reading: maister

Posted by anton
on Saturday, July 25, 2009

managing the professional services firm is my second book on consulting (first one being weinberg’s secrets of consulting).

i have been resisting the temptation to gobble up the whole book in one sitting. i am taking it slowly, giving myself time to think through each chapter, since every one is loaded with so much insight and relevant quotes, that at times i even get frustrated, not able to take it all in.

it has it all – from marketing to clients, finding work, to running a consulting business, motivating and growing people. i am only half-way through, but i am tempted to label it as a required reading for anyone starting in consulting.

here’s a quote from “motivational crisis” chapter:

Are professionals different from other types of workers? Do they need to be managed (and motivated) in special ways? While it is difficult to support the assertion that all professionals are different from all other workers, my work has led me to suspect that, when it comes to motivating forces, the average professional is different from the average worker in other environments: a difference based, I suspect, not on such things as educational levels, but on the psyche of those who choose professional careers.

The typical professional is apt to describe him or herself in the following way: “I am the type of person who gets bored easily. I hate doing repetitive sorts of work, and always like to seek out new challenges. Once I know I can do something, it tends not to satisfy me anymore.” This is, of course, a somewhat self-flattering description. In my experience, however, it is an accurate one. Professionals, certainly the best among them, are constantly driven to seek out the new, the unfamiliar, the challenging. The key word here is driven.

People who feel the (neurotic?) need to constantly and repeatedly test their skills against unfamiliar problems with an uncertain probability of success are frequently insecure, with a low sense of self-worth (never expressed in public), in constant need of external tests of their merits to prove (to themselves) that they still “got it.”

Many professionals, I would assert, are prime examples of what is now termed “The Impostor Syndrome”—successful people who live in constant dread that someone will, one day, tap them on the shoulder and say “We’ve found you out. You’ve been faking it all these years.”

Because of this, professionals tend to exhibit some clearly defined behavioral characteristics. They require continual challenge and personal growth to retain their interest, and are impatient when they do not receive it. They constantly ask themselves, and their superiors, “Am I still on track?” Because of their insecurity, and the ambiguity that surrounds the definition of “good work” in professional contexts, they need quick, repeated feedback on their performance to validate their efforts. They tend to be “scoreboard-oriented”: eager for visible, well-defined measures of success that can reassure them. They like to have unambiguous goals to shoot at. From their need to achieve self-respect by receiving the respect of others, it follows that professionals value both autonomy in their work and involvement in policy decisions, whether on engagements or firm-management matters. As much as these “rewards” are valued in their own right, they are valued more as signs that the organization trusts and respects them.

the essential drucker

Posted by anton
on Monday, April 13, 2009

perhaps it is my destiny to stumble into things that i should have known (and probably have known at some point, but they only became relevant now). in any case, i am happy to add drucker to my pantheon of striking bald men (already staffed with the likes of foucault, seth godin, and crowley).

i really enjoyed this updated/revised “best of” collection of drucker essays. he is not instantly quotable – i do not think he goes after the effect of catchy parables, so it is hard to pick out the pearls to quote here.

but of course, i cannot resist:

[...] the three stonecutters [...] were asked what they were doing. The first replied, “I am making a living.” The second kept on hammering while he said, “I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire county.” The third one looked up with a visionary gleam in his eyes and said, “I am building a cathedral.”

perhaps proverbs and fables are a retreat for those that cannot come up with an original wording themselves, but dammit, this is the kind of stuff that you hit people over the head with to get your idea across.

anyway, i really liked his writing on building innovation into the organization. his essays on the place of the organization in the society were also quite eye-opening, especially with respect to the non-profits. he does not go into heavy theorizing – everything is quite high-level and appears simplified, but there are a lot of good observations, especially once you read them in context. yes, some of it is a bit dated, but it is easy to make a quick mental adjustment to see the core of what he is getting at.

i’ll have to pick up a few more of his books; at this rate i will be reading f. w. taylor in no time. oh boy.

go with the flow

Posted by anton
on Monday, January 05, 2009

a damn nice quote from Eric Brechner’s I. M. Wright "Hard Code" blog regarding team dynamics, specifically about retaining people:

[...] the best way to deal with turnover is to expect it and embrace it. How? Think flow, flow, floooooooow.

Think of your team as a river instead of a lake. A lake stagnates. There’s no energy or impetus to change. The same is true of groups that stagnate. They cultivate mediocrity and complacency; they abhor risk. A river is always running and changing with lots of great energy. You want a river.

a nice metaphor and it strikes a chord – building an ideal team is one thing, but perhaps it is more about building a self-sustaining culture when individuals might be coming and going. the latter seems to be a more important goal in the long run.

refactoring quote

Posted by anton
on Tuesday, November 13, 2007

great quote from ward cunningham in response to steve mcconnell’s post on technical debt:

I would also sometimes explain refactoring to my management as follows: “We tried to add the feature to our application but found that there was no place for it. So we first made a place, and then added the feature there.”

quote on scaling up vs. scaling out

Posted by anton
on Monday, October 01, 2007

Only focusing on 50X just gives you faster Elephants, not the revolutionary new breeds of animals that can serve us better.

(by werner vogels)

first time

Posted by anton
on Sunday, September 02, 2007

a quote from marc andreessen:

most people who do great things are doing them for the first time

this is from an excellent “The Pmarca Guide to Startups” series on his blog