Leading Blog


Become a Brand Renegade

Become a Brand Renegade

OVER THE PAST FEW DECADES, we’ve seen several examples of “brand renegades.” These are the industry disruptors who have changed how business is conducted in distinctly powerful ways. Think how Uber transformed the transportation industry, how Airbnb took over the lodging industry — not to mention how Tesla is upending both the automobile and energy industries.

A brand renegade makes huge changes that everyone else turns their heads to notice. The successful brand renegade has staying power and causes others to ask, “What are they doing, and how can we do it, too?”

Our business, Club Tattoo, has disrupted the tattoo and piercing industry. As we built our business, we realized that we had a unique opportunity to reset common perceptions of the industry and take our brand to a national level. To do that, we had to lean into a “brand renegade” mindset and apply it to our daily operations. With each decision, we asked ourselves what’s the best way to do something and could we make it even better. “How it’s always been done” was never our standard.

Today, Club Tattoo is a multimillion-dollar business empire with its Club Tattoo luxury studios. Our success lies in our willingness to take bold action, to take calculated risks, and to conduct business in a completely different way. We didn’t care that “it’s never been done before.” Instead, we focused on our brand and how to flip the script on growing a business.

We prioritized how to move the industry forward as a more mainstream, P&L-focused business. We updated health and safety procedures, employed technology to streamline billing and appointment scheduling, digitized our designs, added retail elements, and provided respectable wages for our artists and employees to let them know their importance to the business. Some of these considerations are fairly commonplace in other industries, but they didn’t exist within our industry and were massively disruptive.

Here are some additional ways that we elevated our brand above the fray. Use them to generate value within your brand.

1. Invest in first impressions. We designed our studios to look like high-end retail stores, such as Louis Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. As soon as prospective customers walked into one of our studios, they gained a sense of confidence in our brand. Clients felt reassured by the high-quality look and feel of the establishments. No one in our industry before us had designed tattoo and piercing studios to look like high-end jewelry stores or art galleries. It was truly a game-changer.

2. Invest in the customer experience. We wanted to create the ultimate client experience, from the moment the client walked into our studio and saw how beautiful and comfortable it was to the point when the client looked in the mirror at his or her finished tattoo or piercing. We were creating a differentiating experience for each client. We knew that if someone getting a tattoo or piercing from Club Tattoo had an impression of our brand that held value beyond the actual tattoo or piercing itself, then we could create lifelong brand supporters.

3. Invest in hiring the right people. Our end goal was to hire not only the artist and body piercer with the most talent but someone who understood and could adapt to our company culture. This may seem like an easy requirement for today’s workplace, but in the tattoo and piercing industry, it was a relatively unknown concept. The idea of curated customer experiences was something that had to be taught, and we chose candidates who wanted to learn and improve their careers.

4. Invest in strategic partnerships. As Club Tattoo became established, other well-known brands approached us to collaborate on products in which we could add the “cool factor.” For example, Bicycle, the world’s leading manufacturer of playing cards, produced Club Tattoo decks of cards with tattoo designs that were picked up by Walmart, Target, Walgreens, and other large retailers. Similarly, Oster partnered with us to use tattoo art on its hair clipper line, and it quickly sold more than 40,000 at a hair show in Las Vegas. These and other partnerships added value to both parties’ brands and gave Club Tattoo global exposure.

5. Create a mission statement that goes beyond the basics. Instead of “here’s who we are and what we do,” our mission statement speaks to the brand identity we’re cultivating. We’ve used it as a value touchpoint for our customers, staff, and strategic partners. It shares the ways in which we stand above the rest:

Club Tattoo has redefined the luxury tattoo and piercing industry by creating a viable lifestyle that reaches a wide audience but maintains a core value system that is innovative and has set a new standard for the tattoo and piercing industry.

We have pioneered a level of sterility, cleanliness, and professionalism that is unique in the tattoo and body piercing industry that appeals to a wider variety of customers.

We pride ourselves on being the utmost discerning when choosing tattoo artists and professional body piercers to represent our brand and maintain the integrity of quality and professionalism needed to meet the demand of a mainstream audience.

Our primary goal is to ensure that our customers have a safe, enjoyable, comfortable, and hopefully life-changing experience while getting a permanent piece of body art, body piercing, or simply dabbling our lifestyle by purchasing unique fashion or jewelry that we offer as part of the Club Tattoo experience.

There is something for everyone at Club Tattoo!

A visit to Club Tattoo will create a lasting impression on the idea of body art and set a new standard for what you should expect when seeking it.

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Leading Forum
Sean Dowdell is known as the Tattooed Millionaire, which is also the title of his first book (2017). In addition to his role as founder and CEO of Club Tattoo, he is a drummer with Grey Daze. He is a frequent speaker to a variety of audiences and has been featured in Entrepreneur, GQ, Billboard, and on CNBC, A&E, and more. Thora Dowdell was formerly in marketing and sales before becoming a business partner with Sean, initially in the music recording industry and later in Club Tattoo. Thora is passionate about empowering women business owners through her story. Together, the husband-wife team have authored the new book, Brand Renegades: Our Fearless Path from Startup to Global Brand. Learn more at www.clubtattoo.com.

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Disruption Brought Order Ironclad Brand

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:23 AM
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Change on the Run: Surviving Workplace Uncertainty

Change on the Run

IF THE ADAGE “the only constant is change” described our pre-pandemic lives, “the only thing you can rely on is uncertainty” expresses our current realities. Changes have never been at a higher rate or faster pace than they are right now. Most people grapple with multiple disruptions, from hybrid teams to restructuring, digital transformations, and mergers and acquisitions. Uncertainty is now a workplace norm, and quickly managing new circumstances is a must-have survival and success capability.

Why Uncertainty is Difficult

The biggest challenge most leaders and managers face is deciding what to do when confronted with a new situation. Their career experience doesn’t provide the context needed to quickly take the best action that will move them forward. A marketing manager, for example, can easily create a brand positioning statement for a new brand—they have the knowledge, skill, and experience to draw upon. However, this doesn’t apply to change initiatives where the type of change, the context for it, and the project team are new. Their functional experience provides little guidance, especially when objectives and stakeholders span across their organization.

Managing Uncertainty

Many leaders take multiple actions when faced with uncertainty, hoping that something will address the situation. Often, trying everything achieves nothing because their efforts are uncoordinated and conflicting with insufficient resources to execute well. This approach often gives leaders poor results and a reputation for not being at their best.

The best strategy for managing uncertainty is to focus your efforts on one action that will give you the best results. Typically, it will give you 80 percent of the results in 20 percent of the time and free you up to move on to the next task or issue.

You need to excel in three areas of capability when managing uncertainty: managing me, managing the work, and managing others. Managing Me is the ability to be your best while accommodating a fast-moving change agenda; Managing the Work is about understanding the steps and activities to progress through a transition; and Managing Others is about aligning people on goals and enabling them to work collaboratively to achieve them. Each one contains situations you or your stakeholders may face or tasks you need to address to succeed.

Let’s take a look at an example from each area to see how focusing on one action can give you 80 percent of the results in 20 percent of the time.

Managing Me: Managing the Unknown

Unknown situations are challenging because we can’t rely on our experience to guide our thoughts, actions, or behaviors; we don’t know what to do. To manage the unknown, take stock of what you know and don’t know. Creating lists for each will form a clearer picture that often looks like something you’ve seen in the past. The three steps to do so are:

  1. List the information you already know. This will uncover things that you don’t know.
  2. List the information you need to know. This will create a framework to fill in. What do you need to know to manage this situation wisely? Use the data you know to develop assumptions about what you don’t know. Test these assumptions to increase your knowledge.
  3. Identify internal and external sources of expertise that will provide you with the information you need. Often, people in your network will have experienced and resolved similar challenges. This information forms the beginnings of an action plan.

Evaluating what you know and don’t know will transform the information you have into something more than the sum of its parts, moving you into more familiar territory.

Managing the Work: Communication Effectively

Good communication is the most important form of support people receive when going through times of uncertainty. It’s also the biggest enabler of successful change because it aligns everyone on their understanding of what’s changing, why it’s necessary, how it will affect them and what they must do to adopt it.

Focusing on always being the best source of information ensures that people are guided by your messages and can ignore informal ones that are misaligned or incorrect. The three steps to do so are:

  1. Communicate early and often. Setting up a frequent and consistent communication schedule creates the expectation that people will receive regular updates from leaders and the project team. Committing to sharing updates as they become available builds confidence that official communication channels are the best sources of information. To maintain this perception, you must regularly communicate, even when there is nothing new to share.
  2. Speak from the audience’s perspective. Presenting information that audiences can relate to increases the likelihood of receiving the key messages you intend. This is even more important in times of uncertainty when there are few reference points. Taking on people’s interests, language, and preferred information channels helps them digest the context, including what they must do for the change to land.
  3. Share everything you can honestly (don’t spin). Honest communication, especially when the information is difficult or incomplete, is respected and appreciated. People can always spot “spin” and will test you for disconnects. Difficult messages communicated openly will earn credibility and further build the belief that the best source of information comes from the company spokespeople.

People seek out the most credible information they can find. Providing timely, complete, honest, and relevant updates ensures they will seek out, listen to, and be guided by you.

Managing Others: Earning Trust

Trust is the antidote to fear of uncertainty. Without it, people spend their energy protecting themselves from harm. When meeting someone new or learning about an unclear change, people’s “fight, flight or freeze” response is often triggered, causing them to either defend their territory or hide. Both responses add risk and slow you down. When people have trust, they collaborate toward a common goal even when it is not fully defined.

People rarely trust those who don’t trust them. Demonstrating your faith in them by asking for their help inspires the same response toward you. The three steps to trusting first are:

  1. Ask others for help. Asking for help displays the vulnerability that’s essential to transparent and respectful relationships built on honesty. The type of help you ask for could be as simple as requesting honest feedback or asking someone to participate in a meeting. The act of asking for help is more important than the type of assistance you need.
  2. Be specific about why you need their help. Stating why you need their help provides the rationale for your request and confirms that they can fulfill the task. It also allows them to empathize with you because they most likely have needed similar support.
  3. Ask how you can help them. Offering to return the favor and then doing so establishes reciprocity that propels future trust-based interactions.

Being indebted to someone provides an opportunity to support them, which creates a bond of trustworthiness. When people trust each other, they form a partnership that combines abilities and resources to address uncertainty.

Managing uncertainty is a reality we all face in our current workplaces. We are moving into new territory with experience to draw upon. The best strategy is to focus our efforts on the actions that will give us the best results, the ones that will give us 80 percent of the benefits in 20 percent of the time. You will accomplish more, have more time for other tasks, build your change capabilities and your confidence, too.

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Leading Forum
Phil Buckley is a senior change management professional with over 25 years of experience enabling leaders and their teams to drive performance through change across global businesses in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. He has managed 32 large-scale change projects, including co-leading global change management for the $19.6 billion Kraft Foods acquisition of Cadbury, which included a team of 40 change leads across 60 countries. Phil is the author of Change on the Run: 44 Ways to Survive Workplace Uncertainty. You can find his podcast, Change on the Run, blog, and monthly newsletter at changewithconfidence.com

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Change with Confidence Uncertainty Will Freeze You in Place if You Let It

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:19 AM
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Leading Thoughts for July 22, 2021

Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:


Former CEO of Honeywell International, Larry Bossidy, on the behaviors a leader should look for in his or her direct reports:

“Over the years, I’ve observed that certain behaviors, on the part of both the subordinate and the boss, are conducive to productive and rewarding relationships. Indeed, I’ll favor someone who exhibits the behaviors I expect over someone who doesn’t, even if the latter’s numbers are slightly better because I know the former has the potential to contribute more to the organization over time.”

Source: Harvard Business Review, “What Your Leader Expects of You


Marc and Samantha Hurwitz on the importance of followership on management performance as you move up the organizational ladder:

“There is a lot less forgiveness for poor followership at the middle-manager level because much more of the job is about building partnerships, setting an example, and working in the larger organizational context. Being technically strong is no longer enough to shine. At senior management levels, followership becomes the primary consideration. In our experience, senior executives have the highest levels of followership skill and the greatest conceptual understanding of it, and are most likely to acknowledge followership behaviors.”

Source: Leadership is Half the Story: A Fresh Look at Followership, Leadership, and Collaboration

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Leading Thoughts Whats New in Leadership Books

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:38 AM
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Choosing Courage

Choosing Courage

WITHOUT A DOUBT, courage matters—and we need more of it. Courage to see the right thing done. Courage to present a new idea. Courage to innovate and grow.

Courageous acts can be risky—career-wise, socially, and sometimes physically. But if it weren’t risky, it wouldn’t be courageous. Acts of courage are worth considering to not only help others and yourself but to avoid regret. Acting courageously can help to solve problems, avert disasters and open the doors for opportunities. It also means taking personal responsibility even when it hurts. Author and consultant John Izzo wrote, “We must live with courage, moving toward what we want rather than away from what we fear.”

In Choosing Courage: The Everyday Guide to Being Brave at Work, Jim Detert says we can all learn to be more courageous. But to do it right requires preparation and the right mindset.

Courageous people sometimes pay a price for being courageous, “but often it’s not nearly as bad as we, or they, anticipate. And they seldom regret what they did, because they know I was the right thing to do based on their values, whether they’re defending someone else, doing what’s best for the organization, or simply being able to sleep well at night.”

Detert defines workplace courage as “taking action at work because it feels right and important to stand for a principle, a cause, or a group of others, despite the potential for serious career, social, psychological, and even physical repercussions for doing so.

That definition could give one the impression that we should act courageously whenever we get the urge. Ranting is not a courageous act. Acting courageously requires good judgment, as well, as Detert makes clear.

One of the most important points he makes in the book is that the outcome of your courageous move hinges a great deal on how you behave—how you present it—and your reputation.

We can confront, challenge, or disagree with powerful people in ways that evoke more or less threat, anger, and defensiveness simply by changing the how, where, or when of what we say or do.

Of course, this is true no matter to whom you are speaking. Reading the situation and proceeding with humility is critical. Sometimes too, what we perceive is not reality.

Detert presents five steps to increase the likelihood of a positive outcome and decrease the odds of negative personal consequences when acting with courage in any context.

Choosing Courage Steps

Creating the Right Conditions

Build your reputation before there is a need to be courageous. “This means creating a strong internal reputation which involves being seen as humble, kind, and generous, and also as a consistent high performer.” If you are seen as someone who has the organization’s and other people’s interests at heart, your words will be seen as less threatening, and you are more likely to get an audience.

“If you haven’t routinely demonstrated emotional ability and stability, people aren’t likely to respond well to your courageous act.” With a track record of emotional maturity, you will buy yourself a lot of goodwill. Furthermore, don’t take sides. “When you’re seeking support from others, you’ll fare better if the people involved feel you’re acting on behalf of a collective interest that includes them.”

Choosing Your Battles

Not all battles are worth fighting. “Work life is filled with things that irritate or anger us, frustrate or disappoint us, and fill us with passion about what our organization could be doing more of or doing better.” You need to be very clear about what is really important. If you take issue with everything (most things), you will be labeled as a troublemaker, and your influence will be compromised. Good questions to ask are:

What are my key values and goals?
Are my emotions informing or controlling me?
What are the broader gains and losses—the bigger picture?

And get the timing right.

Competently courageous people pay attention to timing. They recognize that even the most reasonable comment or idea, presented in the most constructive way possible, may still fall flat or lead to trouble if delivered at the wrong time.

Managing the Message

We run into trouble when we make the message about us. “Understanding how others see the issue, what they care about, and what kinds of data and solutions they are most likely to find compelling allows us to make many important decisions about how to present our message and connect it to others’ priorities.”

The same message can be framed in ways that are less likely to offend and more likely to resonate with the target(s). People are more likely to accept your message when they believe you want to build on their prior efforts, include them in the future, and help them achieve their current priorities.

Importantly, Detert also adds, “People don’t like to feel ambushed or ganged up on. So, if you have a chance to speak to someone in private—at least for the first time—you’re likely to get a better reception.”

Channeling Emotions

Success in presenting an idea or issue may very likely depend on how well you manage your emotions and those of the target of your courageous act. “Shaking while talking, going silent, or literally fleeing the situation because we’re scared at the first sign of resistance doesn’t help. While being angry might fuel action, failure to control it can undermine success. Managing our emotions makes it easier to focus on others’ responses.” Anger doesn’t help make your point.

You should also be clear that you are merely offering a perspective—not the only perspective or relevant facts. Avoid common phrase like “the explanation…,” or “the obvious problem …,” or “it’s totally clear that ….” When we speak this way, we’re not just implying that there is only one point of view; we’re implying the valid view is the one we hold, and others who don’t see it that way are stupid or self-interested. This is what psychologists call naïve realism because it’s not an accurate view of the world.

Finally, Detert writes, “The goal is to have your emotions be the motivation for action, but not the driver of how you behave.”

After the Act

Whether your courageous act went well or poorly, it is critical to follow up “whether to clarify a position or solidify next steps, check in and address lingering doubts, or thank those who have helped and share any credit for any wins.”

No matter how skillfully you frame the change you’re suggesting or making, there’s a reasonable likelihood someone will be hurt, angry, or confused. After all, change implicitly says that something currently happening is a problem. You can’t ignore others’ feelings, hoping they’ll just get over them, but letting this negative energy fester can be bad for the changes you want. And it’s almost certainly a bad idea to ignore others’ feelings if you care about those relationships. In short, it’s usually worth it to address what you sense or know are lingering negative feelings, even if doing so feels like yet another courageous act.

The outcomes of some courageous actions are determined immediately—like when you intervene to prevent physical harm to a fellow employee who is doing something unsafe. Often, though, it takes a long time to determine what’s possible, and the best outcomes accrue only to those willing to keep trying and learning over an extended period of time.

Detert packs a lot of wisdom into this book to help us do the fearful and difficult things in a way that gives us the best chance for a positive outcome. Much of his advice requires us to slow down and think about what we are trying to accomplish and the best way to approach the people we are trying to influence. Choosing Courage will help us to achieve greater impact without regret.

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4 Building Blocks of Courage Return On Courage

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:16 AM
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Make It, Don't Fake It

Make It Dont Fake It

FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT is a common refrain in our culture. But it has been wrongfully used to justify all kinds of poor behavior and outright lies, as Sabrina Horn correctly points out in Make It, Don’t Fake It.

Of all the business and career memes to gain popularity, few have compromised integrity in business, leadership, and personal success more than the expression “Fake it till you make it.” With roots in well-intentioned early twentieth-century psychotherapy, this phase has degenerated into a mantra that has encouraged and even normalized lying for the purpose of getting ahead. Now a product of modern American culture that rolls all too easily off the tongue, its mere existence tells you it’s okay to lie, from twisting the truth just a little to flagrantly deceiving others for personal gain.

How true. We can’t be surprised by this in a culture that encourages selective truth, self-promotion, and short-cuts. While some use this maxim to fake a persona or misrepresent who they really are, it was never intended to be about lying. It is about becoming. It is a means to become something, not a state of being.

In the same way, some people embrace vulnerability to ignore their weaknesses. The vulnerability culture that has sprung up is often used to help us justify our weaknesses rather than facing the truth and doing something to grow them to a non-toxic level. If, in our self-awareness, we realize that our authentic self is getting in our way and undermining our leadership, it’s time we did something about it rather than closing our eyes and slapping an authenticity label on it.

Fake It ‘til You Make It is about acting “as if.” If you want more friends, it’s not about going around talking about all of the friends you have, but beginning to act in a way that invites friendships—like being friendly and smiling. Fake It ‘til You Make It is about taking on a mindset to produce results, not playing footloose with the facts, and lying about things that aren’t as though they were.

To counteract this cultural condition, Make It, Don’t Fake It is about “ethics, passion, confidence, pride, resilience, commitment, and survival in a business context. It is about doing the right things the right way. This almost always means doing them the hard way.”

Varying degrees of faking it falls along a continuum from acting “as if” to outright fraud. Horn discusses these various degrees of fakery—or call it what it is—deceit. In the heat of the moment, most of these fabrications are easy to fall into. It gets us by. But they take a toll not only on our character but also the enduring success that could be ours.

Fake O Meter

Horn then takes us through her journey as the CEO of a public relations and marketing communications agency. So, she knows what is fake and what isn’t and the consequences of each. We often think of PR and spin as one and the same, but done right says Horn, it isn’t. I like her perspective on it:

There is a big difference in intent between misleading people by making something look better than it really is and simply bringing life to what is most compelling about it for the purpose of earning attention, interest, and trust.

In our drive to succeed, the temptation is always there to cut corners and misrepresent ourselves. Horn begins with her first pitch to her first prospective client.

I walked into PeopleSoft’s main conference room armed with a pack of business cards emblazoned with the initial name of my future company, Sabrina Horn Public Relations, and a logo the resembled a towel monogram. I had no employees, no clients, and except for the business cards, no evidence of a company, really.

For anyone that has started their own company, this is an easily relatable scenario. What do you do? Misrepresenting the truth comes to mind. Faking it.

Honestly, there were moments I was anxious enough to say to myself, Who am I kidding? This is nuts. They won’t take me seriously, so I had better make something up to sell them on me.

But she didn’t. She disarmed her fear with preparation.

When you are first starting out, doing and being anything to win the business is tempting—and also dangerous. You have to be bullish and yet stay grounded in the reality of what your company can realistically do, and then target those customers that want what you have to offer, with relatively few modifications.

Horn covers what it means to start a business, the emotional ups and downs, the temptations, the risk, controlling growth, and the importance of establishing your values from the beginning.

Throughout my career, whenever I was facing a crisis or felt rudderless, I attacked fear, uncertainty, and doubt and any stirrings of the imposter syndrome by referring to factual reality. I sought information to develop new strategies and options.

Like a detective, I just had to find it, or piece it together. I knew that the answer I needed and the decision I needed to make, as complex and hidden as they might be, were within reach. This self-knowledge saved me countless times over the years.

There is a way to do it right. At the core of everything you do is integrity. And that includes creating and staying an authentic brand. The brand is the responsibility of the company’s founders and represents the why or the reason for being. Horn devotes an excellent chapter to your brand and culture and the issues involved in protecting and evolving it in a changing marketplace.

She says leadership consists of two parts: winning and losing. While we like to focus on the wins, we will lose more often than we would like. No one is immune. And “it is really hard to act like a leader when you feel like a loser.”

Horn shares a significant failure and the necessary after-failure postmortem. The value of a postmortem “is that it makes you face reality and keeps you from laying the blame elsewhere. The truth is, while relationships and stunts do matter, intelligence, insights, creativity, passion, and sheer effort can matter more. You lost, not because of what they did but because of what you didn’t do.

There are situations where there’s just no winning. You can’t fake your age or your size or manufacture relationships you don’t have. Stay grounded, align around your core values and mission, and remind your team what you stand for. There is a reason why you and your people work at your company, and why other people don’t. Losing in these situations can be a blessing in disguise.

And then there’s winning. When you are on a winning streak, know that things can and will change. Begin to plan for what is next. And a crisis will inevitably come out of nowhere. Plan for it, too, before it happens.

Make It, Don’t Fake It is an excellent look at starting and leading a company from beginning to end with an integrity-at-all-costs perspective—how to make it without faking it.

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What You Do Is Who You Are Credibility

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:30 PM
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Leading Thoughts for July 15, 2021

Leading Thoughts

IDEAS shared have the power to expand perspectives, change thinking, and move lives. Here are two ideas for the curious mind to engage with:


Journalist George Leonard on mastery:

“How long will it take me to master Aikido?” a prospective student asks. ‘How long do you expect to live?’ is the only respectable response.

“Ultimately, practice is the path of mastery. If you stay on it long enough, you’ll find it to be a vivid place, with its ups and downs, is challenges and comforts, its surprises, disappointments, and unconditional joys. You’ll take your share of bumps and bruises while traveling – bruises of the ego as well as of the body, mind and spirit – but it might well turn out to be the most reliable thing in your life. Then, too, it might eventually make you a winner in your chosen field, if that’s what you’re looking for, and then people will refer to you as a master. But that’s not really the point.

“What is mastery? At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

Source: Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-Term Fulfillment


General Gordon Sullivan and Michael Harper on what to do in uncharted territory:

“The old maps, the old ways of doing business, will not work in today’s new territories. Simply improving an existing process will not solve a problem. This is the failure of the ‘R-words’—reshaping, reengineering, reinventing, and reposturing. Doing the same thing you have always done—no matter how much you improve it—will get you only what you had before. The old ways lead to the same old failures.”

Source: Hope Is Not a Method: What Business Leaders Can Learn from America's Army

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Leading Thoughts Whats New in Leadership Books

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:06 AM
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How the Best in the World Reverse Engineer Success

Decoding Greatness

REVERSE ENGINEERING is systematically taking things apart to discover how and why they work. It is routinely done in tech—Steve Jobs and Bill Gates copied and improved on Xerox Palo Alto Research Center’s Alto computer to bring us the Macintosh and windows—but it is also done in with the best speeches, art, movies, music, and literature to discover what makes them so successful.

Just as both “Jobs and Gates reaped enormous benefit from studying the works of their contemporaries, extracting crucial insights, and applying those lessons to develop new products, says Ron Friedman in Decoding Greatness, you can too.

To reverse engineer is to look beyond what is evident on the surface and find a hidden structure—one that reveals both how an object was designed and, more important, how it can be re-created.

One method employed by elite performers like Judd Apatow, Steven King, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jack London is copywork. “It involves studying an exceptional piece of writing, setting it aside, and then re-creating it word for word from memory, later comparing your version to the original.

Many of the painters we now celebrate as creative geniuses devoted a significant portion of their careers to copywork. Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, and Paul Cézanne all developed their skills by copying the works of the French painter Eugène Delacroix. Delacroix himself spent years copying the Renaissance artists he grew up admiring.

Why do it?

Reproducing a piece demands that he or she pay careful attention to the organizational decisions and stylistic tendencies reflected in an original work. It is an exercise that enables novices to relive the creative journey and invite them to compare their instinctive inclinations against the choices of a master.

Friedman adds that “copying challenges our default approach” and “it opens us up to novel ways of thinking, prompting us to find creative opportunities buried within our own work.”

From science-based insights and the lives of a wide range of elite performers, Friedman has gathered ten lessons we can apply to our work. His findings are interesting and sometimes counterintuitive. Here are the ten lessons with key takeaways:

#1 Become A Collector

The first step to achieving mastery is recognizing mastery in others.

A striking number of top performers appeared naturally drawn to collecting works they admired long before entering and later dominating their field.

The best ideas don’t emerge from hours of isolated practice. They’re waiting to be found inside the work of masters.

Ask what can I learn from this? How does this apply to a project I am working on?

Tour your collection as you would a private museum that you visit to find inspiration, study the greats, and remind yourself to think big.

#2 Spot the Difference

To learn from your favorite examples, you need to pinpoint what makes them unique. What’s different? By comparing the stellar to the average, you can pinpoint key ingredients that give a work its flavor and identify particular elements that can be incorporated or evolved elsewhere.

#3 Think in Blueprints

Nearly every example you admire was developed using a blueprint. By working backward and crafting a blueprint, you will find patterns that demystify complex works.

#4 Don’t Mimic, Evolve

Copying someone else’s wildly successful formula wholesale is the fastest route to being perceived as unoriginal while contributing to a genre’s demise.

Chart your own path by adding new influences, adapting formulas from adjacent fields, or replacing elements you can’t learn with those you naturally perform well.

#5 Embrace the Vision-Ability Gap

Studying the masters comes with a price: it raises the bar on the performance you deem necessary to be successful. Don’t give up. Instead, celebrate the fact that we can sense when improvements are needed. That instinct is indispensable to achieving greatness.

#6 Keep Score Selectively

The first step to improving at anything begins with relentlessly keeping score.

By scoring crucial aspects of your performance, you instantly motivate improvement, become less susceptible to wasted effort, and encourage more mindful decisions.

Caution: do not obsess over and single metric or forge to update your metrics as you grow.

#7 Take the Risk Out of Risk-Taking

Find stretch opportunities that don’t impose a high cost to failure.

The key to improvement involves gathering feedback from a tiny segment of a population, minimizing risk, and using the input to make ongoing adjustments.

Surprisingly, full-time commitment to a business venture did not turn out to be the winning strategy. Cautious employees were significantly more likely to succeed. Why? Because they possessed the financial stability to reach more patient, strategic decisions—a luxury not available to those whose livelihood was constantly on the line.

#8 Distrust Comfort

We don’t grow when we are enjoying ourselves—we learn best when we are challenged, struggling, and occasionally failing.

#9 Harness the Future and the Past

Repetition and feedback can help you elevate your performance, especially when used to target your weaknesses. But if that’s the only practice you’re getting, chances are you’re only operating at a fraction of your potential.

Two additional forms of practice are worth using: reflective practice, or analyzing your past experiences to extract important lessons, and imagery, or simulating a performance in advance.

Mentally rehearsing the specific actions we need to take in advance reliably elevates our performance.

#10 Ask Wisely

Experts rarely make great instructors. Studies show that the better we perform a task, the worse we are at communicating how we managed to do it. Knowing something makes it impossible to imagine not knowing it.

To get the most out of your conversations with experts, you need to come prepared with questions, elaborators, and clarifiers that prompt an expert to reveal his or her journey, process, and discoveries.

Nonexperts can provide valuable feedback too. To improve, we need feedback that meets a particular set of criteria. We need it to be specific, improvement-focused, reflective of the audience we are trying to reach, and properly timed.

What is interesting, too, is that we might think that the totally novel product or approach would win over your audience. But the most successful people develop successful formulas that “leverage (rather than violate) an audience’s expectations.”

In a majority of cases, copying or over-relying on established recipes is a losing strategy that rarely results in memorable outcomes. Just as dangerous, however, is ignoring proven formulas altogether and overwhelming audiences with a flood of originality.

People don’t crave novelty as much as we would think. Organizations routinely reject very creative ideas. “outright mimicry leads us nowhere. Absolute novelty is met with scorn.” Avoid both extremes. It’s better to use a proven formula and adding your own unique twist.

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Great Brain Robbery Think Better

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:10 PM
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The Imagination Machine

The Imagination Machine

IMAGINATION is unique to humans and is key to creativity and innovation. In a time when elementary students today will be working in jobs that haven’t yet been created, imagination is the path forward. Imagination is the ability to picture that which doesn’t exist.

In The Imagination Machine, authors Martin Reeves and Jack Fuller say that “For the sake of restoring the vitality of our companies, and for the societies these companies serve, we must better harness imagination.”

“We spend much of our time in the realm of what is,” imagination is about what isn’t. Distinct from creativity and innovation, imagination extends beyond programs of innovation: “imagination is not just for inventing new products and services, but for fundamentally rethinking the mental model on which a company is based, even rethinking an entire industry or envisaging new industries.”

The kind of imagination they are talking about is grounded in reality. “Imagination is not just random thoughts unhinged from reality. Rather, it rests on a causal understanding of reality. To the extent we understand the dynamics of the world—why things are the way they are—we can play with recombining and changing things in ways that still make sense and are feasible.”

To get the ball rolling so we can begin nurturing and drawing from the imagination that exists inside all of us, they have presented a six-step process for creating ideas and bringing them to life.

Step 1: The Seduction

Imagination begins with a surprise. Surprise triggers imagination. It takes us “out of our routine way of looking at things into the realm of counterfactual thinking.” To increase the frequency of a productive surprise, the authors suggest we make the time for reflection, pay attention to our frustrations, seek the unfamiliar, reflect on unintended consequences and anomalies, draw analogies, and learn new ways of interpreting the world as it is.

They say, “busy is the new stupid. It is precisely during the busy times that we should not forget to stare out the window.”

Step 2: The Idea

Imagination MachineThe trigger leads us to rethink; to rethink what could be rather than what is. “To harness imagination, we need to turn passing thoughts—triggered by surprise—into starting points for rethinking our mental models to develop new, valuable, counterfactual models.” New ideas are often messy. That’s OK.

We block rethinking by our impatience, fear of standing out, defensiveness (especially of the way things are), and the tendency to avoid taking a risk and playing it safe.

Step 3: The Collision

We need to act. Create a feedback loop from the mind to the world and back again. “A new mental model remains just an individual indulgence unless we act—to collide the idea with reality, spur our imagination again, and drive the evolution of the idea.” At this stage, we are looking for “a basic response from the world: Did the idea work—did the seed grow—or not?”

At the same time, we want to look for surprise to evolve our idea. “In this mindset, instead of looking for a binary response from the world—did the idea work or not?—we are looking for the world to disrupt the way we think.”

Step 4: The Epidemic

Like a virus, an idea needs to spread from one person to many. One benefit of sharing it with others is we “accelerate its evolution by driving collective reimagination.” The key here is to be able to communicate the idea well so that everyone imagines the same thing.

Step 5: The New Ordinary

How do you execute and deliver the new idea? How do you make it the new ordinary? We do this by creating a clear script to guide others in a way that drives thought and action. The script should also be designed “so that it can evolve, to change in response to changing demands or opportunities.”

Step 6: The Encore

Amazon has been successful because they combine efficiency and imagination. Some companies invent something and live off that for decades leading to stasis and eventual decline. “To avoid this fate, your business must combine harvesting well-cultivated areas with exploring counterfactual landscapes.” The challenge is to do both.

The core problem is that the imagining and executing mindsets don’t naturally fit together—in fact, they are often antagonistic. Emphasizing one has the potential to undermine the other.

Both mindsets are important to a successful company. If we focus on execution and efficiency alone, the company becomes oriented around financial metrics. Opportunities, in the form of early-stage imaginative ideas, appear as unevidenced and speculative. On the other hand, if we focus only on imagination, we don’t commit to a model for long enough to realize all its value.

Tips for sustaining imagination in your organization include creating novel information flows and designing spaces for reflection while encouraging low-input time to explore the counterfactual.

Imagination Machine

The Imagination Machine is an exceptionally well-laid-out book. Each chapter begins with an outline, proceeds with the main point with an abundance of examples, a practical how-to section, and what keeps that from happening before finishing with games to play to build on and develop the qualities that spark ideas and imagination. For those who like visual reinforcement, they generously highlight their text with memorable graphics.

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Lead With Imagination How to be More Creative and Enrich Your Life

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:38 AM
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