“Develop foresight, to sense and understand the context around the dilemmas that challenge you. The goal is not to predict what’s going to happen but to provoke your creativity and prepare you for your biggest challenges, many of which are going to come in the form of dilemmas (…) leaders are sense makers, and they help others make sense- often by asking penetrating questions.” Get There Early by Bob Johansen.
Situational Awareness (SA) involves sensemaking. SA deals with critical information on what’s going on with a project as well as around it. Know-how, past experiences, lessons learned and best practices are of the essence. These work well when addressing incremental innovation. Though, our perception is also shaped by motivation, expectations, filters as well as organizational behaviors (culture, workstyle, decision making, roles and responsibilities, processes) and, possibly, conflicting priorities.
Taking things to new levels, disruptive innovation gets us immersed in what turn out to be game changing environments. In this specific context, creative destruction takes place and so do errors in judgment. Dealing with uncertainty, ambiguity and rapidly superseding cascading events can quickly render one’s viewpoint out of focus and even out of place.
Those just sticking to what they know because relying on one’s “assumptions and belief system” has consistently served they well, might now suffer from complacency, myopia and tunnel vision instead… experiencing blindsiding denial in the process. Clayton’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma” and Taleb’s “The Black Swan” and “Antifragile” are worth understanding.
Early awareness takes continuous listening and monitoring. Lets first think of project sensors gathering data and probes strategically placed to explore and discover clues which might not yet be visible. Leading indicators form a set of metrics that change in advance to a given event taking hold and can be used to raise alerts. Lagging indicators signal conditions in place for changes to take hold and become the new pattern.
Defining a narrow set of key performance indicators (KPI) improves visibility, saving us from clutter and information overload. KPIs can correlate and synthesize need-to-see data and can work with high level abstractions. These are usually delivered as “dashboards” that we can easily work with. Here is a “6 R” framework on KPI quality to mitigate distortions:
|Relevancy: validity and utility level in context.||Resolution: meaningful detail and abstractions.|
|Range: scope (fields) and scale dimensions.||Recency: lifecycle – growth, decay and refresh velocity, ephemeral vs. durable.|
|Robustness: complete or sufficient to support the analysis, portrays what’s being measured.||Reliability: data integrity and error free, factors signal to noise rate, accounts for outliers.|
The above is based on a “5 R” version I first learned on an MIT course about big data and social analytics.
I would also like to share that perfect data might be elusive and different quality levels can be applied. Hence, we talk in terms of things being “directionally correct” or “good enough” to keep things moving. In some other cases, over-engineering data by going beyond what’s really needed (data overload) can shortchange focus, efforts and budgets, which would be better allocated to other priority and/or pressing tasks. We can also face crunch time situations when we need to operate without benefiting from more data since delays would trigger higher risks.
Nonetheless, acknowledging that we need to make those kind of judgment calls does not excuse giving up on perfecting how to work with data. But, data alone will not deliver SA: this involves intertwining analysis and synthesis cycles as well as fine tuning sensemaking, which is an iterative and continuous improvement process.
Keeping cognitive biases at bay is a challenge. Subjective statements supporting adversarial stances such as “been there done that, it just doesn’t work” (even if that experience happened in a different context and a distant past) or the “not-invented here” (NIH) “not-one-of-us” syndromes can be easy to spot. But, there is a wide range of logical fallacies and “devil’s advocate” plays which can be perceived as reasonable even though the underlying logic is flawed.
I designed the above chart drawing from the all familiar Strengths-Weaknesses-Opportunities-Threats (SWAT) model. As far as Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) is concerned, the one I get the most is about the difference between “clash” and “shift”. Basically, the clash’s bucket is there to outline ongoing mismatches and adversarial confrontations. Those having reached critical mass can be plotted in the “clash x critical” quadrant.
The “shift” column captures game changing items that are still evolving, where a succession of disruptive believes and assumptions reshape the context and prompt new environments that can render a project obsolete… shouldn’t we gear up in advance or course correct as needed. Looking into impact levels, correlations, outliers and then sorting things accordingly is part of the thought process.
The next FAQ relates to how to best address “core” vs. “beyond comfort zone”. A core competence is an existing skill and capability. This refers to traits worth leveraging and further developing provided that they continue to make a difference. Though, asking any person, organization or system to just focus on what they already know and do well might not necessarily be the best approach in today’s rapidly changing and commonplace uncertain environments. Therefore, the need for assessing what and how to continuously grow beyond a given comfort zone, and at what point that new capability can be rolled up as a core competency.
One other thought, let’s keep in mind that being aware and alert are good things. Taking no action or seating tight while waiting for the dust to settle happen to be options available to us, though paralysis by analysis or paralyzing fear are not.
What about “organic” vs. “inorganic”? The former entails opportunities that can be approached with existing competencies and, possibly, scaling by growing resources. The latter talks to efforts that involve collaborating (collaborating with customers and partners, coopetition with competitors) and even acquiring other ecosystem players in the value chain, mergers being another example.
Last but not least, perspective is of the essence and the journey is comprised by experiences (where we come from) situational awareness (where we are) and foresight (where we are headed). Antonio Machado (Spanish poet, 1875-1939) stated that we make our path as we walk, which anyone working on innovation projects can relate to. Delineating and providing a sense involves the following “journey points”, which I will discuss on another post on agile project planning:
Hope this remains of interest. As usual, I will welcome your comments and emails to continue our discussion.
“It was December 9, 1968, and as Kay watched from audience, Douglas Engelbart and his fellow computer scientists from Silicon Valley’s Stanford Research Institute unveiled NLS, an online system that included the world’s first computer mouse and presaged so much of today’s online software, including everything from window-like interfaces to what we now call hyperlinks […] Many didn’t understand it […] Short for oNLine System, NLS let you work and communicate with others in countless ways. You could edit text, draw images, manipulate and organize files, send messages, and even video conference. The idea was to supercharge human intelligence through collaboration.” – “Tech Time Warp of the Week: The Mother of All Demos, 1968“ by Daniela Hernandez, Wired.
Emerging technologies are easily subject to self-defeating hype and unfulfilled promises, making it hard to tell apart what’s real from vaporware. At that point, slideware and writings alone do not suffice, demonstrations and trustworthy testimonials become of the essence.
Please note that I’m not comparing what follows with the original “Mother of All Demos.” The above quote is rather a sign of respect and a reference model, something to look up to and strive for.
Our team at the Cloud Innovation Center has been extremely busy working on an NFV portfolio demonstration and, therefore, looking into a challenging questions on what it takes to deliver the mother of all of our NFV demos, and the purpose that it would actually serve… if any.
We thought that this means shifting from a piece meal approach based on showcasing product specific demos to helping everyone experience what happens when things work together across the board. A silo busting exercise.
The industry’s initial focus on “best of breed” needs to be coupled with a modular end-to-end systems engineering where the resulting value and efficiencies clearly exceed the mere addition of any of these elements. Going back to the “Mother of All Demos” reference, isn’t “supercharging” what synergies should be all about?
Following that train of thought, complexity becomes one other issue of concern, which can undermine any good intentions from the onset. For that reason, we made picture  be our other guiding principle, striving to deliver elegant sophistication in simple terms by engaging the customer in a first hand interactive experience, and making it be a memorable one for that matter.
One more thought… we also discussed what the right ratio should be between presenting “state of the art” and “art of the possible.” Going back and forth many times on this through the process, the team consistently stuck to an 80/20 ratio where 80% of the demonstration is anchored on what becomes available this year and the remaining 20% addresses the path forward and underlying design of future things. When dealing with hot technologies, the industry can get easily saturated with Proof of Concept (PoC) and me-too projects. The more reason to clearly spell out what the real deal is.
Any conversation dealing with emerging technologies should handle two other questions regarding incremental vs. disruptive innovation. We are defining “incremental innovation” as getting better with something that we happen to do today already: showing the delta in performance whether operational or financial. We are defining “disruptive innovation” as doing something that we couldn’t possibly do before when working with legacy and conventional technologies, something of “unique value” that is.
While this might or might not be how others might define incremental and disruptive innovation, we can go beyond semantics to agree on the need for addressing the underlying framework. By the same token, note that a “breakthrough” is not a differentiation in this context, as both kinds of innovations rely on this type of high impact discovery one way or another.
In addition to the above concepts, these few pictures outline some of the tools we used in the design and development of “NFV: Service Innovation & Lean Ops,” which we will be demonstrating in Barcelona’s Mobile World Congress in just a couple of weeks. Hope to see you there : )
 Refers to a set of guiding principles: the kind of stuff you go back to conduct a sanity check and when in doubt, which I discussed above. As an example: “if you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”
 This is the kick off creative brief: just a one pager outlining the mission by answering “why/what/when/who/where” to being with… while understanding that the project is an iterative journey where we will make discoveries that can make us switch our course and speed as we make progress. Project management wise, it pays to keep an eye on status, flags, % completion and remaining resources, including time left.
 Ideation techniques using both regular post-it and easel size ones for different groups, prioritization exercises leverage location and color coding. Nothing goes to waste: 3M’s Post-it Plus App for Apple’s iPhone comes in handy to capture these “boards,” which helps with post-meeting processing, collecting snapshots of any brainstorming session and keeping up with Kanban scrum boards in software development.
 Conventional whiteboarding also taking advantage of capturing what’s happening with the same app, making an entire whiteboard become a post-it note joining other pictures taken at other sessions, zooming in and out as needed.
 A variety of frameworks have helped organize and communicate information with other teams, as well as a checking for consistency and alignment.
 Low fidelity sketches were used to start visualizing key concepts early on: an agile alternative to cumbersome requirement documents at each iteration.
 High fidelity renderings of photo-realistic mock-ups aiding rapid prototyping.
 Wallpapering in a meeting room where all team members can review designs, post new items and further brainstorm throughout the project.
 Dogfooding (eating your own dog food) means that everyone in the team gets a first hand experience and understanding of what’s being developed, joining testing and contributing to next steps.
 Field trips, going out there to look for best practices and sources for new ideas outside of our own work environment and industry clichés. As an example, these pictures were taken at demonstrations taking place at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry and one of Fermilab’s control rooms for the particle accelerator complex.
 Last but not least, the workload involves observational (e.g. ethnography) and usability research coupled with sessions with customers, subject matter experts and in-house stakeholders.
This is an iterative process and the above 10 items might not all take place at each iteration and/or in the same sequence at each cycle.