Sunday, September 24, 2017


Does your work inspire you?
  • Super if so
  • Frustrating if not

Kristi Hedges tells us in an essay that psychologists T. Thrash and A. Elliot have posited three contributors to an inspired work life:
  1. We see new possibilities
  2. We're receptive to outside influences
  3. We've a feeling of energy and motivation
Not working for you? Hedges goes on (I paraphrase her ideas):
  • Inaction is your enemy; get up and get moving (my paraphrase)
  • Keep on learning; if you think you've arrived at the pinnacle of knowledge for your job (career), you're mistaken. Not learning new stuff is actually going backward; you're knowledge will atrophy
  • Expand your network; new people brings new ideas
  • Keep it simple; narrow the scope or choices so you can focus and set priorities
The one that works best for me is the "keep on learning".  Writing this blog is an example; you might be amazed at the background reading and research that goes into it, from which I get many ideas for my professional role.

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Precision without accuracy

I've often said the game of American football is a game of precision informed by inaccuracy.
From sometimes 25 yards away, in the split of a second, among the tangle of potentially 20+ actors all scrambling, a referee makes a judgment (hypothesis) about where the tip of an oblong ball happened to be when the action stopped.
Then, a steel chain is laid down to measure off the distance from the tip to the end of the chain (facts). The latter is precise; the former is often wildly a guess, but nonetheless is transformed instantly into "fact"
And, you may ask, what has this to do with project management, or management at all?
It's all about two schools of thought about managing with uncertainty -- managing what we know about risk (or, what we don't know, which is trickier even)
  1. School of objectivity: facts come from what we observe; estimates are derived from experience and projected onto to knowable future circumstances.
    Risk is a matter of estimating impact (see: experience) and then applying a probability derived from the facts about how often such has occurred before.
    This is the "frequency-based" view of assessing risk
  2. School of subjectivity: Nothing wrong with observable facts, to be sure. But in the school of subjectivity, it's what you believe to be the case that carries the day. The set of beliefs, however, is not set in stone; in fact, to be a good subjectivist, you have to be willing to update your beliefs in the context of new facts (observations)
Not that the objectivist would ignore new facts; they wouldn't.
But, the subjectivist begins where an objectivist never would: with a guess (gasp! ... a guess! shocking!)

  • But, a guess about what? Not "facts", of course, but rather a guess (conjecture) about a hypothesis of the circumstances that might lead to facts (observables).
  • Or, if there are observables, then a guess about the circumstances (hypothesis) that led to those observables.
  • Either way, if the hypothesis is discoverable, or verifiable, then new facts are predictable.
And, so that sets up a set of conditional relationships:
  1. Hypothesis, and 
  2. Hypothesis (conjectured or validated) given some observables
  3. Facts, and 
  4. Facts (or new facts) given that a hypothesis is actually valid
These four make up the eco-system of the subjectivist. There is constant working about of a "a priori" hypothesis; facts, and do they fit the "a priori"; and either a modified hypothesis, or if its valid, then predicted new facts.

If you are one that wrestles with the four above, then you are not only a subjectivist, you are a Bayesian, and you reason according to Bayes theorem

And, you may not have known that you were either a Bayesian or a subjectivist!

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Monday, September 18, 2017

"I wouldn't do that"

"Doubt is unpleasant, but certainty is absurd"

Interested in quantitative risk management, understanding risk metrics, and risk management?
This one may be for you:
Matthew Squair is working on a new book, entitled "I wouldn't do that". He's made a draft of Chapter 1 available, at least for a short time.
Why another book on risk management? The shelves are already full (even if only virtually full). Squair addresses the question. He writes:
" ..... in the face of the uncertainties posed by complex systems and new technologies, can we also achieve an acceptable level of safety. Answering this question both philosophically and practically is the purpose of this book"
Squair's focus as a consultant is risk-safety .... connecting those dots. But, he really writes in a larger context. Thus, if you're the least interested in managing with uncertainty, and self-educating with a very readable explanation of quantitative risk considerations, look through the Chapter 1 sample.

Here's the opening statement:
A nuclear reactor’s defences are overwhelmed by a tsunami, an aircraft manufacturer’s newest aircraft is brought low by design faults while another aircraft’s crew is overwhelmed by a cascading series of failures.

Why do these things happen?

Can we predict such events and protect ourselves from them, or are we destined to suffer like disasters again and again?
Do you actually care? You do! But, maybe not all that much

Squair posits that for there to be risk, there has to be value first. That is, if there is really nothing at stake then there really is not a risk to be considered. It's an interesting idea, really: start thinking first of value, or the value of an outcome, and then posit the risk proposition to that value.

Squair, again:
" ... there is an exposure to a proposition about which we care and about which uncertainty exists. If there is complete certainty then risk does not exist. For risk to be meaningful it also implies that we must value a speciļ¬c outcome of the proposition."

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Friday, September 15, 2017

Silence is concurrence

"Churchill always interpreted a lack of objections, whether by admirals or by cabinet members or by the British public, as the equivalent of wholehearted support. He read dissenters’ inability to state a contrary conviction as a lack of conviction itself.
From "Gandhi and Churchill" by Arthur Herman
Another way to say this, more concise I think is: "Silence is concurrence!".
  • If you object, speak up. 
  • If you concur, verbalize support. 
  • Or, sustain. 
To wit: lead, follow, or get out of the way!

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rules for A.I.

Developing A.I. stuff?
Many are
What about the rules of behavior for A.I. capabilities?

Oren Etzioni has an opinion on this
  • The A.I. system must be subject to the full gamut of laws that apply to its human operators and developer
  • The A.I. system must clearly disclose that it is not human (*)
  • The A.I. system can not retain or disclose confidential information without explicit approval from the source of that information
 Etzioni points out that in 1942, at the dawing of the age of science fiction about robots, Isaac Asimov proposed three rules also:
  • A robot can not harm a human being, or cause a human being to be harmed
  • A robot must obey the orders of a human being, except when in conflict with the first rule
  • A robot must protect its own existence, provided no conflict with the first two laws
So, now we have a book of six rules, but somehow they don't address the moral issue of whose life is the higher priority, whether it's an autonomous car avoiding an accident or a A.I. system engaged in life support, like in a medical operating room.

More to come. Elon Musk reportedly says that A.I. represents "an existential threat to humanity". But, isn't it too late to not press on and try to get it right?

(*) Several instances have arisen from the innocent to the not so innocent where the general public did not know whether a system was human or artificial.

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Saturday, September 9, 2017

Organization by coercion

"It is impossible to organize an army solely by coercion. At least some of the commanders and soldiers must believe in something ...."
From the book "Sapiens" by Harari
Fair enough

Now, consider that wisdom rewritten in project team terms:
It is impossible to organize a team, and expect productive outcomes, solely by top-down direction. At lease some of the team leaders and team members must believe in the team's mission and the leader's vision
 And, I submit, to be believed begins with being believable. A play on words, to be sure, but somewhere between the banal and "pie in the sky" an innovative vision and reasonable path forward must be evident:
  • In pictures for the visualists
  • In words for the readers
  • In person for those that are attracted by charisma to a cause
If there's to be sacrifice, then an appeal to and wrapping in a higher calling--'duty, honor, country' in the military--not just money, will be in the mix. I think we all know that money speaks, but only so loudly. After a certain volume, it's "the other stuff" that makes up the culture and value system that motivates.

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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Psychology of uncertainty

"We study natural stupidity rather than artificial intelligence"
Amos Tversky
Tversky--now deceased--was a partner with Daniel Kahneman, who together wrote some of the most influential papers on the processes of decision making under uncertainty.(*)

If you're a project manager or business manager, then you have that task routinely. If you've not read at least the seminal work "Judgment Under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases" you're really not informed. [Science, New Series, Vol. 185, No. 4157. (Sep. 27, 1974)]

 My suggestion: Get informed.

You've really no excuse for putting it off.
(*)Kahneman won a Nobel for their work; Tversky was deceased at the time of the award which only goes to living recipients. Kahneman is the author of "Thinking Slow and Fast", a book derived from their work.

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Sunday, September 3, 2017

Myths and mystics

In the awesome book "Sapiens", author Yuval Harari posits three revolutions for mankind, the first of which is the "cognitive revolution" which he dates from about 70,000 years ago.

What's really important about the advent of cognition is that h.sapiens developed the ability to imagine the non-existent -- that is, the stuff that has no physical reality. Harari more or less calls all that stuff "myths".

Myths require:
  • Someone to imagine them; and 
  • Someone to sell them to the uninformed; and 
  • The uninformed have to become believers and users and maintainers
In project parlance, myths require:
  • A visionary
  • A sales and marketing strategy
  • Managers, practitioners, and users
 A marketing guy I worked with many years ago, long before Harari wrote his book, instructed me in the art of myth-making, the value of being mystic, and the value of encapsulation so that others couldn't see the sausage being made.

My marketing mentor asserted that myth was a force multiplier, adding power and influence. I agree. Just look around at the 'trapping' that attend power--some call it the arrogance of power .... all intended to multiply that power.

Not arrogant? Not powerful.

But in the competitive project space, myths attend competitors -- are they really 10 feet tall, and should we go up against them, or not?

There is a larger consequence, however, that I found fascinating in Harari's telling of the cognitive revolution:
  • Cognition of non-real things, like organization and social structure, behavior norms, and beliefs -- even if not realizable, enabled large scale socialization among strangers and mechanisms of command and control that extends far beyond any personal relationship.
  • Harari asserts that one person can have personal effective interaction with up to 150 people. Up to that limit, organizations can be totally flat, informal, almost structureless. To get beyond the 150 limit, you need myths and mythology that enable the unreal.
  • With myths, you can have world-wide religious beliefs, large corporations, continental governments, etc. 
  • Thus, societies, and to a lesser extent, projects can scale almost limitlessly44
What a concept! Myths -- you've got to love it!

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