I’ve been asked several times by prospective students why do these particular five classes comprise my corporate training? Simple, it’s all about change. Just because change is inevitable, does not mean it’s all bad. Change is how companies grow, and when not managed, change is how companies die. These five classes – Culture, Communication, First Principles Thinking, Network Analysis and Problem Solving – teach foundational skills that allow organizations to successfully manage change. With the critical need for companies to conduct digital transformations, these skills also resonate digital.
Why These Five Skills are Fundamental to Corporate Training
The five skills are intertwined and complement each other. Communication is the thread that winds through everything we do. As we socialize via our work, culture rises and increases in complexity over time and scale. During this time, change happens, so we must have a disciplined approach to finding the reason for change (first principles thinking). At the same time, we must organize our research and findings such that we can communicate what we have found to others (network analysis). Everything in a modern organization is built from the bedrock of these truths.
I was lucky to learn network analysis right at the beginning of my career. I worked at the National Security Agency and was taught how to organize my analysis of communication networks and other intelligence information. The reason was to be able to communicate information of urgency to decision makers, even the President. In subsequent training, I learned cryptanalysis, which opened my eyes to the patterns in our communication. Later, while flying satellites, I learned how data via telemetry is also a form of communication. I say it with pride and somewhat chagrin that I have gone deep and nerdy on the communication topic. Later, in preparing to start my software company, I focused much of my attention on culture. I was very influenced by Peter Drucker! Over the years, I’ve learned that not only does culture eat strategy, culture also ravenously snacks on change. And the last of these skills, first principles thinking, I learned was a name and a formal structure for something I had been taught repeatedly over the course of my career – in problem solving, ask a bunch of questions. So, as you can see, it took me a very long time to learn of these skills – over three decades! These classes are your shortcut to those skills.
Organizations do not emphasize these skills as a collective. However, each one is critical to the basic well being of a company. Just think about it, the company culture, communication, and problem solving skill sets get little attention, yet they iterate every day, all day long.
We communicate constantly. Verbally, in writing, as data, graphically we communicate. Shouldn’t we be excellent communicators? As a consultant, I cannot count how many times I heard, “Why won’t management communicate with us more?” Or, “marketing did not communicate that with us!” Better yet, all of Agile – all of it – is an attempt to organize work stream communications! We need to teach our teams that communication is not that silly sender-receiver cartoon. We don’t even send and then wait for the response in texting, and it was designed to be asynchronous! We are not trained to be body aware in our communication. We are not trained to ask questions, yet questions are critical to effective communication. We are not trained in empathy, the easiest way to simplify our communication.
Culture is the company! However, ask 30 people if they can name the cultural totems, behaviors, and attitudes of the company. You’ll get a big hot mess of answers. Then ask them how to change those items. You will be met by shrugs and confusion. However, if you can’t change culture you won’t affect meaningful change. While selling and implementing enterprise software, I realized that culture friction was almost always the reason for failure. We are pretty good at figuring out technology these days, and we are marvels at building processes and supply chains. However, we have little knowledge and even fewer organized processes to address changing and managing our culture. If culture is the company then managing the culture should be in everyone’s basic skill set.
To effect change, we are presented with what almost always looks like a problem set. Many are disguised opportunities, but the basic problem solving skills work for both. In my own life, I cannot count how many times a problem presents itself that with one tweak becomes an opportunity. Sophisticated thinkers have given us systems theory as a way to understand and solve problems. I am a systems thinker. However, systems thinking is a bit esoteric and somewhat hard to master for many. I surmise it’s because systems are mostly conceptual. On the other hand, a key tool of the systems thinking process is to build networks to describe systems. Network analysis is practical. Thus, in many ways network analysis is the shortcut to the larger world of systems thinking. Once you start to build networks and add characteristics to nodes and lines, well you are doing systems work. Not to be forgotten is how networks are graphs, the building blocks of machine learning models. By becoming a network analyst, you are also becoming a data curator, one of the hottest skills in business today.
Sam Farber, the founder of OXO, one day noticed that his wife, Betsy, who was arthritic, was having difficulty using their kitchen tools. He asked some excellent first principles questions, “Why was it hard for Betsy to use the tools,” and “What could be done to make using the tools more comfortable for people like Betsy,” and finally, “Would these design changes work for everyone?” Sam hired the design firm Smart Design, and the rest was kitchen domination. Vegetable peelers have been around for centuries with most innovation coming at the peeling end of the tool. Sam changed the economics of kitchen hand tools by concentrating on the hand part. I’ll teach you how to ask questions that lead to new perspectives. I’ll teach you to identify the lay of the land for problems and opportunities. First principles thinking is a fantastic way to see the world from powerful and ever changing perspectives.
Lastly, I must emphasize again how these skills not only make you and your team much more powerful, valuable, and empathetic knowledge workers, these skills also directly prepare you for the digital workplace. As more of us work remotely, these five skills also prepare us to thrive in the new work paradigm. Please join me in a class soon.