29 June 2010

Being Busy

In his book The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferris writes "being busy is a form of laziness." I couldn't agree more.

The busy-busy-hair-on-fire-ImsoburiedIdon'thavetimetopee style of work which masquerades as meaning in countless offices doesn't impress me at all.The fact that a person has frantically filled up all their time means they're running from thing to thing, and most likely they're not really thinking very much. As Ferris put it, being lazy is a form of mental laziness. It's an excuse to not think.

Personally, I make a point of not filling in every moment of every day. It's important to me to have quiet, unhurried moments to think, to reflect, to poke my head above the cloud of dust and get a little strategic. And when everyone around me complains (i.e. brags) about how busy they are, I don't chime in.

A lack of time isn't a sign that you're doing good things. A lack of time is actually a lack of priorities (that's Ferris again). The point isn't to be super busy - the point is to be productive. So don't tell me how full you schedule is. Show me what you actually accomplished - otherwise it's just brownian motion.

22 June 2010

The Fear Question

[NOTE: For the near future I'm aiming to post here once a week, on Tuesdays at 0700, in order to free up some time to write my next book.]

One of the questions that comes up a lot in my FIST presentations goes something like this: “Your ideas sound really different and counter-cultural. My organization simply won't / can't / doesn't reward this sort of thing. Although I agree with your recommendations, I might get criticized / fired / not promoted if I do it. So how can I do FIST in an environment that doesn’t encourage it?”

There are several variations on that question, but they all resolve around a single concept: fear. People are afraid to do something different, afraid to stand out, afraid of criticism, afraid of doing something that isn’t recognized & rewarded…

I’ve tried answering it several different ways, and I’m not quite sure I’ve ever answered it particularly well. My latest attempt goes something like this: “I’m not recommending this FIST approach because it’s easy or because I think it’ll get you promoted. It might even get you into trouble. But the impact on your career and promotability isn’t the point. If you just want to get promoted, then spend billions of dollars and manage a cast of thousands. Smile, nod and be as busy as you possibly can.As a general rule, that's what big organizations value and reward.

“On the other hand, if you want to help the warfighter and look after the interests of the taxpayer, do this FIST thing. Rapidly deliver affordable systems that are available when needed and effective when used. This approach might trigger the Corporate Immune Response… but I bet it won’t. I bet most of our negative fantasies about undesirable consequences won’t come to pass. But even if they do, there’s something profoundly cool about being punished for doing the right thing.

Bottom line: don't let fear be your primary motivator. Surely you can find a nobler purpose than maintaining your personal safety (and like I said, 99.9% of our negative fantasies wouldn't come true anyway).

15 June 2010

Here's a little video my kids did. They're sharing a few thoughts about how to do PowerPoint well. I hope you enjoy it (my wife and I even have brief cameos).

10 June 2010


I was a guest speaker at three different courses over the past three days - each time, talking about the FIST approach to system development and acquisitions. It was an exciting, exhausting experience, and I look forward to continuing the conversation with the students (& professors).

Each class had its own unique flavor - one was almost raucous, asking questions in the middle of the presentation and laughing at all the right places. Another was quiet and reserved, but still full of thoughtful, penetrating questions and observations from the students. I don't know if the difference was the result of the time of day, the professors or the students themselves... or some combination of all three.

At any rate, it was great to have a chance to spend so much time in such different classrooms. I loved it and wish I could have weeks like this more often!

03 June 2010

Taking a break

I'm going to take a break from this blog for a little while, in order to focus on writing my next book.

Who knows, I might surprise myself and post things here more often than I think I will... but I wanted to let you all know that the output here is going to be reduced and redirected towards a different project for a while.


01 June 2010

Defense Budget Trend

Fellow blogger Craig Brown posted this link in a recent comment section, but I had to bring it up to the main level. Check out this graph on USAspending.gov, which shows the size of budgets for various government agencies and departments.

First of all, it's a really well done layout. Very simple, crisp and clear. Switch between the balls, lines and bars - wow, they've got some elegant transitions between graph styles. You don't have to be a data nerd to appreciate what's going on there.

But what's really interesting is to use the slider bar at the bottom of the graph and see the change from 2000 to 2009. And by "interesting" I think I mean "horrifying." I'm going to whip this out the next time I hear someone complain that upcoming budget years are going to be "grim" or "difficult" or "tight." Um, no, they're really not.

The List View is nice if you're a serious data nerd and want to see the actual numbers. As for me, the Graph View captures it perfectly well...