On Routine

Note: My longtime collaborator Becky Bermont (we did Redesigning Leadership together) is going to be blogging here regularly. You can read more of her posts from back when she posted with me on the HBR blog here. -JM


One of my main takeaways from John’s work on simplicity is that simplicity and complexity need to live in balance – too much of one or the other gets boring (or overwhelming) and is generally undesirable. As John likes to point out, they need a rhythm.

For me, it is the same with routine and change; structure and adventure. I crave both. This week I had the delightful (and scary) experience of deliberately trying to craft a new routine, one that has me unbeholden to an office for the first time in my professional life (with notable exceptions for grad school and a baby). Making the transition from being someone who is part of a larger organization to being a mobile free agent is a common one in today’s creative economy, and only becoming more common, as Richard Florida writes about eloquently.

I wrestle with tensions about how much routine to have in my personal life constantly. On one hand, I love the adventure of travel, for work and play, and have found scaling it back to be one of the biggest compromises of having a family (yes, there are rewards too). On the other, I have an extremely rigid bedtime routine that never gets compromised no matter where in the world I am, or if I had an extra glass of wine. When I’m all over the place too much, I want to be home; when I’m home too much, I need to get out. It’s about the rhythm.

As I try to set up my new officeless life, one principle I’m settling on is having just enough routine and structure to feel free. Without a routine, it’s easy to get stuck in wasting time constructing each day as if it were a bespoke garment, wondering what the best pattern and location to work in are. As I try on new routines for my days, I am eager to find one that feels comfortable, if only so I can enjoy the act of breaking it.

- Becky Bermont

Fors and Againsts


At the recent WEF summit in Abu Dhabi and on the New Models of Leadership Council on which I serve, my favorite sports coach, Ralph Krueger, shared a thought that has bugged me ever since Malcolm Gladwell published that piece on the 10,000-Hour Rule. The notion of “practice makes perfect” is a good one because it reinforces another phrase I like which is “good luck is hard work.” But while the *why* of practice makes good sense, I’ve wondered about the *what* to practice that isn’t often easy to choose. Because there’s a lot of *what*s out there …

Coach Ralph shed light on the answer to this question I’ve had when he described how after a game is played, Ralph will review two types of moments during the game: Fors and Againsts. And he will set up practices to drill into the player the best response to those two types of moment so that he can embody in his players the actions to take so as to harden into … intuition: repeatable and unconscious embodied knowledge that can kick into act without thought at the decision points that matter most during a game.

Fors are opportunities the player has created for his team to score a goal. Againsts are opportunities the player has created for the OTHER team to score a goal. The beauty of Ralph’s approach is that he doesn’t care about the number of goals scored or goals lost. Ralph only cares if his players are constantly nudging opportunities in the direction of winning while nudging opportunities away from the direction of losing.

Ralph’s elegant design of team performance enhancement made me wonder if the performance evaluation process in work environments misses the point around metrics of success and failure that focus on the outcome versus the process. Better processes can more reliably deliver better results — the goal isn’t the result, but rather the quality of the skills that deliver the results. This approach of course doesn’t say that we need to ignore results; it speaks to where we want to place our emphasis when coaching the teams that we lead.

Okay, my blogging break time is up. Now back to the hockey rink for me. -JM


Social Media

I recently gave a talk on leadership to the socialmedia.org folks with the intent of learning more about social media. Sometimes I think of social media as a new word for “customer service in public” — which isn’t easy by any means. The link above, to me, represents the kind of lower-level challenges that social media folks get into on the Web. If you note, there never is a point of resolution achieved on the strand. The higher-level challenges of social media for a leader beg all kinds of new questions. I wanted to keep a link to the above URL so that’s what this post is for (a note to myself). -JM

Not Running Your Own Meeting

Recently I have been running my Cabinet meeting in a manner that is different than in the past five years. My two senior executives now sit at the head of the table, and then proceed to open and run the meeting per the agenda that we have agreed upon. In running a meeting this way, as the overall leader but not as the leader of the meeting, it affords the ability to observe your own meeting — rather than to lead it. In doing so, I find it possible to hear everyone’s positions and opinions better because I am spending less time trying to “lead to produce value” and more time on “participating to produce value.” This of course depends upon having two excellent senior leaders — like I get to have in my CAO and COO — who are thankfully open to my experiments. Because what can occur from time to time is that I do need to step in and lead the meeting as the heat turns on — but I can recede into the background just as easily as well. As I progress along this track, I’ll share more thoughts about the pros and cons of this approach. -JM

Hiroshi Ishii

I dropped by the lab of my old colleague Professor Hiroshi Ishii at the MIT Media Lab and was wowed by one of his new projects. Hiroshi is the Doug Engelbart of our generation — a true user-interface pioneer that keeps inventing the next paradigms for manipulating information remotely. But even more importantly, Hiroshi is that special kind of leader who when you say to him, “Great job, Hiroshi” he is always quick to say, “I didn’t do this. My students made it happen. I’m proud to get to work with such great students.” I know for certain that his students hold him in high regard as a truly unique, creative leader. -JM

Consumer Telepresence Solution List

I’m keeping track of a few things coming out there in telepresence and remote collaboration — it’s a pet interest of mine. Starting this log so I don’t forget what I find:

  • Perch: iPad-to-iPad portal that turns on when a face looks into the iPad.
  • Sococo: Multi-virtual-room parallel reality with lots of bells and whistles.
  • Sqwiggle: Simultaneous video-portals making it easy to interrupt each other.

I’m more than aware that face-to-face is *way* better than any of these solutions. That said, it seems like in certain situations we should be able to imagine a better future than all being in the same room together “studio style” given that we’re in this strange global interconnected world and all … at least that’s what I read on the Internet. -JM