Human Resource Management with Olin Oedekoven and Problems Prioritization with Harry Max

The most important thing that people can do within their human resource management is to pause their hiring process and to critically think about exactly what they’re doing. Oftentimes, we get so much in a hurry to sell three customer service reps that the first three people who walk in the door with a moderate degree of competency get the job. Many times, this leads to issues and problems. Dr. Olin Oedekoven, President and CEO of the Peregrine Academic Services and the Peregrine Leadership Institute, talks about the hiring process and why it’s important to select the right people.


Problem has different meanings and there are so many degrees and ways of looking at them. Harry Max, Chief People Officer at Spoonread, focuses on problems prioritization. He discusses the process of prioritizing and shares some things you can do to help you figure out what needs to be done when.

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization


I am here with Dr. Olin Oedekoven and Harry Max here. Olin is the President and CEO of Peregrine Academic Services and Peregrine Leadership Institute. He’s got a very interesting new book. Harry Max is the Chief People Officer. He’s a prioritization specialist and he has a very interesting TEDx talk.

Listen to the podcast here

Human Resource Management with Olin Oedekoven

I am here with Dr. Olin Oedekoven, who is the President and CEO of Peregrine Academic Services and Peregrine Leadership Institute. The company has operated in 45 countries with seven global offices. Olin is retired from the National Guard as a Brigadier General after nearly 33 years of military service. He’s a coauthor of Hiring: A Practical Guide for Selecting the Right People. I’m excited to have you here, Olin, welcome.

Diane, it’s certainly great to be with you and share some conversation with you regarding this topic and wherever the conversation is going.

We’ve had a couple conversations in the past and if anybody hasn’t seen another interview I did with Olin, it’s on YouTube. Olin and I have had a chance to work together through my experience working at the Forbes School of Business. I’ve seen you speak at events like the Forbes Thought Leader Summit. I’m very impressed with everything that you do. I was looking forward to having you on the show.

It’s great to be with you.

I like the topic that you talked about at the summit and it all ties into your book of some of the stuff you wrote about. There are a few things I wanted to get to in the hiring process. What you brought up is interesting because you talked about Human Resource Management 3.0. I want to start with what you were talking about Human Resource Management 3.0. I’m curious what you mean by HR 3.0. What was 1.0 and 2.0?

[bctt tweet=”In the HR 3.0 era, we have specifically shaped people’s job titles, roles and responsibilities much more so around their specific skill set.” via=”no”]

What started this conversation for me was some of the presentations we heard at the Forbes School of Business Thought Leader Summit regarding Marketing 3.0. Those of us involved in marketing have a fairly good sense of what that looks like and it could have triggered some thoughts. Over the past year, as we were working on our Hiring book and some additional work we were doing in conjunction with executive education, we started to form in some thoughts around what we would call Human Resource Management 3.0. In my mind, HR 1.0 was back in the old days, post-World War II era. Just be thankful you have a job and if you don’t like your job, there are dozens of people looking for one. If you don’t like it, move on and somebody else will replace you. It bore from that depression era where largely the demand, the number of their employees certainly exceeded the supply, the number of positions. Most positions were highly transferable. It’s a fairly narrow set of skill sets that could move around.

The mantra of that era was, “Just give me a job.” That’s what I what I call HR 1.0. We start seeing the era of HR 2.0, which started evolving in the 1970s and 1980s where we started to see a bit more of a balance between supply and demand for the number of people looking for work and employable was close to what was available. There’s more specialization occurring in the workplace, a little bit more defined roles and responsibilities, a little bit less transferable, a little bit more emphasis on retention. Mainly the driver for retention was compensation. That’s when we started seeing the emergence of 401(k)s and flextime and Starbucks gift cards, you name it, all ways that we can attract in and ultimately retain talents.

However, we’re in an era of HR 3.0. In many of our workplaces, we’re starting to see more and more specialization where when you look on org charts, most of the people on the org chart, you wouldn’t readily identify in a standard textbook of word position. You’ve got the CEO and the CFO and the VP positions that you would recognize but after you get past that, you wouldn’t necessarily recognize job titles. We have specifically shaped people’s job titles, roles and responsibilities much more so around their specific skill set. From a retention standpoint where this is coming from, from the employee’s perspective, you’ve got to provide me with a job that has a purpose and that I matter. That leads to retention of some thoughts and perspectives there. From recruiting and growing talent, now we’re starting to see much more specialization and fewer people for higher demand jobs. We as leaders need to shift our thinking a bit in how we’re going to find, grow and retain talent.

You brought up what you talked about at that event where you said you hired somebody and then found a job for them later because you knew they were so good. You just weren’t sure at what yet. It came through that they were going to be great at something and you wanted to design a job around them. You don’t hear people do that very often. How do you find out where to place them later and what do you do with them in the meantime?

What I encourage in our leadership workshops, particularly senior leaders and with our own team is always be on the lookout for talent. Several people on our company team were not people who hired on because we posted a job they can see. Somebody applied for it. They went through an interview process and the traditional selection process. Oftentimes it’s trying to fit a square peg in a round hole where you’re trying to mold and shape somebody to sit at a defined position. We have a few of those that are more traditional, but the majority of people on our company team is not how we went about doing that. I approached somebody who had a lot of respect for and who shared our core values. People who were passionate about their particular area, their field or their specialization. Bill comes to immediate mind as I visualize somebody. He worked in higher education accreditation for over fifteen years. I knew Bill. I have a lot of respect in his knowledge and expertise and how we approach this topic and working with schools around the world.

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization
Problems Prioritization: The essence of HR 3.0 is trying to fit round pegs in round holes.


When he came to me one day and said, “Do you guys have a vacancy?” I said, “Not really.” He said, “I’m looking for a job.” I said, “Bill, you’re hired. “He said, “What am I going to do?” I said, “I don’t know, but we’ll figure it out.” He lives in Kansas City and he came up to Gillette and we spent a couple of days figuring it out, “Bill, what do you like to do? What are you good at? What are you passionate about?” I always consider myself a bit of a disciple of Jim Collins and the Good To Great concepts there and the Hedgehog. We often talk about the hedgehog concept from an organizational perspective, but it also applies to individuals. What are you passionate about? What can you be the best at? Can we find an economic incentive associated with that and try to find the intersection of those three concepts? Over the course of that discussion, we came up with a job title and some preliminary ideas as the director of strategic alliances, growing relationships with our partners around the world. He started down that path and over the years, it has evolved and evolved as his talents had been unlocked and recognized. We keep reshaping his job description to align with both his talents and capabilities as well as where we’re at organizationally in our growth cycle.

He’s evolved into a different position. He’s now our director of business development, a position that didn’t exist years ago. He grew into his own position and performing marvelously. Bill is one example. Clarice, it’s the same construct. I approached her, saw her at a conference and I was just so struck by her intelligence, her enthusiasm and her background. I approached her and said, “I don’t suppose you’re looking for a job that I got one for you.” She laughed. “What job?” I said, “I’m not sure but I want you on the team.” She’s like, “Are you serious? What am I going to do?” I said, “I’m not exactly sure, but it sounds like you’re good in the areas of quality assurance.” She said, “I have a real passion for that.” I said, “Let’s mold something together that aligns with you.” She joined the company team and that contract evolved and created the position description that we have for today, which doesn’t match what it looked like a couple of years ago. She’s passionate about these areas, she’s good at it and it’s a need that we have. We grew that position and her to evolve. Now, we truly have round pegs in round holes. That’s the essence of HR 3.0 because you’re trying to put round pegs in round holes.

You’ve mentioned Jim Collins and he said, “People are not your greatest assets, the right people are.” What you’re talking about is what I’m interested in, in the work I do with Curiosity. I’ve talked to a lot of people about engagement and all of the cultural issues that we hear about. Everybody’s trying to be innovative, everybody wants to be engaged and productive. A lot of people are just not very interested in what they’re doing. They’re not aligned properly. I’ve had everybody on the show tell me everything from your losing a third of their salary to $211,000 cost, for $100,000 salary, for getting new people. The numbers are staggering. We could find out more about what happens with people if we can ask questions. You can find out more about what interests them. We can get better alignment, but some people feel uncomfortable asking questions or making proposals. Somebody even used the word insubordination if somebody did that thing in the past in the workplace. You kept your head down, you didn’t ask, you didn’t offer suggestions. How do you think we can change that?

This speaks not just to individual preferences and motivations, but oftentimes it speaks to the broader concept of culture. How do we create an environment where people are encouraged, recognized and engage to bring forth ideas? The process begins with hiring the right people in the first place. If you’ve got people on the team that isn’t aligned with your core values, you need to let them go. That means you may have some short-term pain of jobs won’t get done or other people’s workloads will increase during the transitional period. The short-term pain is certainly worth the long-term gain. That sounds trite but I’ve seen it time and time again where that’s true. I’d rather have fewer people doing extremely well than a whole bunch of people doing average work. Some of your previous guests have talked about the cost of average or below average. Smarter people than me will certainly have ways to quantify that. I can more qualify that but I didn’t necessarily quantify that. I would agree with where they’re going on that. There is certainly a quantitative cost of that. Hire the right people who share your values and share your passions and interests.

If you don’t have people that align that way, sometimes you’ve got to let them go. Once they’re on the team, you can’t try to cram them into a round hole if they’re a bit of a square peg. Some of it takes some personal courage on the part of leaders to be able to let go of some things. An old mentor of mine used to say, “As leaders, we always need to be searching for the next right answer.” Sometimes we get complacent in that. It’s working today but will it work tomorrow? For me personally, it begins with the understanding of, “I am not the smartest guy in the room.” I am okay with people challenging notions and I encourage people to challenge assumptions. I reward people for challenging assumptions. Not necessarily a monetary reward but just recognition in a team setting of, “I hadn’t thought of that. That’s a great idea, Sally. I’m glad you brought that forward. We hadn’t thought about that until now, but let’s run with that.” Simple statements like that permeate in an organization that the boss is willing to listen.

[bctt tweet=”Create an environment where people are encouraged, recognized, and engaged to bring forth ideas.” via=”no”]

If you’ve got thoughts, bring them forward. We’re not in a big office. I’ve got about 40 team members around the world. Here in our Gillette office, it’s about fifteen team members. I’ll make a point two or three times a day when I’m in the office to go around and talk to people. I’m the CEO, but I’m not too far from my windows, our lowest-ranking employee or our customer service reader in the door. Just engage everybody, “What are you seeing? What are you thinking? How’s your life going?” I let them know that I care about them and that I valued what they contribute to the organization. Sometimes when I’ve worked with CEOs, I got to put in bluntly sometimes. You’ve got to step off the old CEO high horse here for a minute. Everybody in the organization puts their pants on the same way as you do. It’s that humbleness that you have in a senior leader that helps create that environment. If you’re not humble, if you can’t relate to people at every level within the organization, maybe there’s a disconnect there. They won’t be able to relate to you. You’ll have those situations where the person is sitting there going, “I’d like to speak up but I don’t feel like I can.”

That’s what I found in my research on curiosity. Fear is what holds people back in the environment. I found fear, assumptions, technology and environment where the four factors. We were talking about those two specifically. They’re important. I love that you talk about the humble quality and that is what stands out to me so much when I talked to you, like other leaders I’ve met. Keith Krach from DocuSign is another great example. The way he shows respect the way you’re very respectful, it matters to me a very much. I’ve left many jobs for that reason. If I don’t feel respected, I can’t work there. It’s hard to be in that negative atmosphere. You talk about retaining people and to grow talent and that there are three things that you have to get right. In the development process and the retention and engagement, all of that, how do you teach someone to be respectful if they didn’t have that upbringing? I imagine you learned a lot of great things in the military in terms of respect, but most people I talked to don’t have the same level that I see in you. How do you share with other people how they can develop that?

The military solution is we send them off to basic training for twelve weeks and we beat it into them. It doesn’t necessarily transcribe very well to businesses. I come full circle back to the hiring process. You must be asking questions, doing background checks, engaging the candidates, talking to others and getting the sense if they have this value, to begin with. Every time we do interviews and we’re getting close to a hiring decision, we always take the candidate out for lunch. The reason why we do that is we got to eat, but I’d like to see how they treat the help. When the waitress or the busboy comes by, how do they interact? Do they treat them as low live slugs who just serves their interests or are they respectful to them even though they’re the lowly waitress? That’s a very telling on how they’re going to function in the workplace. It’s those soft subtleties of how people relate to each other outside of that is a very telling way to do they have respect.

First, they’ve got to respect themselves. You can probe some questions about that during an interview and how they treat and respect others. Values are values. These are things that shaped us as we evolved as human beings taught by our parents and our community. If the person doesn’t have those, I’m not sure you’re going to beat it into them just because you hire them. I see sometimes some of the mistakes made in the workplace and I’d be honest with you, I’ve made some of those mistakes. I so admired their skills and abilities and I wanted them on the team that we brought them onto the team and six months later, I’m contemplating termination because they don’t have that same values like respect. Part of this goes into just recognizing what it is and if they don’t have that when they walk in your door, it’s unlikely you’re going to teach it and instill that in them. Things like respect, which is near and dear to my heart. I share that same thing with you. It’s one of my old military core values. Respect is one of the army values. Respect is front and center on our corporate values here at Peregrine. If you don’t have it, I’m not sure I’m going to be able to teach it to you.

Sarcasm and some of those things can take away so much from people. I don’t think a lot of people realize it sometimes. A lot of it they get from the culture and the company. Maybe that’s the only thing that they’ve seen from the leaders around them. You just don’t know what their environment was. You wrote Hiring: A Practical Guide for Selecting the Right People. What do you think is the most important thing that they can get out of reading this book and why you wrote it?

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization
Hiring: A Practical Guide for Selecting the Right People

The most important thing that people can use our book, Hiring: A Practical Guide for Selecting the Right People is to pause their hiring process, to critically think about exactly what you’re doing here. Often, we get in a hurry. I’ve got three customer service reps to sell. The first three people walk on the door, if they have a moderate degree of competency, congratulations, you’ve got a job. In my experience too, many times that leads to issues and problems. Taking a more deliberate approach to making sure that the people you hire are aligned with those values, that they share some of those values, take a little more time in the interview and selection process to understand the perspectives and values of the individual. We’ve got 400 or 300 pages here in the book. We don’t talk a lot in the book about technical competency. It’s a rare day where you terminate somebody because they lacked technical skill. Why do we terminate people? It’s usually soft skills, but yet our hiring process and promotion processes tend to center around technical competency. The key takeaway for the book is to think about those soft skills, those values. How do you want to define leadership, communications, teamwork, cohesiveness, respect? Build your selection process around those.

I’ve got two positions in our company that we’re going to be hiring. We’re about to send out a job announcement. We’ll be taking applications and screenings and doing interviews. We hope to on-board both positions. They’re manager positions. We’re doing some critical thinking about not just the technical dimension but more, so the soft skill mentioned. Who do we want in this role? Even when we make a selection, it’s always with where do we think we can grow on? You hire him today, but you’ve got to live with him for several years and grow him. Where might their talents go? Several people here on the team were not necessarily performing roles that they signed up for in the first place. We’ve evolved their positions to align with their passion and interests and what they’re good at. Going back to that square peg round hole, it’s not an absolute. It’s a continuum of time to do this. I get a pushback sometimes. I’m a small business. I can’t do that. I need my sales clerk. You can too. You need the right sales clerk running your store, not the wrong one. I see too many wrong ones. I turn around and walk out and go to a different store. Don’t tell me that you can’t take the time to do that. That’s the key takeaway from the book.

I hope everybody takes some time to check it out and I’m sure they want to know how they can get it and how they can reach you. Olin, can you share that?

We’ve got three books listed on Amazon right now both print and digital versions. Search Amazon either for my name or our publishing company, Peregrine Pathways on Amazon and you’ll see our books listed there. Our newest book will be out and called Leading Organizations and perhaps we can have a conversation a little bit about that. All three books are listed here on Amazon. If you search Peregrine Pathways, you’ll find it. To reach me, our website is and our contact information are listed there on that website. I’d be delighted to talk and engage folks.

It’s always an honor to talk to you. You have always inspired me and I enjoyed having you on the show.

[bctt tweet=”The short-term pain is usually worth the long-term gain. ” via=”no”]

It’s certainly great to be with you and share a topic that I’m very passionate about and that’s people. The rule number six in my book is to take care of your people. I believe that what Jim Collins said is, “People aren’t your greatest asset, the right people are.” I’ve been convinced whether you’re in the military environment, but the right people are what matters the most. Selecting, retaining and developing, growing the right people is what will help companies thrive in this ambiguous environment we live in.

Thanks, Olin.

Problems Prioritization with Harry Max

I am here with Harry Max, who is the Chief People Officer at SpoonRead. He’s an early pioneer in eCommerce and crowdsourcing. He’s a TEDx speaker and he’s an expert in the area of prioritization. It’s so nice to have you here, Harry.

Thank you so much for the invitation.

I thank Luke Hohmann for introducing us. He said that you’re a very interesting guy. He sent me your TED Talk. You talk about the word, problem, and how it has different meanings. You’re an expert in the area of problems prioritization. How would you describe yourself this? Can you give me a little background on you?

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization
Problems Prioritization: What people are interested in isn’t thinking about problem framing and diagnostic thinking. Rather they are thinking about how to go about prioritizing.


I don’t fit in a box very well. I’m an operational leader, I’m a coach, I’m a consultant. I’m working more on being an author/speaker and trying to take the ideas that I’ve developed at this point. It helped people grow both personally and professionally with them.

You start off with a TEDx. If you’re trying to be more of a speaker, that’s a pretty high level. How is that doing that?

With very little speaking under my belt, I took some powerful ideas and learned how to tell stories to get those ideas across. It was one of the most difficult things I’ve done professionally, surprisingly. I got to the point that I memorize the talk backward and forwards while I was swimming in a pool.

I had a TED speaker on my show and she gave a TED Talk about the things you learned from soap operas. I got to ask her if those people memorize those soap operas, if they have big teleprompters everywhere and she said, “They memorize all that.” Did they let you go for a short time? I know they don’t want you to go over, but what if you run short? Is that a problem with them or where does this take?

They want it done to the minute. I’m terrible at memorization as well, but they pushed me to memorize word for word that talk so that I could do it in my sleep and I got to that point. I couldn’t do it now, but I could do it then.

[bctt tweet=”Hire people who share your values, passions, and interests. If you don’t have people that align that way, sometimes you got to let them go.” via=”no”]

There are so many ways of looking at what are actual problems and the degree of problems. You’ve focused more on prioritization, but you do that because there are problems, I’m sure. What got you interested in prioritization?

They’ve tightly coupled the ideas around prioritization and problem framing and diagnostic thinking. I was working for a company called Rackspace at the time, helping them build a public cloud offering. I was asked to share my problem framing models and process with first, the South by Southwest crowd and then the TEDx crowd. I developed a talk and I was very interested in the material and continued speaking on the topic. At the end of that talk was a small bit about the work that I was doing on prioritization. That’s where all the questions came up. Every time I gave the talk, more and more questions came up about what is prioritization? What is the process of prioritizing? What is a priority? How is it different from getting things done and personal productivity and how do I think about it?

At some point, I realized that what people were interested in wasn’t thinking about problem framing and diagnostic thinking. Rather they were thinking about how is it that they go about prioritizing in both their personal and professional lives, both for themselves, by themselves and with others and for others. I went back over all of the material that I’ve developed over the years in companies, as an executive coach and as a strategy consultant. I put all that material together and I started giving talks on prioritization as a topic that hit a nerve.

What is the biggest problem people have with it?

There is a set of them. The first is that most people confuse or conflate the topic of prioritization with the topic of personal productivity or David Allen’s notion of getting things done. They’re related but the fact is that personal productivity and getting things done is a small subset of prioritization as a broader topic. That’s the first thing. The second is you’ve probably heard of the Dunning–Kruger effect, which is a psychological effect that effectively says the dumber you are at something, the dumber you are at knowing that you’re dumb at something. The fact is most people think they’re good at prioritization because as a species, we know when there’s a tiger coming at us to get out of the way. Our basic simple prioritization processes are exceedingly good in simple emergency situations. The second it gets big and complicated and organizational, it starts to fall apart and we don’t know that we’re not good at it.

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization
Problems Prioritization: The kind of advice we give people depends on the context in which they are prioritizing, whether it’s for themselves or by themselves or whether it’s for other people or with other people.


I just had a TED speaker who was talking about the Chilean miners, getting them out and how great everybody works together to get them out in an emergency situation. Why do you think that is? Do we get a rush of dopamine? What is it that makes us be able to do it well then and not other times?

Fundamentally there are a small number of crucial priorities that matter in emergency situations. Triage, which is the notion of sorting this from that and making sure that you get the stuff that’s life-threatening put on the top of the list is a fairly straightforward process. One of the last companies that I was working with and a company that I helped found was in the emergency response business. That’s where a lot of this material got developed and it became apparent to me that in simple situations where the timeframe is relatively near-term, we’re quite good at prioritizing. Where it gets complicated is where the timeframes are long and where the numbers of priorities are vast and many of them are competing with one another.

You’ve got Gantt charts. You’ve got things you can do to help you figure out what needs to be done when. Is there a certain process that you recommend maybe longer-term projects?

Yes, but I break it up into a couple of different things. I have a process methodology which I call DGAP for Decide, Engage, Gather, Assess and then Prioritize. I also make some very clear distinctions between the process methodology of DGAP and what it means to use different types of sorting techniques under certain circumstances. What does it mean to select different types of criteria? What matters most? Then what it means to select the appropriate frameworks. A lot of people don’t distinguish between what a set of criteria are or what a sorting technique card sorting or paired comparison voting is and then what a framework is like the Eisenhower Matrix. The most popular one was popularized by Stephen Covey, urgency versus importance, which is too simple for the most complicated stuff, but it’s a good example of a framework.

Give me an example of what you would tell somebody as an example of how to prioritize in a situation. If somebody comes to you with XYZ problem, what kind of a problem would you help them with and what kind of advice would you give them?

[bctt tweet=”The dumber you are at something, the dumber you are at knowing that you’re dumb at something.” via=”no”]

It depends on whether it’s a personal situation, it depends on how well I know the person and how much permission I have to work with them to ask them questions. Sometimes probing personal questions. It depends on the context in which they are prioritizing, whether it’s for themselves or by themselves or it’s for other people or with other people. It’s not a straightforward answer, which is one of the reasons the topic is so slippery. If I were to start in one place, it would be very much like a doctor, “Do you have a feel for what’s most important to you right here, right now?” Sometimes people are feeling overwhelmed, which is not an uncommon reaction to feeling like they have to deal with a lot of priorities.

What I do is I would start with, “Let’s just write it all down. Let’s begin the process of comparing one thing to another. Which one’s more important?” They may say, “Of these three things, this one’s the most important.” What I would then do is say, “Why?” Teasing out that why helps us understand what the criteria are that they might want to use for sorting other things. It’s a very iterative process of getting them to sort, getting them to extract why they’re sorting the way they’re sorting and then adding more items into that sort and continually refining it until we get to a point where we can agree on what’s most important and why until we have a good sense of what the items are that need to be prioritized and filtering those against the sorted criteria.

It’s interesting because you bring up why and it brings up some of my research with curiosity and how people shut down sometimes because of their environment or fear or different reasons. They don’t feel comfortable researching things and it’s hurt the critical thinking skills, at least I’ve seen in my students and in my research in general. Do you think developing curiosity in the workplace would help them with a prioritization because they would be able to develop some of those skills? Do you think that that’s a different way of thinking?

If you were to go back and look at what I’ve said about the DGAP process, which is to decide whether or not it’s time to prioritize and if so, who needs to be involved in what not to engage in the process? To gather the information, to assess that information and then prioritize every single one of those process steps is better if you’re curious. It’s much more likely that you’re going to be open to potentially conflicting information, that you’re going to show up in conversations with an open heart and in a state of curiosity, be willing to listen to what people are saying and involve them in the process. For me personally, the state of curiosity is probably the highest state somebody would want to be in when they begin the process.

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization
How to Measure Anything: Finding the Value of Intangibles in Business

All the problems that we see in the workplace kept coming back to curiosity. If it’s engagement, if it’s the productivity, if it’s innovation, all these things, we could just work on some of the environmental and the fear factor-based things that we get a lot at work. There’s a cultural problem involved with just in the past being shut down. Whatever the reasons are, we need to get this mindset with leaders to allow people to be more curious. I’m curious about your workshop. How do you go about teaching a workshop on prioritization? What could you expect if you attended something like that?

The workshop that I have is a one-day workshop that I just delivered at a conference in New York, Manhattan called Design Ops, which is design operations for leaders in the product and design development. It walks through the process of helping people understand why we even care about the topic. What are the common ways that we use to prioritize today? What is prioritization? How is it that it’s confused with getting things done and personal productivity? Why do we do it? What are the key benefits? Where do you start and how do you categorize the different types of priorities? What are the reasons that slow us down? People are shutting down their curiosity. I teach them the DGAP process and work them through how to engage in that process that I walk through. I introduced them to the basic sorting techniques. Which ones are valuable and why and when you would use them?

Things like the paired comparison, which you’re probably familiar with from Richard Bolles’ What Color is Your Parachute? We go through the different types of stack ranking techniques and whatnot, helping them understand what the criteria are. What’s the difference between behavioral criteria, qualitative criteria, performance criteria and what are the common sets of criteria? For instance, like VUCA, which is vulnerability, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. How do you sort things using a set of criteria and what are the differences between criteria and constraints like scope, schedule and quality? How do you use a prioritization matrix and what types of matrices are there? How should you think about those as well as quantitative techniques? What are all the different frameworks that are involved and how to think about those and when to use them?

Things like the cost of delay for instance. How costly is it to delay something whether it’s important or whether it’s more or less urgent? Laying all of this out and providing exercises so they get a feel for this whether it’s an exercise when they get home or back to the office of prioritizing by themselves for themselves or for their family or some project like a home remodel. Whether they’re in the office, whether they’re prioritizing with other people, for people either in the same office or they’re doing in a distributed environment such as using the contenting tool set from Luke Hohmann with his Weave software platform. Once you know this, you can’t go back and think about it a different way. I’m trying to give people a set of thinking tools for moving forward into the future in an increasingly complex world. Focusing on what matters most and then putting our time and attention and money and resources there, the more likely we’re going to see things improve.

I liked how you talked about the cost of delay. We hear opportunity costs, we hear different things. You’re talking about quantitative and qualitative. How much of this is subjective versus objective ways of measuring with a priority?

One of my favorite people in the world is Douglas Hubbard. He wrote the book How to Measure Anything and it’s about quantifying the subjective. Douglas does a lot of work with the insurance industry and does a lot of work with companies that have very difficult quantitative problems. Fundamentally it’s almost all qualitative at some level. Douglas Hubbard says, “I wrote a book on How to Measure Anything, not how to measure most things.” I’ve worked with him multiple times. I brought him in as a consultant in various things. Mostly it’s qualitative, mostly it’s subjective. In work and in life, when you’re dealing with other people, it’s often about having people feel they’re part of the process and feel they’re heard and their concerns are being taken into consideration. Even if they don’t like the outcome, if they feel like they’ve been part of the process, they’re typically okay with the outcome. These things are so squishy and because there’s so much subjective stuff that got us into this, that’s even more important.

[bctt tweet=”If we focus on what matters most and then put our time, attention, and resources there, the more likely we’re going to see things improve.” via=”no”]

I’ve talked for years about soft skills and emotional intelligence and a lot of things that are self-assessing. It came home to be how challenging it was when I was trying to measure curiosity. There were already assessments out there to measure whether you’re curious or not, but I was trying to measure what holds you back from being curious. You need to know that in order to go forward. My goal was to fix this. What you’re talking about is important for anybody who’s thinking about creating assessments and all that. There are so many subjectivity and influence from our perceptions of things when you start looking at all this stuff. I could see why your work’s been so popular. You have a very strong background in terms of research. You’ve done your work and I can see what you’ve been featured in The Economist, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Harvard Business School, a case study in eCommerce. You’ve been published out there. What was your background education-wise? Did you study economics?

I was incredibly fortunate to get a brilliant liberal arts education at the University of California, Santa Cruz. I studied something called Modern Society and Social Thought, which was social philosophy, but they looked at economics, religion, psychology, sociology, history. It was a horizontal view through many of the non-hard sciences to try to give you an integrated perspective on how it all ties together. I fell out of that into the computer industry. My work is more applied than anything else. It’s not very theoretical even though I sound a little bit theoretical. Most of the stuff that I’ve developed is stuff that I use. I’ve either used it in executive coaching or I’ve used it as an operational leader or I’ve used it as a consultant. Interestingly, the University of California, Santa Cruz is where the field of NLP Neuro Linguistic Programming was originally developed. I happened to be there at the tail end of that development work. I was able to drop into the community of people who were studying NLP with some of the earliest folks in the NLP community. A lot of my background is NLP informed.

You have an interesting background. You were the Cofounder of Virtual Vineyard, and you’ve worked with AllClear ID, Apple, Dreamworks, Google, Pay Pal, Rackspace. I’m looking at your background and It’s diverse. I could see why Luke thought you’d be a great guest for the show. It’s very interesting stuff that you do. I agree that prioritization is a huge topic. A lot of people are going to want to know if they want to attend your workshop or find out more about what you do, how they can see your TED Talk. How can they find you?

Fortunately, I’ve been around a while. I’m available everywhere with my first and last names whether it’s Skype or Gmail or LinkedIn or Facebook. I’m @HarryMax everywhere. I don’t have an active website, but I’m easily findable just by searching on my first and last name. LinkedIn is the best one-stop shop for all of that.

Are you going to do a TED Talk on prioritization?

That’s one of those things you either get invited to do or you don’t. I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to work on the problem framing and diagnostic thinking talk. If I don’t get an opportunity to work on the prioritization material for a TED Talks, then I’m fine with that. I’ve got plenty to do.

This has been fascinating. I’m glad to hear that our work has a lot in common. We’ll have to talk more about that Douglas’ work. I find that fascinating as well. Thank you for listing so many interesting resources that people can check out. Thank you for being my guest. I enjoyed having this conversation.

It was my pleasure. Thank you so much for the invite.

You’re welcome.

I want to thank Olin and Harry for being my guests. It’s always so great to have so many interesting people on the show. If you want to know more information about the Cracking the Curiosity Code book and the Curiosity Code Index, they’re at It has been a very insightful process coming up with all this. I’ve had a lot of information on the site. We are aligned with SHRM to provide recertification credits for HR professionals wanting to take the training and for leadership consultants. If you want to know more, you can contact me through the site and I hope you do that. I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

Important Links:

About Dr. Olin Oedekoven, PhD

TTL 294 | Problems PrioritizationDr. Olin O. Oedekoven has been creating and leading effective teams at all organizational levels from first-line leader through strategic leadership for nearly 30 years. He understands the unique value of a team and how the dynamics of a team shape team performance. Olin works with large and small companies on business process improvement, strategic planning, and organizational development in both the private and public sectors.

Olin graduated from South Dakota State University with both a B.S. in Wildlife and Fisheries Sciences and a B.S. in General Biology. Olin then attended the University of Wyoming where he received an M.S. in Wildlife Management. He received an MBA from Northcentral University and is a graduate of the Army Command and General Staff College and the U.S. Army War College where he received an M.S.S. in Strategic Management and Leadership. Olin then returned to Northcentral University where he received a Ph.D. in Business Administration with duel concentrations in Business Management and Public Administration. Shortly thereafter he completed a post-doctoral teaching specialization in Human Resource Management.

His military experience includes senior staff, battalion command, and brigade command assignments. As Brigadier General of the Wyoming Army National Guard, he commanded over 1,900 full-time and part-time soldiers. Olin retired from the National Guard in 2011.

About Harry Max

TTL 294 | Problems Prioritization

An early pioneer in e-commerce and crowdsourcing, I was a co-founder of Virtual Vineyards (the original, where my information architecture and designs powered the interaction behind the first secure, on-line shopping cart for specialty retail; and the founder of Public Mind, the first SaaS crowdsourcing platform for harnessing the voice-of-the-customer.

Invited Speaker

– AGILEcamp, Prioritization: Beyond Getting Things Done
– DesignOps Summit 2018, Prioritization: Beyond Getting Things Done
– Enterprise UX 2016, Priority Zero
– TEDx San Antonio, The Problem is Not the Problem
– SxSW, The Problem is Not the Problem
– USAA Design Colloquium, The Problem is Not the Problem
– Silicon Image Leadership Summit, The Courage to Innovate
– Mind the Product London, Sprint Zero
– NACAS 2015, Blueprint for a New Way of Thinking
– Innovation Games Summit, The Problem is Not the Problem
– Product Austin 2014, Sprint Zero
– NPS Forum 2012, Leading Through Change
– Warm Gun 2012, What I Wish I’d Known as a Start-up Founder
– IA Summit 2012, New Orleans Closing Keynote
– IA Summit 2010, The Design of Strategy
– ECOM Berlin 2009, Consumer Interaction Frameworks
– AARP Web Team 2006, Innovating on a Web Team
– IA Summit 2006, Next Horizons for Information Architecture
– IA Summit 2005, Speaking the Language of Business
– COMDEX 1996 -The future of the webmaster

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