Beating the Ghost

Todd Herman

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a newsletter called "Rafting When the Water is Low." This was written near what was "officially" the end of the "Great Recession" (lasting from December 2007 through June 2009). Even though April 2009 was near the end, it did not feel like the end — things were largely stagnant for at least another 12 to 18 months.

Basketball 3-Point ShotNow, however, economic measures — both nationally and locally — are increasing, and even picking up some steam while doing so. Human nature being what it is, I wonder how long it will take us to forget that, whether or not "water" (revenues) covers the "rocks" (weaknesses and threats), the "rocks" are always there.

We humans have various biases in the ways we make decisions and remember events — for example:

  • Recency bias — We give more weight to recent events than to earlier ones.
  • Actor-observer bias — We tend to over-emphasize our influence in a situation, and under-emphasize others', or vice-versa.
  • Fundamental attribution error — We judge others by their actions, and judge ourselves by our intentions.
  • Self-serving bias — We tend to claim more responsibility for successes than failures.
  • Choice-supportive bias — We remember options chosen as having been better than options ignored.
  • Fading affect bias — Our unpleasant memories fade more quickly than pleasant ones.
  • Sharpening bias — Over time, our loss of details in recollecting an event means some details take on an outsized influence.

All of these biases have important implications in how we learn lessons about the "rocks" — weaknesses and threats facing our business. How to learn such lessons? Leadership author and speaker John C. Maxwell says, "Everyone has experiences — very few have evaluated experiences."

I wonder how many people will take a cue from Dr. Maxwell's own practices, and evaluate experiences over the last three years for lessons learned. With these challenges still relatively fresh on our minds, and with a recovering economy — but one not yet booming — we have a good opportunity to reflect and evaluate experiences before one or more of these biases kick in.

As a result of reflection, perhaps you sense opportunity to:

  • Make some permanent changes in cost structure — say, investing in capital equipment instead of personnel.
  • Improve processes and deploy technology.
  • Change yourself — learn new techniques or technology, develop new skills, and instill new behaviors.

Admittedly, sitting down and writing about "lessons learned" over the past three to four years is not very exciting. Yet, such a routine is part of what gives top managers and top athletes their edge.

David Brooks, in his New York Times column titled "Genius: The Modern View," reports on research suggesting the key factor separating the best performers from others is "... deliberate practice. Top performers spend more hours (many more hours) rigorously practicing their craft." The primary trait of top performers is "the ability to develop a deliberate, strenuous and boring practice routine." Read more about what makes a top performer here

Jeremy Lin's recent stunning performance in the NBA as guard for the New York Knicks is a testament to the value of such practice — early morning workouts, intense strength training, and completely overhauling his 3-point shot until he could "beat the ghost" accounted for his transformation from a backup to starting player.

If you do not do the boring work of evaluating your experiences while the rocks are still visible, you risk not being able to navigate the rocks when they are hidden just beneath the water's surface. If you already have such a practice routine, you will definitely know where the rocks are as the water begins to cover them — and will successfully navigate past managers who had a haphazard or non-existent practice routine. Congratulations — you have developed a deliberate, boring discipline allowing you to "beat the ghost."

Todd L. Herman

Todd L. Herman

BlueLine SocialMedia

Client Project Update:

I am pleased to provide you with an update on our client projects. Projects we have completed over this period are...

Researched and resolved post-upgrade system and reporting issues, and planned new project management and reporting capabilities, enabling this engineered-to-order manufacturer to achieve the desired return on its ERP upgrade investment.

Analyzed current practices, researched software to synchronize with QuickBooks, recommended options to overhaul project management, and implemented the selected options, leveraging existing infrastructure while improving time recording and project management for a client having over 100 custom-designed projects in process at one time.

Assisted our client in recovering from Windows Server and Terminal Server system upgrades planned and executed poorly by their external system support provider, helping minimize the business disruption caused by this upgrade.

Completed the identification and selection of an up-to-date ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system to replace several fragmented and out of date systems, assisted with software and implementation contract negotiations, and planned the system implementation, helping this client lay the groundwork for a successful implementation.

Continued developing a prototype application to handle patient self-check in, including verifying patient information and insurance coverage, with the goal of improving the overall experience for patients and increasing the efficiency of medical technicians.

Used the SQL Server Reporting Services (SSRS) platform to begin prototyping layouts and content for both customer and consumer portals, helping our client deliver more meaningful and understandable analyses to both its customers and the ultimate consumers.

Identified and resolved issues in cost sheet calculations for finished goods processing in this client's heavily modified Material Requirements Planning (MRP) and related systems, reviewing infrequently used programs with complex calculations to find small differences in calculation methods, and correcting the appropriate routines.

Future projects we are planning include...

Identify, design, and implement extensions to this engineered-to-order (ETO) manufacturer's newly upgraded ERP system, allowing a key upgrade goal -improved project management of a complex manufacturing process -to be achieved.

Enhance the recently deployed project management system to add new features to improve tracking and ease-of-use and to implement new email alert notifications when certain items are changed, improving management capabilities for our client.

Develop analyses to identify medical technicians highly successful in obtaining payment at the time of service, and then improve processes and technology to help other technicians increase their performance, accelerating cash flow and reducing bad debts.

Develop charts and reports for a customer portal, and begin pilot tests at selected customer locations, helping our client deliver better information and thus differentiate itself in a competitive and rapidly-changing industry.

Identify transactions having large variances, and pinpoint items where product cost procedures did not conform to assumptions built into the systems, helping this manufacturer more accurately account for both production and variances.

Design the detailed data schemas, develop Extract-Transform-Load (ETL) routines, and manage all other activities of a dashboard for financial and management reporting, enabling this client to more easily identify trends and exceptions.

Assist our client in planning and implementing Domino Attachment and Object Storage (DAOS) for IBM Domino, lowering disk usage on their storage area network (SAN) by over 100 gigabytes.

Develop the test plan, revise key EDI documents, update processes and documentation, and test systems and vendors, helping this sourcing company quickly adapt to a new ERP system.

Integrate the order fulfillment and financial systems, and identify improvements to the fulfillment system, enabling this specialty food distributor to better serve customers and profitably accommodate growth.

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Todd Herman Associates


620 Green Valley Road
Suite 104
Greensboro, NC 27408

About Todd Herman Associates

Todd Herman Associates is a business technology consulting firm focused on non-routine technology issues such as replacing QuickBooks, getting two systems to "talk" to each other, shrinking process cycle time, and taming large volumes of data.