Talent #3: Making Better Systems

First, Break All the Rules says that great managers define talents as “recurring patterns of thought, feeling, or behavior that can be put to productive use.”

I constantly think of ways to improve a system by understanding its current operation and altering its design for desired operation.

When I want to study or critique a written work, I will frequently edit it. As I think about what each word and sentence is intended to communicate, I develop a model of what is in the author’s mind. As I reword or reorganize the writing, and bring my own understanding to bear, gaps and inaccuracies in the author’s model (at least as it is communicated) become apparent. I can then ask intelligent questions or provide constructive criticism.

This occasionally gets me into trouble. Authors sometimes want validation of their writings as is. They don’t always share my desire to test models. Sometimes, the author’s model is sound but the communication exhibits gaps and inaccuracies. When this is pointed out, some authors pooh-pooh my observations as unimportant. Sometimes, authors are heavily invested, financially or emotionally, in unsound models. When my study exposes these problems, they react with angry embarrassment.

Recently, I have been hungry to read entrepreneurs’ business plans. I expect that I can study their plans, understand their models, and bring my experience to bear in testing the soundness of their models. My expertise or relationships may help them complete, improve, or better communicate their business models. If I can use my talent in this way, then many people can benefit from the success of the business.

Finally, I constantly imagine creating elegant new systems from scratch, incorporating the principles of excellent operation, learned from figuring out how things work. For many years, I imagined writing an operating system or compiler from scratch, incorporating principles of excellent software engineering. My interest in AI may be seen as a desire to create the “ideal” computer, one with the awesome and mysterious powers of the human brain. More recently, I have been interested in building the “ideal” business from scratch, one that incorporates principles of excellent economics, management, product development, and marketing.

When I entered management, this desire for personal participation in the creative process had to be reconciled with the need to delegate to my direct reports. I quickly achieved this reconciliation by making the results I desired (a system incorporating principles of excellent operation) clear to them, and allowing them to achieve the results as they pleased. However, it was certainly challenging to accommodate aspiring leaders who had strong opinions of what constitutes excellent operation, along with hard workers looking for leadership and direction from me.

Enough introspection for a while. I’m going to try dedicating this blog to the presentation of models.

Tags: Business, Philosophy, Reading

Updated at: 11 July 2007 12:07 AM

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