Thursday, November 19, 2015

Project Management from a Social Sciences Perspective

- by Lauren Campbell-Kong

My background is in psychology. I only have a bachelor’s degree. I say that like it isn’t an accomplishment, but it is. Anytime an individual takes the time to pursue learning, it is an accomplishment, especially with how expensive ‘certified’ learning can be.

That’s what it is like living In the information age, where information is readily available and individuals can make millions of dollars without a degree, just like they can make 30K a year with one.

I love psychology. I have since I was young, I’ve always been interested in how people think and why they think. On my 16th birthday my stepfather gave me a subscription to Psychology Today. I had that subscription until I went to college to study psychology.

Back then the magazine was more ‘journalistic’ in its ways. It provided research and recently published studies. I recently started receiving the magazine again. It’s not like it was… it’s much more commercial and mainstream, including cover lines like “How People See You.” That’s not the psychology I know or love. The magazine is meh… I rarely read it because when I do I get shitty about the loss of quality.

I started college at Indiana University. At the time the psychology program was ranked 2nd in the country under Stanford.

It has the oldest continuing psychology laboratory in the America, and has produced famous psychologists like B.F. Skinner and Alfred Kinsey, and (my favorite attribution) even made its way to the show Home Improvement when in the last episode of the sitcom, Jill tells Tim that she was accepted to teach psychology at Indiana University in Bloomington and the family will be moving.

The Psychology department there is still comprised of dedicated individuals. My first professor ever, like legit an 8am class on the first day of school, was a well known neuropsychologist who worked with some of the most famous ‘cases’ that psychology has ever seen. He did work with Oliver Sacks, the gentleman who was able to make psychology fun for many people and helped shine a light on how interesting this area of study can be.

The psychology department at IU has made a global impact and for a while I was a part of that. I’m saying all of this because for me, psychology runs in my blood and is a core part of who I am and how I think. But, I’m not a practicing psychologist, I’m not licensed, I don’t give counseling, basically, I’m not a ‘psychologist’.

But I am...

Adjusting to the corporate world has been difficult for me. Growing up I always pictured myself in academia, but experiencing the political rhetoric around the institution drove me from wanting to be a part of it. And I could never figure out how the churning wheel of academia gave back to those who needed their work. A core part of what I want to do with my life.

So I thought I will just take what I love and make it into what I want and how I want it

Easier said than done.

So we started a company; one where I can use my passion for psychology and where I get to define how it is used. Where PhDs aren’t required, and where the stigma around having one vs. not having one doesn’t stifle a room full of people to near choking.

This doesn’t mean we don’t learn, this doesn’t mean we don’t challenge ourselves. But it does mean we don’t judge others for what they do or do not have. Where we respect everyone who comes to the table as long as they are willing to stand for something and to maintain a curiosity about it; a curiosity that motivates innovation and acceptance. And in the process, empowers others.

This is how I found myself in the position of managing a project locally. A project where we get to better understand the psychology behind curbside recycling behavior. A project that I was tasked with managing…and had very little experience doing so.

The projects have gone well. It’s been an intense learning curve for myself. It is through these projects that I have learned what my strengths and weaknesses are. What I find important in a project and what I need to make a priority.

What I find most important is the relationships that I build with people; the networking, the discussions, the follow-thru.

What I need to make a priority is organization, preparation, and execution of the project.

The big picture if you will

Project management is no easy task. Nor is it something that I ever studied, experienced (outside of volunteer projects), or thought about in a ‘professional’ way. But I’m learning. And I’m learning about not being embarrassed to learn. I’ve joined some online courses, through Coursera, and I’ve enjoyed the discourse so far.

I notice that many projects provided as examples are engineering and medical projects. Very few discuss dealing with people and how to create a system of human beings vs. machines.

This is where I hope to bridge the gap.
As we move into the age of Social Sciences, many projects are going to involve the building of people not just monuments. I hope to be at the forefront of what can be done with a small bachelor’s degree, some passion, and a little bit of learning from an online platform. 

The Psychology I love is curious about the human condition. Why we are how we are. Each of us is unique and we each offer something important in this world.

The Psychology I pursue is about how to bring that out in people and how to use that momentum to create positive impact that lasts longer than any constructed monument.

And that’s going to take one hell of a project manager….

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What Is Process Innovation Anyway?

It struck me today that not many people know what process innovation really is. No wonder when I tell people about my company, the raised eyebrows signal many suspicions that I’m simply selling snake oil.

But rest assured that process innovation is a real thing. It's also a very productive and useful thing. It’s very different from the dominant form of product-based business innovations (*ah hem, Apple*) that drives transactions we know today. Process based innovation is not well studied; it is more complex, slow to be seen because it attempts at holistic results, and it does not attract capital attention because it is not single focused on capital returns.

Only mature firms currently apply process based approach to refine their product based businesses staying current with market trends (Toyota - Six Sigma - set off a whole wave of this in many industry and sectors). Smaller firms do not have the patience nor do they see the value in the process based approach yet. This is because we still have some very antiquated worldviews about how market innovates, creates value, and how we make productive gains in our global economies.

There is no time like the present to challenge the status quo, is there? First, understand that process based ventures means the focus is on the existence of the market as an ecosystem. The market is presumed important. The default method calls for defining the market, then measuring and analyzing to design market strategies. Process based approach also involves ongoing updates of variability to control for market improvements. Process based ventures therefore adopt the deliberate slow approach to solving uniquely localized problems with ongoing "agile" improvement efforts.

Product based ventures on the other hand focus on the level of demand and profitability, rather than the existence of the market. The market is not presumed to be all too important. Innovation is therefore for the pure sake of innovation a new - hence our patent laws has to define novelty and usefulness criteria to award these nonsensical IP exclusivity rights. Ranting aside, it is important to recognize product based ventures by default are preoccupied with disguising the "product" and ignore the market. While process based ventures generally tailored and localized to market and solution needs, product based ventures standardize components to incumbent products and enter multiple markets in plug-n-play manner. The goal is not the ecosystem, but of the successful product itself.

So who is really selling snake oil here?

Process based innovation ventures are not popular because they have traditionally been linked to long learning curves, painful consensus building exercises, tedious documentations for measuring impacts, and ongoing management of data validation to control for condition variability and need for new evolution of products in place. The process approach is also riddled with uncertainties based on the ongoing efforts to controlling variability of the system. But of course, venture capitalists do not like uncertainties nor are they known for their patience. Which is another reason why process based ventures are not popular amongst aspiring social entrepreneurs. These days, we find many of our peers thinking of the next great gadget the consumers will never want. Few are applying a process to seek localized product solutions that are needed. 

We began our social company from the opposite direction. We've been referred to as a unicorn of sort but I don’t believe in unicorns. So, we hope you walk away a little enlightened about process based ventures and why we believe in the business model. However, all things are about a balance. We caution that even the process must also be balanced against product market trends. To quote someone famous, one must be like water to move like water. So, we believe successful process ventures will exploit the generic nature of open technologies, will position themselves in upstream or midstream target markets to effect change from stakeholder upstream and return on investment downstream, and they will participate in both the market for sharing knowledge (licensing) and making products (generics). Product based ventures have had a narrower market focus historically and that has gotten us to an unsustainable consumer patterns. They have traditionally positioned downstream or midstream in their target markets for the product’s sake. Although they chose target markets with less uncertainty and assures capital investments with greater confidence, but is is important to recognize that confidence is build on an incomplete understanding of the value creation and impacts in the ecosystem where the market is presumed important. So don't be fooled by the magics of products alone. Know the process and why we are making products. Be not afraid of the magics in process innovations.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Choice To Be Free From Violence

(Ten years ago Tupac's music made my life a lot more tolerable coming back from war. Today, a kind friend reminded me of the way it is. Things will never be the same.)

I shall fear no one but my shadow
Though I walk through the valley of death
I shed no tears for the waking sorrow

Time is short

Life beats no rhythm but its own
Try as we may drowning our pain
Blood shed nowhere for the wicked weak

Long live the strong

What other choices end where they begin
Who controls the freewill to enable

- jin 2015

Happy Veterans Day TO ALL for we who made the choice to fight give you the choice to be free from it.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Intelligent Sustainable Economy

fractal fluidity
The global economy is perhaps the single largest man-made system in existence. It is more unified than language but more consistently damaging than religion. It may also be the most impactful system in place, even with all other human endeavors combined. If properly incentivized, it can steer humankind into sustained survival and take us to unimaginable places.

But currently, our economic system is a barrier to progress. It is a patch work of outdated incentive models and it is reactive. There is not sufficient transparency and is sometimes filled with meaningless metrics. Take the GDP for example; it measures national activities without regards to the benefit of those activities. Practically speaking then, a man-made disaster may even register positive on the GDP scale. So the public is extremely misinformed about what is going on in the GDP and similar data.

Our economic model does not have to be a barrier. It is also impossible to change our current economic model overnight. What must occur, as one economist (Andrew Fynn) had pointed out, is a fluid exchange system gradually introduced into redirecting the economic incentives, giving credit to where it is due and transforming market trends. To do this, as Mr. Fynn rightly suggested in his presentation to the 2015 Disruptive Innovation Festival, we would need to introduce a new “intelligent sustainable-designed hybrid economy” that is grassroots by nature and filters up best practices from implementing "Fractal Fluidity" to net balance incentives. Leaving the economics aside to the real economist, I want to add that transparency of metrics is an important factor in implementing better predictive outcomes allowing us to better steer the world towards sustainability. While Big Data has made this possible, open access and open participation, along with meritocracy and rapid incremental solution-prototype developments, should be built into the intelligent economic model. It will be a few years before we can get there. But here's to hope.

(The 2015 Disruptive Innovation Festival is ongoing from November 2 to 20th. It’s set to GMT so if you are in the United States, be sure to account for the time difference.)