Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sweater Threads

I sometimes think I'm working on a life assignment to examine and understand what's really going on. It all comes down to finding Truth. I'm responsible for asking big questions, hearing the answers and courageously acting differently when I see I've been wrong. The converse, I suppose, is to not rely too heavily on "conventional" wisdom. Your own wisdom is more trustworthy.

Pretty deep, I know.

Anyway, this post isn't about that. It's simply an examination of why I've gotten this assignment. Why did I start doing this? Why does anybody start doing this? It's not particularly comfortable (though I do find it meaningful and fulfilling).

I like to think of the process as pulling on a sweater thread. To begin with, it's just a loose thread. There's a complete, suitable sweater there... and you're ruining it. Most people ignore the thread, or trim it. A typical response is to maintain the integrity of the sweater. Some, however, compulsively pull on the thread. The more they pull, the more they see beneath. The more they see beneath, the more they pull.

Looking back, a convergence of factors pushed me to first ask questions.
  • An increasing sense of my own mortality - a close friend passed away shortly after I was frightened by my own health. A perspective smack if ever there was one
  • A culmination of frustrations in my career - I hit the "sick and tired of being sick and tired" point
  • The impeccable chance timing of a leadership course that turned into a lifelong coaching and mentoring relationship
I've taken this analogy this far. I'd better examine the punch line. You end up without a sweater. Do we end up exposed and cold? I don't think that's it. I think we're in direct contact with the elements. We end up more aware, more responsive and more capable of an appropriate and thoughtful engagement with our environment.

What is your sweater thread?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.

There's a pretty simple deliberation a person can do when they've got a project. They can consider delivering quality (good), they can consider delivering it quickly (fast), and they can consider delivering it cost-effectively (cheap).

Problem is, you typically can't pursue all three. You've only got so much focus and effort to apply.

The hard part, of course, is choosing which one will be at the bottom of your priority list.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

There's three things you should know about me...

Almost every time I've ever been in an interview, they have given me a warm-up question. It goes something like, "Can you tell us how your education and experience are suited for this position?"

It's the one question where they're not looking for anything in particular. It's a great opportunity to give them something you want to deliver.

I've got a set of things I'd like to interviewer to know about me by the end of the interview. Call it my "Nevin in a Nutshell" list. If given this softball question, I'll make sure to use it to talk about what I think is really important.

It will go something like this:

"I would be really pleased if you remembered three things about me by the end of this conversation. First, I'd like you to know that I'm a generalist. This is important for you to know because this is how I approach problems and this is how I solve them. I'm objective and open to all elements of the issue. When I come to a solution, you can be assured that it is considered. This isn't a particularly fast way to work, but it gets effective results. If you hire a specialist, instead, they can work a lot faster. Their bag of tricks just might be limited.

Second, I'd like for you to know that I'm committed to challenging every assumption and worldview I have to make sure it's the right one. This has changed the way I do a lot of things, and we can go through some examples. Suffice to say, the most effective choice is rarely the one that "feels right" or is socially expected.

Third, it's important that you know I'm passionate about innovation and change. This might just be a side-effect of being a generalist and committed to challenging status quo thinking, but I really like pushing to see how effective my efforts, and the efforts of my organization, can be. I'm not necessarily interested in incremental improvements like squeezing more of the same from the budget. I'm interested in asking if we're doing the right practice. Often, that means revolutionary change."

This isn't necessarily what most employers want to hear. Man, am I going to be excited if I find one who likes it.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My Changethis proposal

Changethis has listed my manifesto proposal on their site. If it garners enough viewer interest, I'll submit the entire manifesto and it'll be posted in pdf for others to pick up and download for a loooong time. Perhaps this just proves how much of a nerd I am, but I'm excited. Spreading ideas is addictive. Please click this link and vote yes.
[Voting for my proposal has closed. Thanks for the votes! The link will take you to the most recent batch of proposals]

Outlawing the use of pronouns

When someone has accepted the role of the victim, it doesn't take long to hear it in their language.

"They should fix that" is a common refrain.

The use of the pronoun in that sentence is an easy escape for a person. They're able to point out the problem, the inconsistencies with the way the system works now, but they don't go so far is to name the individual(s) that are responsible for changing it. Simply put, it puts you in the role of observer. You're a bystander.

What happens if we outlaw the use of pronouns? You can't say "they" or "he" or "we." You have to say John or Sally or Nevin. All of a sudden, we'd be challenging ourselves to actually name the system and who is going to fix it. My guess is that the magic would happen when we start realizing it's unfair to single out John as the fixer. After all, he didn't create the problem, he's just the accountant/marketer/maintenance worker that's been assigned a small piece of the system.

When we outlaw the use of pronouns, we start realizing what role we, individually, have in our plight. That's powerful and it can lead to real change.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Your competitive advantage

There's a significant advantage that you shouldn't overlook. In whatever you care about, how likely is it that other people are thinking about it as much as you are?

Your advantage is your ability to think through every scenario, every defensive response, every potential roadblock. You can figure out the solution to every one of those items before you ever begin the discussion. There's the magic.

In "Freakonomics," Levitt and Dubner use the term "Information Asymmetry." It's when a professional has access to information you don't have. Whether intentional or not, they can use the imbalance of knowledge to their advantage to get the better of a deal.

You can create an asymmetry with your passion, too. It's an easy and available way to drive your agenda. Let's call it a "planning asymmetry." Your recipient is thinking about the eight phone calls they've got to return, the conversation they've got to have with an unresponsive employee and what they're going to have for dinner. You, on the other hand, are looking for agreement on one thing, and you've spent eight, twenty or two hunred hours thinking about how to get from here to there.

Really, who's got all the power?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Long Tail

I find myself referencing The Long Tail in conversations all the time. It is an excellent concept/observation by Chris Anderson. To be fair, I haven't read his book on the topic, but this paper makes me feel confident enough to reference it constantly.

For me, The Long Tail and Seth Godin's discussion of "Best in the World" (see The Dip) fit hand in glove. What am I passionate about ? What thin slice of the world's discussion is going to be associated with me?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Submission to Changethis

I love the idea of, and the ideas on

I've just submitted an outline of my manifesto (linked at the left... to be considered for publishing on the site. Please go visit changethis to gain the insight of some passionate people.

Personal Responsibility Manifesto

I've posted a manifesto called Flow, Flee or Fight at

The queasy feeling that comes with change

Funny. Every time I challenge the status quo, I get a queasy feeling in my stomach. My head even feels like it's spinning. Are you feeling it? Are you far enough on the edge to make things truly change?

I'm definitely not feeling it enough.