5 Steps to Thinking in New BoxesThinking outside-the-box is a useful metaphor for thinking creatively or trying to get out of a rut. But practically speaking, it’s not going to happen. Your brain just doesn’t work that way. Your brain needs boxes. You can’t think without them. We create and use mental boxes to organize and use what we know.
The reality is, getting out of one box means getting into another. Thinking outside-the-box really means finding a new box. A new box with different assumptions, prejudices, beliefs and parameters. A different box will give you different answers because it forces you to ask different questions.
Thinking in New Boxes, authors Luc de Brabandere and Alan Iny say that the improved solution will be found in a new box. Here’s the key thought: “Since your brain needs models or boxes to think, the key to being creative in practical ways, to managing change during these times of such uncertainty, is to first try to understand your existing boxes to a greater degree, and then attack any situation or issue by developing a range of new boxes. You can then carefully choose which box(es) to use, even as you embrace the ambiguity inherent in doing so.”
Based on how the human mind actually thinks and reasons, the authors have developed a five-step approach to thinking in new boxes:
Step 1: Doubt Everything
All of your ideas, even the most successful, are hypotheses within you—and not set in stone. “Step one of our process involves acknowledging the seductive comfort of the boxes you’re using now.” It’s understanding that the way you have been pre-wired may be curtailing your ability to develop new perceptions.
Step 2: Probe the Possible
Reexamine the world in front of you with vigor, diligence, and refreshed self-awareness. Use prospective thinking “Prospective thinking means taking a more expansive, long-term view of things, staying open to all sorts of possibilities, and doing your best to stay fully aware of what is happening both within and outside your organization or your immediate environment.”
Step 3: Diverge
In step 3 you will try to create as many new models, concepts, hypotheses, and ways of thinking as you can. “Divergence is about not only permitting but actively encouraging the expression of diverse and sometimes wildly opposing ideas, beliefs, opinions, and visions, including those that are unpopular, unattractive, or unconventional, even those that seem misguided, reactionary, or downright absurd. But, we cannot stress enough, you should always begin divergence armed with a carefully framed question that you will then, instead, work to answer.”
Step 4: Converge
In this step we evaluate our ideas, choose the most promising among them, and then zero in on which should be implemented, or in what order you think they should be pursued. “Convergence is about beginning to translate ideas into reality rather than simply trying to give birth to more and more ideas; it is about prioritizing decisions so that you can act on your best ideas.”
Step 5: Reevaluate Relentlessly
No good idea remains good forever. “To be successful, it is imperative to create one new box after another, embracing change, and knowing when it’s time to discard one box and replace it with another.” As the world changes, we will need to change. We will need new boxes.
Thinking in new boxes is first about being aware of the box you’re in and why you’re in it. The reason many find it difficult to change – to move to a new box – is because they don’t know why they think and do what they do. Once you do, it’s easier to see where you need to go and what you need to do.
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The Good StruggleThe Good Struggle addresses the question of how to lead successfully and responsibly in our uncertain, high pressure, turbulent world.
Badaracco says that the inescapable pressures of leadership are intensified today because of the market-driven world in which we live.
“Almost everything—how we manage our organizations and our lives, how we make decisions at work and at home, and even how we think about ourselves—is deeply shaped by markets and market-based thinking.”
This creates greater uncertainty, obscures right choices, and puts pressure on us to abandon principles that we used to rely on. Responsible leaders find themselves engaged in the good struggle: “a long effort, demanding perseverance and courage, to make good on serious but profoundly fallible commitments in an uncertain and often unforgiving world.” He adds, “Struggle has always been central to accomplishing anything worthwhile, and this is especially true today.”
He offers five enduring—inescapable—questions. Responsible leadership consists of thoughtful and lived answers to them.
Am I Really Grappling with the Fundamentals? “The first responsibility of leaders is intellectual. It is the struggle to develop—to the extent possible—a deep, careful, analytical, data-driven understanding of the driving forces in the markets and society around them and to keep this understanding loose, flexible, and revisable.” Grasping the fundamentals can “reduce the chance of being blindsided, by encouraging the mental habit of looking for emerging patterns and odd developments with larger implications. It also promotes modesty, a healthy, low-level paranoia, and vigilance rather than hubris.”
He notes that everything now is modular—constantly being recombined. “Recombination also makes it much harder for leaders to inculcate values when people in their organizations know they and their leaders are basically modules in a plug-and-play world and could be moving on soon. The natural instinct is to take care of yourself, here and now.”
What Am I Really Accountable For? “Without clarity about accountability, leaders and their organization can drift or zigzag aimlessly.” Of course, many leaders do not want to be accountable to anyone or anything. “Accountability originates in an obligation to make good on the spirit of some jointly designed, provisional, and evolving objectives.” Here’s the question for any leader: “What pressures, scrutiny, and risks do we want to create or invite in order to build a strong, resilient, responsible organization?”
How Do I Make Critical Decisions? We need a broader view of critical decisions. Instead of viewing them as deep, abiding pledges that we must make good on, we need to see them more as evolving commitments. That is, “a pledge, by a leader and an organization, to move in particular direction, but to do so in a flexible, open-ended way.” Decision making has to be as fluid as the markets around them. “Execution as learning.” “Instead of periodic big decisions, responsible leaders make or orchestrate an unending series of smaller ones—all aimed at some larger, broad, flexible objective.”
Do We Have the Right Core Values? Values are important because “they may be the only force that can counter the power of markets and market-based thinking….Today’s ever-present markets have their own implicit values, and they can easily overwhelm whatever values leaders want to instill in their organizations.” To lead responsibly, leaders must commit to “clarity, meaningful projects, and bright ethical lines. In different ways, each of these helps leaders and organizations respond to the risks and opportunities created by pervasive market forces.”
Why Have I Chosen This Life? People seek positions of leadership not despite the struggles involved, but because of them. “Responsible leadership is a challenge that—despite its inevitable risks, frustrations, and failures—demands and merits the best efforts of talented men and women, tests their competence and their characters fully, gives purpose and intensity to their lives, and helps them lead the kind of lives they really value.” The purpose of our struggle matters.
Badaracco writes, “If the purpose of life is ease and comfort, no sensible person would take on the demands of leadership.” Perhaps in developing leaders at all levels we need to change that very prevalent mindset. Without it we can’t discover what we are and the person we are meant to be.
Badaracco doesn’t offer hard answers because they are evolving answers and should be individual answers created from introspection and reflection. But the insights and provocative concepts are enough to get you thinking in new ways.
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How to Make Better Decisions"Why do we have such a hard time making good choices?" ask Chip and Dan Heath in Decisive.
"A remarkable aspect of your mental life," says Daniel Kahneman, "is that you are rarely stumped." We have opinions about nearly everything and are quick to jump to conclusions based only on the information that is right in front of us. We often just go with our gut. And that hasn't always served us well.
• An estimated 61,535 tattoos were reversed in the United States in 2009.
• Forty-one percent of first marriages end in divorce.
• Forty-four percent of lawyers would not recommend a career in law to young people.
• Eighty-three percent of corporate mergers and acquisitions fail to create any value for shareholders.
The Heath brothers have identified “four villains” when it comes to making decisions:
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Six Ways to See the World through New Lenses—and Lead More Effectively
In their book From Smart to Wise, Prasad Kaipa and Navi Radjou state that wise leadership succeeds where smart leadership cannot. Wise leadership isn’t about how smart you are. It’s about “transcending it and gaining a broader perspective.” Importantly, “That perspective enables us to rein in our smartness and harness it to serve a larger purpose in an ethical and appropriate manner.” Here, the authors share how to develop that perspective:
How we see the world—our leadership perspective—shapes our thoughts, decisions, and actions. That perspective is based on the sum total of our knowledge, experiences, and choices up till now. It represents the way we view ourselves and situations, how we judge the relative importance of things, and how we establish a meaningful relationship with others and everything around us.
Lots of leaders are smart, but few are wise. Smart leaders view the world through lenses that skew or limit their perspective, affecting their decisions and actions. Some focus on short-term goals and on deepening their depth of knowledge in their domain of interest. Others have a long-term vision that enables them to differentiate various patterns and see how these will help them succeed. Both perspectives are limiting.
When they remove those lenses, smart leaders gain a broader perspective, which gives them the opportunity to become wise. By changing their "smart" perspective and cultivating practical wisdom instead, they can lay the foundation for a wise leadership style that's more effective.
With the wise leader perspective, one is able to continually reframe and reinterpret events through integration and find new meanings within a rapidly changing context. Guided by a noble purpose, wise leaders cultivate a flexible and resilient mindset that helps them act and lead with wisdom--and become more influential leaders.
To move from a smart leader perspective to a wise leader perspective, start by seeing the world through new lenses. Here are six ways to do it:
From Smart to Wise: Acting and Leading with Wisdom. Kaipa is a CEO advisor and coach and a senior fellow at the Indian School of Business. Radjou is an independent strategy consultant and author of the NYT bestseller Jugaad Innovation. Both based in Silicon Valley, they write popular blogs for HBR.com, speak and consult internationally, have been featured prominently in the national business media, and are esteemed thought leaders in the field of leadership development and innovation. Learn more at www.fromsmarttowise.com.
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5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do WellTaking Smart Risks, isn’t really about making your next risky decision smarter or safer; it’s about pushing all of your choices to be riskier, but smarter on a daily basis.
We tend to view our choices as risky or safe. Safe is good while risky is well, risky. You’re taking a chance with a risky choice; it could lead to ruin. Sundheim says that view doesn’t capture the essence of what taking a risk is all about. Taking a risk is “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” It’s really the reason we would consider taking a risk rather than just playing it safe. It’s not an either/or proposition—safe or risky. But because we perceive it that way, we tend to do all we can to avoid risk and stay in our comfort zone.
Sundheim lists five common dangers of playing it safe for too long:
• You don’t win.
• You don’t grow.
• You don’t create.
• You lose confidence.
• You don’t feel alive.
Are you caught in the comfort zone? Here’s a thought we can all relate to:
Being caught in the comfort zone doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around doing nothing. It’s more nuanced than that. You could be making progress, but not quickly enough. You could be taking chances, but not boldly enough. You could be going out on a limb, but not far enough, and the extra push is what will make a difference.What Sundheim is advocating is a change in our mindset regarding risk. Rather than perceiving risk as negative (“Things may not be perfect now, but they’re not all that bad. If I make a move, things could end up worse. I’d better not risk it.”), we should view it as a balanced focus on both the downside of taking risks and not taking risks (“I’ll regret it if I don’t pursue this thing. I’ve got to find some smart ways to take risks to move it forward.”). A limiting mindset versus a liberating mindset.
The shift from limiting to liberating is “a move from needing total security before moving forward to understanding that you can’t have total security before moving forward.” Between safe and risky is the smart-risk zone.
Smart risk takers consistently do five things well to disrisk whatever they’re up to:
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Why We Find it Hard to Change Our BehaviorWe know every behavior begins with a thought. So if we want to have lasting change, the beginning point has to be our thinking.
Behavioral change is only surface change if we don’t first change the thinking behind those behaviors. And it won’t stick. It will keep coming out in so many ways we won’t be able to keep up with it because we haven’t changed the thinking behind it.
When we look at our behavior we have to understand that there is a thought going on in our heads that is tripping us up. And we have to change that first. Or we’re working on the wrong thing.
The question becomes, “What thoughts do I need to change to make my behavior change?” New behavior will automatically follow a change in thinking. One right thought can correct a lot of bad behavior.
What am I thinking that isn’t allowing me to see things as I should? As human beings, we latch on to certain ideas and assumptions and they blind us from seeing other options and responses to what life throws at us. We get ideas in our head that can literally block us from seeing other perspectives.
Change doesn’t happen in a moment. We’ve had these patterns of thinking and behavior for a lot of years. We have to unlearn some behaviors and then learn and put into practice the new thinking and resulting behaviors. And it just takes time.
It’s right thinking over time that brings about lasting change. It’s a process. It’s a long history of repeated behaviors in the same direction that builds character.
We have to wake up every day and know that we have a tendency—not just because of our life experiences, but also because of the way that we have chosen to respond to them—to repeat a certain set of behaviors over and over again. We’ve got to remember that and change the thinking that supports these behaviors.
We’ve got a lot of set patterns in our heads that we want to return to, that we have become comfortable with, that we can justify, that we can blame on something someone else did.
That’s why we have to make a point of reflecting on our behaviors and on the impact we have on the people around us. And learn from it. And then go to work on the thinking behind the behaviors we want to change.
It’s not what you do that needs to change, it’s what you think that needs to change.
First change your thinking. The behavior will follow. It all starts with a thought.
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The Success Equation: Separating Luck and SkillIn the mid-1970s, a man hunted for a lottery ticket with the last two digits ending in 48 for a chance to win the Spanish National Lottery. He found a ticket, bought it, and won the lottery. When asked why he was so intent on finding that number, he replied, “I dreamed of the number 7 for seven straight nights. And 7 times 7 is 48.”
You can be wrong and still win—in the short term.
Some things are a matter of luck. Some things are a matter of skill. The problem is we have a hard time untangling the two.
The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin aims to helps us to understand the relative contributions of luck and skill and then how we can use that understanding to make better decisions.
Untangling luck and skill is made more difficult because “our minds have an amazing ability to create a narrative that explains the world around us, an ability that works particularly well when we already know the answer.” When we see the effect we want to find (or create) the cause.
In the left hemisphere of our brain is what Steven Pinker calls the “baloney-generator.” “One of the left hemisphere’s main jobs,” writes Mauboussin, “is to make sense of the world by finding a cause for every effect, even if the cause is nonsensical.” Consequently, we attribute too much to skill especially in hindsight. “Once something has occurred and we can put together a story to explain it, it starts to seem like the outcome was predestined.”
“We have a natural tendency to assume that success and failure as caused by skill on the one hand and a lack of skill on the other. But in activities where luck plays a role, such thinking is deeply misguided and leads to faulty conclusions.” He notes that luck can be overwhelmed by the influence of luck.
To understand the relative impact of luck and skill, it is helpful to place activities on a “luck-skill continuum.” Mauboussin shows you how. He also shows why in competitive situations, when you’re the favorite, “you want to simplify the game so that you can overwhelm your opponent. If you are the underdog, you want to inject luck by making the game more complex”—creating new points of competition.
In business, “challengers almost never succeed by taking on the established companies in their core markets. The larger companies are simply too strong and too motivated. But they are often too smug to admit that a small, upstart firm could pose a threat. And therein lies the advantage for the little guy.”
Building Skill and Improving Your Luck
Whether or not you can improve your skill depends a great deal on where your activity lies on the luck-skill continuum, says Mauboussin. “In cases where there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, and in activities that are stable and linear, deliberate practice is the only path to improvement. … For activities near the luck side of the continuum, a good process is the surest path to success in the long run.
Feedback is critical in any case. “Improving your skill means constantly looking for ways to change your behavior, either because what you’re doing is wrong or because there’s a slightly better way of doing it. … No matter what your profession or level of expertise, the chances are very good that accurate feedback can improve your performance.”
One final thought: Mauboussin presents what he calls the Paradox of Skill. “As skill improves, performance becomes more consistent, and therefore luck becomes more important.” If everyone is getting better, then luck plays a more important role in determining who wins.
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Next Time You’re in a Slump, Try Stillpower
Instead, when we get stuck we need to rely on Stillpower, not willpower says Garret Kramer. Stillpower is the ability to return to a clear mindset after we get into a muddled mental state—a low state of mind. It’s knowing that “all sentiments are temporary since they originate from your own thoughts and moods. Stillpower comes from knowing that self-worth has nothing to do with winning, losing, parental approval, money, fame, or anything external to you.”
When we get into a low state of mind we need to do nothing. It’s when we operate from a low state of mind that we usually make mistakes, poor judgments, miss opportunities and dig ourselves deeper into whatever hole we are digging. “Once you understand,” says Kramer, “that as human beings we form our perceptions from the inside out, that the quality of our thinking and level of awareness move up and down independent of our circumstances, you will see that it makes little sense to work yourself through a temporarily low state of mind.” But that’s often exactly what we do.
When we run into trouble that’s a sign to step back—not a call to action. Negativity is a sign to slow down. We can't perform at an elevated level when we are in a low state of mind.
A seemingly unresolved issue of today has nothing to do with erroneous thinking of today. And until an individual comes to this realization, he or she will always fall prey to the conditions of life itself.Awareness is key. When you are aware of your thoughts and feelings in the moment and when necessary, allow your thinking to clear, then you will have the clarity to act; “insights will flow and answers will become obvious.” He adds, “Insight is infinitely more powerful than willpower. Actually, insight, or having a new idea and/or a change of heart, erases the need for strength or force of will of any kind.”
Kramer notes that when you are coaching or counseling, you need to be operating from a higher level of thinking than the person you are talking to. “What comes out of your mouth is much less significant than the level of mental functioning from which the words are spoken.” We need to interact with people from a state of mind “brimming with love, compassion, and selflessness….External how-to resources are not all that necessary; love will provide all the direction you seek.”
Leadership is an all-in proposition. Done right, it’s a lot of hard work. To cut ourselves some slack, we too often rely on external gimmicks and techniques rather than the messy work of a real relationship.
IDEAS TO CONSIDER
• “We perform better when we get caught up in the experience, rather than when we make the experience about us….When we focus on a personal prize, our options narrow; when we relish the process, our options expand.”
• “When we act from clarity, it is impossible to get weighed down by judgmental outcomes.”
• “When we succumb to our errant thoughts or closed-off moods, judge another person, and then act from this egotistical perspective of insecurity, it is practically impossible to find long-term success.”
• “Every failure, every mistake, every loss—occurs to clarify our path, not to obscure it.”
• “You will never wrestle with a choice when your level of consciousness is high.”
Leaders will find a lot to consider here. Stillpower is one of those books that makes you reconsider your approach on many things. While Kramer might seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater at times, he doesn’t overturn conventional wisdom as much as he calls us on it when we misapply it. It is the perfect prescription for those that have a need to control their world and the people around them
It is important to note too, that looking within for answers is fine if you have consciously put something there to draw-on in the first place. Good flashes of insight are only produced when there is something good to draw upon. Choose your sources wisely.
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Are You a Culturematic Maker?Culturematic, says author and anthropologist, Grant McCracken, is a little machine for making culture. It is an exercise in edge finding. But at the same time, a Culturematic must speak to us. It must make us go, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” A Culturematic is also an attitude of mind that goes beyond the box of ordinary thinking “not because it is mischievous to do so, but because there might be a world out there and it might be interesting to find out what this world is.”
McCracken says that because we live in a world of constant change and because we must adapt to it with an experimental stream of new ideas, we need Culturematics.
It is when the problem is too complex or difficult and the solution is not forthcoming that Culturematics shine. Culturematics aren’t sure where they are going. When we aren’t sure what we’re looking at but think, “I’ll know it when I see it,” then we need ideas we can’t possibly guess we will need. “The trick,” says McCracken, “is to invent our own serendipity, to establish a cloud of possibilities in which we can spot the telling pattern.”
Start a Culturematic by asking “what if?” Then, try it. The result should discover and distribute meaning. It helps us to see ourselves or something in the world, differently. It should also unleash value—even repurposing value; discovering “value in the artifact the maker does not know is there.”
“Culturematics manage a tension between the order of the starting point and the unpredictability and disorder of the ending point.” Which is not to say that we point a Culturematic in any direction and pull the trigger. A Culturematic is working with the culture that is already in place, so we point it in the direction where we think we might be able to create meaning and value.
• start playing in our heads immediately. They capture our attention.
• make the world manageable.
• are something we want to try.
• like order out of accident. They don’t file a flight plan, so we can’t tell where they’ll end up.
• find value invisible to others.
• are both playful and deadly serious.
• aim to change the contents of our heads.
• work from native curiosity.
• make scientists, social chemists, and adventurers of us all. The thing is to try. Failure is inevitable.
Fantasy Football, Twitter, and Reality TV are just a few of the examples of Culturematics discussed in the book. More can be found at the Culturematic Pinterest site.
Culturematic is not based on entirely new ideas. However, it will not only make you look at the world (and what you are doing) differently, but you will develop a new appreciation for what you see, feel, and think. McCracken explains how to Culturematic yourself or your organization. Worth the read if you’re trying to create meaning and value in the world.
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Restoring Your Ability to ChooseWe all like to think we are in charge of our choices. But the fact is that most of the time we are reacting, not choosing. Most of what we label choice is habit. We’re really on automatic. It can even lead us to think that we have no choice. Only when we pause—slow-down to think and reflect—are we exercising our ability to choose.
The Power of Pause that a pause is “any space between an action and your reaction.” And it’s vitally important:
Today you need the ability to discern what lies beneath people’s words, their reactions, or their silence. If you don’t build the neuropathways in your brain to pause, to momentarily disengage your automatic reactions, you can trigger a chain reaction that derails your best intentions and strategies.Guilmartin lists seven cues that a pause is in your best interest. It’s time to pause if you are thinking, feeling, or saying:
Professional Effectiveness and Personal Fulfillment
Not surprisingly, the equation references an all-important addend, humility. Humility should fuel your curiosity and drive the need to pause. Guilmartin explains that “in situations where you think you know enough, pausing to wonder what you don’t know is a vital, even game-changing leadership skill.”
The twelve practices are:
Of Related Interest:
Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization
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Master the PRIMES
Faced with the need for transformative change, a leader’s ability to form and sustain effective groups is critical. The Primes will help you to understand the reasons behind what is blocking the progress of your group.
Each of the Primes that McGoff identifies challenges you to take a look at fundamental components of group dynamics by asking key questions. For example the Change versus Transformation Prime asks, “Are you fixing or creating?” The distinction between fixing or creating is important and requires a different approach. What kind of problem are you trying to solve? Fixing is about making a better, faster, cheaper past. Fixing involves corporate improvement programs like Activity Based Costing, Six Sigma and others.”These tools are effective when a better past is the desired outcome, but they’re dead weight in the business of transformation.” Creating is about transformation—imagination, declaration, invention, and innovation.
The Trust the Universe Prime asks, “Is your vision limited to what you have already seen?” This Prime is a mindset that understands that we don’t know what we don’t know and whatever we need to realize is out there in the future somewhere. But…“Trust in the Universe is a myth. It’s a required myth, an essential myth for any true leader, but a myth just the same. Embracing this Prime is the only real way to create transformative possibilities.” Importantly, McGoff adds, “Leaders understand that although Trust in the Universe promises no guarantees, it gives us the ability to imagine without limit and watch what shows up.”
The section on gaining a shared perspective asks questions like, “How do you help people to see the ‘whole thing’?” and “How do you help people to see the same ‘whole thing’?” The S-Curves Prime is recognizing that “every system has a time of ‘figuring it out,’ a period of growth, and then an inevitable collapse if no change is made. But there is hope: you can build a second curve before the first one goes down. However, you have to get the new curve started before the first one even begins to peak.” The question is, “Where are you on your current S-curve?
The Facts, Stories, and Beliefs Prime is the need to distinguish facts from stories from beliefs. There is one of each in the following sentences: “Our revenue was $50 million last year (FACT), and that is simply not enough (STORY). Marketing is inept (BELIEF).”
One of the last Primes discussed is an increasingly difficult one: A Clearing. How skilled are you at creating nothing? A clearing in your schedule, your office or meeting place, or your mind: a space where possibilities can exist.
The Primes leaves you with plenty to think about. Each concept is illustrated with “back-of-the-napkin” style illustrations, and explained with tangible examples. The Primes will show you where you can grow as a leader.
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Power Corrupts Sooner than You ThinkIn a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, Lord Acton observed that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” British Prime Minister William Pitt also observed, “Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it.” Power is a tricky thing and we rely on it more than we should.
In a study by Adam Galinsky and others, they found that when people where power primed—temporarily made to feel powerful—they demonstrated a reduced tendency to comprehend how others see, think, and feel as compared with those that were primed with low power. They relied too heavily on their own vantage points and demonstrated less accuracy when assessing the emotions and thoughts of others. The possession of power or even the feeling of power tends to very quickly change how we think. We easily slip into thinking we are something we are not, to become absorbed with ourselves, to think, “It’s all about me.”
Our ego can quickly blind us to reality—self-deception sets in very quickly. We lose self-awareness and therefore our sense of the impact we are having on others. We would do well to remember the Stripes Rule. Denny Strigl, former CEO and president of Verizon Wireless, recalls in Managers, Can You Hear Me Now?:
When I became president of Ameritech’s cellular subsidiary, Ameritech Mobile, the chairman of Ameritech told me something that has stayed with me ever since. He said I would be managing an entire company, and as the company’s most senior manager, I should always remember that the “stripes” I have been given are on the coat I wear, not on the person who wears the coat. He cautioned me not to let the job go to my head because when I take the coat off, I will just be a person like any other.Power, it seems, can easily become a handicap and not a blessing to leading well. But it often comes with the territory. A wise leader might keep Lord Acton’s words front and center.
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What Can Be Done About Biases?
Two systems drive the way we think and make choices: System One is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System Two is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. The way to block errors that originate in System 1 is simple in principle: recognize the signs that you are in a cognitive minefield, slow down, and ask for reinforcement from System 2.
This is how you will proceed when you next encounter the Müller-Lyer illusion.
When you see the lines with fins pointing in different directions, you will recognize the situation as one in which you should not trust your impressions of length. We would all like to have a warning bell that rings loudly whenever we are about to make a serious error, but no such bell is available, and cognitive illusions are generally more difficult to recognize than perceptual illusions.
The voice of reason may be much fainter than the loud and clear voice of an erroneous intuition, and questioning your intuitions is unpleasant when you face the stress of a big decision. More doubt is the last thing you want when you are in trouble. The upshot is that it is much easier to identify a minefield when you observe others wandering into it than when you are about to do so. Observers are less cognitively busy and more open to information than actors.
Organizations are better than individuals when it comes to avoiding errors, because they naturally think more slowly and have the power to impose orderly procedures. Organizations can institute and enforce the application of useful checklists, as well as more elaborate exercises, such as a reference-class forecasting and the premortem. At least in part by providing a distinctive vocabulary, organizations can also encourage a culture in which people watch out for one another as they approach minefields.
Ultimately, a richer language is essential to the skill of constructive criticism. There is a direct link from more precise gossip at the watercooler to better decisions. Decision makers are sometimes better able to imagine the voices of present gossipers and future critics than to hear the hesitant voice of their own doubts. They will make better choices when they trust their critics to be sophisticated and fair, and when they expect their decisions to be judged by how it was made, not only by how it turned out.
Adapted from Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.
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7 Keys to Managing Willful BlindnessWillful Blindness, that it doesn’t always bring us to a disastrous end, it also oils the wheels of social intercourse and it is not inevitable but it is persistent. Sometimes we do have the courage to see. “When we confront facts and fears, we achieve real power and unleash our capacity for change.”
Our brain likes the familiar. It doesn’t operate in neutral. There’s always a bias. “Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values. And what’s most frightening about this process is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty.”
An aspect of willful blindness, self-deception, is the topic of Robert Trivers’ The Folly of Fools. He asks, “Why do we possess marvelous sense organs to detect information only to distort it after arrival?” Although we gather an “exquisitely detailed perception of the outside world, as soon as that information hits our brains, it often becomes biased and distorted, usually without conscious effort.” It’s a fascinating work, but even Trivers can’t help himself from selective recall and arguments molded to fit his own biases here and there. We are all right in our own eyes. It’s difficult to share examples of blindness without exposing our own blindness. Heffernan notes, “when we work hard to defend our core beliefs, we risk becoming blind to the evidence that could tell us we’re wrong.” What can we do to escape our own self-deceptions and willful blindness?
Maybe the best we can do is to balance our biases. Heffernan suggests several ways we can manage our blindness:
Reexamine Your Life. When we are younger we do it more frequently. But at some point we stop doing it. “Is it that it gets too draining to keep questioning your life?”
Travel between Perspectives. Hannah Arendt calls it “thinking without a banister.” Traveling between points of view can be risky says Heffernan. “But in the intersection between disciplines, real insight can be gleaned.”
Recognize the Homogeneity of Our Lives. Put more effort into reaching out to those that don’t fit in. “Diversity, in this context, isn’t a form of political correctness but an insurance against the internally generated blindness that leaves [our Congress, corporate boards, think tanks and churches] exposed and out of touch.”
Know the Limits of Our Cognitive Capacity. Go home. Working long hours taxes our cognitive capacity. Exercise. “The only exercise that seems to nurture, or at least protect, our brains is aerobic exercise.”
Seek Disconfirmation. Hire dissent. This is most critical and often the most strongly opposed. “The ability to endure or even welcome debate and conflict requires practice and protection….You need to create a state in which [employees] have the courage to do something. You want to build organizations where everyone sees provocation as one of their essential roles.” Too many leaders are saying, “Why are they questioning me?” or “That’s none of their business.” Get a thinking partner for that third opinion. (See Bill George’s True North Groups.)
Professional “third opinion” Saj-Nicole Joni, told Heffernan:
Having a small network of people, who will bring you the unvarnished truth and with whom you can have unfettered exploration, are a partial antidote to willful blindness.Heffernan adds: “Outsiders—whether you call them Cassandras, devil’s advocates, dissidents, mentors, troublemakers, fools, or coaches—are essential to any leader’s ability to see.”
Challenge Complexity. Provoke skepticism around complexity. “Many organizations view their impenetrability as a feat of fantastic intellectual virtuosity. In reality, it’s a huge cause of blindness and explains why, when such companies get into trouble, they can’t find their way out of it.”
Endure the Noise. Silence—fear of debate, fear of debate—becomes self-perpetuating. “Without conflict, everyone remains afraid and blind…We need to celebrate those that make the noise, heroes more inspiring than talent contest winners and drunken movie stars.”
Heffernan concludes that seeing starts with simple questions: “What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? What am I missing here?”
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Ones Should be CEOs, Twos Should Not
Wayne Gretzky has famously said, “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.” Sports commentators would say that he seemed to be two seconds ahead of everyone else. In The Two-Second Advantage, the authors write, “Like Gretzky on ice, the most successful people in various fields make continual, accurate predictions just a little ahead of and little better than everybody else.” They don’t need to be able to see ten years out; just enough ahead will do the trick.
Part of what is going on in the brain is a function called “chunking.” Predicting and chunking go together by looking for patterns and predicting outcomes. We chunk all types of information. It makes us efficient. If we didn’t chunk, we would think about everything as if it was for the first time. Teaching computers to do this will make them more useful—“two-second-advantage” predictive technology.
What caught my attention in their discussion of predictive thinking—from a leadership standpoint—was the idea of two types of leaders found at the top of organizations: Ones and Twos.
Ben Horowitz, of the venture capital firm Andreesen Horowitz, told the authors that each type thinks differently. “Ones are predictive. Twos have to rely on mountains of data to figure out what they think.” A one has a two-second advantage. They continue:
Ones tend to be founders. They are bullheaded and courageous. They tell people what to think, not what they think people want to hear. They see openings and get flashes of creativity—like Gretzky in a hockey game. They can take in everything that is happening at a company and see it from a higher level, the details blurring into instinct.Bill Gates is a prototypical one; Steve Ballmer is a two. Steve Jobs is a classic one.
The authors say that ones should be CEOs, and twos should not. Of course, a good CEO really needs to be both—and can be with practice—but only rarely do.
Why We Prefer Founding CEOs
Ones and Twos
Bloomberg Businessweek: Data Analytics: Crunching the Future
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A Case for Reconsidering the Way We’ve Always Done ItA society that doesn’t train their children to think critically, to be aware of those around them, and to serve, must create more rules and regulations than can be accounted for. There will never be enough rules—there are too many variables—especially when people begin to direct their creativity in dysfunctional ways.
The challenge is to develop sound minds. As Kant determined, a person with a sound mind is one that can think for oneself, is able to place oneself in the place and viewpoint of others, and can think consistently and coherently. But it‘s easier, in the short term, to create rules. And we pay a price.
To be sure, I am not advocating anarchy—we absolutely must have rules—and some rules unquestionably make possible the learning process, but when the rules we have in place reflect our lack of engagement, they become disrespectful and de-motivating. It’s easier to lay down the law or set up a checklist than it is to explain the why; to communicate where we’re headed with this idea. From time to time, it is good to think about the rules we have created (or have had handed down to us), that are impeding progress, relevance, imagination and growth both for ourselves and others. Here are a few thoughts to guide that process:
I am a big advocate of tradition, but when “that’s the way we’ve always done it” or “that’s how I learned to do it” gets in the way of relevance or growth, we need to take a step back and reconsider our stand. What we have done may have served us well in a particular place and time, but may only be an irritation here and now.
Rules can reveal a lack of trust. “I don’t trust you to be as smart—considerate or creative—as I am.” And they never will be if not given the chance.
As leaders, we need to be aware of where we are blanketing people with rules and procedures that do nothing more than to serve us and not the people it is our intention to serve. We need to consider that perhaps we have implemented rules to create a comfort zone for ourselves. A world where people act and think like we do. A world of clones. A world on autopilot that requires less of us.
Often our need for rules and procedures is just masking our fear of the unknown. Our attempt to manage a world that is changing faster than we are learning. No leader can do it on their own and rules are no substitute for not trusting, growing and building relationships with people. Where are we hiding behind rules?
Rules, for the most part, do not leverage other people’s strengths and thinking, they mostly mirror our own. Given the chance, people will surprise us with new, different, and better ways to push our agenda forward.
Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your OrganizationPeter Senge, founder of the Society of Organizational Learning and senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, once observed, “Most managers do not reflect carefully on their actions.” Most managers are too busy “running” to reflect.
While reflection seems to have no place in a competitive business environment, it is where meaning is created, behaviors are regulated, values are refined, assumptions are challenged, intuition is accessed, and where we learn about who we are.
Some of the greatest barriers to getting the results we want lie within us. Growth happens when we stop repeating our habitual patterns and behaviors and begin to see things in a new way and in the process, discover the power to create the results we want. That makes Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking in Your Organization, one of the most important books you’ll read this year.
He defines think time as “the purposeful elevation of chunks of our work time, forged within densely packed schedules. It forces the consideration of core significant and pending decisions, outside of cursory overviews and immediate response…. Reflection is the deliberate act of stepping back from daily habits and routines (without looming and immediate deadline pressures), either alone or within small and sequestered groups. It’s where meaning is derived through reconsideration of fundamental assumptions, the efficacy of past decisions and the consequences including the downside of future actions. It’s where space is given for the ‘totally unexpected’ to emerge.”
Even if we can agree on the value of think time, we still regard it as a luxury. There’s just no time. But what emerges from Forrester’s research is the fact that we can’t afford not to. It is at the core of what allows a business to thrive. It’s what we don’t know that has a disproportionate impact on us personally and organizationally. We don’t really see the reality we face. Reflection in effect, expands our perspectives and thus reveals to us more options and that gets to the heart of what leadership is all about. The point is to make the unseen seen so we can act on it.
Forrester interviewed Sarah Sewall who worked with General Petraeus and others to rewrite the military’s counterinsurgency doctrine. Sewall noted, “We are now in a world of increasing specialization, where people get narrower and narrower in their viewpoints in order to become more expert and ‘useful.’ My view is that people become more myopic in how they can think about problems and solutions. We wind up shuttered in our ability to think about possibilities.” This tendency is best counteracted by think time and reflection; being able to back away and incorporate more and varied thinking.
Forrester asks, “What is the last document or strategy you can point to as a ‘product of reflection’ built with all parts of the organization and senior-level involvement? If you can’t cite one, it may indicate a culture that values immediacy and the short term over reflection and scalable problem solving.”
Recognizing the need for reflection and actually doing it are two different things. Reflection is a discipline. General Petraeus told Forrester that “he forces bursts of reflection into his day, where he pauses to read, think, and then moves to the next iteration—recognizing that thoughtful insights are not born through real-time analysis.”
Forrester suggests that we set time aside for a meeting with oneself. “It isn’t hard to book a meeting with yourself, when you are off-limits to everything but your thoughts.” He notes too, “The power of reflection lies not in how much time we allocate to it. The power of reflection lies in how we choose to use that time and what structure we bring to the fleeting disjointed moments we are afforded.”
While some situations required his immediate action, Forrester describes how Lincoln “developed ways to force time to think (if even only for a few minutes) before acting. Even Lincoln had to resist the “instantaneous nature of the telegraph.”
Some organizations he has studied have adopted a no internal e-mail Friday policy and other ways to temporarily disconnect from technology. Although these ideas may not work for you, the point is made so that you might consider the impact these technologies are having on the productivity and well-being of your staff. There is always one more e-mail and it will control you if you let it.
“When overworked people declare that they ‘just don’t have time to think,’ leaders have a choice: They settle for the status quo and declare that it’s the best way the world works today, or they can insist that reflection is a strategic business enabler,” says Forrester. As an organization you can either educate for it, make it an expectation—a cultural norm—or treat it as a “do it on your own time” activity and pay the price. Leaders need to understand and demonstrate by example that reflection—taking time to consider—is not wasted time.
Reflection is the first step in coming to understand how we are connected to our outcomes. Until we see the relationship between the two, we cannot make deep, lasting change and bring thoughtful behaviors to bear on the situations we find ourselves in. Our thinking creates our reality. If we do not reflect on our thinking we stand to miss our connection to the whole.
Consider offers a way to break the pattern of continuous partial attention that seems to be our default position in this technological age. It helps to disrupt the habitual thinking that drowns out the reflective, critical thinking we need to become fully present and effective. Consider isn’t a fad. It is the bedrock of successful leadership and living.
Upcoming: I asked some leading minds about the discipline of reflection. So, for the rest of the week, I’ll share their thoughts on this important topic. Look for valuable insights from John Kotter, Mark Sanborn, Brian Orchard, Marshall Goldsmith, John Baldoni, Tom Asacker, James Strock, and Jeremy Hunter.
More in this Series:
Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 4
Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 3
Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 2
Taking Another Look: Leading Minds on Reflection Part 1
Leadership: Artistry Unleashed
The executive functions … are feeling, judgment, sense, proportion, balance, [and] appropriateness. It is a matter of art rather than science, and is aesthetic rather than logical.Leadership is an art. But what does that really mean?
Leadership can be taught in the way that art can be taught. There are techniques and principles that need to be understood. Seeds that can be planted. But ultimately it has to be practiced and experienced. There is the part that really matters, as Georges Braque observed, that can’t be explained. That is the art; the ever-changing context of leadership and the dance between leaders and followers that molds and shapes both the leader and follower. There is an art to bringing leadership teaching into the nuance of life.
Leadership practiced, is artistry unleashed.
Artistry Unleashed. She takes design thinking beyond the surface concerns of practical design and to the processes behind it. These are important issues for leaders as we face what Austen terms enigmatic problems: those that push us to the edge of what we know. “Our best solutions to such problems lie not just in better analytical tools but in a fundamentally different approach to our work—an approach that follows from cultivating qualitative intelligence in our given profession or medium.” Anymore quantitative approaches alone won’t work. She explains the difference:
“Quantitative thinking allows us to be precise and to share understanding; we use it to define fairness and rationality and effectiveness. It’s this utility that has led so many people to equate quantitative thinking with intelligence.”
“A qualitative approach embraces the unexpected, the subtle, the open-ended, the unique, the poetic; it escapes rules, single answers, or single perspectives. These features are by their very nature hard to pin down and can be quite unnerving to people who want precise information and specific answers. The quantitative approach gives us the means to predict and control what we can measure, to record and codify what can be clearly defined, to collect sharable facts, and to identify universal rules and laws.
To be sure, Austen is not advocating one or the other. “Each has its own set of purposes, and developing one does not mean abandoning the other. Achieving artistry means being able to use qualities to help you work, when that’s what the situation demands; it doesn’t mean rejecting quantitative methods.”
We gravitate to quantitative thinking. We like things nailed down. Numbered. Labeled. Defined. It gives us some certainty. It makes us comfortable. We can check it off and move on confident that we’ve done the “right thing.” Unfortunately life is messier than that. Austen cites Ted Sorenson’s observation from his book Decision-Making in the White House: “White House decision-making is not a science but an art. It requires not calculation but judgment….Every decision a president makes involves uncertainty.”
Qualitative thinking is less about imposing an answer and more about shaping an answer from awareness of the present and feedback from the application of knowledge to it, when predetermined steps and measurable goals are absent. The present and the possible are considered at the same time so that ends and means influence each other as they occur. Austen writes, the “interdependent relationship between ends and means is a hallmark of artistic work. As your effort to solve an enigmatic problem proceeds, the ends evolve as means are generated. Likewise, as means unfold, new ends become possible; these may in turn demand new means.”
It means managing the tension between mastery and originality in search of the possible. “The forces that drive mastery are conservative. Mastery brings predictability and control to action. By contrast, originality is driven by often unpredictable responses to immediate experience. Finding originality means leaving behind some of what you know. Artistry is driven forward by the interplay of these two competing forces.”
New York University professor David Ecker’s six phases of qualitative problem solving developed from the work of John Dewey, described in Artistry Unleashed by Austen is helpful:
In the first phase, artists engage what Ecker calls the presented or initial relationship between existing qualities….Some of these relationships may be problematic, others intriguing, and so they attract the artist’s attention. Different practitioners may see different qualities and make sense of what they see differently, depending on the ideals, concepts, and sensibilities they bring to bear on the situation.A leader’s function is to create the disequilibrium needed to go from the known to the unknown possibilities. Qualitative thinking is important to the leader because without it we can easily impose answers rather than exploring possibilities. We can too, get in our own way by overvaluing the importance of our own experience and thought and thereby limit possible outcomes.
Austen develops a Knowledge System model comprised of the interdependency of Experiential Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Directional Knowledge, that can be used to help anyone develop and apply qualitative thinking. The cursory view I present here of the connection between business and art, she more fully develops in her book. The examples she gives dramatically demonstrate this important connection and essential understanding needed by leaders of every type.
5 Leadership Lessons: Artistry Unleashed
quickpoint: The Trap of “Outside-In” ThinkingTo achieve an execution revolution, business leaders need to quit thinking only about solving the current problem, but, instead, think about how to build an organization that’s good at solving problems in general—building the capability that’s certain to help overcome an uncertain future.
Today, television, books, magazines, newspapers, and the Internet keep us flooded with information about what’s going on in the world. We become preoccupied with what everyone else is doing, instead of focusing on what’s going on inside our organizations.
Focusing outward makes us good at being reactive, rather than developing the ability to execute well. This is true both individually and organizationally. The Execution Revolution is in fact an internal revolution. A revolution focused on changing the way your organization functions on the inside. In other words, controlling the things we can, to be better prepared for the things we can’t.
(Adapted from: Six Disciplines Execution Revolution: Solving the One Business Problem That Makes Solving All Other Problems Easier by Gary Harpst)
Every Leader’s Six Mental Mistakes
Adapting Jonathan Haidt’s metaphor of the rider and the elephant, Richard Daft presents the executive (the voice of reason) and the elephant (impulsive and emotional) metaphor to help us to learn how to help our inner executive manage our inner elephant as needed to behave according to our best intentions—to better manage oneself.
One of the biggest problems we face as a result of our inner elephant’s tendency to distort reality. It’s one of the reasons we are so surprised when someone disagrees with us. Our internal elephant judges (our self and others), creates illusions (self-justification) and acts as our attorney (defends us and making us immune to reality).
In The Executive and the Elephant, Daft points out that our inner judge “sees things from a selfish point of view and has little empathy and consideration toward others. It is hard to be optimistic and motivate people when your mind is critical of them.” The judge will also become our own worst critic—“the automatic voice of blame and criticism inside your head that points out how inadequate you are.” Daft poignantly asks: “Can you be an effective leader when your mind is constantly finding fault with you?”
Daft illuminates some perceptual habits of the inner elephant that can get in the way of seeing the world accurately. Without a conscious effort to do otherwise, it is easy to fall prey to any or all of these six mental mistakes:
Reacting Too Quickly. As quickly as things are thrown at us, it’s a lot easier being reactive than being proactive. It’s easy to instantly judge, conclude and react based on small scraps of data rather than slowing down and remaining calm says Daft. Serious intention is required to slow things down. How we see things always appears so clear to us and it seems we can’t act on it soon enough. It’s what the elephant does. We have to engage our inner executive to avoid acting on wrong-headed conclusions.
Inflexible Thinking. The inner elephant doesn’t like to change its mind. After all, we believe what we think for obvious (to us) reasons. We don’t intentionally think the wrong thing. And we interpret the world around us according to our beliefs. “It is very hard to let go of your own gut feelings and mental preferences” says Daft. “It’s all you know. The mind-set, habits, and skills that made you successful tell you to stick to your guns. However, things change, and if the mind does not accept the current reality, it can create problems for everyone.”
Wanting Control. Your inner elephant is more comfortable when you’re in control. Of course, we only take control because if we didn’t things wouldn’t get done the way we think they should be done. But our satisfaction is at their expense. The desire for control can lead us to illusions—attempts to gain control (and think we have it) over the uncontrollable. A leader’s inner executive needs to learn to give control to others. Our job is to “engage a bigger picture of mission and purpose (inner executive) and let people be in control of their own work.”
Emotional Avoidance and Attraction. Even when we know we need to do something, our inner elephant can find reasons to avoid it. We procrastinate. We delay an intended course of action despite expecting to be worse off for the delay. Our inner elephant feels anxiety and creates an invisible barrier in our mind that prevents us from moving forward. Attraction can cause us problems by enslaving us to our desires. Desire for acceptance can cause to make decisions we wouldn’t otherwise make under the influence of our inner executive. About the desire for perfection, Daft writes:
A few of my MBA students are perfectionists who can’t restrain their desire to redo a group project to make it look the way they want, even after I explain that this behavior is fatal for leaders who have to accomplish work through others. Managers may also feel the need to act on their unthinking desire to be right rather than let other people shine, to perpetually find fault with other people’s ideas, to win every disagreement, to blame others when something goes wrong despite being culpable, or to speak harshly when upset.Exaggerating the Future. Related to the emotional avoidance and attraction issues is our tendency to exaggerate outcomes. When our inner elephant wants to do something we tend to be overly optimistic about the future and underestimate the potential difficulties. When we don’t, we tend to overstate the potential problems. The problems are obvious. Objectivity is needed if we are to anticipate the future realistically. “The inner elephant tends toward positive or negative exaggerations about the future depending on its emotional orientation toward an object or event."
Chasing the Wrong Gratification. The inner elephant is child-like and selfish. “Finding happiness is a challenge because the inner elephant often seeks things that do not provide lasting satisfaction.” We can be easily seduced into chasing after the wrongs things—things that don’t bring us lasting satisfaction.
Daft offers sensible techniques to get some mastery over your inner elephant. He writes, “Let’s face it: Your inner elephant has been running your life. For better or worse, everyone is on automatic pilot more than they realize.” Your best defense is to get to know your inner elephant. Slow down and reflect. While there are negatives, there are strengths that can be harnessed.
quickpoint: The Perils of the Comfort ZoneAuthor and pastor C. Neil Strait (1934-2003) once wrote, “The convenient way is not always the best way. It may lead through an avenue of comfort that robs us of integrity. Or it may take us through the tunnel of compromise, where our courage is weakened. And, after all, convenience is such a fleeting thing, but integrity and courage are vital ingredients for living.”
Strait is right. Our comfort zone can compromise us. And if we are not careful, our comfort zone becomes our answer for everything because it becomes the mindset we operate from. Eventually it kills our curiosity, our creativity and our opportunities.
What are you doing for the sake of convenience—because it's easier—that is holding you in unhealthy patterns of behavior and limiting your thinking?
The Reality-Based Leader’s ManifestoReality-Based Leadership. “We are living and working in dramatic and demanding times, but that is not our biggest problem. The source of our pain is the absence of great leadership that is based in reality. …The future belongs to the leader who is able to change the way people think and perceive their circumstances, the leader who engages hearts and minds.” To that end, she offers the Reality-Based Leader’s Manifesto:
Getting Ideas to FlowCharles Landry is the founder of Comedia, and works to help cities to be more "creative for the world" so that the energies of individuals and companies can be brought into alignment with their global responsibilities. He recently told Sally Helgesen that his experience has taught him that “the single biggest problem in the world is not finding great ideas but getting great ideas to move, to flow.”
Getting stuck is an issue we face both individually and organizationally. At its core, it’s a thinking problem and is often self-inflicted. Creating the right kind of movement and in the right direction begins with re-thinking our view of reality. If we keep applying the same patterns of thinking even after they have been shown to be counterproductive we skew our perception of even everyday life situations and block the flow of growth, ideas and influence. Here are some common areas we need to rethink to get ideas to flow:
Re-think complexity. We create complexity by over-analyzing our situation; creating issues where there are none; forgetting our purpose. Complexity obscures the issues. Keep the issues as uncluttered as possible. Often an outsider can see the situation and the real issues more clearly than you can. Try asking, “Am I making this a bigger problem than it is because of fear, insecurity or lack of knowledge?” “Is this really a problem to be solved or a tension to be managed?” Stick to what needs to be addressed. Complexity can lead to procrastination.
Re-think systems. Trying to create a new vision without addressing old systems is at best counterproductive. Tenaciously grasping the old ways of doing things just because that is what you have always done, can stop the flow of ideas and innovative solutions and lead to hopelessness. If you are experiencing a chronic lack of movement, a resistance to change or lack of compliance to your “really good idea,” you probably have a system in place that discourages the very behavior you seek. A system should reward the behavior you want. What systems are getting in your way?
Re-think ego. Our ego frequently keeps us from exploring new ideas. We get so invested in what we have done that we can’t get out of our own way. We keep retrying to work the old and deceive ourselves into thinking we’re making progress when all we are doing is rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Sometime we need to set aside our ego and simply abandon what isn’t working and start over with a better design.
Re-think boundaries. Think bigger. Think interdisciplinary. Growth often involves blurring boundaries to open your mind to new possibilities. What principles outside of your world of experience could expand the possibilities for your idea?
Re-think reactions. Repetitive reactions are the result of ingrained patterns of thinking that we have hard-wired into our brains long ago. Take the time to reflect on why you think the way you do; why you do what you do. Default patterns of thinking lead to more of the same. Ask yourself, “Is this working for me?” Think about the unspoken.
Re-think failure. If you’re afraid of being wrong, embarrassed by failure or paralyzed by insecurity, you will never find the solutions that lead to meaningful growth. Failure provides the nutrients for growth when we respond to them positively. Keep failure in perspective, it’s a regular part of life. You can’t avoid them so learn to work with them. Failures help you to raise the bar and reorient your thinking to possibilities and new ways of thinking.
Re-think success. Know what success looks like. How will you know when you have arrived? Muddy expectations lead to exhaustion and defeat before you even get started. Praise short-term accomplishments to appeal to your heart and not just your head. It will keep your ideas moving along.
Dispute Catastrophic ThoughtsWarren Bennis wrote in Leader to Leader that “every exemplary leader that I have met has what seems to be an unwarranted degree of optimism—and that helps generate the energy and commitment necessary to achieve results.”
Optimism says Bennis, “the sense that things generally work out well, creates tremendous confidence in oneself and in those around one.” Optimism helps leaders to be more resilient as they tend to believe in their capacity for self control and the ability to overcome obstacles that come their way. In short, I would say, optimism is finding perspective.
The Optimism Advantage, Terry Paulson offers fifty truths for cultivating optimism beginning with “Life is Difficult.” (Perhaps not what you would expect from a book on optimism.) He writes, “If you want to be a true optimist, start by being a realist. Accept that life is difficult, and then get busy learning as much as you can about the challenges you face. Why? Because you’ve overcome problems in the past, you have every reason to believe that you’ve got what it takes to overcome whatever problems life deals you.”
One important place to begin is with our negative thoughts and feelings. Optimists dispute catastrophic thoughts, those “feelings that everything is wrong and that nothing is going to change.” Paulson says that “means you have to be ready to argue with some of your negative beliefs.” Optimism is “about facing and taking advantage of reality—even unsettling reality. Expecting unrealistic results may actually increase your dissatisfaction….To an optimist, it’s all about resilience and maximizing your results.”
Start with understanding what it is you’re saying to yourself that is causing a bigger problem in your thinking. Clarify it and then take a critical look at your beliefs and dispute them. Are they valid? Is there another way to look at this? Seek alternate explanations. Optimists ask, “Is there any less destructive way to look at this or explain what happened?” Look for causes that you can overcome and focus on what can be changed and then take action.
7 Signs You Might Be In Denial
Nothing is easier than self-deception. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.Denial examples of CEOs who have made mistakes that could and should have been avoided and those that did it right and why. The lessons Tedlow uncovers in these examples provide us with insight into our own flirtation with denial and how we might battle it.
You might be in denial if you think you have all of the information you need. “Power deranges. Powerful people are routinely surrounded by yes-men, but that is not the real problem because they are relatively easy to spot. The real problem is the courtier who is sufficiently clever not to be detected.” Powerful people, Tedlow continues, “don’t really know as much as they may think about their own organization because people stop telling them the truth.”
You might be in denial if you don’t make a point to listen. If people think they won’t be heard they will not speak up. You need to create an open environment where it is safe to say what’s on your mind. Tedlow offers a quick test of your environment: “are the private conversations that follow meetings usually more frank and honest then the public discussions in the meetings themselves?” If so, it’s because everybody is talking about what didn’t (couldn’t) get said.
You might be in denial if you think short-term. You are sticking your head in the sand. Trying to put a Band-Aid on a much larger problem only delays your response to the inevitable. Deal with it now and completely. “Denial is all about you—and how you view the world. Your view does not change the world, the realities of which you will inevitably have to face sooner or later.”
You might be in denial if you talk trash about competitors and individuals. Anna Freud called it “defense by means of ridicule and scorn.” Tedlow writes, “If you find yourself trash-talking your competition take a moment to think about what you’re doing. What am I using this derision to hide—perhaps from myself?”
You might be in denial if you relabel actions rather than changing them. When you don’t like reality, you just change its name. The result as George Orwell said is to “perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” “Troubled assets aren’t ‘troubled assets.’ They are worthless pieces of junk.”
You might be in denial if you don’t tell the truth. “Denial occurs when we push aside hard truths in favor of more palatable or convenient narratives.” This works two ways: the lies we tell and the lies others tell us. Don’t participate in either.
You might be in denial if you don’t think denial is a problem you face. That of itself is denial. Tedlow cautions, “It can never be completely defeated because we can’t fully know or face the truth about ourselves. It is impossible to be both subject and object.” You need to develop a self-awareness about it. “Denial-avoidance is a life’s work, not an agenda item….If one could simply resolve to wake up tomorrow and unflinchingly confront reality, denial would hardly be the problem that it is….You can’t avoid blind spots when you drive. However, good drivers know those blind spots exist and take them into account when they get behind the wheel. So it should be with denial.”
Some people deny less than others. How can you be one of them?
How Many Surface Areas Do You Have?
In The Power of Pull the authors share their conversation with entrepreneur Jack Hidary. He explains that people overlook obvious situations because they “paint themselves into a corner such that their entire interaction with the outside world is mediated through this one facet. Then they’re unable to critically analyze where they are. That’s how they end up going down with the ship.”
This is important because as authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison point out, “If we are going to succeed in this rapidly changing world, we face two challenges: making sense of the changes around us, and making progress in an increasingly unfamiliar world.” To do this we need to approach what we do in a way that allows us to be in the flow of knowledge and open to serendipitous events that inform us of things we didn’t know and didn’t even know we were looking for.
That approach they call pull: the ability to draw out people and resources to address opportunities and challenges. It’s different than push. Push predetermines our needs and then creates systems and standardized processes designed to provide what we need when we need it. It says, “I know better than you. Do this, not that.” It says, “I know. Here’s what you do.” On the other hand, pull says, “I don’t know. I’ll seek.”
The pull approach works to help us to find and access people and resources when we need them, the ability to attract people and resources that are relevant and valuable and then to pull from ourselves the insight and performance required to achieve our potential.
The attract aspect of pull is critical. In a world that is changing so quickly, we often don’t even know what we are looking for or the questions to ask to get there. It calls for a different approach. It increasingly depends upon serendipity. You need to increase your surface areas. You need to look for ways to pull people and their knowledge toward you. “If you want to find out what it is you don’t know that you don’t know, you need to hang out with other people who might already know it.”
We need serendipitous encounters with people because of the importance of the ideas that these people carry with them and the connections they have. People carry tacit knowledge. … You’ve got to stand next to someone who already knows and learn by doing. Tacit knowledge exists only in people’s heads. As edges arise ever more quickly, all of us must not only find the people who carry the new knowledge but get to know them well enough (and provide them with sufficient reciprocal value) that they’re comfortable trying to share it with us.The authors claim that serendipity in certain respects can be shaped. Of course luck is involved, but we can materially affect it by our actions. We need amplifiers and filters. Amplifiers “that can help us reach and connect to large groups of people around the globe that we do not know.” Filters “that can help us to increase the quality as well as the number of unexpected encounters and ensuing relationships that are truly the most relevant and valuable.” We can manage serendipity by:
Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter
How we relate to those two words will determine how we lead. Consider two assumptions that lie at the opposite ends of the spectrum:
• Really intelligent people are a rare breed and I am one of the few really smart people. People will never be able to figure things out without me. I need to have all the answers.
• Smart people are everywhere and will figure things out and get even smarter in the process. My job is to ask the right questions.
What you believe has a big impact on the performance, engagement, loyalty and the transparency you find with those you lead and interact with. In Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, authors Liz Wiseman and Greg McKeown refer to those with the mindset represented by the first assumption as Diminshers and those with the mindset represented by the second assumption as Multipliers. It explains why some leaders create intelligence around them, while others diminish it.
The value of Multipliers is that is shows what these assumptions about people look like in practice and how they are reflected in your behavior. How would you approach your job differently if you believed that people are smart and can figure it out? With a Multiplier mindset, people will surprise you. They will give more. You will learn more. What kind of solutions could we generate if you could access the underutilized brainpower in the world? How much more could you accomplish?
It’s not that Diminishers don’t get things done. They do. It’s just that the people around them feel drained, overworked and underutilized. Some leaders seem to drain the “intelligence and capability out of the people around them. Their focus on their own intelligence and their resolve to be the smartest person in the room [has] a diminishing effect on everyone else. For them to look smart, other people had to end up looking dumb.” In short, Diminishers are absorbed in their own intelligence, stifle others, and deplete the organization of crucial intelligence and capability.
Multipliers get more done by leveraging (using more) of the intelligence and capabilities of the people around them. They respect others. “Multipliers are leaders who look beyond their own genius and focus their energy on extracting and extending the genius of others.” These are not “feel good” leaders. “They are tough and exacting managers who see a lot of capacity in others and want to utilize that potential to the fullest.”
The authors have identified five key behaviors or disciplines that distinguish Multipliers from Diminishers. You are not either/or but are somewhere along a continuum. These are all learned behaviors and have everything to do with how you view people. We don’t have to be great in all disciplines to be a Multiplier, but we have to be at least neutral in those disciplines we struggle with.
They have developed an assessment tool you can use to see where you are. Importantly, the first place to begin is with your assumptions about people. If you don’t have that straight the rest is just manipulation.
As with most behaviors, we do them because we feel we have to. They are self-perpetuating. We jump in where we shouldn’t and come to the rescue. Under our “help” (domination) people hold back thereby reaffirming our belief that they just couldn’t do it without us. And they can’t or rather won’t. Instead they quit while still working for us or move on.
We see this in ourselves, in others and in organizations of all types. Leaders are especially prone to run over people, because after all, they have the vision, the know-how and the desire to get it done. We have to slow down and remember that we are not there just to get the job done, but to develop others to get the job done. They can (and need to be able to) do it without us. It’s our job to show them how.
In many ways, as leaders, we can become accidental Diminishers. The skills that got us into a position of leadership, are not the same skills we need to lead. Leadership requires a shift in our thinking. Wiseman and McKeown write, “Most of the Diminishers had grown up praised for their personal intelligence and had moved up the management ranks on account of personal—and often intellectual—merit. When they become ‘the boss,’ they assumed it was their job to be the smartest and to manage a set of ‘subordinates.’"
Here are some thoughts—out of context—from the book that will get you thinking:
“Marguerite is so capable she could do virtually any aspect of girl’s camp herself.” But what is interesting about Marguerite isn’t that she could—it is that she doesn’t. Instead, she leads like a Multiplier, invoking brilliance and dedication in the other fifty-nine leaders who make this camp a reality.
One leader had a sign on her door: “Ignore me as needed to get your job done.” She told new staff members, “Yes, there will be a few times when I get agitated because I would have done it differently, but I’ll get over it. I’d rather you trust your judgment, keep moving, and get the job done.”
The path of least resistance for most smart, driven leaders is to become a Tyrant. Even Michael said, “it’s not like it isn’t tempting to be tyrannical when you can.”
Policies—established to create order—often unintentionally keep people from thinking. At best, these policies limit intellectual range of motion as they straitjacket the thinking of the followers. At worst these systems shut down thinking entirely.
“It is just easier to hold back and let Kate do the thinking.” [They resign: “Whatever!”]
It is a small victory to create space for others to contribute. But it is a huge victory to maintain that space and resist the temptation to jump back in and consume it yourself.
An unsafe environment yields only the safest ideas.
[Multipliers] ask questions so immense that people can’t answer them based on their current knowledge or where they currently stand. To answer these questions, the organization must learn.
His greatest value was not his intelligence, but how he invested his intelligence in others.
Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive AdvantageWe live in a reliability-oriented world. And understandably so. We want predictable outcomes. We want things to keep working as they have always been—perfectly.
Success. Repeat. Success. Repeat.
But that thinking ultimately limits our growth and quite possibly harbors the seeds of our own destruction. It can be (very) valuable to a point, but it isn’t adaptable because by its very nature it has to leave something out of the equation. While reliable outcomes “reduce the risk of small variations in your business, they increase the risk of cataclysmic events that occur when the future no longer resembles the past” and the reliable is no longer relevant or useful.
To remain relevant—to foster innovation—you need to incorporate into your thinking outcomes that are valid. That is, outcomes that produce a desired result even if the solution employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome. A perfectly valid solution is one that produces a result that is shown, through the passage of time, to have been correct. It is best to have a system that incorporates both—validity and reliability—into their approach. Balancing and managing the two approaches—analytical and intuitive—is what design thinking is all about.
In The Design of Business, Roger Martin presents the knowledge funnel to show how knowledge moves. Each stage represents a simplification and ordering of knowledge. At the beginning is a mystery; a question. It is the observation of phenomena. Things we see but don’t yet understand.
The next stage is a heuristic, “a rule of thumb that helps to narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size.” Heuristics don’t guarantee success but do increase the probability of success.
The last stage is the development of an algorithm. “An algorithm is an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. Algorithms take the loose, unregimented heuristics—which take considerable thought and nuance to employ—and simplify, structuralize, and codify them to the degree that anyone with access to the algorithm can deploy it with more or less equal efficiency.”
Martin uses the example of the development of McDonalds to illustrate how they proceeded down the knowledge funnel. In 1940 the McDonald brothers opened their first drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, California. It did well, but by 1950 they began to lose business. Food was getting cold before it was delivered and families were put off by the hoards of teenagers they attracted. They had to develop a winning heuristic. They reduced and standardized the menu, and implemented their Speedee Service System.
Ray Kroc saw an opportunity in it and bought them out. While the Speedee Service System was good, Kroc thought it left too much to chance. So he refined it and simplified it down to an exact science. The new system left nothing to chance and it was repeatable. “Kroc relentlessly stripped away uncertainty, ambiguity, and judgment from the processes that emerged from the McDonald brothers’ original insight. And by fine-tuning the formula, he powered McDonald’s from a modestly prosperous chain of burger restaurants to a scale previously undreamed-of.”
The problem is getting stuck in any one stage. We tend to operate within a knowledge stage as opposed to moving across the knowledge stages. We need to explore and question, we need to exploit our solutions, even reducing them to a repeatable, efficient, formula where possible, but we need to be doing these things simultaneously.
The vast majority of businesses follow a common path. The company is birthed through a creative act that converts a mystery to a heuristic through intuitive thinking. It then hones and refines that heuristic through increasingly pervasive analytical thinking and enters a long phase in which the administration of business dominates. And in due course, a competitor stares at the mystery that provided the spark for this company, comes up with a more powerful heuristic and supplants the original business.McDonalds did well for decades, but eventually the heuristic (Americans want a quick, convenient, tasty meal) changed (Americans want a healthier menu). The solution for McDonalds is to go back and rethink the mystery and develop new rules of thumb to guide them. A trip back through the knowledge funnel.
first-class noticer.’” Always cycling through the knowledge funnel.
Of Related Interest:
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind
Get to the Why by Starting at the EpicenterWhen beginning or introducing anything—an idea, a project, or a new venture—you need to start with asking yourself why. In Rework, authors Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson write candidly about where to begin:
When you start anything new, there are forces pulling you in a variety of directions. There’s stuff you could do, the stuff you want to do, and the stuff you have to do. The stuff you have to do is where you should begin. Start at the epicenter.They suggest you begin by asking, “If I took this away, would what I’m selling still exist?” It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and get off on tangents. And while details are important, they can distract you, pulling you in the wrong direction or even derail your idea. They caution: “Getting infatuated with details too early leads to disagreement, meetings, and delays. You get lost in things that don’t really matter. You waste time on decisions that are going to change anyway. So ignore the details—for a while. Nail the basics first and worry about the specifics later.”
Can You Pass the Fitzgerald Test?In his classic self-analysis, The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” For example, he added, one should “be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.”
More and more we are called upon to function in a world full of paradoxes; not only function but possess an ability to take action in the face of conflicting ideas and norms. Bruce Piasecki writes in The Surprising Solution, that paradox “almost seems too mild a word to describe the challenges facing the social leaders of today.” He adds, the best leaders “thrive on differences and ambiguity, and find solutions amid this large tolerance for social complexity.”
In his innovation playbook for uncertain times, The Silver Lining, Scott Anthony writes, “Existing systems, structures, and development programs that were sufficient for leaders to thrive in an era of ordered capitalism are proving to be inadequate in today’s increasingly turbulent times. Most leaders just aren't ready to grapple with the paradoxes that will increasingly characterize their day-to-day lives.” He lists, for example, these seemingly paradoxical requirements facing leaders:
Anthony reports that it has been estimated that no more than 5 percent of the manager population can truly grapple with paradox. Why? He says that “Michael Putz from Cisco has studied this problem for the past decade. His perspective is that the problem isn’t a lack of basic intelligence, desire, or capacity. Rather, managers haven’t developed the ability to grapple with paradox because they haven’t needed to.”
But the capacity to deal with paradox, to work with opposable ideas, is learnable. Again, self-awareness is key. Understand how you view the world. Then, creating a specific developmental program to help you take a broader view, to integrate multiple perspectives, to view solutions as both/and instead of either/or, will help you pass the Fitzgerald Test.
The Nature of Small Wins
In the face of overwhelming problems, we can feel helpless to do anything. Organizational theorist Karl Weick argues that calling a situation a serious problem requiring a sweeping change, may be when the real problem starts. (e.g., "I can't solve that problem, so I'll just focus on something else.") And so nothing gets done.
In Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems, Weick explains that small wins help to create an environment where change is not overwhelming and therefore more likely to happen. He writes, "The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded...People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them."
In order to solve social problems, he suggest that we define them as a series of smaller problems that can then be affected by small wins. He defines small wins as a "series of concrete, complete outcomes of moderate importance [that] build a pattern that attracts allies and deters opponents." This strategy of focusing on “a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results”, works directly on the construction of a problem and indirectly on its resolution.
A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals.While small wins provide less effort to produce and provide stable building blocks to build on, they are not orderly because each small win changes the context for the next small win. Weick explains:
“Small wins have a fragmentary character driven by opportunism and dynamically changing situations. Small wins stir up settings, which means that each subsequent attempt at another win occurs in a different context. Careful plotting of a series of wins to achieve a major change is impossible because conditions do not remain constant. Much of the artfulness in working with small wins lies in identifying, gathering, and labeling several small changes that are present but unnoticed, changes that in actuality could be gathered under a variety of labels.
In the Wall Street Journal, Jason Zweig writes about the specific application of a general issue: confirmation bias. It is a never-ending battle that affects all of us and is worth reading for the reminder. He offers specific ideas to counteract its pull that can be applied to whatever you are doing. Here are a few edited excerpts from Ignoring the Yes-Man in Your Head to introduce the issue:
In short, your own mind acts like a compulsive yes-man who echoes whatever you want to believe. Psychologists call this mental gremlin the "confirmation bias." A recent analysis of psychological studies with nearly 8,000 participants concluded that people are twice as likely to seek information that confirms what they already believe as they are to consider evidence that would challenge those beliefs.
Learning to Apply Right View and Right Conduct to Your Decision MakingThe Leader’s Way to fuse Buddhist and Western philosophies to address responsible leadership.
In order for a leader—“one who makes the right decisions”—to make the kinds of decisions that “generate a better quality of life for themselves, their organizations and everyone else affected by those decisions” they must learn to “understand more clearly what happens in their minds and the minds of others.” This involves two concepts they introduce as Right View and Right Conduct.
The Right View has to do with action based on the right intention and the right motivation. It means taking into account that nothing that exists is permanent, nothing exists without a cause and every cause has many effects.
The Right Conduct is the endgame; to take action that serves the needs of individuals and organizations. The right conduct should always align with your stated values principles.
The application of the principles of Right View and Conduct are made better by training your mind to be calm, collected, and concentrated in all circumstances.
When the mind is disturbed by anger, jealousy, hate, impatience, fear, lack of self-confidence, or negative emotions about things that happened in the past, it is wasting valuable time that instead should be used for constructive thinking. The purpose of training the mind is to maximize its power by focusing it on the decisions that matter.Meditation or reflective thinking plays a big part in training the mind. A Harvard study cited in the book compared brain scans of meditating and nonmeditating people and found that meditation had seemingly enlarged the part of the brain that regulates emotion, attention, and working memory.
They discuss ways of developing your thinking to improve your performance, the performance of your organization, and for acting responsibly in our interdependent world. One important pattern emerged: “one should celebrate joyful events while not becoming too attached to their meaning, either in the present or as a predictor of the future.” The danger is in seeing success as permanent. Right View and Right Conduct is a process that always needs to be renewed.
To make calm and collected decisions they recommend asking yourself four questions:
Iconoclast: Learning to Think Differently
Because the mind is designed to function as efficiently as possible, it serves as its own barrier to being an iconoclast. (The brain runs on about 40 watts of power. There is partial truth to the myth that you only use 10-15% of your brain. We use all of our brain, but only a fraction of the brain is active at any given time to conserve energy.)
In Iconoclast, Berns explains that “when confronted with information streaming from the eyes, the brain will interpret this information in the quickest and most efficient way possible.” This “efficiency trap” blocks us from seeing alternatives to what we perceive as real; it imposes limitations to what we believe is the only way of seeing something. Iconoclasts don’t allow themselves to fall into the efficiency trap as often as the average person does. “Automatic thinking destroys the creative process.” Berns adds—and the implication is very important—“iconoclasts, either because they were born that way or because they learned how to do it, have found ways to work around the perceptual shortcuts that plague most people.” Thus, we can learn to do this too. Fundamentally, we need to create novel experiences.
Iconoclasm begins with perception….Sometimes a simple change of environment is enough to jog the perceptual system out of familiar categories….Unfamiliarity forces the brain to discard its usual categories of perception and create new ones….When confronted with places never seen before, the brain must create new categories. It is in this process that the brain jumbles around old ideas with new images to create new syntheses.The iconoclast’s fear response—specifically the fear of uncertainty and the fear of public ridicule—are different than that of the average person. Fear is damaging to creativity in the workplace. “In many people the brain would rather avoid activating the fear system and just change perception to conform with the social norm.” You can not eradicate the fear response but you can learn to tame it. “Neuroscience is showing how the rational part of the brain can regain control over such toxic emotions like fear.”
The individual who feels overwhelmed by uncertainty or social stresses in the workplace may benefit from taking on projects that have defined endings. Although these may increase in the short term, their completion may actually decrease overall stress.All of this is well and good, but to be a successful iconoclast, you must be able to sell your ideas to other people. That boils down to social intelligence. “As well-respected, upstanding citizens, connectors form the glue of local society. Iconoclasts, by their very nature, upset this delicate web of connectedness. But iconoclasts need connectors. Without them, the iconoclast stands no chance of achieving success. Sometime iconoclasts have to create the connectors themselves.” Additionally, it is a challenge to leaders to be able to find ways to connect iconoclasts to others so that their talents and insights can be capitalized on organizationally.
It is extremely rare for one person to have all three qualities of a successful iconoclast. But you can compensate by building a team around you in areas where you aren’t strong. Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently is supported by research and persuasive stories. The immediacy of the topic will be helpful not only to individual development, but to organizations seeking to bring new thinking to old patterns of thought.
Confusing Principles and ApproachesIn How the Mighty Fall, Jim Collins makes a case for why the fall of previously great companies does not negate prior research:
The principles in Good to Great were derived primarily from studying specific periods in history when the good-to-great companies showed a substantial transformation into an era of superior performance that lasted fifteen years. The research did not attempt to predict which companies would remain great after their fifteen-year run. Indeed, as this work shows, even the mightiest of companies can self-destruct.Of course, the same is true of the classic by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman, In Search of Excellence. The failure or declining performance of some people and organizations does not negate the basic message. It is part of being human to get ourselves off-course—even when we know better. The failure of the exemplary companies to maintain their hold on greatness or excellence does however hold an important lesson for us. It’s all too easy to move away from our core values. They are always under fire and it takes courage to hold the course. Everything we do has to be continually reviewed and realigned to our core values.
As you know, knowing the right thing to do and doing it are two different issues. More to the point, doing the right thing once and doing it consistently over time in the face of circumstances that would derail us, is a matter of character.
We depart from our core values over time for all kinds of reasons. Doing the right thing doesn’t always give us an immediate payoff in the way we typically gauge success. Doing the right thing is often its own reward. In time, life happens to us and changes our thinking and encourages compromise. Comparing ourselves to others creates doubt. Cynicism is always at the door demanding a hearing and makes sense in a world that rarely works according to plan; a world that is seemingly more irrational than rational. Life changes our friends and they influence us too. All of these circumstances conspire to make us grow or self-destruct. It’s a choice we make every day.
This leads us to a cautionary note. In the search for timeless and universal principles that can be applied in any organization, you will frequently find confusion between principles and approaches. Principles are timeless and universal, but approaches are not. Humility is a timeless and universal principle. The Hedgehog Concept is an approach and therefore is not timeless or universal. The approach has been around since recorded time, but is contextual. It will work in some situations and not in others. Approaches change. Principles do not. Principles speak to matters of thinking and behavior that go beyond the moment and to a higher purpose. Approaches are tools. Principles give us meaning. It’s best not to confuse the two.
Living Within the LieBritish economist John Kay wrote in the Financial Times about the power of words to send us off into the wrong direction. There are some good thoughts here. Here is an excerpt:
In western liberal democracies, no one exhibits slogans calling on the workers to unite. But you see similar displays in reception areas of businesses and even in government offices. They urge us to pursue excellence, to delight our customers, to be wholehearted in our embrace of change. Employees place these exhortations on desks and walls with the same resignation as the Czech greengrocer. The modern analogue of the address to the party congress is the business speech, in which tired clichés relentlessly follow each other, to similarly sycophantic applause.
The objective of the patronising drivel emitted by politicians and business people is to drive out argument. Engaged debate is replaced by what Jack Welch, the former General Electric chief executive, memorably characterised as “superficial congeniality”. Apparent consensus is achieved by euphemism, by avoiding issues of substance and by using slogans instead of analysis.
Mr Welch saw that the opposite of superficial congeniality was “facing reality”. But the effect, and intention, of the tacit compliance involved in superficial congeniality is to entrench a reality of power: to legitimise authority based only on the occupation of positions of authority.
Living within the lie, because it does not face reality, is the process by which great organisations fall into catastrophic errors – and through which they often fail to recognise these errors even after their consequences have become apparent. The self-deception of living within the lie is how banks fell victim to the credit crunch and the US came to be embroiled in Iraq…. Dishonesty of speech quickly leads to dishonesty in behaviour because the language we use governs all we do.
Thinking Gray and FreeIn The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, author Steven Sample, shares the idea that leaders think differently. “Leaders are able to maintain their intellectual independence by thinking gray, and enhance their intellectual creativity by thinking free.”
Leaders have to deal with ambiguities and unknowns. The idea is to learn to think gray while holding firmly to your core ideals. It’s not being binary and instant in your judgments and seeing the nuances to be found in many situations.
Free thinking is more than just brainstorming. It’s brainstorming beyond your current reality. What would we do if we had no budgetary constraints, no time restrictions, no personnel problems, no legal restrictions and no fear of failure? It’s to “contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible” ideas and solutions.
The leader whose thinking is constrained within well-worn ruts, who is completely governed by his established passions and prejudices, who is incapable of thinking either gray or free, and who can’t even appropriate the creative imagination and fresh ideas of those around him, is as anachronistic and ineffective as the dinosaur. He may by dint of circumstances remain in power, but his followers would almost certainly be better off without him.
Seeing What No One Else ThoughtWilliam Brody, president of Johns Hopkins University, delivered a commencement address to Johns Hopkins University earlier this year, where he stresses the importance of examining our premises. He makes his point with this example:
People have a tendency to hold tight to wrong ideas, even when there is ample evidence to the contrary. Julius Caesar observed this two thousand years ago, when he wrote that men “willingly believe what they wish.” An example from my own schooling: when I was a medical student, we were taught that ulcers in the stomach were due to too much acid secretion. Ulcers were the result of acids—this was the established dogma. It was a concept that survived, even in the face of contrary evidence.Keep an open mind. He adds, “It’s OK to question ideas and beliefs other people insist are true.”
How To Have Just Enough AnxietyJust Enough Anxiety, he writes, “It goes something like this: Change and uncertainty make me anxious. Anxiety is bad, a sign of weakness. Therefore, I have to avoid change and uncertainty. I have to do whatever I can to avoid anxiety.”
Balance comes from a right attitude and a proper perspective. Dealing with anxiety is no different.
The success of great leaders is all about creating the right level of anxiety for growth and performance. It is their uncommon ability to create just enough tension—within themselves and their organizations—that unleashes the human energy that drives powerful leadership, accelerated growth, and winning companies.What’s wrong with having too much or too little anxiety?
RR: Too much anxiety comes from negative thinking. When we feel too much anxiety, we attack change. We become combative or controlling as we try to ease the pain we feel. Too little anxiety is grounded in contentment. When we feel too little anxiety, we avoid change. We value the status quo and believe everything will be okay as long as everything stays the same. If your company is going through tough times like a bad economy or a merger, you definitely don’t want too little anxiety.
What exactly is “just enough anxiety”?
RR: The right level of anxiety gives individuals and organizations an emotional charge that helps us thrive in an uncertain world. As we allow ourselves to experience anxiety as our natural response to change, and learn to modulate it, we’re able to live in the world as it is instead of struggling to make it what we want it to be. And as we get better at living with just enough anxiety, it becomes the energy that drives us forward, stretches us, and challenges us to be better tomorrow than we are today.
How can leaders manage anxiety instead of letting it manage them?
RR: It starts with self awareness. Leaders who understand what makes them anxious are better able to increase or decrease their anxiety, as needed to create just enough. But, more than that, it has to do with how they relate to change and uncertainty. By admitting what they can and can’t control, they’re able to take charge of their lives while remaining open to the unexpected. They’re at home in uncharted territory. Instead of seeing anxiety as the enemy, they recognize it as their natural companion on the path of change.
Rosen has placed on his web site a questionnaire to help you determine if you are a Just Enough Anxiety Leader.
Download a PDF of chapter 1: It's Time To Evolve
Deciding How We DecideHow we come to decisions has to be as important as the decisions we come to. Changing how we decide may be the fundamental shift we can make in how we—as individuals and organizations—change. It is appropriate to spend some time thinking about it. While a single person may make the final decision, it should always be made in an atmosphere of open listening and sharing.
In Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer, professor Michael Roberto, devotes a chapter to this issue. He begins by showing how John F. Kennedy changed the decision-making process from the tactics employed in the failed Bay of Pigs decision to the better process employed in coming to the successful conclusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It demonstrates “how leaders can learn from failures and then change the process of decision that they employ in the future.” It’s an interesting case in demonstrating the importance of deciding how we decide and having the mindset to do so.
He discusses four critical choices that affect a leader’s ability to “cultivate constructive conflict and build enduring consensus:
First, the leader determines the composition of the decision-making body. The selection should be based on access to expertise, implementation needs, the role of personal confidant, and the effect of demographic differences.
Second, they shape the context in which deliberations will take place. What norms and ground rules will govern the discussions?
Third, the leader determines how communication will take place among the participants. How will people exchange ideas and information, as well as generate and evaluate alternatives? Structured? Free exchange?
Fourth, the leader must determine the extent and manner in which they will control the process and content of the decision. What roll will the leader play?
Roberto adds these important cautionary comments about content-centric and process-centric learning:
When decision failures occur, many executives focus on the issues involved, and they seek to identify the mistaken judgments and flawed assumptions that they made. However, many leaders do not push further to investigate why they made these errors. Too many of them engage only in content-centric learning. By that, I mean that they search for lessons about how they will make a different decision when faced with a similar business situation in the future.Good material. Check it out.
JFK’s Leadership Style
How To Avoid Making the Wrong Moves: Think TwiceIn their 2008 Investor’s Guide, Fortune magazine offered ten tips to help you “prevent the heat of the moment from melting your better judgment.” The tips form an acronym – Think Twice – and are worth keeping in mind no matter what you’re thinking about.
Roger Martin on Assertive InquiryRoger Martin’s book The Opposable Mind. Here are some explanatory excerpts from the book:
“When we interact with other people on the basis of a particular mental model, we usually try to defend that model against any challenges. Our energy goes into explaining our model to others and defending it from criticism.
“The antidote to advocacy is inquiry, which produces meaningful dialogue. When you use assertive inquiry to investigate someone else’s metal model, you find saliencies that wouldn’t have occurred to you and causal relationships you didn’t perceive. You may not want to adopt the mental model as your own, but even the least compelling model can provide clues to saliencies or causal relationships that will generate a creative solution.”
Martin continues, “Assertive inquiry isn’t a form of challenge, but it is pointed. It explicitly seeks to explore the underpinnings of you own model and that of another person. Its aim is to learn about the salient data and causal maps baked into another person’s model, then use the insight gained to fashion a creative resolution of the conflict between that person’s model and your own.”
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind
How to Develop Integrative ThinkingA 2007 study (PDF) conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that nearly 92 percent of the executives surveyed believe the challenges their organizations face are more complex than they were just five years ago. Organizations will continually be asked to do even more with less and respond even faster to changes in their industry and economy.
Complexity is not going to go away, but developing the skills necessary for integrative thinking as described by Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind (the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension) can be an effective way to keep from being sidelined by it. “Integrative thinking is largely a tacit skill in the heads of people who have cultivated, knowingly or otherwise, their opposable minds.”
How do we develop integrative thinking? First, we begin be thinking about how we think. Martin writes, “When you refuse to take your thinking for granted, you give yourself the best opportunity to enhance and utilize your opposable mind to its fullest.”
By taking a look at your personal knowledge system – how you know what you know – you can get some insight into how you make decisions. Martin has defined three areas, as shown in the diagram below, that guide and inform each other as your experiences grow.
Stance: How you see and interact with the world; your philosophy. Martin lists six important ways of looking at the world and self.
Tools: Integrative thinkers use generative reasoning (asking what might be instead of what is), causal modeling (considering not only linear and unidirectional relationships but nonlinear and multidirectional relationships as well) and, what I found helpful, assertive inquiry (not argumentative, but pointed questions seeking to find common ground). [Note: There is a great example beginning on page 159 in this regard.]
Experiences: Your stance directly affects the kinds of experiences you will accumulate. Structured repetition of a consistent type of experiences develops mastery. Combined with originality, mastery will help you to grow.
With an understanding of how these areas interact with each other, you can, over time, take an active role in crafting your personal knowledge system. Martin has packed into a short book, a good primer on developing a mind that can grapple with complex issues and find creative solutions that would otherwise be missed. It’s well worth your time.
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable MindThe Opposable Mind, “My critical question is not what various leaders did, but how their cognitive processes produced their actions.”
In examining how exemplary leaders think, he found an approach that was common to many, that he has termed integrative thinking. Integrative thinking is:
The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and, instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.In other words, integrative thinking examines problems as a whole, taking note of the complexities that exist and embrace the tension between opposing ideas to create new alternatives that take advantage of many possible solutions.
Is integrative thinking necessary for all problems? No. For some problems there is an easy solution. Some problems benefit from breaking them down to a single manageable issue and nailing the solution. These are generally simple, linear cause and effect problems. But there are those problems that stem from multiple avenues of causation and nonlinear relationships between cause and effect. For example, when you find yourself faced with win/lose solutions, problems to which there is no apparent solution or issues for which all of the solutions are choices between bad alternatives, then integrative thinking becomes necessary.
It’s easy to get into the destructive rut of thinking that money is the solution to most problems. School boards are notorious for claiming that their hands are tied because they lack the money they want. They cripple themselves. What they really need are creative solutions. Education is a complex issue and has for too long been subject to tunnel-vision problem solving. They need integrative thinking.
Einstein opined that we should make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler. Too often we try to make complex issues too simple and leave ourselves with too few options based on our limited point-of-view. If we instead embrace complexity and learn to deal with it, we might find more and better solutions. Martin writes, “More salient features make for a messier problem. But integrative thinkers don’t mind the mess. In fact they welcome it, because the mess assures them that they haven’t edited out features necessary to the contemplation of the problem as a whole. They welcome complexity because they know the best answers arise from complexity.”
In The Opposable Mind, Martin clearly illustrates this thinking process in action by dissecting varied examples from both business and interpersonal situations. Martin claims that we are all born with an opposable mind—the ability to hold two conflicting ideas or models in constructive tension. “We can use that tension to think our way through to a new and superior idea….Opposing models, in fact, are the richest source of new insight into a problem. We learn nothing from someone who sees the problem exactly as we do.”
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
How To Get Great Ideas: Lessons for BrainstormingAlex Osborn (BBDO) came up with the idea of “Thinking Up” which was later changed to brainstorming by his “thinking-up” colleagues. In an excellent book about innovative and productive thinking simply titled, Thinking Better by Tim Hurson, he reviews Osborn’s list of four essential rules for effective brainstorming:
Hurson notes that studies have shown that the last third of a brainstorming session usually results in the best ideas. He calls it the miracle of the third third. “You’ll have a greater chance of coming up with that one brilliant idea if you get all the way to the third third than you will if you stop at the first “right” idea.” He writes:
The first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has-thought-of-them-before ideas. These are the early thoughts that lie very close to the surface of our consciousness. They tend not to be new ideas at all but recollections of old ideas we’ve heard elsewhere. They are essentially reproductive thoughts.He says, “Brainstorming is like cholesterol—there’s good and bad, and most people have only experienced the bad.” We have all experienced brainstorming like this:
There’s no separation of the different ideas of thinking going on. Creative, idea-generating thinking is being stopped cold by critical, judgmental think. Ideas are being killed before they’re fully articulated.He adds, that “Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes." The biggest issue we face in creative thinking is our own patterns of thought that keep us on the straight and narrow. We hold ourselves back because of personal notions of what is right and wrong and what will and won’t work. There’s no magic pill to conquer this. It takes a conscious effort. He suggests though that “Generating long lists of ideas flushes those early ideas out of your head so you can make room for new ones.”
Tim Hurson is a founding partner of thinkx intellectual capital. It is a global consultancy for productive thinking and innovation.
Neuroscience Enlightens Leadership: David Rock InterviewAs research into the mind develops, we will see it being applied to more and more areas of human behavior. Most recently, international business consultant, David Rock applied it to the art of leadership and coined the term neuroleadership. Neuroleadership uses neuroscience to inform the art of leadership. Some have confused it with some sort of science fiction brain research that attempts to recreate the perfect leader’s mind.
Combining an art with a science has its limitations. There is the idea that when applying a science to the study of any area including leadership, one can make it as mechanical as possible. This is rarely the case. There are no shortcuts to leadership, but there is the hope that neuroscience can enlighten our understanding and add substantially to the form of best practices in leading people. We talked to David Rock to try to gain a little insight into this new field of study.
LeadingBlog: To begin, what is neuroleadership?
David Rock: Neuroleadership is the study of leadership through the lens of neuroscience. Neuroleadership explores central elements of leadership such as self awareness, awareness of others, insight, decision making and influencing, and applies what we are learning about the brain in these instances, thus building a neurological theory base for the “soft skills.” The field is not attempting to measure leaders' brain waves to find the “secret” of great leaders.
David Rock: Correct. It's more like scientists running around saying 'what is going on in the brain when someone solves a complex problem through insight, and how can we therefore increase leaders' abilities to have or facilitate insights'. As we better understand the mechanisms involved in everyday leadership activities, better leaders may emerge, but it wont be through brain transplants or direct use of technology. The technology, like EEG and fMRI, is there to test theories.
LeadingBlog: What brought you to connect the two fields of study – neuroscience and leadership?
David Rock: David Rock: I was personally trying to find the best science to explain the art of influencing people. “Getting people to do what you want” is still the hardest question for many people in business. I spent several years on this question, reading, writing and teaching in this area. At one point, it became very clear that neuroscience provided the most coherent and complete explanation for what goes on when we try to drive change. I ended up writing a book on this (Quiet Leadership), then a paper (The Neuroscience of Leadership), both of which became popular. The NeuroLeadership Summit in Italy in May this year was the first test to see if there was really a field emerging here or just a few of us with this crazy idea. Based on the global response to the Summit it's clear that many people are hungry to bring more science into leadership development, specifically a “hard” science like neuroscience.
LeadingBlog: What can we expect from neuroleadership?
David Rock: Bear in mind it's early days, so expect it to take a few years for major findings to emerge. However, you can expect to see business schools globally building neuroscience into leadership programs; books written on various aspects of the field; science that explains how to be better at influencing, leading, training, learning. To start with, we need to do a lot of work at the level of one-to-one leadership and as this theory base grows it will become more about the systemic application of the research. We will see research on every aspect of leadership, including change, engagement, incentive, feedback, presence, trust, teams, etc.
LeadingBlog: Self-awareness is critical to leadership. The lack of it explains why we go off on tangents and end up with consequences we never intended. What is self-awareness from a neuroleadership perspective?
David Rock: That's one of the main focuses of the field, understanding self-awareness in a new way. There is some excellent neuroscience being done on “active” versus “passive” brain processes. Active processes are ones which we are aware of, passive occur beneath conscious awareness. We need both, as passive processes are far more efficient, active processes work in serial and are very tiring. The neuroscience is showing that the concept of observing your own thoughts is central to our ability to choose between active and passive. Coined “the impartial spectator” by Adam Smith, without this ability, we are always to some degree on automatic. There is a specific part of the brain that lights up when we choose to step outside the flow of experience and observe behaviors, and make a choice. So self awareness is not a soft concept, it has very real correlates in the brain, and it has an impact on how data is experienced and interacted with. There's a LOT more to say about this of course.
LeadingBlog: If I have been hardwired a certain way, can I change it?
David Rock: Yes, we do all the time. The key is the brain only really goes forward; you can't go backward. You can't get rid of wiring you don't like. You can only create new wiring. That's because the process involved in change in any way requires attention - requires focusing your attention - and attention changes the brain. Attention creates or embeds circuits focused on. So we can change, but we need to learn to put our attention on new circuits not the old ones. That's often hard as old circuits are easier to bring attention to—there are lots of them—than newer more subtle circuits. It's like trying to find a car, versus a needle, in a haystack.
LeadingBlog: Some don't come to self-awareness naturally. Is there a physical reason for it or is that strictly a function of environment and experience?
David Rock: Some people haven't given it much attention, so their circuits aren't well developed. Others might be born with weaker circuits between emotions and words, which is a medical condition. There is very much a part of the brain that becomes active when we focus our mind on inhibiting mental signals; it's under the right temple in the brain.
LeadingBlog: Can it be developed or improved?
David Rock: We can improve self awareness the same way we can improve our ability to speak a language, play tennis or learn PowerPoint. We need to pay attention, and activate the relevant circuits regularly. The good news is small regular efforts can do a lot: it’s the same way we quickly learn to do something even more complex, like learning to drive.
LeadingBlog: From time to time, there is that moment when we "get it." There’s a breakthrough or a flash of insight. It is a moment when we experience a leap in learning. What can neuroleadership tell us about what is happening?
David Rock: There are some great studies now on insight. We know that insight occurs when the brain goes quiet for a moment. We know that insight is a very important moment in the brain; it packs an energetic punch, and represents possible long term changes in circuitry. Often we get an insight moment at surprising times, when we're doing other things. That's because the part of the brain we use actively, can drown out the signals from the rest of the brain. We know that anxiety decreases the likelihood of insight, and happiness and positive affect generally increases the chance of insight.
LeadingBlog: How would this affect how we work with or teach others?
David Rock: In so many ways! For example when we start to value insight as the moment at the heart of change, we start to create ways of facilitating it. The great thing about the energy of insight, which is partly adrenaline, is that it drives people to take action. Insight engages people, it makes people get up out of their chair literally, and want to drive change. This is one important lesson from the science: insight is not helpful to long term change, it's central to long term change. But each person needs to have their own insight, not just listen to their leader's insight.
LeadingBlog: Some of mankind’s biggest achievements have come by the rearranging of the old in a new way or seeing old concepts in new ways. It would seem that is what you are doing here.
David Rock: Indeed. One of the best feelings in the world is when we see an existing situation in a completely new light. Making new connections between unexpected elements turns out to be a wonderful way of generating positive feelings in the brain too. It's what we do when we do a crossword puzzle, read a book or watch a movie.
Neuroleadership is about helping leaders understand how their own and their people's minds and brains ACTUALLY work, replacing our current guesswork. Humans have a long history of incorrect assumptions about the world. We think for example that rewards motivate people. Actually it is anticipation of a reward that motivates, the reward itself does little. And the anticipation is closely linked to attention. We think that punishment drives change. Actually punishment or the threat of it focuses attention, and it’s attention that drives change. However punishment can send attention to some less than helpful places too. So if we know that attention changes the brain, let's get better at understanding attention, instead of focusing so much on reward or punishment. When you look at attention, you see that it's very closely tied to our social world, then you begin to see just how much of an impact human beings have on each others' attention, whether we like it or not. So this is perhaps a whole new area to explore, which might have greater benefits than only studying the carrot and stick. And all this just comes from seeing that attention is the active ingredient in change. My point is, having a new frame of reference, as well as feeling good, may be more useful than we realize at first.
LeadingBlog: The result of bringing these disciplines together is for leaders to gain insight on how to best help others to think better - for themselves. This would seem to be quite significant.
David Rock: Leaders have established their own, often non-articulated, scientific theories for how people work. The science will help build leaders more accurate understandings of how we work, so we can become more effective at leading. Leaders are after all by nature rational beings, and so they should be. This field provides a rational science to explain many things that are not being given enough attention in the workplace. By speaking to leaders and organizations about human issues, in the language that they are used to, we can hopefully improve how workplaces function.
Neuroleadership and You
Business Week presented a “We don’t know what to think about this” piece on Neuroleadership. Neuroleadership (a term coined by David Rock) is the combination of neuroscience with the art of leadership. The combination of an art and science gives clues to the limitations of this new field of study.
There is the hope that when applying a science to leadership, one can make it as mechanical as possible. Neither is benefited when this is the goal. If we want the science to bring us laboratory results that we can apply in the real world, we will be disappointed. I would agree with Warren Bennis, quoted in the article as saying, "It's full of possibilities. What worries me is people being taken in by the language of it and ending up with stuff we've known all along."
It’s worrisome too that we live in a time when some people will not accept common sense unless there are numbers behind it or a scientific study proving it beyond all doubt. There are those also who cannot find value until they have spent enormous sums of money on it. For them, the combination of science and leadership is priceless.
The problem with rushing to apply a science to any field is that passion often overrides experience; we tend to throw out conventional wisdom and common sense in favor of the new. In the excitement, we begin to look for absolutes where there are none and never will be.
Comparing brain waves of leaders—moral/immoral, successful/unsuccessful—to create a kind of yard stick or means of selection is off the mark and beyond the scope or intent of neuroleadership. If we are looking for it to replace intuition, judgment and thought we are mistaken. If we want to say, “This is a good brainwave for leaders and this is a bad brainwave,” we don’t understand the human spirit.
I wouldn’t expect neuroleadership to provide all kinds of new ideas. It will look at old ideas in a new way. This is often the key to finally bringing us the depth of understanding necessary to adapt ideas to a specific situation.
What neuroleadership can do is reframe ideas in terms of how the mind works. Specifically, how we learn, retrieve memories, experience and interpret our world. This will provide guidance to best practices. It will reinforce some practices based on solid neuroscientific research. Conversely, it will provide sound reasons why some approaches feel forced or don’t work at all. If they go against the way the brain is wired, we are just spinning our wheels. Good to know.
Leadership is not a science and scientific methods applied to it will never make it one. But, if neuroleadership will help us understand why we make the connections the way we do, if it will show us why we need to allow people to think and learn in ways that are best suited for them, as opposed to forcing people to all think in the same manner, if it will help us to improve and leverage our own and other people’s thinking, then it will have done a big service. I look forward to what we will find in this exciting new combination.
Fast Company Interview with Sir James DysonThe discussions on Appreciative Intelligence and Charles Pellerin’s views on the social leadership aspects of project management, parallel a good short interview in the May issue of Fast Company with Sir James Dyson. Here are a couple of his comments:
FC: You once described the inventor's life as "one of failure." How so?
I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.
FC: Not all failures lead to solutions, though. How do you fail constructively?
We're taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven't, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that's very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It's exciting, actually.
Fast Company Podcast: Sir James Dyson On Getting It Right
Charles Pellerin on Project ManagementAppreciative Intelligence—the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present—is an important component to develop as part of organizational culture. AI contributes to a high incidence of innovation and creativity and the potential development of previously unnoticed strengths in people. This happens by the actions of leaders at all levels, to encourage people to look at everyday issues—the commonplace—in a new way; by telling a new story.
Former Director of Astrophysics for NASA, Charles Pellerin believes that most projects fail around social and leadership issues. Both "unknown and unnamed" social undercurrents are at the root of many, if not most, project difficulties. NASA publication, ASK Magazine talked to him about project management and how social and leadership issues come to play in why projects fail. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Can you explain what you mean by "social issues," and how they relate to leadership?This would help to explain the recent experiment reported in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten to discover if violinist Josh Bell—and his Stradivarius—could stop busy commuters in their tracks. Surprisingly, he did not. If our story is to ignore street musicians and includes the belief that no famous musician would ever do it, then we will ignore street musicians and we will not scan the streets looking for our favorite artists. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. It’s a great story.)
Pellerin has been developing since his retirement from NASA in 1995, a leadership/culture assessment and learning system called "Four-Dimensional (4-D) Leadership." He states, “We began with workshops, and then added coaching, and now have Web-based diagnostics customized for NASA projects. Simply put, we make three measurements in each of the social dimensions -- directing, visioning, relating and valuing—that we believe are fundamental to effective leadership and efficient cultures.
“I truly believe that we can identify and address the root cause of most project difficulties. That's my story. And many of the projects I'm working with are choosing to run that story as well -- because they see results. You know, no story is "good" or "bad." Some just get you the results you want and some don't.”
In April 1990, shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into its planned orbit. However, within weeks it became obvious that there was a serious problem with the primary mirror. Authors Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker describe the events that followed in their book Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.
Congress demanded an explanation for the failure. The project and its creators became the butt of late-night television jokes. Stress was high among NASA engineers, as were health problems. “It was traumatic,” said Charlie Pellerin, the former director of NASA’s astrophysics division, who oversaw the launch of the Hubble. Nobody could see how to fix the problem, which many seemed afraid even to address.Appreciative Intelligence is defined as “the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.” More simply, it is “the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. It is the ability to reframe a given situation (or person), to appreciate its positive aspects, and to see how the future unfolds from the generative aspects of the current situation.” These three characteristics form the foundation of appreciative intelligence.
Reframing is about shifting reality by choosing what feedback we will ignore and what feedback we will pay attention to. Appreciating the positive is the ability to see the positive aspects of any given situation. To see how the future unfolds from the present refers to the ability to see what can be done instead of what can’t. Appreciative intelligence is the mindset that allows you to step back and access the situation and move forward instead of being thwarted by circumstances.
Appreciative intelligence can of course, be developed by consciously expanding your responses to situations as they occur. Asking yourself different questions by questioning your assumptions (what you know to be right), looking for positive and different meaning in what you experience, and becoming what Saul Bellow calls a first-class noticer, will help you improve your appreciative intelligence.
Additionally, keep in mind the AI qualities of persistence, conviction that your actions matter, tolerance for uncertainty, and irrepressible resilience. As these qualities develop, so too will your creativity and success in finding resolution to the issues you face. Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn provides in more detail what I have outlined here.
Tomorrow we’ll look at what Charles Pellerin has to say about leadership and project management.
The Prepared Mind of a Leader : Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems
Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work
Neuroscience in the Workplace PodcastIn this recording, David Rock speaks with John Case, CEO of Electrolux Home Care Products North America about how neuroscience links to the performance strategies implemented in his organization. John first heard David speak in Las Vegas and found that neuroscience helped to explained why his business strategies have worked.
Listen Now / Total time: 36:29 minutes
The NeuroLeadership Summit and Why It Matters to Executives
The First Global NeuroLeadership Summit is about a month away. The Summit still has a few places open, so if you want to attend, you should put in an application as soon as you can.
The organizers have decided decided to film the Summit. This will allow the filming of several important neuroscientists—such as Matt Lieberman, Stellan Ohlsson and Kevin Ochsner—who are important to the field but are unable to attend the Summit. This will film be available online after the Summit.
The Summit will focus on the latest discoveries in neuroscience and how those discoveries can be used to help organizations:
The study of neuroscience has provided us with a deeper understanding of why people find change so unsettling....The more we understand the phenomenon of change, the more effectively we can manage it. Neuroscience shows us why some common practices work well, such as allowing people to take ownership of a new initiative. It also explains why some don’t succeed. For example, using threats or incentives to implement organizational change is rarely sustainable.
In Difference Lies the Potential to ContributeWe tend to think that if we get the smartest people all together in one room, we will get the best solutions. In a very readable book, The Difference, Scott Page shows that in fact diversity in thinking and perspective produces more and better solutions and contributes to overall productivity. He maintains that “when confronted with a difficult task, be it solving a problem, predicting the future, or making a choice, we benefit by including diverse people.” Value can be added just by virtue of its being different. How many disciplines have benefited from interdisciplinary approaches? Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean black/white or men/women, but diversity in thinking and perspective. He notes that “cognitive diversity increases innovation. Preference diversity leads to squabbles.” So we’re looking for relevant diversity and informed intelligence.
The trap we fall into is that we prefer to continue to work with and consult people who think like us—people with the same general background and types of experiences. The familiarity is more comfortable and seems right to us. In the end we get the same way of looking at things and we bring the same kinds of tools to the table to tackle our problems. We miss important clues. If one of us gets stuck, then we all get stuck. “People who think alike get stuck.” We also create barriers to innovation and radically new ideas.
A preference for working with people who bring the same formal perspectives to bear on a problem leads to segregation by function in firms and by discipline in the academy. In each case, the tendency to interact only with people like us creates the same micro-level dynamic. Each culture in a society, each identity group in a city, each department in a university, and each functional area of a firm ends up building walls around itself. As these walls become higher, the members of each group—be they Evangelicals, African Americans, chemists, or accountants—find themselves inside silos of their own creation.
He suggests that we should not only get more kinds of people involved in tackling the issues, we should also encourage our people to think differently by giving them time to pursue individual projects that interest them (varied experience) and by creating skunk works type groups within the organization. He observes, “as individuals we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”
The First Global NeuroLeadership Summit
The First Global NeuroLeadership Summit is taking place May 14-16 in Asolo, Italy. What is NeuroLeadership? NeuroLeadership is a term coined in 2006 by David Rock and Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz. It is the integration of neuroscience into the business world. The Summit is the brainchild of David Rock, an international leadership consultant and author of Quiet Leadership (a best book of 2006 selection), who together with neuroscientist Dr Jeffrey Schwartz is bringing together the speakers and the program.
For three days, world renowned experts in both neuroscience and leadership will gather with a select group of 40 guests, on top of a mountain in spectacular Northern Italy. Together they will explore some of today’s biggest workplace challenges through the eyes of a neuroscientist, and build the framework for a new domain of knowledge: NeuroLeadership.
Attendance is by application and numbers are strictly limited. So if you are interested, check it out now.
Neurogenesis: Environment Matters to the BrainElizabeth Gould's research in neurogenesis—the process of creating new brain cells—is adding to our understanding of how our environment directly affects the quality of our thinking. A professor of psychology at Princeton University, she is changing our understanding of the production of new neurons and the plasticity of the brain.
The brain is a remarkably pliable organ that is greatly influenced by our surroundings. In chronically boring environments or stressful conditions, the structure of the brain is altered. Brain cells starve and retreat and new cells are not created. Yet remarkably, the brain can also heal itself. When the environmental conditions are enriched the brain begins to create new brain cells and the density of neuronal dendrites (the branches that connect one neuron to another). It would seem design—in all its various forms—matters.
In an article in Seed magazine, writer Jonah Lehrer reports on Gould’s research:
The subject of stress has been the single continuous thread running through Gould’s research career. From the brain’s perspective, stress is primarily signaled by an increase in the bloodstream of a class of steroid called glucocorticoids, which put the body on a heightened state of alert. But glucocorticoids can have one nasty side-effect: They are toxic for the brain. When stress becomes chronic, neurons stop investing in themselves. Neurogenesis ceases. Dendrites disappear. The hippocampus, a part of the brain essential for learning and memory, begins withering away.
The research should give us pause to consider the environment we function in and the environment we create for others to perform in.
Three Theories are Better than One
The late Harvard professor of education William Perry Jr. (1913-1998), once remarked, “To have any idea of what is going on in a situation, you need at least three good theories.” Perry was trying to promote learning and understanding. The idea being that one theory traps you in your own thinking, your own dogma. Overconfidence in one’s own opinions can be an obstacle to learning. With two theories you can be begin to see more—another side to a situation. Yet, two theories are limiting as they can lead you to simple reductions and conclusions brought about by black and white, binary thinking. With three or more theories in play you begin to see the nuances. Your mind becomes open to the fact that there are more explanations to what is going on, giving you a more complete picture. By taking more into account you can create deeper understanding and make decisions more in line with reality.
You can of course, take this too far and get caught up in all sorts of mind games and become mired in overanalyzing. This generally isn’t our problem however. We tend to jump to generalizations and oversimplifications without a clear understanding of reality thus repeating the same old thinking. We need to cast a wider net, asking more and different questions. We need to keep a balance. Concerning theories, Perry thought it was worth noting: "The wisdom doesn't come from the theories; the theories come from the wisdom. And the wisdom comes from the defeat of all the more attractive alternatives." And in a cautionary tone, "With all these theories, it would be a good thing, of course, to keep an open mind. But the problem with an open mind is that it's so drafty."
Problem Solving with a Design AttitudeProfessors Richard Boland and Fred Collopy from the Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherland School of Management had the opportunity to work with Frank O. Gehry on the management schools new building. The design process exposed them a problem solving approach they call a design attitude.
In an article published in the Rotman Magazine Spring/Summer 2006 issue they wrote:
We believe that if managers adopted a design attitude, the world of business would be different and better. Managers would approach problems with a sensibility that swept in the broadest array of influences to shape inspiring and energizing designs for products, services, and processes that are both profitable and humanly satisfying.Working with Gehry has led them to see “how both management practice and education have allowed a limited and narrow vocabulary of decision making to drive an expansive and embracing vocabulary of design out of circulation. In our focus on teaching students advanced analytical techniques for choosing among alternatives, our attention to strengthening their design skills for shaping new alternatives has withered.”
The most dominate approach we see today they call the decision attitude. This approach uses mathematical and scientific approaches—economic analysis, risk assessment, multiple criteria decision making, simulation, and the time value of money—to choose among alternatives. “It starts with the assumption that the alternative courses of action are ready at hand—that there is a good set of options already available, or at least readily obtainable. “ The design attitude on the other hand assumes the best alternative may have to be invented.
Design thinking doesn’t mean bringing more creativity to bear. “Creativity itself is not going to bring us to the organizational, product, or process innovations we require. Creativity needs the guiding energy of a design attitude in order to focus our efforts on results that will be truly innovative and produce long-lasting organizational betterments.”
Design is in that sense larger than creativity. Design provides a context for creativity by channeling it toward humanly satisfying purposes, and that is why we cannot allow calls for increased creativity and techniques for enhancing creativity to take the place of increased attention to s design attitude in management practice and education.The illustration below from The Central Office of Design adds a graphic explaination of design thinking.
figure 1: The Design Process from a great height
They explain on their web site that they "start each project assuming nothing, especially about what the solution to the problem might be, and embark on the process with empathy for the final consumer of the solution. Whether it be an employee, child, or mother of three."
Attitude of WisdomAmerican essayist Norman Cousins wrote, “Wisdom consists of the anticipation of consequences.” Wisdom is about the thinking through of thoughts, behaviors and actions and seeing their relationships. It is seeing how things are connected. It is easy to get so caught up in what we are doing that we operate as though we are in a vacuum. Yale University professor Robert Sternberg explained that one reason smart people are sometimes inexplicably stupid is that they think they have overcome the problem of consequences.
Understanding how everything is connected is a daunting task, but it shouldn’t cause us to stop dead in our tracks full of indecision. We still have to function. Professors Pfeffer and Sutton suggest in their book Hard Facts, that we must travel through life with an attitude of wisdom. That attitude is described as the ability to act with knowledge while doubting what you know. They point out that this attitude or approach is the single most important quality that a leader, advisor, or team can have for practicing evidence-based management.
This attitude enables people to act on what they already know while at the same time doubting what they know. It means they can do things now, as well as keep learning along the way. It implies a certain degree of humility to make it work. You really have to be able to get out of your own way. Professor Karl Weick said, “Argue like you’re right, but listen as if you’re wrong.” From Hard Facts:
Practicing evidence-based management means adopting beliefs and designing settings that enable people to keep acting with knowledge while doubting what they know, and to openly acknowledge the imperfections in even their best ideas along the way.A lot of experience often holds people back from adapting this attitude. An old example holds true here: A person may say, “I have 20 years of experience.” But it’s not 20 years of experience. It’s 1 year repeated 20 times. That is to say, we live our lives in such a way that we aren’t really learning. We’re repeating. While wisdom requires that we arrange what we observe and know, and create meaning from it, is also requires that we consider what we need to unlearn as well.
Asset-Based ThinkingDouglas Rushkoff wrote, "Instead of focusing on what we still lack, we must take stock of what we already do have in terms of resources, abilities, and pure will." This is the essence of asset-based thinking. It's not to be confused with the head-in-the-sand everything-is-wonderful way of thinking. That's the other ditch of typical one-dimensional thinking. It’s not about finding everything that’s wonderful around you to create a false sense of euphoria. It’s about asking, “What are the assets here?” What is working?” and how can I use these things — how can I leverage these things — to reach my goals. What is being encouraged here is reality-based multidimensional thinking. It demonstrates that there is another way of thinking about or looking at most every situation.
Through brilliant design (as shown below), Change the Way You See Everything illuminates these concepts. Authors Kathryn Cramer (psychologist) and Hank Wasiak (advertising) ask you to image the seismic shift that would occur if people just focused their attention on opportunities rather than problems, strengths more than weaknesses and what can be done instead of what can't.
When you decrease your focus on what is wrong (deficit-based thinking) and increase your focus on what is right (Asset-Based Thinking), you build enthusiasm and energy, strengthen relationships, and move people and productivity to the next level.We all need this book. Despite the fact that this is a simple — yet life-changing concept — it doesn't make it any easier to execute these ideas in our lives or organizations. Unfortunately, the fact is our default setting is toward deficit-based thinking. We gravitate towards the negative, towards what’s not working. This mode of thinking and viewing the world holds us back. Deficit-based thinking is driven by fear. Asset-based thinking is driven by desire.
This is an important book. It is both mentally and emotionally engaging. Get this book for yourself and anyone you care about. Asset-based thinking is the foundational step that you need to put into place in order to build a success system that has a sense of personal responsibility, creativity and resilience.
Appraising Business IdeasWe don’t know what we don’t know, so we have to proceed with our minds open and be willing to modify what we think we know in the face of credible data. How do we know when we have come across credible data? In the Stanford Social Innovation Review, Hard Facts authors Pfeffer and Sutton, presented some rules to keep in mind when evaluating or developing business ideas:
1. Make sure the cause came before the effect. Some popular business books, such as “The War for Talent,” collect information on the alleged cause – in this case, practices for managing talent – after the alleged effect already happened – in this case, performance.1 To claim that one thing causes another, the cause needs to occur before the effect.
2. Remember that correlation does not mean causation. Studies that use surveys or data from company records to correlate practices with various performance outcomes require careful interpretation. For example, Bain & Company’s home page brags, “Our clients outperform the market 4 to 1.” (www.bain.com. Downloaded Jan. 20, 2006) This correlation doesn’t prove that their advice transformed clients into top performers. For starters, top performers may simply have more money for hiring consultants.
3. Don’t rely on success (and failure) stories. Sorting organizations or strategies into successes and failures, and then digging into their pasts with interviews, questionnaires, and press reports to explain why some “won” and others “lost,” is bad research. People have terrible memories. And after identifying winners and losers, people selectively remember information that reflects these different outcomes.
4. Be suspicious of gurus and breakthroughs. Almost all great ideas and findings are small advances made by groups of smart people working with old knowledge, not giant leaps forward that lone geniuses hatched in their gigantic brains.
5. Take a dispassionate approach to ideologies and theories. “A man hears what he wants to hear, and disregards the rest,” sang Simon and Garfunkel. Learning is difficult when people are driven by ideology rather than evidence.
6. Treat old ideas as if they are old ideas. People who spread management knowledge should say where they got their ideas. They should also review others’ work to avoid reinventing the past.
7. Admit uncertainties and drawbacks. Purveyors of business ideas should routinely admit any flaws in or uncertainties they might have about their ideas. This means revealing that while their wares are the best they can build right now, they will require constant modification as more is learned.
Evidence-Based ManagementObserving that if doctors practiced medicine the way many companies practice management, there would be far more sick and dead patients, and many more doctors would be in jail, professors Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton decided to take a look at the evidenced-based medicine movement. They determined that many of the same principles could be applied to other domains to make our decisions and actions wiser. Evidence-based management is presented in their important new book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths and Total Nonsense. The book is really a prequel to their classic The Knowing-Doing Gap. The Knowing-Doing Gap encouraged us to rid ourselves of the impediments to action. It assumes of course, that we have decided to take the right action. According to Hard Facts, that's a big assumption. "We believe that managers are seduced by far too many half-truths: ideas that are partly right but also partly wrong and that damage careers and companies over and over again. Yet managers routinely ignore or reject solid evidence that these truisms are flawed.” You might reference our article, The Persistence of Vision for more on this issue.
Evidence-based management is really a way of thinking and looking at the world. The mind-set rests on two disciplines: "first, willingness to put aside belief and conventional wisdom—the dangerous half-truths that many embrace—and instead hear and act on the facts; second, an unrelenting commitment to gather the facts and information necessary to make more informed and intelligent decisions, and to keep pace with new evidence and use the new facts to update practices."
Some specific half truths discussed in the book: The best organizations have the best people; financial incentives drive company performance; change or die; great leaders are in control of their companies.
Instead of following half truths, Pfeffer and Sutton endorse principles such as: Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype; see yourself and your organization as outsiders do; power, prestige, and performance make you stubborn, stupid, and resistant to valid evidence; evidence-based management is not just for senior executives; and ask the best diagnostic question: What happens when people fail?
We will look at more of the concepts from this book in the coming weeks.
The Stanford Graduate School of Business has provided a video interview with the authors that is worth watching. (16:32 minutes)
Three Levels of Thinking: Moving Toward MaturityIn The Power of Purpose, Peter Temes defines three levels of thinking:
Level One: The most important question for understanding the world and taking action is How do I feel? Or How do I look to myself? Who am I?
Level Two: You progress to How do others feel about me? Or How do I look to others? Who do others think I am?
Level Three: At this level, the central question is not about how I feel, or how others feel about me, but about how they feel about themselves. The basis of this level is not about what matters to me, but what matters to others. How can I help others?
“Develop the habit of asking level-three questions. Look hard at he clues other people give you about their personal goals and the ways they see themselves. Look for opportunities to help others feel stronger and more successful and you’ll see that you will gain as much as or more than others do. When you get past the zero-sum-game model of how the world works—the idea that for me to win someone else must lose—you begin to see the enormous power that comes from sharing your strength with others. That insight, and the moral strength that comes from helping others, are the greatest gifts you can give yourself, and they mark the clearest path to success.”
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Learning to See and Gaining Context
Ram Charan (author of Confronting Reality) wrote an insightful article for strategy+business entitled Sharpening Your Business Acumen. In it he describes a process to see the big picture in an uncertain world:
Leaders have to be comfortable making decisions with unknown factors; survival depends on those choices producing viable outcomes whatever may happen.
The ability to construct and act upon the mental model of the big picture requires plenty of practice. The essence of the skill is to find patterns from among a wide variety of trends and to posit the missing ingredients that could catalyze convergence. Many great leaders began to practice this exercise when they were younger, in less complex contexts, and over the years they have developed the requisite skills and judgment.
One simple way to begin is by asking yourself a series of six questions, exploring the ideas with colleagues and peers:
1. What is happening in the world today?
2. What does it mean for others?
3. What does it mean for us?
4. What would have to happen first (for the results we want to occur)?
5. What do we have to do to play a role?
6. What do we do next?
He writes that working through these six questions will help executives assess the validity of the company’s moneymaking approach. It is an iterative process that tests the leaders’ mental abilities to qualitatively see how the world is changing — almost always including the perspectives of others. It requires transcending the old rules of thumb that are etched deep in the psyches of many executives, and it means giving up the habitual reliance on precedent that worked for many companies during times of more linear change.
But the ability to perceive trends quickly, or even to make sense of them, will not automatically guarantee success. Rather, success depends on the rigor and discipline applied to the entire process of envisioning the changes, deducing specific actions, and implementing the plan.
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