Employee Engagement (Inspiring your workforce with Post-it notes)

Lesson Learned from Mr. Ken Williams

A few years ago, Ken traveled to the middle east to help the US forces gain a foot up on some bad guys. What he did while he was in theater went well beyond helping civilians, soldiers, sailors and marines.

He very naturally inspired and engaged a workforce from thousands of miles away, with the stroke of a pen and a Post-it note.

How he did it and why it matters:

Ken is a leader that walks his talk.  He is a man from a different time and I consider myself lucky and blessed to know him. Ken was at the time in charge of a government division that had 80+ contractors, consultants and government civilians.   He was asked to travel to a remote region and help leadership during Operation Enduring Freedom.  At the same time, he was still the leader of the division he left behind.  While he had extremely motivated trusted agents back at home, he still found time to inspire and engage his staff.  I will further point out that my personal role in this division was one of contractor / consultant and in fact, Ken was not only the lead for the division but he was my client.

I arrived home on a weekday after a normal grueling drive in traffic to find a box shipped from overseas with no markings. When I opened the box I found this cup.cup

The cup came wrapped with the note in it..

Here is the note:


Here is what he wrote

“Thanks for all you do for the team and for those who remain in harms way.”  On a side note he mentioned that the cup still had dust from Afghanistan in it.


Of course it did.

Clarity of Purpose

In one post-it note and five words in my heart was full.  I was proud to serve and work for Ken and proud of the work we were doing.  Beyond that pride, I knew I had purpose and I knew that what I was doing mattered not just to me but to him.  His handwritten note inspired and fueled not just me but our whole team.   You see, I was not alone in being special and that was alright with me because everyone had something to bring to the table and Ken didn’t let their contribution slide.

To trust a man (person) and have faith in them is hard because you know that even with that trust there are times that they will let you down.  Ken knows that people will fail him but he stands by his belief that “When you give a man your trust, you don’t worry about what he does, just know that he will get it done.”

Real Faith

I don’t work for Ken today but anyone that I know that did work for him including me would answer a call from Ken and seek to help him accomplish any goal or task he sets before us.  Because he truly engaged us in good times and bad and he owed us nothing as consultants and contractors but gave freely his time and his belief.

If you want to succeed in engaging employees, you need to engage them.  You need to know them and you need to make and take the time to let them know.  If a man wrapped up in the middle of a war and the desert can make it happen from thousands of miles away, you can do it from your office or cubicle.

Responsible Thinking

Responsible Thinking Guidelines  

  • Seek as accurate an understanding of reality as possible, guarding against false beliefs.
  • Question the claims of authorities and widely held beliefs.
  • Do not become polarized or emotionally attached to any viewpoint.
  • Subjective judgments may seem to be based on our own experience but may in fact be based on what we have been told or on our expectations.
  • Always judge a course of action in comparison to its alternatives.
  • Base opinions on measurements wherever possible.
  • Use calculations rather than intuitive judgments when very large or very small quantities are involved.
  • Vague claims are usually worthless.
  • Never form a strong opinion after hearing only one side of a controversy.
  • A person can be highly intelligent, sane, and honest and still be totally wrong.
  • Correlation does not imply causation.
  • Beware of shortcuts to the truth.
Source- http://www.truthpizza.org/guides.htm

Big Data and The Great Turkey Problem

Source: Taleb, N. (2012). Antifragile. London: Penguin

The Great Turkey Problem

A turkey is fed for a thousand days by a butcher; every day confirms to its staff of analysts that butchers love turkeys ‘with increased statistical confidence.’ The butcher will keep feeding the turkey until a few days before thanksgiving. Then comes the day when it is really not a very good idea to be a turkey. So with the butcher surprising it, the turkey will have a revision of belief – right when its confidence in the statement the butcher loves turkeys is maximal and ‘it is very quiet’ and soothingly predictable in the life of the turkey. The example builds on the adaptation of a metaphor by Bertrand Russell. The key here is that such a surprise will be a Black Swan event; but just for the turkey, not for the butcher. We can also see from the turkey story the mother of all harmful mistakes: mistaking absence of evidence (of harm) for evidence of absence, a mistake that we will see tends to prevail in intellectual circles and one that is grounded in the social sciences.

So our mission in life becomes simply ‘how not to be a turkey,’ or, if possible, how to be a turkey in
reverse – antifragile, that is. ‘Not being a turkey’ starts with figuring out the difference between true
and manufactured stability.

And Big Data.. (http://www.bigdatalandscape.com/blog/top-8-laws-of-big-data)

These are the Top 8 Laws of Big Data, based on hundreds of discussions with Big Data insiders.
1. The faster you analyze your data, the greater its predictive value. Companies are moving away from batch processing to real-time to gain competitive advantage.
2. Maintain one copy of your data, not dozens. The more you copy and move your data, the less reliable it becomes (example: banking crisis).
3. Use more diverse data, not just more data. More diverse data leads to greater insights. Combining multiple data sources can lead to the most interesting insights of all.
4. Data has value far beyond what you originally anticipate. Don’t throw it away.
5. Plan for exponential growth. The number of photos, emails, and IMs, while large, is limited by the number of people. Networked “sensor” data from mobile phones, GPS, and other devices is much larger.
6. Solve a real pain point. Don’t think of big data as a stand-alone shiny technology. Think about your core business problems and how to solve them by analyzing Big Data.
7. Put data and humans together to get the most insight. More data alone isn’t sufficient. Look for ways to broaden the use of data across your organization.
8. The focus in IT has shifted from Technology to Information. Those that fail to leverage the numerous internal and external data sources available will be leapfrogged by new entrants.


If we focus on tools, technologies and capabilities alone, we are doomed to assume that we know everything based on the evidence of absence or absence of evidence.  The best math in the world can’t explain the feeling of a hug.  We need to have a clear approach to data sciences that takes into account human perspective while considering the concepts or risk or antifragile / fragile systems.   (Gobble Gobble)