If you haven’t got your map, you haven’t got anything

If have not seen the video by O’Reilly called Situation Normal, Everything Must Change, I highly recommend you stop reading this blog and check out the video immediately.

If you have seen it…then you can continue reading about my opinion on the issue of “having a map”.

O’Reilly goes into a lot of detail about the importance of having a “map” of where you are and where you need to go. I especially like the first example of the chess game, where without a board people discover certain move sequences and patterns that lead to success.  Some even write books about the magic sequences that lead to victory. But once the chess board is introduced, the strategy changes.

To put this into a real-world context. Companies and leaders often like to find repeatable and deterministic patterns that lead to success. Some companies even find some “successful” patterns and make a lot of money. Then other companies, seeking the same rewards, blindly copy those patterns expecting the same result.

But somehow… it doesn’t work! Why?

In the book The Toyota Kata by Mike Rother, most of the book is about how to establish the current conditions accurately and honestly. Rother, again and again, emphasizes the importance of taking the time to really look at the problem, walk the plant floor, talk to the workers, don’t stop at the first problem you find, to see what the real problem is. No assumptions, not preconceived notions, no blame, the just real honest truth about the problem.

The current condition is, in my opinion, the “map” that O’Reilly talks about. It tells us where we are and, once a goal is set, what are next step to success is. Once you have a map then it is much easier to decide how you want to get to where you need to go.

In a presentation from John Willis( @batchagalupe ), he talked about Pivotal’s  Andrew Schaffer’s idea on how Game theory also changes the “map” and metrics of how we value our people.  In the presentation, he showed this video of a game called Golden Balls (LOL)I won’t go into all of the details on this blog post of how Pareto efficiencies and Nash Equilibriums played into this game, but I will say that the contestant said he was set on stealing likely knew a thing or two on game theory and that gave him the map of to success. Essentially, he knew that himself and the other player both had incentives to steal instead of split. By opening saying he was going to steal, he removed incentive from the other player to steal, changing the “map” and driving for the split. He changed the metrics.  Instead of the metric being, “how can I convince the other player to split”  the metric became “How certain am I that he will steal” and with that, the game had changed.

Taking the time to reflect and understand the current condition helps people see where their missteps are, where things are going well, and where implement improvements. Sometimes improvement means having a better understanding of a constraint, rearranging a work space, correcting an employee’s attitude, or maybe changing metrics of success (Hold on to this point).

Sometimes we don’t have a map and getting a good understanding isn’t as simple as walking the plant floor or looking at the code. Sometimes it’s things like understanding market trends, customer demands, and a slew of other subjective things. Things like this can be difficult to understand even with close inspection.

That said, there is a way to see through the fog of subjectivity. The way to clairvoyance is fast, effective, and frequent experimentation. Having an organization that can quickly experiment and gets to market will be the ones who understand the situation the best and can adjust the quickest to changes and you’ll also be putting items products into the market which can generate income.

Experimentation is one of the best ways to understand the current condition, as mentioned in the Toyota Kata. Experimentation is your “map”. You experiment, you get results, you know what to change, you repeat. Not experimenting is essentially being blind and making random guesses.

Nothing is worthwhile until the time is taken to understand exactly what is going on. Sometimes it is not obvious, like the what we saw with the split steal game (and how much simpler is that game compared to the complexity of an entire enterprise!). Time, reflection, training, study, and experimentation is required to truly understand what the “map” looks like and what it is telling you about the world around you. Once you know the way, then it’s up to you, your teams, to align to the goal and get you to where you need to go.


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