Aristotle on management: Wittiness

dsc_6301_2048leThere are truckloads of books, seminars and courses on the latest and greatest management methods. But is the latest and greatest really what we need or are developments in management theory primarily making the wheels spin for the people who invent them and the institutions that rely on teaching them. Can a man that lived almost 400 years BC teach us anything that is just remotely useful in our fast-paced technological wonder-World?

I sure happen to think he can and I will try to convince you as well. Just because someone lived several hundreds years ago without the technology of today, doesn’t mean that they cannot teach us a thing or two about life. I would almost go as far as to say that exactly because they lived in a world without so much technology fighting for their attention, they will have had way more time for deep thought and contemplation. And lots of our worries, problems and annoyances are the same wine only disguised in new technological bottles.

First let me give a small introduction to who this man actually is. Some of you may have heard his name or learned about him in school, but for those of you who had as high(low) an interest as me in old historical figures during your school years I will just briefly brush up the memory a bit. Of course taken from my deep, deep knowledge and in no way read and paraphrased from Wikipedia…

Aristotle was a Greek philosopher that lived from 384 BC to 322 BC. He was a pupil of Plato (you can look him up as well – I won’t go back through all of these and play Six degrees of separation or popularized as the Kevin Bacon Game to end up linking Aristotle to Kevin Bacon).

Later he tutored Alexander the Great. He spent his life thinking, teaching and writing and in relation to this article, wrote the book The Nicomachean Ethics from which some of the following originates.

Aristotle made a list of virtues listing the mean(virtue) but also either end of the spectrum – too much and to little of each. One of these is represented in the title of this post and is what this piece will be about, namely; wittiness.

Wittiness represents the mean between the bore on one end and the buffoon at the other. But why is this important in relation to management? Yeah, let’s dive into that.

If you have had more than one boss in your working career you have probably already experienced a big difference in management styles, if you have had several years of working you will probably have seen a lot of bad bosses/leaders and a few good ones. We won’t dissect all traits of good and bad leaders, but concentrate on traits related to wittiness.

Let’s start at the buffoon end of the spectrum. Hopefully your boss haven’t been dressed up and acting like a clown, full with red curly hair, nose and large shoes – if so I don’t know what to say. But even without going full retard the buffoon stage is still relevant. Being considered a buffoon as a leader often stems from wanting to be liked and loved too much. People who are not “natural” leaders and has reached the position by seniority rather than merit and skill, will probably easier fall into this “trap”. They will try their best to be liked among their subordinates by acting like “one-of-them”, joking inappropriately in an attempt to get attention, recognition and sympathy. As we will get to, being a leader isn’t about being a total bore either, but being a buffoon inappropriately joking about just about anything, playing one of the guys simply isn’t the way to conduct yourself as a leader.

Moving on to the aforementioned bore. Where the buffoon perhaps more than anything tries to be “one of the guys/girl” the bore perhaps tries to overcompensate in the other direction. The bore sees the role of a leader as very strict and square with absolutely no personality to it. Showing any kind of emotions could be misunderstood as weakness so instead he or she puts up a total facade keeping them from relating to their subordinates in any way. The bore may or may not be qualified as a leader, but is not totally confident in the position and is very afraid to lose it. Being a total bore is probably better than being a total buffoon, but in the end it isn’t optimal either.

As with almost anything in life the sweet spot is in the middle – what Aristotle called being “witty”. With wittiness comes humor in moderation. The ability to make people smile and feel entertained without acting like a clown. Being the person that people want to sit next to at the table without them worrying about either getting totally embarrassed or bored. The kind of person you can have a light easy conversation with as well as come to with your problems and open your heart to them.

A good leader is confident in his or her own abilities and exude authority both from title and action. Not trying too much to be among equals in relation to subordinates but not trying to stand on top of a pedestal either. Being a good leader means managing and shielding your subordinates from troubles and having them do the best work they can, while relating to them in a way that they feel they can come to you if they are in trouble.

Being witty is being human.

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Accelerate global learning with XPRIZE

Heard about this project a few weeks ago. The XPRIZE organization is a non-profit organization that creates public competitions to tackle big world problems. They are usually backed by very big checks to the winners of each competition.

This specific competition is their global learning competition. In short and completely stolen of their site:

The Global Learning XPRIZE is a competition to build Open Source software to teach a child to read, write, and perform arithmetic, by themselves, without a teacher. Teams will compete to win a $15 million reward to build this revolutionary technology.

I totally love these initiatives – they really fire the entrepreneurial spirit inside of me. Taken on big world problems and really making a difference. Whether you are a entrepreneur and wants to join the competition, wants to back one of the competitions or simply share the message, you should go visit their site.

http://www.xprize.org/

Identity diversification

When you have figured out what your goal is, you should spend all your energy on reaching that goal, right? Yes and No. You should always strive to move towards it, but activities that may not seem to move you closer in the short run, may keep you from stumbling and rolling backwards in the long run. Let me explain.

If your goal is to travel around the world, you of course need some money, but what you do not need is to buy a house or get a full time job, apart from the latter being a means to get your money. You probably do not need to look for a steady relationship, unless you plan on bringing him/her along or loves to dilute all your experiences with a constant longing for your significant other and counting down the days until you are reunited.

If your goal on the other hand is to start a company or try to reach a certain position within your current one, then traveling the world for half a year may certainly not bring you any closer to that goal. A significant other may keep you sane at times, but may also limit your drive or ”hunting instinct.”

But let’s stay with the last example where you strive to build a company – that is what I can most easily relate to at the moment.

You could argue that in order to be successful you need to spend all your waking hours working on your idea. This is the goal you want to achieve – so more time and energy invested must equal more achieved – well not always. If you are building a pyramid and laying bricks, then yes – the more bricks you lay each day, the closer you will get to completion. But most endeavors are not that straight forward. Must are somewhat one step forward – then two back, two steps in the other direction – then one back etc. etc. This is where identity diversification comes into play.

If you derive all your happiness and feeling of achievement from one source, you could potentially dig yourself into a very deep hole, at times where your company are struggling. If you have given up all your leisure activities in order to spend 16 hours a day on your start-up, then you are signing up for some very dark days when things go bad – coupled with having getting rid of all your non-startup friends, then you can really sit in a depressing circle with similar friends all discussing how bad and hard you feel.

What you should do on the other hand is not only be Mr. Startup, but also be Mr. Fitness, Ms. Dancer, or whatever you may have of interests. These may seem like distractions when everything go according to plan, but once things start to get hard and against the plan they can keep you somewhat sane.

Let’s say you have had a very bad day because all the sales you tried this day failed, you feel somewhat down but still go out the door to join the weekly swim-session and your mates there. You are not that much in the mood for talking, because of this burning feeling inside of failure. Then comes the timing of your 50 meter crawl. You just propel all your anger out in each stroke and low and behold you end up beating your lifetime best, which you have tried to do all year. Now this is a good day! What before looked to be a bad day ends up being a good one. Your business-ego may have taken a beating, but as your swimming is completely un-related it does not in anyway dilute the awesome feeling of reaching a personal best.

The above could have been anything from you being a good spouse, sprinter, weightlifter or whatever. Then entire point is to not derive all your sense of worth from one source.

I nearly wrote of my gymnastics, because the cost would take a few weeks of cash away in a time where we were running on empty in my start-up and had no direct source for future income. But as I thought about it, it just made me so sad to think of all the good times and people I would miss by saying no to gymnastics. I luckily came to the conclusion that a happy and sane version of myself would out-work and out-smart a slightly depressed version of me, by way more than what I would save by saying no. The people I am around during gymnastics is by no means going to help my company – but that is somehow part of the point. It makes me relax and think of other things which makes me way more productive when I return.

Your main priority, whether you are a CEO, a father or an athlete is keeping yourself sane and feeling great – once you do that, you can perform at your best.

You evolve – so do your goals

Goals – you have got to have goals – right!? Especially in this century of self-improvement. You can’t be drifting along figuring out what to do as you go along.

I do not think goals are the big solution to all your problems or that they are the universal solution to all your problems – but a few years ago I went from no real goals to set some rather clear goals and this will be about how they have sort of evolved.

Probably 4-5 years ago I started altering my way of life in a direction I had been absolutely sure I was not going in. I had told both myself and others that I was absolutely comfortable working a good paying job without to many obligations in order to earn money I could spend in my spare time. In other words work 8 hours a day 5 times a week to enable myself to do pretty much what I wanted in my spare time.

I worked as a computer programmer at a very large company, had done so for quite a few years and made enough money, to not really worry about normal living. My day job allowed me to do the things I wanted in my spare time – and I felt great about it. Or I did not love my job, I just saw it as a means to and end. I had no aspirations to end up becoming a leader or anything that would give me more responsibility. And further more I regularly said that I had absolutely no plan on doing anything that would take away my spare time, leave me with a lot of responsibility or long days at work. I held this belief until somewhere in my mid-twenties.

Trying to look back, I am not really sure what lead me in the opposite direction. It might be a quite hard break-up with a girl that led me down a trail of self-improvement or maybe its a natural part of what, if I remember correctly is named as the ”odyssey age”. Nevertheless I started a journey that led me just about a totally 180 degrees in the opposite direction.

I started thinking about goals for the future – not as goals for my training – but for what I wanted to do with my life. I got quite inspired by stoicism, read numerous self help books and finally had what I scribbled down on a piece of paper as my goals for the next 5 years. I had originally 3 goals written on that piece of paper I always carried around with me. Within a year or two is was down to 2 goals.

I removed ”Location Independent” from my goal card. It was probably somewhat spawned from reading The 4-Hour Workweek, and resonated well with me in the beginning. I always loved traveling and still do. But what came to my realization was that I may have a fun time living in Burma, but if all my best friends and family are in back in Denmark, then I will not be happy. I have a huge network of friends from almost all periods of my life and they just meant to much for me to have location independence as a definite goal. Money and freedom to travel – YES. Location independence – not really needed.

The last two goals are totally materialistic. One is an amount I have set as a goal for yearly income and the other is a ”specific object” that I really want to try and own. But come very lately these goals were somewhat moved to the side or at least pushed down.

For the last almost 3 years I have worked on a startup together with my dad. We have developed some software that can give a totally unique overview of the combined effects of any number of drugs. The last 2 years have been full time and so far we are bootstrapped and working hard.

As you can probably imagine this is like the total opposite of what I wanted earlier in life. It is just about exactly what I said I would never want – and now I love it. The prospects are rather promising and would totally enable the fulfillment of the two goals I had left on my goal card. So no need to change them.

But then recently I had to or at least chose to do an consulting assignment to secure a little more capital for our company. No apparent diverging away from my goal on that part – but what surprised me a little, was the hourly wage they were willing to pay for my time. If I totally focused on my two goals – I could obtain them by working as a consultant – and probably with more certainty than working on my startup.

This could be a sign that I needed to reconsider my involvement in the startup – because is it really the best way to reach my goals – OR – are have my goals really evolved so much that they need to be changed once again.

Luckily for me, it is quite easy to answer. I am so certain that I want to spend all my energy and money on trying to succeed with my startup. It needs to be on the top of my goal-card. The other two goals still apply, but they are of less importance than successfully building a company from the ground up – and a company that will have a huge impact on a lot of peoples lives once successful. I therefore had a quite obvious reason to change my goals.

But everyone changes, and the goals you had yesterday may not be the most important goals for you today. Changing your goals is not giving up – you need to be very true to yourself about what your top priorities are and then move towards them. As Neil Gaiman said in his amazing commencement speech(which if you have not seen – you should!) Keep moving towards your mountain – measure your decisions up against whether they move you closer to that mountain.

Doing what you love, productivity, procrastination and social media

When you follow your dreams and work with what you love and feel really will do an impact, then you’re never hit by procrastination – right? I can’t recall how many times I have been met with that assumption. Hey it must be so awesome to work with what you love, then it probably never feels like work. You won’t ever do something that you don’t like doing or do boring tasks. Ehm – where to start…

I actually on a number of occasions, felt rather ashamed of the fact that; here I was working with what I love, going after a dream and still I found myself getting distracted by all sorts of unimportant rubbish – thereby failing to put in sufficient work on what really matters.

The most basic form of human stupidity is forgetting what we are trying to accomplish.

Procrastination. Oh yes – even though you work with what you love, the long term goal is totally in line with what you are working on, you can still be hit by procrastination. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. You just need to take steps in the right direction to try and minimize it. I don’t think you can totally avoid it, since it is so deeply rooted in human nature. But if you become aware of signs as to when you’re really procrastinating instead of getting stuff done, then you can take action to move yourself in the right direction.

There are probably very few endeavors or long term goals which you can accomplish without a lot of time spent on things you really would have preferred to be without. Especially when you are starting from scratch. There will be times when the task ahead of you will have you checking e-mail compulsively, getting coffee 4 times in an hour, updating your twitter, facebook and instagram feed all just to look for some distraction that can pull you away from the task at hand. But this is where you can separate yourself from the crowd.

Lots and lots of people are creative when they feel like it, but you are only going to become a professional if you do it when you don’t feel like it.

I recently had a rather bad streak of not really getting anything important accomplished. Just running around trying to look busy. The only thing I could really get my mind to concentrate on was reading. Having realized this, which is kind of the first step, I went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book that before has helped me regain my productivity: Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind (The 99U Book Series)

This is a little short book, filled with tips and productivity hacks by 99U. If you have followed them on their website or youtube you will recognize a lot of the people and advice given in the book. It is basically just a lot of short chapters on productivity by some of the most knowing people on the topic. I dare you to read this book without going away with something really useful. Given the short chapters it is a very good go-to book if you just need a short reminder to keep your shit together or you can sit down and read the entire book in a day, without having to be an avid speed-reader.

I have made a lot of notes and will implement them the coming weeks to get me back on track productivity wise. Short term it sure has helped. My guess is that I have got more accomplished in the last two days, that the entire last week…

But I would like to end by sharing a few notes from the book on social media. It is a chapter focusing on all the distractions fighting for our attention. All the social media platforms that makes us feel good short term, but do not bring us any closer to our long term goals. The overall advice is that we set certain times for accessing social media and ask ourselves key questions once we feel drawn towards them outside these slots:

  • Is it necessary to share this? Will it add value to my life and for other people?
  • Can I share this experience later so I can focus on living right now?
  • Am I looking for validation? Is there something I could do to validate myself?
  • Am I avoiding something I need to do instead of adressing why I don’t want to do it?
  • Am I feeling bored? Is there something else I could do to feel more purposeful and engaged in my day?
  • Am I feeling lonely? Have I created opportunities for meaningful connection in my day?
  • Am I afraid of missing out? Is the gratification of giving in to that fear worth missing out on what’s in front of me?
  • Am I overwhelming myself, trying to catch up? Can I let go of yesterdays conversation and join today’s instead?
  • Can I use this time to simply be instead of looking for something to do to fill it?
  • Do I just want to have mindless fun for a while?

All are valid question, and all can be answered with a valid yes – but the mere awareness might keep you grinding at what you’re trying to avoid, instead of giving in to a quick fix.

As said earlier, this book is filled with good little productivity hacks, focusing on anything from energy to your surroundings. It is a very good book both for reading in entirety as well as browsing a few chapters every once in a while.

Know-how vs. Patent in EU and Scandinavia

This is a collection of my notes from an event held because there is a proposal from the European Commission for a universal act of protecting know-how inside the European Union, which I thought I would share.

This shortly describes some of the points of this proposal but more so, describes how to think of know-how and thoughts on how to protect it so that the information is also covered by this act from the Commission, if it ends up being actual law. If you would like to have the slides from the presentation, just send me an email with “know-how” as subject and I will send it your way.

Just for good measure – The information is provided for informational purposes only, and should not be relied on in lieu of professional advice.

What should be considered valuable know-how?

Information that is:

  • Confidential
  • Provides an competitive advantage

Meaning any information that you wouldn’t want to see in the hands of your competitors. This could be anything from the core principles of your business model, to customer lists or whatever you might think gives you a competitive advantage.

The problem with know-how is that it is only really valuable once it is documented. If you have figured some really smart way to manufacture a component that enables you to fabricate it much cheaper than your competitor, then the only way to make everyone follow these instructions is to have them documented. This is where protection of know-how becomes very important. But it is also where low-level precautions can be very efficient.

How does “know-how” differ from patent? With patent you gain the right to commercially exploit an idea. This right is then protected for a number of years and when it runs out everyone can copy your product. If you have patented a product it is illegal to reverse engineer it and of course a competitor can’t come to market with a product that is covered by your patent – or they can – but then you can sue them. But know-how is different. If a competitor is able to for instance by reverse engineering your product, obtaining your “secret” way of fabricating that product, then this is not illegal.

The best, but also must unique example of “know-how” instead of patent is by far the recipe for Coca Cola. This recipe is not patented – if it was it would have been public several decades ago. But it is a very well  kept business- or trade secret.

In protecting “know-how”; if you want to be able to prove misconduct, you need to take steps to mark information as confidential. If you cannot prove that the people handling the information, is aware of the fact that the information is confidential, then you cannot prove misconduct. And equally; if you cannot prove that the information is confidential and not public information, then there is no misconduct.

In Sweden, where the actual law is pretty close to what is proposed from the commission, it is not enough to mark information as confidential, you need to have procedures that describes how that information is reached and how it is protected. It is for instance, not enough to have a file that is freely available in your office building marked as confidential. The information needs to be better physically protected and have procedures describing how it is handled.

An additional problem arises if you need to prove misconduct in court. Because in order to prove that the information is not freely available you can be forced to reveal the actual information and as most hearings are public – then suddenly your confidential know-how can be out in the public.

In the proposal from the commission they are trying to address this by only having the attorneys know the actual trade secrets, but how are they supposed to ignore this knowledge when advising their clients?

Then how do you go about not only protecting but also determining what to keep secret. If you are a new startup then the simple answer would be to keep as much secret as possible. Keep away from revealing anything unless it after deep consideration keeps you from advancing or increasing profits. Make secret the default. Don’t keep from telling people about your endeavour or idea, but keep the details to yourself.

First of all keep information freely between you and your co-founders; if you can’t trust them then you have got a whole lot of other problems. But when you hire people, seriously consider the information they will be working with. What’s the minimum of information they need in order to do their work efficiently. If they will be working with something that you feel border on valuable “know-how” then make the needed procedures to protect this knowledge. Mark it confidential and describe how this information is handled. Don’t go overboard, but remember that you should be able to prove misconduct and procedures describing the handling of this information. And if you are in a competitive environment always keep the thought in the back of your head: “Could the employee easily go to my competitor with this information and gain an advantage?”

Employees sharing of information on social media is a no-brainer – they shouldn’t share anything that could potentially harm your organisation. But what is actually not covered by any of these know-how or trade secret acts, is what is popularly know as big data. This could for instance mean that knowledge gained from searches on Google is not a breach. Meaning that if companies collecting all your search queries can extract your “know-how” or trade secret from them, then it is not considered illegal. Again keep this in mind and make the people handling confidential information aware of this.

Finally a few examples on which thoughts this has given me on protecting know-how in my own start-up. Not that they will all be implemented, I will need to address that once they arise, but they might inspire you.

We will at some point need to employ developers. Because I certainly do plan to escape from coding. These developers will of course need to have access to our code-base, but perhaps there will be some parts of the code that they only need to know by interface. If changes needs to be performed inside these core assemblies – perhaps I should do it or only appoint a single developer who is responsible for this “confidential” code that actually reveals valuable know-how on how we do what we do.

Always keep in mind not to share the “how” – but not be afraid to share the “what”. I am not advocating keeping everything secret in fear of everyone stealing your idea. The actual amount of ideas that have failed because someone stole it as opposed to bad execution is probably rather slim. But on the other hand don’t be ruthless and stupid. You can in most cases share the “what” without the “how”. I believe there is much synergy gained from talking to people about your idea so find a reasonable compromise.