Impress the customer – screw mediocrity

Do we settle for “just good enough” and “meeting expectations”? Or do we outperform ourselves and amaze the customer?

There are indeed rational arguments why we should merely meet the customer’s expectations and not go the extra mile. It is more costly to give awesome service. It puts an unnecessary pressure on the service delivery organization.

And while advocates of such rationale keep praising mediocrity, the amazing suppliers keep impressing customers and gaining market share.

Delivery contacts or Service Level Agreements should represent a worst case scenario, while the supplier should always strive for better, faster, more amazing. Or someone else will.

And if it seems too hard to keep up with the spoiled customer’s ever increasing expectations, then it is better to talk to the customer about this than forcing them to become less spoiled by delivering mediocre service.

Aim for “just enough” and you’ll miss half the time. Aim for amazing and you may just reach it.

Wassup?

Been busy lately. With moving into our new home, with interesting new projects, with coaching some amazing people. And so it has been quiet here on the blog. But I’ve got a new idea – what about writing a short blog post every day? Unfiltered thoughts, relating my everyday experiences or whatever pops to my mind. I will try it and see what happens.

The view from our new home - great for my telescope :-)

The view from our new place – great for my telescope :-)

Brendan suggested I read the book “Antifragile“. A life-changer. What’s the opposite of “fragile”? Most people replies “robust” or some synonym. But no, that’s not the opposite of “fragile”. If you think of a scale from -1 (fragile) to +1, the “robust would be zero. On the minus side of the scale we find the stuff that is harmed by shock or sudden change – like a fragile vase accelerating toward the floor. Stuff that are not harmed are in the middel of the scale, while stuff that benefit from shock or sudden change is on the plus side. While the story of Hercules beheading Hydra only to see two heads replace the former head neatly illustrated the plus side, there are more common-day examples. Like your body. Exercising your body breaks down muscle fibre resulting in a better body. Stuff that adapts, adopts, learn from getting hurt are “antifragile”. And that is far above something “robust”. And people can be fragile. Or robust. Or antifragile. I aim for the latter and have been for a few years.

It actually got me thinking about how I could benefit from the ultimate harm. Got me thinking about death. And I find myself not fearing death. Rather, I am intrigued by it. I really wonder what it will bring. I’m almost excited about that change, whenever it will come. A friend of mine, Egil Möller once said that he believed the purpose of life was to come to peace with death. Interesting.

Apart from my recent personal philosophical explorations, I have been doing some interesting projects in Å. Currently, I am involved in a few projects at Bærum Kommune (one of Norway’s major municipalities) where I am facilitating a cultural change toward 100% responsibility and focus on Deliverables rather than Tasks (ref. my article “Processes, Automation and Human Potential“). I have also been writing their IT strategy for the next 6 years and proposing a steering and financial model. I also concluded a three month project with Altinn (Norway’s governmental digital data hub) last week. Apparently I moved some people in that organization – one person started crying as he stood up during the dinner to thank me for the project. He’s a great guy and I think he finally understood what a great guy he is.

On the coaching side, I have been working with a dozen people simultaneously for a few months with several concluding during the past weeks. One guy, a 16-year old was suicidal when we first met half a year ago. We established a scale from -3 to +3, reporting every day how the day was. A score of -3 would be “I want to kill myself”, a -2 would be a really bad day, -1 a shitty day, zero would be a “who cares”-day, a +1 equals a good day, a +2 a really good day and a +3 would be a spectacular day. We quickly got up from -3/-2 to an average of -0.5. Now he is regularly reporting +2 and very seldom as low as zero. So, it can be done.

Also, Anette and I met with Dan Koon yesterday. That was fun. Dan is an amazing person. I am hoping to do some fun stuff with him in the near future.

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I will probably write shorter posts than this on a daily basis. While on vacation during the next few days, I will write short posts from my mobile phone. Wonder how that will turn out. Up into the mountain we go – stay tuned for pictures :-)

Reverse Polish Notation explained

The Youtube channel “Computerphile” has some cool videos. This one explains very well what Reverse Polish Notation (RPN) is and how it works. The concept is central to the traditional HP calculators, something dear to my heart :)

Notice how I am drifting away from blogging about Scientology. Scientology blog posts generate a hell of a lot more action than any post on RPN of HP calculators. But it’s the logical evolutions as Scientology drifts away into the sunset. The church is dying and anything of value in the subject itself will find its way into the common pool og human knowledge. And all will be fine.

Kill your presentations with Powerpoint

In the mid 90s, I decided to drop slides in my presentations. With few exceptions I have managed to stay away from that crutch while inspiring small or large crowds. In 2000, I was asked by IBM to hold a presentation to 35 important customers. And they demanded slides. I gave them one. It was a white slide with big, black letters, “This is a boring slide, look at the man who’s talking”.

The particle physics magazine, Symmetry reports that six months ago, organizers of a biweekly forum on Large Hadron Collider physics at Fermilab banned PowerPoint presentations in favor of old-fashioned, chalkboard-style talks. Quoting the article:

Without slides, the participants go further off-script, with more interaction and curiosity,” says Andrew Askew, an assistant professor of physics at Florida State University and a co-organizer of the forum. “We wanted to draw out the importance of the audience.”
In one recent meeting, physics professor John Paul Chou of Rutgers University presented to a full room holding a single page of handwritten notes and a marker. The talk became more dialogue than monologue as members of the audience, freed from their usual need to follow a series of information-stuffed slides flying by at top speed, managed to interrupt with questions and comments.
“We all feel inundated by PowerPoint,” Askew says. “With only a whiteboard, you have your ideas and a pen in your hand.

Yup. Less constraints, more freedom. The opposite can turn really ugly.

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In 2010, when General McChrystal, the leader of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, was shown the above slide, he dryly remarked “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”

Amazing person: Tiril Eckhoff

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It’s not because she aced it in the Olympics with one gold and two bronze medals and came from nowhere to be one of only three Norwegians who got three medals in Sochi. It is because of the qualities behind that, and the qualities that aren’t even reflected in her performance as a top athlete.

I knew she was capable of getting an Olympic medal. Last summer, during one of our coaching sessions, I started out “When you get a medal in the Olympics…”, she interrupted “Eh… my ambition is to get into the top 10″. I continued “When you get a medal in the Olympics…”, preparing her for what to come. To me she was obviously amazing.

Tiril Echoff is mentally much stronger than even Tiril herself thinks. But above all, she is smart. Not just intelligent, but acutely aware, able to adopt simple ideas to concrete results. Adding that she is studying engineering at the Norwegian Institute of Technology – although taking a break from her studies to bring a few trophies back home.

I asked her the simple question that so many top athletes struggle to answer, “What makes you so damn good at what you do?”. “I am smart”, she answered. She wasn’t in any way haughty or arrogant, just very honest. And she continued, “I am not the one to train the most, but I train smart – listening to my body, relaxing when I need to and doing my utmost when I can”. And she is honest about what helps her in life. Going through some rough spots has made her smarter and able to appreciate her top results even more. Tiril is very quick to learn – both from her mistakes and from her successes.

Even above all this, Tiril is a down-to-Earth and very empathetic girl. She’s light at heart and funny. And able to not give a fuck when it really matters.

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Planning: Trading predictability for intelligence

I spent hours meticulously drawing an old castle, three levels of floor plans and carefully populating every room with Orcs, Trolls, Undeads and treasure. But even more hours was invested in planning how the players would approach the castle with their Role-Playing characters. The front doors would be unlocked and the characters would discover that, sneak inside, engage in a small fight with two filthy Orcs playing dice instead of guarding the castle, commence to the guard room, find a treasure, get surprised by a lutenant Orc walking into the room, etc. The plan was a masterpiece, but upon reaching the castle, I was taken completely off guard. They walked around to the back side, got out a grappling hook and climbed in through a small kitchen window on the second floor and… completely wrecked my plan! Dang! I hated unpredictable players.

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The purpose of planning is to increase predictability. Regardless of the name and the scope – strategy, plan, tactic, game-plan – the purpose is to avoid unpredictability. With the knowledge of Now, one seeks to make decisions into the future. The aim is to focus effort and to limit dispersement.

Sounds all good, perhaps. But there is a flip-side to this coin. When one focuses, one also limits and excludes.

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In opting for predictability, you trade in intelligence, creativity and agility. By limiting future choices, you limit improvisation and potential genius. This is why most creative geniuses prefer not to work in large corporations or set structures, but rather in lean and mean startups or prefer to work on their own.

What you gain in focus and stability and predictability in the short run, you lose in attainment of long-term valuable skills.

To quote Ole Wiik, “one must practice what one wants to be good at”. As you focus your training in one area, you become less adept in other areas. Planning makes you better at planning. But it makes you less adept at improvising. By avoiding the unpredictable, you will never get good at tackling the unpredictable. Your mental dexterity will suffer proportionately with your increasing planning skills.

Another factor to consider is that decisions are always sharpest with the best and up-to-date data readily at hand. Thus, any decision made by planning, decisions into the future can never be potentially as good as a decision made in the Here and Now with fresh data and input. Limiting mental dexterity by planning and adding some blinders will make you less sharp mentally. Planning adds preferences, it adds filter that makes fresh input looks dimmer while you become dumber. In an interview with Chess.com, Magnus Carlsen said: “Having preferences means having weaknesses.”

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Planning is a tool, a crutch. It enforces a view of the future based on today’s data. It stimulates preconceived ideas, adds a filter for new data, tend to help you avoid unpredictability and helps you never get good at tackling surprises. Tools and crutches are needed if you cannot cope with a situation without them. But right there it should make the alarm bells go off. Instead of getting addicted to the tool of planning, how about starting to practice tackling the unpredictable? Scary shit. I know. But it does add spice to life and skills to you.

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