to put together a slideshare program building around teamwork, collaboration, continuous improvement and the theme of motivating change and using my LEGO representations of the Square Wheels.

Here is a 15-slide illustrated storyboard:

Santa LEGO Square Wheels storyboard

click on the image to go to slideshare.net

I am trying to be cute, but to also tell a pretty serious story about the choices we make and what we can do differently to improve engagement and motivation in the workplace.

The Round Wheels are already in the wagon (as well as the sled!).

Hope you like it.

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

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Good Teambuilding? Bad Teambuilding? Leadership?

We’re running with a twitter thread around the link of #baaadteambuilding, with a goal of identifying and playing with some really bad team building frameworks like “herding sheep like dogs” (seriously) or “horse whispering” — there are all kinds of examples, even from my own blog (here).

I was looking at one of my Santa illustrations and thinking about what it might reflect to people and it spun my thinking into a Good News / Bad News kind of framework:

Santa Square Wheels LEGO illustration by Scott Simmerman

We have Santa and the reindeer ready to go. We have a cargo loaded, representing round wheels for the rest of the world. There must be some sense of accomplishment. We have Mrs. Claus with a plate of cookies! We have what appear to be happy elves.

But, we have a sled on Square Wheels (well, they do work on snow) and we have the Big Boss pushing people to get moving, maybe not recognizing any incremental successes. We have apparently unengaged wagon pushers and the leader is actually blocking progress. The reindeer may be indifferent to this whole adventure since they have not yet contributed anything.

  • From a team building perspective, how did we do?
  • Do they feel that this is a success, or that there are lots of unfinished things to do?

And like in most debriefings of activities and actions, I am guessing that there are a mix of issues and ideas, good accomplishments and challenges remaining. Will the team be motivated to succeed?

In the next few days, we will be adding a whole series of Santa-based illustrations similar to the above along with a few storylines about business process improvement and how to engage and motivate people. Subscribe to the blog if you would like to keep informed of our progress toward Christmas…

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

<a rel=”author” href=”https://plus.google.com/u/0/114758253812293832123″ a>

The Future of Work, The Future of The Workplace

It’s dangerous for me to sit and read, sometimes, since my mind goes off into different dimensions. I was reading a couple of articles in Smithsonian and Mother Jones and it had me thinking about The Workplace and The Future and the reality that if we continue to do things the same way, we are going to find ourselves living in, as the ancient Chinese saying, “interesting times.”

I see a real paradox in business’ push for innovation and creativity meshed with how so many treat customers and employees. The ones that do treat the latter well tend to be demonstrably more innovative and profitable over the long term. All that data is very clear. Productivity is much higher: “Employees aren’t being asked to create a product, they are being asked to do the work previously done by four people in half the time it took just 10 years ago.” (Cliff Stevenson)

And a new client has just completed a company-wide survey showing all the many kinds of task-interferences getting directly in the way of actually demonstrating leadership skills among her managers. (She promised me the data, so more to come on that, for sure). We are demanding a LOT of people in the workplace, so much so that it is hard for them to do any workplace innovation or for managers and supervisors to do much to build collaboration and teamwork to make improvements in inter-departmental kinds of things.

SO, there I was with my mind spinning. And the thought was to try to illustrate a series of posters about the future of work and the future of the workplace…

Here is the first of them:

Square Wheels LEGO images are the works of Dr Scott Simmerman

The funny thing is that this really seems true, with lots of data to back it up. Companies and workgroups continue to do the same things, over and over, and expect improvements to occur. A few companies are doing things so differently and better than their competitors that they have significant, sustainable differences in operational data and in things like creativity and innovation.

After initially posting this up, I am back an hour later adding another to this series. This is also characteristic of a lot of workplaces:

A Square Wheels LEGO image of how things work - by Scott Simmerman

While some just plod along like they always have, thump thump thump thump.

AND LOOK AT ALL THE PROGRESS WE HAVE MADE!

But the reality is that the Round Wheels already exist and we can choose to do some things differently to make improvements. You can CHOOSE to do things more better faster. Innovative Ideas are at hand, if only you might step back from the wagon!

You might also find this slideshare to be of interest. It was suggested that I link to it. The focus is on making the office environment more worker-friendly and supporting through the use of lighting, furniture and design. Click on this textlink.

Check out our Square Wheels Icebreaker Toolkit – $20!=Square Wheels Icebreaker icon

(And pop back in here to see more in this series of thoughts. I will put them up individually in the poems blog and try to add more into this post.)

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s quips and quotes on Poems on The Workplace is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of The LEGO Group

 

Is Work Funny or What? Paradoxes in Perceptions

I am a serious guy when it comes to people and performance, which is why I lean toward using games and cartoons. They are simply More Effective than, well, being SERIOUS!

So, let me take a serious poke at people and performance by using a cartoon and you tell me whether I nail it for you, or not.

Let’s say that work looks like this:

SWs LEGO Puzzled Boss horse puller

How? Why? Where? What?

Some thoughts (and I know that you can come up with more of them):

  • We have a wagon rolling on Square Wheels. These wheels work but they do not work smoothly.
  • We have people pushing the wagon forward but they probably cannot see where there are going nor what they are really doing.
  • We got a wagon puller, just out of training, using a white horse. All supervisors have white hats and ride white horses, right?
  • We have Round Wheels in the wagon. It is not like a better idea does not already exist, it is just that the wagon puller may not be aware of it or have a clue as to how to implement it.
  • We have no idea about communications at the back, between the back and the front, or any other things that might be happening.
  • We have a puzzled guy just standing there and not apparently doing anything. He could represent senior management. He might be a consultant. He could be from Accounting or Human Resources!

Most of those involved are sincerely interested in getting their jobs done. But it is commonly found that they do not feel like they are part of a high performance team.

WHY are we doing this and why are we doing this this way? Because maybe:

  • this approach to doing things represents the way things have always been done around here.
  • this way represents the reason the guy on the horse is ON the horse, that a good idea of moving from triangular to square was rewarded!
  • this represents a huge improvement over how we used to do things — dragging the wagon was, well, a real drag!

HOW will we make improvements? I think that is very simply a matter of everyone taking a look at things and maybe thinking that some alternative just might exist. Is there a budget? Can the wagon pushers and puller actually have the time to stop and fix anything?

WHERE the heck are these people going with these wheels? Are they for internal processes or has some customer ordered them to use on their wagons? Or, are those wheels going to be installed on the new 747 cargo planes another customer is acquiring, something that will have all sorts of implications and ramifications.

And where might some of those Round Wheels actually be used to benefit our own people and our own performance.

WHAT we need to do seems pretty clear. Step back from the wagon and take a couple of seconds to see if the fog of work clears.

WHO? YOU!

And if not You, Who?
And if not Now, When?
IF IT IS TO BE
IT IS UP TO ME.

We sell simple toolkits and interactive team building games to drive increased motivation for change and improvement.

Tools for Involving and Engaging People

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

Square Wheels are a trademark of Performance Management Company
LEGO® is a trademark of the The LEGO Group

Some Leadership and Training Jokes and Haiku

Occasionally, I go off on a tangent and this is certainly one of those times. In an email, someone asked me for an anchor point and I remembered all these jokes and one-liners I have in my other website (www.SquareWheels.com) and going there reminded me of just how many of those things I posted years ago…

Click on image to go to Jokes Page

Click image to go to Jokes Page

Here are a couple from that one page and note that there are 9 pages of jokes on the Square Wheels website.

This is a good one on communications in general. You might actually do this as an exercise in the classroom:

An English professor wrote the words, “a woman without her man is nothing” on the blackboard and directed the students to punctuate it correctly.
The men wrote: “A woman, without her man, is nothing.”
The women wrote: “A woman: without her, man is nothing.”
Perspective is everything!

On customer service:

A husband and wife are traveling by car from Atlanta to New York. After almost twenty-four hours on the road, they’re too tired to continue, and they decide to stop for a rest. They stop at a nice hotel and take a room, but they only plan to sleep for four hours and then get back on the road.

When they check out four hours later, the desk clerk hands them a bill for $350. The man explodes and demands to know why the charge is so high. He tells the clerk although it’s a nice hotel, the rooms certainly aren’t worth $350. When the clerk tells him $350 is the standard rate, the man insists on speaking to the manager.

The manager listens to the man and then explains the hotel has an Olympic-sized pool and a huge conference center that were available for the husband and wife to use. He also explains they could have taken in one of the shows for which the hotel is famous. “The best entertainers from New York, Hollywood and Las Vegas perform here,” explains the manager.

No matter what facility the manager mentions, the man replies, “But we didn’t use it!” The manager is unmoved and eventually the man gives up and agrees to pay. He writes a check and gives it to the manager. The manager is surprised when he looks at the check. “But sir,” he says, “this check is only made out for $100.”

“That’s right,” says the man. “I charged you $250 for sleeping with my wife.”

“But I didn’t!” exclaims the manager.

“Well,” the man replies, “she was here, and you could have.”

I LOVE MY JOB!
**Contributed by Bob Laurie, Juneau, Alaska, from the Lost Dr. Seuss Book**

I love my Job, I love the Pay!
I love it more and more each day.
I love my Boss; he’s the best!
I love his boss and all the rest.

I love my Office and its location –
I hate to have to go on vacation.
I love my furniture, drab and gray,
and the paper that piles up every day!

I love my chair in my padded Cell!
There’s nothing else I love so well.
I love to work among my Peers –
I love their leers and jeers and sneers.

I love my Computer and all its Software;
I hug it often though it doesn’t care…
I love each Program and every File,
I try to understand once in a while!!

I’m happy to be here, I am I am;
I’m the happiest Slave of my Uncle Sam.
I love this Work: I love these Chores.
I love the Meetings with deadly Bores.

I love my Job – I’ll say it again –
I even love these friendly Men –
These men who’ve come to visit today
In lovely white coats to take me away!!!

 

On Promotion and Marketing:

“If the circus is coming to town and you paint a sign saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk him into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. If you can get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.

And if you planned the elephant’s walk, that’s marketing.”

Murphy’s Technology Laws –

Murphy’s Technology Law #1:
You can never tell which way the train went by looking at the track.

Murphy’s Technology Law #2:
Logic is a systematic method of coming to the wrong conclusion with confidence.

Murphy’s Technology Law #3:
Technology is dominated by those who manage what they do not understand.

Murphy’s Technology Law #4:
If builders built buildings the way programmers wrote programs, then the first woodpecker that came along would destroy civilization.

Murphy’s Technology Law #5:
An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he/she knows absolutely everything about nothing.

Murphy’s Technology Law #6:
Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe, and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint on it, and he’ll have to touch to be sure.

Murphy’s Technology Law #7:
All great discoveries are made by mistake.

Murphy’s Technology Law #8:
Nothing ever gets built on schedule or within budget.

Murphy’s Technology Law #9:
All’s well that ends… period.

Murphy’s Technology Law #10:
A meeting is an event at which minutes are kept and hours are lost.

Murphy’s Technology Law #11:
The first myth of management is that it exists.

Murphy’s Technology Law #12:
A failure will not appear until a unit has passed final inspection.

Murphy’s Technology Law #13:
New systems generate new problems.

Murphy’s Technology Law #14:
To err is human, but to really foul things up requires a computer.

Murphy’s Technology Law #15:
We don’t know one-millionth of one percent about anything.

Murphy’s Technology Law #16:
Any given program, when running, is obsolete.

Murphy’s Technology Law #17:
A computer makes as many mistakes in two seconds as 20 men working 20 years make.

 

This story below has been a favorite storyline of mine for a long time. But read my added comments at the end:

How Standards are set

The US standard railroad gauge (distance between the rails) is 4 feet 8.5 inches. That’s an exceedingly odd number. Why was that gauge used? Because that’s the way they built them in England, and English expatriates built the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways, and that’s the gauge they used.

Why did ‘they’ use that gauge then? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Okay! Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well, if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England, because that’s the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So who built those old rutted roads? The first long distance roads in Europe (and England) were built by Imperial Rome for their legions. The roads have been used ever since. And the ruts? Roman war chariots first made the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels and wagons. Since the chariots were made for, or by Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing.

Thus, we have the answer to the original question. The United States standard railroad gauge of 4 feet, 8.5 inches derives from the original specification for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Specifications and bureaucracies live forever. So, the next time you are handed a specification and wonder which horse’s rear came up with it, you may be exactly right. Because the Imperial Roman war chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the back ends of two war-horses.

And now, the twist to the story…

There’s an interesting extension to the story about railroad gauges and horses’ behinds. When we see a Space Shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank. These are solid rocket boosters, or SRBs. Thiokol makes the SRBs at their factory at Utah. The engineers who designed the SRBs might have preferred to make them a bit fatter, but the SRBs had to be shipped by train from the factory to the launch site. The railroad line from the factory had to run through a tunnel in the mountains. The SRBs had to fit through that tunnel. The tunnel is slightly wider than the railroad track, and the railroad track is about as wide as two horses behinds.

So, the major design feature of what is arguably the world’s most advanced transportation system was determined by the width of a Horse’s [rear]!

A check of the above on Snopes finds the storyline to not be true. (See http://www.snopes.com/history/american/gauge.asp) – in part, it says:

The eventual standardization of railroad gauge in the U.S. was due far less to a slavish devotion to a gauge inherited from England than to the simple fact that the North won the Civil War and, in the process, rebuilt much of the Southern railway system to match its own:

Still, the above does make for a great story!

—————-

On the value of good help!

A salesman is lost in a rural area and stops at a farm to get directions. As he is talking to the farmer he notices a pig with a wooden leg. “How did the pig get a wooden leg?”, he asks the farmer.

“Well”, says the farmer, “that is a very special pig. One night not too long ago we had a fire start in the barn. Well, sir, that pig set up a great squealing that woke everyone, and by the time we got there he had herded all the other animals out of the barn and saved everyone of them.”

“And that was when he hurt his leg?” asked the salesman. “Oh no” says the farmer. “He was fine after that. Though a while later I was in the woods out back and a bear attacked me. Well, sir, that pig was near by and he came running and set on that bear and chased him off. Saved me for sure.” “So the bear injured his leg then.” says the salesman.

“Oh no. He came away without a scratch from that. Though a few days later my tractor turned over in a ditch and I was knocked unconscious. Well, that pig dove into the ditch and pulled me out before I drown.” “So he hurt his leg then?” asks the salesman. “Oh no,” says the farmer. “So how did he get the wooden leg?” the salesman asks.

“Well”, the farmer tells him, “A pig like that, you don’t want to eat all at once.”

 

If They Wrote Computer Error Messages in Haiku

Some computer messages, done poetically in Haiku

First snow, then silence.
This thousand dollar screen dies
so beautifully.

With searching comes loss
and the presence of absence:
“My Novel” not found.

The Tao that is seen
is not the true Tao, until
you bring fresh toner.

Chaos reigns within.
Reflect, repent, and reboot.
Order shall return.

Three things are certain:
death, taxes, and lost data.
Guess which has occurred.

A file that big?
It might be very useful,
but now it is gone.

Errors have occurred.
We won’t tell you where or why.
Lazy programmers.

Seeing my great fault
through darkening blue windows,
I begin again

The code was willing.
It considered your request,
but the chips were weak.

Printer not ready.
Could be a fatal error.
Have a camera?

Server’s poor response
not quick enough for browser.
Timed out, plum blossom.

Login incorrect.
Only perfect spellers may
enter this system.

This site has 404’d.
We’d tell you where, but then we’d
have to delete you.

Wind catches lily
scatt’ring petals to the wind.
Segmentation fault.

ABORTED effort:
Close all that you have.
You ask much too much.

The Web site you seek
cannot be located so
find endless others.

Stay the patient course.
Of little worth is your ire.
Find your network down.

A crash reduces
your expensive computer
to a paperweight.

A chasm exists
of carbon and silicon
the software can’t bridge.

To have no errors
would be life without meaning.
No struggle, no joy.

You step in the stream,
but the water has moved on.
This page is not here.

Having been erased,
the document you’re seeking
must now be retyped.

Rather than a beep
or a rude error message,
simply: “File not found.”

Serious error.
All shortcuts have disappeared.
Screen. Mind. Both are blank.

 

On Thoughts and Thinking

Question:
Despite my vast (nay, encyclopedic) knowledge and understanding of all aspects of the Internet, one thing puzzles me. That is how I can send a message to a group and have it appear literally within seconds, and then send another which will take more than 24 hours to appear.

(Signed)Puzzled Los Gatos Sociologist

Response
Ah. I’m happy to report that you have come to the right place for the answer to this deep question.

Before I reveal the cause of the common phenomenon you’re wondering about, though, I’d like to point out some other quirky behaviors that you may have noticed.

.. Some days your car starts on the first turn of the starter. Some days it doesn’t start at all.

.. Some recent nights have been brilliantly lighted by the full moon. Tonight I’ve waited and waited, but all I got was wet.

These have nothing to do with why one message is transmitted immediately while another takes 24 hours.

The reason is complex, and we technologists don’t often expect even to hear such sophisticated questions from those outside the inner circle, and many of us are loathe to reveal the hidden cause.

But you seem trustworthy, so…

Look at your keyboard. Notice how the keys are all out of order? You’d think they’d be in alphabetical order, wouldn’t you? But no, they are arranged in an odd pattern called QWERTY, originally devised by a typewriter manufacturer to slow typists down to the point where his machines wouldn’t jam. Imagine, now, when you send a message down the wires, how differently the many routers and interfaces that the message goes through are affected by different juxtapositions of letters in your message. Just as a modest change in the original position of a chess problem has a dramatic effect on the time required to solve it, the tiniest change in the arrangement of letters in your message – often not even noticeable to any but the expert eye, and even then only with complex measurement equipment – can wreak havoc with every interface the message must pass through.

Imagine you had a car wider than the normal freeway lane. Going through interchanges would be a particular trial; how quickly you could pass through would depend on the amount of other traffic, the number of odd-shaped oncoming cars, and many other factors — much too complex to summarize quickly. But I’m sure you get the idea. And just as if you drove through many interchanges in your odd-shaped car you could be delayed dramatically, changes in the letter composition of your message slow it down every time it goes through a router, the internet’s interchange.

The letters W and M are particularly noxious in this way. If they happen to fall within the same word, as in women, or if multiples of them fall within a word, as in mammal, or wow, their retardant effect is in fact squared; this was first proved by Von Neumann in 1944, although certain notes of Ada Lovelace in 1861 indicate that she, too, had the basic idea.

The vowels, on the other hand, particularly I and O, are quite slippery and can speed up the trip of your message through a router; in fact, an I almost cancels an M, and words with many Is and Os, such as oil, lion, noise, and onion, can have a remarkable accelerating effect.

These are only the extreme cases. Each letter, and in fact each key, has its own lexical friction coefficient (LFC), which often depends on the relationship of the letter to other letters in the word and to other words in the message. LFC tables were originally compiled by Hollerith in 1901, for use in his famous Census-tabulating work, but were not made available to the general public until IBM brought out the 407 tabulating machine in the mid-thirties, and published a full set of lexical friction data in the documentation that was issued with the machine. Later, in 1962, when IBM first produced the Selectric typewriter, new LFC tables had to be constructed; these were made available in technical libraries.

Depending on the net lexical friction of a message, the transit time of a message through a router can differ by as much as a factor of fifty. This in itself is hardly sufficient to explain the difference between instant delivery and 24-hour delivery, however. The biggest part of the effect is a second-order result of high-LFC messages passing through routers. Just as when a stream slows down it deposits much more silt and other sediment on its bed, a high-lfc message, traveling slowly through a router, leaves what amounts to arterial plaque in the routers optical fiber connections. Optical fiber builds up LFC-related plaque anyway, but normally so slowly that fibers don’t have to be cleaned or changed for years. However, a chance confluence of many high-LFC message can deposit so much LFC plaque in the fiber connections of a router that the router can be totally disabled. Even if the router is not put completely out of service by fiber plaque, it can transmit messages so slowly that many recipient protocol managers conclude correctly that their correspondents have failed, and request retransmission. Thus high-LFC messages not only move more slowly through the internet, but actually raise the internet’s traffic load while they do so.

This issue has been studied in great detail by my erstwhile employer, whose interest in fiber plaque, LFC aggregation, and the resulting internet congestion is so high that it has formed a special task force to study the matter and recommend solutions within a year. I fully expect, however, that since the matter is dependent on keyboard design originally, these studies will probably result in little improvement, and once again we will be left anxiously awaiting the next-faster generation of optics, routers, and computers, meanwhile helplessly floundering in a stew of such technical complexity that only the few can comprehend it.

I would suggest that to improve your transmission times you should begin by tabulating the letter counts in your messages, and correlate them with message delivery delays. This technique is crude, but should give you a rough idea of what to expect. If your needs go beyond manual counting, you can find any number of lexical friction coefficient analysis programs in the commercial world, replete with graphic interfaces and LCF-optimization capabilities.

I’m glad to have been of service in this matter, and will make myself available for further questions as they occur to you.

Received from Teresa’s Jokers

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

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catching and herding frogs

You CAN herd frogs! Thoughts on Strategy Implementation

A key role in leadership is one of implementing change and implementing strategy initiatives. And there is a lot of evidence that this is not done very well in many organizations. Research by thought leaders like Robin Speculand tend to show that most initiatives are unsuccessful when viewed objectively. The video on his site today is by Chris Skinner and is about why implementation fails in banking. (click on the names to go to the sites)

This simply reminded me that:

Getting things done around here is a lot like herding cats.That old EDS commercial about the satisfaction gained from successfully herding cats was just a hoot, where the cat herders talk about their accomplishment in a 1-minute video you can access by clicking the image below:

Herding Cats - EDS Commercial

“Herding cats. Don’t let anyone tell you it’s easy…” “I’m living a dream…”

My British friend and associate, Barry Howell, used the phrase “herding frogs” in a conversation we had, so I played with that in a previous blog you can see by clicking on the image below. I thought the notion of herding frogs was pretty funny, but NOW, I am convinced that there is a Leadership Lesson here.

 

Frogs

Before I get to the Leadership Lesson and Team Building Exercise I will share, let me first say that animals can be herded, just not all of them. View the following video for 30 seconds or so before I make my point below:

Stampeding Ducks

Stampeding the herded team of ducks.  This is obviously a common event at this location. And that first team of ducks sure had their act together. But it you watch it longer, you might have seen that not all the duck teams were very effective. In some cases, hundreds of the ducks were just standing there or muddling around, seemingly without a clue. (Yeah, that happens in organizations, too.)

I love using those kinds of very visual, kinesthetic phrases to anchor reality.

So, here is your training activity, as promised.

Barry sent me this link to a video of people who seem to have the task of “Herding Frogs.” Obviously, that is not an easy one and the people are seen to fumble and stumble a bit. They also have to deal with the mud, which is something that certainly happens in most organizations as I show in my old Square Wheels Jeep Mud cartoon from our team building game on optimizing collaboration:

Jeep alligator and mud poem

So, here is what you do:

Show this video on The Great Frog Roundup to groups of 5-6 people at a table — note that there can be any number of tables.

The Great Frog Roundup

After watching the 3-minute video, ask them a few questions and allow them to discuss the issues of implementing the strategy of herding frogs along these lines:

  • What were these people trying to accomplish?
  • How would they know if they were successful?
  • How would you define success?
  • Were these people motivated to succeed and how would you increase motivation if that were necessary?
  • Were these people involved and engaged in the activity and how would you increase engagement if that were necessary?
  • Were there opportunities to improve their strategy and tactics to improve their efficiency and optimize results?
  • How would you coach this team around improving results?

My take is that the overall goals were to catch some frogs, but what was the purpose? It appeared that they did have some kind of net on the beach but that they could have used more boards and maybe even built a funnel to move more frogs into the same area for capture. Using buckets might not have been the best idea, since they could actually suffocate frogs if filled too high.And so forth.

Lastly, what IS it about frogs and ducks in outrageous numbers, anyway?

And those kinds of things that would help people to understand that while herding frogs is a difficult task, it CAN be accomplished and results can be improved.

 

For the FUN of It!

Dr. Scott SimmermanDr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant.

 
Connect with Scott on Google+ – you can reach Scott at scott@squarewheels.com

Follow Scott’s posts on Pinterest: pinterest.com/scottsimmerman/
Scott’s blog on Poems and Quips on Workplace Improvement is here.

 

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