Saturday Cup of Joe: a leadership and tech(ish) newsletter from Detroit

Friends & Colleagues,

SCOJ #109. This is going to be a quick Saturday Cup of Joe. I’ve been out of the office all week on a family vacation to Leland, Michigan — “Up North,” as everyone in Michigan calls it. It’s been a fun week watching the kids play in the lake (yes it was warm enough to get it once or twice), fit in a round of golf, and a boat ride as well.

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Leland, MI, USA

When I return to the office on Monday, I’ll be starting a new role at Quicken Loans. I was lucky enough to be offered the opportunity to lead a team within our Capital Markets group focusing on product innovation, credit strategy, investor and industry relations, and market research/intelligence on vendor or service provider technologies. Our Strategy & Innovation team will bring new products and improvements to the company as well as leveraging and tying together all the existing product improvements that QL is responsible for industry-wide every day.

It was a hard decision to leave the Legal team, but much of my new role will allow me to keep working with Legal folks all the time. I’m looking forward to the challenge and excited to see where we can take this team and what we can do for QL and our clients.

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Question: Have you heard the phrase “paralysis by analysis”? This is an interesting take on that idea. Too many good options create anxiety on maximizing the best one.

According to [this] research, the “fear of better options”, a phenomenon also called “maximization” is the relentless pursuit of all possible options for fear that you’ll miss out on the “best” one, leading to indecision, frustration, stress, regret, and unhappiness.

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Ego Is The Enemy: One great technique from this article about humility is asking a key question — so what? The idea is asking the question to give yourself perspective. A healthy distance that quickly identifies what really matters. Just landed a giant account at work? So what? Just bombed the presentation and embarrassed yourself? So what? It’s part healthy indifference to your own role in the overall plan/company/organization and part healthy perspective on what’s truly important and what’s truly lasting.

Do you use any other techniques to identify the really important stuff? How can I focus on the “so what” this week?

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Grand Traverse State Park, north of Northport, MI, USA

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Freddie Mac announced a new website campaign this week called Borrower of the Future. It’s a topic that I’m very interested in, so I’ll be watching the videos and reviewing the research in the coming days and weeks. I’m also speaking on this topic — New Products for New Borrowers — at the New England Mortgage Bankers Conference (NEMBC) in Newport, Rhode Island on September 13.

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Decision-making: I found an article about whether and how science skepticism is correlated to political ideology. The reason I included it here is that at first glance, many assumed that politics play a major role in whether or not someone is skeptical of certain scientific findings, particularly new or cutting edge things like climate change, genetic modification, and fears around vaccination; in reality, there are other factors more closely tied to scientific skepticism like religiosity, morality, and knowledge of science. In the end, that might not matter if those factors are also highly correlated to political leanings, but it made me think — you have to get at the actual heart of a question or an issue to really understand it. Getting at the core factors, even if those are a proxy, as they are in this case for politics, is still critical to understand the complexity or depth of a question.

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Lake Michigan looking south, Leland, MI, USA

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Data. Digital. Disruption. As companies must leverage digital environments and new, massive data inputs coming from a variety of sources, both internal and external, management must include leaders that can manage across teams. The Wall Street Journal writes that “over half of companies that said they are digitally maturing are creating teams of people from different areas of the organization that have more autonomy to make decisions.” Companies are creating a “transition from bureaucratic and hierarchical structures to cross-functional teams…[in that context] Employees will increasingly be expected to take on greater leadership roles.”

One great way to think about this is considering how data or customers move through the organization. Cross-functional teams can create better processes and efficiencies. How are you thinking about management requirements and cross-functional teams in your organization? Have you recognized changes since going digital? If not, why not?

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Branding: What makes a brand or product suddenly take off? My good friend Bill and I were sitting on the beach in Leland, MI and trying to figure out how La Croix grew in popularity over the last few years. It’s been around since 1981 and yet from 2015 to today it went from obscure to widely available and popular. Sometimes it can take years for your product or service to line up to the market. In the case of La Croix, it was the combination of growing awareness about sugar consumption and the rise in social media branding. What is it in your industry that you are waiting for or what would need to change to 100x your revenue? Focus on that thing and maybe we don’t have to wait for culture to come to us.

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Leland Volunteer Fire Department

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Answer well: Ask better. On vacation with several families this week, I was challenged by my brother from another mother, Dave, on the steps it took to get to my personal mission statement — answer well. Answer well is the process of bringing my highest, best answer to any question asked. To do that, though, there is a precedent. Asking the right questions. Ask better to answer well.

The tough part is to ask better without making (potentially faulty) assumptions. Answer well includes understanding context, providing additional information and identifying the core or critical issues in the opportunity. Of course everything we do involves assumptions. Trying to answer well must include ‘ask better’.

Look for the added value or ways to answer well by asking the extra question, asking the better question.

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Future of work: Apparently, the future of work is the “co-bot.” Artificial intelligence paired with human workers is the ideal mix. As I’ve written before, I don’t think these amazing technologies will actually replace so many jobs as to put all of us out of work — white or blue collar alike. What is happening, though, is the repurposing of the human worker with the help of AI.

According to this TechRepublic story on MIT’s research, “most jobs involve 20 to 30 distinct tasks, the research found. In most cases, machine learning could perform some tasks better than humans in a given occupation. However, it could never perform all tasks needed for the job better than its human counterpart.”

The article goes on to talk about how CIOs and companies can prepare for this with flexible workforces and data integrity. Check it out here.

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Today’s thought: It can be simple and hard. I spent a lot of time with 4- and 5-year-olds this week, trying to explain why “sorrys are important” or “why only you can tell someone how you feel” or “how talking to each other is the quickest way to resolve something.” This is exactly the same as uncomfortable or charged situations in our organizations and companies. Just because it is simple does not mean it’s easy. An obvious and overused idea, I’m sure, but it helps me when I’m fighting the tough conversation or the apology or the clarification. It reminds me to fight through the hard stuff. If it’s simple and I’m not doing it (whatever it is) or not saying it, I reflect on why. If it’s hard, then I push through.

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Quote: “It’s not that we have too short a time to live, but that we squander a great deal of it. Life is long enough, and it’s given in sufficient measure to do many great things if we spend it well. But when it’s poured down the drain of luxury and neglect, when it’s employed to no good end, we’re finally driven to see that it has passed by before we even recognized it passing. And so it is — we don’t receive a short life, we make it so.” — Seneca

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Bonus Content: The Atlantic on the American Suburbs. The opening paragraph quotes Anthony Bourdain, which is particularly timely and jarring given Friday’s news of his death. The article bounces back and forth between design and practicality. For instance, “if production housing is so successful, what’s wrong with the houses it produces? A major objection to the suburbs is aesthetic.” Much more to dig into here. Hope it’s useful.

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Then…Back to Detroit

Continued success and continue to answer well,

Written by

Thinker, curious leader, once an attorney…always trying to answer well.

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