Culture, The Unexpected Asset

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    Dick Davies
    Participant

    At this month’s Leadership Breakfast of Virginia, Tom Meylan, http://www.thomas-meylan.org/, developed the concept of LO+FT, “Luck Optimization plus Fault Tolerance.” Tom is a NASA rocket scientist, and LO+FT came out of “what happens when you put a project in space and something changes?”

    What Tom taught is that your plan usually covers what you expect to happen. There will also be unexpected opportunities, where you optimize luck, and problems, where you need to get back from disaster. Excellent concept.

    Tom presented a number of precepts and examples, all of which make sense.

    We were assigned of small group exercises. My group looked at how to generate an action plan to implement a change. Hemant Mehta, another McCaw alumni (who I didn’t know back in the day) and I came up with five key points, which pretty much completed the task. This exercise mirrored the way we worked at McCaw, during the rollout of the analog cell phone network.

    Looking back, my McCaw experience was the only culture I have participated in that made mergers successful on a daily basis.

    Another member of the team, a successful CXO, wanted to insert, “stop people from doing the wrong thing.” I disagreed, said I would probably ask the subordinate to teach me what he was doing. Hemant was nodding his head. The CXO asked why?

    I said, “First if he is in the position, I expect competence. Second, I have a chance to learn something, and third, if there is a flaw, teaching gives the person doing the work an opportunity to improve his plan.”

    That was apparently a big insight for our CXO. It caused me to think of the many managers I have known who will stop a project if they don’t understand it, yet are generally late understanding and applying the tools and concepts that are revolutionizing the top players in their industry.

    * The chief lesson of Pac Man over checkers is you learn not moving will end the game faster than making the wrong move.
    * Sailing teaches you have to be under way to improve your course. Being stopped leads to more being stopped.
    * Did you ever stop to think and forget to start again?

    As Tom was wrapping up, he said his LO+FT system is aimed at changing the culture of the organization. I had been taught that culture is what you believe and practice.

    In Tom’s presentation, I learned that for two of us, our culture of twenty years ago was still influencing our activity, and creating valuable teamwork.

    What are your experiences with culture as an unexpected asset?

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