S2 E92 — Herding Cats Towards a Tornado

It took several types of engineers to work together on a team.  When you had multiple teams going simultaneously you’d run out of certain kinds of engineers, usually at critical stages which caused delays.

“5”  Steve Zahn, 51:You’ll amuse yourself like it was your job, and though it’s not, your professional life will benefit anyhow, as it spurs the relaxed frame of mind you need to come up with brilliant ideas that can be widely applied.” Scorpio

Hi and welcome to Friday’s Episode 92 in Season 2 of  “My Pandemic Year Natural Experiment” on this 7th day of August in the summer of 2020.  

“The Tau of Steves: What You Don’t Know Could Fill a Book”

Table of Contents

Season One and Two are a two-year examination of how bits of wisdom changed during the “normal” pre-pandemic and then in this unfolding pandemic year.

Previously in Season Two, the Pandemic Year

S2 E91How to Master Rapid Growth Without Gifting Your Competitors; S2 E90How Many Road Warriors Does It Take to Fuel Our Growth?; S2 E89Garage Bonking and Chasm Jumping

Related from Season One, the Normal Year

S1 E92Shh … Secrets Husbands Keep to Ourselves; S1 E91If that, then this … ? The daily double?; S1 E90Day 90 of My 1-Year Natural Experiment; S1 E89Because If You Don’t Someone Else Will. It’s Worth It!;


This is a continuation of “Volume Two Manuscript — WorkFit” a work-in-progress.

In a previous episode I summarized everything you need to know about four basic organizations to stack the odds in your favor when shopping around for your next job opportunity.  

Emerging to Rapid Growth

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

26. Emerging Desktop Projector Company 

Part One described Proxima’s early navigation from a Start Up to an Emerging Growth stage.  

Today’s Part Two focuses on its path to Rapid Growth.

Growth Stage from Emerging to Rapid

The purpose of the bowling pin model is to approach niche market expansion in as leveraged a way as possible, to bowl toward the tornado. Each niche, you will recall, requires its own whole product to be fully complete before it can adopt the new paradigm. At the same time, it finds it much easier to buy in if vendors can supply references from an ‘adjacent niche,’ one within which it already has established word-of-mouth relationships.” — Geoffrey Moore, “Inside the Tornado”

Three Market Niches Inching Towards the Tornado

    • I represented an obvious market niche — the classroom trainer. It was a tough sale because underfunded human resources and department budgets would dictate the dollars for replacing what they already had with Proxima projectors.  
    • Maybe a tougher sale was to road warriors who had to be convinced to refrain from stuffing their laptops in the overhead bin for what would eventually become an iPhone years later in your pocket and stuff a smaller foot print projector above your Delta seat. 
    • The toughest sale would be to consultants like me who facilitated product development teams of engineers coupled with an intranet represented a third niche.

Talent Culture

We worked in a technology cluster of buildings in a parking lot shared with a super-computer company. Down a hallway, my office was on the right-hand side just past my boss’, the Vice President of Human Resources.  Frank, who was shorter than me with dark receding hair line and a mustache loved inspirational mottos.

He retired from the Navy having largely been influenced by a chain-of-command demanding allegiance to his boss and orders given him. He didn’t have the fast-paced technology experience, although to be fair he was fair and empathetic and believed in all those people development processes and procedures.

Looking back, he probably figured more structure, procedures would only help this technology company while building out his traditional HR department.

I wanted little to do with recruiting — thankfully Ian originally from Great Britain, who disliked my promotion of the principle of “collaboration” preceded my hiring.  It meant betraying your country to the enemy, as in England with Germany in WWII, he teased.

An Offer I Couldn’t Refuse

Why his executive recruiter liked my background  which led to my offer.

    • 10 years experience working for Unisys and Fluor in the Mature Growth Stage
    • Including cross-silo adventures in Engineering, Software and Manufacturing, Shipping
    • Traditional Training and Development with an emphasis on applications at work
    • Organizational Development addressing resistance to change
    • TQM, Just-in-time, Continuous Improvement, Reengineering required to master current and future challenges

What attracted me was my vision of where innovation and technology was headed with that adrenalin rush.

    • It appealed to my build-it-from-scratch department bias 
    • An experiment or knowledge laboratory for discovering things on the cutting edge.
    • I tried to avoid classic supervisory classroom training-only. Proxima didn’t have many supervisors anyway.
    • I wanted to consult and facilitate teams, being more fascinated with the software and hardware engineering and research and development opportunities.
    • Each functional area was led by someone in over their heads, but with VP titles
    • Someone could parachute in from a larger company take a quick look around and tell everyone what to do in a 10th of the time an insider could do.
    • Major immune-system reactions — high change, transition management 

3rd CEO  

The newly recruited CEO didn’t have public company experience.  But, he had written book about how to combine US-style with Japanese-style leadership that Frank read and liked.  However, some of us realized later that he didn’t really follow those practices. 

We looked to him for leadership for building capacity to rapidly grow.

His Japanese contacts in the projector business helped us cheat as we sourced a lot of the components in our  projectors when we met our audacious goal of launching 6 new products into market niches in 6 months. 

My boss described him as someone who always “looked through a 40 foot straw.”  

Stuff that should have been on his CEO radar was missed.  

Product Road Map

Internally, I promoted “just-in-time” training bites, instead or “ just in case education” because trainees forgot 50% as they left the classroom,  and more of a focus on knowledge in circulation.  

My timing couldn’t have been better. A small startup named Tegrity showed how you could capture what was projected on a whiteboard during a presentation and bring edited markups back into your presentation.

Accelerating the Work of Engineering Teams  

We’d place the projector connected to a PC on a conference table and present one of their engineered “drawings” on a whiteboard as a slide. 

An engineer would say, “Look at that the metal case footprint — it is too small to include a fan.”  She’d stand up, walk to the whiteboard, draw a circle around the area, make other notations and I’d click the Tegrity button to add it as an updated slide in the “deck.”

We used to say working with engineers was like herding cats.  

    • In meetings they’d wander all over the tangents landscape.  
    • With Tegrity and a projector and a whiteboard you could focus their attention.  
    • With fewer arguments, misunderstandings, or differing frames of references you could progress must faster — which was the mantra — make it faster, lighter, smaller and brighter. 

And It Solved a Major Time-to-Market Problem

It took several types of engineers to work together on a team. 

    • When you had several teams going simultaneously you’d run out of certain kinds of engineers, usually at critical stages which caused delays.  
    • Small companies couldn’t hire and afford to keep all the technical talent it needed.
    • Like the engineers who were in charge of cooling down the projector while increasing the power required to work in a smaller “box.”  
    • They were in short supply.  

Ian would go to tech parking lots in Silicon Valley and intercept potentials before and after work for meetings dazzling them with San Diego.

One product manager came from Apple and most of us thought he walked on water.

So, if they were on Team A, they weren’t available to Teams B and C.  And, if they finally finished one team, they’d kind of roll from Team A to B.  

That’s when the shit would hit the fan.  

Sorry, but that’s when the team that was 75% of the way to their launch realized they messed up, would have to do some serious work around and miss their deadline.

Using Tegrity and an internal Internet we could capture that team’s oversight and correction and share the schematics almost in real time.  

Rapid Knowledge Circulation 

And, as other team members dispersed to join another team, they took the knowledge of that solution with them, showed it to the next team and in a way they cross trained each other.

So they would know when to check out the cooling and venting requirements earlier in their design

When I first experimented with it in a team meeting I got to the third slide the product manager and I made and an engineer called for a time out.  

I thought, oh no, here we go off on a cat-tangent.  

But, instead, she waved her hand between the bottom of the projector and the top of the conference room table and said the heat from this unit will warp the wood finish if we don’t do something about it.


Adding Two Sustaining-Associate Profiles

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

They develop the tools and manage the process of multiple new product introductions. They have to optimize the availability of internal and external team members — rolling people on and off projects — as the critical path for each product dictates.

That transition from organic free flowing ways of creating a company turned out to be the opposite of what helped them in the second stage.

Consequences of Not Mastering Growth Crises

Image Credit: Stephen G. Howard  Copyright 2020

Start Up: Loosen — Leadership Crisis — Tighten

Emerging Growth: Tighten — Functional Crisis — Loosen

Rapid Growth: Loosen — Autonomy Crisis — Tighten

 We’re building on each of the 16 talent profiles so they may find a better fit at, not only in a particular Organization Type, but at a stage of growth as well.

Talent Profile Growth Stage Organization Type
101 Breakpoint Inventors Start Up Paradoxy-Morons
103 Commercial Innovators Start Up Paradoxy-Morons
105 Marketing Athletes Start Up Emerging-Entrepreneurs
107 Resilient Product Teams Emerging Growth Emerging-Entrepreneurs
108 Core Business Group Emerging Growth Emerging-Entrepreneurs
111 Agile Tiger Teams Rapid Growth Sustaining-Associates
112 Loyal Survivalists Rapid Growth Sustaining-Associates


“5”  Steve Zahn, 51:You’ll amuse yourself like it was your job, and though it’s not, your professional life will benefit anyhow, as it spurs the relaxed frame of mind you need to come up with brilliant ideas that can be widely applied.” Scorpio

Who knows if this turns out to be a “5” day after all, but I’d love it if amusing myself was my job.  Oh, wait it was.

Random ones that make me want change my sign. 

“4”  Steve McQueen (1930 – 1980): “The point will be just to show up and see what you discover. If you can lower your expectation or, better yet, go in totally without one, you’ll be primed for a stellar day.” Aries  

Maybe not so much for today, but I invested a significant part of my life doing this and I have to say I encountered more stellar days than I ever expected.  I felt I embarked on an adventure of my life.

“4”  Steve Smith, 30: “When you really think about it, you have some beliefs that the people around you might be surprised by. It’s those rarified ideas that will open new thought processes to you and move you in a fulfilling direction.” Gemini

This could be relevant in two ways.  The first is political in the face of not heeding the science when many voters from across the aisle are dying from this pandemic in overcrowded hospitals.  The second could apply to this original research I’m writing up having grown tired of jigsaw puzzles.

“4”  Steve Howey, 42:Those who think they know are at a disadvantage, as their assumptions put up a barrier between themselves and the truth. It’s the ones who understand their own ignorance who will learn the most.” Cancer

True.  But, but not number one for me today.  Although the day is still early, eh?

“3”  Steve Jobs, (1955 – 2011): Those who have had happy hearts feel capable of achieving that state again and will take every opportunity to recreate the status. Those who don’t know what’s possible will take longer to come around if they ever do.” Pisces

I have to admit, this I’d be really stretching this TauBit of Wisdom to what happens if you just don’t know what you’re missing in your career.

What’s Going On

Literally Bottled and Set Adrift from KnowWhere Atoll 

    • @knowlabs followers of one or more of my 35 digital magazines organically grew from 4516 to 4636.




    • Saw the movie, didn’t realize that one of my favorite authors, Michael Connelly — his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch book series and Amazon Prime series — also wrote, “The Lincoln Lawyer” which I just finished. Gotta tell you I can’t not see his lead character (Mickey Haller, Bosch’s half brother) as anyone else but Matthew McConaughey. 

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Inspired by: Holiday Mathis – Creators Syndicate


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