Lead on Purpose

Promoting Leadership Principles in Product Management

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Book Review: Without Warning

Without Warning“Problems are our greatest challenge and opportunity, our greatest strength and weakness, and our greatest chance for success or failure.” According to Rodney Johnson, author of Without Warning: Breakthrough strategies for solving the silent problems taking aim at your organization, silent problems are one of the greatest challenges facing every organization, every business, and even public institutions. He writes about three types of problems plus one: simple, complex, wicked and silent. The first three are easier to deal with because people recognize them, they are out in the open and known to all involved. However, silent problems often get swept under the rug because they point to issues that are difficult to face; people don’t talk about them because they want them to go away.

In Without Warning Johnson recommends dealing with silent problems through what he calls the “CAP Initiative,” a process for solving silent problems. CAP is his acronym for Create-A-Problem. CAP is a process for bringing silent problems to light, putting context around them and arming you with tools to help you effectively solve and eliminate them. “The CAP initiative resets the silent problem, resets the questions, and begins to reset the behaviors and actions of the participants.”

To effectively use the CAP initiative to solve silent problems, Johnson recommends the following four steps:

  1. Make the problem visible and memorable: Bring the problem to the forefront; lead with the solution and create attention to the problem.
  2. Create a sense of urgency: Find ways to rally the team and help them understand the implications of the problems and the need to solve them.
  3. Allow anger — avoid fear: Fear leads people to avoidance. Anger, if channeled correctly, will motivate people to solve problems.
  4. The power of influence: The goal of a CAP initiative is to influence. Bringing silent problems out into the open makes them silent no longer. Once they are out you can deal with and solve them quickly and effectively.

Without Warning is a fast read with excellent real-world applications and pertinent information for leaders who are striving to move their organizations forward without the barnacles of silent problems.



As 2008 comes to an end many will take time to review the events of the year, assess their progress and set goals (or New Year’s Resolutions) for 2009. This has been one of my annual traditions for many years, with varying degrees of success. It is easy to write a list of objectives for the year; but a bit of time goes by and things get in the way, and before you know it the year is gone and you have made no progress toward the improvements you planned at the beginning of the year.

Does this ring true? For many years this was my experience. However, last year I had a breakthrough that made 2008 my most successful year ever, and I want to share the experience with you.

In late 2007 I had an inspiring conversation with my friend Dr. Paul (quoted often on Lead on Purpose) about relationships. He taught me there are five key relationships that drive human behavior, listed here in priority order:

  1. God – Our Deity (whomever we worship as a higher power)
  2. Self – Me (I have a relationship with myself as an individual)
  3. Family – Spouse, children and extended family (this is the hierarchy of importance)
  4. Others – People in general (any other person not listed above)
  5. Things –  Non-living objects (such as money, material possessions, etc.)

He helped me understand the importance of each of these relationships and how they affect my life and my actions. I discovered that the effort put forth to develop these relationships will–to a large extent–determine my individual happiness.

Our conversation created an aha moment for me. I saw the need to prioritize my life in a way to promote the actions that would result in the types of relationships I really wanted in my life. That’s when I realized I needed to formulate my goals based the five key relationships.

At the beginning of 2008 I created categories based on the relationships and set three to five specific goals for each category. I will share the categories I set with examples of the goals I set for each (my specific goals are private and closely held):

  • Heavenly Father (God): I set specific goals to help me improve my spirituality and live my religion more fully.
  • Self: I set specific goals to improve my health and education and to use my time for effectively.
  • Family: I established three sub-categories — wife, children and extended family — and set specific objectives for each category.
  • Other People: I set specific goals that would help me build my network of friends and associates, and reach out to people I did not know. One specific goal I set was to write in my blog at least two times per week. This one goal has been the foundation for the success of my blog.
  • Things: I created two sub-categories — work and other — and set appropriate goals for each.

After I finished writing the goals I printed the document, cut each category out separately and pasted each in a place where I would see them often. A few went on the wall in my office, some on my night stand and one in a book I read/reference often. Putting them in conspicuous places kept the goals at the forefront of my mind; I didn’t forget about (most of) them at all during the year.

An important aspect of self-improvement is evaluating your progress on the goals you have set. With that in mind, I took time to evaluate each of the goals I set for 2008 with a best-estimate of how close I came to meeting the goal. I gave each goal a score (percentage) and then calculated an average score for each category. This was a difficult task as some things are hard to measure and some fell out of context (e.g. I changed employment mid-year). However, I can measure my progress and see the results of taking the time to plan and follow through. My highest category score was 96% and my lowest was 43%; my overall average was 75%.

If I look at these scores based on the traditional educational scoring (at least in the US), 75% is a solid C; not exactly what I would have called “acceptable” back in the day. However, when I compare the goals I set to what I was doing before 2008, I can honestly say I have made significant progress. I have learned a great deal about myself and my ability to do more than I ever thought I could. My new goals for 2009 raise the bar substantially. I am happy with the process I have established for my own self-improvement and recommend it to you wholeheartedly.

The Product Management Perspective: If you are a product manager you are most likely a driven individual who works hard and are determined to succeed. Take time to set applicable goals that will help make your success (and your products) repeatable and predictable.

I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year. May you prosper in 2009!