Inputs from the Field

Mushers run their teams and manage their sled on a complex, real-time and mostly harsh terrain.  Information is vital to a successful, safe race.  The key to winning (or even surviving) is knowing where and how to source information and knowing what information is potentially useful.

As we’ve said in the past, the dogsled team is an obvious source of information — their behavior will tell you about the quality of the terrain, physical hazards, the condition of other team mates and possible issues with the sled.   Competing Mushers are also a good possible source of information, but, you must be careful and aware of when you are being deliberately misled into dangerous terrain, or when the competing Musher is otherwise gaming you.

In business, customers are a critical source of information about your offering, your competitors’ offerings, the marketplace, the economy.  To illustrate my point, I’d like to share a personal information sourcing story with you.

No doubt most everyone would acknowledge Apple to be a clever marketing company.  A popular myth about Apple products is that that they are bullet-proof.  Apple goes to great pains to provide customers with service and product replacement if something breaks.  But what if the product just doesn’t work as expected?

My information story begins when I recently had problems with my iPhone.  It stopped synching with my iMac desktop and naturally, I was pretty mystified.  I turned to Google and after several natural language type searches (“my iPhone has stopped synching calendar events with my iMac” or something of that order), I found a link to a Mac help blog where someone had posed the same problem.  A very generous and helpful techie had proposed a Unix-level command in the terminal application to reset the synching database.  It worked, first time!

Now this is not an ad for Google or for Apple, nor does it in any way illustrate my technical competence!  My story in a simple way illustrates how the Internet becomes a metaphor for the abundance of information available to managers if they know to look for it, know where to look for it, know how to use said information, and know how to discern if the information is appropriate and useful.    My iPhone search found a dialog between two interested parties that I observed and learned from, which led me to my solution.

My iPhone issue got me to thinking about a trap leaders often fall into when they manage communications in business.   As business enterprises grow in size and complexity, more and more refinement is put into how Mushers – senior executive managers – receive information.  Because they sit at the “top” of the enterprise and all the enterprise’s complexity rolls up to them, methods are devised to “package” information in the form of management reports, dashboards, and other filtering techniques to give executives a sterilized view of the business.  This is usually done in the spirit of “management by exception”.

While this information consumption strategy makes sense for some aspects of the enterprise, it would be unwise for senior leaders to lose interest in, or lack the ability to pick up the phone and call a customer.  Or have lunch with an employee.  Or spend some time on the web looking at customer reviews.  Each of these is a type of information which exists but must be sought out.

Information awareness and information collection work in many ways.  Mushers learn the hard way by suffering loss, injury, or worse if they don’t make the effort to cultivate an awareness of the information sources around them.  Likewise, leaders must be creative and proactive in acquiring information – traditional, web, and “social” — it must become a management imperative.

Survival may depend on it.

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