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observing Preparation

by | Dec 17, 2020 | Nat King Cole, observe, Preparation

I exited Ops to go back into the Development part of Fannie, supporting a group of reusable components that were the “secret sauce” to accelerate what you now know as “apps”.  The idea is to have some proven “building blocks” of function so that you are Preparing systems by plugging pieces together, versus handcrafting special unique solutions to every problem.  It was similar to when interchangeable parts were introduced into manufacturing, and similarly, the people who knew how to do it well were REALLY expensive… 

I was not used to consultants in my career at IBM, but it was second nature here, and I had finally gotten used to it.  If everyone else is doing it, and money seems to be pretty easy, fine – I can make this work.  NeXT came out of the box with some basic components – dates, times, etc.  Most corporate applications had lots of data that were stored in relational databases.  Without getting too technical, reusable building blocks of code are like “round objects”, and databases are “square holes”.  Not impossible to make them work, but they are like speaking completely different languages.

As a hard problem, engineers at NeXT developed something that was helpful… and we now had the chance to get their lead engineer to work on our own framework.  Imagine getting John Travolta for a High School production of Grease. He was smooth, and talked a great game, and had some decent technical chops, and while the price would have been ridiculous for most companies, we pulled the trigger, and he became our lead developer.  That all happened BEFORE I took over the group… and now I was just starting to get an inkling that may or may not have been a good idea…

Nat was at the peak of his album production, and observing the growing interest in Latin music, in 1958 it was decided to make an album of Spanish-themed music.  Cole Espanol was recorded with the amazing Nelson Riddle Orchestra actually in Cuba in 1958, with some vocal dubs back in Capitol Studios in LA.  This particular song was written in Cuba in 1947, a hit there before being recorded by other artists including Doris Day and Desi Arnez… and you may remember this from Cake as Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.  He recorded 3 specific albums with a Spanish focus, and his lyrical treatment is fairly authentic, although one reviewer talked about his “thick American Accent” 😉 

At its core, leadership and management are about trust.  Do you have it in those around you, and can you grow it in others you are leading.  And as a contact sport, you have to have direct observation to understand what you need to follow up on.  The practice of consistent meetings with direct reports establishes a pattern of observation that allows you to start to piece together what is real, and what is not.  I am constantly amazed at how few leaders actually communicate this way, and then wonder why they are out of touch with what is ACTUALLY happening.  Or better, they are frustrated that what is happening is not what they want…

In this case, while he came with great accolades, my first observations started to confirm my suspicions.  When I asked for a quick overview of his framework, he responded it was “very complicated to understand”.  Check.  I am naturally suspicious of people that are impressed with themselves, and this statement did nothing to make me feel any less concerned.  I also had learned by this point to simply wait for people like this to … hang themselves.  In this case that was long enough that my bigger challenge was what to do on the other side of that… how do we recover from the lack of actual testing and design that was “assumed” to be happening. 

After having others observe closely what had been done, we slowly started to build him “out” of his role.  It was not a big cathartic ending, more getting him to focus on other things while we undid a lot of the problem components.  By that point, I also had Prepared some very trusted developers who could, in fact, step in and do that work – quickly, quietly, and mostly without others noticing. And it was fueled by their own experiences of repeated condescending conversations about our own developers being “less qualified”.  Check again – and CheckMate. Let’s just say we spoke different languages…

What are your own communication practices, and how do you observe what is ACTUALLY there, so you can Prepare the team to be ready for what is next?  I have observed many teams that are not ready when things really change quickly… like this year.  What are you Preparing for 2021, and will it include more consistent observation?  Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps.

 

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