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Get a plan to increase your confidence

Posted by Meg Bear on April 21, 2014


Cross Posted from my Personal Blog

I managed to get through high school and college never taking a second language, even in the ’80s this required advanced maneuvers through the academic handbook.  Why would I do this?  Was I against taking a language?

Nope.  I desperately wanted to take a language, but I lacked confidence.

The only language offered in my high school was Spanish, and I wanted to take French or Japanese (it was the ’80s).

Later, when I went off to college, my 17 year old scholarship self, decided I would be unable to keep my required GPA taking a language, given I was already four years behind.

Recursive logic indeed, especially when you factor in the fact that I had an above average memory and a crazy serious work ethic [seriously,  I was so much older then…].  Looking back on this with the benefit of hindsight, I can say confidently, that the odds of me not being able to handle the rigor of a 101 language course was exactly 0.

So when I read that women have a confidence gap, looking for perfection in themselves before putting their hands up for consideration for professional opportunity, I recognize we need to take this seriously.  Especially when we look at the incredibly slow pace of progress for women in senior leadership in the west (in retrospect maybe I was onto something by not taking Japanese).



So what to do?

I think it comes down to recognizing the need to have a strategy for being confident.  Being angry at men for being better at this than women, completely misses the point.

Confidence is a critical skill for professional success.  Odds are you could be better.

Work on it.

Some useful suggestions

  1. Get your body and your mind helping you by improving your inner monologue and Power Posing
  2. Get someone with perspective to help you compare your qualifications more objectively
  3. Do a better job recognizing that the fact that you are skeptical of your own qualification, is a sign of your competence

Don’t let a lack of confidence get in the way of your success, practice more, work harder, figure it out.

You can do this!





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The Part-timer’s Dilemma

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on March 21, 2013

jobsIt struck me as I was talking to a dynamite woman, who has chosen to work part-time. She was looking for something that would be challenging and engaging, but not critical enough that deadlines loomed large on her. She was struggling to find it.

Truth? It does not exist.

If it is not critical, if it is not showstopper important, if things will chug along just fine without it, …  it is probably not engaging enough for someone of her capability and intellect.

What she needs is something engaging, something important, something critical – just in smaller chunks.

We are no longer paid for our time – we are paid for outcomes, and if our outcome is not important, it really does not matter how long or little we worked.

When you go part-time, lean in.

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Data vs. Experts: Nine Years On

Posted by Mark Bennett on December 1, 2012

3314564950_cdb15acfa5_oThe war between Big Data and Experts rages on, but is it really as much a fight to the death as people make it out to be? What does it mean for leaders who must choose which to consult when making important decisions?

The most recent battle in the war of course was the Great 2012 Presidential Election, where pundits, posing as “experts”, were soundly defeated and fled the field in the face of incredibly accurate predictions made by data analysts. The most often cited reason: pundits couldn’t look past their own biases to see what the data was indicating even if they had chosen to look at it, which many didn’t. And even if they did look at data, they tended to focus only on the data that fit their preconceptions.

“Actually, fifty-one. I don’t know why I lied just then.”

Nine years ago, “Moneyball” told the story of another battle that took place in the data-rich sport of baseball. It showed again how experts, this time portrayed by major league scouts, were misled by their “conventional wisdom,” while scrappy Jonah Hill quants ran circles around them and picked up real talent at rock bottom prices to win division pennants.

So is the conclusion that experts are doomed to extinction, like some kind of modern dinosaurs, while nimble data analytics outwit them like little proto-mammals? Not so much.

What smart leaders are doing is learning how to combine the strengths of each to make better decisions and to make better predictions.

In his terrific “The Signal and the Noise,” Nate Silver points out that in the aftermath of Moneyball, where one would have assumed the payrolls of scouts to be slashed in MLB teams (at least in the Oakland A’s right? I mean, Brad Pitt tore them apart!) But no, in fact, the number of scouts have generally increased.

We can rebuild them; we have the technology. We can make them better than before.

Why? Because the scouts are able to be even more effective because of the advances made in analyzing data about players, fields, etc. They are working off of a more accurate model of what matters when measuring the potential of a player long before they are brought up from the minors. The amount of data being collected in baseball is mind-boggling. They are close to being able to record all the data from every game using cameras, sensors and what-not so that you could basically re-create and analyze every aspect of the game; every bounce the ball made, every slip of a player’s foot, etc. Big Data for the Big League.

But they know that’s still not enough to know the value each player could bring to a team. Remember, it’s not enough to pay a player for what they did – that’s rearview mirror thinking. You will likely overpay with that kind of thinking over the long term. What you want to be good at is predicting performance and underpaying today for big value down the road (you hope – if it was certain, everybody would be already doing it.)

Silver describes how it’s those hard-to-quantify attributes where scouts will likely put more focus. An example is a player’s “mental toolkit.” Baseball life is rife with slumps of varying degrees and some players can do much better than others to get through them. Sure, maybe one day they’ll stick a band around a rookie’s head and a computer will spit out either, “Loser” or “Hall of Famer”, but that’s a ways off.

“When your enemy’s making mistakes, don’t interrupt him.”

So, what’s the advice on how to combine Data and Experts? It’s basically this: avoid having to trust your gut. Get some solid, objective data analysis (see my previous post) to set the foundation for your decision-making. But, since the data can’t tell you the whole story except in the most generalized, easy-to-be-replicated by your competition way, bring in your experts at that point to fill in the missing intangibles that help you make the right decision or come up with the most likely predictions for scenario planning.

In short, keep your experts from getting too misled by their biases and blind spots and then have them use their experience and imagination (yes, really) to come up with new ways to look at the problem. Data Analysis’s strength is in its rigorous and disciplined pursuit of objective truth; Expertise’s strength is in asking “what might happen if…”


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It isn’t what you want that matters. Is it what they want?

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on August 14, 2012

A strange thought crossed my mind, as I read Patty Azzarello’s blog today.

Unlike what she says, it not what you measure that matters. [It does, but there is something else, which is important.]

What matters is, whether people in your eco-system – your sales people, your partners, your customer service, you engineers working on your product or on product fixes, people who make your web page, people who create your whole product – get it?

BMW measures satisfaction. However, no one in the eco-system that Patty encountered – the service guy, his manager, the sales guy,  the person taking the survey – got what good customer service meant, or why they should practice it. By contrast, everyone at Zappos seems to get it.

It is not enough if you tell what you want people to do. Do you emphasize it? Do you value it? Do you notice and thank people when you see it? Do you make people feel good about it? Do you live it? If not, they probably don’t get it. And consequently, they don’t do it.

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“Causes no harm to others”

Posted by Mark Bennett on August 11, 2012

Is it okay to do something that technically breaks the law, but causes no harm to others? Where is the line between what society forbids or restricts and what the individual wants to do anyway? What about doing something legal, and while it isn’t causing harm to others right now, still carries that risk?

Felix Salmon wrote an interesting, ethics-based counter to Randy Cohen’s opinion piece on bicyclists who run red lights. I’ll let you read each and draw your own conclusions about whether one or the other is on solid ethical grounds (you may or may not find it ironic that Cohen was formerly the Ethicist writer for the New York Times and has a book coming out called, “Be Good: How to Navigate the Ethics of Everything.”)

That’s stupid and I’m smart

To me, there was another aspect that is relevant to all of us as well, both as individuals as well as organizations. It relates to people’s chronic underestimation of risk and overestimation of their ability. Cohen touches on it, but I think he falls into a common trap about risk in doing so (seemingly to rationalize his own behavior – a common cognitive error.)

It’s this: “It’s okay what I/we do as long as I/we cause no harm to others.” It’s the philosophical “free-pass” to rationalize breaking rules without having to feel guilty about it. In fact, you can even feel more ethically-intelligent about it!

But there’s more to it. The companion quote is: “And I/we cause no harm to others because I/we are more careful/better than others.” This is a cognitive bias of the first order.

We’ve seen it in environmental disasters and the way the most recent financial crisis has unfolded. We see it in the way some businesses and individuals in those businesses continue to behave even after the consequences of their previous actions have been recognized, exposed, and reported on. In many cases, the rationale is either, “I/we broke no law” or “Even if we did violate a regulation, our actions caused no direct harm to others.”

It’s okay, I’m being very careful

The problem is that laws to stop at red lights aren’t there because we think that people intentionally drive into intersections if they knew they would crash into someone. It’s because even as careful as you think you are, misteaks happen.

It’s to a certain extent about risk. Risk is the bad thing that might happen. It doesn’t mean it will happen. A person could go their entire (natural) life running red lights “when it was safe” and never have an accident. A company could cut corners on pipeline inspections for decades and never have an oil spill. Another could get extremely leveraged on risky loans and never have to ask for a bailout (hey, it could happen!) The list goes on. Things where nothing bad happens even though a law or regulation is broken (or not.)

Checklists serve a similar purpose in reducing risk. Surgeons don’t intend to leave instruments in patients. Pilots don’t purposely ignore instrument readings. It’s easy to think that checklists are an unnecessary burden for you (but maybe not the other guy.) But as all humans are susceptible to errors in thinking and perception, even the most careful of us can think we took out all the retractors, checked all the dials, and examined all lanes heading into the intersection.

There is a whole spectrum here. For instance, we’ve seen that in the financial industry, companies take great effort to find loopholes in existing regulations, invent new financial products that aren’t regulated yet, or redefine existing products so that regulations don’t apply. When it comes down to it, is that really any different than ignoring a law? Is it okay since “everyone else is doing it?”

This wasn’t supposed to happen

Even when you point out the dire consequences *if* something was to go wrong, it’s very easy for people to come up with a back of the envelope calculation about why the % probability of something bad happening times the consequence is far, far lower than what “that other careless guy” or “that other greedy/reckless company” is doing.

So it’s okay. It’s not causing harm to others. Until it does.

Photo by CarbonNYC

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The future matters

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on August 3, 2012

Siri was how I justified upgrading my iPhone. I haven’t used Siri once since I upgraded.

I have never regretted my purchase, and will gladly recommend my phone to others. I use it to chat, text, check email, find directions, take pics and videos, and check the weather.

I also know that I would not have upgraded as gladly for any of the new features I actually benefit from : ability to shoot videos and speed/performance on everything else. I expected those to work without having to pay more.

I bought the vision of Siri, not the features of the iPhone (which I now got for free).

Tell your workforce, your customers, your partners where you are taking them, not just what you are offering right now.

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What is your differentiation?

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 12, 2012

We are a bit like products. Our services are bought, in various form factors (consultant, contractor, entrepreneur, …), and there are various distribution channels (network, recruiters, social, referrals, …). Just like products, we each have a market, and some differentiation that makes us uniquely valuable.

I have worked with  enterprise software, appliances, and SaaS products. I have worked in tiny startups, behemoth companies, and everywhere in between. I have moved functional departments more than once. I have lived and worked abroad.

I like to do different things, because it forces me to see things through a different lens. I feel that I get the three dimensional view that I cannot, otherwise.

I start with no perceived advantage. Yet, I always add more value than initially seems possible.

I am often hired for some past experience. I have succeeded,  not due to that experience, but due to my ability to bring a different lens to the task. My differentiation is that I the first thing I see below is not rectangles, but circles. Sixteen, to be precise.

What is your differentiation?

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Part 2: Having trouble with execution?

Posted by Sri Subramanian (@whosissri) on July 1, 2012

In Part 1, I talked about the need for engagement, especially when faced with a daunting task. In part 2, I address a different aspect of execution: decision making capability. Execution happens down in the trenches, with every small decision that moves the customer value and/or cost up or down.

The customer buys not just the product, but the roadmap, the services, the quality, the support, the distribution channel, the documentation, the customer’s image, the risk, the compatibility matrix, and various other aspects surrounding the product. Every functional department delivers a piece of this puzzle, and typically knows only that piece. Decisions are understandably made to only optimize what is known, and often turn out to be poor decisions for the customer.

Do all departments understand the complete picture, or just a part of the puzzle?

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The New Crucible of Leadership

Posted by Mark Bennett on May 5, 2012

A crucible is used to burn off the unwanted materials and leave behind the stuff you want. Today’s world has the potential to transform leadership into more what it should be by burning away the old trappings that undermine its real purpose.

In today’s fear-dominated world, some people ask, “Where are all the leaders?” One answer was provided by James S. Rosebush in his March HBR post: Why Great Leaders are in Short Supply. Rosebush makes some excellent points about leadership and what has been eroding the ability for there to be “Great Leaders”, but I took issue with his premise, or at least felt he was misdirecting us a bit with the term “Great.”

For there is no shortage of leaders in the world. We are certainly witnessing the utter failure of “Great” leaders, and it doesn’t look like there are many alternatives fit to replace the current crop. So, yes, you could say there is a shortage of “Great Leaders.” But how much do we need, let alone want that kind? History shows us that at the very least, it’s been a high stakes game for the general population. That’s why there is hope for the future, I think, which comes from us growing away from needing “Great” leaders as much as we did previously.

Be careful what you wish for

The reason Rosebush gives why great leaders are in short supply is that in the past, they had the advantages of:

  • Privileged access to information
  • The reflected glory of their institutions
  • Broadly shared foundational principles

All I can say is, thank goodness those “advantages” are (hopefully) in decline. We don’t need, nor want, leaders who rely on those artifices to get into or stay in power.

Yes, there is still privileged information out there, and it could actually be growing, since all information is growing at an incredible rate. But it does appear that more information that was once privileged is now becoming publicly accessible. Of course, the information is a complete mess, but that’s always been the case throughout history – anyone who thought they had a lock on what was really going on was usually proven wrong. We now need leaders who can help us figure out what the information means and what questions to ask next. Hint: it won’t be the leaders who tell us.

Rosebush asks if it’s the institutions themselves, or their leaders that have caused such a decline in respect and trust of institutions, and as a result, the leaders. The answer is yes – the institutions shape the leaders and vice versa. Once corruption sets in, it’s very hard to extract and no matter how much an institution claims they’ve weeded out the bad apples, it takes a long, long time to regain public trust. To me, that’s the time when you should consider literally putting the institution more in the public “trust.” That is, close the separation that grew over time between the institution (whether actually public or “private”) and the public it was supposed to serve. This is where more leaders throughout the public can step up to make that happen.

Nothing riles up a discussion more than identifying “shared foundational principles”, especially in a world where diverse cultures and norms have more and more interaction. However, if you look at it more as a process as opposed to an event, it helps us see where leaders are really needed. It’s not about appeasing those whose values differ from yours, but it’s also not about extremism, unilateral actions, and ultimatums. Those are the crutches of demagogues, who shroud themselves in the “will of the people.” Again, it’s the leaders we are *all* capable of being that are called for here. We are responsible for our own thinking about personal and shared values – not some “Great” leader who tells you what to believe because all your neighbors believe it. Everyone is the world is your neighbor now, so how can a “Great” leader make that claim anymore?

We don’t get fooled again?

No, all of these “advantages” of the past were frequently nothing more than mechanisms for those in power to stay in power. So, good riddance, as those advantages really weren’t doing the public very much good. They were the Emperor’s New Clothes that are now getting stripped away by increased access to information, rethinking the relationship between institutions and the public they are supposed to serve, and how it’s up to the people of this planet to get to broadly shared foundational principles.

It won’t be easy, but it’s the kind of leaders that help create positive change in these transitioning areas that we need. The good news is that there are many out there already doing it and plenty more who can. What can we do to help encourage them?

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Bill Kutik Radio Show hosts Steve Miranda

Posted by Meg Bear on March 30, 2012

I’m sure you are all big fans of Bill’s radio show already.

I’m sure you have subscribed on iTunes and listen for all the most important news (and gossip) in our industry.

If you are like me, and a bit behind on your listening, I’d suggest you skip ahead to this week and then catch up on all the other great shows in between.  True to their respective brands, Bill does not shy away from the hard questions and Steve is candid and open with his responses.

Topics about the Taleo acquisition, the cloud, Oracle for smaller businesses and how Lake Larry is bay water, are all covered.  Really something here for everyone.

Check it out.

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