Posts

Unleashing Innovation

Book Review-Unleashing Innovation: How Whirlpool Transformed an Industry

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 (“Removing Innovation Friction by Improving Meetings” for the Ark Group Book Smarter Innovation: Using Interactive Processes to Drive Better Business Results.), 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 disdain 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.

Dialogue

Book Review-Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together – Dialogue 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

If you have heat, oxygen, and fuel you may have a fire but you may not. It depends upon the ratios of the ingredients and whether there’s a spark to kick off the process. Such is the case with dialogue. Just because you have all of the components that lead to dialogue doesn’t create one. Inherent in dialogue is a spark. It’s a spark that ignites the process and makes everyone want to become a part of something more, something greater than themselves. So while you can learn the components and you can identify the players you can’t force it to happen. Dialogue can only happen when the conditions are right and the timing is right. Simple things like trust while not a specific component of the model are a catalyst for the model. Trust drives safety and safety (or the perception of safety) is an important prerequisite to dialogue.

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. Myers-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 Myers-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.

faces

Book Review-Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together – The Inner Game of Dialogue

This is second in the three part series of blog posts about dialogue spawned by Dialogue. The first part was about Defensive Routines. In this post I’ll talk about the inner game of dialogue, what you and everyone else has to do to allow dialogue to be able to happen. In the final post we’ll do the actual book review and talk about the challenges involved with creating the conditions for dialogue.

One of the things that I came to realize (again) while reading and evaluating Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together is that much of what happens to us externally is a reflection of the work that we’ve done on ourselves internally. The more time that we spend on learning who we are and healing our wounds the more that success in life will flower around us. (See Changes that Heal for more on healing our wounds.)

Centering and Our Inner Ecology

I’ve been intrigued with various forms of martial arts over the years and I’ve learned that each one has a different centering belief. Karate meets force with force. Judo by contrast seeks to use the attackers force against them by deflecting it. Aikido is a further refinement by attempting to leverage the attacker’s energy – but with the added focus of minimizing harm to the attacker. Aikido is sometimes criticized as a martial art because of the lack of focus on the ability to defend oneself. However, strength comes from Aikido’s focus on philosophy and emotional wellness or centeredness.

Dialogue quotes Richard Moon, an Aikido master, as saying that it’s not that the great masters of aikido don’t lose their center, it’s just that they discover it sooner and recover it faster than novices. Centering in aikido isn’t just about the literal management of the center of balance. It’s also about their philosophy and emotional wellness. In other words, it’s not that they never get angry, frustrated, depressed, or annoyed – it’s that they recognize that they are, sooner and are able to recover their own internal harmony faster.

For me, centeredness is about having a stable core. For me it’s the set of principles and important view about who I am and what my values are. Heroic Leadership talked about how the Jesuits were able to sort out the important from the unimportant. They knew which things were essential to their faith and which things were not. They met adversity by managing their own internal space. They aligned to four key values which formed one way of proceeding (modo de proceder). That’s an internal centering that helped them when they were confronted with challenges that affronted their belief system. They were able to bend without giving up their core beliefs.

I’ve spoken about one aspect of our inner ecology – internal thinking – in my reviews of Making it Happen, Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types. That is the idea of an integrated self-image. We tend to see ourselves in a fragmented existence. We don’t think that we are both sinner and saint. We can’t believe that we are compassionate and that we harm others. Managing the inner ecology of our thought is to manage these discrepancies in who we are and what we think and stay focused on how we think about things on the inside because how we feel often – but not always – leads to how we react externally.

The Disconnect between Saying and Doing

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Within each of us there is a bit of disconnect between the person we desire to be seen as and the person that we actually are. Sometimes this is due to our desire to be seen by others as something different than we are. (See Anatomy of Peace for the must-be-seen-as box.) Other times it’s a simple disconnect between the way that we think we are and the way we actually behave. For instance, if you see yourself as a generous person and yet you don’t give philanthropically, then perhaps there’s a gap between how you view yourself and who you really are. (See The Fifth Discipline for more on how our espoused beliefs don’t match our actual beliefs.)

These inconsistencies between the ways we behave and the ways that we actually are can exist only when we don’t expose these discrepancies to the light of day. The more that we keep in focus how our behaviors and our actions are different – and that we desire to be a person of integrity – the more the differences between what we say and what we do will disappear. It’s not that the process of making the distinctions disappear is easy. It’s typically a violent process filled with much gnashing of teeth, but once the process of exposing the discrepancy has started it becomes possible to resolve it.

It is the invisible and non-discussable nature of these discrepancies that allows them to continue to hold power over our attempts at dialogue.

Being Vulnerable

Just reading the word vulnerability may make your pulse change slightly. Maybe you take a slightly deeper breath to prepare yourself from the oncoming onslaught. I talked extensively about being vulnerable in my post Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy. The short of vulnerability is that vulnerability is – or at least can be – a choice. You can chose to be vulnerable – or chose to not be vulnerable.

However, at the root of vulnerability is the idea that you do – or don’t feel safe. That is it’s possible to be vulnerable and to be at the same time safe. You control the limits to which you’re willing to be vulnerable. You control the environment.

Have you ever seen a father playing with his small son? His son may be going for all he’s worth to topple the father and the father seems to be effortlessly deflecting the son’s attempts. The father knows that his son can’t hurt him really. He doesn’t struggle to defend himself because he doesn’t need to and he knows it.

In one sense, the father is being vulnerable in that he’s allowing his son to topple him and in another he’s not since he knows his son isn’t capable of it. So too is our vulnerability. If he’s opening himself up to be harmed slightly as a way of connecting with and enriching his relationship with his son – that’s great. If he’s instead remaining truly invulnerable to teach his son a lesson about vulnerability that is different.

We can claim to be open and vulnerable to others in a conversation knowing that our mind is made up. We’re not going to actually be vulnerable in our thinking because we know that we’re right.

Having a discussion with someone doesn’t expose you. If you’re not really considering that their perspective may be better than yours or that they may have new insight on your situation you don’t need to be troubled by the possibility. Dialogue is about learning something new and learning is an inherently vulnerable process – and one that you may have to consciously choose.

Always Right

How can you accept another person’s point of view if you are never open to being wrong? For some people being wrong is an unacceptable vulnerability. They aren’t capable of being wrong because they’re a perfectionist. The problem with perfectionism is that perfectionists can’t learn. You can’t be right and learn something at the same time.

More troubling is that if you’re always right there’s no need to learn from someone else. You don’t believe there is anything to learn from them so you don’t even try. Because of this the need to always be right, to be a perfectionist, blocks the ability to have dialogue. Barry Schwartz in The Paradox of Choice talks about how satisficers are happier than maximizers (essentially perfectionists.) If the price of always being right is that you’re less happy – perhaps it’s too high a price to pay.

Failure is Always an Option

Brené Brown has a key question “What’s worth doing even if you fail?” in her book Daring Greatly. It’s so key because failure is always an option when it comes to trying to create a dialogue. Even a single person who is in a bad mood can derail a valiant attempt at creating a meaningful dialogue. However, the results of creating a successful dialogue are well worth many failed attempts. In that sense, attempting to create a dialogue is something to attempt even if you are going to fail.

Situational Safety

Most of us feel safe at home. Most of us are quite comfortable in our homes and yet statistically speaking most accidents happen in the home. So why is it that we feel safest in the place that is where we have the most accidents? Part of that answer is simply familiarity. There’s nothing new or novel in the environment to get our amygdala excited. Part of it is that we’ve created an environment that matches our tastes. It is that comfortable old shoe that is well worn.

We believe that our feelings are based on whatever is happening in the moment, but as one friend of mine described it, it’s like the difference between water and syrup moving in glass. Our intellectual capacity can recover quickly from a trigger but our emotions react much more slowly. They’re like the syrup in the glass.

However, there’s more to it than this. The other thing about syrup is that it tends to cling to the walls of the glass. The way that we react is driven by context and environment than we would like to admit as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book Blink. Kirk Lewin says that behavior is a function of both person and the environment. That is to say that environment matters as much as the person does.

If being safe is essential to allowing yourself to become vulnerable then creating a dialogue is about creating the conditions that lead someone to feel safe. That can be the environment in terms of the room, the furniture, etc. It can equally be the ground rules about how the information from the dialogue will be used. A dialogue can’t be literally created as you can create a piece of technology. It has to be given the right conditions to emerge like a plant emerging from a seed.

Ghost in Your Heart

The amygdala is a crazy part of your brain. It is able to make judgments so quickly. It helps that it’s got a direct path to sensory organs but more than that it just is designed to make snap judgments. Unfortunately, it sometimes makes them incorrectly. Even more unfortunately it’s sometimes very hard to change the response. As a result the amygdala may trigger a response that isn’t necessary or appropriate. Take, for instance, those who suffer from Coulrophobia – fear of clowns. Unless you’ve been harmed by a clown or you’ve watched something like Killer Klowns from Outer Space there may be little basis in fact for a fear of clowns but that won’t stop you from being afraid.

Sometimes those impressions are created not just by objects but by people and places as well. For instance, you may feel unexplainably bad in a particular conference room next to the HR department. You can’t put your finger on it but you just never seem to like meetings in that room. That is until someone points out that the room is well known to be the conference room that HR uses during layoffs to communicate to those who are being let go.

So our reactions to people or places can be very strong – or they can be a very subtle feeling that is hard to shake. These subtle feelings are like ghosts. You can’t quite put your finger on them but you know that they’re influencing how you’re thinking and behaving. When you’re trying to create the conditions for a dialogue there are sometimes unseen factors that are based on old experiences which may have nothing to do with the current reality but which make it difficult to be successful.

The crazy trick to help locate and remove ghosts is to “lean into them.” That is when you are able to sense the discomfort, you try to get closer to it. You make it easier to detect by making it larger – even if that means making it more uncomfortable. If you feel weird working in the office after others have gone home, make a point of doing it from time-to-time. If you don’t like a meeting room, schedule only the meetings that you know you’re going to like in it. Don’t avoid the room until you can’t avoid it.

What Vision is

I’ve never met a vision I really liked. Visions are always to fluffy, too flowery, and too hard to put my hands on. Visions seem like a ghost from an old movie where you could put your hand through them and touch nothing. Visions are necessarily aspirational and necessarily flexible – and often insufficient to really arrive there. They’re like chasing for gold at the end of the rainbow. The end of the rainbow moves as you get closer.

Despite this, visions are valuable and powerful – they’re essential to aligning large groups of people to work in a common direction. The more aligned people are towards a common mission or goal the more powerful they become in aggregate. One of the biggest problems with gathering up power – whether in mechanics or in organizations – is how to realize all the power and how to keep it from being swallowed up by inefficiencies. While it’s obvious that people who are going in completely opposite directions cancel each other’s work out, it’s less obvious that the amount of power lost by even slight misalignment can be important.

In presentations, I frequently talk about lanterns, lighthouses, and lasers. A lantern output lights in all directions and as a result the light is visible for a relatively short distance. Lighthouses focus light into a narrow beam across the horizon and as a result can be seen for a much longer distance. Lasers are even more tightly focused into a beam and can be seen for much longer – and can even be reflected off the moon with some further refinement. What is possible by simply applying focus is unbelievable to most people.

A compelling vision, even if not very concrete, can get people to line up the same way that photons line up in a laser beam and can make it possible for a group – or an organization – to become very powerful. The idea of developing a vision is scattered across management books. Jim Collins in Good to Great talks about the Hedgehog concept. Patrick Lencioni in The Advantage talks about creating and reinforcing clarity. Peter Sheahan in Making It Happen talks about focusing on one thing. Focus – which is what the vision does – is an essential element called out in hundreds of books from new and old business scholars. A vision focuses everyone around the same goal and provides value in that.

Collaboration is the Creation Engine for Knowledge Management

How is knowledge created? Is knowledge created by some stuffy professor in an overstuffed office as he leans back in his chair puffs smoke rings out of his pipe and lifts his pen to paper? Knowledge (as I’ve mentioned in my review of The New Edge in Knowledge and in Lost Knowledge) is more than what we can write down. There’s the tacit aspect to knowledge. When we seek to make knowledge explicit – and therefore easier to transfer – we’re necessarily removing the context from it and minimizing the richness that can be conveyed.

All of the knowledge that we create comes either from a lone researcher conquering some brave new world or in a group of dedicated people redefining the boundaries of the known world. Christopher Columbus didn’t find the new world on his own. Edison didn’t invent the electric light bulb on his own. Very few human endeavors have ever been accomplished by a single individual working in a vacuum. Nearly every advancement came from the collaboration of multiple people who wanted to work together for some common good.

Marcia Bates says that we’re gathering what we know in an undirected and unmotivated way. As serendipity says, knowledge just happens. However, there is a way to increase the chance that accidents will happen. That is the more people collaborate with one another the more likely they are to create new knowledge and share the knowledge that they do have – leaving everyone more knowledgeable than when they started.

If your organization is struggling with how to create knowledge – and drive innovation – it could be that the core problem isn’t the lack of a knowledge management or innovation system. It could be that the core problem is the lack of emphasis on creating a collaborative culture where everyone feels safe enough to dialogue about issues – and be vulnerable enough to learn something new.

The Music of Dialogue

Dialogue is built on a set of conditions that enable it to happen much like the framework on which music is based. All music is based on a set of frequencies – called notes – and durations of those frequencies. From a relatively small number of rules about what music is, we’re able to create a wide variety of instruments and similarly a wide variety of kinds of music. While classical and punk rock have a lot of differences they also have a lot of similarities. They’re both using instruments to create notes.

Dialogue involves a multitude of voices all trying to communicate with one another. In a choir there are times when a single voice – or a section of the choir – will stand out on top of the other voices. This is much like a dialogue where one voice will be more present than others for a time then fade back into the background as other voices carry the tune. There’s also a harmony to music where not every instruments is playing the same note or very voice singing the same note.

By playing together they make something more than any one person could make on their own. In the harmony there’s something special. Just as Jazz musicians can improvise inside of the framework of the music they know so too the framework of dialogue creates the opportunity for great music through a relatively small framework of rules and guidelines.

Chaordic- Order in the Chaos

If you were to look at a school of fish in the ocean you might conclude that there is no order. You might conclude that the school has no inherent organization because it looks like it’s simply a random arrangement of fish. However, if you confront the school of fish with a threat, what emerges is an apparent order inside the chaos. The fish aren’t swimming randomly, they’re swimming together making the same turns together, dodging the same threats together.

So too is a dialogue. Everyone is working together but is still their own entity. They follow the twists and turns of the conversation together while maintaining their independent thoughts. There is still structure in the dialogue and rules of engagement for prevent others from being hurt, but those structural rules don’t force everyone to line up on what would be considered a neat line. It only requires that people work together.

What appears as chaos based on a loose set of rules really has in it a natural order of how people work together which is both inexpressible and beautiful.

Decoding Dialogue

The strange thing about dialogue is that it’s about the ability for multiple people coming together to create something new and better than possible individually, but it is also simultaneously about knowing yourself and eliminating the barriers that are within you.

shootout

Book Review-Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together – Defensive Routines

Sometimes my book reviews take on a life of their own. While preparing for my review of Dialogue: The Art of Thinking Together, I started to gather some thoughts on one of the key aspects of dialogues, which is the impact of defensive routines. Before I knew it, defensive routines had enough content for its own blog – thus this post. So the review for Dialogue will end up in three parts. We’ll cover two specific topics first then tie it together with the “official” review.

The background here is that I’ve written about dialogue before but not about this particular topic. My post on Discussion and Dialogue for Learning collected my thoughts from The Fifth Discipline and Dialogue Mapping. It’s an interesting topic because few people talk about how to create a dialogue. We all want to believe that we dialogue with one another but the reality is that there are a number of barriers that prevent us from having a true dialogue. Dialogue requires a certain comfort about ourselves and flexibility in our beliefs to allow others to share their perspective – a key factor that Dialogue Mapping surfaces. The book Dialogue – The Art of Thinking Together artfully walks the reader through the nuances of how to create the conditions for a dialogue and what can get in the way. Here we’ll deal with just one factor, defensive routines and how they prevent us from experiencing true dialogue.

As a quick review, dialogue is about revealing the incoherence of our thought. It’s about exposing to us the blind spots that are created by our very limited perspective. By getting more people to speak freely about their perspectives without fear of disrespectful judgment we can see a whole picture – one which is relatively free of the gaps and biases created by our singular view.

Earthquakes and GPS

Before we explore the barriers to dialogue, it’s useful to explore for a moment how many of the things that we take for granted today work and how there are hidden lessons for us as we approach dialogue. For instance, how the location and magnitude of earthquakes is determined. The simple answer is that they use a mechanism called triangulation. By taking the location of known things – such as seismology monitoring centers and their readings, it’s possible to estimate the location of an earthquake with relatively high accuracy. Because we know the exact time that an earth quake is recorded in different locations – as well as the relative intensity, the time for a shockwave from an earthquake to travel through the ground, etc. – we can determine where the earthquake originated.

In our dialogues we’re trying to compare the perspectives of different people and combine them into a single observation of what really has happened or what really is happening. We’re trying to piece together a three dimensional view from a set of two dimensional perspectives. In seismology the more sensors you can combine the more accurate your picture of the earthquake. In dialogue the more people you can get to speak openly the better picture of the topic of discussion you’ll get. However, while monitoring earthquakes is an interesting way to talk about how having multiple perspectives can help – there’s an even better way that most of us use much more frequently.

The US department of defense launched 27 satellites with atomic clocks and transmitters onboard. Using the same technique of triangulation as well as the location data of the satellite, it’s possible to accurately locate a receiver in the space on the globe. The system of satellites orbiting the earth are the global positioning system. Many of us use the data stream from these satellites to get from our houses to our appointments every day. The receiver inside our phones and dedicated GPS receiver devices can receive signals from as many as 12 satellites at a time. These signals include a time signal which can be used to determine a relative position from all of the satellites ultimately leading to an understanding of where the receiver is on the face of the earth to within a few feet.

In this case integrating the perspective of the distance from each of the satellites signals are received can tell you where you’re at. Dialogue is like that. Hearing the different perspectives from different people – who are themselves in motion – can lead you to a better understanding of where you are individually or as an organization. It’s possible that we believe that other people’s perspectives are interesting but not important – however, our world shows us that it’s other’s experiences that may be essential to our ability to understand.

Best Practices

Dialogue, in general, runs relatively directly in contrast with the idea of best practices – and more importantly that our practice is the best practice. (For more about best practices, see The Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices.) Because of What You See Is All There Is (WYSIATI), we believe that our perspective is the only one that matters – which is in a sense correct but misses the larger context that we can’t see everything from our point of view. (See Thinking: Fast, and Slow for more about WYSIATI.) Consider Mt. Rushmore. It’s a massive sculpture carved into a mountain. Most every shot you’ve ever seen of this magnificent sculpture was taken from the visitor’s center at the other side of the valley which Mt. Rushmore towers over. However, when you look at Mt. Rushmore from the air you get a different perspective. The sculpture is still massive – but you realize how much larger the mountain range is than just one mountain or one carving. Take a look at what I mean:

Still we believe generically that we should take best practices and incorporate them into what we do to improve our practice. However, there are several issues with best practices including:

  • Best for whom? – Do the conditions we’re facing match the conditions that the practice was designed for and validated with? If not then is the best practice really best for us?
  • According to whom? — Does the person purveying the best practice have a financial or other interest in saying the practice is best even though it may not be the best or even validated? In short, can we trust that the practice is really best?
  • Is it the practice? – All too often the real cause of the results isn’t captured in what is communicated when a best practice is captured. Unseen and uncommunicated factors can represent substantial barriers to implementing the practice successfully.

The problem from a dialogue perspective is that we’re all the purveyors of our own personal best practices. We believe in the practices which have worked for us. We believe that our way of doing things and perceiving things is the right way to do and perceive them. In this context it makes it hard to see other’s points of view as helpful, useful, necessary for understanding and even potentially better than our own. In order to participate in a true dialogue we have to be willing to be wrong, to let go of our perceptions, and to learn from others. To do that we need to realize that our idea of best practices is contextually driven and not every situation has the same context.

I’ve mentioned a few times that I’m a pilot. One of the relatively obvious things that most folks know is that if you’re pitching down or you’re too low the thing to do is to pull back on the yolk. This will change the pitch of the aircraft and ostensibly create altitude. This works in most cases – at least in the short term. However, in some cases the same pulling back of the yolk will lead to a stall which is a catastrophic loss of lift and the aircraft will plummet quickly. The right answer when you’re “low and slow” is to apply power. Depending upon where you’re sitting on the power curve just adding power will cause the aircraft to lift without any change in pitch. However, even if it doesn’t, it’s an important first step when you’re slow.

The enriched context is necessary to choose the right solution. It requires more than knowing that you’re too low. It also requires knowing how fast you’re going. If you’re traveling at a high rate of speed adding power will only exacerbate the problem. Being more specific, knowing how close you are to Vne (the velocity to never exceed) will tell you how much you should pull back on the yolk – near Vne you need to make as subtle of changes as you can to accomplish the goal to minimize stress on the airframe.

With each layer of the problem we’re learning about more information and how a better understanding and perspective of the situation can help you to make the right choices. One person’s best (and obvious) practice of pulling back on the yolk can be disastrous when applied to the wrong situation. Before you are sure that what you believe is right, consider that someone else might have a different and better perspective of the situation – one which might make your belief be incorrect.

Slay the Sacred Cows

There’s an old story about a newlywed couple who are hosting the family for Christmas dinner. The husband, being a good husband wisely, is helping his wife prepare the meal when she chops off the end of the ham and sets it aside. When he asks about it his bride replies that this is just the way that Christmas ham is cooked and that she’s never questioned it. Her mom did it this way, her grandmother did it this way. It’s just tradition. The husband, perhaps les wisely, asks his mother-in-law why you cut the end off of the ham. She turns to her mother and asks the same question when she receives this response. “Because it doesn’t fit in the pan if you don’t.” What had become a tradition – one that no one wanted to question – was simply a matter of necessity for the time. Today the mother-in-law and the new bride may have pans large enough for the whole ham but the grandmother didn’t.

A serious barrier to dialogue is our inability to be real with ourselves. First, we rarely consider what our defining boundaries are. In Beyond Boundaries Cloud and Townsend talk about the difference between defining and temporary boundaries. The quick recap is that defining boundaries once violated change who you are. These boundaries are the definition of your “me-ness”. Temporary boundaries are instead areas that you simply need to be cautious in for a while. We defend our defining boundaries relatively actively.

Rarely do we consider what boundaries we consider to be essential to our “me-ness.” Even when you’re able to identify your believed boundaries we’ve got to be mindful that we may be deceiving ourselves.

Who Am I?

When you ask most folks who they are they’ll answer with their name. That may be their identifier – but it doesn’t really explain who they are. If you press a bit further and ask “But who are you?” the immediate response is often their job. You’ll hear that they’re a plumber or an architect. If you pry still deeper you may hear about their education – perhaps they have a PhD. However, this isn’t who someone is. (See Who Am I? for some science on how people are motivated and who they are.)

Ultimately both of these answers are about what the person has done. A person isn’t the sum of their experiences – as this makes us little more than a container for experiences. More than the sum of our experiences we’re a collection of value systems. We have a set of values that we hold some of which we hold more dearly than others. Consider someone who wants to be a successful business person and a respected family man. When these two value systems are put in conflict – as they often will be – how does someone navigate these waters? Will they choose to work extra, travel more, and get the promotion or will they take a less successful career path in order to coach their son’s football team?

The real challenge as it pertains to dialogue isn’t the choice between work and home – or primary motivators as discussed in Who Am I?. The real challenge is the hidden values that we carry that we can’t articulate and that few of us have ever probed deeply. How do you know if a dialogue should feel threatening to who you are if you don’t really know who you are yourself? How could you know what your defining boundaries are if you’ve never explored them?

During a dialogue people sometimes become wrapped up in their position so much that their position begins to define who they are. If I am voting for the red widget and someone says that they don’t like the red widget as much as the blue one, a person can – and often does – feel personally attacked. While there was no value statement on the person the fact that someone disagreed with them can feel like a negative statement about the person.

Enabling dialogue means that everyone must maintain the distinction between what they believe and who they are. A person doesn’t cease to exist or become less if one of their ideas is found to not be the best answer.

Self-Deception

Even if you’re willing to explore your defining boundaries it may not be that they’ll be so easy to find. If I think I’m a trusting person but won’t loan my things to others, is my value real? What about if I feel like I’m a giving person but I don’t give to charity or support causes that I believe in? What about the alcoholic who believes that they can control their drinking?

In the triad of books from the Arbinger Institute (Bonds That Make You Free, Anatomy of Peace, and Leadership and Self-Deception) there was a discussion about “boxes” that tend to distort our ability to see the world. However, I believe these boxes also have the power to distort our ability to see ourselves. We want to see our noble selves – and only our noble selves. Our ego defends itself from looking at the ugliness that exists within us. I recently acquired a copy of the book The Ego and Its Defenses. It is just 572 pages of the mechanisms that we used to protect our ego. While it’s relatively easy to read, it’s definitely an academic/professional book with language that is at times very clinical. However, it catalogs 22 major and 26 minor defenses of the ego. It’s key to understand that the presence of one of these ego defenses doesn’t indicate a problem. We all have these ego defenses. They’re what allow us to get out of the bed in the morning and function. However, it’s equally important to recognize that these mechanisms are unconsciously guiding and directing us to prevent our fragile ego from becoming overwhelmed with reality.

Much like the enneagram (see Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery) The Ego and Its Defenses focuses on the way that the defense is used since the defense itself is both natural and can be healthy when used in the right contexts. The question isn’t whether we self-deceive. The question is primarily whether those defenses are healthy and required or whether they’re over- or under- expressed. There’s no question that the ego will defend itself as you seek to more accurately see yourself for both the good and the bad. It’s comfortable to see ourselves as better than we really are because then we don’t have to take a good long look in the mirror at the parts of us which we should improve.

As a result when a dialogue (or conversation) turns to an area where we did a poor job or where we feel less than sufficient we’ll automatically start to become defensive. We don’t need anyone to tell us we did a bad job, we already know it. At least we know it enough to realize there’s some painful, intolerable truth that we may need to avoid.

Undiscussable

The power that sacred cows has over us is based on the fact that they’re undiscussable. When you can’t talk about something you can’t directly address it. Something that may be very small looks very large because of the shadow it casts. In many families, but not mine, the topic of sex is taboo. It’s not appropriate for a family to discuss sex. However, if you look at this from an epidemiology point of view, teen pregnancy reached epidemic proportions and the US had a teen pregnancy rate four times that of other western societies. Thankfully there’s been a 52% decline in pregnancy rates from 1991 to 2012. One of the factors that emerged as the cause for the high rates of teen pregnancy in the research was a low level of family closeness. This is expressed multiple ways by different researchers. For instance, what How Children Succeed would call licking and grooming is included as a part of this. However, it’s more than feeling like you’re supported. That’s part one. If you aren’t supported then you can’t talk to your parents.

The next phase is being able to actually discuss sex between teenage children and parents. The ability to communicate clearly the moral views of the parents – and teenagers – as well as the ability to be open about the challenges and risks of having sex as a teenager have changed. While the simple act of being more able to discuss the topic isn’t solely responsible for the remarkable drop in teen pregnancy rates – it’s certainly a considerable factor.

Consider another social issue which is an undiscussable topic. Drunk driving remains a serious risk to life both for the driver and for innocent people who become involved through an accident. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) reports that the number of people killed by drunken driving has been cut in half in their 30 years of existence. One of the changes during that time is the contract for life created by Students Against Drunk Driving (SADD) (now Students Against Destructive Decisions). The contract for life is a commitment on the part of the student to avoid destructive behaviors. However, more interestingly is the commitment of the parent to provide safe transportation home – without an immediate discussion about what happened that they needed to call.

This creates a space of safety to allow them to get the help they need – and simultaneously creates the opportunity to talk about difficult – or undiscussable – topics that need to be discussed.

Sure these are topics that impact parents and aren’t the sort of topics that occur in business, but the framework is the same. Undiscussable topics create problems because they’re undiscussable nature. Perhaps it’s the fact that the staff doesn’t feel supported or they don’t feel safe. They become undiscussable by the fact that management isn’t willing to entertain the possibility that they have more work to do. They have their own defensive routines that create the undiscussability of some topics.

What Are Defensive Routines?

Do you ever notice that you’re getting defensive in a conversation? Maybe you feel your heart rate do a double beat. Or perhaps you feel your ears starting to get just a slight bit warmer. Maybe you can feel your breathing rate change or how your breathing gets more shallow and rapid. Perhaps the cause was an attack lobbed in your general direction or what appeared to be a more sniper rifle-like attack on you. Many times the speaker didn’t intend to attack you. Instead they were trying to make a point or express their views.

The challenge is that what they want to convey is something that threatens your way of thinking. Whether it’s a news article about gay marriage, abortion, religion, or social injustice, it may be enough to get your juices going. Things that – to reuse the euphemism – “Get your juices going” are emotionally triggering. This may – or may not – be your amygdala raising the alarm that something is wrong.

The alarm is about not feeling safe. It’s about somehow the conversation is perceived as being potentially harmful to you. This could be in the very literal and physical sense or in a more generic and intellectual sense. Somehow you feel threatened – even a little – and you end up automatically defending yourself, your beliefs, or your way of life – even if they don’t need to be defended. That is we attach our identities to our affiliations. We become wrapped up in the trappings of being a republican, a democrat, our job, a college graduate, etc. We become so associated with these ideas that when someone attacks them it feels like they’re attacking us and it triggers our need to defend ourselves – even if it’s not ourselves that we’re really defending.

It seems like it’s very difficult to live by “passionate beliefs, loosely held.” We hold beliefs and we assume that those beliefs are us – that if we stopped believing in the things that we believe in that we would somehow cease to exist. However, unlike what most of us have learned from our experiences, it’s often OK to be wrong. We don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to be right all the time. Despite this truth we often believe that we do have to be right. In fact we have deeply rooted psychological immune systems which are designed to protect us from the reality that we’re not perfect (See Emotional Intelligence.)

The difficult part of minimizing defensive routines is to become more detached from the idea. Buddhism teaches that attachment is about over-possessiveness or control. (See Emotional Awareness) If you look at this as a continuum it’s easy to see that the more detached you become the less concerned about control – or defense – of something you’ll be. You can remain true to your defining boundaries and be willing to evaluate whether they’re the right defining values.

Beyond Defensive Routines

Defensive routines are just one barrier to dialog – and a starting point. In my full review of Dialogue we’ll see some of the other barriers.

The One Thing

Book Review-The ONE Thing

What if you could do just one thing really well? What is if you could focus all of your energies into one thing and become the best in the world at it? This is the question that’s at the heart of The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth behind Extraordinary Results. Of course, we’d all love to master one thing but how would we even go about doing that? Gary Keller seeks to convince you that you should focus on only ONE thing and get it right, rather than flitting through your day dealing with whatever urgent thing happens to come up.

Finding the One Thing

I have only two real criticisms of The ONE Thing. First, the book isn’t good at all about helping you find what your ONE Thing should be. It speaks well about the need to focus down on doing one thing well but it’s not effective at a plan for how to find that one thing.

Other books have spoken of focus and the Stockdale paradox – “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” (Particularly Good to Great.) However, the question isn’t have there been successful people who have stuck to their guns and adapted – like FedEx – but for me the question is how many more people stuck to their guns for the wrong idea? It wasn’t their faith that was bad but rather their perception of what the market wanted and needed.

So while the inspirational stories of success are great, I question whether it’s possible that finding the ONE thing is just as important as the ONE thing itself.

Second, I know that the book is sensationalized and oversimplified in places. It references the right research and quotes the right people, however, it rather frequently over simplifies things to the point of making it unclear how to actually implement success. The most direct way to see this is by comparing it with the book Making it Happen. Peter Sheahan speaks about five phases which are: Packaging, Positioning, Influence, Acceleration, and Reinvention. In this, he leverages the analogy of a cutting torch and how a small blue flame is much more effective than a big yellow flame. Sheahan also talks about the need to expand your offerings once you’re on the other side. I believe that this is a more comprehensive view of focus – there are times to focus and there are times to diversity. The precision about when the ONE thing is appropriate – and when it isn’t – is sorely missing.

The reality is that what Keller is advocating in The ONE Thing isn’t really one thing at all. He’s advocating ONE thing in each aspect of your life – and that the ONE thing may change over time – which is wise. However, when you expand the ONE thing to each aspect of your life – it loses its focus. Despite the book reminding us about the language of having a singular priority – we become adrift in the priorities for the different areas of our lives.

I know that I might have discouraged you a bit from reading the rest of the review and the book – however, I want you to hang with it – like I did. It’s really a good book that can help you if you feel like you’re not able to be successful despite your best efforts. There are many analogies, breakdowns, and stories that can really drive the point home about how to be successful – if you’ll let it.

Six Lies between You and Success

The ONE Thing asserts that there are six lies between you and success which are:

  • Everything Matters Equally – In reality some things matter much more than others. The Pareto rule or the 80/20 principle applies to many things including how important the things that you do are. Some are very powerful and others are virtually irrelevant.
  • Multitasking – Some believe that they can do multiple things at the same time, while others realize that this is a fallacy. The argument goes that you can walk and chew gum at the same time so why can’t you listen to music and study at the same time? The answer is that you can only focus on one thing at a time. The only successful multitasking isn’t multitasking at all. It’s allowing different parts of your brain to process different things or task switching. Listening to music is fine as long as the music is used to drown out other sounds that might distract you and the music itself is so familiar that it doesn’t draw your focus. (See Efficiency in Learning for more on the impact of split attention.) Task switching is really about alternating your focus between multiple things. You’re still only doing one thing at a time but you’ve created the appearance that you’re getting more done.
  • A Disciplined Life – Some believe that to be successful you must always be disciplined. The mental model of the Elephant, Rider, and Path from Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis dispels this myth. The rational self (rider) – the part of you responsible for discipline – gets tired. You need to change the emotion (elephant) or the habits (path). What you need most isn’t discipline, it’s just enough discipline to establish habits.
  • Willpower Is Always on Will-Call – We believe that we can summon up willpower at any time we want it. However, the reality is that we’re often too tired, hungry, or lonely to muster up the willpower we need. The best way to have willpower is to exercise it intentionally and to ensure that it’s well fed.
  • A Balanced Life – Our lives are necessarily out of balance. When we’re working we’re not balanced with our family life. When we’re on vacation with our family our work life isn’t in balance. The point is that balance is less of a state and it’s more of an activity.
  • Big is bad – We’re often scared of success. We’re scared that if we reach for the big goal that we’ll fail. Sometimes failure with a high goal is better than success with a smaller one.

We’ll dig into a few nuances of these lies and how they prevent us from success.

Dominos, Momentum, and Extraordinary Success

The ONE Thing speaks about dominos and how dominos add up – over time – to be a huge amount of energy. It also shares that a domino can knock over another domino 50% larger than itself allowing for a relatively small number of transitions to create very massive impacts. The ability to create momentum shows up in Good to Great in the concept of the flywheel, small wins in The New Edge in Knowledge, reinforcing loops in The Fifth Discipline and Thinking in Systems. John Maxwell’s language is “The Big Mo” – short for momentum.

Michelangelo was quoted with “If anyone knew how hard and how long I have worked to become what I am today, they would no longer think such great things about me.” I first saw this quote in Seeing David in the Stone. Hard work over a long period of time creates great skill as Gladwell discussed in Outliers. Gary Klein in Sources of Power discussed how fire commanders had become so good at fighting fires they no longer realized they were thinking and evaluating the fire, they just knew that they “felt” like a particular path was the right one to follow.

Extraordinary success doesn’t come from a few attempts. People don’t just become truly talented at something. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi speaks of people Finding Flow and the impact of it. Flow is the balance of challenge to ability which creates a state of high productivity – one which is its own reward. If someone operates in flow for long periods of time they necessarily become better at what they do. Becoming better at what they do until they are exponentially better at it than others. It seems like someone gets really good at what they do overnight. There’s a time when the Beatles just became a good band. At some level this is true. There was a breakthrough point. However, at another level, it isn’t. They simply did their thousands of hours of practice until their exponential growth carried them into success.

Focusing on the ONE thing allows you to build the experience you need to become exponentially better at something than others.

Purpose, Priority, Productivity, and Profit

It’s entirely possible to be running 1,000 miles per hour in the wrong direction as the Does Anybody Hear Her lyrics say. If you find your ONE thing, how do you know that it’s the right thing? How do you know that it’s the thing that will fulfill you and make you happy? The answer starts with purpose. What is your purpose in life? A secret is that your purpose isn’t to make money any more than a corporation’s is. (See The Advantage for more on corporate purpose.)

Finding your purpose isn’t necessarily an easy thing and more than finding your ONE thing is. However, if you don’t start with your purpose you may find that your ONE Thing may not matter. Imagine an army platoon headed through the forest and the commander asking a scout to climb above the tree line to confirm they’re headed in the right direction and the scout coming back and reporting that they’re in the wrong forest – not only are they going the wrong direction but they’re not even in the right place.

With purpose in place you can focus on priority. Priority is your ONE thing. It’s whatever you’ve decided you need to work on now. From your priority and repeated investment in time and practice you get productivity. Productivity flows from the hours of purposeful practice. (Pun intended) The presumption is that from the productivity comes profit.

Task Switching

Above, in the six lies between you and success section, I discussed how multitasking isn’t possible. We can really only focus on one thing at a time. Computers are the same way – except now they have multiple CPUs and CPU cores so they can literally be doing more than one thing at a time in the same way that a team can. The overhead of switching focus for a computer has evolved over time. Computers have been specifically designed to be able to switch focus rapidly. Humans have been designed to make a limited number of focus shifts and as a result we make them more poorly.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (Finding Flow) talks about flow sometimes taking 15 minutes to get into. If you’re required to focus switch in the middle of flow it can be very difficult to get back to the same level of productivity.

The ONE Thing quotes from Paul Graham’s essay “Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule” the essence of which is that makers need long blocks of uninterrupted time where managers need small blocks of time. One thing that I’ve learned is that I have to schedule the big things first and fit them into time blocks that they fit in. Then all of the other things that I need to do – the things that need smaller amounts of focused time need to fit around them.

I once saw a demonstration where there were marbles, sand, and water which were to be placed in a jar. If you placed the water in the jar first, filling it to the top, nothing else would fit. If you filled the jar first with marbles you could then fit in some sand again filling the jar to the top. You could even pour some water in over the sand and it too would fit in the jar. The illustration has stuck with me in the years since I saw it because I realized that you have to start filling your time with the big stuff first and let the smaller stuff flow around it.

Practical Lessons for Being Productive

While in general I subscribe to the idea that I should be productive, that I should be focused on doing those things on my list which most closely align with my ONE thing – there are times when I just can’t pull that off. Consider the way that I write these blog posts for instance. That is, if we ignore for a moment that they’re probably not related to my ONE thing but are instead my passion for learning.

There are a set of steps in the writing process. It starts with reading and highlighting the book. Then there’s getting those highlights into OneNote. Then there’s preprocessing the notes which means coding the notes and highlights and preparing myself for writing. The last stage is writing the actual blog post. There are times when I simply can’t read any more. Times when I can’t process my highlights from books, and many more times when I can’t write. So sometimes what is the short term priority to produce isn’t best for long term productivity. I absolutely know that I can “fight it out” and create a blog post even when I’m not “in the mood” for writing. However, I know equally that I learn less from the process, the quality is worse, and for the most part I simply don’t like it. It’s much better to do something I can do productively and return to writing later when I’m more “in tune” with it. It often results in having a few book review blog posts in various states of completion at any one time – but also keeps me productive with them.

I learned that sometimes if I can’t do the one thing that I need to do most, I should look for the next thing that I need to do and keep doing that until I find something that I can do – that I need to do. Obviously this can become very trivial very quickly, but if I’m conscious about what I’m choosing I can do something valuable when I can’t do what is really at the top of my list.

I find an effective activity that I rarely do is cleaning my desk/office. It sounds silly but the act of getting up and doing something sometimes helps me work through whatever state I’m in that prevents me from working effectively on my most important thing. Brain Rules talks about how our brain is spurred on by physical activity.

I’m not trying to minimize the need to work on your ONE thing. Rather I’m suggesting a strategy to stay productive when climbing the mountain of necessary willpower isn’t really an option.

The Power of Focus

There’s no doubt that in focus there is power. Use a magnifying glass to focus the suns ray’s into a small spot and you can start a fire. However, the principle is broader than that. Consider that the light from a lantern can light a handful of yards around the lantern. The same light placed in a lighthouse with a Fresnel lens and a reflector to focus the light along a narrow band along the horizon can be seen for miles. The same energy in the lantern as a laser can be seen for hundreds of miles or maybe even the moon.

Some folks believe that the problem with their lives is that they’re not productive enough. However, it can be that they’re creating the same amount of energy as other more successful people but that the other people who are more successful are just better at focusing and harnessing their energy in one specific direction.

The Four Thieves of Productivity

Some ideas, people, and environments are life giving. They add to your life and your productivity. Other ideas, people, and environments are life taking. They drain you and stand between you and the success you want. Here are four thieves of productivity:

  • Inability to say “No” – If you can’t say no to things then you won’t be able to do what you’ve said yes to. It’s a solid principle to think about what you must give up every time you say yes to something. If you’re not willing to give up something else you may not be able to say yes.
  • Fear of Chaos – Chaos is scary, unpredictable, and messy but it’s also messy if you want to accomplish something new. Road following doesn’t involve much chaos but road building invariably leads to chaos. As you spend more of your time focused on your ONE thing you invariably have to let other things drop or be paused. Accept that it will be messy and that this is OK.
  • Poor Health Habits – Your health is your engine. If you aren’t healthy how can you possibly be productive? Keller recommends that you:
    • Meditate and pray for spiritual energy
    • Eat right, exercise, and sleep sufficiently for physical energy
    • Hug, kiss, and laugh with loved ones for emotional energy
  • Poor Environments – The environment that you allow around yourself you create, and if the environment around you works against you how can you possibly expect to be successful?

ONE more thing

Ultimately the ONE Thing encourages you to focus on what your purpose is and the priorities that lead from it. That’s a very good thing and it provides compelling background based on solid research that you should focus on the things that can be most impactful to your purpose. If you feel like you’re prone to distraction and wandering, maybe you should pick up the ONE Thing today – before you get distracted.

Change or Die

Book Review-Change or Die

What if someone put a gun to your head and said that you have to change or die? What if you knew that you were going to die if you didn’t change? Would you? I know that we all believe we would. It seems simple. However, the statistics don’t bear out this reality. These statistics are at the start of Change or Die and should be startling.

Consider those patients with heart disease. Most with heart disease find themselves needing medical help because of poor lifestyle choices. However, if you look at patients with heart bypass surgery two years later only one in ten changed their ways and took a healthier lifestyle that reversed the progression of the disease. The fact of the matter is that 80% of the healthcare costs in the country is consumed by five behavioral issues: Too much smoking, too much drinking, too much eating, too much stress, and not enough exercise. If you fix these behavioral issues you can reduce the healthcare budget by 4/5ths.

Convict recidivism rates (return rates for prison) are around 30% in the first six months and 67.5% in the first three years. So only one in three convicts will change their habits after having been incarcerated.

Only 36% of diagnosed alcoholics are believed to not be active in their addiction after one year. Even with the substantial impact of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) in improving outcomes, it only works when people work the program and too few are able to stay with the 12 simple steps.

So how about I ask again. If you were told that you needed to change or you would die, would you? Most of us would like to believe the answer is yes, but somewhere between one third and one tenth of us would be able to actually make the change. Change or Die is about what works to change those odds in our favor.

Keys to Change

The key to changing, according to Deutschman, are the three Rs: Relate, Repeat, and Reframe. We’ll look at them each in turn.

Relate

To make a change you have to believe that you can be successful and that’s what relating is about. It’s about connecting at an emotional level to a person or community. That connection, and their success story, can sustain you. Relating to other people including communities of people can create and sustain hope.

Repeat

Repeating is where you practice the new skills that you’ll need in your new life. You repeat them over and over until they become habit. There’s always the race between the rational self-becoming tired and discouraged and the new habit being formed. I’ve talked a few times about the elephant-rider-path analogy from The Happiness Hypothesis and Switch.

Reframe

Reframing is about changing how you think about your life and your world. Carol Dweck, in Mindset, talks about how we can all change and grow and how important the belief that we can change and grow is. Thinking in Systems highlighted the relatively high leverage of changing the paradigm in which you’re operating. By changing paradigms you can radically change an existing system and can therefore break free of the bonds of an addiction or the monotony of doing the same thing and expecting different results.

Psychological Concepts

Throughout the course of the book there are 8 psychological concepts explained. They are: Frames, Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses, Short-term wins, The Power of Community and Culture, Acting as If, Recasting a Life’s Story, Walk the Walk (Don’t Just Talk the Talk), and The Brain is Plastic. Let’s look at each one of these in turn.

Frames

Your reticular activating system (RAS) has a set of simple purposes. It’s designed to regulate your asleep/awake cycle and your arousal (alertness). The system is also responsible for your attention. That is, the RAS, controls what you pay attention to. Many of us have experienced buying a new car and suddenly realizing the other cars on the street of the same make and model as ours. Before we bought our new car we could honestly say that we don’t remember ever seeing the car. This is the impact of our reticular activating system. Once we have purchased the car it’s more interesting to us and thus more worthy of our attention. In terms of Thinking, Fast and Slow this is System 1 handing off information to System 2. We’re suddenly more aware because the information seems more noteworthy to our brains.

Our frame is our perspective, or paradigm, our way of seeing the world. Sometimes that frame is useful and sometimes that frame can create gaps. The frame of car driving we have is clearly incomplete, but we only see how incomplete it is once we’ve changed our frame. Our selective perception and confirmation bias tricks us into believing that our perspective is the right one.

I recently watched A Beautiful Mind, which is about the life of John Nash a brilliant mathematician whose work redefined economics. Nash also suffered from schizophrenia. That is he saw people and voices which weren’t real. What was astounding about this was the distortion between what was real and what he saw. We all do this – just to a lesser degree. We all believe that our perspective – our frame – is right.

The key to change is a frame that insists that we need to change. Change is essential for survival. If we believe that we can cope with the problems we’re faced with through alcohol – or through the use of pharmaceutical drugs in the case of heart disease – we’re not likely to do the hard work to actually make the changes we need to make.

Denial and Other Psychological Self-defenses

Our egos are remarkable things. They’re amazingly resilient even in the face of immense pressure. We believe we’re a good person despite knowing that we cheat on our taxes. We believe we’re giving people, but can’t find a few hours to work at a community kitchen or homeless shelter. We believe that we’re at the top of our profession but fail to find the time to read the monthly magazine of the professional organization that we belong to. I’m talking about myself here – any resemblance to you just means that we’re all alike.

Within a few minutes any discomfort that you felt as you read the preceding will fade. Your ego will assure you that you are a good person. It will assure you that it’s ok. In fact you can ask most people in prison and be astounded as many will describe themselves as good people who were in bad situations. The reason any pressure you may have felt will fade is because the ego has its defenses. Change or Die refers to a book, The Ego and Its Defenses which I purchased. The Ego and Its Defenses catalogs 22 major and 26 minor defenses as listed in the following:

  • Major Defenses
    • Compensation
    • Conversion
    • Denial
    • Displacement
    • Dissociation
    • Fantasy
    • Idealization
    • Identification
    • Incorporation
    • Internalization
    • Introjection
    • Inversion
    • Projection
    • Rationalization
    • Reaction Formation
    • Rechannelization (Sublimination)
    • Regression
    • Repression
    • Restitution
    • Substitution
    • Symbolization
    • Undoing
  • Minor Defenses
    • Absolution
    • Atonement and Penance
    • Compartmentalization
    • Compromise Formation
    • Condensation
    • Convergence
    • Deferment
    • Devaluation
    • Distortion
    • Diversion
    • Extension
    • Externalization
    • Fainting
    • Fire Drill
    • Generalization
    • Intellectualization
    • Isolation
    • Overdeterminism
    • Personal Invulnerability
    • Replacement
    • Retribution
    • Retrospective (or Retroactive) Devaluation
    • Reversal
    • Splitting
    • Unwitting Ignorance
    • Withdraw

Despite knowledge of the defenses, they’re not neutralized. Even though you can become aware of the psychological defenses employed by the ego doesn’t mean that you’re not still subject to them. However, these defenses aren’t all bad – they’re required for us to live relatively happy lives. If we had to consider that we’re powerless to stop asteroids, earthquakes, tornados, volcanos, hurricanes, etc., we’d all have trouble getting out of bed in the morning. A little bit of ego defense isn’t a bad thing.

Still, it’s important to realize that when it comes to changing, folks’ fear will fade and we’ll return to our own normal state. That is unless you build a close network of personal connections. One of the things from Emotional Intelligence which didn’t make it to my book review – but did make it to my post on Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy is that isolation – lack of personal connection – was reported to be “as significant to mortality rates as smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and lack of physical exercise.”

Overcoming isolation is what AA and other 12 step programs do. They ensure that you’re aware that you’re not the only one struggling with something. They put you in a group where you can share your struggle – and hear about others. This performs the dual purpose of connecting you to others and creating an atmosphere where you’ll be held accountable, as we’ll discuss in a moment.

Short-term wins

Everyone gets discouraged. This is particularly true for people who are facing real struggles in their life for which they need to consider change. Whether it’s in the corporate context or a personal one it’s important to create short term wins. In Leading Change and The Heart of Change, John Kotter speaks about an 8 step process of change which specifically calls out the need for short term wins. However, Change or Die expresses that sometimes the best way to get short term wins is to make a radical change.

The Power of Community and Culture

Kurt Lewin said that behavior was a function of both person and environment. That is that you have to account for both factors when you’re considering the behavior you get. You can put a Bodhisattva monk in a situation where he might kill. (See Emotional Awareness) However, there’s a secondary expression of interrelatedness that doesn’t surface in Kurt’s simple formula. It doesn’t convey how the environment (culture) changes the person and how the person changes the environment (culture.)

We’ve shaped invisibly by the family that we grow up in. We learn habits and create expectations around what we’ve seen. We build expectations around how we treat each other, how much we help, what vacations look like, etc. In this way our familial environment changes us. It changes what we expect out of ourselves and out of others. Similarly, changing dynamics like a new powerful person in the family can shift the expectations of the entire environment. Replace an alcoholic and abusive father with an honorable and respectful step-father who expects that everyone will respect and support each other and the person starts to unwind the existing environment and remake what the environmental expectations are.

Mothers and fathers are concerned about the other children that their children hang around. A network of friends becomes its own environment. Children are shaped by their friends – for better or worse. A culture built around friends with different values can rapidly erode the moral framework that parents had attempted to instill in their children.

One friend of mine talks about being “refamilied” into a group of friends that love and support him despite his weaknesses. His new “family” is his new environment which supports the behavior he wants to have and is helping to make it easier for the person to get the behaviors he wants consistently.

Acting As If

We believe that the relationship between what we think and what we do is directly causal. That is we believe that what we believe we will do. However, the relationship isn’t directly causal (as I’ve discussed here.) However, there’s something more. Sometimes what you do changes what you think. It’s possible to “go through the motions” or “act the part” or “fake it until you make it.” The sayings are wise. They know that sometimes you won’t FEEL like doing something but if you do it anyway, you’ll start to feel it.

Changing – and sustaining change – is about creating new habits. It’s about new paths for the elephant of emotion (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis for the Rider-Elephant-Path model) to follow without the rider needing to intervene.

Recasting a Life’s Story

I’ve spoken about victimhood a few times. (See Beyond Boundaries, Boundaries, and Daring Greatly) One of the revelations from Change or Die is that victimhood is a trap. It’s a trap because if you admit that you’re not the victim you have to face the fact that you’ve been doing the wrong thing for a very long time. It forces you to accept that you’re the one responsible for your life’s condition – not someone else’s fault. This can be a hard thing to swallow. In Anatomy of Peace there were four kinds of “boxes” – one of which was the “I Deserve” box. This is the box of entitlement – and perhaps entitlement is why people believe they’re victims. Boxes prevent people from perceiving reality clearly and cause them to lash out. Perhaps this lies at the heart of why a cycle of victimhood is so hard to break.

The good news is that we can change – as we learned in Mindset. We can learn to see ourselves not as a victim but as a savior. Instead of the one victimized we can recast our perspectives to someone who helps others be saved. In that transition there is a great deal of power to help ourselves. That’s one of the things that was learned at Delancey Street, one of the book’s case studies of change. Here convicts learned to recast their story into one of hope.

Walk the Walk (Don’t Just Talk the Talk)

One of the reasons that many of us struggle with politicians today is that they talk about family values and protecting the American dream while being unfaithful to their wives and accepting campaign contributions from large lobbyists who have their own interests at heart. We don’t need to look far to see leaders failing to live up to their own ideal words. Of course in truth everyone lives somewhat differently than the ideals that they espouse. However, alignment between what you believe and what you do is greatly respected because we have an innate understanding of how difficult this is to live out.

There are two kinds of misalignment that happen. The first kind of misalignment is unknown misalignment. This happens when we’re truly not aware of the fact that we’re saying one thing and doing another. Those misalignments are best addressed by our family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers holding us accountable to what we say we believe.

The other kind of misalignment is where we’re aware that there’s a difference between what we say and what we do. These misalignments will create a stress that the ego will attempt to protect itself from leading back to the state of being unaware of the misalignment. Being held accountable minimizes the ego’s ability to keep the misalignments hidden.

The more you can bring into alignment what people believe with what they do, the less psychic stress they’ll have and the happier they’ll be. I’ve mentioned several times that our happiness has fallen over the past few decades despite books like Flow, Redirect, Stumbling on Happiness and The Happiness Hypothesis trying to tell us what makes us happy.

The Brain is Plastic

Plastic in this sense doesn’t mean cheap or breakable. In this sense plastic means that your brains are malleable. That is the more that you do with them the more they can do. This isn’t a new concept per-se. Culturally we talk about what we’re putting into our kid’s brains in the form of cartoons, video games, and the news. We speak about how seniors live longer the more active and engaged they stay. However, it’s more than that. In Outliers Gladwell discussed how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice could make you into a master. Howard Gardner in Extraordinary Minds came to the same conclusion. Gary Klein in Sources of Power talked about how experience worked its way into your thinking to the point where you couldn’t distinguish where it came from.

Our brains are more malleable than any other part of our physiology. We can quite literally enlarge different processing areas of our brain over time the more we use it. Flute players can get enlarged areas for fine motor control. The upshot of all of this is that we have the ability to change. It’s inherent in our physiology. It’s in our DNA to change. We simply resist it at times.

Change or Improvement

Recently I heard that we should be speaking of improvement instead of speaking of change. While not directly related to Change or Die, I felt like the topic was one good to close with. Inherent and assumed in the language of change is that we’re seeking improvement. We’re seeking an improved match for our abilities and the environment which we’re in. The idea is that we should change to improve our chances of not dying.

If you’re looking for some compelling stories of situations where change is important – where it is truly life or death, you may want to pick up Change or Die.

Seeing David in the Stone

Book Review-Seeing David in the Stone

While speaking with a friend recently she said that she had written in her notebook a concept similar to Snapchat that she had never followed up on. I once knew someone who said that her father had invented the technology behind invisible fencing but never did anything with it. Seeing David in the Stone is about finding and seizing great opportunities. In today’s world we’ve seen millionaires rise out of simple ideas executed well. Whether it’s Facebook, YouTube, or one of the other dozens of companies that have sold for impressive amounts of money, it’s clear that opportunities are around us, it’s just a matter of us finding and seizing them.

About Joe

Seeing David in the Stone isn’t exactly mainstream reading (not that most of what I read is mainstream reading). It was published in 2007 and hasn’t been picked up on a New York Times best seller list so how did I find it? Well, as it turns out the book is written by James Swartz and Joseph (Joe) Swartz with contributions from the rest of the family. Joe is someone that my wife Terri had met and so we started up a conversation. Out of that conversation he gave me a printed copy of the book to read. As I’ve mentioned in my Research in the age of electrons post, I’ve mostly migrated to reading books on Kindle – however, I decided to make an exception for this book, because in our conversations Joe was sharing different perspectives on some of the same folks that I was quoting in my works. I wanted to see how his perspectives differed and how I might get some new insights.

One of the interesting things about the approach of the book is that it’s narrative based. That is, that it’s told in the style of a story. As you may remember from my book review of John Kotter’s book Buy-In, I’m not a big fan of narrative based books. However, as Joe pointed out during our conversations, that’s pretty normal as men often are “get to the facts” people and women are much more story focused. We’ve learned for thousands of years through story telling so it’s certainly aligned with how we learn.

Talent and Hard Work

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers he spoke of how 10,000 hours of purposeful practice often made folks great. Seeing David in the Stone quotes Michelangelo with “If anyone knew how hard and how long I have worked to become what I am today, they would no longer think such great things about me.” It’s a quote I hadn’t seen before and one that I appreciate. I’ve heard it other places too. James MacDonald mentioned in a series “Lord, Change My Attitude” that people want his success – as an author, speaker, and pastor – but they didn’t want the hard work it took to get it. He spoke of long drives to small churches with little compensation (my calculations made it enough for gasoline and a sandwich.) It seems like many – but perhaps not all – of the people that we see as successful have spent years and years of hard work to elevate their practice.

Seeing David in the Stone walks through the dichotomy of the idea that in order to become truly good you have to practice and to practice you have to have some initial skill to build on. However, as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains in Finding Flow – getting to that higher state of functioning which he calls flow, requires the right balance of skill and challenge. You can start with relatively little skill if the level of challenge is relatively small. The state of flow fuels the process of learning and becoming more interested in the practice.

The point made clear in Seeing David in the Stone was that the innovators – the people like Edison who transformed industries – often had become experts not only in the area that they were seeking to innovate in but in complementary categories as well. For instance, Edison was focused on making safe electric lighting. In order to understand how to create this he wasn’t focused just on the properties of electricity. He focused on how lighting was done and hired the skills necessary to create a light bulb. He found glass blowers, metallurgists, and chemists. He wanted to know as much as possible about the way things were done today – and was willing to engage experts in other disciplines to get the additional experience he needed.

Becoming an expert in any topic is in and of itself hard work. It is countless hours of practice, listening, and experimentation. However, hiring experts to come along side of you is a different kind of hard work as well. It’s hard to get OK with the awareness that you won’t know everything – you’re accepting that you need others no matter how knowledgeable you are.

Long Term and Short Term

As a consultant, I’m intimately familiar with short term focus. As a consultant you’re billing and will eventually create an invoice and, mostly, get paid. Working as a consultant I’m working on the short term. I’m working on the money that I’ll have soon. This works really well – right up to the point where it doesn’t. Anyone who has been in business for themselves will tell you that if you stay too focused on the short term billing and fail to look at the long term of who the next client will be – and on sales – you’ll eventually be in trouble. In fact, as the chart below shows, the 3 year survival rate for businesses are in the neighborhood of 60% — meaning 40% of the businesses have failed.

Five Year Survival Rates for Small Businesses (Credit: http://smallbiztrends.com/2012/09/failure-rates-by-sector-the-real-numbers.html)

The threat for survival if you’re focused just on your short term needs is very real. If you’re always living in the short term – moment to moment or paycheck to paycheck – there will be an event that will throw you out of whack and you’ll have a problem. While we can’t attribute all of the failures to a lack of long term awareness, there’s no doubt that some businesses never escape the trap of the short term. I blogged about this in “SharePoint Isn’t Your Biggest Problem – Right Now.” If you want to see success in the long term you can look to the Jesuits. They are a 450 year organization whose purpose has a very long term focus. (See Heroic Leadership)

Seeing David in the Stone quotes Bill Gates as saying “My success in business has largely been the result of my ability to focus on long-term goals and ignore the short-term distractions.” Ultimately it’s a balance between the necessities of the day and the aspirations of tomorrow that create long term and sustainable growth but the balance between the needs of the present and the preparation for the future is delicate. It takes skill to get both to fit in the space we have for our lives.

Lifelong Learning

Kotter in Leading Change talks about how lifelong learning is essential to good leadership because lifelong learners take more risks than do the rest of us. Mindset sets us straight on the fact that we can learn, grow, and change throughout our lives. While not using the words lifelong learning, Seeing David in the Stone conveys that life is about learning and that everyone who wants to be a successful leader must continue to strive to be better. In fact, step 2 calls for individuals to use powerful learning processes – that is to say that everyone should be intentional about their learning. How do you continue to grow – even when you’re at the top of your game?

Maybe the answer is in the idea of developing multiple mastery.

Multiple Mastery

I often joke with folks that I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. I say that because I started my career as a software developer. I transitioned to doing networking – because it was challenging. When it became less challenging I shifted back to being a software developer. I started working on the Shepherd’s Guide because my clients were asking for help materials for SharePoint after I built a solution for them. That’s lead me on a journey to learn more about organizational change and what it takes to help organizations leverage SharePoint more effectively. In fact, I’ve written a book about it – Making Organizational Change Work from the Inside Out. I wouldn’t say that I’ve mastered everything that I’ve tried – things like Comedy are still on my backlog of things to get better at. (See I am Comedian.) However, I do recognize the need to

In 2004 I wrote an article for Internet.com titled “Renaissance Man” where I spoke about how we pick up knowledge and skills that are useful to us. I also discussed the idea in an article titled “Software Developers-Learn another Language” from 2003 where I was making a softer statement about the need to learn enough to be conversant in other areas. Ultimately the true breakthroughs in innovation rarely come from folks that know only one thing. The folks who do truly remarkable works are people who have multiple areas of mastery. Extraordinary Minds is four profiles including Mozart who was, obviously a master of his domain; music. So there are exceptions. However, Leonardo Di Vinci was even more highly regarded for his ability to be a master of multiple domains.

Whole and Parts

One of the most powerful aspects of Di Vinci was that he was capable of seeing the whole. He leveraged his existing skills into the new domain every time leveraging his awareness of how things were connected and fit together. He created designs which were focused on how the whole worked together. He was, in some senses, the original systems thinker. (See Thinking in Systems and The Fifth Discipline.)

One of the challenges we have with our fragmented, piece it together culture of today is that we often end up focused on our narrow vision and fail to see the broader implications. This sometimes leads to a Tragedy of Commons (where rational individual actions drive dire consequences for the whole.) Stories abound of managers who are looking out for their department at the expense of the larger organization. We optimize our individual pieces without taking a step back to make sure that all of the pieces work together correctly, are appropriate, and are even necessary.

Leaders are able to optimize the overall system and then refine the behavior of the individual components of the system – doing it the way that makes the most sense.

Seeing David in the Stone

Ultimately, the key to innovation is being able to see what is hidden and to bring it to the surface – to see the David in the stone. It’s not quite enough to see David in the stone – you’ve also got to have the tools to free David from that stone. Along the way Michelangelo had to see David in the moments before his fight with Goliath. He also had to develop his skills to the point where he could free David from the stone. For us this means the development skills, and the insight that comes with experience. (The kind of insight that Gary Klein discussed in Sources of Power.) So build your skills and then go find your David in the Stone.

Making it Happen

Book Review-Making it Happen: Turning Good Ideas into Great Results

With a title of Making It Happen you might expect that the book is all about execution. How do you get the idea converted into action? At some level this is true, it’s about making ideas happen. However, at another level, it’s not. It’s less about execution and more about converting the good idea into something that you can sell. This is a marketing book. However, it’s not a marketing book in the same sense as Guerrilla Marketing, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR. It’s a marketing book in terms of how do you market your product through understanding and focusing. Making It Happen drives this further to talk about how to leverage your market offering once you get it refined.

Making it Happen has five main steps, steps that lead to the refinement of a single market proposition to the point that people will buy it and then on the other side an expansion of the idea into other places where you can have market impact. In addition to the five steps the book is littered with suggestions for how to refine your messaging and that’s focused on two main categories – the things that you’re offering and the people that you’re offering it to. We’ll cover those after the five steps.

Five Steps

Sheahan’s story about focus, is about how the fire from an acetylene torch is used to cut metal. A big yellow flame looks pretty but it’s not nearly as useful as a small focused blue flame. If you want to cut through you’re going to need the focus of the blue flame – that’s a focus that’s surprisingly hard to get to.

  • Packaging – Packaging is the conversion from an idea into something that you can sell. It’s taking the idea and turning it into a product.
  • Positioning – Positioning is the process of refining the package into something the market will buy by adjusting it to match an existing market need or creating the need in the market.
  • Influence – Influence is the point where you’ve convinced the customer to part with their time, money, or attention to actually purchase your product.
  • Acceleration – Acceleration is leveraging the conversion you have to adjacent offerings or to take the same offer to other clients – with a customer reference to get more return out of where you’ve cut through.
  • Reinvention – While you’re successful with your first offering is the time to pursue the next one. You have the first idea fund the next one. This is how you personally get more leverage. It may also be converting the acceleration around an idea into a platform.

Many ideas never get refined enough to really penetrate the market in a meaningful way. Part of that is the natural resistance to exclude audiences for your offering. The thinking is that the fewer people you include in your offering the fewer deals that you’ll get. This may – or may not – be the right thinking. Observationally, if you’re not breaking through with anyone on a broad message it may be worth focusing the message to a set of people that you can influence.

Things or People

When there’s an offer there are two components. The first component is the people you’re making the offer to. The second is the thing that you’re offering them. The thing may not be a physical thing – it may instead be a service offering or simply consulting time. However, in this context it’s separated from the person that you’re selling to.

It’s About Things

When it comes to refining the message for your “thing” there are three pieces:

  • The Offer
  • Differentiation
  • Credibility

Let’s take a look at these individually.

The Offer

It may seem obvious but knowing what you’re offering is a critical component to selling. The more vague, imprecise, or unclear the actual offer the less chance you have to penetrate the audience that you’re trying to sell to. Despite this and lots of sales training that encourages folks to have an “elevator pitch” or “back of the business card” answer to what they do and what they sell, most people can’t adequately describe what they do. One more palpable test is can you explain to your best friend’s wife or girlfriend what you do? If you can’t, you don’t have a refined enough offer.

Differentiation

As humans we are pretty dumb. I mean compared to the other creatures on the planet perhaps we’re smart but we seem to think that we evaluate everything. However, the cognitive reality is more that we try to find neat boxes that we want to put things in. If we can’t put an offer into a neat little box we’re likely to not remember it. As sad as it is, the more unique you are, the less likely you are to be remembered. At the same time, if there’s nothing about your offer that’s distinguishing you won’t be remembered either. That paradox is at the heart of the problem with marketing. You want to be different, just not too different.

Sheahan believes that we can differentiate the offer based on: the offer itself, an intangible (what he calls X-Factor), price, quality, speed, brand, or “you.” Further he believes that the success to differentiation are: being proactive, basing actions on research, timing it right, displaying proof, staying targeted, and playing the game. Often we need to focus on how the buyer perceives our offer including what category they put the offer in. Once we know the category that a buyer puts our offer in we’ll need to know how to differentiate it from the other offers and how to communicate that differentiation to them.

Credibility

Sometimes we can differentiate our product in positive ways such as customer testimonials and independent third party reviews which don’t require much work of positioning. Instead they require that we gain credibility in the mind of the buyer. The most effective way to do that is to connect with the person that they want to be and either demonstrate that people like who they want to be accept our offer – or that people who are actually like them use the offer.

It’s About People

Even though we’ve been focused on the things – the offer being made – there’s been an inseparable aspect of the way that humans think and the things that drive us. Sheahan talks about the personal aspects that drive decisions in terms of our drives, our identity, our audiences, and inciting action. Let’s look at each of these in turn:

Drives

Citing P.R. Lawrence’s work Sheahan states that there are four key drives for all people:

  • Drive to acquire – We seek to acquire material and experiences that our sense of well-being or social status.
  • Drive to bond – We seek to connect with each other emotionally directly and through groups.
  • Drive to comprehend – We desire an understanding of the world in which we live and how it works.
  • Drive to defend – We protect what we already have including ourselves, our families, and our possessions. This is consistent with other works about sunken costs – including the book Paradox of Choice.

Lawrence’s division of drives is somewhat difference than other views that we’ve seen in the past like Dr. Reiss’ work in Who Am I? However, this may be a reasonable simplification for the purposes of attempting to market as the 16 drivers in Reiss’ work is a lot to try to process.

Identity

One of the challenges with the drives indicated above is the drive to bond. The problem with this is that taken to the extreme that would lead us to the idea that we don’t want to be different from others. And certainly there’s an aspect of our nature where this is true. However, conversely we’re often fiercely defensive of our identity and our need to be different and unique – which puts us at odds with our need to bond. Sheahan speaks of three views of ourselves – and six lenses.

Three Views

I’ve spoken before about integrated self-images and how important they are to use. (See Beyond Boundaries, Compelled to Control, and Personality Types.) However, the integrated self-image is about how I see myself at different times. Sheahan speaks of how I see myself but also how I believe others see me and what I aspire to be. He states that it’s misalignment between these views that drives our desire to bond. These views – particularly the view of how others see me of the “boxes” from Bonds that Make Us Free, Leadership and Self-Deception, and Anatomy of Peace. It seems to me that the less that you are concerned by how you believe others see you the less likely you are to get trapped in the “box.” However, conversely, Sheahan speaks about how others see you can make a big impact in your influence on them – so perhaps there is some middle ground.

In my own life and those around me who I care about, I can tell you that there is a great deal of energy when these three views of yourself come out of alignment. When you believe that you’re not moving to the person you aspire to be and when you feel like others don’t see you as you see yourself, there is a great deal of emotional energy that can be used productively – or unproductively. Each of us has some level of disconnect in these views when seen from all six lenses which come from Banwari Mittal of Northern Kentucky University and are quoted by Sheahan.

Six Lenses

In some parts of our lives we may be in total alignment about the views. Professionally, for instance, we may see ourselves as a successful accountant. Our friends and colleagues see us this way as well. If our aspirations are simply to be a staff accountant then the views are in alignment from that perspective. However, that’s just one aspect of our life. That’s just one lens through which we can perceive ourselves. When we look at the broader picture we may not see alignment in every area. Mittal’s lenses through which we see ourselves are:

  • Our bodies: Our physical appearance, looks, the clothes we wear, our level of fitness and so on.
  • Our values and character: What we judge as being important to us and how we behave.
  • Our competence and success: What we have achieved, our professional and social standing and the wealth we have accumulated.
  • Our social roles: The roles we play in our life, including family, friends and broader associations. We could be a mother, a daughter, a coach, a leader, a creator, an artist and so on.
  • Our subjective personality traits: How we behave. Are we extroverted, passionate, shy, clumsy? And on the list could go.
  • Our possessions: What have we got? What car do we drive? What sort of house do we live in?

Audiences

Every buyer for our offer has a way that they see themselves and a way that they’re measured. A frequent challenge in dealing with people is in not focusing on how we measure our success but instead to understand how our audience – our buyer – will be evaluated for success. Sometimes those metrics align completely, and sometimes they do not. For instance, I was invited by a consulting firm to do a presentation to their prospect. I delivered a presentation that by all accounts was great. It helped the prospect understand the challenges and to some extent why they needed help. However, ultimately the customer didn’t purchase from the consulting organization. Clearly my metric of satisfaction with the presentation I did wasn’t aligned with the goal of my buyer.

When dealing with people it’s important to not just understand how they’ll be measured but to be able to communicate how they’ll be successful on their metrics. This would include what you’re going to do that will specifically move their metrics forward but also how you’re going to help them measure the success so they can communicate it. In Sheahan’s example the ultimate metric was the people who were registering for the conference where he was focused on satisfaction of the people in his keynote. That’s a big difference.

Inciting Action

I often say in my business that I have only one real competitor. That competitor’s name is “do nothing.” That is I don’t find myself losing deals to other consulting organizations. I find myself losing to the client deciding not to take action because the problem is bigger than they expected, they have other more pressing priorities, or they just don’t know how to get started. (The final one is my failure to communicate how we can lead them through the process.)

Sheahan suggests that inciting folks to action means aligning the offering to an existing market need – or creating the market need. Having spent years around parts of the technology space where vendors were trying to build the market need, I can tell you that having an existing need is much easier. In both the mobile space and search engine market the development has been painfully slow because the vendors are trying to create the awareness in the market of the need they have. It’s not that there aren’t important problems to solve. It’s simply that the market doesn’t understand the extent of the problem and the value they can get by solving them.

Conclusion

If you’re struggling to figure out how to cut through the noise and make a difference, maybe you need to consider Making It Happen. It won’t tell you about the latest new social strategy, talk about search engine optimization, or anything specifically related to how to engage the market. It may, however, teach you how to focus your message to cut through and how to leverage your success once you have.

Sharing Hidden Know-How

Book Review-Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam

I had the pleasure of working with Kate Pugh on a project for the Ark Group. During our discussions I found her speaking about her thinking about knowledge management and I realized that if I wanted to really understand what she thought about knowledge management the best way to get to know them would be to read her book, so I did. Sharing Hidden Know-How is aimed at solving the problem of how to get knowledge reused. While this may seem like an obvious statement, the differentiation is that the focus is on the actual practical steps that need to be done – the structure – that is necessary for a successful project.

The name given to the process – and to the specific capture event in the middle of the process – is a Knowledge Jam. The idea is that people come together and share their parts of the knowledge process much like musicians coming together for a jam session. Metaphorically speaking this is a great name because it helps people understand that it’s an opportunity to work and interact together in ways that may not otherwise be possible.

Sure you need knowledge that is worthy of sharing and people who are willing to do the sharing but that isn’t enough. You need a way to facilitate the transfer from one person or organization to another. That’s what Sharing Hidden Know-How is about. It’s about getting knowledge from one human or group of humans to another with all of the messiness of language and people in between.

Three Pillars – Facilitation, Conversation, and Translation

There are, in Kate’s view, three pillars for Knowledge Management success. They are facilitation – the creation of the opportunity to have the conversation about the knowledge, the conversation where the knowledge is shared, and finally the translation. The translation is converting the knowledge that is available in a source context and relating it so that it can be used for something else. This makes sense as a model. It’s preparing for the conversation, performing the conversation, and then using the output of that conversation. This flows from the belief that tacit knowledge flows from conversations. This is certainly something that many people in the knowledge management space believe. In Lost Knowledge we spoke about techniques to try to transfer knowledge and where they worked best. The New Edge in Knowledge Management discussed the questions about when you can store knowledge without the conversation.

However, three phases of the projects isn’t specific enough to get things done, for that we need to descend into a set of steps that you can walk through to accomplish the work of reusing the knowledge.

Five Steps

From the three pillars come five steps that lead you through the process of selecting, facilitating, capturing, transforming, and reusing knowledge. The steps are: Selecting, Planning, Discover/Capture, Broker, and reuse. We’ll look at each of them in turn.

Selecting

By not mandating that every project has a “lessons learned” or an after action review but instead prioritizing projects for the opportunity to participate in the Knowledge Jam process. There’s psychology in the idea that it’s a “get to” and not a “have to” thing. The selection process can consider many variables but ultimately consideration should be given to the perceived usefulness – and therefore value – of the knowledge of a team. Also, consideration must be given to how easy – or difficult – it will be to extract the useful knowledge out of the context that it’s currently in. Ultimately, the project sponsor is likely to have a great deal of input of which projects get selected for attention.

Planning

Jack Youngblood said that “Luck is a residue of preparation.” The planning process is about planning for success of the event. The Four Disciplines of Execution spoke in detail about how to prepare for meetings – Sharing Hidden Know-How focuses on WHO should participate, WHEN it should occur, and WHERE the Knowledge Jam should occur. There are the standard lists of interested parties like the facilitator for the meeting, the sponsor, and the SMEs. What makes the process interesting is the introduction of Knowledge Brokers – who are tasked with finding useful information for their organization and the champions who are tasked with tactical execution of the meeting.

Discover/Capture

This is the main event. It’s the meeting that’s used to share the knowledge – and to have the conversations. One key here – in addition to the standard things that you would do in every meeting – is the establishment of ground rules – or expected norms for the conversation. I talked about norms in posts on Primal Leadership, Heroic Leadership, Six Myths of Social Software, and Redirect. Setting a new social norm is important so that people know how to behave. In most organizations the behavior of employees isn’t quite deplorable – but it isn’t great. By setting expectations up front you can establish a protective zone where a new normal is created – something that the authors of Primal Leadership would definitely support.

The actual facilitation uses a shared display either through a projector or TV in a single room or via web conferencing software. In-person face-to-face conversations are definitely preferred because much of the facilitation of the Knowledge Jams is in reading the other people in the room – something that’s hard to do via a web conference – even if there is video.

Broker

If you’ve ever wondered where a good gossip could find a role in an organization it’s in the role of a broker. The idea of a broker is that they’re out seeking a “buyer” for the knowledge. Someone who can use it to move their business forward. The brokering step is about matchmaking between what was captured and who might be able to use it. This role bridges the difficult gap between those who have the knowledge and those who need it.

Reuse

The real goal line as it pertains to the Knowledge Jam is whether the knowledge gets reused. As Sharing Know-How shares that valuing the knowledge reuse is difficult – however, while assigning a specific value to reuse may be difficult, knowing that knowledge management is valuable isn’t a question – it’s the goal.

The real problem is that often the actual reuse doesn’t get recorded so it’s hard to say which Knowledge Jams were successful and which were not. The ideas that were procured through the Knowledge Jam are so transformed by the process it may not be possible to even identify that they originated from the Knowledge Jam when viewed from the outside. Only those who used the knowledge may be aware of where it came from.

Creating Space

“People join companies but they leave managers.” – First Break All the Rules.

In the five steps above we discussed the idea that you create a new norm for the capture event. This normal amount to creating what Sharing Know-How would call a container – but it might also be called a space – or ba. Nonaka a pioneer in knowledge management wrote an article describing “Ba” for the California Management Review in 1998 that spoke of creating spaces. Spaces are not meant in the physical sense but rather they’re meant in the psychological framing sense.

By establishing the ground rules for a meeting you’re establishing space – and the norms that maintain the space. The norms can be as simple as a set of rules for behavior like the rules suggested in Sharing Know-How:

  • Be responsible for inquiring/pushing the collective thinking (show “common curiosity”).
  • Use data (illuminate points of view or positions).
  • Drive for clarity with questions, but not judgments.
  • Speak one’s truth.
  • Ask the group for permission to digress or probe (use a “parking lot” liberally).
  • Pay respect/don’t interrupt.
  • Pay attention (laptops, mobile devices off).
  • Share outside the “room” only as agreed on by the group.

The space may be deeper – driving into the need for trust, vulnerability, and a professional intimacy necessary to share knowledge that was earned through blood, sweat and sometimes tears. (See Trust->Vulnerability->Intimacy for much more about how trust is required for vulnerability which is required for intimacy.) Creating space may also be about explicit conversations about the unacceptability of the dysfunctional behavior that Michael Wilkinson describes:

  • Discourteous: Participant arrives late.
  • Impatient: Participant is weary when the conversation is extremely detailed.
  • Distracted: Doing email.
  • Silent: Holding back knowledge or opposing the process.
  • Passive-aggressive: Some participants may “vote” with absence. “If it’s not my meeting, my participation is optional.”
  • Resigned: Feeling discouraged when the new ideas threaten the status quo. Not feeling empowered to make changes happen.
  • Argumentative: Sometimes a participant may contradict the speaker.
  • Cynical: Participant says, “Knowledge Jam will blow over, like all fads.”
  • Doubting: “You can’t capture that knowledge,” or “It’s too complicated to explain,” or “It becomes obsolete too soon.”

A space can also be shifting from one mode or model of thinking to another. From the model that Chris Argyris describes as: “Model I behavior is characterized by taking positions, being certain, and using abstract (as opposed to tangible or data-rich) language” to a model that ” takes the focus away from protecting one’s positions or one’s correct status and opens the possibility of unspoken (even forgotten) concepts showing up, combining, and forming something new.”

By defining the expectations – the norms – for behavior inside of the meetings a space is created for people to be safe – and to live out the behavior of those norms.

Make Some Noise

If your organization is struggling with a knowledge management initiative but can’t quite figure out how to make it happen, then perhaps it’s time to make some noise and take a few tips from Sharing Hidden Know-How on how you can make knowledge management real in your organization.

Primal Leadership

Book Review-Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence

There are numerous books about leadership. A plethora of visionaries over the years have sought to improve leadership in organizations. So what makes Primal Leadership unique is that it talks about the emotional component of leadership. Speaking about emotions in business seems to have picked up a taboo. Those who do speak about emotions in business are in HR and they’re often seen as out of touch with the real issues of the organization (as the book points out.)

Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee lead you through some of their and others research about how emotional intelligence impacts the performance of individuals, leaders, teams, and organizations. While I’ve read some of Goleman’s other works (Emotional Intelligence, for instance) I’ve not seen all of the works assembled in a way that helps the reader understand how vitally important emotional intelligence can be to success of leaders.

Successful Attitude

Zig Ziglar said “Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude.” This is a great summary statement for the thesis that IQ doesn’t matter nearly as much as emotional intelligence. The song “Accentuate the Positive” Has powerful lyrics. Consider this snippet “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on to the affirmative, and don’t mess with mister in between.” This is a song has guidance that is useful in our real world.

The first half of emotional intelligence is self-awareness and self-management. This is the ability to monitor and manage your feelings and mood. Ultimately managing feelings and moods means that you can manage your attitudes about the things that come up in your day-to-day life. It’s attitude management, the ability to focus how you feel about things that can be immensely powerful. In Thinking in Systems we learned about how a paradigm shift is one of the most powerful ways to impact a system. Attitude shifts are paradigm shifts. It’s changing the way that you see the world around you. When I read Stumbling on Happiness, I mentioned that it was during an unusually long rescheduling at the airport – and it was fine. Compare that with the irate people you see as you’re walking to your next flight. It’s simply a different world.

The second half of emotional intelligence is social awareness – knowing how to see emotions in others – and relationship management. The finesse of emotional intelligence comes in when deciding how much of someone else’s mood or attitude to take in. While it’s natural for us to synchronize our emotional state with others – particularly when sharing an experience like watching a movie, we need to be able to define the boundaries between where our responsibility begins and where it ends.

Learning about how to set boundaries can be difficult work for those of us who didn’t have great examples of appropriate boundary setting as a child. (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries) Learning to communicate your desires and to not take ownership of someone else’s feelings is tough stuff. At the heart of this is a simple understanding. When you communicate to someone else your needs and desires, you’re not taking anything from them. You’re allowing them the opportunity to give you what you need. The subtle change here is in attitude. It’s the attitude of taking verses the attitude of giving. That makes a world of difference. Taking depletes our emotional bank where giving makes a deposit.

The idea that we’re synchronizing our attitudes with those around us isn’t necessarily bad. In fact, leaders can use the fact that humans try to synchronize – or attune – their feelings to one another as a powerful motivator.

Attunement Instead of Alignment

Emotional synchronization may be at a micro level emotional attunement. However, at a broader – less episodic – perspective attuning emotions and moods can be a powerful tool for leaders. John Gottman talked extensively about attunement in The Science of Trust. The context there is for couples to have better relationships but as Primal Leadership points out, attunement may be a better paradigm for business as well. Attunement isn’t about lining up objectives. Rather, attunement is about bringing things in harmony with one another. Attunement in business means getting everyone bought into the same vision. There’s more to buying into a vision than just aligning objectives.

One of the challenges in the process of developing and executing a strategy is that often times the process assumes that people are replaceable cogs in the larger wheel of the organization. Fred Brooks famously spoke of the inability to replace developers in a project in his classic essay The Mythical Man-Month. People are not directly replaceable. Each person brings their own unique strengths, weaknesses, and dynamics to the organization and the strategy has to account for that. Attunement is that process of bringing all the individual strategies – for the lives of each of the employees in the organization – in harmony with the organization strategy.

I’ve spoken before about the model of the Rider, the Elephant, and the path from The Happiness Hypothesis and from Switch and the need to engage people emotionally. That’s what attunement is – an emotional engagement between two people. It’s a harmony between people – whether in a relationship or on a team. The fastest way to that attunement is laughter.

The Shortest Path between Two People Is Laughter

When I took my path into learning more about comedy (including the class which I detailed in my post “I am Comedian“, and the books Step by Step to Stand-Up Comedy, and The New Comedy Writing Step by Step) I didn’t realize the power of laughter. One of the books that I started to read but haven’t finished, Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse Engineer the Mind, talks about Duchenne laughter – the kind of laughter when we genuinely find something funny and social laughter – how we respond when other people are laughing. This is based on research about how the muscles in the face are engaged differently based on whether the person spontaneously smiled – or smiled because other people were smiling. We’re social creatures by nature but it seems one of the shortcuts to our social nature is how we laugh together.

You probably already know about mirror neurons – but they act much more slowly than the behavior observed with non-Duchenne laughter. Laughter is contagious – and fiercely so. Primal Leadership talks about how powerful laughter is. Including the fact that outstanding leaders tend to use humorous comments three times as often as the average leader and the fact that most laughter doesn’t come with a punch line. One of the great learnings of comedy for me is that sometimes it’s not the punch line that gets the big laugh – sometimes it’s the tag – the thing added to the joke to extend the laughter.

Learning to cultivate laughter is a difficult art. A few nights ago I sat in a comedy club listening to a show that was barely more than an open mic and watched a dozen comics try to hone their craft of working with an audience and to get them to laugh – when that’s what they wanted to do. Imagine the challenge of a leader trying to develop this skill in a town hall meeting where the employees aren’t expecting to be entertained. It’s a difficult – but powerful – skill for those leaders who can use it. Like at a comedy club there will be many “bombs” where you and the audience don’t connect. However, it’s those failures that make you better.

Great Failures

One of the hallmarks of great coaching and mentoring is accepting short term failure for the longer term purpose of helping an employee to grow. There’s a point of view that failure shouldn’t be allowed – but in truth we learn much better when we have the opportunity to fail. Primal Leadership makes the point that there’s a delicate tension between folks feeling safe to fail – and not feeling enough pressure to succeed. It turns out that humans are uniquely able to experience stress even when there’s not an immediate threat to our survival. We can become stressed based entirely on our own perception of longer term issues. With this stress we’re flooded with adrenaline and cortisol. The effect of these two chemicals aren’t conducive to learning.

The body’s response to these chemicals, the “fight or flight” response that we’re all familiar with, is a biological adaptation to allow us to focus all of our energies on escaping the life threatening situation. However, this system was never designed – from an evolutionary standpoint – to be left on for long periods of time. It reroutes the way that learning is done from our normal executive function to a way that can trigger the amygdala the next time there is a threat so the amygdala can more accurately trigger based on it. The result is that we’re not really learning from the situation in a meaningful way.

I recently had the opportunity to revisit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco where my friend works. Another friend described this museum as a love letter from a daughter to her father – which perfectly describes it. As you walk through the first few galleries of the museum you realize both the failures of Walt’s early life as well as his perseverance. Bankruptcies, accusations, and swindlers are all a part of the story. If you were to look at his life prior to moving to Hollywood it wouldn’t be at all remarkable. What’s remarkable is what he did after each setback. He pulled himself up and used that as a learning point on how to move forward. In fact, that may be one of his great legacies as the later galleries point out. He would work on smaller projects to learn the skills that were necessary to do larger projects.

Abraham Lincoln is another great leader who suffered failure after failure. He struggled with his first business. He lost a bid to become an Illinois state representative. He failed at another business. He had a nervous breakdown, three failed attempts at becoming a member of congress, and a failed bid for vice president by 1859. This is a man who had tried and failed and tried some more and failed some more. However, as the 16th president he had to lead the country through one of its darkest hours and is remembered universally as one of the best presidents that the United States has ever had.

The difference between those who don’t succeed and those who ultimately succeed wildly isn’t the number of failures – or even the percentage of failures. The difference it seems is the number of times at bat. It’s the number of times that they got up, dusted themselves off, and tried again. The strength to get back up comes from a great deal of inward focus – work on who they are as humans whether that work was intentional or not.

Inward Focus

One of the oddest things about leadership – and working with other people in general – is that to be better at having relationships with other people you have to have a better relationship with yourself. That means finding your true self. Finding out what is important to you. It means finding what makes you happy. (Or at least what you think what you think will make you happy. See The Happiness Hypothesis and Stumbling on Happiness for that.) Loyola and the Jesuits found that self-awareness, ingenuity, love, and heroism were key values that led them to be the longest corporation in existence. (See Heroic Leadership.) The trio of books from the Abinger Institute include the leadership book – Leadership and Self Deception. In this book we look at the “boxes” that we can put ourselves in where our reality is distorted – and where we seek to bring others into their own “box” and their own distortion.

What Primal Leadership knows is that much of the problems that are caused in leadership are actually poor self-management. (See Emotional Intelligence for details on the four components of emotional intelligence – one of which is self-management.) By learning to better manage ourselves, we learn how to leverage the knowledge we already have about how to manage well. What’s even better is that people who have done a great deal of inward work often find that they’re able to create a space around themselves where things work better. There’s a halo effect where their presence and influence through the clarity of who they are and their confidence drives other’s behaviors as well.

Halo Effect

Have you ever been in a place where people just behaved differently with a certain person in the room, in the meeting, or in the area? I’m not talking about the way that people behave differently when their boss or the CEO is in the room. I’m talking about a person that somehow quells arguments, calms people, and just seems to get them to get things done? It’s an eerie thing to see it happen. “Joe” walks into the room and all of the sudden the fighting stops. It’s not that anyone fears “Joe.” It’s just that they know that it’s not an acceptable thing with “Joe” there.

What “Joe” has is sometimes hard to quantify. Sometimes it’s that he’s set boundaries about what is and isn’t acceptable in his presence (See Boundaries and Beyond Boundaries) Maybe he’s developed a sense of calm that simply radiates from him the way that people describe their meetings with the Dali Lama (See Emotional Awareness). No matter what it is there’s an effect around “Joe.” There are people like this in your organization now. These people – who may or may not be in leadership positions – infect the people around them with a better sense and practice of leadership. This infection happens relatively outside of the leadership approaches that they use. It’s an outcome of their inward work.

Leadership Approaches (Skills or Styles)

Though Primal Leadership identifies six leadership styles, I see six approaches or sets of skills. The reason for the language change is one of the core messages of the book – that managers get better by learning more styles and learning when to use them. If you have a style you have a set way of doing things. You’ll tend to continue your style for long periods of time. However, the research suggests that having a full tool box of these approaches and learning when and how to switch between them makes leaders more effective. It’s much easier to switch from using one skill to another than it is to switch from one style to another. However, skills doesn’t quite match up to these because each of the styles in the book is really a set of skills – thus an approach toward a leadership event. So while I’m picking at the language the key messaging – the approaches – are quite solid.

These approaches are rooted in Daniel Goleman’s research and article for Harvard Business Review titled “Leadership That Gets Results” – however some of the names of the approaches have been changed between the writing of the article and the writing of Primal Leadership. Where possible I’ve tried to tie the two names together.

Visionary (Coercive)

Initially called coercive, the visionary style gets people to move towards shared dreams. The initial term – coercive – may have seemed negative but the visionary leader is a powerful leadership style. It helps rally everyone around a common objective. The visionary leadership style asks those who follow to give up – or attune – their goals to the goal of the leader. Like the pied piper the visionary style asks people to follow.

Goleman’s data indicates that this is the most effective leadership style perhaps because it can be used to shape even the most dull and mundane tasks into something else. If your vision is “delivering Christmas” how much more powerful a thought is that from a job sorting packages at a FedEx package sorting facility?

Coaching

We’ve all seen numerous sports coaches that are great examples of coaching – and numerous who are not. Or have we? Coaching isn’t about demanding performance or even rallying speeches. Coaching – particularly in the context of leadership – is about connecting a person’s goals and aspirations to the organization’s goals. The first step is understanding the person’s goals. However, from there the coach must draw lines between how the person’s individual goals line up with and support the organizational goals. Finally, the coach must identify ways to work towards both goals at the same time.

Affiliative (Connecting)

Taken to the extreme, the Affiliative style is peacemaking. That is never allowing conflict for fear that it might drive divisiveness into the group. However, used appropriately, an affiliative style works by connecting people to one another. Where coaching was about the one-on-one relationship between the coach and the coachee, affiliative leadership is about helping the team bond together better. (See more about the impact of this in Collaborative Intelligence.)

Democratic (Listening)

The democratic approach is about letting everyone have their say and get their buy in through the thought that they were heard and that their ideas were valued. This style can be very positive in that it can get everyone feeling like they had their say. However, this style requires more skill than it might at first appear because it’s important to not just let people have their say but also for them to feel heard. This is discussed in Dialogue Mapping and the Heretic’s Guide to Best Practices where the dialogue mapping process is discussed as a way to demonstrate that at topic was heard.

Conceptually the democratic approach is about the wisdom of crowds. However, often democratic approaches deteriorate into the tyranny of a mob. The skills of a leader are tested most when trying to manage all of the factors that can take the train off the tracks.

Pacesetting

Some people like a challenge. Sometimes leaders can put a stretch goal in front of a team for them to accomplish. These goals are useful for helping folks break out of a performance level they’ve been stuck at. However, the important part of this is that they’re not a sustainable pace. It’s not sustainable to always be working on stretch goals. Employees need time to recover and recharge. We’ve seen this with agile software development methodologies where high performance relies upon consistent delivery – not unsustainable paces.

Leaders who use pacesetting need to do so carefully to prevent overuse and fatigue. The challenge is to keep enough challenge for people to do their best but not so much they become burnt out and conversely that there’s enough pressure on them that they stay motivated.

Commanding (Authoritative)

There’s also a leadership approach that’s commanding. This can be appropriate in limited circumstances where there’s an urgent need or a great deal of disruption which has frozen people but long term is corrosive and leads employees to feel like they are not valued. Even organizations where commanding approaches are essential – like the military – balance the commanding approach with other more positive approaches.

Tools in a Toolbox

Primal Leadership makes the point that the more of these approaches that you can use well, the better you will be as a leader. The more of these skills that a leader is competent and comfortable with the greater the possibility that the leader will be able to select the right approach when necessary – and the greater the possibility that they’ll use it in the right amount. The answer isn’t that there’s one right – or wrong – way to approach things. Rather it’s about knowing which tool to select for different situations. Learning is a critical part of leadership not just because the market is changing around you but because there’s an opportunity to become a better person.

You can change

As was discussed in Mindset, there are two ways that people can see themselves and others. They can see them as either: fixed and unchanging or as an organism capable of change and growth. In order to accept that you can learn new leadership approaches – and to get better at the approaches that you use today – you have to accept that the way that you lead isn’t a fixed set but rather, it’s something that you can learn.

Adult Learning

When you’re trying to lead you’re trying to teach people how to get across the next goal line. We’ve talked about the factors that influence adult learning in the review of The Adult Learner and some of the techniques that can be used to teach in Efficiency in Learning. What’s interesting is that in Primal Learning there are discussions that the best way to change people isn’t to focus on the performance of the person – but rather on the learning that they needed to be successful. It was also clear that the employee needed to have a strong personal desire for learning – beyond work – for the best results. When employees are lifelong learners they’re able to better integrate learning and overall be better performers.

Tipping Point

One of the areas of research for Richard Boyatzis has been the impact of increasing the number of leadership approaches that are being used and how the ability to leverage four or more of the styles can make you much more powerful. Similarly, learning how to better use individual styles can make you more effective with them. There’s a tipping point with the individual styles where you’ll be more successful and also with the number of styles that you can use which can propel you to the next level of leadership

The Power of Norms

There’s power in the habits and the normal. I’ve discussed the rider-elephant-path model several times (see Switch and The Happiness Hypothesis). Primal Leadership speaks about how creating norms of conduct that are positive can influence everything. Everyone wants to be positive to others. If you don’t believe in the power of norms, consider that even during the LA Riots in 1992 people were looting stores after parking their cars inside the lines in the parking lot. They’re willing to openly loot from the store but parking outside the lines was so foreign that they didn’t even think to do it.

Leading With Style

Everyone has some approach to how they lead – even if their position isn’t that of a leader. Some of the best leaders may be introspective and focused on improving themselves and their awareness of themselves to be able to be more comfortable with stretching themselves out to learn new styles (See How Children Succeed for more.) Learning how to adapt your styles between the various approaches makes you a more versatile leader and thereby can make you more effective at leading. Pickup Primal Leadership to learn how you can be more effective.