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Monday, November 24, 2014

Book Review-Bowling Alone

Picking up a 14-year-old book on social trends seems like a foolish thing to do in the world of the Intranet. It seems like with each new month that passes there's a new definition of social at Internet speed – however, social is, as my friend Eric Shupps comments, "with beer in hand." Whether you share Eric's appreciation for alcohol or not, the comment is correct. Social isn't about microblogging, a new Facebook game, or technology – social is, at its heart, about people. Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, Robert Putnam's book about the decline of social capital in America, has been quoted in several of the books that I've read recently. It was quoted in The Science of Trust and Theory U. When multiple sources start pointing back to the same source I know I have to read it. There's something there that a quick mention will miss. It starts with social capital.

Defining Social Capital

Before getting into the details of the decline of social capital in America and what causes it, we first must understand what we mean by social capital. Social capital is the idea that social networks have value. We inherently know this when we or someone we know is looking for a job. Social networks are the relationships – of varying strengths that we have. The more people we have relationships with – and the deeper those relationships -- the more social capital we have.

Ultimately, our relationships with one another convey an ability to trust. We are, as Building Trust says, more likely to trust those who are more familiar to us. Trust is a lubricator of economies. It reduces the friction with which you enter agreements. That reduced friction means that you'll go farther. Trusting is one of those powerful root virtues that in our daily lives we often overlook. (If you're interest more in trust and how it works you should see my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)

Trust is more than just our direct trust of a singular person. It becomes woven into the fabric of our environment. This happens whether we believe in Karma – or not. We see that people get what they deserve – or not. As a result, our economies and our communities flourish – or wither. The Science of Trust speaks about the difference in strategies in different games. For instance, in games when coordinating efforts isn't an option, the tit-for-tat strategy is often best – in short, Karma works. However, if we all do just what is best for us (von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium), we don't truly end up with the best results. The best results come with a Nash equilibrium where we all work for everyone's best interests – certainly our own, but others as well. That's what social capital does. It shifts us from focusing only on ourselves to focusing on everyone being better off.

Membership Has Its Costs

While membership may have its privileges, it has its costs as well. In the case of American Express, it's the annual fee. In the case of most organizational memberships today, it's a membership fee. Whether it's Aircraft Owners and Pilots' Association (AOPA), the National Rifle Association (NRA), or the World Wildlife Federation (WWF) membership means paying a fee. However, this isn't the same as it was for our parents. When they joined the Rotary club, Kiwanis, Lions, Elk, or Moose they knew they were making a commitment to spend time to invest in building social capital with the rest of the club.

Over the years, we've traded our personal involvement with groups and the causes they're working on with a check. In turn, they're working on advocacy and lobbying in Washington, DC. Instead of personally gathering to commiserate with others who share our goals and values, we've delegating those responsibilities to professionals who are tasked with moving forward our perceived objectives. This transformation to a financial relationship has allowed organizations to grow – and shrink – rapidly. Generating membership means little more than running mass marketing campaigns – but once those campaigns are complete, membership doesn't typically stick – because there is very little social capital or relationship holding the membership to the group. People simply don't identify themselves as members of Greenpeace like they did the Moose or Elk.

The problem is that social capital is formed on relationships and shared identity – not on money given to a cause. Social capital which drives society forward doesn't work by proxy. You can't learn to trust the folks in your neighborhood or community if you never work with them for goals that you both find important.

Considering the Church

Bowling Alone breaks groups into community, church, and work-based groups. In this division there's plenty of evidence that church groups are the most likely group to perform philanthropic activities. In fact, the strongest indicator of philanthropic activity is involvement in church. So churches have an important role to play in the development of the fabric of society – even if the bonds of social capital are fraying at their edges.

Churches today are facing their own crisis. I wrote a bit about this crisis in my review of Churchless. Churches simply aren't drawing the same number of people as they used to. Church attendance is certainly lower than it was 40 years ago. Despite the efforts to engage people and draw them back to God, the battle is being lost. Churches simply aren't immune to the factors that are unraveling social capital development.

Collaboration, Competition, and the Employment "Contract"

We learned in Collaborative Intelligence that competition inside a group is a bad thing. We also learned from Hackman that he believes that the setup of the situation can be as much as 60% of the outcome. The setup can be a part of the social contract – or the social norms – that we all expect. It used to be that people expected to work their entire careers for one organization. When you started at General Motors or IBM or wherever, you expected that you would have a job with them until you retire. However, the corporate restructuring and downsizing in the 1980s meant that the implied social contract of employment for life was broken, and along with it came waves of change.

The number of people who HAD to find a new job (involuntary turnover) climbed, but so too did the people that chose to find a new job (voluntary turnover). In the exchange we were left with a more mobile workforce. Though the Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers don't show a substantial change in job tenure over the last thirty years, there is a change. Even the small changes we're seeing may be the tipping point between feeling secure and feeling insecure. Or perhaps just the press coverage that there is a change in tenure has created a feeling of insecurity.

When you don't feel secure that you'll have a job for the long term, your attitudes, behaviors, and perspectives change. Instead of helping a coworker be more effective at their job you're more likely to focus on your own work and avoid helping them. If you believe that at the end of the day it will either be your job or theirs that is eliminated, as much as you like them, you'll hope it's their job eliminated and not yours. That means that instead of collaborating and supporting them you're now competing with them – and that's a bad thing.

Communities that Heal

Communities, as we learned in Change or Die, can have a healing effect. Tight knit communities support and watch over one another. They form associations to make micro loans when banks won't make them. They watch – and discipline -- each other's children. These are the kind of communities that we want to be in – but also that are becoming rarer. We're becoming increasingly more insular as we sit inside our air-conditioned houses instead of on the front porch. We don't say hello to the neighbor as we get out of our car because we pull into our garage with the automatic door opener – which doubles as an automatic door closer. The logistics of our lives have us interacting with neighbors and their children less.

It's hard to be involved in a tight knit community when you aren't exposed to it. We're also falling victim to another major trend – the trend of valuing our independence. As Americans, we own more cars and drive further than any other nation. We have a strong belief about the value of independence. No longer do we live in small agricultural communities where people came together to build barns support those who had hardships. Instead we are in the hustle and bustle of our industrialized and individualized lives. The communities that we grew up in where everyone knew your business are no more – because we have decided that we aren't interested in being interdependent upon each other – because we've become more self-reliant (as Emerson would say).

Building Trust in an Electronic World

The reality today is that we're living in an electronic world. We don't get the newspaper any longer, we logon to CNN. We don't watch the weather, we login to weather.com. We used to trust in institutions like companies. We used to trust in the government. We used to trust in each other. We can no longer see the micro-expressions that require a 60th of a second to see. Trust – it seems – is under assault. Our ability to dissatisfaction and alienation has risen in tandem with social media. We don't trust institutions. We've seen church leaders do horrific things. We've seen banks and institutions of all types fail.

I described in my post Building Trust: Make, Renegotiate, Meet that the recipe for building trust isn't hard. It does, however, take a long time. You have to meet many commitments before someone will trust you. Consider Ebay, which relies on feedback from other people to help you trust that the person with whom you're going to complete a transaction is safe to work with. You rely upon that person having made and met commitments with other parts of the community.

Work If You Want To

One of the hypothesis presented about the decline in social engagement was that the primary drivers of social capital, wives of working men, started to go to work themselves and, because of that, they became less engaged in social clubs. However, the data doesn't seem to support this hypothesis. Quite the contrary, that when people were working part time – particularly because of desire to work – there was a rise in the amount of volunteer and social work being done. In other words, getting women out of the role of homemaker may have some negative impacts on social capital development, but it has just as many, or more, positive impacts.

So yes, people are busier, but they're also more engaged through the process. Working part time seems to drive social capital creation rather than deter it.

Wartime Activity

We, collectively, have more free time now than at any other point in human history. We spend less time working for our basic needs than at any other time. We are enjoying our time. That is, we're enjoying our time until we're rallied to a cause. The cause drives us to be more productive and turn away from the unimportant things. We found war twice in the 20th century. These were times when we in America rallied against a common enemy – and as a result we gave up some of our leisure time and instead focused on productivity.

However, what happened when the war was over and it had been won? Much has been written about the plight of veterans returning from war – but is it broader than that? Is it that the entire society was trying to readjust and cope – and the result was that we created more productive activity for ourselves? That is, that we decided for a brief period after the war – after the struggle – that we wanted to create in the world a better place and that we were willing to continue our activity level to be able to get it? It seems like this may be plausible based on the data, which indicated that the social capital creation increased at end of the war – at least for a short time. After a few years this engagement wavered and we started a downward spiral.

Social Norms of Connectedness

How often should you call your parents? How about your siblings? What is a normal level of connectivity with your family? How about your friends? These are hard questions with no single answers. The answers are driven by what your social network believes the right answer is. You may have friends who speak with their parents weekly – or even daily. You may call much less frequently, monthly or quarterly.

Slowly, and perhaps imperceptibly to us in the moment, our norms of social connectedness have changed. We moved away from our childhood homes and cities. In the era of long distance phone call rates we didn't call each other as often because of the cost. Along the way we developed new habits – new norms – of connectivity. We're changing the way that we're connecting. It's through Facebook and social media – and the data seems to point to the fact that social media isn't the same as social gatherings. We've established new social norms, but they may not be healthy for us personally (we're more stressed and anxious) or for society.

Bowling Leagues

Crowding inside a bowling hall breathing smoke filled air, drinking to excess, and eating high-fat, high-calorie foods may be the healthiest thing you can do – if you're forming relationships with the people that you're bowling with. Sure there may be the occasional heart attack caused by the food, but as it turns out (and as I've mentioned in my review of Emotional Intelligence.) the deep social connections that you're building at the same time have an immense impact on your overall health. You're better off drinking a beer and eating a greasy pizza with your best friend at a bowling alley than staying home and being isolated. It turns out that as we're losing our social capital we're also losing our health.

Social Capacity and Facebook as a Brain Augmentation System

A British anthropologist Robin Dunbar observed that the size of social groups increased with the size of a mammal's brain. This led to what is called Dunbar's number for humans, which places the number of stable social connections that we can maintain at about 150. If you've been on Facebook or LinkedIn for a while you're likely to have more than 150 friends – or connections. However, Dunbar was speaking about a different level of connectedness than we're used to today. He was speaking about communities of people. He was talking about social grooming – the process whereby we support each other and help each other survive.

In truth, Dunbar's research really lead him to believe in different rings of relationships, each of which had a different level of trust. In the wider circles Facebook is effective at keeping us loosely connected with others that we've become acquainted with. It turns out that Facebook (and LinkedIn) becomes a way to help us maintain relationships in this outer circle of acquaintances, but it isn't the same as having deep social connections with our list of Facebook friends.

The Causes

So what is the cause of the drop in social engagement? Who is holding the smoking gun of social malaise? The answer, as it turns out is that it appears to have been a set of factors (a conspiracy, if you are prone to such theories). No one cause can be found. While there are some factors that clearly have had a larger impact than others, there's no way to single out a single cause. However, here are some of the suspects that the book lays out – and their associated crimes.

Television

Of the causes for the decline in social engagement, none was found to be more powerful than the invention of the television. The television privatized leisure time. One can sit at home in front of a television and be entertained with no effort of their own. Television is, quite simply, a very low-effort way to find pleasure. However, much like eating only chips all day would leave us longing for something more – something more solid, so too does excessive television watching. It's the leisure equivalent of filling up on junk food. It tastes good going down but the longer term effects in our overall mood – and our waistline – are not desirable.

The data says that television is singularly the leisure activity that inhibits other leisure activities. Every other leisure activity led – statistically speaking – to other forms of leisure. Television doesn't. Once your mind gets sucked into the television it's unlikely to come out to play with others. Of all of the causes that Putnam evaluated, it was television that had the highest probability of contributing to the decline.

Generations

The second highest correlation came from a look at the various generations and their dispositions towards social capital creation. It turns out that, from voting rates to memberships, the declines seem to come in part from older generations disappearing from active social life. These folks have put well more than their share into our social capital development. They're simply no longer able to continue to invest and the younger generations aren't picking up the slack.

The older generations are still holding their own – being more involved during retirement than they may have been while they were working. They're doing all they can into the golden years of their life but at some point no longer have the capacity to help.

Garage Door Openers

The final suspect is my suspect. It's that we've become a garage door world. We drive home to our houses and we don't park our cars outside where we can have the serendipitous conversation with our neighbor to learn about how they're doing or the social concern they care about. We don't spend time tending our lawns and gardens like we once did to create accidental engagement with others. We go inside and sit in front of the TV or the internet without needing – or wanting – to interact with anyone else in our neighborhood.

There's no good measure for engagement in our neighborhoods. There's no count of random interactions with our neighbors, but my personal observation is that, now that we don't park our cars on the street or in the driveway as much, we simply don't have as many random interactions.

Timeless and Timely

If you're serious about social capital in your community, or even if you're just serious about making social enterprise in your organization using only electrons, you should pick up Bowling Alone so you can understand the mechanics and the history of social in America.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
Monday, November 17, 2014

Book Review: Churchless – Understanding Today’s Unchurched and How to Connect with Them

Sometimes a book review and my experiences connect, and that triggers a chain reaction of books to read. I'm in one of those chain reactions now. I started with Theory U which led to Bowling Alone which led to reading Churchless. The last connection will make more sense once I've done the review for Bowling Alone. However for now, I'll share that in Bowling Alone much of the book is the research about how we as Americans are not joining and participating in clubs as much as we once were. There's a bit of data about how this decline worked relative to churches, but during a church service I heard many more statistics about the challenges of churches in America. When I inquired, my pastor shared the data was from the Barna group – and that led me to their latest book Churchless.

Churchless is the study of why Americans aren't connected to church. The research indicates that slightly less than half (49%) of Americans attend church regularly – though regularly is defined liberally as attending once a month. Another 8 percent of Americans attend church occasionally, some of which are what the book calls CEOs – Christmas and Easter Only. Interestingly 33% of Americans are what the book considers de-churched. That is they have previously had a church experience but have left the church for some reason – perhaps they're only on hiatus.

Finding the Differences

One of the things for which I've heard over and over again in the statistics, including those in Churchless and Bowling Alone, is that in many respects the Christian doesn't look that different from the non-Christian. For instance, Christian and non-Christian youth are essentially equal in their sexual activity – despite the strong moral line that the church takes against sex before marriage. (For the record, I've not found the support for this in the scripture despite numerous attempts to find it in the translations as well as the original Greek.) Sure, Christians are more generous (by 5x) according to Churchless – but that's not an outwardly visible aspect of Christian life. You may recall from Diffusion of Innovations that visibility is one of the key factors in influencing how quickly an innovation diffuses through a network. If there's no visible difference in the way we behave as Christians – why would anyone want to become one of us?

Real and Relevant

Another criticism leveled against the church is often that the Bible isn't relevant to today's world. While many people – including those who are not church attenders – believe that the Bible was the inspired word of God, and still others believe them to be important stories but written by man – many struggle with how the Bible is relevant to their worlds today. In America, we've become self-reliant. We believe that we can make our own way and we don't need anyone else. If we can make our own way then why do we need God in our lives? Even if you realize that you need God in your life, does the church experience connect you with God? All too often, the answer is no. 20% of the people who've dropped out from church say that they didn't feel the presence of God there. If people can't feel the presence of God then why should they come? Too often people walk out of church believing that it was just a performance, a show, or an obligation. That's no way to motivate people.

Do they Care?

The key point to Christianity – the one thing that Jesus said over and over again – is that we should love. As I've mentioned before the Greek has three words for love. Eros – erotic love, Philo – Brotherly love, and Agape – God's unconditional love for his people. Buddhists call Agape love compassion. It's loving everyone. On this mark the unchurched are clear. They don't believe that the church is a loving church, and accepting church, a church worthy to be called the bride of Christ. Instead, the church has become more like the Pharisees of the bible. (Given that Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers, it's probably not a good thing.) Both from the inside of a church and for those on the outside it can seem like a church is all about rules and values that you must hold. It's often seen that you are either with "us," the churchgoing Christians, or you're in the "them" category. Unchurched often feel judged when they walk in the door.

Making Your Way in the World Today

The theme song for the television show "Cheers" includes the words, "Making the way in the world today takes everything that you've got." Certainly we feel that. Today Americans are more stressed out than a decade ago. We feel like we're always busy. We never have enough time to do what is expected of us. This one factor has led to lower church attendance. When you're following a travel hockey team and you're not home on Sunday morning – making church is hard. You can tell yourself that it's only for a while and it's not that big a deal, but all of the demands on our schedules and individuals skipping church is reducing the number of people in the building each weekend. The point here is that sometimes the numbers don't tell the full story. It's possible that you would assume that the congregation is shrinking because the numbers from the weekly attendance is dropping. However, if every family misses just one weekend a month your attendance drops 25% overall.

Societal Trends

The point of my reading of Churchless wasn't to study how I could grow my church – because I'm not involved in that aspect of the church. The goal for me was to evaluate what's going on with churches in the larger context of the societal trends in Bowling Alone. On balance, it seems like the church is impacted by the same factors that are impacting society as a whole. Adults are on their self-reliance path and that path doesn't lead someone to understand their need for God – and that means no church. It's disturbing that we're valuing social media more and real conversations less. The data on the use of social networks like Facebook says that we're feeling more distant from one another even as we're technically more aware of what they're doing. The factors that are driving people away from the church – like the feeling of entitlement – are driving people away from social institutions. We believe that we are entitled to be a part of the conversation – just like we are on Facebook – and church experiences of today aren't that.

However, perhaps if you read Churchless you'll be able to find ways to make your church more appealing to those who aren't currently attending church. Give it a try.


Categories: Professional, Book Review | 0 Comments
 
Monday, October 27, 2014

Book Review-Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All

I've been wandering around the land of innovation lately. I wrote a chapter for the Ark Group book Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results. That chapter really followed up on the chapter I wrote for Unlocking Value: KM as a Strategic Management Tool. Of course, I read and reviewed Unleashing Innovation about Whirlpool's transformation into an innovative company. So reading Creative Confidence is trying to move upstream. I describe innovation as an idea that has been implemented. (Perhaps from my study of Diffusion of Innovations.) It's great to work on the plumbing of sifting through ideas and ultimately converting them into innovations – but there has to be a source somewhere for these ideas. That's what Creative Confidence focuses on – how to encourage, enable, and support the creation of ideas.

Boxes that Define Us

Everyone is born creative. Everyone is born with innate ability to be creative and to create something new. You see it in children all the time. They dance unapologetically. They color outside the lines – and sometimes off the page. They've not learned to be creative, they were born with it. Many adults, however, have unlearned how to be creative. We've learned that it's wrong to color outside of the lines. We've learned to fear rejection and scorn as we do something that others don't understand or approve of.

It's the guilt and shame (See Daring Greatly) that begin to separate us from our innate creative nature. A small comment about how we're not good enough is replayed over and over in our minds, leading us to believe that we really are not good enough. We're not worthy. Faced with a wave of negative emotions and a shrinking personal value our ego defenses kick in and create a split in our personality. (See Change or Die for more on ego defenses.) We suppress the pain rather than dealing with it directly. The result is that we fragment our identity. On the one hand there is the minimizing comments which create a negative image of ourselves, but there is also a positive ego we create through our ego defenses and our belief that we are different than the comments that harmed us. This is the identity that we project. This identity is what Anatomy of Peace would call our must-be-seen-as box. That is we must be seen as someone different than we really are – or who we really, deep in our core, believe that we are.

From my perspective one of the keys to rediscovering our creativity is in integrating these two self-images. That is that we should resolve the internal schism that created the separation in the first place. I've spoken about integrated self-image in The Inner Game of Dialogue (part of my series for the book Dialogue.) I spoke about the need to eliminate boxes through this integrated self-image, but I've not spoken much about ways to reintegrate the image. I want to focus on this topic in this review.

Malleability and Fear

A prerequisite for reintegrating our self-images is the belief that we're able to change. It's what Carol Dweck calls a growth mindset. We have to believe that we can change who we are, where we are, and our potential. That's something that Dweck explores at length in her book Mindset.

If we believe that we're able to change, the trick becomes how we do it. Redirect speaks about cognitive behavior therapy (CBT), and its effectiveness at changing the internal monologue that we hear. However, so does Emotional Intelligence and How to Be an Adult in Relationships. Clearly, CBT is an important technique. It's been proven to be one of the most effective psychological therapies created. (However, a book that I'm not finished with, The Heart & Soul of Change, discusses many of the issues with testing psychological treatment regimens.) One key to actually making the change once you believe it is possible is to change that inner monologue from a negative confirmation to a positive confirmation. (See The Science of Trust for positive and negative sentiment override.)

With the belief that change is possible and that you're capable of change it's time to do what Albert Bandura, in the context of conquering fears, calls the process of guided mastery – taking small steps to overcoming a fear. Bandura's goal was the development of Self-Efficacy – that is the belief that we can reach goals or complete tasks. The process of guided mastery involves the development of a series of small steps to reach a goal. Desensitization is a variation that is specifically designed to reduce the impact of negative responses to stimulus. By repeatedly creating safe interactions it's possible to reduce the fear response in animals and humans.

To repair a fragmented self-image we've got to go back to what fragmented the image in the first place. You've got to find the hurt – or more likely set of hurts that created the split in the first place. Often the hurts are caused by people who are closest to us. In my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy I linked trust, betrayal, vulnerability and intimacy. Because we trusted someone (even if it was only a little bit) and we felt like they harmed us (a betrayal) we were harmed. Our vulnerability due to trust created an opportunity for sufficient harm that our identity became fragmented – or at the very least cracked.

How many of us have been deeply wounded by a comment made by a friend? The comment may – or may not – have been true, however, the comment harmed us greatly. For me, personally, I have been harmed by how my friends see me – because it didn't match the person I wanted to be or the person I saw myself being. I know that for me the reconciliation process for those comments is a very difficult process. I can dismiss the comment out of hand – indicating a lack of trust and therefore vulnerability – or I can process what they've said and hope that they've said it in both truth and love.

The key – I believe – to repairing a fragmented identity is to learn to trust again. We see this in desensitization and in what Bandura calls guided mastery. It's all about making life safer. In How Children Succeed research was shared that spoke about how important it was to feel safe to be vulnerable – but more importantly how children who felt safer (because of fewer adverse childhood experiences (ACE)) were more well-adjusted and more inclined to take risks. In the context of creativity it's feeling safe to be creative without fear of ridicule.

I still remember a comment that an English teacher made to me in passing. She didn't mean anything by it, and I hold no malice to her for it. She told me that I shouldn't consider a career in writing. My grammar was – and is – often awful. I don't spell well. I sometimes get ahead of myself in my writing. (I know you're saying "Duh".) I carried with me for a long time that perception that I shouldn't be a writer. As it turns out my journey to writing came from writing presentations – something a former boss nudged me into. It wasn't writing. It was producing slides so it was OK. It also came from a friend who encouraged me to be a technical editor – editing for technical accuracy –and then eventually encouraging me to write a chapter. Now I've got author credit on 24 books and hundreds of articles. That would have never happened if I hadn't been able to work through that part of my fragmented self-image – the one that didn't care about writing and the one that enjoyed it but which was hurt.

When it comes to creativity one guy to look at is Walt Disney. As I mentioned in my review of Primal Leadership, I had the pleasure of visiting the Walt Disney Family Museum. One of the striking things about the museum is that you have the ability to see not just the end result of Disney's life, which is quite remarkable. Instead you get to see the progression of things that he did to become the man he was. You got to see how he was able to do what people thought was impossible simply because of his dedication to his craft. You got to walk through the short stories that lead to longer features. You got to see whole new techniques that he and his team invented for creating animated movies. The other component to the Disney story that is compelling here is that he had plenty of setbacks, rejections, and failures. Bankruptcy is just one of those ways that he failed. So he was always trying to figure out how to be successful at his creativity while accepting failure as a natural consequence of trying. This is Walt Disney I'm speaking about, someone who has arguably done more to entertain people than anyone else who has ever lived.

Learning More than Fear

So what was it that drove Walt Disney and Thomas Edison to move past their failures and their fear? Some call it an innate desire to create. Others reduce it to the fundamental element of learning. They wanted to learn how something could be done. They wanted to see what the possibilities were, and how to make it really work. They had already seen what it was like to be a failure. They didn't need to fear failure because they had been there, and they realized that the only way to remain a failure was to stop trying. Failure was a stop along the road. The trick was to not build a house and live there.

Interesting in the review of my notes from all of the books that I've read is that the word "lifelong" is most frequently (and nearly exclusively) used when speaking about learning or developing the habit of learning. There's no clear pointer on what gets the process kicked off. It seems like the key is buried somewhere in research around Flow – that is that great leaders found a way to get into a state of high productivity when learning. They enjoyed it. Learning wasn't the means to an end. Rather the ends – the tangible outcomes – were a means to learn more. Said differently they created a target, which created the need to learn.

When fear of failure moves out of the center spotlight, and it is replaced with the desire to learn, it becomes safe to be creative. When fear has to take a back seat to anything, it is weakened. It's stronghold over our lives begins to falter and we can regain our creativity. It doesn't have to be learning that you want more than fear, but learning creates opportunities for new places where fear has no hold.

Compassion and Empathy

Buddhists hold, as a core part of their beliefs, that they should have compassion for every living thing. Christians have a fundamental belief that they're supposed to love their neighbor. (Including the Greek words Agape – God's love – and Philos – brotherly love.) Fundamentally both believe in creating a connection – a shared experience – with another human being. It's this connection that allows you to experience their world and to be creative for their needs.

Consider for a moment the plight of the average traveler in the 1960s. They were just beginning to have air travel available. The luggage of the time was big, heavy, and clunky. However, passengers and baggage handlers had to move this luggage around. It was around 1970 when Benard Sadow created the innovation of the wheel on luggage. His patent in 1972 for "rolling luggage" was, at the time, innovative. It was different than how luggage had always been done. However, by experiencing the plight of a traveler trying to move their luggage through an airport, Sadow, realized the opportunity to make luggage better. This is deep empathy to the plight of travelers.

Having compassion and empathy for others is necessary to create solutions that really resonate with them. All too often people design solutions for the surface issues that people see. Solutions are targeted at creating a bigger bag because of all of the things that people need to carry. It's the creative person that creates ways for the items they carry to be less bulky – or to create a situation where they don't need to carry them at all. From deep empathy comes innovative solutions. From a love of others comes a desire to create something that is harmonious with their lives.

Journeying to Mastery

Daniel Pink, in his book Drive, discusses what drives people. We've all seen Maslow's hierarchy of needs and the carrots and sticks model of rewards and punishments, but Pink exposes another model that focuses on the intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Mastery is an interesting motivator since mastery is an asymptote. That is that you can never really reach 100% mastery, you can only get close to mastery. Thus you're always in a journey towards mastery – never arriving. I spoke about the impact of journey in my review of Changes That Heal.

Creating a deep desire to become a master at something – or achieve some level of mastery on many different topics. Mastery, as I discussed in Sources of Power – the mental models that masters create are different. They're richer and by nature of their mastery people can see things that others simply cannot see. In Efficiency in Learning they call the mental models schemas. However, the message is the same. Masters just see the problem differently. Things that others can't see from the noise masters pick out with ease. They can locate the salient information – the most important – quickly and they're able to act on it. In terms of creativity the ability to see and know what's most important, and to be able to create solutions based on that knowledge, means better solutions with less effort.

The journey to mastery is not a short road. In Outliers Malcom Gladwell asserts that it takes 10,000 hours of intentional practice to become a master. The process of developing mastery may in fact take longer – or shorter but the message is simple. Developing mastery in a topic takes a great deal of dedication and effort. Paradoxically the greatest value may come in learning from many different disciplines. Some of the most important masters in history were polymaths – they had developed mastery in multiple disciplines. These folks showed a desire to learn, a fearless quest for doing something more, and very little concern for failure.

Acting with Intention

If you were to ask most people about a characteristic of a good designer what would they say? Most folks wouldn't have an answer for you. However, what if you asked a professor who teaches management? Well, if you ask Roger Martin at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management you'd hear him say that designers act with intention. Designers and creators see the world the way it is, and they want to make it better. They're always analyzing what they're doing, and try to improve the experience.

In my office I have a rather steep set of steps up to the video studio. I put laminate floor in, and was disappointed to find out that the way that the stairs were created to work is a bull-nose. That is that the stair noses are taller than the laminate itself. I felt like this would be a tripping hazard. So I had custom pieces of metal bent to form over the laminate and screw into the end of the stair's plate. I ultimately decided on stainless steel over aluminum because I observed that most people put their weight on the edge of the stairs, and the stainless steel – because it's much harder – would hold up better. It's a tiny thing, but it's important to me as I walk the stairs nearly every day.

Crawling Your Way Through Fear

I made a conscious decision one day to not live in fear. I need to clarify. I'm not saying that I'll never be in fear. I mean I'll never live there. It will never be my home. I recognize that fear can be an appropriate emotion. If you're face-to-face with a bear, lion, or other wild animal fear may be the appropriate response – unless you're at a zoo and there's a barrier between you. With the decision to not live in fear, I had to figure out how to live that out. One of the ways that I decided to live that out was to go caving. (Spelunking if you want to get technical.)

I've never liked tight spaces. I don't know that it would cross the line into phobia or not, but I know that I didn't like the idea that I could get stuck or not have enough room to move. I don't know if everyone has the fear – and I certainly don't know where it came from, however, I know that for me it was very real. So when a friend asked if I would be interested in going caving with her and some friends, I said yes. Certainly there are many people who would wonder about my sanity. Why would I intentionally do something that I knew I was going to fear and struggle with – of course the answer is that this was entirely the point. I didn't want the fear to control me.

We ended up going to Buckner Cave. While it didn't require rope or special gear, the belly crawling wasn't something that I was particularly thrilled with. As I remember it the cave wasn't awful. There was a large set of people who were with me and were encouraging me. The belly crawling though it felt like it was forever wasn't really. It was probably only a few hundred feet.

What I learned out of the situation is that I didn't have to be afraid of tight spaces. I realized that I could – in this case – crawl my way through fear. I could become more comfortable by realizing that my fears weren't justified by reality.

Unlearning and Relearning

Mark Twain said "It's not what you don't know that gets you into trouble, it's what you know that ain't so." In other words, it's what you've learned that is wrong that is much more risky than just not knowing something. You see, the world is split into the known-unknowns and the unknown-unknowns. The known-unknowns are things like not knowing how much gas is in your car. The unknown-unknowns are those random events that you can't predict. Most people don't worry about a thermostat in their engine failing or a timing belt failing. We simply just don't know that we need to be concerned with such things. The challenge with this point of view is that incorrect knowledge is an unknown-unknown. You can't see the place where you're standing until you move. You can't know that something you believe is wrong until you start to look at it from another point of view – and few of us do that.

However, being open to being wrong removes one of our greatest challenges to see how to be creative.

Creative Endings

I don't know how to be creative in how I end this review, but I know that if you want to be more creative, you need more Creative Confidence.


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Article: Validating Software Requirements

Unit testing and test driven design don't help you if your requirements aren't right. It may be that trying to create the tests will expose that you have a problem but wouldn't it be nice to know that there are gaps in requirements before you sit down to write code? Although it's impossible to get perfect requirements, most developers would love to get requirements that are better than what they're getting.

Whether you're getting requirements from a business analyst or you're creating them yourself, here are a few simple tips for ensuring that your software requirements are right.

Read more at http://www.developer.com/design/validating-software-requirements.html


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Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Article: Yammering About Development

Years ago, we heard about a movement in software development that was more about individuals and interactions than processes and tools. It was about responding to change and not a rigid plan. Of course, I'm quoting from the Agile Manifesto. Agile development didn't spring to life overnight, but slowly and over time we've adapted as an industry a more agile approach to how we develop software. A similar change is happening in the way that we communicate, and it's happening in the same fits and starts that agile development initially had. The change is about collaboration, not negotiation. It's about getting things done rather than having documentation. The changes that we're seeing in communication follow the same openness and transparency that created agile nearly 15 years ago. One of the tools that stands to change the way that we communicate is Yammer. Microsoft purchased Yammer in 2012 and has been integrating it into its products and services, creating a future that includes Yammer integrated into the Office applications we use every day. But the question is how does a mass-market enterprise social tools help developers write better software? Clues are in how Yammer aligns to the direction we've been headed for years and what we're already doing in person for agile development. Clues can also be found in the way that we collaborate outside our enterprise, despite Yammer being described as the enterprise social network. - Read more at: http://sdtimes.com/yammering-development/


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Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Rise and Fall of the Blog

I started this blog in June 2005. It was after much resistance. Back then every one of the web sites and publishers I was working with was asking if I had one. My first post named the blog – Not fit for print. I really did feel like the entire online world was celebrating the democratization of content and everyone started creating blogs.

More recently I've noticed a reduction in the traffic to my blog – not in overall aggregate numbers, those numbers are climbing ever so slowly. However, what I did notice is that my RSS traffic dropped substantially. Take a look at these statistics from 2007 through 2014. (I started using FeedBurner for my RSS feed in 2007.)

The key to this graphic shows the rise and fall of RSS reading as a way to get information. You'll see a drop in late 2011 – and another cliff of activity mid-year in 2013. The market used to be getting news through a set of known RSS feeds – feeds of people they knew and wanted to follow. However, over time more and more people began to consume their information driven by search engines and fewer people subscribed to RSS feeds and read them regularly. To see how this is the case, we need to look at how the big producers of content were working.

In 2003 today's market leader in blog software, WordPress, was started. WordPress holds approximately 44% of the entire content management system market (According to BuiltWith). So when I was looking for statistics for the number of blogs read and those posted and I couldn't find numbers in aggregate, I decided to use WordPress as a proxy for the overall market. In August 2014 WordPress reported nearly 16 billion visits and nearly 44 million pieces of content. Underlying this data though is a substantial drop in the number of new posts in 2013.

It was only a few months after my first blog post, in October of 2005, when Google created its Reader service. In 2003, FeedDemon, an exceedingly popular Windows based RSS reader was initially created and in 2005 was sold to NewsGator (now Sitrion). Google killed Reader in 2013 citing declining interest. Because FeedDemon used Google Reader on the back end for tracking what you read, FeedDemon has nearly died as well. The death of Google Reader is visible in the above graphics both personally on my blog – but even in the much larger sampling of WordPress sites. While readership subscriptions were already on the decline, Google reader disappearing hastened its demise.

But careful observers will note that blog posts and views on WordPress kept climbing – and were I to show my activity numbers on my blog you'd see a slow climb of activity there as well – but the slope is much shallower. The big change in the statistics is that people are entering through search. They're no longer following a set of people that they have identified, they're relying – more and more – on what search brings to them. Instead of selecting what they're interested in by following people via RSS feeds, they're searching for topics that they're interested in – or they've stopped proactively looking for content.

You can see in the WordPress numbers that the number of reads are accelerating where the number of posts isn't accelerating as quickly. (Look how the actual numbers exceed the trend line near the end.) We're writing less. We're consuming more. We're following less and searching more. Blogs started because people wanted to follow others. They were interested in what luminaries for their niches were saying. However, by all accounts that's not what is happening any longer. People are overwhelmed by following and don't have the capacity to follow any longer.

In my own experience, I was subscribed to many RSS feeds in the day and I'd periodically check the authors that I was interested in. At first it was every week or two but as I grew busier I found that I was checking less and less. It became monthly and then quarterly. It reminded me of how I used to read magazines. Instead of reading them the moment they came in I'd let them pile up and I'd read them all in one batch – and generally make my head hurt through the process. This was the process I was in when FeedDemon died and I was left without an RSS reader.

Of course, the idea that I didn't have an RSS reader isn't literally true since IE and Outlook can both process RSS feeds – however, they're not very good at the experience and as a result I gave up. I don't read RSS feeds any longer myself. I can hardly blame others for not doing something that I myself no longer do.

This post was prompted by the fact that I attended a Venture Club of Indiana meeting a few weeks ago where someone was pitching the idea of an organization that connected advertisers with blog authors as a way for them to monetize their blog. It occurred to me instantly that the value of the offering was declining – and probably two years late to market. Perhaps it's also because I've got a pending blog post to write about the book Bowling Alone as well.

I'm going to continue to blog because it's always been for me as much as it has been for others – and I've still got a great number of books to read and review.


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Monday, September 15, 2014

Product Brief: Metadata Term Store Sync for SharePoint

One of the challenges that I face with my clients is how to help them manage a single taxonomy across multiple platforms. There are some tools that we use to develop and manage taxonomies but ultimately those taxonomies need to be something that users can tag in their work and that means getting the taxonomy into the tools they use to create and manage content. For most of my customers that means SharePoint.

That's why I was excited that the team and I could help PremierPoint Solutions develop their TermSync solution. It takes any database – actually anything that can be connected to Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint and synchronize it to a term set. So if you've developed a set of terms in Smartlogic's Semaphore tools you can synchronize them with SharePoint.

The initial case for synchronization isn't a difficult problem to solve. You can import a spreadsheet into the term store with a bit of massaging. However, it's effectively not possible to operationalize the management of terms over time without some sort of a tool which can cope with new terms, renaming terms, new synonyms, users changing the term name in SharePoint, etc.

While it's difficult for anyone to come up with a taxonomy – or more realistically a set of taxonomies – it's even more difficult to maintain them over time. The benefits of focused thoughts and energy are lost in the sea of competing priorities. The clarity of the moment when the taxonomy was created was lost. The logistical challenges of pushing these changes through the systems connected to the taxonomy can be utterly exhausting – if you don't have a tool to simplify it.

Configuring term sync is super-simple. You start by connecting your data source to SharePoint as a BCS source. SharePoint Designer effortlessly connects any database table or view to SharePoint. From there you simply connect a sync point – a place in the term set where you want the taxonomy to be placed. Take a look at the process in three steps…

Once the connection is established you can map properties from the source to any term property – and even to extended properties. So you can even use TermSync to support your custom applications integration to your taxonomy. Take a look at the flexibility…

While we use TermSync to keep taxonomies synchronized there are other uses as well. For instance, consider mapping customers into a SharePoint TermSet so that sales can tag the customer to which a proposal belongs. Mapping products into a term set allows you to build bill of materials for new products in SharePoint. Mapping warehouses into SharePoint Term sets means that SharePoint users can attach warehouses to their lists, forms, and documentation as well.

You can sign up for a trial version of TermSync on the PremierPoint site.

 


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Sunday, September 07, 2014

Good Requirements for Developers – Published at Pluralsight

My history with software development starts before I graduated high school. I was taking programming courses at the local community college. I was getting small jobs to help software developers and working a cooperative job for a computer consultant in Essexville, MI. The simple fact is that I started my career as a developer learning where the semicolons and braces go.

Over the years, I've written dozens of articles on software development. Some of the ones I felt like were most important got bundled up into a book that I called Constructing Quality Software. Before and after that time I was studying and researching software development including what at one time was the new concept of agile software development. In short I was trying to understand the software development market as best as I could.

Over the last 10 years I've done quite a bit of work making development for Microsoft SharePoint easier but I've also "wandered off" the development reservation by spending time doing IT infrastructure, information architecture, knowledge management, organizational change, etc. I decided that I wanted to get a broader perspective.

When I was looking to come back one to what I've learned in my journeys, I realized that one of the key skills that was common to my development and non-development projects is that every successful project starts with a shared understanding of the problem being solved – and that means developing a set of requirements.

So I have spent some of my time over the last several months working on the development of a course that can teach some of the key skills of software requirements gathering to my fellow developers. The idea was simple. Whether someone is a developer tasked with gathering their own requirements – or is someone who has requirements created for them that they need to validate – I wanted to quickly develop those skills.

I found through the development that one key challenge that developers – and non-developers – have is the ability to assess whether requirements are good or not. In the course I put together I knew that I'd need to help people with specific techniques to validate whether an individual requirement is good. I also knew I'd need to help folks know when the overall set of requirements were good.

The result of my journey and my struggles to create content is three hours and eleven minutes of video that I've published through Pluralsight. You can find the course on their site at http://beta.pluralsight.com/courses/gathering-good-requirements-developers

If you're not familiar with Pluralsight – they're the premiere learning platform for developers – and non-developers. Their model is a subscription model where you pay one fee and can watch whatever content you need. I highly recommend that you try it out if you haven't. You can even watch my course on gathering good requirements – if you're interested. I'd love the feedback here or directly though my email.


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Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book Review: Unleashing Innovation

With all of the books on innovation in the market, it's a fair question to ask why I read Unleashing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry. There are two simple answers. First, it was recommended to me by a friend who felt like the book was a good discussion about innovation. Second, I was intrigued by the idea of operationalizing innovation as a way of life inside an organization. I've been involved with and have led innovation workshops but these represent a burst of activity around a specific need for innovation instead of an organization wide commitment to change the DNA of innovation.

Defining Innovation

Much is made in Unleashing Innovation about the idea of having a definition for innovation that the organization and everyone accepts. There is no doubt that this focuses everyone around the same goal. Interestingly the definition that is in use at Whirlpool isn't the definition that I'd use. As I've talked about in some of my work (ARK references), I believe that innovation is the implementation of an idea. I believe strongly that everyone has ideas. We all have ideas buzzing through our brain. The road to hell is paved with good intentions (never executed). So the trick of innovation for me isn't the ideation phase. It's not the creation of ideas – or even the elicitation of ideas – that is the difficult part. The difficult part of innovation is nurturing and supporting an idea until it's able to be implemented.

They share eight reasons why creating a solid definition for innovation is critical:

  • Helps screen and classify ideas.
  • Maintains integrity and credibility.
  • Provides objectivity and standards for innovation.
  • Ensures alignment and consistency across regions, business, and groups.
  • Drives differentiation.
  • Creates a common language.
  • Establishes what metrics are needed and tracked.
  • Helps innovators know where to focus to make ideas more innovative.

From Whence Does Innovation Come?

When I'm running an innovation workshop there's an invisible dance that's happening. It's a dance when we're all trying to get together to create something shared that comes together. The ideas that come – that will hopefully become innovations – are in a sense from everyone together. However, the kernel, the seed, the core – always comes from one individual. They put it out there as the next step in the dance first. The rest of us just all follow. What's curious to me about this is that I almost never know who it will be that will offer up that nugget that we all ultimately find the most valuable. It can be the staunchest supporter of the old guard or the newest member of the team.

In a traditional model of innovation, a small group – typically research and development or marketing – are the keepers of innovation. They'll provide the innovative ideas that the organization uses to drive itself forward. However, the idea that such a small group of people can be as powerful as enabling ideas and innovation to come from everyone in the organization can be silly.

In a focused engagement the question is about the person from which the vital idea will come. When you're seeking to operationalize innovation into an organization there's a slightly different context. There it's about being inclusive about your thinking about who can help drive innovation forward. The vital idea may come from the CEO but it's much more likely to come from the manufacturing line worker who spends time dreaming about making something new and different and compelling. The manufacturing worker longs to have something exciting to share with their family about something new and interesting they're doing since for the most part they cannot see their jobs today that way.

Innovation comes often from questioning the orthodoxies (paradigms or ingrained practices) that people have come to expect. The people in management have too much to lose to be free to openly question orthodoxies – and innovate from the ideas that breaking them down can bring. Whirlpool broke down their orthodoxy that their customers are women with their line of garage storage solutions.

Flavor of the Weak

Anyone with corporate experience has seen programs come and go. The CEO reads a new book and decides that it's the solution to the ails that the organization has. They hastily pen a note to HR to implement a new program. This kicks off a new program which is barely out of the gates when the CEO reads the next book and pens a new note to HR with the next new program. While this may be a slight exaggeration, it's fundamentally what corporate cubicalites expect. With experience in the organization they realize that today's hot topic will be discarded soon enough when it doesn't work – so why get worked up about it?

Innovation can become the flavor of the month. It can be the thing that leadership (CEO or otherwise) believes is the thing that the organization needs. However, as Unleashing Innovation attributes 3M – does the leadership have the unwavering commitment to wait for patient money? There's no doubt that innovation can return massive changes in profitability for an organization if it's able to wait for them. Innovation isn't a short bet and it's not for those who're watching the quarterly returns to be reported to the stock market.

Innovation Operational Excellence

What happens when you take an organization that's known for organizational excellence in the form of Lean Six Sigma and Malcolm Baldrige awards and you infect them with innovation? The answer is that the organization weaves innovation into its DNA just like it had woven quality through its DNA. The results are amazing.

Manufacturing organizations used to have manufacturing systems and separate systems to ensure quality. However, thanks to Deming, organizations began to integrate quality into their manufacturing system. Instead of something separate which must be added on to the manufacturing process it was integrated into the process and as a result quality became the way of operating.

Like quality, integrating innovation is about a change of mindset. Integrating the quality system is about allowing everyone to identify and resolve quality problems. (See Change or Die about how Toyota took one of GM's worst performing plants and made them effective by listening to them.) Innovation is a more difficult mindset to instill because it requires a level of creativity in addition to a level of commitment and focus.

There are hidden reasons why this is more challenging. Innovative and creative thought requires that our minds be free to think outside the box as was discussed in the book Drive. It's hard to provide the accountability necessary for productivity while providing a safe environment for innovation and failure. Creating an environment that simultaneously hold people accountable and allows for failures is a difficult balance.

Rational and Emotional Drivers

Unleashing Innovation breaks down the drivers for innovation in the organization into two categories, the rational drivers and the emotional drivers. These roughly break down into the rider and the path in the rational drivers category and the elephant in the emotional drivers category. (See Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for more on the elephant-rider-path model.) They describe the emotional drivers as twice as important as the rational drivers – and yet the rational drivers are substantially longer and more detailed.

Rational Drivers

There are numerous rational ways to drive innovation into the culture. By setting up the systems of the organization up in a way that encourages innovation you create more conditions for innovation to occur. (See The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems for more about how systems work.)

What appears below are the rational drivers called out in Unleashing Innovation with a few slight modifications of my own and commentary on them:

  • Strategic Architecture – The highest level framework for the organization is its vision, mission, goals, etc. Some of these can be created from the perspective of being most innovative or leveraging innovation to maintain profitability or they can be focused on operational excellence or cost efficiency. The more aligned the strategic architecture of the organization is towards innovation, the easier it will be for innovation to catch and be sustained in the organization.
    • Vision – As I mentioned in my book review of Dialogue I never met a vision I liked because they weren't specific enough but I have a respect for the alignment that they can encourage. Aligning around innovation can be a powerful thing.
    • Goals – If the organization's goals don't include some measure of how innovation is driving the organization, how can you expect that employees will drive innovation?
    • Principles – In Heroic Leadership it was clear the four principles that the Jesuits worked from. If your organization doesn't understand its guiding principles and they don't include innovation how will the organization become innovative?
    • Approach – Sometimes the approach the organization uses like top-down control can stifle innovation. How is it that the organization approaching management and the encouragement for people to try new things – and fail?
    • Definitions – As mentioned above, the definition of what is innovative has a powerful set of effects on driving innovation.
  • Management Systems – Innovation is patient money but there must still be systems in place today to ensure the organization can survive the short term to take advantage of the long term effects.
    • Financial – Does the financial system have a way to track the value of innovation to the organization? If you can't track the impact of innovation to the organization it may be assigned no value and cut.
    • Strategic and Operations – Many organizations have famously created "slack time" where their employees can work on their own projects. Does your operational system have a way of allowing people to nurture their innovations?
    • Performance Management – Does your performance management system focus exclusively on short-term goals such as utilization and quarterly profitability such that employees are dis-incentivized to work on long-term initiatives such as innovation?
    • Leadership – Does leadership understand the criticality of innovation to long term success and model ways to encourage innovation?
    • Career – Are promotions and performance reviews focused around goals that encourage or discourage innovation? Are employees, for instance, penalized for their failures – even when they were attempting to be innovative?
    • Learning and Knowledge – How are learning and knowledge encouraged in the organization? Learning and the development of new knowledge are at the heart of innovation. Are employees encouraged to be continuously learning and developing themselves – beyond a tuition reimbursement program?
  • Innovation Pipeline – Having a defined process for how innovations make it through the system makes it easier for innovators to be innovative. When people don't understand the social norm, or don't understand what they need to do next, most will just stop. The more clearly you can articulate the way the organization expects innovations to be nurtured to completion, the more innovations will make it through the pipeline.
  • Innovators and Mentors – Most employees need to know they're not alone. Feeling safe is based in part on knowing others have been there before. Just having other successful innovators (heroes) is a great start but it's even better if the successful innovators are also encouraged to mentor other innovators along – to help pull them up.
  • Execution – While innovation is a creative task there's still an aspect of execution to getting the innovation done. Remember that I define innovation as an idea that's implemented and implementation requires the ability to execute.
    • Metrics – Are the metrics that you're choosing effective at measuring progress of an idea through the innovation pipeline?
    • Sustaining Mechanisms – What mechanisms do you have in place to support and push forward (or kill) innovations that get stuck.
    • Value Extraction – How do you ensure that you are able to extract the maximum value from the innovations so that it becomes clear how important or critical innovations are to the organization?

Emotional Drivers

As I've alluded to numerous times in my reviews, emotional topics are much harder to turn into explicit knowledge. (See Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Awareness for the difficulty of discussing emotion and The New Edge in Knowledge and Lost Knowledge for more about explicit knowledge.) Books like Who Am I? and Enneagram based Personality Types seek to quantify the factors that make people who they are – or at least communicate the person they've become. Most of these drivers are emotional in nature. Despite the challenges with conveying emotional drivers Unleashing Innovation attempts to quantify the factors that lead to emotional engagement in the innovation process in four categories:

  • Dream – Everyone dreams. They want to think about winning the lottery or a future where their current problems are no longer problems. Many employees who have their lives wrapped up in their career or their organization want to see their friends succeed too. They want to be able to live lives that are beyond their current situation. By capturing the dreams of the employees about the organization and wrapping them up in the process that can drive innovation you can harness our desire for a better future.
  • Create – The earliest humans created tools to make their lives better. We as a race are hard wired to create new things. It's no wonder then that some of the happiest people are those who create or that by enabling employees to create new markets, new product lines, or new divisions through innovations can engage employees in the innovation process.
  • Heroes – Each of us has some desire to be accepted, liked, and looked up to. Heroes, those people who are held up as examples, are the people we want to be. Even the most introverted person wants to be acknowledged for the value they're bringing. By holding up the success stories – the heroes – you're creating a natural drive for more people to be innovative so they too can be respected.
  • Spirit – There is a certain indivisibility of the spirit and culture of an organization. It's easy enough to say that you're happy when someone else in the organization is successful – instead of you – but to live it is much harder. Creating an organization where everyone truly wants everyone else to be successful and where petty infighting isn't the norm is a monumental challenge but one that reaps huge rewards not just in innovation but in many other aspects of corporate life as well.

I don't think that any one book could possibly communicate how to shape the emotional currents of employees. Some of the other books which I've reviewed which have elements of the emotional motivation of others are: Diffusion of Innovations, Change or Die, Drive, Primal Leadership, and Collaborative Intelligence.

Sources of Innovators

Innovators come in different shapes. They come from different perspectives. Unleashing Innovation identifies four:

  • Searchers – These are looking to create new opportunities to expand the known map of what the organization can do.
  • Orphans and Outcasts – These are never fully committed but because of that can see the orthodoxies that others cannot. They come to engage themselves more fully in the organization and to shape it more like they want the organization to be.
  • Thrill Seekers – For some an innovation represents the thrill of the chase. If they can do this then what else can they do?
  • Rebels – These are those that have a hidden distain for some part of what the organization is or has become and they leverage the innovation process to change the organization to be less of what they don't want and more of what they do.

Integrating Innovation

If you're looking at trying to embed innovation into every corner of the organization or you're trying to integrate innovation into your every day, maybe it's time to pick up Unleashing Innovation.


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Monday, August 25, 2014

Book Review: Dialogue-The Art of Thinking Together

I've written about Dialogue before. I initially summarized my thoughts from The Fifth Discipline and Dialogue Mapping in a post called Discussion and Dialogue for Learning. More recently I posted about one aspect of Dialogue in my post on Defensive Routines and a second aspect in The Inner Game of Dialogue If you've missed it, I'd suggest you start with that post because it is really the other half of this post which got to be way too long.

Dialogue is much about creating the right environment through preparation of ourselves and creating a place where people can feel safe to express their reality.

Dialogue Components

The desire for dialogue … to be a part of something more

Creating conditions vs. forcing it to happen

Four Pathologies of Thought

Dialogue calls out four pathologies of thought – four things that lead us down paths which move us further away from Dialogue. They are:

  • Abstraction – We fail to see things in concrete terms – in how our thoughts and actions are connected to real things.
  • Idolatry – We idolize people, methodologies, and things so much that we fail to question them.
  • Certainty – We believe in our own understanding so firmly that we can't allow the possibility that we're wrong and that someone else may be right
  • Violence – We hold a grudge, a vengefulness about a person who may have wronged us.

Group Behavior

David Kantor describes four positions that people can take in a discussion and how those positions can be intended and perceived. Someone can move through these positions in a discussion and be in different positions at different times. These four positions are like roots from which the personalities described in Buy-In are derived from. Here are the four positions and their intent and how they are sometimes perceived:

Position

Intent

Sometimes Seen As

Mover

Direction

Discipline

Commitment

Perfection

Clarity

Omnipotent

Impatient

Indecisive

Scattered

Dictatorial

Follower

Completion

Compassion

Loyalty

Service

Continuity

Placating

Indecisive

Pliant

Wishy-washy

Over-accommodating

Opposer

Correction

Courage

Protection

Integrity

Survival

Critical

Competitive

Blaming

Attacking

Contrary

Bystander

Perceptive

Patience

Preservation

Moderation

Self-Reflection

Disengaged

Judgmental

Deserting

Withdrawn

Silent

 

Structural Traps

Life sometimes requires that we behave in one way and at other times requires that we behave in another. For instance, we must sometimes be freely giving of our time to our family and friends and other times we must guard our personal time. We sometimes must be frugal with our expenses in our day-to-day living to be able to be free with our spending during vacations.

Kantor cautioned about systems where two opposite ways of acting are required inside the same system since humans are particularly bad at learning when they must do something that at the other end of the spectrum they cannot do. Kantor called these structural traps.

We create structural traps when we call for dialogue in one conversation and shut people down for speaking the truth in the next meeting. The greater the different required in the behavior, the more space and the more safety that are required.

Ladder of Inference

Reality is an illusion created by our mind. We don't see or perceive reality – we have a perception of reality. We believe that our perception of reality is reality because we have nothing to contradict our perception. While we know every little thing about reality and much less about other people we often infer or project onto another person what we believe.

We can observe someone who has a sloppy appearance and from that decide that they're a bum, aren't clean, or are homeless. The direct observation is actually that their shirt is untucked or that they've got sweat stains on their shirt. From that, we infer that they have a sloppy appearance. From the sloppy appearance we ascribe or infer something else to them.

This process is both natural and dangerous. The problem is that we will infer things about people which aren't true. Unfortunately we don't store the inferences as inferences, we store them in our brains as facts. This causes for us the problem of unconsciously applying disrespectful judgments to people that we don't necessarily intend.

When encouraging dialogue we must be mindful of the ladder of inference we're placing above people comments – and specifically test them or dispel them as soon as possible. If we believe that someone is a bum, we might ask what they've just been doing. We may find out they've been working hard to build some landscaping and haven't yet had a chance to clean up.

My favorite story here is one where a man was riding home on the subway and there were a set of unruly kids disturbing nearly everyone on the subway. The man finally, in disgust, speaks to the father of the children who had been to this point oblivious to what the kids were doing. The father of the children responds that he's sorry that they had just left their mom's funeral and he didn't know what he was going to do or notice the kid's behavior. Our ladder of inference quickly jumped that the father was a bad father because his kids are unruly instead of questioning what the factors that led to the behavior were.

Feeling, Meaning, and Power

Have you ever been in a conversation and you felt like the parties were talking past each other? Each saying that the other was completely missing the point? One person is wondering out loud how everyone would feel after the decision was announced? Another person wonders what it will mean to everyone when the decision is announced. The third person talks about getting the decision done and what are we waiting on.

Kantor spoke of three different languages being feeling, meaning, and power. Two people speaking in the same language will understand each other well and speak effectively, but this isn't necessarily the case when people aren't speaking the same language.

The language of feeling is all about the emotional impact that will occur as the result of the decision. Meyers-Briggs speaks about folks being more feeling focused or thinking focused. (T(hinking) or F(eeling)). People who are more feeling focused are more likely to communicate in the language of feeling. This includes their feelings about the decision and the feelings of others. These folks demonstrate a high degree of emotional intelligence.

The language of meaning is all about how people will think about the decision. Back to Meyers-Briggs these would be those with a high thinking perspective. They're concerned about the long term impact of a short term decision and are focused on the downstream ripple effects.

Finally, the language of power is focused on getting things done. They're tired of the analysis paralysis and just want to move forward believing that any action is better than no action.

When someone is in one language – even if they know how to speak multiple languages – they may not be able to hear someone speaking in a different language.

Aperture

One of the interesting things in having read a few books over the years is how often the ideas that we're looking at come back from a few individuals. Kurt Lewin is often quoted about his perspectives on people and behavior. This makes sense given his psychologist. However, one of the other commonly referenced visionaries is David Bohm. David was a physicist. He was gifted in his ability to see the natural order and flow of things. He was particularly effective at his expansion of the concepts of what dialogue is. However, this isn't the extent of his vision. There's another expanse that Dialogue surfaces. That is, he describes that trees do not come from seeds – that would be silly that a big tree came from such a tiny seed. Instead he encourages us to see a seed as an aperture through which the tree emerges. This is a great way of seeing things connected to the whole. He describes the process of nature unfolding and folding on itself.

Nature combines elements to unfold into a tree. When the tree's life is done those same elements fold back in to the rest of nature ready to recombine and become another tree or something different entirely. In this way we see that we're all connected to one another. We're all a part of the same stuff of nature. We're not apart from nature, were a part of the nature of all things.

We're All The Same

The more that I speak with people the more I realize that we all have the same fears and hopes and dreams. I don't mean that in a precise sense. I don't have the fear that my daughter has about being liked or fitting in at college but I do want to be a part of the "cool club" at the conferences I attend. I know that others want to receive the Microsoft MVP award to be in the group that I'm in.

In 2013 the SharePoint market convulsed at the announcements made at the Microsoft SharePoint Conference in 2012. The message was that on premises deployments were going to be no more and all hail the cloud. That messaging didn't sit well with customers and as a result many clients focused their energies outside of SharePoint hoping that the dust would settle. The result in the consulting market was that many organizations eliminated or scaled back their SharePoint practices.

The SharePoint developers started working on .NET projects. The infrastructure consultants went on to work on Azure, migrating users to Office 365, or some other product. Estimates on the change for consulting organizations ranges from 25% to 75% of their business was gone. Consultants that I talk to are scared. If they're working for themselves they're struggling to find clients. If they work for an organization they're not hitting their utilization numbers and they know that this means they are at risk of losing their job. I was speaking with a colleague inside of an organization and she mentioned that she's concerned about layoffs at her organization. It seems everyone is concerned about where they're going to continue to be able to make money to feed their families.

At the heart of the book Dialogue – The Art of Thinking Together is the awareness that we are all the same. We're all human. We have – when viewed broadly – the same desires, concerns and fears. In Emotional Awareness I heard the Dali Lama speak of compassion for all living things. For cultivating this compassion that connects us to everyone else. Sometimes we slip into a narrow minded view that we have to protect ourselves and what we have. We begin to think win-lose that in order to win someone else must lose. We stop thinking in terms of the Nash equilibrium and instead move to von Neumann-Morgenstern. (See The Science of Trust for Nash and von Neumann-Morgenstern equilibriums.)

Perhaps if we are able to cultivate our compassion for all people and our understanding that we're all fundamentally the same we'll be able to finally Dialogue instead of discuss.

Don't Just Talk About It, Read About It

If you're interested in how to create more knowledge, more dialogue and better interactions, it might be time to stop talking about it and read about it in Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together.


Categories: Book Review, Professional | 0 Comments
 
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