Leading Blog






01.14.19

Unlocking Creativity: Are These Creativity-Inhibiting Mindsets Holding You Back?

Unlocking Creativity

IN AN IBM global survey of CEOs, the overwhelming consensus was that more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision, successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. In a world where we must adapt or die, we need creative solutions.

In struggling to generate a sufficient number of creative ideas, we typically blame the number of creative individuals in our organization or hierarchy and bureaucracy. But in Unlocking Creativity, Michael Roberto takes a different perspective. He believes that we are getting in our own way by the way we think, decide, and act with regard to the development of original ideas.

We find that while we talk about the need for creativity and innovation, employees don’t feel supported or inspired by their leaders and were not given the time or resources to develop new ideas. And there seems to be a stigma surrounding creative types. There often viewed as quirky, unfocused, strange, and nonconformist. As a result, they are viewed as having less leadership potential.

Isaac Asimov once said, “The world, in general, disapproves of creativity, and to be creative in public is particularly bad. Even to speculate in public is rather worrisome.”

The question is, do we have a people problem or do we have a situation problem? Roberto looks at six organizational mindsets or belief systems that stifle creativity.

The Linear Mindset

“Many organizations fail to understand and embrace the discontinuous nature of the creative process.” They expect disciplined execution—on time and under budget. But realistically, creativity is not like that. The creative problem-solving process involves a healthy dose of trial and error. We must learn by doing.
Many companies have failed to make the shift from the traditional planning mindset to a learning-by-doing approach. Strategy formulation and implementation remain largely disconnected from one another. Firms continue to engage in annual strategic-planning rituals, pretending that they can predict the future from the confirms of the corner office. Even worse, they have treated design thinking as just another linear process that they can deploy. Step two always follows step one. They march through the phases robotically, as if they have discovered a magic formula for innovation.

But the five stages of design thinking are not always sequential as Roberto explains. “Trying to turn any creative process—design thinking or otherwise—into a highly structured, linear system turns out to be a colossal mistake.”

The Benchmarking Mindset

“Firms study their competitors closely, but in so doing, they experience fixation. Consequently, they adopt copycat approaches rather than creating distinctive strategies.”
Firms should recognize that differentiation comes from becoming more lopsided rather than well rounded. You establish a distinctive competitive position by amplifying your strengths, rather than engaging in knee-jerk efforts to imitate your competition.

We often fixate on what we know. “We become attached to a specific mental set, a way of thinking about a problem based on solutions that have worked in the past. Mental sets can facilitate problem-solving at times, but becoming fixated on an inappropriate solution from past experience can inhibit creativity.”

One way to avoid this fixation is to learn from people outside of our industry. “Rather than simply benchmarking direct rivals, companies need to think broadly about the full range of substitutes against which they compete. American Airlines competes against Skype and WebEx, not just Delta and United.”

Avoiding this mindset takes courage. “When you chose not to imitate, you often make bold bets that may lead to failure.” And “In many instances, people do not recognize the merits of the distinctive, creative strategy at first.” It’s easy to just go back to what you know and are comfortable with.

The Prediction Mindset

“Managers have a desperate desire to see what’s next and they exhibit overconfidence in the ability of experts to forecast the future. The insatiable need to predict just how big ideas will become actually impedes creativity.”

We crave certainty. When it comes to forecasting “How people think matters more than what they already know.” The best forecasters are intellectually curious gathering information from a wide variety of sources and updating their conclusions as the facts change.

The prediction mindset impedes creativity because of the way new ideas are treating in most organizations. We support and fund ideas that we think are going to be the next big thing—move the needle. The problem is we don’t really know. And some great ideas need time to ripen and be modified as they are tested in the marketplace. Focus not on the short-term return but on delighting customers.

The Structural Mindset

“Managers often resort to changes in organizational structure as a means of stimulating creativity and improving performance.”

Here’s the bottom line we can learn from example after example: “Leaders will not find an optimal structure that unleashes creativity. No such perfect solution exists. You cannot find a simple causal path that connects structure to performance.” Instead, “the best leaders pay close attention to team climate (psychological safety), behavioral norms and ground rules (rules of engagement), and the design of the work itself (personal responsibility).” These elements allow creativity to flourish.

The Focus Mindset

“Organizations believe that teams will excel at creative work if they focus intensively, perhaps even secluded from their colleagues. They fail to recognize that the best creative thinkers oscillate between states of focus and unfocus.” Focus and distance.

Srini Pillay wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “The brain operates optimally when it toggles between focus and unfocus, allowing you to develop resilience, enhance creativity, and make better decisions too.” Creating that space can be done by simply walking at times, but with teams consider having team members role-play different roles than they currently occupy. Travel helps to spark creativity as does creating temporal distance.
Jeff Bezos and the people at Amazon use “time travel” frequently to stimulate innovative thinking about new products and services. Andy Jassy, Senior Vice President of Amazon Web Services, explains that developers in his organization do not begin writing software code for a new project until they have drafted a hypothetical release for their new product offering.


The Naysayer Mindset

“Managers encourage people to critique each other’s ideas early and often. Unfortunately, the failure to manage dissent and contrarian perspectives constructively causes many good ideas to wither on the vine.”

The Devil’s Advocate technique can be helpful but with ground rules: the who, when, and how of devil’s advocacy. If the role is always played by one person, they begin to be ignored. So rotate the role. Because of the pressure to conform, Roberto recommends having two devil’s advocates. It must be constructive and respectful. As in with President John Kennedy during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he assigned Theodore Sorensen and Robert Kennedy to “relentlessly pursue every bone of contention in order to prevent errors arising from too superficial an analysis of the issues.” The idea is to provoke dialogue and debate.

Creating an environment that unlocks the creativity inherent in your organization is not easy nor can you expect immediate results. “Remember that the creative capabilities of people throughout your organization may have lain dormant for quite some time.” See the process through their eyes. It is the calling of leaders. “Enabling others to explore, experiment, learn, and create is your duty as a leader, and it’s potentially the most rewarding work you will ever do.”

Unlocking Creativity is well written and engaging as Roberto pulls lessons from numerous studies and a wide variety of people and organizations like Leonardo da Vinci, IDEO, U2, Google, the Beatles, Amazon, Israeli Intelligence, Zappos, Google, NASA, Pixar, Data General, Hollywood, Disney, Trader Joes, Reebok and Planet Fitness. Unlocking Creativity pulls together what we know about creativity and how that knowledge can be applied to our organizations and teams to foster innovation.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation

01.09.19

How to Win in Africa

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IN THE WESTERN WORLD, we often do not have an accurate picture of Africa as a growing marketplace. We frequently imagine a continent of villages and stories of corruption and violence dominate our perspective.

Authors Acha Leke, Mutsa Chironga and Georges Desvaux of McKinsey and Company, take a different view in Africa’s Business Revolution. They say business leaders tend to “underestimate Africa’s size and potential as a market, and overestimate the challenges of doing business there.”

There are one-hundred companies with annual revenues of a billion dollars or more. In the next 20 years, 80 percent of its population growth will occur in cities. And technology? “This young continent, with a median age of around twenty, is an eager adopter and innovator in all things digital and mobile.” Africa is the next growth market.

The authors believe that companies and investors in every part of the world should take a look at Africa and its place in their long-term growth strategy because Africa is a 1.2-billion-person market in the midst of a historic economic acceleration, it has a huge unfulfilled demand, making it ripe for entrepreneurship and innovation at scale. They compare Africa to China 25 years ago. Would it have made sense for your company to get into China then? Now is the time.

They present five trends that are not without their challenges which they explore in detail:
  1. A fast-growing, rapidly urbanizing population with rising spending power—but with average incomes still low by Western standards and high levels of economic inequality
  2. A trillion-dollar opportunity to industrialize Africa, both to meet rising domestic demand and to create a bridgehead in global export markets—provided manufacturers can overcome a myriad of barriers ranging from power outages to trade barriers to productivity challenges
  3. A big push by governments and the private sector to close Africa’s infrastructure gaps, including those in electricity, transport, and water—although it will be a huge challenge to resolve the massive backlog
  4. Continued resource abundance in agriculture, mining, and oil and gas, with the prospect of rising innovation and investment in these sectors unlocking new food production, energy, and wealth for Africa—but, just like manufacturers, companies in these sectors must overcome steep barriers to realize that potential
  5. Rapid adoption of mobile and digital technologies that could leapfrog Africa past many obstacles to growth—provided companies can marshal the investment funding and technical talent needed to overcome historic underdevelopment and achieve scale
Determining a strategy is the real trick. To win in Africa, your strategy needs to factor four key considerations:

Map an Africa Strategy: Africa is huge. It will be important to pinpoint those areas where you can create an ecosystem to thrive in. Part of that ecosystem should include local partners who understand the lay of the land. “You will have to dispense with generalizations, and truly understand the differences in countries’ wealth, growth, and risk profiles.”

Create Innovative Business Models: “To profitable serve African customers in meaningful numbers companies need to build high efficiency and low cost into their business models.” High volumes—low margins—cost-effective—technology driven.

Building Resilience for the Long Term: A long-term view will be necessary to ride out short-term volatility. It will be essential too, to diversify by building a balanced portfolio across countries or sectors. They also recommend integrating up and down your value chain to ensure reliable access to inputs (including what would usually be outsourced). Build relationships with relevant governments to be sure your voice is heard.

Unleash Africa’s Talent: Invest in people. Skill shortages are a major concern for a number of reasons but primarily Africa’s underperformance in education. Subway has found that most applicants “don’t know what it means to have a full-time job and don’t understand the standards we demand here.” Turnover is high. Training for entry-level and frontline employees is essential. Develop programs to grow talent from within and make gender diversity a priority.

Africa’s successful business leaders are driven by a deeper purpose. “They look at Africa’s high levels of poverty; its gaps in infrastructure, education, and health care; and its governance problems, and they don’t just see barriers to business, but human issues they feel responsible for solving.” But then that’s what real leaders do. They have empathy, and they take responsibility. “To be successful, you need to be more than a businessman—you need to be a responsible citizen.”

Importantly, the solutions companies find to succeed in Africa, could also be hugely beneficial in terms of efficient products, services, and business models for the rest of the world.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:50 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business

01.07.19

What’s Your Story?

Whats Your Story

WHAT GREAT LEADERS have in common is their ability to communicate and create meaning from their words. Much of that ability speaks to the ability to listen and read between the lines to develop an understanding with those you lead. Great stories begin with great listening. From there you can learn how to connect your perspective to theirs.

This is especially important today when ironically our ability to communicate in a meaningful way is deteriorating. The structures we used to have to develop that skill are diminished. Bursts of thought do not help to create the empathy we need to function effectively as a civilization. We don’t connect in bursts of thought but in shared stories. A good story can set the tone for a deeper connection and empathy for another’s perspective.

In a September 2018 interview with Fast Company magazine, Doris Kearns Goodwin talks about her book, Leadership: In Turbulent Times, and the ability of the four presidents she delved into to communicate through stories. Each of the presidents she portrays could help their audience see themselves in the future they were describing. A well-crafted story has the power to give the audience ownership of the idea that is woven into the story.

Goodwin is asked, “What’s the most important lesson that business leaders can take from these presidents?”
If I were to pick one, it would be the ability to speak to audiences with stories. [Take] Abraham Lincoln: While we celebrate his beautiful language, his speeches really worked because they were filled with stories and illustration. He believed people remembered anecdotes better than facts and figures. When he was young, he would listen as his father and the people who would come by his little log cabin told stories. He’d go to bed at night and try to translate those stories into [his] words, so he could then go out on the field the next day, stand on a tree stump—he’s like eight, nine years old—and entertain his friends.

Each of these leaders was fortunate to live in a time when his particular kind of storytelling fit the age. Lincoln’s speeches were printed in full in newspapers; they could be read aloud all over the country. Teddy Roosevelt had this punchy way of speaking—“square deal,” “speak softly and carry a big stick”—that was perfect for the new newspaper age. FDR had the ideal voice for the radio age and a conversational, intimate style. People felt they were listening to him one-on-one. After he died, they felt they had lost a friend. Clarity, simplicity, humor—these people were experts.

Goodwin adds this about Theodore Roosevelt’s ability to relate—even today:
What really interests me is thinking about which of these [presidents] would give a speech that would be relevant today. It would probably be Teddy Roosevelt. Think about where we were at the turn of the 20th century: The industrial revolution had shaken up the economy, immigrants were pouring in, cities were replacing towns. A gap was developing between the rich and the poor, and the social landscape was changing because of all these new inventions: the automobile, the telegraph, and the telephone. You had populist movements that called for restrictions on immigration, and the establishment worried about [giving] power to ordinary people.

Teddy was able to channel those emotions into positive, moderate reforms. Even his slogan would work today: “A square deal for the rich and the poor.” He was a fighter, but he understood that democracy would founder if people began to see each other as the other. He’d also be great at Twitter, with all his phrases: “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” He’d be perfect at that.

Ryan Matthews and Watts Wacker begin their book, What’s Your Story? with this observation: “Long before the first formal business was established, before the first deal, the six most powerful words in any language were Let me tell you a story.

What’s your story?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:03 AM
| Comments (0) | Communication

01.03.19

Newton’s First Law and Your Life

Newton’s First Law New Year

IN 1686, Sir Isaac Newton presented three laws of motion. The first law is often referred to as the Law of Inertia. The law states that every object will remain at rest or continue in a straight line unless compelled to change its state by the action of an external force. In other words, things stay the way they are unless something comes along to disrupt them. This law has the power to make us or break us. And it is at work in our lives all day, every day whether we are conscious of it or not.

When we kick a soccer ball, it heads in a specific direction until it is acted upon by a force greater than the force that is currently propelling it downfield. Like that soccer ball, our life is moving along a path that is taking us to a particular future intentionally or not. And we will continue along that path to its destination until we do something different. It’s not about what we want. It’s about what we are doing. Our intentions mean nothing. It’s a law, and as such, it is objective and indifferent to our intentions.

In other words, our 2019 will be just like our 2018 unless we exert a force to change our direction that is greater than comfort we enjoy by continuing to do what we have always done producing the same results again and again. No force, no change. 2019 will be 2018 all over again.

If you’re not where you want to be, change your direction. Get on a new path. New actions will produce different results.

We can use Newton’s law to our advantage. For every cause, there is an effect. Today is connected to tomorrow. Every action we take and everything we say is taking us somewhere. We just need to be sure we are on the path that is taking us where we want to go; a path that is taking us to the person we want to become.

If we work harder than we did last year, then we will do better.
If we sacrifice now, then we are investing in our future.
If we reflect, then we will grow.
If we improve our leadership, then people will follow us.
If we are courageous, then we will inspire.
If we are curious, then we will learn.
If we avoid the trappings of power, then we will stay connected with those we serve.
If we surround ourselves with the right people, then we will be enriched and will lift others up.
If we are authentic and humble, then we will build trust.
If we work this law to our advantage, then we will eradicate regret.

If we don't improve, then our circumstances won't improve either. We can’t tell ourselves that it’s not going to be alright if we are headed in the wrong direction. Life naturally pushes us off-course and takes us on tangents. Anything meaningful in life is produced by moving upstream – against the current. When we find ourselves where we don’t want to be, we must acknowledge the fact that we have drifted; we have gone with the flow. We need to make some course corrections. We all do from time to time.

Of course, this implies getting uncomfortable. It’s helpful to have a mentor, a coach, or a program that will keep us accountable, because we tend to say, “I pushed hard enough” when we’ve barely touched our potential.

As we look at our life, we all have directions that need to be changed. It helps to begin this process by asking ourselves questions and giving serious and honest thought to the answers.

The big general questions are: What worked for me last year and what didn’t? What habits are holding me back? What three things do I want to accomplish by 2020? What is that one thing I need to accomplish in 2019—your BHAG—my Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal? What does a good day look like? What routines keep me on track? Why do I do what I do?

And most importantly, what am I grateful for? Then drill down into specific areas of your life:

Do I make time to study and grow spiritually?

What habits are draining my time and attention?
What activities replenish me?
Am I taking time to relax and grow in other areas of interest?

Am I sleep deprived?
Am I eating healthy and avoiding processed foods?
What do I need to change in my diet in 2019?
Am I exercising regularly?
Am I drinking enough water? Is my morning and evening routine setting me up for my best day?

Am I living within my means?
How much do I want to make in 2019?
What do I have to do to reach that amount?

What weaknesses do I need to minimize?
Am I where I would like to be in my work or career?
How can I increase the value I bring to work?

What relationships are building me up?
Are any relationships taking me off-track?
Who do I take for granted?
Do I support those around me?
Do I support and encourage others?
Do I focus on building others up?
Do I make time for others?

Where do I need to grow?
What strengths do I need to improve on?
What do I need to learn?
What books do I need to read?
What seminars do I need to attend?
What can I learn from the mistakes I made in 2018?

The key to moving forward is the first step. Every destination needs to be broken down into incremental markers or indicators on the way to the destination. What is the first thing you need to do to get you moving in the right direction? As you begin, focus on the actions required and not the end result. A small step is easier than a leap. Once the first step is made, it is easier to continue down the right path to your desired destination.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:34 AM
| Comments (0) | Personal Development

01.01.19

First Look: Leadership Books for January 2019

Here's a look at some of the best leadership books to be released in January 2019. Don't miss out on other great new and future releases.

9781119545798Unlocking Creativity: How to Solve Any Problem and Make the Best Decisions
Michael A. Roberto

Leaders do not have to conceive innovative ideas, but rather open the path for curious and creative employees within their organization. Unlocking Creativity aids organizations in removing obstacles to the creative process and helps to form an atmosphere of imagination and innovation.



9781501196348Be Fearless: 5 Principles for a Life of Breakthroughs and Purpose
Jean Case

When National Geographic Chairman Jean Case set out to investigate the core qualities of great change makers, past and present, from inventors to revolutionaries, she found five surprising traits all had in common. They weren’t wealth, privilege, or even genius. It was that all of these exceptional men and women chose to make a “big bet,” take bold risks, learn from their failures, reach beyond their bubbles, and let urgency conquer fear.



9781610398770Creative Construction: The DNA of Sustained Innovation
Gary P. Pisano

The conventional wisdom is that only disruptive, nimble startups can innovate; once a business gets bigger and more complex corporate arteriosclerosis sets in. Big organizations require a different set of management practices and approaches—a discipline focused on the strategies, systems and culture for taking their companies to the next level.



9781119538257Scaling Leadership: Building Organizational Capability and Capacity to Create Outcomes that Matter Most
Robert J. Anderson and William A. Adams

Is your leadership built for scale as you advance in today’s volatile and disruptive business environment? This context puts a premium on a very particular kind of leadership—High-Creative leadership capable of rapidly growing the organization while simultaneously transforming it into more agile, innovative, adaptive and engaging workplace.



9781626346154Return on Courage: A Business Playbook for Courageous Change
Ryan Berman

Return on Courage is the go-to courage instructional manual that helps readers attack and shrink business fears head-on. They will learn how to relentlessly play offense, drive change, and transform into a Courage Brand®. ROC can be the secret weapon to innovating new products and services, maximizing ROI, and revolutionizing their industry.



9781523097500Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want
Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni

Study after study confirms that career development is the single most powerful tool managers have for driving retention, engagement, productivity, and results. But most managers feel they just don't have time for it. This new edition offers a better way: frequent, short conversations with employees about themselves, their goals, and the business that can be integrated seamlessly into the normal course of business.



For bulk orders call 1-626-441-2024
discounted books


Build your leadership library with these specials on over 39 titles. All titles are at least 40% off the list price and are available only in limited quantities.

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“Books, because of the power they possess to exert intellectual influence, more so than any other form of serious communication, change the way readers — and even leaders — see the world and set the stage for them to change it.”
— Peter J. Dougherty, editor-at-large at Princeton University Press


Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:05 AM
| Comments (0) | Books

12.31.18

LeadershipNow 140: December 2018 Compilation

twitter

twitter Here are a selection of tweets from December 2018 that you don't want to miss:
See more on twitter Twitter.

StewardshipNew Leadership Books


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Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:36 AM
| Comments (0) | LeadershipNow 140

12.27.18

Five Problems with Virtual Communication & What to Do About It

Nick Morgan

EVEN THOUGH WE have entered a new world of virtual communications, we still communicate in real-world ways that don’t always work in the virtual world. We’ve all sent an email or a text where we meant one thing and the recipient took it in a completely different way. They never saw the smile on our face, the touch of our hand, or the look of concern. There was none of the emotions that we take for granted in the real-world to guide them in the virtual world to a proper conclusion.

We need new approaches and to become more conscious of what we are doing. We need to sharpen our communication skills in the digital world. We have to put the emotion back.

Nick Morgan is here to do just that in Can You Hear Me? Nick Morgan is a master communicator and speech coach. And this book reflects that. His website Public Words is one of my favorite. The focus is public speaking, but the principles apply in most contexts including one-on-one conversations. Don’t miss it.

The world of communication in the real-world and virtual world are very different with different dynamics. The same rules don’t apply. This leads to five major problems with virtual communication that need to be addressed.

Problem One: The Lack of Feedback

In the real world, there are two kinds of feedback: implicit and explicit. Implicit feedback is all of the non-verbal sounds, facial expressions, touches and body language that goes with conversation. Explicit feedback is the straightforward, unvarnished communication we get from others. In the real world, there is a mix of the two. But in the virtual world, implicit communication is almost nonexistent.

In the real world, implicit and explicit work together to toughen the soft messages and soften the harsh messages. When we remove the implicit feedback from our communication, it’s little wonder we have misunderstandings, confusion, and often hurt feelings. (Emoji were introduced to help with this problem, but I find on important communications, an emoji doesn’t really convey the feelings behind our words.)

Morgan says what has changed online is the nature of trust. “Trust in the virtual world is much more fragile, though perhaps easier to establish initially. But the big difference comes when something threatens the trust.” He explains:
And feedback depends on trust. In face-to-face relationships where there is trust, one party may do something to screw up, causing friction, anger, and even a bit of mistrust to creep in. But if the connection is strong enough, the feedback begins. The issue will get thrashed out, the perpetrator will apologize, and trust will be restored. Indeed, once restored, the trust may be stronger than ever.

How different it is in the virtual world! Once trust is threatened, it’s easily broken, and it’s nearly impossible to reestablish it. People simply move on. Since trust was more fragile in the first place, it shatters with very little provocation.

Here are a few of Morgan’s suggestions to offer effective feedback in a virtual world:

Virtual feedback should be appropriate and honest, but it doesn’t need to be cruel. “Leaven clarity with kindness.”

Virtual feedback should be specific and focused on the relevant object, performance, or creation and not on the person. “A failed artistic performance doesn’t entitle you to judge the character of the performer. And general comments are far less useful—and far more damaging—than specific ones.”

Virtual feedback should never be more about the giver than the recipient. We have all frequently seen where the feedback given “really concerns what the giver knows at some deep level to be the problem with his or her own work. If you’re going to offer feedback, you have to have enough security, distance, and impartiality to deliver an opinion that is truly helpful.”

Problem Two: The Lack of Empathy

Our virtual world robs us of real closeness and intimacy. “The distance provided by a virtual connection creates conditions where people are much more likely to behave badly to one another and are much less likely to be sympathetic to other’s feelings. There’s a lack of empathy.”
When we are face-to-face, even the coldest of us find our mirror neurons firing when we are with someone who is experiencing an emotion. We laugh together, cry together, bond together. Put us in the virtual space, and empathy can’t work as well. The mirror neurons don’t fare as readily. We remain disassociated.

The key lesson regarding empathy: “If you can possibly begin a relationship of any importance in person, you should do so. Period, full stop, end of discussion.” If you can’t, “do everything you can, especially early on, to be consistent, trustworthy, and transparent.

In a virtual world, our stories are more important than ever. “Your online presence needs to meet four criteria: authenticity, clarity, comprehensiveness, and consistency.”

Problem Three: The Lack of Control

The virtual world is unforgiving. Online, “we hold others to rigid standards of behavior and are much less forgiving. In virtual space, this double standard is particularly compelling. If you behave badly, it’s because you’re a troll, and your mother and her mother before you, back a thousand generations. These feelings are not logical, but such is the nature of virtual relationships. Lacking emotional depth, we substitute brittle, intellectual, standards.”

We don’t have control over what others say about us and others. And we rarely forgive inconsistent online behavior. So we need to be intentional about who we are and be consistent with that image. Decide now who you will be. Take control of your online life by creating a personal values statement.

As an example of the kind of transparency, control and consistency Morgan is talking about, is Chris Palmer. Palmer is an environmental filmmaker with a personal mission statement (which you can find at the bottom of this page) he published on his website. Palmer told Morgan that publishing it “has transformed my life. I use it to guide my daily activities. Instead of confusion, I have clarity. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I feel in control. Instead of ennui, I have purpose.” How do people see you online? What do you stand for? How could a personal mission statement guide your interactions online?

Problem Four: The Lack of Emotion

The emotions that come naturally in face-to-face communications is almost nonexistent in virtual communications. “Every face-to-face communication is two simultaneous conversations: the content (what you say) and the body language (how you say it).” Both are essential and very different. And when we take the emotion out we get bored, nasty or both.

We are wired to make an emotional connection with others. Emotions are a vital part of our communications, and we base our decisions on emotion. “And removing that natural, easy, unconscious emotional data stream, as virtual communication does surprisingly well, is particularly crippling.”
The virtual space we’ve created is uniquely set up to make it difficult for us to conduct our human business in the way that we’ve done for thousands of years. We think we’ve created something convenient, cost-effective, and efficient. Instead, we’ve created something that this stultifying, expensive in terms of emotions and decision-making, and wildly inefficient.

Because of this, we need to consciously create tools that replace the unconscious connection tools we have in the real world. This would include becoming “exceedingly conscious about taking turns and allowing others to do so” and signaling that you are nearly ready to stop talking. Mediating conversations becomes more important. Morgan also suggests ways to add a three-stage “temperature” check to your conference calls.

Problem Five: The Lack of Connection and Commitment

Virtual communications aren’t as satisfying and emotionally compelling as our real-world interactions. Take the emotions out and we feel alone. We need to create engaging approaches that combine both the virtual and real-world behavior that leads to commitment in the end.

Research Lynn Wu of Wharton found that the “more that individuals used social words in their chat with colleagues, like ‘coffee,’ ‘lunch,’ or ‘football,’ the less likely they were to be laid off.” Of course, these online tools can be misused, so balance is required. Nevertheless, connection with others and job security are closely tied.

A few ways to create commitment in the real-world work well online. People look to others for cues, so use social validation to push people toward commitment. Remember the golden rule of reciprocity. A “strong feeling of cooperation allows people to connect, commit, and support each other.” Always be consistent. Look for similarity. “Similarity builds rapport.” Tell stories. “The best way to get and hold someone’s attention is to tell a story.”

In part two of his book, Morgan provides specific techniques for various digital channels of communication: email, texting, conference calls, webinars, chat sessions, and sales efforts. All contain helpful advice to avoid misunderstandings.

Our virtual relationships are more fragile and “these weaker ties mean we inhabit a more toxic world. The research shows that negative conversations stay with us longer than do positive ones because of how we metabolize oxytocin and cortisol differently.” In the real world we let our unconscious minds do the heavy lifting—and pick up on those implicit messages. In the virtual world we don’t have that luxury.
My journey into the online world to understnd the virtual communicator has led me tounderstand how profoundly inhuman many ways of virual communication are. Our very human job now is to learn to put the emotional and memorable back into this attenuated world that has srung up around us.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:31 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication

12.25.18

Hyperfocus: How to Take Control of Your Mind

Hyperfocus

THERE ARE LIMITS to our attention. There is only so much we can focus on at any given time. So it becomes critical what we allow in our attentional space if we want to get anywhere in life. (And heads up. Your attentional space shrinks as you age—but your mind wanders less.)

When we try to cram too much into our attentional space, we experience attention overload. When we do that we forget things because we didn’t leave enough space for what we originally intended to do.

What is going on in our attentional space is the subject of Chris Bailey’s Hyperfocus. Bailey shows us how we can use our limited attentional space intelligently and deliberately so that we can focus more deeply and think more clearly.

Hyperfocus happens when we consciously expand our attention to fill our attentional space. It is when we are the most productive—and happy.

So, how do we enter hyperfocus mode? Distractions are distracting because they are more attractive than what we are focusing on. We have to plan in advance to remove them. Distractions are costly. Put the phone down. Don’t check the emails. “It takes an average of twenty-five minutes to resume working on an activity after we’re interrupted, and before resuming that activity, we work on an average of 2.26 other tasks.” Not good.

Our smartphones rob our attention probably more than anything else. Bailey offers this great advice: “Resist the urge to tap around on your smartphone when you’re waiting in line at the grocery store, walking to the coffee shop, or in the bathroom. Use these small breaks to reflect on what you’re doing, to recharge, and to consider alternative approaches to your work and life.” Reflection is one of the biggest gifts we can give ourselves.

And then we have to deal with the natural wandering of our mind by continually and consciously refocusing. It also helps to plan to hyperfocus for a predetermined length of time. “Setting specific intentions can double or triple your odds of success.” Bailey has a whole chapter on taming distractions and offers techniques to help us with all of this.

Hyperfocus

Although your attentional space naturally shrinks as you age, study after study has shown that you can expand it through the practice of meditation. “Meditation involves continually returning your focus to a single object of attention—usually your breath—as soon as you notice your mind has wandered from it.” Breathing is the go-to because “the smaller the object of attention, the more your mind will wander, but the more you’ll expand the size of your attentional space as you focus on it.”

Ironically, as important as it is to hyperfocus, we must also scatterfocus. That is direct our attention on nothing at all—but in a deliberate way. In scatterfocus mode, we are at our most creative and it also allows us to recharge. And because in this mode our mind spends most of its time thinking about the future which is good because we can set intentions and plan for the future. It also “enables us to better weigh the consequences of each decision and path.”

“With hyperfocus you direct your attention outward; with scatterfocus you direct your attention inward.” In scatterfocus mode, you can capture ideas and actionable material. You can discover solutions to problems and connect ideas. It also serves to replenish our mental energy. Hyperfocus takes a lot of energy, and when we feel our attentional space contracting, we need to recharge our attention by deliberately entering scatterfocus mode.

Scatterfocus mode is a great place to connect the dots providing you are collecting valuable dots in the first place.
People become experts on particular subjects by accumulating and connecting enough dots related to them, in the form of experiences, knowledge, and best practices.

As we cluster more and more dots about a given topic, we naturally develop expertise, which in turn helps us better manage our attentional space. Curiously, the more we know about a subject, the less attentional space that information consumes.

The more dots we’re able to cluster, the more efficiently we’re able to use that space, as we can accommodate and process a lot more pieces of information when they’re linked together.

With that in mind, it is wise to guard just what dots we are collecting on a regular basis. Some dots build us up, and some don’t. Defend your attentional space. It’s good to collect dots that add to our existing skills and knowledge, but it is just as important to collect dots that are unrelated to what we know. This often where new perspectives and breakthrough ideas will come from. “Every time you stop consuming trash, you make room for something useful to add value to your life.”

Not surprisingly, a positive mood expands the size of our intentional space, and a negative mood shrinks it. Unhappy people take longer to refocus. Guard your thoughts.
Hyperfocus can help you get an extraordinary amount done in a relatively short period of time. Scatterfocus lets you connect ideas—which helps you unearth hidden insights, become more creative, plan for the future, and rest. Together they will enable you to work and live with purpose.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:25 PM
| Comments (0) | Thinking

12.21.18

5 Distinguishing Traits of High-Performing Leaders

Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results

WHO WE ARE speaks louder than what we say. Respect for others is the cornerstone of high-performing leaders. Respect is demonstrated daily through skills that we can all learn and make a part of who we are.

Through his experience as an executive coach, Fred Halstead has defined in Leadership Skills that Inspire Incredible Results, seven skills that when practiced yield meaningful results. You may not be an expert at all but you can get better at every one of them.

Demonstrating respect is more about asking the right questions than being ready with answers. Halstead admits though that “asking questions—in particular, questions than can inspire clearer thinking, solutions, and action plans—is challenging, especially when we are used to just telling others what we know should be done.” But to succeed we must have teams that are self-reliant, who understand their purpose and can execute on that purpose. Asking questions and guiding requires real focus.

It’s about our team’s success. “Those who truly want others to excel are the ones who also achieve the greatest personal success.” To demonstrate respect and quip others we need to practice these skills with others:

1. Become a Fully Connected Listener

Listening shows respect and appreciation. Listening must come first. It requires patience. As Fran Lebowitz observed, “The opposite of talking is waiting.” Our natural desire to talk, judging others, our biases ego, and our business, all inhibit our inclination to listen. “The less we worry about appearing smart, the smarter we will appear to be by just listening and asking smart questions.”

Listening is easier when we are curious. It’s easier too when you know and believe in your purpose for listening. More than just gathering information, “when you listen to someone, you learn how that person thinks, which provides insight into how you can use them most effectively on a project, team, or in the organization.”

Listen for intent and observe body language. Much of what you need to know is communicated in this way. Respect others by taking a breath. “When we’re great listeners, we give others the gift of silence. We’re not in a hurry, so silence—time to think—gives the speaker the opportunity to formulate and express her best thinking.”

2. Ask Powerful Questions

When you ask questions, you become more engaging and it creates bonds with others. It means they will want to listen to you.

The right questions are important. “The right question is often a crystallizer. It helps put a bow of clarity around one’s thoughts.” It can help them to articulate their own thoughts and expand their thinking. Clarity questions are “What concerns you most about this?” “If there is one thing you could do to begin to resolve this issue, what is it?” “What are your instincts telling you?” Timing matters when you are listening. Ask when you need clarity.

Great questions open the door to additional thought. “Is this the solution?” opens the door to additional thought but closes the door on the conversation. A better question would be “If there is one thing that would make this solution better, what is it?” Halstead helpfully provides examples of powerful questions to achieve specific goals.
The response, “I have not thought about that” is one of the best you can receive from your questions. You’re giving the other person the opportunity to think about new solutions in a positive way. You also show respect for the person being asked the question.

3. Develop Other’s Best Thinking

Great listening and questions lead other from “I don’t get it” to “I got it.” You bring out the best in others. “By helping others grow, you give them the opportunity to take ownership of their actions and the results.” That’s leading.

Be forward thinking—solution oriented. “When leaders focus on what can be done, people are inspired to achieve more, especially when they think of and articulate what it is that they are going to do.”

One of the best ways to inspire your team to follow you because of you rather than in spite of you is to acknowledge the things they do well. More than a compliment, by acknowledging someone you are “calling attention to a specific behavior or talent, and it comes without any type of extra modifiers.”

4. Wise and Thoughtful Delegation

Delegating demonstrates that you believe in others and they often respond by “expanding their ability to do more and perform at a higher level.”
As a leader, the more you put everyone in the sweet spots of their talents, including you, the greater the likelihood of achieving short- and long-term exceptional performance. Delegating wisely both develops and uses those talents

Thinking we are can do it better, impatience, a lack of trust, a lack of clarity about the job to be done, all inhibit our desire to delegate tasks. And that’s on us.

5. Create Consistent Accountability

A culture of accountability means that people will do—actually accomplish—what they say they will do when they say they will get it done. Accountability builds trust.

What often holds us back from creating a culture of accountability says Halstead, is that we what to be seen as nice. But when seen properly, accountability is nice. Accountability builds others up. Like delegating, we think we could do better and so we don’t hold people accountable. But when we do, we might learn from how they achieve the desired result. And frankly, we lack faith in others. We don’t really believe they have what it takes to get the job done properly. If this is the case, Halstead recommends that we walk them through the process so they can see what it will take to get the job done. Also, remind them of the talents they have that will be useful in accomplishing the task.

These five skills, when practiced consistently will help to inspire incredible results. The thread running through them all is “as you respect others and put the interests of others in a paramount position, our personal success thrives, maybe in ways that you could not imagine.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:25 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development

12.19.18

Questions Are the Answer

Questions are the Answer

A PROBLEM OF OUR TIME—and perhaps every generation—is that we ask the wrong questions. The wrong questions divide us. Great questions break down assumptions and create possibilities. Simply put, better questions give us better answers. It’s all about the question.

Great leaders are great at asking better questions. In the rapidly changing environment, we are in today, it is imperative. Our future depends on it. Until you ask different questions, you can’t move beyond the incremental progress most of us find ourselves in. Breakthroughs require different questions from the ones we’ve been asking.

Decisiveness is a great quality but too often we charge ahead without really understanding the issue. We don’t get behind the issue. Better questions help us to get there. In Questions are the Answer, Hal Gregersen explains:
The point is not to remain in constant questioning mode, always stepping back to rethink things instead of stepping up to make a decision and get on with life. But answering yesterday’s questions is not good enough at times when we are feeling stuck, or when innovation is imperative, or when change must happen more continuously.

How do you get to the right question? Gregersen says that we can create the conditions in which questions thrive.

To increase our odds of formulating better questions, we need to get out observe and network with the intention of exposing ourselves to new and varied viewpoints. And listen. When we stop talking we’ll be amazed at what we can learn. Our viewpoint could always be improved. Be intentional about it.

We are rewarded and conditioned to have answers. We are not typically encouraged to ask. More often we passively collect information without learning to question the foundational concepts. Good questioners were encouraged to ask from early on in their childhood. “If we want to raise a generation of better questioners, we should try harder to influence what happens at home.” Intentionally fuel curiosity. Encouraging those “why” questions will fuel their curiosity and help to generate the “what if” questions that design better futures.

As you advance as a leader “and have the opportunity to lead others and have much more impact, your focus has to shift to ‘making other people the smartest in the room, with good questions.’”

Be comfortable with being wrong. Try being wrong more. “Questions don’t arise whenever we are wrong. It’s only on those rarer occasions when we think we are wrong. And for most of us, it’s only when we are practically hit in the face with how wrong we have been that questions start to get our attention.” Seek to question and improve your views.
It makes sense to keep reminding yourself to admit and embrace being a little more wrong, goading yourself to stray into somewhat more uncomfortable environs, and compelling yourself to be more reflectively quiet. Immerse yourself in situations where you feel less right, less comfortable, or less compelled to speak, and your questions will multiply.

Gregersen suggests we brainstorm for questions—not answers—to find new insights. That is, what better questions could we be asking about our problem? He calls them Question Bursts. There are two rules to this exercise—first, questions only. And second, no explanations or introductions. Just the questions please. And keep it short—four minutes is ideal. You’re trying to get people to look at the problem differently. You’re not trying to elicit answers but to get people to think differently. Question Burst exercises help to minimize and potentially overcome cognitive biases and eventually generate the breakthrough answers we need.

“Asking the right questions is the only path to creating value—real value—at any level and in any role.” You have to actively support questioners because most organizations try to silence questioners. A leader who is secure enough to be questioned is a better leader. If as a leader you ask questions, you make it safe for others to do the same.

Did you ask a good question today?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:26 PM
| Comments (0) | Thinking



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