Frank Blake On Leadership Vision Or The Inverted Pyramid

Andy Stanley’s Leadership podcast is the best place on the Web to find consistent advice and teaching about leadership from leaders.

While listening to today’s episode—a replay of a conversation with retired CEO/chairman of Home Depot, Frank Blake, I had a flashback to a time when I had a vice president role with a small automation equipment designer and builder. Everyone was gone at the end of the day. I walked from the offices to the shop floor noticing all the machines sitting there in various stages of completion. A feeling of responsibility and burden infused me. I felt responsibility for employees’ jobs and customers’ successes. I thought, I need to get this right.

This reflects the feeling expressed by Blake about the Inverted Pyramid. In place of the usual organization structure pictured by a pyramid with customers (or employees) at the bottom and successive layers building up to the CEO sitting at the top. Blake inverted it at Home Depot. The pyramid starts with the point at the bottom inhabited by the CEO. Then the layers build to the employees and then the customers at the top. One interpretation of the graphic is that the CEO supports everyone, not the other way around.

Early in my product development training mentors drilled into me customer first. When we developed a new feature or option or product it was in response to solving a customer need. We didn’t do it because there was a cool new technology we could force through the system. “We do this technology because the customer…”

Thought of the day, whom do you support?

Intellectual Discipline

The man sat next to me at lunch at the conference I attended last month in Florida. He is a reliability engineer. His professional life has a foundation built on numbers. He began talking about Covid and how he and his wife had both contracted a bad case of the virus. She took a medication recommended by few doctors. She did recover. I’m not talking about medicine here.

He quoted statistics from India to support their decision.

I was surprised. He has far more training in numbers than I, yet he quoted statistics that had a spurious rigor. If he used numbers like that in his plant, some very expensive equipment would be broken.

We all get suckered in by statistics that are incomplete or misleading. And we all can miss those numbers that tell us something important. We should stop and consider when we see numbers thrown around in the news or across the dining table.

Soon after my conversation, I ran across The Data Detective: Ten Easy Rules to Make Sense of Statistics by Tim Harford. This book does not require a background in math. It is readable. Packed with stories about people who famously got the numbers wrong and those who got them right. This book will help you not be fooled by every number you see flashed at you.

I suppose I should hint at the ten rules.

  • Stop and notice our emotional reactions
  • Combine the “bird’s eye” statistical perspective with the “worm’s-eye” view from personal experience
  • Look at labels on the data, do we understand what’s really described
  • Look for comparisons and context
  • Look behind the statistics at where they come from
  • Ask what is missing
  • Ask tough questions about algorithms and the big datasets
  • Pay more attention to the bedrock of official statistics
  • Look under the surface of any beautiful chart or graph
  • Keep an open mind

And finally, Harford’s “golden rule”—a good trait to develop for life in general—Be curious.

Artificial Intelligence—AI Now and the Future

I learn so much from podcasts—both audio essays such as Seth Godin’s and conversations. One of my favorites is from Tim Ferriss. His latest is a discussion with former Google CEO and Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. Schmidt is out with a new book, The Age of AI: And Our Human Future, co-written with Dr. Henry Kissinger (at 98-years-old!) and Daniel Huttenlocher.

If you are interested/concerned/desiring to go beyond hype about AI, I highly recommend the time investment to listen to this podcast. I have not read the book, yet, but I’m about to click the order link at Bookshop.org (supports local independent booksellers).

Schmidt paints a number of scenarios. But here is a tidbit to whet your appetite:

Just as math was to explaining physics; so AI will be to explaining biology.

Four For The Road

Happy Monday! Here are four pieces of wisdom for living that I’ve been thinking about over the weekend.

Experiment. Life is an experiment. You try something. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. When it doesn’t, then you try something else. Always.

Invent. Look for new ways to do something. Invent a tool, a pattern, a lifestyle. Go on a new path beyond the same old experiences.

New Ideas. One way to train your brain to come up with new ideas is the 20 things method. Sit with a page of paper and a pen. Write a question at the top of the page that you are trying to solve or figure out. Write an idea. Write another, maybe just playing around with the words. After about 15 answers, you’ll notice the ideas are becoming more creative. By 20, you will have the solution you are seeking.

If you missed writing class in school, that will be much to your detriment. This is a variation of the list method (a thought which just occurred to me). You begin with an idea and begin to write an essay. By the time you have finished the essay, you will have ideas that you never imagined when you began. It happens with me almost every day that I sit down to write this blog.

Practice these daily.

Ask better questions. This got me into trouble as a student. Some people just seemed to have an ability to take things on faith. I still remember chemistry class in high school, but the same held through in almost every class I took even throughout university. Some people accepted whatever the teacher said, remembered it, wrote it on tests. They were the A students. I always asked, how do they know that? I puzzled things out. I didn’t care about the test. It was superfluous. I was a B student.

I feel I lack on asking better questions many times. That is my personal challenge. What is yours?

Smooth is Fast

Time out for a personal development moment.

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

Navy SEAL Saying

I heard a story of a guy who got into fitness, bought a bicycle, and began riding a route as fast as he could. One day he was somewhat more tired and rode at a little slower, yet more comfortable pace. His time for that route went from 43 minutes to 45 minutes.

I’ve noticed over the time of my life that I’ve stopped trying to do everything in a great rush. When driving I consciously stop and pause at stop signs (unlike the guy I saw this morning who blew through a stop sign making a right turn in front of oncoming traffic not far away–guess he trusted the other guy to slow down). Yes, I still commonly drive at speed limit + 5, but I no longer tempt more speeding tickets like 30 years ago.

Take a moment several times a day to pause, breathe, relax, refocus, then return to work. And accomplish more. 

This season of the year finds me with the pressure of finding referees for soccer matches. This year has been especially hard. Before the season even began, I lost 20% of the officials on my list due to health, retirement, jobs, or moving away. I gained one person. Not a good long-term trend.

I could sit there and stare at my screen that said 90+ games lacking a referee and panic. Or, I could just breathe and tackle them one at a time. Solve this one and move to the next.

Slow is smooth; smooth is fast.

More gets accomplished; my attitude remains calm.

Try it, you’ll like it.

Opportunity for Growth Along With Entertainment

This may seem somewhat off target, but not really. Personal growth and development are more than a hobby. I’ve taught classes, mentored, encouraged for my entire adult life. Thought in this era of divisiveness and fear and anger, this timely message and recommendation might help someone.

Ancient advice and modern spiritual explorers teach us to be self -aware and to be careful of being ruled by our passions.

This can be as mild as foolishly spending money on unnecessary things. Or choosing to spend time with the wrong people.

It can be as bad as letting fear, lust, anger, greed, pride, and the rest rule our lives.

On the other hand, a coldly rational outlook following the rules and inhibiting relationship fuels a life alone and unsatisfying.

A TV series from Belgium explores some of these themes with deep probing and gentle understanding. Professor T features the struggles of a genius criminologist professor who assists a former student now detective inspector in solving murders. Along the way the writers probe the struggles and growth of perhaps 10 characters.

The acting is superb. The soundtrack outstanding. The spoken language is Flemish (with some French—it is Belgium, so both languages are spoken). My wife and I found it on Amazon Prime. I realize there are people reading this in countries where you may not be able to find this program. But if you can, it’s worth it. It was recorded in 2015, 2016, and 2018. Three seasons of 13 episodes. We’ve watched it over the past month. I’m going to miss the characters.

There is an English version, as in performed in England in English. We have seen this one. Not as good. There are also versions in German and French. We have not seen those. Watch the Belgian one. I cried at the end.

Overcoming passions keys a sound life. Unless your heart is in the right condition, overcoming passions will leave you cold.