Software – Artistic and Innovative Expression

Creating great software is a lot like creating great music. Both require skill, practice, and technical knowledge. Both require creative thinking, collaboration and involve good judgment. Both have an end-customer. Both have a user-experience.

As software professionals we have deadlines. So do musicians. I think about being in a studio, engineer behind the console, producer on the clock, and you gotta create. Pressure… You often hear about the emotional war that takes place between band members, in many respects similar to what software teams go through. You want to add that great new riff you invented, and you search for a place to insert it but sometimes, you just have to save it for another day because it adds weight without value. Similarly, code bloat also occurs because a team member wants to make something cool happen in the code that does not add value. We often hear the words that musicians should “check their egos at the door”. This was made famous by Bob Geldof during Band Aid, the huge Ethiopian famine relief benefit. Bob insisted that the event was not about the musicians, but about helping those in need. As software professionals we can all take a page from that book. Set our egos aside. Create something of value for our customers. Celebrate the success together. Learn from our experience and make the next one even better.

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Learning to Drive – Decision Making on the Fly

When I was 16 years old I got my learner’s permit and had a part-time job. My boss was was a really great driver. After work we’d hit the road. He taught me how to do double-clutch downshifts to match the RPMs of the next lower gear before executing the downshift. He taught fundamentals like learning to drive smooth. Nothing is jerky. No clutch dumping. No whipping the wheel into a 90 degree turn. The idea was to get the best performance out of your car without damaging it, and always staying in control, but on the edge of losing it.

I learned how to take a roundabout at high speed without losing control–feathering brakes, clutch and accelerator to transfer vehicle weight in and out of turns. Downshift into the turn to transfer weight to the front wheels so that they bite (but not too much). Accelerate on the way out at the apex to transfer weight to the back wheels and get maximum acceleration out of the turn (but not too much). He taught me about the line of a turn, and how to take best advantage to maximize speed. “Remain tangential to the outside on the way in, on the inside at the apex, and back to the outside for the exit.” I’m no race car driver, not will I ever be, but what I learned has saved my life at least once. Hesitate or miscalculate and the consequences can be disastrous.

Think of the decisions that need to be made, and the skills required to execute a high-performance drive. Demanding high-performance execution without training your driver to execute and make decisions in real-time guarantees sub-optimal performance and high risk failure. Deciding when to downshift to transfer vehicle weight taking into account road conditions, tire temperature, and your vehicle’s capabilities takes practice. The driver must learn to become one with the car. You can write a driving manual, with every conceivable detail captured, but putting that manual in the hands of a novice driver and expecting the driver to deliver high-performance is naive. Think about all the implicit knowledge that influences your decision making on the road. The sound of the engine, the feel of the wheel, the sound of your tires on the road, your instrument panel. Imagine putting a top-notch driver in the passenger seat and having her tell the novice driver what to do and when. How effective would that be? Better than a driving manual, but not the best. Driving takes skill and practice. The skills are implicit. Until you experience what your car can do and how you handle it, you don’t really know how far you can push towards high performance. Put a high performance car in the hands of a novice and you can end up with a wreck.

The ability to deliver high performance execution comes from experience. It’s the applied knowledge accumulated through trials, failure, feedback, and the development of the sixth sense that aggregates the sensory inputs with one’s experience to deliver real-time, high performance decisions.

If you have read Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink, you know what I am talking about.

How are you coaching the “drivers” in your organization?

Servant Leadership – Follow-Up

I wrote a post  about Servant Leadership in January. Robert Gleenleaf put the principles of Servant Leadership to work while he was an executive at AT&T. He is credited with several books and papers on Servant Leadership. See the books section of this blog for a link to one of Robert’s books. Below are some short informative videos on Servant Leadership. Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, and several others come to mind as model Servant Leaders. What did they do that was special? You know the answers. Think about how you, as an individual, can model the characteristics of a Servant Leader.

The best leaders I have had gave me room to get my work done. They cleared the path ahead of me. They demanded excellence, but teased it out through coaching and guidance, rather than through dictum. They trusted me. They lived by principles and values, and never wavered no matter how tough the situation became. If I had an issue, I knew I could go to them for guidance and help. I always knew where they stood. Their leadership philosophy was clear and they lived it. What is your leadership philosophy? What are your principles and values? What will you do today that will start to distinguish you as a Servant Leader?
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