Optimal Ignorance: Information You Don’t Need

war room from wargames lots of screens

One of the best articles I’ve seen on FTGN for awhile.

“Optimal ignorance,” a deliberately contrarian term, “refers to the importance of knowing what it is not worth knowing. It requires great courage to implement. It is far, far easier to demand more and more information than it is to abstain from demanding it.”  In other words, seeking optimal ignorance requires deliberately going about not wasting energy or time on information that distracts from the primary inquiry. 

Optimal Ignorance: A Filter for Intent-Based Leadership Above the Tactical Level – From the Green Notebook

We have been trained to pay attention to detail and ‘check small things.’ And these days, we have the technology and the means to keep constant tabs on everything and everyone.

The information is all there and available.

To be truly effective, though, we don’t need all of that information. In fact, too much information becomes paralyzing.

It takes maturity and confidence to realize you don’t need to know. You don’t have to have input or an opinion, either.

This is especially true for senior leaders. Every time a senior leader speaks, there’s a good chance those words are going to get scribbled down into a book and transformed into an order, tasking, or inquiry.

Even a simple request for clarification can turn into a multi-day goose chase for obscure information.

Of course, buying into optimal ignorance requires a great deal of trust within an organization. One of those things that briefs well, but might be hard to implement.

Related to this is the concept of “just-in-time” information. To squeeze the most out of a day, your system needs to be optimized to not saddle you down with information you don’t need right now. It should arrive precisely when you need it.

I, for one, choose to be just in time and optimally ignorant.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Military Side Hustle

twins from cyberpunk after boxing match side hustle

Good episode for anyone interested in military side hustles. These are the projects that many in the military undertake that may complement the profession, but are not directly connected.

As Joe mentions in the podcast, someone can spend their nights and weekends doing any number of hobbies, most of which won’t cause anyone to bat an eye.

But if that hobby results in some kind of “observable” – there are some leaders who will view this as time wasted.

“Why are you spending all of your time on *that* instead of *this?*

From the episode, on the constant calls for innovation:

I think we see this a lot with calls for entrepreneurship inside the military – there are a lot of calls now for everyone to be an innovator and go disrupt, and we say that, but do we really mean it?

S3, Ep22: Mark Jacobsen – Growth Through Failure – From The Green Notebook

This reminds me of one of Colin Powell’s 13 rules:

“Be careful what you choose. You may get it.”

Leaders ask for more innovation all the time. The problem is innovation almost always means doing something a little bit different. It means being disruptive. It means coloring outside the lines.

In any large organization – especially the military – that is going to grind against the norm.

Leaders – especially those who have been steeped in the culture – need to take a deep breath and resist the urge to say “no” or “that’s not how we’ve done it before.”

Or my personal favorite: “Who told you to do that?”

Anyway, the episode is great. Especially if you are interested in pursuing your own side projects.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Observing Senior Leaders

navy leaders giving a speech in white uniforms

A short piece over at From the Green Notebook on the lessons to be learned from observing your bosses.

Behavior is magnified. Manner of speech is scrutinized. Word choice becomes paramount. Even facial expressions or nervous tics become gossip fodder for the organization’s followers. 

An eye-roll or snarky remark will be remembered forever.

Additionally, many of us have experienced the chill that comes over a room when a senior leader expresses disappointment or anger over some small transgression during a routine meeting. Hushed whispers circulate immediately following the meeting to determine what was meant by some cryptic statement or sarcastic remark.

You have likely seen the effects of a strong or weak senior leader in your organization. The entire “vibe” of a place can change based solely on the behaviors and attitudes of “the boss.”

This works in positive and negative ways.

There is a lot to learn from simple observation.

The FTGN article pairs well with this from Harvard Business Review.

It’s easy to think that building a culture is about other people’s behaviors, not how you act as a leader. But I believe that culture change begins when leaders start to model the behavior they want the organization to emulate.

Leaders Can Shape Company Culture Through Their Behaviors

We can’t just tell our organizations to “innovate” or “focus on x trait.” We have to model the behavior first. We have to demonstrate that this thing we are saying is important by doing it ourselves.

And on innovation:

If you want to be innovative, you also need to accept failure. If our associates aren’t pushing boundaries and sometimes failing along the way, we probably aren’t pushing hard enough. But by accepting and even celebrating a failed effort, we promote innovation.

This is so important. If we truly want to innovate, we have to accept, embrace, and celebrate failure. If the reward for failure is punishment or admonition, it is easier to just do things the way they’ve always been done and avoid the drama.

Image source: DVIDS

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Reflection Partners

a mountain reflecting in a lake

Another good one from FTGN.

Joe and Cassie talk about the power of reflection and what got in the way of realizing its benefits earlier in their careers. They also share the story behind their recently released book, My Green Notebook: “Know Thyself” Before Changing Jobs. 

S3,Ep12: Cassie Crosby- Reflection for Busy Leaders

What I found most interesting about this one was the story and the history between Joe and Cassie.

This is such a small profession, and the pool of folks that dare to write (or podcast, or make videos) to ‘extend their influence beyond the chain of command’ is even smaller.

I’ve written about reflection before – and this whole blog (and newsletter) is an exercise in reflection.

But it feels like “small r” reflection. What they’re going after is “big R” Reflection.

They’re attempting to crystalize the process into something you can do as you change jobs to truly capture lessons learned and use them to grow – not just pontificate and move on.

As they discuss in the episode, there were so many opportunities missed because they lacked the process. And it is only when they were sitting there at their bunks at BCAP that they started to realize it.

What if you started earlier? What if you went through the process at the end of every assignment?

That’s what they’re going for.

And while I’m not sure this was part of their intent for the episode, it’s clear to me that both Joe and Cassie are reflection partners. I’m not even sure what that is yet, but it feels like it’s something that’s not quite mentorship and not quite just friendship. Through their work and effort, they enjoy a heightened reflective experience that I don’t think many of us experience.

It’s kind of like that peer at work who ‘gets it’ the same way you do. The one who goes out with you for a long lunch where you figure it all out.

Only this is a bit more professional. It’s good to have that peer.

Anyway, I’ve still got about six months before my next job change, but I plan on running their process when I get there.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

I thought it was about performance. Turns out it’s about PIE.

pies

I used to think that if I worked hard and did the best I could wherever I was, that would be enough. Work hard, play by the rules, and you can still keep moving.

And that’s a pretty good formula.

But it has limits.

Especially when you find yourself among others who are also running the same program,

They’re all good. And they’re all working hard.

So how do you separate yourself from the herd?

PIE, of course.

Performance. Exposure. Image.

Joe and Chevy discuss the art and science of mentorship.  Chevy shares how important it is for people to find mentors and provides tips on how and where to find them. He also explains why peers can be a great source for development.  Finally, they share stories of their own journeys and the role peer and more senior mentors have played in their development.

S3,E3: Dr. Chevy Cook- The Mentorship Episode

This episode is mostly about mentorship, but I clung to this concept of PIE. I’ve never heard of it before, but it made perfect sense. Instantly.

Performance is always important, but it’s not everything. Especially as you move further and further along. You always have to show up and do the work.

Image. How do people think about you? What person are you? What are you known for?

Exposure. Who do you interact with? Or better, who do you get the opportunity to interact with?

These three things account for a lot more of success than I had considered before.

And the rest of this episode is good too!

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The Veteran Card

abstract art of tank and civilian

The From the Green Notebook podcast continues to push the boundaries, just a little bit further.

Elliot Ackerman joins the podcast to discuss a recent article he wrote for Liberties Journal titled, “Turning in My Card“. Joe and Elliot talk about the dark side of identity and how it can prevent us from personal and professional growth. While acknowledging there benefits that come with an identity, Elliot cautions us to avoid using our identities to shut down discourse and warns everyone about the dangers of becoming a slave to identity.

S3,Ep9: Elliot Ackerman- The Dark Side of Identity

In this one, Joe speaks with Elliot Ackerman about what it means to be a veteran.

The whole thing reminded me of this episode, which feels like it is from a generation ago.

Elliot talks about the disservice we do when we open up a paragraph with “As a combat veteran…”

Or “as a” ‘anything‘ really…

It robs us of having to make an argument.

We’re saying ‘believe me because I did something, once.’

This is a good episode and one that cuts deep into the bone of what it means to define yourself by service.

It even throws badges and tabs into the bin.

The conversation eventually settles into a place where they begin discussing the civil-military divide, and the odd growing apart that is happening due to one side of that coin.

Want to know more? Go back to 1997 and this article. Still the single best thing I’ve read on the civil-military divide.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The most badass Rabbi in the world

a artsy picture of the cosmos

Something a little different over at From the Green Notebook.

Rabbi Mordecai Finley sits down to talk with Joe about the power of self-reflection and how it can lead to inner well-being and help reduce conflict in our lives. He also shares lessons from decades counseling couples, earning his black belt in jujitsu, and serving in the Marine Corps following the Vietnam War.

S3,Ep7: Rabbi Mordecai Finley- Finding Inner Well-Being

Marine Corps veteran, black belt in jiu-jitsu, thoughtful sage.

I love the military-themed episodes that FTGN puts out, but I’m especially drawn to the stuff that pushes the circle outward.

Diamond Dallas Page was a prime example.

There are great things to learn from our own, and the recent podcast on “the battalion commander effect” is a good example.

But there is so much more out there.

I found myself drawn to Rabbi Mordecai’s thinking and methods. This episode is especially interesting to anyone interested in self-improvement, productivity, well-being, and self-discipline.

There were two things that stuck out to me.

The first was Rabbi Mordecai’s insistence that “you’re never too old.” He didn’t start jiu-jitsu until much later in his life when many of us are starting to pack away our physical hobbies and begin complaining about our knees. There are so many things in our lives that we cast aside as no longer possible due to our age.

Says who?

Says you, apparently.

How often do you hear lamentations from friends, family, or colleagues over not beginning some skill or hobby earlier in their lives? “

If only I had started when I was younger…” It’s never, “maybe I should start now.”

I’m just as guilty of this as others. It often takes more work and discipline to reach some of those goals (especially physical ones) as we age, but on the flip side, we have a lifetime of experience to apply to the goal. That’s something we often don’t account for. It’s not all about youth.

Take language for example. It’s “common knowledge” that children “soak up” language more effectively than adult learners. Everyone knows that, right?

Well it’s not exactly accurate. There is research that says adult learners may not be as handicapped at language learning as we think. This is because adult learners tend to understand how to better use their time in study and have learned different techniques that they can apply.

Children are just curious and willing to make mistakes. Adults are more self-concious.

The second thing that struck me was the Rabbi’s intonation to not “criticize, condemn, or complain.” This is sage wisdom that you may have seen before.

“Any fool can criticizecomplain, and condemn—and most fools do. But it takes character and self-control to be understanding and forgiving.”

Dale Carnegie, How to Win Friends and Influence People

It is tried and true and it works.

The episode is worth the listen. You will find yourself inspired.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

The Battalion Commander Effect

battalion commander on the radio in vietnam

Catching up on podcasts.

Great interview over at From the Green Notebook with COL Everett Spain on his research and paper concerning the “Battalion Commander Effect.”

Recently, U.S. Army Colonel Everett Spain coauthored an article in Parameters titled, The Battalion Commander Effect. Spain and his coauthors found that evidence suggests Army battalion commanders are a major factor in whether or not high-potential lieutenants stay in the Army.  In this episode, Joe and Everett discuss the research and dive into why self-awareness and humility are important traits for military leaders.

S3, Ep8: Everett Spain- The Battalion Commander Effect

The research and interview is focused on the effect battalion commanders have on junior officers specifically when it comes to retention. The research shows – not surprisingly, I think – that battalion commanders have a tremendous effect on junior officer retention, for a variety of reasons.

It was only recently that I actually began to fully understand how important the battalion commander is in an organization.

Yes, of course I know their role is important – but I didn’t quite realize how critical it is. I used to think that if the subordinate leaders (company commanders, first sergeants, and beyond) were good, a battalion could make up for the shortcomings of a weak BC.

Kind of, but not really.

That battalion commander represents the battalion – inside and outside the organization. It’s hard to get past that.

It wasn’t until I’ve had both good and bad battalion commanders and numerous different positions within different battalions over the course of many years to see just how critical the battalion commander is. It affects professionalism. It affects morale. It affects retention.

Have you ever been in an organization where people like to ask “Where’s the BC?”

The chief thing that I’ve learned, and what is discussed in the interview, is that the battalion commander set the culture.

There really is something special about that role – battalion commander – that I don’t think many people truly appreciate. The expectations are so high. We want that person to be the epitome of professionalism.

To inspire us and lead by example.

To put in the work but also go home at a reasonable hour.

To be an expert in their field – technically and tactically proficient.

To be in just as good shape as the much younger leaders.

To be firm and fair but also display empathy.

All that, at a time when the said leader is often in a mature family with older children.

I think about the leaders taking command now who grew up in the GWOT.

What ghosts have they accrued?

It’s a huge responsibility. I’m glad that the Army is doing more to find the right people for this position with the introduction of the Battalion Commander Assessment Program (BCAP).

One of the things that stood out to me in this episode was a short conversation on giving feedback – something Joe has discussed in the past as something he is working on (me too!). It’s hard to tell someone they are failing in an area or they are not hitting the mark in a certain domain. How can we do it more effectively?

COL Spain recommends leading off with a statement like “I care deeply about you, so I want to tell you…”

I like that. I think that works. For whatever reason, whenever I am ready to give a critique, I feel my body tense up and steel itself for a rebuttal – I get pre-defensive.

This other way – leading with care – disarms that.

There was a short aside towards the end discussing what the equivalent might be for the enlisted side – which leader in an organization has a significant effect on junior soldier retention?

I love that they hypothesize that it is the Sergeant First Class.

If we’re talking about retention – especially for first-term soldiers – it is that Sergeant First Class who will shape the impression of a junior soldier. I was fortunate to have a cadre of amazing platoon sergeants when I first joined the Army. Professional, firm, but with the right amount of empathy.

In Kuwait, just before the invasion of Iraq, my platoon sergeant scooped me up one afternoon to bring me to a tent that had a television because he knew that I was a news junkie. He knew who I was and he had an interest.

Those things stick with you.

And here I am.

Lots to think about from this episode – check it out.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Ruinous empathy, manipulative insincerity, and command performance

the anabase by xenophon
Illustration of the Anabase by Xenophon

I became a fan of the FTGN podcast last year when they launched season 2. I like it because the questions that Joe asks are usually questions I really want the answers to.

I don’t want to know about General Votel’s career highlights – I want to know how he finds time to reflect.

I don’t want to know about General McChrystal’s running routine – I want to know how he dealt with the fallout of the Rolling Stone article.

And I don’t want to know what it felt like for Diamond Dallas Page to lead a successful wrestling career – I want to know how he dealt with his life crumbling around him.

Season 3 of the podcast recently launched. I’m already a couple of episodes behind, but I just finished episode 1 with author Kim Scott.

Kim Scott is the author of Just Work: Get Sh*t Done Fast and Fair and Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and co-founder of the company Radical Candor. Kim was a CEO coach at Dropbox, Qualtrics, Twitter, and other tech companies. She was a member of the faculty at Apple University and before that led AdSense, YouTube, and DoubleClick teams at Google. Kim managed a pediatric clinic in Kosovo and started a diamond-cutting factory in Moscow. She lives with her family in Silicon Valley. (Bio courtesy of Kim’s Website)

S3, E1: Kim Scott, From The Green Notebook Podcast

I have not read the books yet, but like my ever-expanding podcast queue, they’re on my book list.

It’s a fascinating episode to lead off with. I love Joe’s podcasts with military personnel, but I prefer his episodes with folks from outside of the profession. This one was no different.

Things that stood out to me in this episode:

  • Ruinous empathy and Maniplative Insincerity. These are concepts from Scott’s book Radical Candor. And they’re the type of frames that instantly ascribe an idea you may have been thinking about but have a hard time putting a name to. We’ve hammered the importance of empathy to death in military circles over the past few years – and for good reason. It’s a skill that was missing for a long time among many military leaders. But it comes with two edges to the blade. There is such a thing as being too empathetic where it gets in the way of giving the advice or feedback that is necessary to make a person better or accomplish a given mission. Manipulative insincerity is related, but different. It’s when we heap praise on someone or something without actually caring – we’re doing it because we think it’s the right thing to do. Everyone – especially soldiers – sniff this out pretty quickly and it doesn’t actually contribute to positive outcomes.
  • Xenophon. Joe made reference to Xenophon, the ancient Greek scholar/military leader. This is only interesting to me because over the past year I’ve done some deep-dive research on Xenophon in relation to a much bigger research project I’m working on. A year ago I didn’t know who he is – now I know way too much. Once you start digging, you realize that his profiles of the “two Cyruses” is the inspiration to a wide range of thought leaders, from Machiavelli to Thomas Jefferson. The genesis of my interest in Xenophon comes from an exploration of T. E. Lawrence’s Greek education and his reference to Xenophon in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom:

There remained the psychological element to build up into an apt shape. I went to Xenophon and stole, to name it, his word diathetics, which had been the art of Cyrus before he struck.

T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom
  • The importance of handwritten notes. Joe and Kim have a short discussion on the power of handwritten notes. It feels good to be told you’re doing well, it feels great to get an email that you’re doing well (with your chain of command cc’d), and it is something special to get a handwritten note out of the blue. Remember, everything old is new again. Dale Carnegie famously writes in How to Win Friends… “Be hearty in approbation and lavish in praise.”
  • Sitting in awkward silence. When asking for feedback, state your request, and then shut your mouth. Count to six. It’s not easy. But if you can just keep quiet for a second longer, you can often compel the other to fill the silence. In our hyper-distracted world, this is a tough challenge. Try it. And practice it over time.
  • The assumption of the 20 year career. Too often when we counsel others in the military, if we are career-minded ourselves, we tend to assume the other has similar aspirations. The “20 year career” seems like the gold standard. With the termination of the 20 year retirement, this will likely change over time. The point is, aspirations of military service are not uniform. Most service-members will not stay in until retirement. It is a calling, a service, and a duty. There is more to get out of life. There is absolutely nothing wrong with meeting people where they are and helping them achieve their goals – not yours.
  • Command Performance. There’s a short discussion towards the end about the things peers and subordinates (and sometimes superiors) may do or say in front of others, and the importance of responding. This often takes the form of either controversial, subversive, or “envelope-pushing” speech/behavior. It’s often done subconciusly, I think, as a way to see how people will respond. I’ve written about this before and labeled it “command performance.” How is the PL going to react when I say or do this thing that goes against the grain? If she does nothing, then isn’t that tacit approval of the behavior/speech?

A good conversation with lots to think about.

Glad to have the podcast refreshing again in my queue and I look forward to the rest of the season!

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.

Kicking in the cold

tom coughlin's frozen face from giants packers game
Photo: Sports Illustrated

Joe talks with Lawrence Tynes, former kicker for the New York Giants.

“We never know when it’s going to be our time… you just have to do it when your time comes.”

Joe Byerly, S2, E17: Lawrence Tynes- Performing Under Pressure – From the Green Notebook

I’m a lifelong Giants fan, so I really enjoyed this one. The 2007 Giants season was magical. I don’t think there will ever be a season with more intrigue. From the goal line stand in game three against Washington (which Lawrence references), to the end of the season game against the Patriots (where the Giants played their starters out of pride), the frozen game in Green Bay where Lawrence seals the victory with a 47 yarder in OT, to the incredible throw and catch in the last moments of the SuperBowl to defeat the undefeated Patriots.

After that season, I never felt like I needed to watch another football game again.

Lots of good stuff in this episode. I especially like the discussions about “being ready” as referenced in the quote above. I’ve written about this before – you don’t always get to decide when your time will come – but if you are a leader, you have to be ready. Place kickers feel that same pressure.

I am also intrigued by the leadership of Tom Coughlin – who I have a deep admiration for. When he came to New York initially, he took a lot of flak in the media because of his strict rules. His first few seasons weren’t great, and people questioned his approach. Some players bucked against his tough, old-fashioned style.

Slowly, though, the team turned.

I loved Lawrence talking about that game in Green Bay. He missed two earlier field goals – which he admits he should have made. As a fan, I remember thinking “don’t go for the field goal” when they hit that spot in overtime. Lawrence seemed to be “off.” And have no doubt, if he would have missed that field goal, every pundit would be questioning why Tom Coughlin let that happen when it was “clear” that Lawrence wasn’t feeling it that day.

But, despite the two earlier misses, Tom trusted Lawrence. And we all know the result.

Leaders find themselves in this position all the time – going to bat for someone who others may have written off. It takes real guts to do that.

What a great story.

Enjoy these posts? Sign up for the monthly newsletter.