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The Dance Floor and the Balcony

Ronald Heifetz is the King Hussein bin Talal Senior Lecturer in Public Leadership at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. For the past twenty years, he has generated critical works that have influenced leadership theory in every domain. Heifetz often draws on the metaphor of the dance floor and the balcony.

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.*

So you need to be both among the dancers and up on the balcony. That’s where the magic is, going back and forth between the two, using one to leverage the other.

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* Heifetz, R., and Linsky, M. Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading.Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2002.

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Test Your Changes

Following on from my previous post on there’s no such thing as a small change…

Please do not make any changes to a production system – a live system – without first testing for any side effects. For example, please do not read a blog post or a book chapter, and then check your system and find you are using manual memory management – and then just turn on automatic memory management. Query plans may change and performance may be impacted. One of three things could happen:

  • Things run exactly the same
  • Things run better than they did before
  • Things run much worse than they did before

Exercise caution before making changes; test the proposed change first!

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University

Universities used to be centres of learning. Now most of them are corporations with huge marketing divisions, massive administration costs, crazy slogans, a fixation with dodgy rankings, an obsession with what is often low grade and banal research and an increasing reliance on casual low-cost staff. Otherwise it’s all good!

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Data Availability

Today’s businesses depend heavily on their databases. Should applications and data become unavailable, the entire business may halt. Revenue and customers may be lost and penalties may be incurred. Bad press can have a lasting effect on both customers and stock prices. Certainly, providing continuous data availability is essential for today’s businesses.

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Microsoft

It’s hard to believe that Microsoft is 41 years old. In that time, its had its ups (think Windows XP with around one billion sales) and its downs (think Windows ME, which lasted for less than 18 months). But one thing that’s clear is Microsoft has cleverly re-invented itself, re-booted and disrupted its own business in a massive way. Some would argue Microsoft is now “cool” again.