Context, Baselines, Assumptions and Being Globally Competitive

I've been working in Harare, Zimbabwe for a couple of months now to bring what I have in my toolbox to new teams looking to learn leadership, software, Scrum, XP, business start up behaviors, competition and the like. Having worked in domestic and international companies of 800 up to 150,000 in various industries, budget sizes, project complexities and all that, I have a trick or two here and there to offer. How do you work in large and small teams? How do you deliver value? How do you implement continuous frameworks? How do you compete internationally? How do you even find out about your global competition? How do you manage geographically distributed teams? How do you prep for board meetings, venture capital conversations and meet with important people in fancy suits and so on? What is important legislation and policy and what is pork barrel fodder? When a suit and when a Def Leppard t-shirt? I've had the opportunity to learn from great people, work with great people and be part of great teams. I've also worked with wienies. Given the relatively young age of the software engineering industry in this country, there are important decisions the technology sector needs to make in order to become great or be considered innocuous and non-existent. To be a rockstar or a wienie is a decision people make, many times unknowingly.

Ironically, the hard decisions will not be 'fiber or not to fiber' or 'M$ versus Linux' (although there is really no decision here). The hard decisions will be to determine what type of industry, what type of business model, education and behaviors will be fostered in order to create an internationally competitive industry. Who are you? Why does the international community care? And what are you going to do about it? The devil is in the intangibles.

For example, a conversation harder than choosing your operating system includes understanding intangibles like the value of context. Context is understanding the backstory. The backstory is important if you really want to understand why Superman keeps saving the same girl, why the Hulk came into existence and scowls all of the time, why Jean Luc Picard does classical theatre, why beer and jelly donuts are popular with some people, why Queensryche has such interesting lyrical structure and why its cool if your guitar amp goes to "11".

Context gives you additional knowledge and insight into why something is the way it is and helps prevent you from jumping to conclusions without all the pertinent facts. Context helps you understand with greater depth and breadth of it all. Context also often has to be sought.

In another setting, an oft popular joke is asking someone if they know what assumptions really do (something about donkeys or the like). Ordinarily people agree that assumptions are dangerous. Assuming that this year's taxes will be like last year's can easily help you skip a couple of pertinent steps in the tax forms saving you money (or costing you more). Assuming that beef jerky in one country is basically beef jerky in all countries may be the difference between a healthy mind and one with holes in it. Assuming that all people value independent thought is naive. Assumptions are often, though not always, shortcuts to conclusions without the necessary time and thought to fully understand a person or situation. Assumptions kill, hamper or otherwise set us down the wrong path. Makes one wonder about politicians and legislation doesn't it? What about leaders in general?

And what about baselines? How do you ever know where you are if you don't know where you came from? For example, you've made an improvement to a house and someone asks you to prove that your change is actually an improvement. Can it be done without evidence of the pre-existing status? Is the improvement a fact or an opinion? If it is a fact, shouldn't it be self-evident? An organization asserts by their existence the lives of countless people are improved? Without a baseline of how things were prior to the existence of this organization, how can you know? Maybe its actually worse. Or what if someone suggests that this year we've had the most snowfall ever recorded in history and its also the first year we've recorded snowfall. Absent a notation on the pre-existing state, how can one evaluate the value of the change? One must know the origination point before change can be validated a positive or destructive. Another interesting anecdotal flank on legislation evolution isn't it?

Now, tie context, assumption and baselines together into a synthesized thesis. How do you successfully teach, mentor and coach in a different culture?

From what cultural context does this society originate? What is its associative context to its immediate and distant continental countries? What is the role of this country and its technology sector in terms of global competition? Do we have the same definitions of completion, success, failure, commitment, quality, competition and so on? Does cultural history impact the answers to these questions?

What assumptions do we make when interacting with a foreign country, its educational framework, technology sector, policy, legislation and leaders therein? Are they correct? Is what's important the same when comparing your home country to your present visited country? If 5NINES is important from whence you came, is it important to where you've traveled? What of QoS? Is the 'customer as king' a universal? Do all people believe ordered, simple OO architecture is important or will simple scripted plate of spaghetti be called a Matisse?

And baselines. To contribute suggests measurable change. Measurable change suggests understanding the base state. Unless you documented the base state, your value is built upon your personal impression. What was the base technology state of this country's tech sector? Who baselined the infrastructure prior to implied evolution? If we eliminate political commentary and media fodder, can one determine base state, change, change velocity, forecast and deviation? If you have a plan, good for you. Tell me why your plan is useful compared to your base state. Then prove you're evolving.

Visitors do not evolve countries; baseline members of countries evolve countries from baseline state.

Visitors can be nothing more than catalysts. Assuming that where you are today versus yesterday is a globally competitive skill-set that should be notable to everyone around you is a deadly assumption. Invite more visitors, invite more competition and insert yourself into more opportunities to have your arse beaten and you'll flush out whether today is truly an improvement over yesterday. And while it is important for visitors to take into consideration historical cultural context, it is even more critically important for baseline members of a country to recognize how their own personal context does or does not colour their world views when sizing themselves up as a global member and competitor.

Baselines. Assumptions. Context.

Ladies and Gentlemen I assert to you that the easiest way to address all three of these important gamesmanship elements is through the introduction of free-enterprise international and domestic business competition.

If you do not baseline yourself prior to evolution, getting beaten by a competitor will do it for you. If you have a list of assumptions you use, standing in a group of competitors will not only bring them to light for you and everyone else immediately, but force you to choose your next step forward accordingly. And if you are forced to consider the context of your product, service, competitive stature or value in relation to those with whom you should be privileged to stand beside in addition to market demand, you will evolve or be beaten.

Free-enterprise competition is the way forward. It will evolve the market with or without you. And for sure, it will purge everyone of three important facets of being a competitor... the need for baselines to evidentially prove success, the need for assumption elimination to dismiss oversight, and the need for context to ensure you have the right baseline from which to eliminate your assumptions and make a plan that works.

Most of the world is not afraid of competition. If you are a global competitor, prove it. The intangibles will beat you before your competitors will.