Sunday, December 31, 2006

The New Z-List

I just took another look at the Squidoo Z-List. Ray Edwards has taken over and made a few changes. It appears Ray's answer to the negative voting frenzy is to delete any site that was voted down. In doing so, an irrelevant list has become even less relevant. Which is funny because Ray's only other Lens is The Importance of Being Relevant.

It is pretty sad that we are afraid to acknowledge that the world is not always a pretty place where everyone feels the love and behaves in a politically correct manner. This failure is nothing short of intellectual dishonesty where we are lying to everyone including ourselves.

It's all sad, very sad...

[Update: The Z-List is now back to its original state. 478 Entries, 70 with positive ratings, 14 with zero ratings and 394 with negative ratings for 82.4% with negative ratings. The Leadership Epidemic has jumped to 476, 3rd from the bottom.]

[Update 2: Ray, thanks for the update in the attached comment. The apparent manipulation of the Z-List was a software error. That makes sense. Squidoo has been going through some changes in capability, so I'll take the error at face value. I still have probelms with the voting buttons and the wisdom of the crowd/mob. I'll comment more in a later post.]

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Take care...

John


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The Lie of Selling Inputs...

In today's post at The Business Pundit, Rob May lists his Top 10 Business Post of 2006. I am particularly fond of #5 The Wisdom of Niches which covers his thoughts on experts and the wisdom of crowds.

I have to admit, I had the same revelation regarding crowds that Rob describes in his post. At first blush, the arguments presented in The Wisdom of Crowds are convincing. However, I believe this has more to do with the quality of the writing and the way the argument is presented more than it has to do with the quality, i.e. the reality of the argument. Please read Rob's post, he does an excellent job of point out why crowds are not the best source for good answers to difficult questions.

There is a point in Rob's argument I would like borrow. It addresses the foundational difference between the depth of expert knowledge and breadth of conventional wisdom. He borrowed the idea from Scott Berkun, so I hope he doesn't mind if I do the same.

The thought processes in your brain depend on two things, inputs and structure. Scouring the web all day reading a million blog posts changes your inputs. Mastering an idea and achieving a deeper level of understanding about something changes your structure. Structural changes will lead to the revolutionary ideas...

This is the basis of much of the problems I have with the products, the conventional wisdom, being sold as Leadership. The Leadership Industrial Complex takes the observable qualities, behaviors, etc... of "Great" leaders and sells them as Leadership. Inputs are being sold as structure and the crowds are buying and propagating the lie. When the lie fails to deliver the intended outcome, good people and organizations are hurt.

This is not to say that there is no value to studying great leaders. Rather, the fowl is in selling the attributes of leaders as Leadership rather than a component of the leadership development equation of study, training and practice.

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of "Thin Slicing" or the ability to gauge what is really important from a very narrow period of experience. The time and effort that experts put into learning their craft, going beyond inputs into changing structures, enables them to thin slice the area of their expertise.

In many ways I see leadership as the expert skill of building a trust relationships between people, both leaders and followers that mitigates risk within the organization. Leadership is the skill of thin slicing events in such a way as to be able to be proactive in moving the organization in the direction of success. Also, it entails the ability to be reactive in such a way as to enable improvisation that keeps the the organization on track.

Like any other expert skill, this skill is developed over time through study, training and practice. It is the result of an internalized model of what works within a given organization and operational environment with a given follower base.

Leadership ability is a synergistic activity that is greater than the sum of its part and is the result of moving past the conventional wisdom of inputs and building new structures.

What are your thoughts?

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Enjoy and Happy New Year...

John


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Friday, December 29, 2006

More Debatable Crowd Behavior

I just took another peek at the Z-List on Squidoo: 449 entries, 36 with positive votes, 10 with zero votes, 403 with negative votes. That’s 89.8% of the list with one or more negative votes; that’s just a little better than yesterday’s 93.2%. If you go look at the Z-List and scroll to the bottom, you’ll notice The Leadership Epidemic at #448 the 2nd worst on the list.

On a more interesting note, the list has a new header, the gist of which is "Stop Being So Mean, Quit Voting People Down and Play Nice." Good luck on that one; the mob has already voted.

However, the message isn’t what caught my attention. Rather, it’s the title, sub-header and first line.

The Wisdom of Crowds?
How anonymity can lead to bad
behavior...
...and what you can do about it.

If you’ve read much of anything that Seth Godin has written, you know his thoughts regarding the perils of anonymity and how it leads to bad behavior. If you didn’t know better, you would think that the Plexo, Squidoo, Z-List experiment was an attempt to show just that; anonymity leads to bad behavior.

But this started me thinking that maybe it’s not the bad behavior that matters here. For all it matters, everyone could vote the list up and the result would be the same, a worthless list full of worthless ratings.

Maybe the problem isn’t that anonymity leads to bad behavior so much as anonymity leads to worthless behavior. Better yet, maybe the measure of anonymous behavior leads to worthless metric; at least in terms of the quality of recommendations.

What are your thoughts?

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Enjoy...

John


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It Is Good to be an Authority

Today, I was poking around on Technorati and discovered that The Leadership Epidemic has moved up in the world. Where we used to be an "Any Authority" blog, i.e. slim to none, we have become "A Little Authority" blog. Life is good...

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Enjoy...

John

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Debatable Wisdom of Crowds

That the wisdom of crowds is debatable was illustrated for me today at Squidoo.

If you were to put Squidoo in a nutshell, you would get something like, "A website that shares what people think about what other people think they know."

Today, I noticed that Squidoo has introduced Plexo, a technology that enables Lens Masters to build Lenses made up of the self-selected items of other Lens Masters.

Delivering what people think about what other people think they know has never been easier.

For instance, suppose a Lens Master wanted to build a lens pointing to the greatest blogs in existence; a blog A-List of sorts. Then, suppose that a Lens Master wanted to enable other Lens Masters to add their favorite blogs to the A-List. Further, suppose that a Lens Master wanted other Lens Masters to rank the blogs in the A-List. Finally, suppose the Lens Master was Seth Godin.

The Squidoo-Plexo technology marriage enables a Lens Master to do just that. Of course, because Seth Godin is the Lens Master, it’s not an A-List, it’s a Z List.

So, what does this mean? It means we get to see how crowds work.

You see, if I were to put up a Z-List lens, perhaps calling it The Worst Stuff Out There, nobody would notice. Like a lot of you, I’m way out in the Long Tail where I’m lucky if I get 100 visitors per month. But Seth Godin, he is in the head, where he easily gets 100+ visits in an hour; probably a lot more. In other words, Seth is a crowd maker.

Combine Seth Godin’s crowd with Plexo on Squidoo and you get the Z-List; currently the Number Two lens on Squidoo, right behind Funky, Chic and Cool Laptop Bags.

If you’ve not gone over to Squidoo and looked at the Z-List, take a quick break and examine the list; pay particular attention to the ratings.

Go ahead, I’ll wait...

Okay, here is what I find amazing. The last time I looked at the Z-List, there were 339 entries. Entries 1-20 had one or more positive votes. Entries 21-22 had zero votes. Entries 23-339 had one or more negative votes. The lowest voted site, Marketing Online Live Podcast had negative fifteen (-15) votes.

Are 316 or 93.2% of the sites on the Z-List really worthy of negative vote status?

What’s going on here!?

Well, I have a thought; it’s the unbridled wisdom of the mob. Those with a vested interest in ranking high find a way to move up the list while everyone else slowly finds their way down.

By introducing Plexo into the rating equation, even if it is not part of the overall lens rating, Squidoo has cheapened their currency. Plexo turns the rating system into a game where the cost of entry is zero and anyone willing to rack up a bunch of Hotmail and Yahoo e-mail accounts can pick the winner of the Squidoo popularity contest where the rank/rating means nothing.

And, if the rating means nothing, why go there?

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Enjoy...

John


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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ten Rules of Leadership

Everyone has a list. So I thought I would compile my own list of leadership rules. The following is my first attempt at an all inclusive list of the irrefutable leadership rules; all ten of them.

  1. Leadership is not a set of attributes that can be imitated; behaviors that can be taught or a set of products that can be bought
  2. If you don’t know where you are going, how to get there or when you’ve arrived, you’re not leading
  3. Leadership does not stand alone; it is meaningless without management and work
  4. Leadership is a relationship, an individual process that can be refined over time through practice, guidance and failure
  5. Leaders can be boring, can stand still, can be quiet, can use measures, can do or be everything that everyone else says leaders can’t be or don’t do
  6. Good, even great leaders can do bad things and achieve bad outcomes
  7. Poor, even bad leaders can do good things and achieve good outcomes
  8. Leadership is difficult work
  9. If people don’t follow, you’re not leading
  10. There are more than ten rules of leadership; and your’s probably are and should be different than my list


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Enjoy...

John
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More Than Batting Averages

Today, I was looking for a quote in Michael Lewis' Moneyball. While searching around his book, I came across a different quote, something by Bill James from the 1979 Baseball Abstract.

"a hitter should be measured by his success in that which he is trying to do, and that which he is trying to do is create runs. It is startling, when you think about it, how much confusion there is about this. I find it remarkable that, in listing offense, the league will list first—meaning best—not the team with scored the most runs, but the team with the highest batting average. It should be obvious that the purpose of an offense is not to compile a high batting average."
Fortunately in baseball, success is well defined. In short, making more runs than the opposing team is success. While in the beginning of the game you may not know how many runs it will take to beat the opposing team, by the end of the game, you know who has won.

Of course, Mr James is talking about baseball players, batters in particular, but this statement started me thinking if the same kind of thinking applies to leaders and an organization’s success. If yes, what is the success by which we should measure leaders? What is a leader’s “Runs-Created” measure vs. their “batting average”?

The Leadership-Industrial Complex (LIC) would have you believe leaders should be measured by the number of willing followers or perhaps some measure of their satisfaction. Other LIC organizations would have you believe leaders should be measured by the lack of processes errors under their control. Still others would point to a leader’s renowned or charismatic persona. But all of these things run along the lines of batting averages.

Sure, you could argue that satisfied, willing followers generating few errors working for a popular boss positively contribute to an organization’s success. But, what is the contribution of these elements? More importantly, what is the correlation? Can you have one without the others and vice-versa?

Here’s my take. The things the LIC identifies with success: followers, satisfaction, persona, etc… are not causes; they are effects. Like the symptoms of a syndrome, their presence indicates the possibility that the organization is, for lack of a better word, suffering the effects of good leadership. However, the act of coercing, or at least attempting to coerce, these symptoms, the occurrence of these outcomes, does not make someone a leader. This is true if for only one reasons; it misplaces the organizations focus on these measures as opposed to the organization’s value proposition, its reason to exist.

Which brings us back to the answer to the question I started with, what is a leader’s Runs-Generated measure? Like James’ answer to baseball, my answer is simple. It should be obvious that the purpose of a leader is not to compile the soft measures espoused by the LIC. Rather, that which a leader is trying to accomplish is the delivery of the organization’s value proposition. The rest is just batting average.

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Enjoy...

John
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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why I Love This Book - Book Reviews at Squidoo

Over the past few weeks, I’ve written several book reviews on Squidoo. These are books that I’ve found helpful in developing a personal management/leadership philosophy. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

The Goal by Eliyahu M. Goldratt

Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt

Great Ideas of Operations Research by Jagjit Singh

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Freakonomics by Levitt and Dunber

I have several more reviews in the works but thought I would share these with you.

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Enjoy

John...