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08.27.13

The Art of Perfect Timing

We say timing is everything. And it is. But most of time it just seems like good luck.

Timing
In When, Stuart Albert says that using the right tools we can become better at managing and deciding issues of timing. Good timing is a skill that can be acquired.

We miss timing issues “because the way we describe the world and the tasks we must accomplish omit the kinds of facts we need….They fail to include all the sequences, rates, shapes, punctuation marks, intervals, leads, lags, overlaps, and other time-related characteristic that are part of the temporal structure of everything that happens, every action that is taken, every plan that is implemented.” And we routinely omit them from our thinking. I had never thought of it that way. I was intrigued.

If we don’t look for and note time-relevant characteristics like sequences, rates, duration, beginnings and endings, we won’t have the information we need to make good timing decisions. For example, we question whether or not the incentives we have chosen are the right ones, but we don’t consider why those incentives became important at that particular time.

Albert likens the structure of timing analysis to the structure of a musical score. There is a horizontal and a vertical dimension to it. Five horizontal—sequence, punctuation, interval, rate, and shape—and there is a vertical dimension—polyphony. The way they come together in an organization gives us insight into timing. These patterns form the temporal architecture.

Sequence refers to the order of events, like the notes in a melody.
Temporal punctuation refers to the times when events or processes begin, pause, or come to an end.
Interval (and duration) indicates how much time elapses between events and how long each event will last.
Rate refers to how quickly events are happening.
Shape describes rhythms and other patterns such as cycles, feedback loops, peaks and valleys.
Polyphony is the questions the interrelationship between all things happening at the same time.

We have to learn how to listen for the rhythm of what is going on, for its moments of tension or release, for moments when we must pause and change direction. Learning to view events in this manner will help us to spot opportunities first, execute on them well, and avoid costly mistakes.

The worst timing mistakes are not those that have significant human or financial costs, but those that appear to be inexplicable, where we ask, “How could someone have made a mistake like that?” One example of a sequence issue is Cooper Union’s decision to build a 166 million dollar engineering building on its campus in New York with the hope that a donor would step forward to fund the building. As of May 2013, nobody has. This is a classic sequence inversion error, playing notes out of order—in effect putting the cart before the horse. The first step should have been to attract the donor, who would help select the architect, and then become involved in the design of the building.

In order to get the timing right Albert says we need to move beyond spheres and networks, boxes and arrows, trees and branches, and instead think in terms of a tall polyphonic musical score in which a large number of processes and events are playing at the same time. Here’s more:
Musical Score
Re-imagining the world as a polyphonic, polyrhythmic score shifts how we think about the causes and consequences of events. Most of us spend a considerable amount of time looking “down the road” to the next period of time, the one we call the future. So, naturally, when we think about the consequences of our actions, we think in terms of a line, antecedents to the left, consequences—separated by some amount of time—to the right.

When we say A causes B, we are focusing on the horizontal dimension of the score. We are focused on what comes before (the cause) and what comes after (the effect). That is fine, but we should also be paying attention to what is going on vertically, to what must and must not go on at the same time.
When provides a more insightful way to look at events and the seven essential steps in a timing analysis. Timing issues are not always obvious but Albert helps us to know where to look and what to look for so we will be much more likely to get the timing right.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:37 AM
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06.19.12

Are You a Culturematic Maker?

Leadership
A 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.

Culturematics...

• 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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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Thinking , Vision

03.02.12

Eisenhower, Kennedy & the Power of Vision

Leading Forum
This is a guest post by leadership author and speaker, James Strock. Read the LeadingBlog post Serve to Lead: Make Your Life a Masterpiece of Service for more insights from James Strock.

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Serve to Lead, my book about 21st century leadership, includes respectful references to the management approach of Dwight Eisenhower.

Some readers, I learned, had been unaware of the scope of Ike’s accomplishments. Some young people have scarcely heard of the thirty-fourth president.

By contrast, many more people are aware of the leadership of John Kennedy, Ike’s successor. JFK is routinely ranked among the presidents most admired by Americans today.

There may be lessons in the differing public understandings.

Eisenhower Accomplishments Overlooked

Eisenhower
Eisenhower was immensely popular as president—and would have been readily reelected to a third term in 1960, were it constitutionally possible. Yet, in subsequent years, he was neglected by many historians and other observers.

More recently, Ike has been rediscovered. In his new book, Eisenhower in War and Peace, respected historian Jean Edward Smith makes the case for Eisenhower’s exceptional leadership in war and politics.

Ike: Civil Rights, Space

The Eisenhower administration broke ground in the long overdue struggle to accord African-American civil rights. Examples cited by Smith include:
  • Ike appointed Chief Justice Earl Warren and four other Supreme Court justices who would usher in a what is fairly seen as a “revolution” in civil rights jurisprudence. So, too, the Eisenhower administration appointed high quality judges in the South who would emerge as historic heroes of civil rights, such as John Minor Wisdom and Frank M. Johnson.
  • Eisenhower completed the long overdue process of desegregating the armed forces.
  • Eisenhower deployed the 101st Airborne to break the resistance to integration of Central High School in Little Rock.
So, too, he initiated the American space program, establishing the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in response to the Soviet Union’s successful Sputnik launch.

And yet… how many Americans today recall Eisenhower’s decisive role in civil rights or the space program?

JFK: Civil Rights, Space

By contrast, John Kennedy is indelibly identified with each.

It is impossible to know what Kennedy might have accomplished in the civil rights arena, had his life not been tragically truncated. As it was, his administration’s accomplishments were limited. In significant part this was because of his party’s reliance on the “Solid South,” and the conservative, rural coalition that held great sway in the Congress.

JFK did convey public support at key moments. One was his celebrated telephone call of support to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, following the jailing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960 campaign.

Most memorable was Kennedy’s June 11, 1963 speech on civil rights. He brought the American past, present and future together, declaring:
The heart of the question is whether all Americans are to be afforded equal rights and equal opportunities, whether we are going to treat our fellow Americans as we want to be treated. If an American, because his skin is dark, cannot eat lunch in a restaurant open to the public, if he cannot send his children to the best public school available, if he cannot vote for the public officials who will represent him, if, in short, he cannot enjoy the full and free life which all of us want, then who among us would be content to have the color of his skin changed and stand in his place? Who among us would then be content with the counsels of patience and delay?
King was moved to dispatch a telegram in response, calling the speech “one of the most eloquent, profound and unequivocal pleas for justice and freedom of all men ever made by any president.”

It is hard to imagine Eisenhower evoking such a response, despite the clear direction of his civil rights policies, and his personal expressions of commitment in various settings.

So, too, JFK reframed the space race, urging the American nation to “commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth.”

This extraordinary stretch goal was achieved, with the entire world witnessing it on television, on July 20, 1969.

Though Eisenhower set the stage for the moon shot, it is difficult to imagine his casting such a vision, setting off such a mission.

The Power of Vision

Dwight Eisenhower was, fundamentally, a military man. In many ways, his presidency represented the best of the armed forces. Ike was publicly modest, chastened by the keen awareness of war and fateful decisions. He was down-to-earth, focused intently on results. His manner of communication was skilled yet unpretentious. He was not eloquent per se, other than in the sense that his presence lent eloquence to his statements and sentiments.

Though he accomplished important things in civil rights and space, he is not generally recalled for his historical role in either. Ike was, ultimately, a president whose leadership was based built on management.

John Kennedy was a man of history and words. He was a skilled writer. He undertook to make himself a great speaker.

Where Eisenhower sought to inform, Kennedy sought to inspire. His ennobling vision, evidenced in the civil rights and space examples, created its own power. He would lead first, with management harnessed to serve its ends.

Had Kennedy fully appreciated Eisenhower’s deft management of large enterprises, he might well have avoided early missteps, such as the Bay of Pigs invasion.

Had Eisenhower had Kennedy’s skill with vision and communication, he might well be remembered more passionately, his achievements more clearly recognized.

From a distance, one might say that Eisenhower’s and Kennedy’s strengths as leaders were paired with their weak spots. Perhaps. Yet that need not stop up from striving to learn from both of their examples at their best, just they studied and learned from others.

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James Strock
James Strock is an author and speaker on 21st century leadership. He serves business, government and not-for-profit organizations. His books include Serve to Lead, Reagan on Leadership, and Theodore Roosevelt on Leadership. Website: jamesstrock.com

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:35 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | Leaders , Vision

12.14.11

Avoid Trivia

Caught up in our day-to-day struggles, keeping our eye on the big picture is difficult. We can become distracted by the relatively trivial matters to our larger purpose. To be sure, the daily minutia needs to be dealt with, but the trivia will always be there to deal with, to distract us, to take us off-course, to cause us to doubt and give up.

What is important is what you pay attention to. Where you place your attention will determine the course of your life.

Marshall Plan
After World War II, Europe tried to rebuild. But it became clear that it could not do it alone. For Secretary of State George Marshall, moving quickly on a plan to aid Europe while keeping it out of the clutches of the Soviet Union was of paramount importance. In Marshall’s words, “The patient was sinking while the doctors deliberate.” On April 29, 1947, Marshall instructed the State Department's first director of policy planning, George Kennan and his team to come up with an economic relief plan. He gave him two weeks to come up with what would later be called the Marshall Plan.

Kennan recalls that he offered no observations or suggestion of his own. When he asked for advice, Kennan writes, “The only advice he had to give me was expressed in two deeply serious and unforgettable words: avoid trivia.”

Kennan says when they began they encountered a great deal of skepticism and pessimism. “To every idea we put forward, weighty and often plausible objections were raised. The problem we were told was too great: the resources were not there; the Europeans would never consent to take the initiative; whatever help we might be able to offer would merely sink into the sands.” But their instructions from Marshall were to not listen to those voices—avoid trivia.

Those voices are always there in any worthwhile effort we make. The tension between the trivial and the weighty matters is a part of life. Avoid trivia. Stay focused on the weighty matters. Choose the things that capture your attention—be intentional. Avoid the worthless things.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:31 PM
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06.27.11

The Big Vision is Important but People Live in the Details

Most leaders don’t want to be called a tyrant, a control freak, or even a micromanager. To avoid that, it’s easy to jump into the other ditch and be laissez-faire. Leaders have a duty to navigate between these two extremes as the situation dictates.

Typically, we like to present the vision—the values—and leave the details to be sorted out. We like to give the big overarching principle without explaining exactly how it plays out in everyday life. The problem is that everything happens in the details. That’s where people live. That’s where decisions are made, community is built, and your vision and values are realized—or not.

We like to articulate the “promised land” and expect that everyone will catch on. That might work for the most highly visible leaders—those interacting with employees day-in and day-out—because they see you translating those values and goals on a day-to-day basis. But seriously, how many of us are that visible? We’re far too busy!?!

We don’t want to be caught telling people what to do, but we want everyone on the same page. Life doesn’t work like that. People see the same thing and hear the same thing differently. They interpret it differently and thus it plays out in their behavior differently. And that is where the friction starts. That’s where the community breaks down. That’s where the judgment begins.

Organizations, groups and families need more guidance than that. I’m not suggesting that we become control freaks, create even more rules, or become condescending or judgmental, but we need to clarify the vision and values in the details where people live. What do our values look like in everyday life? We need to use examples as they come up to relate everyday behavior to our values. Show where they match-up and where they don’t in a way that leaves room for them to develop good judgment and practical wisdom.

From the beginning—and along the way as needed—we need to spell out, “This is the kind of company we want to be, this is the kind of people we want to be, so that means we don’t do this but we do do that.” Specifically. And we then communicate this over and over again in our rhetoric and actions. People need to know and understand your values if their behavior is to be guided by them. If there is a disconnect between your values and everyone’s clear understanding of them, confusion and misbehavior will define your leadership.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:17 AM
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06.23.11

The Essential Ingredient for Executing Your Vision

If you don’t build a framework of values around your vision, it will fall short of the goal. And those values must be clearly understood by everyone on the team if the initiative is to succeed, for a couple of basic reasons.

A vision is what could be, but it is grounded and guided by—or even sent off-course by—your most deeply held values—what is. A vision is generated from and is sustained by values.

A vision is generated by values because what we see comes from what we are. The values we hold to, how we interpret where our values have taken us to this point, and the values we discard, inform our vision. Our values give us a line of sight into our future. To have a vision bigger than we are, we need to incorporate values into our thinking that are bigger than we are; values that come from outside ourselves.

Values then become the instruction book. They show the way, directing our decisions and behavior. Inasmuch as our vision arises from our values, so too our values support and sustain the vision.

The connection between value and vision points to the need to have a firm grasp of our values before we create our vision, because they’ll either point us in a positive direction or send us to a destination full of regret.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:45 PM
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05.24.11

Got Drama?

You can’t stop The Drama. There will always be drama.

Leadership
But that’s not the problem says Marlene Chism, author of Stop Workplace Drama. “The amount of time you stay in the drama—and the effort you put toward it—is the problem. Complaints, excuses, and regrets only serve to keep the drama alive.” Your drama—what you add to The Drama—is the problem.

Chism defines drama as “any obstacle to your peace and prosperity.” Drama is the result of not recognizing or taking care of the little signs of bigger problems when they first presented themselves. At the core of drama you will find one of three common elements (if not all three): a lack of clarity, a relationship issue, and/or resistance. So, says Chism, when you experience drama you need to ask yourself three questions:

1. Where am I unclear?
2. What is my relationship issue?
3. What am I resisting?

Chism presents eight principles for dealing with drama, but “lack of clarity” struck me as the most common and excuse-laden trap there is. Too often this is where we get stuck.

When we first set a goal we’re clear. In her terms, “we see the island.” But between here and there the process become difficult and someone on your team becomes unhappy, and, “instead of focusing on the island we are trying to reach, we’re now concentrating on pleasing the one person who is upset. Our focus has shifted because we became confused about our number one priority.” And the fog rolls in.

Any type of discord, abuse, confusion, or game-playing always boils down to a lack of clarity.” A loss of focus.

Sometimes we create drama because we want something on our terms. We imagine that we can’t do something because we can’t do it the way we think it should be done—our way. Chism relates a clarifying example of this with the recently divorced Joe who is having visitation issues with his ex-wife Patty. She’s not letting him do what he wants in the way that he wants.
Many people get stuck in the drama of what should or shouldn’t be. Yes, you can fight that battle, if winning a battle is what you want. But again, in order to clear the fog and help Joe get clarity, I asked, “If there are two islands you can go to, and one means winning a battle with your wife and the other island is getting to see your kids and be a father to them—then which island would you choose?”

He said, “Seeing my kids, but…”

I said, “No buts. Are you willing to drive to Illinois several times a year and spend quality time with your kids, even if Patty does nothing more than cooperate?”

Joe said, “Yes.”

It’s never as difficult as we make it when we get clear on what we can control and what we are committed to.. The point here is that clarity may or not change Joe’s ex-wife. Joe will struggle if that is his motive or intention. However, Joe’s clarity will give him the essence of what he really wants. If he is able to let go of distractions and not get stuck on the rocks that lie between him and his final goal.

Do you see that while this kind of clarity may not change all the drama, it will give you peace and free up your energy for more productive endeavors?
This kind of dynamic plays out every day in our business and personal lives. When we are not clear about what we want, what our values are, what we are committed to, it is easy to lose our focus, to drift off course.

Solution: Clear the fog.

Chism has written a good-natured and practical book that will change your thinking and in the process help you to control the drama in both your personal and professional life. As leaders, we have the responsibility to be very clear with ourselves and our team so that we don’t get pulled into negativity, gossip, power plays, resistance and … drama. Chism suggests asking the following questions:

What are my top 10 principle-based values?
What areas of my life or business are in the fog?
What are some of the distractions that take me off course?
Where do I get stuck?
Where can I improve as a leader?
What drama do I see on a daily basis in the workplace?
What drama do I see in my personal life?
Where am I avoiding or procrastinating?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:00 PM
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03.18.11

5 Leadership Lessons: The Velocity Manifesto

5 Leadership Lessons

In today’s high-velocity environment, Scott Klososky believes you need to understand how to guide your organization in the implementation and usage of technology—in short, how your organization “does” technology.
[As a leader], you—not the IT department, nor the VP of IT, nor the chief information officer (CIO)—must understand, drive and be accountable for how technology is structured in order to reach the strategic goals of the operation….Technology enables velocity—the speed of getting products to market, the speed of delivery, the speed of analytics, and the list goes on. Speed is our friend in almost every case. An organization’s digital plumbing is what facilitates this speed, and it has become the single most important variable for success in many organizations.
The Velocity Manifesto details key actions you must take to gain an advantage in the digital age. He covers three areas: Digital Plumbing (technology infrastructure), High-Beam Strategy (trendspotting), and creating a High-Velocity Culture (integrating different types of skills and lifestyles). Here are five insights from Klososky’s Manifesto:

1  We have an amazing ability as a species to solve problems and make improvements. One way to enhance your vision precision is to understand that we will solve the issues in all industries. We will find efficiencies and knock out things that don’t work the way we would like them to. So all you have to do is look at the industry you are in and identify all the things that are wrong with it….Next, you must begin to study how the solution to that problem will impact you, and find out whether you have any ability to solve it on your own.

2  The thing you want to be these days is a “fast follower.” The concept here is that you have a better chance of making a good investment in a trend or idea if you are not the very first—but also not the fifth, sixth, or seventh—into the market. Instead, you want to quickly follow the first movers who are trying to capitalize on a blossoming trend.

3  In order to play a high-speed game, you need team members who can work at a fast pace—and you also need a team that can work without friction. … Your job as a leader is to create a culture that generates as little friction as possible by leveraging your employee’s strengths and minimizing their differences.

4  We have four very different generations in the workforce right now, and another on the way. We have leaders from one generation who can’t relate to the technology sophisticated younger generations, and young people who have a somewhat warped view of what the organization owes them….Younger generations will not operate like the current generation of leaders….If you want to hire and retain A players, you will have to provide a vibrant culture for Generation Y and the rest of the generations to come.

5  Our inventory of technologies is more like a palette of art supplies—it must be formed into technological systems by true artists….By viewing technology construction as an artistic endeavor rather than a mechanical one, we are freed to not only build applications that have a stronger ROI, but also to do a better job of managing IT people. Software engineers, developers, and programmers must be viewed as the artists of this generation.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:54 PM
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03.15.11

How did they get Ten Steps Ahead of the Rest of Us?

Leadership
Erik Calonius wants to know what makes a visionary? What allows a Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Berry Gordy, John Lennon, Richard Branson and others like them, to do what they do? How do they see what the rest of us are missing?

Blending cognitive psychology, neuroscience and (mostly) first-hand accounts of the visionary’s life, in Ten Steps Ahead, he builds a picture of what makes them tick. He identifies the importance of intuition and emotional intelligence and the role of courage and conviction in separating visionaries from mere dreamers.

“Visionaries don’t succeed by lying in bed with their dreams floating idly by above their heads. They get out into the world and experience things, and from that, shape their ideas.” It’s being a first-class noticer as Warren Bennis suggested.

Calonius cites Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigm shifts and the years of “mopping up” that follow them. Julian Huxley wrote in 1957, “Once science has reached the stage of having a coherent theoretical basis, it will inevitably proceed … to make further discoveries and further extension of its theory.” Calonius explains:
That’s why commercial products often follow scientific breakthroughs by about 20 years or so. … “First movers,” in other words (and contrary to the mantra of the “New Economy” of the late 1990’s), very often do not prevail. This means you don’t need to deliver the paradigm to mop up quite successfully in its aftermath. You don’t even need to be the first mover. Just be clever enough to make off with the flotsam of the paradigm after it has crashed upon the shore.
The reoccurring insight I find in these pages is that it really comes down to the ability (and confidence) to walk a fine line, to develop a balance of thought. For example, pattern recognition allows visionaries to make connections and see what is not yet seen. Yet at the same time, pattern recognition can lock us into a constrained view of life of our own making. “The same patterns that help us predict the future are also the ones that lock us into the present.”

Calonius observes, “Intuition is essential to the visionary. Visionaries almost always work at the edge of our understanding, where information is scarce or nonexistent and where intuitive decisions are often the only choice.” But again, there’s a balance. If we follow our intuition blindly, we can lose it all. “Intuition is a judgment call” that must be developed. “Practiced insight, leavened with intuition.”

Emotional intelligence is also an important element. It is “that rare balance between dry logic and emotional intuition.” It gives the visionary that ability to read others, and thereby be able to rally others behind their idea.

Of course, luck plays a part. In The Drunkard’s Walk, Leonard Mlodinow writes, “Keep marching forward because the best news is that since chance does play a role, one important factor in success is under our control: the number of at-bats, the number of chance taken, the number of opportunities seized.”

One of the greatest challenges to visionaries—indeed all of us—says Calonius, is “to get outside the walls, to rise over the yes-men and sycophants and even their confidence in their own ideas, to be able to see clearly.”

Visionaries are all around us. The brain is remarkable in that it is an ever-changing network of circuitry that learns as we live our lives. We can guide that process to, as Joseph LeDoux says, “transcend our genes.” We can be visionaries too. Visionaries keep “running forward, adjusting their ambition along the way.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:08 PM
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10.29.10

It’s a Jungle in There

Leadership
Anyone that has ever been to the Rainforest Café, knows it's a treat. Created by Steven Schussler, the Rainforest Café holds the record as one of the top-grossing restaurant chains in the world and was the first restaurant concept to be featured at every Disney theme park worldwide. Schussler shares in It’s a Jungle in There, what it takes to make it happen and the lessons he learned that can be applied to your dream.

Schussler embodies the five Ps of successful entrepreneurship—Personality, Product, Persistence, People, and Philanthropy—that he teaches in the book. He writes, “As a leadership quality, one’s own passion is what galvanizes others into action.” Passion and persistence has played a big part in everything Schussler has done. It’s “not going through the motions but going through with the emotions.”

rainforest cafeSchussler says that he’s always wanted to create a rainforest themed restaurant but the problem was getting investors interested in the idea. To get their attention he turned his home into a tropical rainforest. “Over a period of a few years, my standard split-level home was transformed into a jungle dwelling complete with rock outcroppings, waterfalls, rivers, layers of fog, mist that rose from the ground, a thatched hut covered with vines on the roof, tiki torches, a twelve-foot neon ‘paradise’ sign, and a full-size replica of an elephant near the front door.”

“In the bedroom, my bed was constructed to look like it was suspended in a tree….Birds and animals moved freely through the area during showings of the house….Every room, every closet, every hallway of my house was a ‘scene’: an attempt to present my idea of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in actual operation….No venture capitalists were going to invest their money in my far-out concept without actually seeing it, so I transformed my house into my vision of what a rainforest restaurant would look like in order to make them believe in my dream.”

Naturally, this would catch the attention of your neighbors (and law enforcement) too. There were problems of all sorts as you can imagine. And Schussler writes, “Being passionate doesn’t totally shield you from moments of doubt.” But his passion finally won out.

How far are you willing to go to see your dream realized?

In short, high-content chapters, he explains his guiding philosophy and backs them with concrete experiences. He has two quotes framed on the wall over his desk: “When you’re out of quality, you’re out of business” and “The noblest search is the search for excellence.”

He talks about looking for “enhancement gaps.” Those gaps between “what you are seeing and what you could create to make what you are seeing better by providing some product or service.”

He asks, “Are you willing to help other people succeed even when it’s not a requirement of your job to be of assistance?”

Self-control: “What you don’t want to do is say things and/or act in a manner that will create negative impressions and the unwanted consequences that are certain to follow.” You must know your audience.

Burning Bridges/Writing People Off: Don’t do it. “What I learned that day reconfirmed my belief that ego can be a killer, especially an unchecked ego. Most entrepreneurs need to have a healthy ego, but you also have to be realistic. That’s a very delicate balance—the kind of balance you need to cross a bridge you tumbled off the first time around.”

Anyone would benefit by reading and integrating the lessons offered here.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:13 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Marketing , Motivation , Vision

09.06.10

Getting Ideas to Flow

Charles 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.”

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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:16 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | Change , Creativity & Innovation , Thinking , Vision

08.23.10

There’s No Such Thing As Mature Companies

We have all been told that businesses have a life cycle. It’s usually broken down as start-up, growth, maturity and decline. But in terms of agility and sustainability, that’s not a helpful way to look at it. If you intend to lead people for the long-term, you need to consider a different outlook.

London Business School professor Don Sull says that the secret to the fountain of youth is: “companies do not pass through life cycles, opportunities do. Most firms, particularly large organizations, oversee a diverse portfolio of opportunities that exist at different stages of the life cycle.”

Even one-hit-wonders can find hidden opportunities if they look hard enough. To view what you are doing through the lens of the business life cycle, tends to make you myopic and limits your thinking. A perspective that emphasizes the opportunity life cycle encourages agility and openness in your thinking.

Sull writes in The Upside of Turbulence, “There are no mature companies, only portfolios overloaded with mature opportunities. Organizations can avoid a corporate midlife crisis through portfolio agility—the ability to quickly and effectively shift resources, including cash, talent, and managerial attention, out of less promising units and into more attractive ones.”

“To achieve portfolio agility,” writes Sull, “leaders should view their organization as an array of opportunities at various stages in the life cycle, paying attention to promising opportunities. The trick then is to keep your opportunities in balance. To that end the following questions are helpful:
  • Can the mature opportunities fund all the start-up and scaling activities being undertaken?
  • Are there enough or too many early-stage start-ups?
  • Is a core business about to enter a period of decline?
While this is directed at organizations, how might you apply this to your own personal life path? How might you keep your personal portfolio in balance and relevant to your world?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:49 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | General Business , Vision

08.06.10

Do Your Goals Look Like a Variation of What You’ve Always Done?

100 percenters
We’ve all heard about SMART goals. The idea has been around for about 30 years. SMART goals are Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timebound. Sounds reasonable. But Mark Murphy thinks they often “act as impediments to, not enablers of, bold action and actually encourage mediocre and poor performance.”

SMART goals seem to say, he contends, “Don’t push beyond our resources; don’t bite off more than you can chew; play it safe and stay within your limitations.” Maybe if we weren’t so focused on making sure our SMART goals were written correctly on our goal-setting forms, we might ask, “Is this goal fundamentally wimpy?”

“Most organizations are pretty good at filling out forms correctly” says Murphy. “What we’re less adept at is making sure the content on those forms is gutsy and challenging enough to result in something great.” Perhaps our SMART goals are beginning to look like more of the same. There is the ever-present pull to keep doing things the way we have been doing them. There’s a feeling of safety there. We like to stick to what’s known. The result is that our goals can look like a variation of what we’ve always done. To be outstanding, to rise above the noise, we need challenging, we need inspiring, we need essential.

To overcome inertia, Murphy recommends we set HARD goals. In Hundred Percenters he describes HARD goals as: Heartfelt, Animated, Required and Difficult. “Every business plan we write represents an opportunity. Every sales presentation, every customer interaction, every budget request, and every financial approval is a chance for us to push ourselves and our employees toward untold greatness.”

HARD goals are:

Heartfelt. Working for something bigger than oneself. “If you want to build a heartfelt higher purpose into your goals … make your goals NOBLE.” (Name a party Other than ourselves who will Benefit from this goal Like customers or End users.)

Animated. One critical reason people don’t get excited about their goals is that “our goals typically sound sterile. When’s the last time you got so jazzed about the thought of hitting your budget target that you actually fantasized about the exact moment you would present the results to the team.” Help people to experience your goal.
Imagine if Martin Luther King, Jr. had stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and said, “Our goal should be that within the next 30 years, the incidents of hate crimes will be reduced by 63% and that the percentage of minorities living below the poverty line will be no higher than the percentage for any other racial group.” Those would be aspirational goals, to be sure. But inspirational? Not so much.

Let’s be thankful he said:

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.


HARD goals are aspirational. They force us to push through our self-imposed limitations, to focus on something bigger than our own immediate wants, and to solve challenges of vital necessity. HARD goals are also inspirational.
Required. HARD goals do “more than paint a picture of something in the future. It also solves a deep-seated pain. HARD goals aren’t just nice to do, they’re necessary to do.” If you’re going to set a HARD goal, you need to let people know why it is required.

Difficult. It is possible to set a goal that is so difficult that it is demotivating, but that is rarely the issue. How difficult is difficult? Murphy asks two questions: What new skills (if any) will you have to learn to achieve these goals? And Do you think you can accomplish these goals. “If they aren’t learning all sorts of new skills, then your goals are probably not heard enough.…Hard goals are scary and force us to question our abilities. So if your employees knew they could accomplish the goals before they even started, try making [them harder].”
When you announce your HARD goals, you’re going to see visible signs of perspiration and palpitations as folks listen…. Your employees clock may walk out of the meeting or put down your memo feeling like they just heard a very loud alarm clock. But you can bet every mind is already hard a t work coming up with ideas that meet the challenges ahead.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:14 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | General Business , Vision

12.11.09

Is Your Story Winning Hearts and Minds?

Leadership is part of a story. Leaders answer the why; they tell the story. Leadership is paradoxical because while leaders must manage the realities, they lead in the ideal. In The Visionary’s Handbook, Watts Wacker and Jim Taylor advise leaders to have the right story—a simple, consistent story that connects the past, present and future. But it needs something more:
It should have some melodrama; some action; climax and resolution; a plot that turns toward the good at the end on the strength of a key virtue; a beginning, middle, and end—all the things that were taught in Literature 101 because in the last analysis a great story must be just that: a great story.

The story has to have its own fictive truth, its own logic and internal consistency, and it needs to grab listeners not just by the ears and brain but by the bones and deep organs. The more you can practice what Keats and Shakespeare had in such great abundance—“negative capability,” the capacity to exist in mystery and doubt without irritable searching after fact and reason—the more your story will absorb paradox in its own right, and the more that happens, the easier it will be for listeners to find themselves inside your tale.

And a last caveat: The story needs not just the ring of fictive truth; it needs the ring of your own truth, too. It has to come from the heart, not the division of public affairs.
Negative capability is an interesting concept. It was coined by John Keats in a letter to his brothers (George and Tom), dated December 21, 1817. He wrote:
I had not a dispute but a disquisition, with Dilke on various subjects; several things dove-tailed in my mind, and at once it struck me what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously - I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason-Coleridge, for instance, would let go by a fine isolated verisimilitude caught from the Penetralium of mystery, from being incapable of remaining content with half-knowledge.
Keats thought, that one of the qualities of great people is their ability to sublimate their own individual assumptions and persona—that is, to make themselves a negative—and thereby contemplate the world without the desire to try and reconcile contradictory aspects or fit it into closed and rational systems. This requires being a good listener and the ability to say, “I don’t know.”

Of Related Interest:
  Out of Context: You’re Biggest Competitor is Your Own View of Your Future

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:13 PM
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10.22.09

Save the World and Still Be Home For Dinner

Save the World and Still Be Home For Dinner by Will Marré shows how can we can both live life on our terms and do something that matters for others, how we can both find financial security and live life as a personal adventure, how we can both make radical changes in life and keep the relationships and things we most value. "After all," Marre says, "Isn't that what we all want? To save the world and still be home for dinner?"

In a thought provoking interview, Will Marré speaks to Vision about about leadership, organizations, changes in the corporate world, personal contentment, and quality relationships.

The critical issue of leadership today is moral intent. If we get people who are very effective at being leaders, who don’t have worthwhile moral intent, we get what we got.”

“Self interest is not a sufficient motive to create valued innovation. In other words, big innovation.”

Many large organizations, “become protected around their financial well-being and they start to look at everything in terms of financial risk and so it thwarts true innovation.”

“It all comes down to the quality of intimacy in our relationships. In other words, there’s no success that compensates for a lack of that high quality intimate relationship with at least one other if not several other human beings. We don’t get that without making an effort. We don’t get that by being stupid about relationships.”

“If you imagine the very best thing you can do … and what might be really good is being the best mother you can be this afternoon or the best father you can be tonight. Sometimes the best way to change the world is to change a diaper. In other words, there are moments of truth everyday – many times – and if we step in do the best thing we can imagine doing in those moments of truth, then we will set up a chain of life that is self-reinforcing, self-motivating, self-fulfilling.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:24 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | General Business , Interviews , Vision

06.17.09

Iconoclast: Learning to Think Differently

Iconoclast
Creativity and imagination is in the space between revolutions and everyday life. They fuel change and most of the time, progress. Bringing new thinking to old patterns is the job of the leader. In a sense, leaders are to varying degrees, called to be iconoclasts. Neuroscientist Gregory Berns says that not only is an iconoclast a person who does something that others say can’t be done but their mind functions differently than the average mind. Those functions are perception, fear response and social intelligence.

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.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:42 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking , Vision

03.18.09

Collapse of Distinction: How Do You Get People Thinking About You?

How We Decide
I’ve seen Scott McKain speak on a couple of occasions and he is all about customer experience in both content and delivery. His new book Collapse of Distinction, is no different. The collapse of distinction is a cultural phenomenon of not just blandness, but sameness. McKain writes that it has become a “corporate and professional nightmare.”

The current economic environment makes this book all the more important. The problem isn’t just the economy though; it’s that the economy exposes a problem that is more easily ignored in a good economy. To ignore the collapse of distinction now, can be fatal.

Today customers want value more than ever. How will you create that value? Low price isn’t the answer, but without doing the homework, that’s really all you’re left with. McKain writes, “If you cannot find it within yourself to become emotional, committed, engaged, and yes, fervent about differentiation, then you had better be prepared to take your place among that vast throng of the mediocre who are judged by their customers solely on the basis of price. It is the singularly worst place to be in all of business. If you aren't willing to create distinction for yourself in your profession—and for your organization in the marketplace—then prepare to take your seat in the back, with the substantial swarm of the similar, where tedium reigns supreme.”

Three factors conspire to destroy differentiation:
  • Capitalism Produces Incremental Advancement. We tend to make the “safe” moves not the “smart” ones. Difficult times seem “to enhance our desire to play ‘follow the leader’ with our competition.
  • Dynamic Change Is Delivering New Competition. We try to replicate the perceived advantages of the dynamic new competitor. “Unfortunately, despite your best intentions, you cannot out-original the initial player in almost every situation.”
  • Familiarity Breeds Complacency. What we are familiar with we take for granted. This translates into lack of attention.
Coming to grips with this propensity of human behavior takes a lot of effort. We would rather “execute the least progressive, most conforming activity [we] can to achieve the success [we] desire.” However, McKain lays out the process to overcome sameness to lift you or your company out of the doldrums, as clearly and as simply as possible.

How do you grab attention? How do you get people thinking about you? How do you get the opportunity to use the combination of your expertise and talent?

You can differentiate yourself on product, price, and/or service. For most of us, the only real way we are going to differentiate ourselves is through service. McKain lays out the Four Cornerstones of Distinction and devotes a chapter to each explaining how you apply them in your situation: Clarity, Creativity, Communication and Customer-Focus. Each chapter ends with an executive summary and solid action-points to get the ball rolling.

He says that we have to profitably create experiences that are so compelling to our customers that loyalty is assured. Your organizations survival may depend on the concepts presented in this book. “What is compelling about you, what will create points of distinction about you, and what will establish a connection between us?”
You do not need to change everything about how you do business to create distinction. Start by walking through your list of points of contact with customers, reframing and redefining how you perceive each moment of interaction. From these new perspectives, you can then begin to create specific points of differentiation with your customers. By developing your professional laundry list from the exercise—and recognizing that if these practices are the industry standard, then they will almost always fail to create distinction for you—you are taking an important first step in disciplining yourself as a professional to develop differentiated methods and tactics. Different is not just good, different is better.
As an added bonus, this title is part of the publisher’s Nelsonfree program. By purchasing this book, you can also download both the e-book and the Collapse of Distinction audio versions for free. Three for the price of one.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:56 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0) | General Business , Marketing , Vision

02.19.07

Henry Kissinger on Vision: Seeing Through a Glass Darkly

Kissinger
Henry Kissinger, then U.S. Secretary of State, explained in an interview with Los Angeles Times concerning the risky restoration of U.S. diplomatic relations with China, the dynamics of vision. “What a national leader has to do at such a time, is to take his society and the world, insofar as the issues are international, from where it is to where it has never been. This means he cannot prove the destination is desirable until the society or the world gets there.

Nixon himself once told an interviewer that the mark of a leader "is whether he can give history a nudge." Nixon recognized that a leader should be inclusive. He wrote in a 1967 Foreign Affairs article, "Taking the long view, we simply cannot afford to leave China forever outside the family of nations, there to nurture its fantasies, cherish its hates and threaten its neighbors."

Related Interest: Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:44 AM
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04.28.06

You Have a Business and People Don’t Get It

In a survey conducted by Dan Topf of Management Development International, respondents—a mix of line employees and executives—were asked ten simple questions, such as “What percentage of each dollar the company takes in as sales does it keep as profit?” and “Would customers pay for what you accomplished last week?” The point was to not only get at what the respondents understood about business, but also what they understood about how they contributed to that business. Training contributing editor Holly Dolezalek reported on the results:
The results were mixed, and Topf says that’s exactly the point. All kinds of employees, both higher- and lower-level employees, had answers all over the map for these questions. Some had wildly inaccurate ideas about how much of a company’s sales turn into profits. Others knew what their company’s profit margin was, but had no idea how it was reached; and many said that they believed their company’s strategy would be successful, but that they had no impact on that strategy or on the company’s cash flow.

“The point I wanted to make was that people are responding this way, and it shows something, “ Topf says. “You have a business, and people don’t get it.”
How are we doing at communicating what it is we do and how we determine how well we are doing it? The macro view. When people know where they fit in and what their unique contribution is, they can then move beyond mere employees and become leaders. They can lead from wherever they are in the organization and that will contribute to the bottom line.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:16 AM
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