Book Club

Traction Part 2

Our Virtual Book Club Meeting for Traction (by Gino Wickman) started differently than usual. Based on our Book Club submissions, Angel C., our moderator, began with this: “We got comments that this was [either] the best book ever, or this was a really boring book. So we got one extreme to the next, so it should be quite an interesting book club discussion.”

And interesting it was! Below, we’ll share both lessons learned and areas we felt were off point.

Having the right people in the right seat was clearly the biggest takeaway from our team, but having discussed it in Traction Part 1 (you can read it here), the team’s next takeaway was less of a specific lesson and, rather, the whole book itself.

What the Entrepreneurial Operating System offers is a blueprint to running a business. It breaks down the different components of a business, such as having a clear vision and defining processes, and provides an intuitive process to implement them in a business. It is highly technical and instructive in its approach, yet simple and practical enough to apply in any organization. Joe H. made a good point about Traction:

“This is very much a basic playbook. No team ever won a [super bowl] title with just a basic playbook. But at the same time, no one ever won a ring if they didn’t have those basics down.” – Joe H.

Traction is a good “playbook” to come back to when the company is getting off track; But as Joe mentioned, no football team won a title with only the basics – neither can Inflow disrupt an industry by sticking to the basics.

While Inflow’s business model shares ideas from Traction’s blueprint, there are other ideas we do differently. Gino Wickman made this point about having defined measurables:

“What gets measured gets done. […] when you boil the organization’s numbers down to the point where everyone has a single meaningful, manageable number [it] creates clarity and accountability throughout the team. Everyone has a number.”

Now, we’re all for clarity of expectations and accountability, and, while the author makes valid points for the benefits of having a number for each employee to meet or exceed, within Inflow’s culture and business model, having a number would not only counter our “employees-first” ideology, it’s actually a key problem in our industry which we’re striving to solve. Ricky L. had a comment on this:

“It made me cringe when I read ‘Everyone has a number.’ I get how many businesses are run based on P&Ls (Profit and Loss statements), but when it comes to having a number on your back, that position will become a revolving door and that person will live an unhealthy lifestyle.” – Ricky L.

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As mentioned in previous discussions, Inflow doesn’t use P&Ls because when people are driven by money, bad choices are made.

Instead, give an employee clear expectations of their role, yet remove the idea of “numbers” from the equation, and not only will they find a way to accomplish their task, they’ll be more creative and innovative in their thinking and approach. It’s those innovative minds we’re seeking to foster. When employees innovate, the end product improves, both in effectiveness and efficiency, and since we serve the military, “effective” and “efficient” is the name of the game.

Traction has a lot of practical advice to expand our thinking and understanding in how businesses are run, including how our CEO and President are leading Inflow. While we may agree and disagree on certain points, one thing remains: our clear vision to always Make it Matter to our customers and our Inflowees.


At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here.

Traction Part 1

Imagine an operating system (OS) that didn’t work: applications are glitchy at best, files become corrupted or seemingly disappear, and, to make matters worse, it’s prone to viruses due to the lack of security in the system.

Basically, you can’t move forward because the broken OS prevents you from accomplishing any tasks.

In many ways, each business has its own OS. Unfortunately, in many of those businesses’, profits have stalemated, growth has stopped, people either don’t follow through or move in a different direction, and you, as the owner, are losing control of your business’ direction. The Company’s OS is broken and needs some major debugging.

This quarter, we’re reading Traction by Gino Wickman, which introduces the “Entrepreneurial Operating System” (EOS) – a process that establishes the basis for a functioning, focused, and forward-thinking company, allowing the leaders to regain “traction” to direct the company. It delves into the science of a business by simplifying it into six core components. To learn more about the six components of EOS, click here.

As we’ve been reading, we’ve come across a lot of shared concepts from our previous books: candor, open and honest communication, and goal setting. However, Gino Wickman offers up two new ideas: vision and hiring the right people for the right seat.

Vision

Gino Wickman describes vision as, “clearly defining who and what your organization is, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there.”

We all know the proverbial statement, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra. Without a clearly defined goal in mind, you can’t direct your business. However, most leaders know where they want to go. The problem is the rest of the organization doesn’t.

The EOS process begins by establishing a company’s framework, including their core values, core focus, and yearly plans to guide the company. These tools are posted online here.

This concept isn’t new. If you build a solid foundation, the rest of your company will naturally follow suit. Establishing and communicating your vision will clearly define where the company is headed and each employee’s role in that process.

The Right People in the Right Seat

Establishing your core values and focus has a side effect. A clear vision not only defines who you are and where you’re going, it also reveals who you’re not, potentially exposing departments, products, and people who don’t fit.

This is a complex subject, considering every individual has unique strengths, passions, and individual core values – none of which defines them as good or bad, right or wrong. Every company, however, has a culture, and if an employee doesn’t mesh with that culture, it becomes a burden on the company and, often, a burden on the individual themselves.

Gino Wickman breaks this down into three scenarios:

  1. Right person, wrong seat.
  2. Wrong person, right seat.
  3. Wrong person, wrong seat.

It’s not an easy decision, but when it comes to the long haul of a company, having those who embrace the company’s ideas and direction and putting them in the seat where they will exceed will pay dividends to growing your company. And that’s the real takeaway – think long term, not short.

In short, everyone needs to be on the same page with the company’s ideals and where it’s going. With that vision and focus, the company will make the decisions that will project it into the future.

We’ll continue to read Traction through the rest of the quarter, but if you would like to learn more about Traction and read the first chapter, visit https://www.eosworldwide.com/traction Stay tuned for our Virtual Book Club Meeting where we’ll discuss in greater detail our favorite lessons-learned and takeaways.


At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here.

Creativity, Inc. - Pt. 2

For our 2016 Quarter 4 Book Club, we read Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Disney Animation. Today, we’ll explore our favorite takeaways from our Virtual Book Club Meeting, including topics about fear, taking risks, and Brain Trusts.

Brittany W. started off by saying, “The concept of failure is a good thing in the form of iterative trial and error. We can fail our way to a solution. The example of scientists and experimentation drives it home.”

We understand the importance of experimenting and trying new things – it’s how we innovate and impact the lives of our Inflowees and customers; but with experimentation comes failure and the need to accept failure.

But accepting failure as “part of the process” is hard, especially when failure often goes hand-in-hand with lost dollars. Ryan H. discussed how we can disentangle measuring success from financials:

“Most companies push revenue and profitability targets to their employees. We don’t, because we want our employees to focus on long-term goals, not short-term. People tend to make bad choices when money is involved.”

That’s only the beginning of changing our views on failure though. The truth is, everyone makes mistakes. We know this, but instead of admitting our failures, we sweep them under the rug. To be free from the fear of failure, we have to feel safe admitting our failures; and for a company to feel safe, as Cris B. put it, “Admitting you failed has to come from the top, down. If leadership is open about the mistakes they’ve made and how they fixed it, it gives the rest of the team the comfort to know they can make mistakes, embrace them, and work to improve them.”

Nikho R. added to this point, discussing when he’s had to write large technical documents and submit them for peer review:

“Often times, you put your blood and sweat in a project, and when you put it up for peer-review, you have to leave your ego at the door. When my work gets criticized, I’ve learned to not take it personally. The candor and perspective you get from others can make the project so much greater than it was before.”

And that’s another big take-away: there are no “finished” products, only versions.

Continuing this line of thought, we began discussing “Brain Trusts” – a term used to refer to a group of individuals, generally of vastly different roles, who come together to address a specific problem, brainstorm ideas, and offer feedback to the project lead.

In our discussion, we began with a scenario an Inflowee was working through: “How do we develop meaningful culture for our teams out in the field when we have limited direct exposure to their lives? How do we make sure the things we do are important to them and not what we think are important?”

From here, the conversation got interesting because, in a sense, we became a Brain Trust. Joe H., one of our Engineers who was recently stationed in Kuwait, offered his perspective:

“Our internal [communications] are a great starting point. Having those casual conversations is what allows us to get to know each other better.” Joe then went a level deeper:

“If you understand what motivates a person, you’ll understand what they do and why they do it. Having open communication like this will bridge the gap.” From there, the whole team began to chip in – suggestions for how we bridge that gap: video chats, talking about interests, presentations over subjects we’re experts in, and even Inflowee profile “baseball cards.”

Regardless of the idea – feasible or not – we engaged in exactly what we read: a Brain Trust where ideas flowed, concepts were explored, and problems were tackled. It’s about taking the time to stop, recognize the problem, and work to overcome it as a team.

For the whole conversation, listen to the audio from our meeting here.

There is so much more to be said about Creativity, Inc. and our discussion over it. Our goal, as is with each book we read, is to improve the way we work, broaden the way we think, and ultimately, build a company and culture that genuinely and actively “Makes it Matter.”

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here

Innovator's DNA

Author: Mason C., Inflow Technical Writer

“Young man! When I say clean your room, I mean clean it NOW!”

“Why?” A common response, at the time, for a four-year-old me to my mother’s command.

“Because I said so!” An equally common response to my inquiry. Now, whether it was because that reasoning was sufficient for my curious mind or that I knew there would be DIRE consequences for disobeying my mother, I would ultimately comply.

To be fair, I wasn’t really interested as to why I had to do it – I just wanted to annoy my mother – but the point is I took her “reasoning” on merit. I didn’t question her further. I didn’t ask if there was a better method of cleaning the room, or if there was a way to prevent a room from even getting dirty in the first place. To my knowledge, rooms got messy and then you have to clean them. That’s the cycle of life. “That’s just how it is.”

Is it, though? How many of us actually pause to evaluate whether what we’re doing is the most effective way? How many of us, instead, “do” because it’s “what’s been done?” Look at history, and even our present day, and you’ll see people like Gandhi, whose revolutionary and peaceful ideals began to transform and break down the social barriers in India; Steve Jobs, whose innovations within portable audio players not only changed the way in which we listen to music but also how we purchase it; or Larry Page and Sergey Brin who, together, have provided a means to access the world’s collective knowledge through Google.

Clearly these individuals were not satisfied by the status quo. If you look at each one of them (and many more throughout all industries) you’ll realize that each one has something in common – something that, because of this, has led them to develop products, services, or ideas that have revolutionized either their business market or even the world. They’re all Innovators.

This quarter, for our Inflow Book Club, we read “The Innovator’s DNA.” It’s the study on some of the world’s greatest innovators and the make-up of their proverbial DNA: Associating, Questioning, Observing, Networking, and Experimenting. Through this book, we discovered each of the five discovery skills, along with the techniques to implement and practice them each day in our work place.

The Five Discovery Skills: Questioning, Observing, Networking, Experimenting, and Associating

The Five Discovery Skills: Questioning, Observing, Networking, Experimenting, and Associating

Associating

Associating is the ability to make surprising connections across areas of knowledge, industries, and even geographies. It’s through the culmination of the other four skills that makes associating possible. The authors often refer to “T-shaped” individuals: those who hold a deep well of knowledge in one area but actively acquire knowledge across different subjects. An example of this is Pierre Omidyar, founder of eBay. He was consulting for a company who was having issues getting fresh produce to the consumers (about 1/3 of it would spoil before reaching them). Omidyar asked, “What about the post office? Doesn’t the post office go to everybody’s house six times a week? Why don’t we just mail the head of lettuce?” He used his wellspring of knowledge of shipping from eBay and applied it to another industry – this is associating. Grant it, Omidyar did say that this was probably a bad idea, but it’s an example of using our knowledge from other industries and applying to the problem at hand.

Besides, we now have things like Amazon Pantry, Shipt, and Instacart, which allow me to do just that. I can buy all my groceries without ever going to the grocery store and have it show up at my front door.

Joe H., our Electrical Engineer had a great suggestion on increasing our ability to associate:

Questioning

Whereas association is the culmination of the other four discovery skills, questioning is the creative catalyst that instigates the innovative process; it challenges the status quo and is the key to generating powerful solutions.

As children, we seem to question everything. As we grow, however, whether it’s because we become afraid of looking dumb or that, through school, we’re always expected to have an answer, we seem to stop asking questions and instead are content with the way things are. Emily B., our Human Interest Manager, brought up a good point about our industry in particular:

That’s not just the Government Contracting industry either – there is a serious lack of questioning throughout all industries and even in our daily lives. To be fair, we’re creatures of habit; we get in our routines, are taught to do things in a certain way, and we get comfortable in the status quo of society. Everything seems fine – optimal even – but without taking the time to start asking “why,” we can never break through our self-created walls and explore the unexplored. Elise H. and Nikho R., made comments in this regard:

Questioning is the creative catalyst from which all innovation begins to flow. Every successful innovator was able to create something new because they, as Ratan Tata (creator of the cheapest car, the Tata Nano) stated, they “Question[ed] the unquestionable.”

Observing

Déjà vu. We’ve all experienced this sensation before – the sensation that we’ve done the very thing before – but Déjà vu is always passive. It just happens without you actively seeking it. Vuja de, on the other hand, is the opposite – it’s the sensation of seeing something for the first time, despite having seen it many times before. Vuja de is an action. You can’t come across it by accident, you have to be observing: watching, intently, the world around you.

Ratan Tata, chairman at Ratan Group, experienced this feeling one rainy day in India. He had seen families riding scooters all throughout his life, but on this particular day, his heart sank as he watched a father and his family riding, his eldest son standing behind the handlebars, his wife sitting sidesaddle behind him, holding a younger child in her lap, soaked by the rain. Ratan Tata asked himself, “Why can’t this family own a car and avoid the rain?” Because of this experience, he then developed the cheapest car in the world, providing safer transportation for the middle class of India. Without this experience, the car would simply not exist.

But it requires actively looking. Peter Leschak wrote once, “All of us are watchers – of television, of time clocks, of traffic on the freeway – but few are observers. Everyone is looking, not many are seeing.” The point is, there is inspiration all around us: new ideas, new experiences, new sights. All we have to do is start watching it all and innovation will follow suit.

Networking

If you’re in a professional field, you know what networking is. What you probably don’t know is that there are two types of networking: Delivery-Driven Networking and Discovery-Driven Networking. Delivery-driven networking is what you and I do, typically. We seek out those who are like us or in influential positions in order to access resources, sell ourselves or the company, and further our career. A Discovery-driven networker, on the other hand, seeks people who are diverse, with different backgrounds, in order to learn new, surprising things, gain different perspectives, and test ideas.

What’s so powerful about this type of networking is the ability to expand our understanding into realms we’ve previously knew little about or nothing at all. The pooled wealth of mankind’s knowledge is immense – people have experienced things, overcome struggles, laughed and cried, spent years in study or honing their craft – by tapping into their pool of knowledge, you grow your own and gain valuable insight into another person’s world.

A practical takeaway from “idea” networking is when you’re faced with a problem, ask yourself, “Who else has faced a problem like this before?” Then go talk to them. Another person’s experience could very well be your solution.

Experimenting

While the other four discover skills are good for gathering information about the past and present, experimenting is what provides you with the data of what might work best in the future. There are several types of experimenting:

  • Exploration: the trying of new experiences despite their being little to no direct connection between the activity and the deliverable at hand.
  • Deconstruction: the taking apart of products, processes, and ideas to better understand how they work, often leading to new ideas for how things might work better.
  • Prototyping: the testing of a product or idea through a short run pilot or small scale prototype to gain valuable data that aids in better understanding the marketability and potential shortcomings of the product.

 It all comes down to taking risks. As the Mythbusters religiously say, “Failure is always an option,” and with experimenting, failure is, in fact, an inevitability. However, it comes down to what you do with that failure. So often, we look at failure as, well, just that: a failure; a waste of time. Instead, experimenting, and ultimately failure, shouldn’t been seen as mistakes, but rather opportunities to learn and apply that knowledge to the next experiment, because, as the author states, “experimenting is often the only way to generate the data required to ultimately achieve success.”

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Each discovery skill is pertinent for an innovator’s success and plays a pivotal role in their “DNA”. This DNA, unlike our physical DNA, is not bound by genetics. Sure, some people are naturally more curious than others or have a knack to go out and experience new things or talk with different people, but when it comes to creativity, “nurture trumps nature as far as creativity goes.” These are skills that have to be actively exercised, or else they become weak.

But that’s the beauty of it. Innovation isn’t some guy being in the right place at the right time. It’s not about having some “gift” from birth or knowing the right people to get you into the doors we mortals dream about stepping through. No, innovation resides in all hands; it is only restricted by our willingness to explore, question, and then do.

Begin to explore your work place, observe your coworkers and customers, and question everything. If you come across something, a process or product, that could be improved, take the steps to do it. Yes, it’s scary – innovation is filled with uncertainty, but ask yourself, “If not me, who? If not now, when?”

“Care about something enough to do something about it.” – Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Inc. said. We possess the ability to change the world around us, whether that’s by affecting our immediate coworkers, improving the company as a whole, or, potentially, impacting the whole world. We won’t always know what to do, how to do it, or who to involve to make it happen, but perhaps the greatest piece of advice was offered by the founder of Skype, Niklas Zennström:

“Screw it, let’s do it.”

So let’s do it – let’s make the world a better place.

 

Learn more about "The Innovator's DNA" here.

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here

Conversational Capacity

Author: Mason C., Inflow Technical Writer

I found myself doing that “thing” again. You know – when you sit there listening to somebody else talk about an important subject matter. You listen to them go on and on about their views and all you can do is watch in horror as you nod your head in agreement when your insides are screaming, “I COMPLETELY DISAGREE!” Even though I wanted to have an open dialogue that weighed two opposing thoughts (leaving both parties with a broader understanding of each other) I instead sat there, frozen by my instinctual need to “play it safe.”

The bad news is this tendency doesn’t just affect our personal, day-to-day conversations, we bring these bad habits to work as well. The good news is there are skills out there to help avoid scenarios like these, which we learned about in Inflow’s Book Club while reading “Conversational Capacity” by Craig Weber. 

What is “Conversational Capacity”?

“In the grand sweep of human history, our modern organizations are a recent invention and we’ve still got a lot to learn about putting teams together that really work when it counts.” – Craig Weber

“Conversational Capacity” speaks on the different skills that can be applied to have “open, balanced, and non-defensive dialogues in the workplace.” We’ve all been in meetings or conversations that have either turned into shouting contests or, in the pursuit to please others, we feign agreement instead of voicing our thoughts. Nikho made a really good parallel between teams in the business place and football teams.

What Nikho is saying is that Fantasy Football would NEVER work! (Not initially anyway.) Even with your free pick of all the top players, it’s not the skill alone that makes a great team, it’s their ability to communicate and work together toward a common goal.

In a perfect world, our ability to work well together would be directly proportional to our skills within a certain field. Since this is neither Fantasy Football, nor is it a perfect world, we have to adapt and learn to communicate together. This is where Craig Weber brings in the “Sweet Spot”. The “Sweet Spot” is the area where a team can have an “open, balanced, non-defensive dialogue about tough subjects in challenging situations.”

Many of us, however fall mostly into one of two categories: we either minimize, or win within a conversation.

Minimizers may be too afraid of conflict to add their point of view to a conversation, even if that point is of significant value. On the other side of the spectrum, you have Winners who care more about their point-of-view being “right” and accepted by the group, rather than what is best for everyone and the company. For example, that annoying family member who is adamant on making sure you know at EVERY family gathering that his political views are, IN FACT, right. This is a perfect example of a conversation where a minimizer and a winner are involved. The end result is always the same; the Minimizer walks away frustrated while the Winner gets a sense of self-justification of his or her views – yet nothing has been accomplished. Instead, both parties need to open themselves to all possibilities and come to the best decision.

It’s the people who see things differently that provide the most value.” – Craig Weber

This is really what we’re striving to accomplish: getting to that “sweet spot” where, as Kellie stated it: 

At Inflow, we want to open the floor to all ideas, so this summer we are hosting our first annual Inflow Idea Hackathon. Our goal is to make a difference in our industry and the way we make that happen is by changing the way we communicate with each other.

What’s so great about each Inflowee is that we each come from different walks of life with unique experiences to draw upon and share. That also means we perceive problems differently, and therefore what we see as the “right” solution may not always be the “best” solution. Fortunately, balanced dialogue isn’t about consensus as Craig Weber points out:

Balanced dialogue isn't about everyone on the team reaching the same decision, it is about helping the person making the decision make the best one possible.”

– Craig Weber

Being purpose driven is really the point Brittany makes. Each meeting should have a clear purpose, and the question Craig poses is, “What should change [within the organization] because of the meeting?” With a clear purpose, the team can focus on that objective as opposed to “who’s right” and “who’s wrong?”    

Truthfully, it’s about building meaningful relationships. Whether it be between Inflowees or with our customers, we’re striving to break down the barriers that often hold other companies back.

Yes, work is your practice arena for better communication and problem solving! Next time you’re in a meeting, try out the “Conversational Capacity” skills. Practice using more candor or curiosity. Test your ideas like hypotheses and inquire about other’s points of view when they fail to expound on their positions. There’s only one way to improve our ability, and that’s through practice. For example, some of us are minimizers (yes, you can stop pointing at me). It is very difficult and awkward for us to be candid. To state our perspectives clearly and concisely means that we have to put aside our fear of “rocking the boat” for the sake of bringing insight within a discussion. Sounds simple. Sounds easy. So often, however, our clear intentions are derailed by our “flight or fight” reaction. The only way to improve, as Joe states, is to discipline ourselves.

What we learn is it’s not about the skills alone. It’s not about forcing our own personal agenda on others. It’s about changing our mindset. Seeing the problem in a larger spectrum that transcends our singular finite understanding of “my” reality. It goes beyond just being candid in our approach, curious about other’s suggestions, or testing all possible solutions. It’s about being genuinely humble, purpose driven (not ego driven), so that in the end we’re all successful.

Next time you’re in a meeting, give these skills a shot. With a little practice and patience, you just might be surprised by how much more productive your meetings become. 

And in case you don’t fully grasp how detrimental it can be to have a poor conversational capacity, here’s my example:

George Lucas (Winner) + the whole Star Wars Production Crew (Minimizers)
=
Prequels

 

Learn more about Craig Weber's book "Conversational Capacity" and purchase the book here.

At Inflow we solve complex terror and criminal issues for the United States Government and their partners, by providing high quality and innovative solutions at the right price through the cultivation of a corporate culture dedicated to being #1 in employee and customer engagement. We Make it Matter, by putting people first! If you are interested in working for Inflow or partnering with us on future projects, contact us here