Leading encourages Making. Embrace the Mess

This quick review from last Thursday should double as a good intro for what I’d like to talk story with you about today.

From The 30-70 Rule in Leading and Managing:

We have spoken of the differences between management and leadership at length (as we define them in our Managing with Aloha ‘Language of Intention’). As we think about the 30-70 Rule, let’s keep within the context of what we have most recently discussed here:

Leadership is Why and When: Leading is about acting on your good impatience for a new idea, one you fully realize will lead to change.
Dedicate 30% of your time and effort to this leading.

Management is What and How: Managing then, will be about the execution of what it takes, and how it must be done for your visionary idea to become our new reality.
Dedicate 70% of your time and effort to this managing.

“Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule”

Since writing those words, I happened upon an essay written by Paul Graham in which he talks about how those he calls “managers” and “makers” operate and create on very different schedules, a difference which can lead to frustration and conflict. I believe Graham has written what may be one of the most useful essays managers can read.

Here is a snippet which will give you the gist of what I would like us to focus on:

“There are two types of schedule, which I’ll call the manager’s schedule and the maker’s schedule. The manager’s schedule is for bosses. It’s embodied in the traditional appointment book, with each day cut into one hour intervals. You can block off several hours for a single task if you need to, but by default you change what you’re doing every hour.

When you use time that way, it’s merely a practical problem to meet with someone. Find an open slot in your schedule, book them, and you’re done.

Most powerful people are on the manager’s schedule. It’s the schedule of command. But there’s another way of using time that’s common among people who make things, like programmers and writers. They generally prefer to use time in units of half a day at least. You can’t write or program well in units of an hour. That’s barely enough time to get started.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work.

I find one meeting can sometimes affect a whole day. A meeting commonly blows at least half a day, by breaking up a morning or afternoon. But in addition there’s sometimes a cascading effect. If I know the afternoon is going to be broken up, I’m slightly less likely to start something ambitious in the morning. I know this may sound oversensitive, but if you’re a maker, think of your own case. Don’t your spirits rise at the thought of having an entire day free to work, with no appointments at all? Well, that means your spirits are correspondingly depressed when you don’t. And ambitious projects are by definition close to the limits of your capacity. A small decrease in morale is enough to kill them off.”

I find I keep thinking about this, and I would strongly encourage you to read his entire essay:
Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule

I am thinking about it because we have spent a LOT of time talking about the Alaka‘i-valued belief that leadership is supposed to create energy, not drain it, or heaven forbid, become that “small decrease in morale [which] is enough to kill [an ambitious project.]”

If we are Alaka‘i leaders, we want ambitious projects which makes stuff happen. We want that shift and that change we talked about in Leadership is Why and When where “good impatience has that sense of urgency for imagination and innovation.”

Managers should be adapting to the schedules of Makers ”“ Managers are supposed to be coaches and facilitators who get work done through optimizing the strengths and energies of other people, NOT by sabotaging them.

However Graham is right ”“ this is not the way it usually works.

I can recall my own difficult struggle from being a good manager (I thought), to understanding when I needed to back off the operational stuff, invoke GEMO, and start to lead by innovating and creating ”“ I needed to switch from obsessively organizing and controlling work flow, to inventing and embracing the messiness of that creative process.

Reading Graham’s essay, I realize I still have not thought about this maker’s schedule enough ”“ not by a long shot. Graham talks about meetings, and that serves as a universally illustrative example, they are but the tip of the iceberg.

Even great managers will seek to keep control of the calendar because they believe they are taking care of those crucial resources of time and money. However as I have tried to convince you of post after post, the energy of your people is your most precious resource, and you have to honor that first: Your makers will then get you the other two as a result.

Think of your “makers” in much bigger context than Graham’s world of programming, and programming language design.

  • Your makers are those who churn out all the production your business operates on ”“ or they don’t.
  • Your makers are those who think of new ideas which will help them embrace change and innovate ”“ or they don’t.
  • Your makers are those who make promises to your customers and go the extra mile to dazzle them ”“ or they don’t.

To all you managers out there, I know you mean well in the organizing and scheduling you do (both of which can demand a lot from you), but is your schedule actually getting in the way? Do you frame best-work process and timing in the same way that your people do?

Embrace the mess

Today I am a big fan of project work: Pilot projects in which you experiment, you play, you design, you create, you innovate, you dream, and you get down and dirty. I have finally learned how to allow them to be very messy ”“ finally! I have never been as productive, or as efficient as I am now.

Used to be I would continually spout off Stephen Covey’s 2nd Habit of Effectiveness, “Begin with the End in Mind” ”“ to excess, defining all desired outcomes. No more (that extreme wasn’t what Covey had in mind either.) In my case, the transition to much more writing helped me understand this (writing is my ‘making’) where I now feel I bloom in pilot projects. My projects still have value-aligned visions, however they also allow for unspecified outcomes ”“ and like many with a calling for management, I still consider organization and operational thinking to be among my strengths.

So what are we going to do about this?

I have already written my Management Thursday post for you: It will be about a tool I consider to be #2 in the Great Manager’s toolbox, the Weekly Review.
(Tool #1 was the Daily Five Minutes ®.)

Long time operational manager and process person that I am, I had it planned for you as a terrific follow-up to The 30-70 Rule in Leading and Managing we talked about last time ”“ and I still believe that it is. Your Weekly Review is an essential part of the Strong Week Planning habit.

However Thursday is still two days away.   Read Graham’s exceptional essay, and then think about the creative processes within your own organization first, and before I give you another WHAT and HOW management tool. We need to always start with our WHY and WHEN.

Think about those projects you have come to love or admire in your own company: When do they happen? Are you respecting the schedule of your makers so they will continue to happen — and so they will initiate more creative projects, feeling they will have the freedom to be fully immersed in them? We lead better when we have more clarity: Are you very clear about when the most creative stuff of your business occurs?

Let’s talk story.
Any thoughts to share?

For those who prefer them, here are the Talking Story copies of the links embedded in this posting:

Article originally published on Say “Alaka‘i” August 2009
Leading encourages Making. Embrace the Mess