Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Management Improvement Carnival: Annual Edition

John Hunter of Curious Cat has asked me to participate in the annual edition of the Management Improvement Carnival. I'm humbled to be invited and glad to participate.

The first station has to be Tom Peters' blog. I don't agree with everything he says, but I do find that he makes me think. Any of you who manage something are people, too. That's why my first link goes to his Christmas 2008. I share his sentiments, if not his bully pulpit. While I'm mentioning his blog, I'll also mention Repeat!.

The next station is MetaSD, the home of Tom Fiddaman and his Four Legs and a Tail. It's a good reminder of the leverage points we can seek in the systems in which we work as originally drafted by Dana Meadows, and it offers his notion that they don't necessarily compose an ordered list. Perhaps more importantly, it's a reminder that we need a mindset change to be successful in the world we're entering. Speaking of mindsets, Cynthia McEwen and John Schmidt of Avastone Consulting have published Leadership and the Corporate Sustainability Challenge: Mindsets in Action Report. While not a blog, that report does speak to mindset changes. Speaking of Tom Fiddaman, he has also posted My Bathtub is Nonlinear, an excellent reminder of the importance of grounding our assumptions in real data.

Times are tough, economically, and that's why I pick Paul Graham's Why to Start a Startup in a Bad Economy as the third stop. Don't do anything foolish, but don't think that the news from Wall Street necessarily predetermines your fate is the message, but he says it better than I. While I'm visiting non-conventional management sites, I'll stop at Elana Centor's Note to HR Folks: Hiring Over-Qualified People Is A Smart Strategy because you will need to hire again someday, if not today.

Speaking of saying things better, one of a manager's jobs is conveying information, and much of that information comes in the form of numbers and graphs. We do our organizations, our people, and ourselves a favor when we display such information clearly so others can make sense of it well. That's why the fourth stop in this carnival is at Andrew Gelman's An improved time-series graph instead of that notorious "spiraling down the drain" spiderweb. Follow the links, too, to see his earlier commentary. I'm a fan of Edward Tufte's approach to communicating information, and I'm a fan of the second graph in that posting. If you have to add drama, I like the third graph much better than the first, but I still think the second is the best of the three.

As important as data and statistics are, I'm reminded by xkcd's Decline that not everything we do, not even everything we do as managers, is best served by quantification and purely logical analysis. That brings me to Andrew Taylor's Not aloof and detached, but deeply, deeply human, a link to a Benjamin Zander TED presentation that, for me, brings together presentation skill and leadership in the service of his passion, music.

Finally, I'll take a view of another system we may not think of much, one that we very much need to be working well and one that may offer opportunities for some of us: food. Marilyn Holt's A Locavore Manifesto by Michael Pollan is a great education and reminder; click on the title of her post to get to the manifesto.

You may have thought I'd post about IT issues, about process improvement, or about systems or statistical analysis of management work. Those are indeed important, and I don't want to neglect them.

Yet I've found it helpful to start thinking at a high, systemic level to make sure I'm considering the important issues and to help me determine where I need more detailed information. While this, like most summaries of blog postings, can't claim to be as organized and logical as a book, I think it covers issues we need to concern ourselves about in business. From how we deal with people to the mindsets we bring to our work, from how to work in a tough economy to how to convey information, this covers a broad range. I closed with food systems because I wonder if we may be entering a period where the major systems we need for business—food, energy, the atmosphere and the overall environment—can no longer be safely taken for granted. That's why I think the desire and ability to view our challenges through a systems lens is particularly important as we enter 2009.

I'll conclude with with Tom Asacker's Nine Predictions for 2009, thanks to Tom Peters' Must Reading.

Follow-up:

To find the rest of the Management Improvement Carnival, check out these links:

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