Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Hey... cut me some slack

One of the most influential books I have read recently (other than my own of course) is Slack by Tom DeMarco. The case Tom makes in this short and powerful book is that organizations have a nasty habit of overloading the system with so many projects and becoming so efficient that they create a situation that is so rigid that change cannot take place. The analogy Tom uses is the puzzle many of us have had at one time or other that has one less piece than a full matrix. The object of the puzzle is to use the slack in the puzzle to order the other pieces in numeric sequence. Fill in that "wasted space" and what you have is gridlock. No change is possible.

I have worked with many organizations that fundamentally suffer from lack of slack. In writing our book "Executing Your Strategy", we attempted to show the critical nature of portfolio management in the execution of strategy. The right projects done right is the theme we are looking to advance. The right projects that cannot be done right because there are too many to do any of them well is probably the most pressing problem of our time.

Small wonder however. Overload has become part of the culture. It has gotten to the point that a conversation cannot be executed for more than 60 seconds before someones instant message or cell phone or text message beeps in with an urgent interruption. Probably something critical like "did you see the YouTube on ...." Maybe another stunning development in the Brittany Spears drama.

We have to get a grip on this, folks. We cannot change our selves or our organizations if we dont create some space to do something creative and transformational. Being booked 24/7/365 is going to be the end of our ability to adapt.

Practically speaking, the only way to break the addiction to being overloaded is to examine the concept of ideation which is the combination of purpose, identity and long range intention. As we wrote in our book, from the examination of why we are here, where we are going and a deeper sense of who we are, we can generate a basis for what to do and what to not do. If we include some slack in our list of things to do, then we might just be able to accomplish something transformational.

So the thought for today is to include some slack in your time planning. Dont worry, it wont be wasted because when you create some slack, you can choose from a broad array of value added things that will come your way. Dont take my word for it... just give it a shot. This technique comes with a "past back" guarantee. If it does not work... you can have your "past back". Guaranteed.

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