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Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most


IFE GIVES US CHOICES, and we make decisions.

Some choices are easy like “Should I get vanilla or chocolate ice cream?” Most of our decisions are like this, and the consequences aren’t life-changing. Most books on decision-making describe these kinds of intuitive, gut-reaction decisions. But not all decisions are of this type.

Some are farsighted choices as Steven Johnson calls them in Farsighted: How We Make the Decisions That Matter the Most. These are the big decisions—life choices—like should I move to Denver? Should I take that job? Should I move home? Should I buy that car? Should I buy the house? Should I get married?

How do we make the right choice in these kinds of decisions? The answers are rarely a clear yes or no. These are complex problems with multiple variables.

We are all familiar with Benjamin Franklin’s two-column method. Most of us just tally the number of items on each list and go with the longer list. But Franklin recommended an important final step in this process. He advised that you conduct a kind of “Prudential Algebra” to each entry to give them relative weight because not all reasons are of equal value. It makes good sense, but as we know, sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t.

What we need is “a routine or a practice—a specific set of steps for confronting the problem, exploring its unique properties, weighing the options.” A deliberate and measured approach that allows you to think about a problem from multiple perspectives.

Johnson puts forth a three-step method “designed specifically to overcome the unique challenges of a hard choice.” All decisions have a context, perspectives, and possible consequences. This method helps to address each of them.

The method begins with building a full-spectrum map of all of the variables and the potential paths available to us. Then we make predictions about where all those different paths might lead us, given the variable at play. Finally, we decide on a path by weighing the variable outcomes against our overarching objectives.

Given our disposition towards scientific methods, we would like this to be scientific to remove the human weaknesses that challenge our decision-making. But as Tolstoy’s Prince Andrew counseled in War and Peace, “What theory and science is possible about a matter the conditions and circumstances of which are unknown and cannot be defined, especially when the strength of the acting forces cannot be ascertained?” The Prince continued, “What science can there be in a matter in which, as in all practical matters, nothing can be defined and everything depends on innumerable conditions, the significance of which is determined at a particular moment which arrives no one knows when?”


We all use mental maps whether we know it or not. The trick is to be intentional about it. “What the map should ultimately reveal is a set of potential paths, given the variables at play in the overall system. Figuring out which path to take requires other tools.” In the mapping step, you are looking to expand the context of your decision to include all possible decision paths.

The art of making farsighted decisions “with as much wisdom as possible lies not in forcing that map to match some existing template, but instead in developing the kind of keen vision required to see the situation as it truly is. And the best way to develop that vision is to get different pairs of eyes on the problem.” It requires a bit of humility as well. You are more likely to be right to the degree that you recognize that you may be wrong. We must embrace the likely possibility that we are wrong to get it right. Often what stands in our way of getting it right is our certainty that we are right. The lesson: explore other alternatives.


When we make a farsighted decision, we are predicting what will happen as a result of our decision. But that’s not easy. One of the problems we run into is assuming that things will continue as they always have—the fallacy of extrapolation. Things changes and we don’t know what we don’t know. As Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling once noted that one thing a person cannot do “is to draw up a list of things that would never occur to him.” To make good decisions, we need to make those kinds of imaginative leaps.

Johnson prescribes simulations to do just that. Engaging in scenario planning or gaming is not to make accurate predictions, but “the very act of trying to imagine alternatives to the conventional view helps you perceive your options more clearly.” Pierre Wack wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “No single ‘right’ projection can be deduced from past behavior. The better approach, I believe, is to accept uncertainty, try to understand it, and make it part of our reasoning.”

It is a kind of storytelling. We create stories around our decisions all the time—“when we do this, this is what it will be like.” And that’s good. The problem arises when we fail to construct multiple stories around our choices. “That doesn’t always give you a definite path, but it does prepare you for many ways the future might unexpectedly veer from its current trajectory.”

With the decision mapped, the options identified, and the scenarios panned, it’s time to decide.


Making a decision is the final step. How do we decide? What’s best for me or what’s best for the greater good or some other cost-benefit analysis. If we’ve done the first two steps well and given ourselves an appropriate amount to process, often the decision becomes clear. “But sometimes the answer is murkier, and you have to make the tough call between a few remaining options, each of which promises a different mix of pain and pleasure to the individuals affected by the choice.”
Almost every strategy described in this book ultimately pursues the same objective: helping you see the current situation from new perspectives, to push against the limits of bounded rationality, to make a list of things that would never occur to you. They’re designed to get you outside your default assumptions, not to give you a fixed answer.

While Johnson presents many strategies and ideas of real value, the magic of Farsighted is the examples he weaves throughout to make the ideas and principles come alive.
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Of Related Interest:
  Where is the Wisdom We Have Lost in Knowledge?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:14 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What We Can Do About It


E ARE IN the golden age of meltdowns, write Chris Clearfield and Andras Tilcsik. “More and more of our systems are in the danger zone, but our ability to manage them hasn’t quite caught up. The result: things fall apart.”

As systems become more complex, we are more vulnerable to unexpected system failures. In Meltdown, the authors examine a fatal D.C. Metro train accident, the Three Mile Island disaster, the collapse of Enron, the 2012 meltdown of Knight Capital, the Flint water crisis, and the 2017 Oscars mix-up, among other meltdowns, and discover that while these failures stem from very different problems, their underlying causes are surprisingly similar. These stories told here are a compelling look behind the scenes of why failures occur in today’s many complex systems.

Using sociologist professor Charles Perrow’s theory that as a system’s complexity and “tight coupling” (a lack of slack between different parts—no margin) increase the chance of a meltdown. In other words, these failures are driven by “the connections between the different parts, rather than the parts themselves.”

Some systems are linear and in these systems, the source of the breakdown is obvious. But as systems become complex, as at a nuclear power plant, the parts of the system interact in hidden and unexpected ways. Because these systems are more like a web, when they breakdown, it is difficult to figure out exactly what is wrong. And worse still, it is almost impossible to predict where it will go wrong and all of the possible consequences of even a small failure somewhere in the system.

As more and more of our systems become more complex and tightly coupled, what do you do? How do we keep up with our increasingly complex systems?

Oddly enough, safety features are not the answer. They become part of the system and thereby add to the complexity. And when something goes wrong, we like to add even more safety features into the system. “It’s like the old fable: cry wolf every eight minutes, and soon people will tune you out. Worse, when something does happen, constant alerts make it hard to sort out the important from the trivial.”

There are ways to make complex systems more transparent. For example, using premortems. Imagine in the future your project has failed. Write down all of the reasons why you think it happened. A 1989 study showed that premortems or prospective hindsight, boosts our ability to identify reasons why an outcome might occur and therefore deal with the potential problems before they occur.

We also should encourage feedback and sharing of failures and near-misses. “By openly sharing stories of failures and near failures—without blame or revenge—we can create a culture in which people view errors as an opportunity to learn rather than as the impetus for a witch hunt.”

Encourage dissent with a more open-leadership style. People in power tend to dismiss other’s opinions. Leaders should speak last. You have to work on the culture. Ironically, the authors note, introducing anonymous feedback actually highlights the dangers of speaking up.

Bring in outsiders and add diversity of thought. Outsiders will see things we don’t and are more willing to ask uncomfortable questions. Also in a more diverse environment we tend to be more vigilant and question more. When we are around people just like us, we tend to trust their judgment which can lead to too much conformity. “Diversity is like a speed bump. It’s a nuisance, but it snaps us out of our comfort zone and makes it hard to barrel ahead without thinking. It saves us from ourselves.”

Transparent design matters. We need to see what is going on under the hood. Being able to see the state of a system by simply looking at it can be an important safeguard.

These are just a sampling of the ways we can learn to manage complex systems. This doesn’t mean we should take fewer risks. On the contrary, these solutions—structured decision tools, diverse teams, and norms that encourage healthy skepticism and dissent—“tend to fuel, rather than squelch, innovation and productivity. Adopting these solutions is a win-win.”

We can make our systems more forgiving of our mistakes by thinking critically and clearly about our own systems. How many things have to go right at the same time for this to work? Can we simplify it? How can we add margin?

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:54 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Creating Great Choices

Creating Great Choices

FTEN WHEN FACED with a problem we see only a single solution or perhaps none at all. When we get stuck we need to create new and better choices. Choices that solve the problem in a new, more successful way without the compromises we usually settle for.

If we understand that we all have different mental models—our view of how the world works—we use those various models to improve our own.

Once we see things in a certain way, it becomes very difficult to see things in a new way. Integrative thinking is a method to do just that. Roger Martin introduced the practice of integrative thinking in his book, The Opposable Mind. “The opposable mind is one that can use the tension between a set of ideas to create new and superior answers to challenging problems. This follow-up book, written by Martin and adjunct professor Jennifer Riel, Creating Great Choices, provides the methodology to do just that.

Martin finds that there are three elements missing from most decision-making processes: metacognition, empathy, and creativity.

When employed, metacognition allows us to understand better our own thinking and existing mental models that influence our decisions and the choices available to us. Empathy allows us to understand the thinking of others, which in turn illuminates the gaps in our own thinking and areas where we might connect with others. Finally, creativity provides the imaginative spark to create new and better choices rather than just accepting the options held in tension before us.

integrative thinking

Martin and Riel explain the integrative thinking process in four steps:

Articulate the Models

Step one is to Articulate the Models, that is “to frame the problem and tease out two opposing models for solving it.” What are the core elements of each model? The idea is to create a two-sided dilemma from a general problem like whether to use a centralized structure versus a decentralized structure or consumer needs versus shareholder expectations. Ultimately you will not choose between the two, but to use the two models or approaches to create a better choice. The outcome we will look for, won’t be a compromise between the two choices, but a choice that takes the best of both that will produce an outcome that is preferable to the existing ones.

Examine the Models

Step two is to Examine the Models. While holding them in tension, define the points of tension between the two models or approaches, illuminate the assumptions, and determine the cause-and-effect forces. As you look at the models, ask, what are the forces that drive the most important outcomes or the benefits we most value of each? How might we change how we think about the approach? What is similar? What is different? What benefit would you be loath to give up from each model?

Now you want to shift from understanding the models to creating new models, “creatively building from both opposing models to design an answer that is ultimately superior to either one.”

Examine the Possibilities

So in step three, you Examine the Possibilities. Explore other resolutions. Here there are three directions you might go to find a better choice: the hidden gem, the double-down, or the decomposition.

In the Hidden Gem, you take “one deeply valued benefit from each of the opposing models and throw away the rest. You imagine a new approach designed around the two gems.” And “you will need to replace all of the elements you’re throwing away with something new.” “I want one small element of A and B.” In the Double-Down, causality is key. If you identify one of the models as the one you would choose if it just weren’t missing one critical element, you Double-Down. “I want all of A and one key element of B.” In Decomposition, you do both—two contradictory things at once. You will need to “reach a different understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve.” In other words, you will need to break the problem apart and apply one solution to each. “I want all of both.”

Assess the Prototypes

Finally, in step four Assess the Prototypes to test different possible answers to find an answer that can actually be implemented. Proving an idea that is new is possible only in theory. A new model is possible only if we think differently. “At this stage, gaps in logic are necessarily the sign of a bad idea; rather, they are the hallmark of a new one. Gaps represent an opportunity to clarify and refine what a possibility could be. Possibilities become richer as they become more concrete because there is less abstraction within which to hide.” They recommend that when trying to communicate a new idea, try using storytelling, visualizing, or modeling—words, pictures, and/or objects. Look for ways to disprove the idea or under what conditions might it not work. In this way, you can finds ways to strengthen the idea.

What Is Your Stance?

Going into any decision-making process, you need to understand your stance—where you are coming from—who you are and what you are trying to do. What informs your thinking? Different stances drive different outcomes.

As a leader, your job is to be clear about your own thinking, knowing that your own models or views of the world are at least a little bit wrong. Understand others view of the world to inform and improve your own. And patiently search for answers that resolve the tension between opposing ideas to find the opportunities to create better choices.

Integrative thinking isn’t for every problem you face. “But when you find that your conventional thinking tools are not helping you to truly solve a problem, integrative thinking can be the tool that shifts the conversation, defuses interpersonal conflicts, and helps you move forward.”

Martin and Riel have included in this integrative thinking user’s guide, templates to help you work through each of the four steps. Keep it handy.

Of Related Interest:
  How to Develop Integrative Thinking
  Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:49 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking


To Understand Complexity, Use 7 Dimensions of Ethical Thinking


HE BOTTOM LINE is that there is no “good leadership” without ethical thinking. We’ve seen what can happen when leaders make decisions based on personal interests without considering the ripple effect of those decisions. The thinking that powers leadership choices must be grounded in ethical values or the impact on important constituents will be overlooked.

When my book 7 Lenses was first published, I wrote a guest post about it called “The 7 Lenses of Ethical Leadership” for this blog. Since that time, 7 Lenses has gone into its second printing. This book helps leaders “see” the ethical impact of their choices through 7 Lenses of Ethical Responsibility. The lenses highlight the impact on many constituents, in the short term, and over generations, giving leaders a holistic ethical picture. As work complexity increases, the ethical thinking we use to address it must advance as well.

7 Lenses™ of Ethical Responsibility
ProfitHow much money will this make?
LawHow can we avoid punishment and penalties?
CharacterHow can we demonstrate integrity, congruence and moral awareness?
PeopleHow can we respect and care for people?
CommunitiesHow can we improve life in the communities we serve?
PlanetHow can we honor life and ecosystems?
Greater GoodHow can we make the world better for future generations?

Every leader must weigh the financial impact of decisions. Even non-profits have to carefully manage finances and raise funds using ethical practices. All companies have to comply with laws and regulations. The higher levels of ethical thinking, though, require a much longer-term perspective and a global worldview. We must be ready to make ethical decisions when dealing with multiple stakeholders with differing interests in the outcome.

In the 7 Lenses model in the book, each lens of the 7 focuses leader attention on one area of ethical leadership responsibility, and together all 7 of the lenses show leaders the combined impact of their choices. This way of thinking about ethics, in 7 dimensions, guides us to high level leadership thinking. Using better thinking we get better leadership.

Concepts and ethics guidelines that live “on the shelf” aren’t practical enough to help people navigate complexity. Leaders don’t just need to think ABOUT ethics, they need to think WITH ethical values to deal with catastrophic change and respond to increasing consumer expectations for transparency and ethical business. Ethical values drive business success and they should be the basis for every choice we make. Applying them builds trust and sets the foundation for all good business relationships.

Many leaders I talk with have a feeling that there is a more meaningful way of thinking and leading than what they’ve been seeing. These leaders want to have a positive impact in the workplace and make a difference in the world. Learning high level ethical thinking will not only help them handle the challenges they are already facing, it will also improve their long term social impact. We know that in the age of transparency, ethical brand value helps drive an organization’s bottom line results. How do we ensure that leaders will use the kind of thinking that leads to ethical action? We start by making ethical thinking “must have” development for leaders.

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Leading Forum
This post is by Linda Fisher Thornton. She is CEO of Leading in Context LLC and author of 7 Lenses: Learning the Principles and Practices of Ethical Leadership, now in its second printing. She is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Leadership and Ethics for the University of Richmond School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Her website is LeadinginContext.com

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:30 AM
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Moving Your Agenda

Moving Your Agenda

OVING YOUR AGENDA is not always easy. Yet, as a leader, you are remembered because you were able to move an agenda.

Samuel Bacharach writes in The Agenda Mover, that leadership is “about your capacity to take your ideas and work them through the maze of resistance, overcome challenges, and put those ideas in place. Leaders are remembered for their accomplishments, not their promises.”

To that end, Bacharach has provided a practical guide to do just that. He presents a four-step process that anyone can learn to master with practice.

To move an agenda, you need to learn to harness what others have to offer if for no other reason than you have blind spots. You need to build a coalition and develop the managerial skills required to maintain forward movement. It requires a campaign of pragmatic leadership. “Agenda movers are aware that their self-interest, emotions, cognitive capacity, and background can trip them up if they are not careful and that being smart is not a guarantor of success.”

Agenda Movers

The four major stages in any campaign are first, you must anticipate the agendas of others. Second, you must mobilize your campaign. Third, you need to negotiate buy-in. And fourth, you must sustain momentum. In this post we will focus on the first stage—Anticipate the Agenda of Others—because this is the stage that most of us miss or move too quickly over and set ourselves up for frustration or failure.

Anticipate the Agenda of Others

This means knowing where others are coming from. Putting yourself in their shoes. Empathy. Our own egos are the enemy here.

You need to know who you are dealing with—the stakeholders. Bacharach lists four: Top Dogs (organizational decision makers), Gatekeepers (the liaisons), Gurus (senior individuals, external consultants, the board of directors), and the Players (people directly impacted by your agenda). The players are your essential ally. Never underestimate them.

All of these stakeholders have their own agendas and ways they go about accomplishing them. There are the Tinkerers versus the Overhaulers and the Planners versus Improvisers that make up the Four Agenda Archetypes. There is the Let’s-Be-Careful Traditionalist, the Cross-That-Bridge-When-We-Come-to-It Adjuster, the Push-the-Envelope Developer, and the Tear-the-Envelope Revolutionary. If you know where you are coming from and where others are coming from you can begin to see what might motivate someone to join your change effort. This framework can help you do that.

Agenda Archetypes
Distinguishing traditionalists from developers, developers from adjusters, and adjusters from revolutionaries allows you to identify where others are coming from quickly and efficiently. In making these distinctions, be careful not to assume that these agendas are immutable or that people are uniformly consistent from one situation to another.
Of course, we are a factor in the process. We have our own motivations and our preferred ways of dealing with change. It is critical that we know where we are coming from too. We may need to adjust the approach we are comfortable with in order to move our agenda.

The chart below helps you to see how your motivation relates to the motivation of others. “Allies are those who share your agenda, and it is easy for them to see where you’re coming from.” Traditionalists can anticipate that a Revolutionary will resist their approach and agenda. But here is a key insight:
Agenda movers are leaders who understand that leading isn’t about meeting jubilantly with allies or reasoning earnestly with resistors. Successful leaders understand that the real challenge is in the gray area—converting potential allies into allies and making sure the potential resistors are not transformed into full-fledged resistors. Potential allies and potential resistors disagree with either your approach or your goals. Skillful negotiation may persuade these individuals to reconsider aspects of your agenda that differ from theirs. If you are not careful, potentials can easily switch to resistors.

Stakeholders Agenda

Mobilize Your Campaign

Timing and tone make a difference. “To mobilize others you must: focus your message; justify your agenda; establish your credibility; and gauge your support.” You do not want to oversell here. Choose your words carefully to justify why your agenda should be supported. Make sure your idea is well thought through and you demonstrate the ability to see it through.

Negotiate Support

“Getting the buy-in is about shifting your focus from sharing your passion for your idea to really thinking about where the other party is coming from.” It is a process of reducing their anxiety. How will it benefit them? If they come on board, it is reasonable to assume that it can be done, will they get any of the credit, and are they protected if it fails. They want to know what changes for them. Your approach to the situation will make a big difference. You can approach it with a controlling, hardline mindset if this is a one-time thing. On the other hand, you can try a more cooperative mindset that seeks to pull-them-in. This mindset may allow you build supporters for any future agenda you may have.

Sustain Your Campaign

This is where the rubber meets the road. After you’ve won people over, you have to get it done. “You may have sold your idea and created a coalition, but you can only sustain momentum and get results if your team can keep up its energy and focus in spite of challenges, obstacles, and setbacks.” To create traction, you need to celebrate small victories, make sure they own the idea, and manage with agility. You have to be smart about how you present yourself and deal with others. You can micromanage your team, but you are better acting as a facilitator coach.

To go the distance, your team must act with a collective purpose. You can sustain the campaign mindset by reminding them why they are part of your effort, reinforcing the payoff, keeping an optimistic outlook, and maintaining your credibility. It is crucial to remind people not only about the importance of the mission but also about how important they are to the mission.

Anyone successful at moving an agenda knows that it is not a solo effort. “Failed leaders are those who assume that they are the most important player.

The Agenda Mover is a book that leaders at all levels would benefit from reading. It is common to see people trying to push their agenda without first defining what they are up against and without any understanding of the impact they themselves are having on others. Without that knowledge we often resort to destructive behaviors to get our agenda moving. In that regard this book is critical for anyone with an idea they want to have taken seriously.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:45 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Problem Solving


How to Work with People You Don’t Agree with or Like or Trust

Collaborating With the Enemy

N Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane shares a joke he heard while working in Cape Town, South Africa that exemplifies the stalemate we feel when trying to work with people who just can’t see it our way:
Faced with our country’s overwhelming problems, we have two options: a practical option and a miraculous option. The practical option is for all of us to get down on our knees and pray for a band of angels to come down from heaven and solve our problems for us. The miraculous option is that we work things through together.
If we (and they) choose to collaborate, how do you work with people you don’t trust, who have incompatible agendas, and histories of dislike? What do you do when you need to come together to solve a problem but they can’t see it your way?

Part of the issue is we come into the collaboration with the idea that we can control the process; we can get people to make the changes we need them to make. When a situation with others becomes hopeless or dire, we double-down and try to find a way to convince them, even force them to change in order to bring them into alignment with our thinking. Underlying this approach is the belief that I/we know what is best and it is my duty to make them change for their own good.

When faced with others different form us we tend to label them as enemies. We demonize and vilify them. Call them names even.
Our enemfying, which feels exciting and satisfying, even righteous and heroic, usually obscures rather than clarifies he reality of the challenges we face. It amplifies conflicts; it narrows the space for problem solving and creativity; and it distracts us, with unrealizable dreams of decisive victory, from the real work we need to do.
We need a better approach and mindset. Kahane introduces an idea called stretch collaboration. We need to shift our thinking in three ways:

The first shift is instead of focusing on a narrow focus over the good and harmony of the team, we should embrace the conflict and connection within and beyond the team. In short, we have to affirm the legitimacy of every perspective of the group. Each participant brings a perspective that they care about and by acknowledging all we can form a more complete picture.

The second shift deals with the process. Instead of insisting on one right view of the problem, the solution, and the plan, we need to move toward experimenting systematically with different perspectives and possibilities. We learn together. We think through the issues and solutions together to see what could work. The idea is to cocreate new options as we—together—work through the issues.

The final shift requires us to see ourselves as part of the whole and as one orchestrating the collaboration. We are a participant as much as everyone else. We tend to overlook ourselves as part of the problem. Bill Tobert once told Kahane that “if you’re not part of the problem, then you cannot be part of the solution.” Ego is always an issue. “When we are faced with a challenging situation, we focus our attention first and foremost on what other people are doing or not doing or out to be doing.” Kahane adds, “Blaming others is a common and lazy way to avoid doing our own work.”

These shifts require us to move outside ourselves. “Self-centeredness means that we arrogantly overestimate the correctness and value of our own perspectives and actions, and we underestimate those of others.”

Keep in mind, “Your enemies can be your greatest teachers.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:57 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Problem Solving


The Mathematical Corporation

Mathematical Corporation

OU WILL SOON be able to give over almost half of your cognitive work to the machine. This is not to say that you will lose control, but rather, it points to the fact that the human role will become even more critical.

A mathematical corporation is one that takes advantage of machine intelligence by collaborating with it to achieve leading-edge results. It will require a shift in your thinking. “As a leader,” say Josh Sullivan and Angela Zutavern in The Mathematical Corporation, “you need to evolve your focus to excelling through imagination, creativity, reasoning, and problem structuring.”

Leading in the era of the mathematical corporation means learning to work with the machine to investigate mountains of data not by braking them down, but by keeping them together to mine insights never before imaginable. It means being able to distinguish what machines are good at doing from what people are good at doing. When people and machines are appropriately paired we can explore heretofore impossible strategies and execute incredible solutions.

Machines will not replace people but we will need to develop and capitalize on some uniquely human skills. “People will continue to be better than machines at many of the loftiest cognitive tasks, like asking questions to clarify a problem, composing experiments to test hypotheses, and drawing on truths in one discipline to elicit insights in another.”

Because of the machine’s ability to synthesize vast amounts of data, it would be wise to question your own judgements when machines offer a different conclusion from your own. Machines for example can recognize patterns better than we can. That said, “computers don’t know the cause of a pattern. They don’t have the human appetite to get to the bottom of the matter, and they don’t ask, ‘Just how does cause A lead to effect B?’ They learn, infer, and have high recall accuracy, but they don’t know the story of cause and effect. So, the task of taking a cause-and-effect understanding of a business system and crafting a strategy from it remains a people job.”

Getting the Questions Right

While Big Data adds complexity, it is only a problem if you don’t know how to mine it for value. The key skill for leaders is to be able to ask better questions than to offer solutions. Asking the right questions is critical. Poor questions lead to questionable insights. “That’s why as a leader, you need to remain at the tip of the process, seeing the world in a much broader and more differentiated way than others.”

Not only asking the right questions but removing our own biases from them, will bring us breakthrough insights and more nuanced answers. Another issue we will have to work through is not projecting our limitations and constraints on the machine. Although we have a mental model that we filter the world though, we must be careful not to constrain the machine—our questions—in the same way.

What About Intuition?

In the mathematical corporation, the role intuition will shift from judging reality to judging models. “No matter your feeling on intuition, its role is destined to shift to a smaller, if still critical position. As machine intelligence converts implicit understanding to exploit facts, replaces implicit assumptions with data-givens, counters biases with hard evidence, we have to admit the superiority of the cold facts encoded in 1s and 0s.” Often it will require a leap of faith on our part.

We will need to learn to ask bigger questions and questions that will lead us to better questions. The best machine collaborators will see this as a learning journey. “Conventional strategic planning practice calls for a relentless search for answers during a detailed analysis of context and a relentless analysis of the opportunity to find the right answer in one go. But when the answer is over the horizon, no amount of analysis of the landscape up front will reveal it. You need to go on a learning journey—sailing to the far shores to find the best answer.”

It requires a commitment to a cycle of questioning and learning, questioning and learning.

As digital technologies continue to develop and improve, leaders will need to become wise and discerning leaders of machines. Leaders will not only be expected to use this technology to their advantage to solve their own organizational issue but to help answers the questions that exist beyond their own walls.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:24 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Problem Solving , Thinking


Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less


N HIS BOOK Stretch, Scott Sonenshein dispels the notion that having more resources = getting better results and replaces it with the conviction that a better use of resources = getting better results.

We are under more pressure than ever to do more. The idea that we can stretch and do more with what we already have begins to remove us from the dehumanizing rat race for resources that is impossible to win. Chasing limits us. Stretch liberates.

Especially in uncertain times, “stretching equips us with the abilities to adapt and change when facing a less predictable set of circumstances.”

One of the reasons we chase instead of stretch is because fail to see how we might see a resources beyond its traditional use. It’s also easy to assume that if we just had more money we could spend our way out of our problems. It’s often easier to acquire things than to think about how to use those same resources in more productive ways. “The problem is that chasers become so fixated on acquiring resources that they lose sight of what those resources will do for them” so we end up squandering them.

We need to place more focus on what we already have. “Stretchers find beauty and richness in places where others struggle to see anything of value. Too often, we understand, interact with, and use things at face value, locking ourselves into conventions that limit possibilities.” Our creativity is sparked by constraints. Filmmaker Robert Rodrigues comments:
The creative person with limitless imagination and no money can make a better film than the talentless mogul with the limitless checkbook every time. Take advantage of your disadvantages, feature the few assets you may have, and work harder than anyone else around you.
Outsiders can often stretch by seeing possibilities that we can’t because we are the expert or just too close to the issue. “Breadth of experiences helps people stretch.” The well rounded often outperform those who are deeply focused on a single thing especially when trying to solve complex problems. It makes a case for a liberal arts education.

We need to repeatedly go outside ourselves. “Temporary departures from our small worlds can come from short bursts of new activities such as reading about another field, finding a hobby, or having conversations with people from different backgrounds.”

Stretching is not about being a cheapskate. There is a difference between frugal and cheap.

A Stretching Roadmap

In summary, here are a dozen ways Sonenshein suggests to help get us into the stretching habit.

Just Say NoStretching
Just say no to more resources. Ask: “If I only didn’t have these resources, I could…” “By saying no to more resources, we’re saying yes to an entirely new outlook on working and living.”

Find a Sleeping Beauty
It’s easy to miss what is right before us. Again an outsider can help here. “In the world beyond fairy tales, a lot of resources lie dormant. If we look hard enough, we’ll find resources all around us waiting to be activated. We just need to awaken them to benefit from more than we thought we had, allowing us to solve different problems and pursue promising opportunities that otherwise might be impossible.”

Go Explore
Dedicate time every week to reading something different, educate yourself outside of your industry, take lunch with someone new, or spend time with outsiders. Leave your comfort zone.

Take a Break (and Pay Less Attention)
Consider rotating between difficult work and mindless work. “Mindless work recharges our batteries, readies us to do more down the road, and lets our mind wander to find new connections among our resources.” Take a walk to find new connections. Consider putting yourself on the clock to provide a mandatory beginning and ending to your work.

Pick New Neighbors
“Whom we spend time with shapes a lot of our behavior.” You don’t need to change zip codes. “Instead, identify one stretcher you admire and already know. Commit to spending at least one hour with him or her once a month.”

“When people are grateful, they expand how they think about resources, often in ways that try to help others.” Also, by appreciating what we have, it makes it easier to say no to tempting things we lack but really don’t need.

Shop Your Closet
Use what you have. “Many of the best known inventions came from existing products. Play-Doh started as a wallpaper cleaning compound that became obsolete with the rise of vinyl wallpaper in the 1950s; the corkscrew came from a military tool to remove bullets; and Pyrex came from material from train lantern glass the wife of a scientist at Corning Glass Work experimented with to bake a cake.”

Plan Backward
Think improvisation. Without a plan is often difficult to get started. But “jazz music replaces a plan with improvisation, teaching us to act and respond more spontaneously. Once we get moving, we free ourselves from worrying about plotting and following a plan and focus on observing and learning from our actions.”

Scramble the Back Row
To remove chess players from entrenched thinking, Bobby Fischer suggested randomly scrambling the back row. “If we find ourselves too regularly on autopilot, it might be time to scramble our back rows. There’s comfort in habits, but it’s critical to avoid being complacent with how things are, closing off the possibility of imagining how things might be better.”

Make Midyear Resolutions
“Why wait until the beginning of the year to make a pledge. The midyear resolutions also allow us to take stock of how we did with our New Year’s resolutions and set additional goals from a presumably clearer head space.”

Break it Down
If we can break down our resources to their smallest components, then it becomes easier to see the hidden potential.

Turn Treasure into Trash
Keep a benefits diary to records unexpected benefits from you key events, activities, or experiences. “Once we find a hidden benefit in something, we can turn it into a treasure.

Stretch is a very well done book. Good and relevant examples give power to the points he is making. By chasing resources we really limit our potential. Stretching brings out our best.


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In Stretch: Unlock the Power of Less - and Achieve More Than You Ever Imagined, you will learn to rethink what you need to succeed, and do more with what you already have. Scott Sonenshein examines why some people and organizations succeed with so little while others fail with so much.

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Of Related Interest:
  A Beautiful Constraint
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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:55 PM
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The 9 Behaviors of Great Problem Solvers

Stop Guessing

ASY PROBLEMS can often be solved by guessing. And we solve hundreds of these kinds of problems as we go throughout our week. The problem arises when we rely on our experience to guess at what might be wrong to try to solve hard problems—problems where the solution is obscured. The odds are against solving hard problems by guessing. And because we don’t apply the right approach to these problems they remain unsolved costing us time, money, and emotional wellbeing.

Naturally we like simple solutions. But a simple guess is not the same thing as a simple solution. A simple solution is easy to implement. But a simple guess that doesn’t get to the real issues is difficult, expensive, and wasteful to implement.

We need to stop guessing. “Every unsolved problem is bottlenecked by not understanding the root cause at a fundamental level.” In Stop Guessing, Nat Greene explains 9 behaviors that great problem-solvers use to solve hard problems. Here are his behavior summaries:

1. Stop Guessing
It’s natural for us to guess. The first thing you must do to start solving problems or keep from making them worse is to stop guessing.

2. Smell the Problem
Get out and walk around using your natural senses and tools available to you to develop a strong pattern of failure. Ask relevant, thought-provoking questions about the specific problem to guide you to collect information and look for very specific patterns, rather than shotgunning and looking at everything in the system.

3. Embrace You Ignorance
It’s what you don’t know that lies between you and the solution. Great problem-solvers not only admit their ignorance but also embrace it and ask questions others might find “stupid,” to shatter old assumptions about the problem.

4. Know What Problem you’re Solving
Often, people work on the wrong problem entirely by making some implicit assumption about what’s causing it. Great problem-solvers invest time upfront to make sure the problem they’re working on is well defined, measureable as a variable, and represents precisely what is wrong with the system or process.

5. Dig into the Fundamentals
This means learning how the process works, both by understanding the process itself and by understanding some of the fundamental science behind it. By focusing on what controls a problem, you’ll be able to limit your digging to the parts of the process and the science that are relevant, rather than trying to wrap your arms around the entire thing at once.

6. Don’t Rely on Experts
Utilizing subject-matter experts is crucial to understanding a complex system and its underlying functionality and science. Unfortunately, most people delegate responsibility for solving the problem to those subject-matter experts, rather than driving the problem-solving process themselves. Great problem-solvers always view experts as collaborators rather than saviors.

7. Believe in a Simple Solution
When confronting complex problems, it can be comforting to believe that the solution will be complex as well. But by not believing in a simple solution, people often give up long before they’ve gone through the rigor required to find the simple solution that lies at the root cause, to great cost and detriment. Great problem-solvers will have the belief and tenacity to keep solving until they’ve found the root cause.

8. Make Fact-Based Decisions
Avoid making opinion-based decisions: anything that relies on a vote, on authority, or on some subjective ranking system of what decision to make is one of these opinion-based decisions, and it leads problem-solvers astray.

9. Stay on Target
When problem-solvers dive deep into a problem, they too frequently seek to expand the number of possible root causes, so they can test them. Great problem-solvers measure the drivers that most immediately control the problem in order to determine whether those subvariables are in control, and in doing so are able to quickly eliminate most possible root causes and avenues of inquiry without having to dive deeper into them.

Greene digs deeper in to each of these in separate chapters. Strong problem-solving methods will discourage guessing, provide lots of structure to develop a pattern of failure, and guide you to understand how the process works. Begin problem solving and not solution-guessing.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:59 AM
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The Caterpillar's Edge

The Caterpillars Edge

HE CATERPILLAR doesn’t become a butterfly overnight. It evolves and evolves and evolves again. It is a purposeful metamorphosis from crawling creature to an entirely different being that can fly. At every stage the caterpillar faces challenges and frictions. It overcomes them to become a different version of itself. That is the caterpillar’s edge.

Sid Mohasseb writes in The Caterpillars Edge that “to realize an improved future you must purposefully leave the past behind, and embrace the uncertainty ahead—constantly and without fear. You must evolve, then evolve again and thrive.”

The problem as Mohasseb sees it is that many leaders are stuck in their approach to planning and execution. “They are guided by old habits formed in an era when competition was more static.” The data you are using can’t be captured in a fixed plan or you’ll have an excellent strategy for the year before. Your planning and execution needs to be more dynamic than that.

We need a new and more agile approach. “The world will not wait while you contemplate, take time to gather enough data to be exhaustive in your analysis, and then build consensus around actions.” You can improve your “likelihood of winning by constantly reading and applying the incoming data points.” “You must learn and live and compete in an uncertain and always changing reality.” Prefer change to the comfort of stability.

There are three crucial rules to be applied here:

1. Align with Uncertainty—Adjust to the dynamic world around you. Be prepared to shift your focus at all times. The market is shifting. By the time you transform, the advantage you wanted may be long gone.

2. Appreciate Reality—Understand what is practical and achievable by you and your company. You can evolve over and over.

3. Aspire for More—Seek more data, more analysis, and more “Aha” moments or move faster to reach the moments of insight, where the solutions to problems become clear. McKinsey reports that eight out of ten time strategists focus on known hypothesis—opportunities that have been examined in the past or are already evident.
“Most people use analytics in the context of consumer level transactions. But there is no lasting strategic advantage. When people claim that they are competitive because they are using analytics, that’s just the flavor of the day. Now unless you tell me that you have used data analytics in order to find a new product ground, a new design, and a new market, you are not strategic . . . as opposed to let’s sell more shoes to the guys who are buying shoes . . . what is being done for the most part today is a kind of a tit for tat, and that’s what I see most people calling gaining competitive advantage.” Optimizing today’s processes for greater efficiency does not necessarily offer an advantage for tomorrow. Use the force and create the future. Don’t use the data to justify your actions, use it to discover advantages.

It’s not the analytics, but the execution. Analytics is just and tool and soon will be found and used by everyone everywhere. As that occurs, the “business basics of good strategy and execution will, once again, drive the lasting victories.”

A winning strategy must be adaptable from the start. Be prepared to improvise.

Selected Caterpillar Edge advice:

  Every plan has to offer a wave of strategies—a collection of related strategies with identifiable pivot points; demand to see the signals that will be monitored to trigger a point.

  Avoid having independent plans by functions or business units—all plans must include internal and external shared signals that glue the organization together.

  View and leverage “data” as an asset—not a byproduct of your execution and a means to measure your past actions. Declare that data and analytics will be driving decisions; then actually let it.

  Avoid the urge to solve first and justify with data later. To gain new insight, always look to disprove yourself.

  Erase the line between planning and execution. Be upfront with the organization: you will change the plan when needed; the month of the year is not going to dictate your destiny and the ability to gain a timely advantage.

  Dynamic is different for every organization. Chose your initial pace and aim to beat it. Remember: being dynamic in planning and execution is different than being agile in executing against a static strategy.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:34 PM
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5 Questions to Ask When Managing in the Gray

Managing Gray

JOSEPH BADARACCO PROVIDES A WAY to resolve the inevitable gray areas we will all face from time to time in Managing in the Gray. It is the core of a leaders work.

Gray areas demand our best judgment. The five questions provide a way to get there. They are “a distinctive way of sizing up gray area issues, analyzing them carefully, grappling with their full, human complexity, and then—and only then—making final decisions.”

Avoid the temptation to skip a question or pick a favorite. “This approach improves deliberation and judgment because the questions complement, correct, and strengthen each other.”

5 Questions to work through the gray of difficult decisions:

What are the net, net consequences?
The critical first step requires thinking deeply putting aside your own self-interest. Don’t oversimplify. That means don’t just think about those things you can put a number to. “Life is a rich canvas, not a cartoon.” Understanding the net, net consequences means thinking in terms of “everything that matters to us as human beings: hope, joy, security, freedom from hazards, health, friendship, and love, risk, suffering, and dreams.” What are we trying to do for people, not to them?

Keep in mind we have a strong self-enhancement bias. We tend to see too quickly. The process is important when working on gray area problems. “How you work on a problem can be as important as what you ultimately decide to do.”

Get the right people in the room. Assign a couple people to play devil’s advocate. Begin by developing a list of things you could do as opposed to what you should do. Then work out the possible outcomes of each possibility.

What are my core obligations?
“When trying to resolve a gray area problem, you have to develop an answer—for yourself—to the question of what your core human obligations require you to do and not do in the situation you face.” In a business situation it is important to take a hard look at the economics but at the same time you need to look past the economics and try resolving the issue like a human being. When looking at a gray area problem you must awaken your moral imagination. Edmund Burke described it as a “reaction to a situation that the heart owns and the understanding ratifies.” Again, make it part of the process.

What will work in the world as it is?
More than what will work. What will work in the world as it is? Don’t let idealistic notions distort your thinking. “If you have serious responsibilities, you must avoid the trap of seeing the world as you want it to be.” “The question asks managers if they are prepared to do what is necessary in this world—to serve the interests of people who depend on them and also protect themselves and advance their own objectives.” The question becomes, “How resilient is my plan and how resilient am I?” Badaracco offers five step to help you answer with eyes-wide-open realism.

Who are we?
This questions guides leaders to see their identities as woven into the fabric of their surrounding communities. “It then encourages them to seek options that will reflect, express, and give reality to the norms and values of the communities to which they belong.” We are social creatures. “It is relationships, values, and norms that make us who we are.” See the problem in context. “When you face a hard gray area issue, you should spend a few minutes stepping back and trying to understand the situation in terms of some of the defining experiences in your organization’s history that matter to you and help you understand what your organization stands for.”

What can I live with?
Not what is best or right, but what you can live with. After all is said and done It is quite possible—even probable—that you will not find a solution. If that’s the case you have to create an answer you can live with. It means “you did all you could, but you’ve only met a minimum standard of acceptability.” And of course, you have to take responsibility for it. “Gray area decisions inevitably reflect and reveal the personal priorities of the person who makes them.” And so these kinds of tough questions push you to reflect on what you can live with. They test competence and character. What are your convictions? Alfred P. Sloan wrote in his autobiography, “The final act of business judgment is, of course, intuitive.”

Badaracco concludes: “Men and women should approach gray area issues as managers and resolve them as human beings.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:09 PM
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Why Most People Never Learn from Their Mistakes

Black Box Thinking
Black Box Thinking is about how success happens. Progress hinges on how we react to failure.

In two of the most safety-critical industries – aviation and health care – the approach to failure is very different. And the results highlight the problem. For commercial aviation on Western-built jets, they have only one accident per 2.4 million flights. In health care the equivalent of two jumbo jets are falling out of the sky every twenty-four hours making preventable medical error in hospitals the third biggest killer in the United Sates behind only heart disease and cancer.

The problem lies in how they approach failure. “A failure to learn from mistakes has been one of the single greatest obstacles to human progress.” For all of the talk about not being afraid of failure, we are not learning what we should. Our organizational and personal cultures tend to evade and cover-up the issues.

How do we react when something has gone wrong?

Black Box
Black Box Thinking refers to the flight recorder found on every aircraft in the airline industry. The idea of course, is that if an accident occurs, the data can be retrieved and analyzed. Any issues uncovered can then be dealt with so that the same problem does not occur again.

The author, Matthew Syed, describes black box thinking as “the willingness and tenacity to investigate the lessons that often exist when we fail, but which we rarely exploit. It is about creating systems and cultures that enable organizations to learn from errors, rather than being threatened by them.”

Why? “Failure is rich in learning opportunities for a simple reason: in many of its guises, it represents a violation of expectation. It is showing us that the world is in some sense different from the way we imagined.” Nicely put.

Learning from failure is easier said than done. The more we have at stake (especially our egos) the more likely we are to manipulate the evidence. Consider this:
When we’re confronted with evidence that challenges our deeply held beliefs we are more likely to reframe the evidence than we are to alter our beliefs. We simply invent new reasons, new justifications, new explanations. Sometimes we ignore the evidence altogether.

Most failure can be given a makeover. Self-justification is more insidious. Lying to oneself destroys the very possibility of learning. The most effective cover-ups are perpetrated not by those who are covering their backs, but by those who don’t even realize that they have anything to hide.

Memory, it turns out, is not as reliable as we think. We often assemble fragments of entirely different experiences and weave them together into what seems like a coherent whole. With each recollection, we engage in editing.

Clinging to cherished ideas because you are personally associated with them is tantamount to ossification. As the great British economist John Maynard Keynes put it: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do sir?”
One of the difficulties we have when analyzing failures (and analyzing success for that matter) is that we rely on information based on hunches. Our intuitions are often wrong. We need to get down to into the details so we can isolate the effect of any action so we are solving the right problem.

David Brailsford, the general manager of the British cycling Team Sky put it this way: “People think it is exhausting to think about success at such a high level of detail. But it would be far more exhausting, for me anyway, to neglect doing the analysis. I would much rather have clear answers than to delude myself that I have the ‘right’ answers.”

An organization (and even individuals) can go on for decades thinking that their success is linked to a particular factor when in reality it is the cause of their failures. And they never make the connection because their assumptions have never been tested or analyzed.

We must change our relationship with failure. We are not born with a fear of failure. It’s how we learn. It’s only over time that we are taught a fear of failure and lose our growth mindset. We can only improve in environments where we have the right kind of meaningful feedback. Fear of failure is not the real enemy; it is recrimination and defeatism that often accompanies failure. We need to eradicate blame and encourage growth responsibility.

Syed writes: “If we drop out when we encounter problems, progress is prevented, no matter how talented we are. If we interpret difficulties as indictments of who we are, rather than pathway to progress, we will run a mile from failure. Grit, then, is strongly related to the Growth Mindset; it is about the way we conceptualize success and failure.”

Through the use of a wide variety of examples, Syed pushes you to think differently about failure and success. More importantly, he teaches us how to look beyond our easy answers and effectively get to the real issues and causations.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:13 AM
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A Framework of Organizational Tensions

TENSIONS are objectives that seem to be in conflict. They are values that seem to be in opposition. We often treat them as either/or choices when they should be treated as both/and dynamics. Each value or characteristic supports and even makes possible the competing value.

Robert Quinn has produced a valuable tool for understanding this concept in his book The Positive Organization. What makes it especially valuable is that it illustrates the options we have to the single values we hold so dear—there are possibilities and equally effective “right” solutions we can use to move us forward.

We tend to focus on the value that resonates most with us or the ones we are most familiar with. This often causes us to get stuck or to jump from one ditch to the other never realizing the true potential of our organization. (This dynamic plays out in our personal lives as well.)

Tensions Framework

You will notice that each of the positive values in the inner circle is associated with a negative value on the outer circle. If we champion one value over another we put our organizations at risk for the negative outcomes associated with each of the 20 values on the diagram. Every positive value without its contrasting value can become a negative in much the same way the overuse of a strength becomes a weakness.

For example, we need some predictability and control in any organization, but too much leads to rigidity. We also need some spontaneity and self-organization for people to flourish, but again too much can lead to organizational and personal chaos. We also miss the larger picture and usually misinterpret issues.

Tensions Sample
A person who seeks a predictable, smooth running organization often focuses on disruptions and disruptive influences; the natural inclination is to fix those disruptive problems. When we focus on a problem, we are not seeing the whole system. We are paying attention to something within the system. Likewise, when we focus on a single person, we are not focusing on the culture of which that person is a part.
When we have an agenda we tend not to see the whole picture. As leaders we need to see the broader context of every situation.

It’s not about finding balance. It’s about emphasis—where to place the emphasis and when.
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Of Related Interest:
  Lift: How to Be a Positive Force in Any Situation

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:45 PM
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6 Skills You Need to Win the Long Game

Winning the Long Game
Brian Dodd says he doesn’t like meetings but he loves strategy sessions because they are about movement and focus on accomplishment, not activity. They “make you glad you are a leader.” I presume he would agree with authors Steven Krupp and Paul Schoemaker. They say the number one business challenge for winning the long game is for leaders to become more strategic.

In Winning the Long Game they write that “In times of crisis and change, when people are confused about what to do, ordinary leadership must rise to the level of strategic leadership.” The trick is to deliver short-term results while securing long-term viability. Especially in uncertain times, “companies must tilt more toward strategic leadership than toward operational excellence.”

Strategic leaders need two perspectives: outside in and future back. Outside in means that a “strategic leader starts with the external marketplace when addressing problems, without getting wrapped up by internal organizational issues.” Future back means that when playing the long game strategic leaders use their long-term vision to guide their short-term decisions in a flexible way.

Strategic leadership If strategic leaders are to thrive and play the long game they need six elements critical for effective strategic leadership: Anticipate, Challenge, Interpret, Decide, Align and Learn. Mastering just a few of these skills is not enough. “The more uncertain the environment becomes, the more a leader needs these six disciplines in combination because they possess self-reinforcing qualities when deployed as an interdependent leadership system.”

Anticipate: Strategic leaders are constantly vigilant, honing their ability to anticipate by scanning the environment for signals of change. They develop and maintain an external mindset. How quickly do you spot ambiguous threats and opportunities on the periphery of your business? (Chapter 1: Elon Musk)
“Once a company becomes the master of its own universe, seeing new developments in adjacent markets becomes harder.

The paradox is that the more humility we have about our ability to make predictions, the more successful we can be in winning the long game.”
Challenge: Strategic leaders question the status quo. Pope Francis is listening to new voices and deliberately bypassing old channels of communication. Open a window to let in fresh air and look in the mirror. Are you comfortable with conflicting views and differences in opinion? How often do you question your own and other people’s assumptions? (Chapter 2: Sir Richard Branson, Pope Francis)
Opening the window is the practice of promulgating outside perspectives to see complex issues in context. Looking in the mirror is the practice of deep self-reflection, whereby leaders confront outmoded beliefs, faulty assumptions, and stubbornness in themselves and others.”
Interpret: Strategic leaders amplify signals and connect multiple data points in new and insightful ways to make sense of complex, ambiguous situations. Can you pick up on signals to distinguish anomalies from leading indicators of change? What are you not seeing or hearing? We begin by recognizing the facts and then “re-cognizing,” or rethinking, them to expose their hidden implications. (Chapter 3: Charles O. Holliday Jr.)
“Leaders get blindsided not so much because they aren’t receiving signals but because they aren’t exploring alternative interpretations, or they get locked into one piece of the puzzle.”
Decide: Strategic leaders seek multiple options to ensure flexible decision-making. They don’t get prematurely locked into simplistic yes/no choices. How often and how quickly must you make tough calls with incomplete information? (Chapter 4: Angela Merkel, Laurence Golborne)
“Exploring options means having the wisdom, cool-headedness, and perspective to consider all of the alternatives available. Showing courage means demonstrating the fortitude to commit to the right solution and, if that solution proves ineffective, critically stepping back to reconsider.”
Align: Strategic leaders engage stakeholders to understand change readiness, manage differences and create buy-in. They are adept at finding common ground. This requires active outreach. Good communication is key. Do you regularly engage your managers’ direct reports in decisions that affect their work? Where do you stand with the people you need to influence? (Chapter 5: Alex Ferguson)
“There is an interconnectedness now in problems—and this changes the issues. You need to have more people involved with the decision making, leaving the leader less in control of the situation.”
Learn: Strategic leaders continuously reflect on successes and failures to improve performance and decision-making. I like this chapter title: My Gift Was Not Knowing. It sums it up well. A quarter of a century after the publication of Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, “the learning organization still does not have much of a foothold in the business world, despite skyrocketing uncertainty.” When was the last time you admitted you were wrong—in public? (Chapter 6: Reed Hastings, Sara Blakely)
“Leaders must make their moves when the future is still ambiguous. If an organization is continually learning, then everyone is primed for change and ready to move in a different direction each day.”
What kind of strategic thinker are you? You can assess your current capabilities at Decision Strategies International

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:27 PM
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The Power of Noticing

Harvard professor Max Bazerman believes in the power of noticing. Sometimes we get so focused on what is right in front of us that we miss the critical information that would help us to make better decisions.

The Power of Noticing guides us through what happens when our focus can prevent us from seeing the critical information we need to make better decisions. Focusing too narrowly on the information in front of us is common too us all. Where we would never do it in certain situations we can easily do it in others.

Loyalty creates “blinders to full awareness and action.” Personality cults end badly for this very reason. “When we have a vested self-interest in a situation, we have difficulty approaching that situation without bias, no matter how well-calibrated we believe our moral compass to be. We want to think the best of our kids and spouses, and we’re disinclined to speak against those with influence in our offices and our occupations.” And so we don’t speak up when we should or we miss the kind of information we need to make the best decision.

“Through our silence and complacency we accept and promote corruption.” When we don’t take the time to notice growing issues or simply chose to ignore them, corrupt systems develop around us.

Sometimes we don’t get the information we need or fail to see the obvious because of misdirection. Thinking logically helps us to avoid this kind of decision-making trap. “When you start to stray from logic, and another person is involved, whether she is a negotiator, marketer, or politician, it is time to put yourself in the shoes of the other party, understand her motives, and adapt accordingly.”

We are also unlikely to notice gradual changes. It is easy to miss or more likely to accept changes in ethical behavior until it’s too late because of this slippery slope effect. “Too often executives have engaged in unacceptable behavior not because they intend to defraud but simply to justify the mess that they got into.”

There are more obvious things we don’t notice or rather do notice but our human nature gets the best of us. Things that are “too good to be true” require investigation. Bazerman explains why penny auctions are nothing but gambling. The house always wins. “Thinking one step ahead allows you to identify when to be trusting and when to be cynical.”

It is wise to think through the indirect effects of your organizational policies and goals. What is the possible downside? What might it cause people to do unintentionally?

“Focusing is important, but sometimes noticing is better—at least when you are making critical decisions.”
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Of Related Interest:
  First Class Noticer

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:53 PM
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Get Advice from People Who Have…

The Decision Maker
Giving decisions to people closest to the action can transform any organization says Dennis Bakke in The Decision Maker. In a decision-maker organization, the leader leads by choosing a decision-maker based on their proximity, perspective, experience and wisdom.

But since we are all human, the decision-maker must ask for advice. The advice process brings multiple perspectives together to guide a successful outcome. But the decision-maker makes the final call—and takes responsibility for it.

Deciding who to get advice from can influence a successful outcome. So get advice from people who have:

Experience: Has this person had experience with this problem? There’s no teacher like experience.

Position: People in different positions see different things. The decision-maker asks a leader, a peer, someone below them in the hierarchy—and even, if circumstances warrant, experts from outside the company.

Responsibility: Decisions have consequences—and decision-makers should be held accountable for theirs. At the same time, nobody is right all the time. The most important part of any decision is that the decision-maker fully engages with the advice process, not just that he or she gets it “right.”

Ownership: When people are asked for advice, they start to feel ownership. Ideally, everyone who offers advice works for the success of the project as if it were their own. The advice process isn’t just about getting the right answer. It’s about building a strong team and creating a process of communication that will improve all decisions in a company.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:44 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Identifying and Dealing with Paradoxes

There are problems and there are paradoxes. The trouble is when we treat paradoxes as problems because then our decision making process becomes paralyzed, inflexible, incomplete, isolated and closed.

Paradoxes are recurring issues that are familiar and present throughout organizations today: the conflicting needs of purpose and profit, short- and long-term goals, local versus global demands, and the need for a flatter, more nimble organization that still executes with discipline.

Paradoxes deal with uncertainty and ambiguity. They take us away from the familiar, the control, consistency and closure we seek. If you crave control you won’t handle paradoxes well.

Paradox Leadership
Authors David Dotlich, Peter Cairo and Cade Cowan make an important statement in The Unfinished Leader: “The only way to become a finished leader is to remain an unfinished one.” That is to say, a leader open to possibility. “Leading through complexity requires giving up the illusion of control, consistency, and closure, while embracing the reality of being permanently unfinished.”

Their research has shown that only about a third of leaders recognize paradoxes and handle them differently than they do problems, another third know they need to, and another third fail to see paradoxes at all. The Unfinished Leader offers ways in which you can learn to think differently about paradoxes and then provide tools for resolving paradoxical problems.

Key to resolving paradox is collaboration and that means letting go of control—sharing control for solving the paradox. It means letting a purpose and not a plan guide your way. “Embracing best practices from others, admitting to not having the solution, and absorbing the variety of the world prepare you to identify paradoxes and select right actions.”

I’ll leave you with three thoughts from The Unfinished Leader:
Too often, people do not adequately develop the interpersonal skills for collaboration, do not get beyond the thirst for control, consistency, and closure, do not work to mitigate their personal derailers, and do not overcome the human reluctance to act in the face of ambiguous, paradoxical problems.

Team members cannot fruitfully collaborate if someone always insists on controlling the outcome while excluding others. Nor can they do so if someone insists on acting consistently with old mental models even as times change. Nor can they act effectively if everyone demands closure on problems that need frequent revisiting.
If we had leaders that would declare they have to collaborate more intensively to find actions that ameliorate things now and demand a fresh look later, we would have leaders we all could call role models:
Leaders who demanded problem-solving control, yes, but yielded to paradox-solving delegation. Who demanded consistency of values and purpose, but embraced flexibility in thought and action. Who demanded closure for tame problems, called for ongoing management of society’s most wicked ills. These kinds of leaders would indeed include disciples of analysis, decision making, and execution. But they would also include masters of inquiry, collaboration, and action in the face of ambiguity.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:04 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


The Moment of Clarity

In a time of turbulence and uncertainty finding clarity and direction is the job of the leader. To make this happen, authors Christian Madsbjerg and Mikkel Rasmussen argue in The Moment of Clarity, we more often than not rely upon traditional, hypothesis driven, quantitative, and linear, decision making. This works well when there is a well-established relationship between cause and effect. But creating and seeing ahead into unchartered territory require a different kind of leadership skill: sensemaking.

While still clear on goals and priorities, sensemaking requires “the ability to lead open-ended discovery, to sense both soft and hard data, to use your judgment skills, to connect the dots, and to see the big picture in a vast ocean of sometimes conflicting data.”
When it comes to cultural shifts, the use of hypothesis based on past examples will give us false sense of confidence, sending us astray into unknown waters with the wrong map.
Sensemaking leaders have three fundamental characteristics:
  1. Sensemakers care deeply about the products and services they make and the meaning that these offerings create for people.
  2. Sensemakers have a strong perspective on their business—a perspective that stretches beyond the current time horizon and the current company boundaries.
  3. Sensemakers are good at connecting different worlds inside the company. An organization should have a diverse set of skills to understand the big idea, translate it into action, and maintain the operation.
The key takeaway from the book is this: getting people right is the key to taking your business out of a fog. We base our business decisions on the assumption that human beings are aware of our decisions and base them on rational thinking and predefined, immutable preferences. When in fact, many of people’s choices are made below their threshold of awareness. Many are based on mood and social interests. Yet we think that “if we only ask the right questions, design the right algorithms, analyze the right data set, then we will truly understand why our consumers behave the way they do.”

Sensemaking provides a way to makes decisions based on understanding people as they are.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:46 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


The 8 Elements that Bring People Together

Finding Allies, Building Alliances
Working together to solve a common problem provides us with a more complete picture of the problem, and can offer us more options, synergies and solutions, than we could achieve by working alone. Many of the issues we face will require collaboration at some level to solve or even manage them.

In Finding Allies, Building Alliances, authors Mike Leavitt and Rich McKeown, state, “The ability to get things done with collaborative networks is the next generation in human productivity.” We need to be able to form and work with and through value alliances. Value alliances are “a group of participants with aligned interests in pursuing an outcome with value for each of them.” These alliances can last long enough to solve the issue they came together to solve or they can be ongoing as an alliance enterprise to oversee the solution to the problem.

But value alliances are not always easy. “Value alliances require that participants subordinate their egos, their agendas, their preferred styles, and their biases—not to mention their organizational agendas—in favor of a shared benefit.” Some people just don’t have the aptitude—the collaborative intelligence if you will—to work well with others. “People with high collaborative intelligence make an effort to understand the views and needs of others; they listen honestly, thoughtfully and objectively. They don’t lock into positions prematurely. While they may possess strong points of view, they make an effort to hear other perspectives and will adjust their points of view once convinced they need adjusting.”

The authors have had a lot of experience creating, working with, and successfully resolving problems through effective value alliances. They share the good and the bad and the lessons learned along the way. They answer why you form value alliances, the eight key elements required for a collaborative effort to succeed, how you select productive participants and how you deal with the inevitable issues that come up dealing with other people. Their case is well thought out and clearly presented.

From their experience they have discovered why some collaborative efforts have failed and why others have succeeded. From that background they detail the 8 elements required for a collaborative network to succeed:

1. A Common Pain is a shared problem that motivates different people/groups to work together in ways that could otherwise seem counterintuitive. Value alliances “exist at the intersection of self-interest and common interest.” We often become collaborators when we discover that we can solve a problem on our own. “Few people are willing to place themselves in a collaborative position of they have an alternative.” (As a side note, leaders, because of their position and the authority it brings them, usually have an alternative—my way or the highway. The best leaders collaborate anyway.)
Collaborations require time, money, and people. The collaborative process is more complex, slower, and messier than independent decision making. To be willing to give up a degree of independence and control, a given leader must believe the problem poses a serious threat to the enterprise.
2. A Convener of Stature is a respected and influential presence who can bring people to the table and, when necessary, keep them there. “The inability to turn down an offer is one sign that you’re dealing with a convener of stature.” The book lays out the roles and responsibilities of the convener.

3. Representatives of Substance. The collaborative participants must bring the right mix of experience and expertise for legitimacy and have the authority to make decisions. Look for participants who possess at least one and ideally all three varieties of substance: authoritative, cognitive, and reputational. Sometimes it is wise to create additional layers of participants beyond the primary or core group. “Omitting people from the collaboration often guarantees that they’ll become external critics or even saboteurs.”

4. Committed Leaders are individuals who possess the skill, creativity, dedication and tenacity to move an alliance forward even when it hits the inevitable rough patches. Value alliances require committed leaders who fulfill many of these ten roles: organizer, diplomat, technician, teacher, counselor, matchmaker, salesperson, referee, judge, and disciplinarian. “If committed leaders can consistently achieve consensus, they will move the alliance forward. Finding consensus is an art form that alliance leaders must master.”

5. A Clearly Defined Purpose is a driving idea that keeps people on task rather than being sidetracked by complexity, ambiguity and other distractions. It is important to identify and deal with purpose creep—“an inexorable broadening of scope that eventually makes it impossible to relieve the common pain that drew the group together in the first place.” The authors provide a step-by-step guide to creating a purpose in a collaborative setting. They advise, “find a golden mean: big enough to matter and small enough to do.” And add, “As a committed leader, you need to develop a sixth sense for when people are setting goals that are too difficult to achieve or too wide-ranging; you also need to grasp when you’ve shrunk the purpose to the point that its achievement won’t have any real impact.”

6. A Formal Charter establishes rules that help resolve differences and avoid stalemates. The three crucial parts of a charter are: the Purpose section, the Principles section, and the Operating Procedures.

7. The Northbound Train is an intuitive confidence that an alliance will get to its destination, achieve something of unique value, and that those who aren’t on board will be disadvantaged. The idea is, “decisions that matter to me are going to be made and I need to be there. The train is headed north and I want a seat on it.” They explain why a northbound train slows and what to do about it. “The feeling generated by a northbound train is what carries the collaboration to its destination.”

8. Defining Common Ground. “Participants and leaders need to discuss the beliefs and ideas that they take for granted in their collaborative efforts.” A Common Information Base keeps everyone in the loop and avoids divisive secrets and opaqueness. “Defining common standards boils down to the capacity of collaborators to reach foundational agreements.” People are coming from all different places with different values and beliefs, but to get to the point where there is a recommendation or decision that everyone can buy into, and to hold the collaboration together until that point is reached, “Agreement about operating modes and information protocols is necessary.”

Finding Allies, Building Alliances brings clarity to an important topic. Collaborations are not easy. But it is the job of leadership. This book will help you to better understand the dynamics of collaboration. Interestingly, they explain why the Articles of Confederation could not work and why the United Sates Constitution does.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Problem Solving , Teamwork


4 Design Thinking Tools for Engaging Your Team

Leading Forum
This is a post by Andrew King co-author of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works

Applying the tools of design thinking to help your team conquer its goals doesn't mean hunkering down on your own with an org chart in a dimly lit office to devise the perfect execution strategy. Design thinking is about engaging with your team at its most fundamental levels. It's amazing how many little problems germinate at the earliest stage – the problem definition stage – and expand into bigger problems whose solutions also grow in complexity. Finding clever solutions to big, tough, problems requires harnessing your managerial creativity to really understand the problem you and your team are solving. Creativity – contrary to popular myth – does not emerge spontaneously from nothing. One way to think about creativity is as the novel synthesis of data. Those creative shower moments rely on lots of data. If there is no data to mull over, then it's just a boring showing.

Below are four design thinking tools that you, as the manager of a talented team, can use to build a creativity-enhancing dataset. All of that data, cleverly applied, will extend your team's ability to boost its operational and innovative performance.

Design thinking is a method for understanding complex problems – to really get at their genesis – and developing ways to eliminate or, better yet, leverage those problems into novel solutions. While this still sounds cryptic and too-good-to-be-true, these tools can sharpen your creativity to help you uncover obscured facts and use your knowledge in new ways.

Where problems lurk unnoticed

How well do you really understand how your team executes a typical project from day one to very end? There are different stages in a project. Team members' daily roles can be different depending on the project life-cycle. They have a lot of data some of which may even be hidden from themselves.

Journey mapping is the art of observing what is really going on. Where are your team members using improvisations to overcome a process deficiency? Heck, you and your team may be so used to making some shortcuts that you don't even see them. Journey mapping requires careful investigation of the process. Yes, it's time consuming, but you've probably already solved the easy problems, and finding the really deeply embedded problems requires objective observation.

Collectively mulling the data

Mind mapping is a method for finding useful patterns hiding in lots of noisy data. All of those observations can get you and your team thinking about what's happening throughout the project lifecycle. You have to help your team articulate those ideas and capture them. Sticky notes are the stock-in-trade of design thinkers. Everyone on the team armed with a block of sticky notes is a source of deep process knowledge and ideas. Getting the team around a table and sharing ideas and recording them on sticky notes is a method of capturing institutional knowledge, some of which may not have been explicitly articulated before. After many rounds of sharing ideas and letting everyone build on ideas, you'll be able to see a rich set of patterns. Use the patterns to isolate problems.

Looking for a path

Hypothesis generation is about figuring out what creates the problems and how to solve them. Solutions aren't solutions until you know that they work as you expect. Until then, your proposed solutions are just hypotheses. That's a pretty powerful notion really. Hypotheses can be wrong or need tweaking and that's fine. Your team can offer hypotheses without the turmoil of suggesting solutions that may fail. Figuring out if a hypothesis holds water is easier and more productive than starting at this point to create The Solution based only on the data that you have so far. Hold back on jumping to The Solution. There are still steps that will help produce even better outcomes.

Using your hands to activate your brains

Prototyping helps you prove or disprove the hypotheses. You can prototype anything including processes. Allow time and space to try things out physically. Power Point presentations full of fancy renderings are good for generating excitement. Prototypes generate hard data, not ephemeral comments about ‘good ideas.' Prototypes are ideas that you and your team touch and are often underestimated beyond the world of product design.

How do these design thinking tools boost your managerial creativity and your team's achievements? Our research with high performing teams at large multinational companies like Toyota and IBM all the way to non-profit organizations that have used design thinking, has uncovered many team enhancements. These activities listed above engage the whole team. These steps work best when as many of the team members participate as possible. There's a boost in cross-team communication enriching collaboration. A better communicating and collaborating team ultimately generates comprehensive ideas leading to higher-quality activities. Your management skills will help them spend time really understanding the problem. Too often we want to start working on The Solution. Disruptive and highly valuable innovations come from really understanding the problem and finding a solution that really nails the problem rather than put a bandage over the symptoms. It takes a creative managers to engage their teams deeply, and that deep engagement engenders trust and sense of purpose.

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Leadership Transformed
Andrew King, co-author of Solving Problems with Design Thinking: Ten Stories of What Works, has a faculty appointment to the Darden School of Business as a research associate for the Batten Institute. For more information please visit http://cup.columbia.edu

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:42 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving


9 Tips to Avoid Getting Sidetracked

Too often we think we know exactly what is going on in our minds and what is affecting our behavior. Even though we are committed to our plans we find that the end result bears little resemblance to our best intentions. Somehow we get sidetracked.

We face internal pressures, relational pressures, and external pressures to take us off course. These pressures keep us from being consistent with our self-image as capable, competent, and honest individuals.

In Sidetracked, Francesca Gino has highlighted nine reasons we get sidetracked—why our decisions get derailed—and provides solutions to avoid them. Here are nine tips to avoid getting sidetracked:

Raise your awareness of the subtle influences on your decisions. For instance, our biased views of how competent and capable we are can make us unwilling to listen to the opinions of others. We tend to value expensive advice over inexpensive advice.

Take your emotional temperature before you make a decision to see if an unrelated event is affecting the decision at hand. Our moods affect our decisions. Ask, "Is this emotion clouding my judgment?" The emotions we experience while implementing our plans can sidetrack us.

Zoom out to include more information when making our decisions. Ask: "Why did I choose the information that I did?" "What information am I missing?" "What was my initial plan?" and "Why did I embark on this course of action?"

Take the other party's point of view. We tend to overestimate the extent to which others share our attitudes and feelings, to believe that others have more access to our internal states than they actually do, to use ourselves as a standard when evaluating others, and to draw on our own experiences when anticipating how others will evaluate us. What seems obvious to us is not always obvious to others.

Question your bonds—your links and similarities—to those around you and consider whether these bonds may be influencing your decisions for the worse. The behavior and decisions of others not only affect the decisions we make but the conclusions we reach about other people. “We don’t have a stable moral compass.… What I’ve found in my research is that it’s easier to pick up the unhealthy habits of others than to be swayed by their good behaviors.”

Check your reference points to consider the motives—social comparisons and emotions—behind your decisions. "The way we define and understand ourselves is an inherently social process….Our decisions are biased by the comparisons we strategically choose in order to alter how we see ourselves." By becoming more attentive to frames, we can become less influenced by them.

Consider the source to determine if your judgment is warranted based on all the information available to you. Are you evaluating the right information? "We tend to "rely on irrelevant, but seemingly important, information when making judgments."

Investigate and question the frame to see its impact on our behavior or decision. A change in framing can cause us to accept or abandon our carefully thought out goals and plans. How we frame things dramatically affects our acceptance and commitment. In an interesting study the author and others conducted, they found that framing the orientation and training process in a way that encourages self-expression of personal identities and signature strengths produces beneficial effects for the employees and the organization—namely motivation and retention.

Make your standards shine by putting them first and discussing them more often. Too often we just need the right opportunity to come up with a reason to reinterpret our behavior.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 02:48 PM
| Comments (0) | Motivation , Problem Solving


Leadership and the Art of Struggle: 5 Things You Can Do

Struggle is a part of any human endeavor and leadership is no different. The problem is we view struggle as a negative. But struggle is how we grow. Without them we can’t reach our full potential as leaders.

We like to think of our leaders as flawless. We like to be perceived as flawless—or at least we like people to think we have everything under control. But as Joe Badaracco has pointed out, “leadership is a struggle by flawed human beings to make some important human values real and effective in the world as it is.”

It may sound counterintuitive, but considering the benefits illuminated by Stephen Snyder in Leadership and the Art of Struggle, we should welcome it as an important element of the leadership process and our own personal development. Snyder writes that we should face struggle “head on—not hiding from it or feeling shame—because struggle is the gateway to learning and growth.” It can also help us to discover our purpose and meaning and develop the adaptive energy necessary to sustain our leadership for a lifetime.

Struggles have three defining characteristics:
Change: Every struggle is triggered by some type of change.
Tensions: Change creates a natural set of tensions.
Being out of Balance: Change and its ensuing tensions throw a leader off balance. This may happen without us even being aware of it, but acknowledgement of it is central to regaining control.

In the world we live in today, this is a common occurrence often leading to burnout unless we learn to see struggle through a different lens. Snyder recommends:

Adopt a growth mindset. The first step in accomplishing this is through reflection—being aware of what is going on around you. Snyder’s former colleague at Microsoft, Frank Gaudette, used to say: “I reserve the right to wake up smarter every day.” A good mantra to make our own.

Center your mind, body and spirit. We all need some way to anchor ourselves and gain perspective that we practice daily like exercise and diet, prayer, connecting with nature, meditation, and/or journaling.

Build your support community. “Create a community of people whom you can connect and bond with and from whom you can seek advice and feedback.”

Overcome your blind spots. Blind spots by their very nature are hard to recognize. And they are frustrating because they blind us from seeing why people may be responding to us in counterproductive ways—leading us to finger pointing rather than personal responsibility. “Blind spots,” writes Snyder, “are the product of an overactive automatic mind and an underactive reflective mind.”

A fairly common blind spot Snyder calls the Conflict Blind Spot. This blind spot can cause someone to interpret every interaction through a distorted lens. It reinforces the perception that the other person is wrong and we are right.

Recommit, pivot, or leap. When we struggle we have essentially three options. The first is to recommit and stay the course. The second is to pivot and make a course correction. And third is to leap into uncharted territory far beyond our comfort zone. Choosing the right option requires that we examine ourselves and determine which choice is most consistent with our personal values or mission statement.

Every struggle is a chance to learn and to confront who we are and what we are becoming. Seen in that light, they are a gift. And our ability to deal with our own struggles effectively has an impact on those around us. Not only does it create a more positive environment to function in, but it provides a constructive example for others to follow.

Snyder has written an outstanding and practical book to help us to rethink the challenges and problems we face along the way. One of the best you’ll ever read on the topic.

(The Adaptive Leader Profile is available from Snyder Leadership Group.)

Struggles are an inevitable part of the leadership journey. With every episode of struggle, there is a learning opportunity. Snyder offers insights as how to accept and reconcile the struggles you find in your own leadership journey.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:27 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership , Leadership Development , Personal Development , Problem Solving


Remember, It Was Once Someone’s Good Idea

Many, if not most good ideas are not good forever. Over time they lose the luster they once had. They become irrelevant and ineffective.

The universal danger we all face, is that we get so comfortable with what we do that never recognize that moment when it no longer serves the why. So it is good to periodically take a look at why we do what we do. But it is important to remember that they were once good ideas. Someone once fought to get the idea implemented that you are now trying to change.

When we want to change the status quo, we need to approach it from the knowledge that someone had a good reason to make the decision they made. We should honor that. If we approach it in a way that is adversarial, judgmental or dismissive, we diminish and dishonor ourselves and others.

When advocating a change, we need to be sure we are informed with the thinking behind the decisions of those that have come before us. When we do, we demonstrate that we are:

Reasonable. We see the value in taking advantage of the experience of others.
Rational. We are not seeking change for change sake.
Respectful. We value the opinions of others. It’s not just about us.

People are more likely to look at your vision if they know that you have first taken the time to understand theirs. It promotes trust and creates a connection from which to lead.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:56 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Communication , Problem Solving


5 Things Smart Risk Takers Do Well

Doug Sundheim’s book, Taking Smart Risks, isn’t really about making your next risky decision smarter or safer; it’s about pushing all of your choices to be riskier, but smarter on a daily basis.

We tend to view our choices as risky or safe. Safe is good while risky is well, risky. You’re taking a chance with a risky choice; it could lead to ruin. Sundheim says that view doesn’t capture the essence of what taking a risk is all about. Taking a risk is “exposing oneself to the possibility of loss or injury in the hopes of achieving a gain or reward.” It’s really the reason we would consider taking a risk rather than just playing it safe. It’s not an either/or proposition—safe or risky. But because we perceive it that way, we tend to do all we can to avoid risk and stay in our comfort zone.

Sundheim lists five common dangers of playing it safe for too long:

• You don’t win.
• You don’t grow.
• You don’t create.
• You lose confidence.
• You don’t feel alive.

Are you caught in the comfort zone? Here’s a thought we can all relate to:
Being caught in the comfort zone doesn’t mean that you’re sitting around doing nothing. It’s more nuanced than that. You could be making progress, but not quickly enough. You could be taking chances, but not boldly enough. You could be going out on a limb, but not far enough, and the extra push is what will make a difference.
What Sundheim is advocating is a change in our mindset regarding risk. Rather than perceiving risk as negative (“Things may not be perfect now, but they’re not all that bad. If I make a move, things could end up worse. I’d better not risk it.”), we should view it as a balanced focus on both the downside of taking risks and not taking risks (“I’ll regret it if I don’t pursue this thing. I’ve got to find some smart ways to take risks to move it forward.”). A limiting mindset versus a liberating mindset.

Smart Risk Zone The shift from limiting to liberating is “a move from needing total security before moving forward to understanding that you can’t have total security before moving forward.” Between safe and risky is the smart-risk zone.

Smart risk takers consistently do five things well to disrisk whatever they’re up to:
  1. Find something worth fighting for. It is what all smart risks have in common. It must be simple, stir emotion, lend itself to a story or narrative, and inspire action.
  2. See the future now. Ask questions, understand concerns, test the concept behind your ideas, and predict as many fail points in advance that you can. Have an open, honest conversation with trusted people around you to determine what is the worst that could really happen.
  3. Act fast, learn fast. Start before you know where to start, fail early, often, and smart—build learning into everything, and stay humble. Accept that you have to live with failure—since it is an inevitable by-product of taking risks, even smart risks. Failing smart is the best way to learn.
  4. Communicate powerfully. Expect communication to break down and plan accordingly. Share thought processes, meet regularly, and don’t avoid difficult conversations.
  5. Create a smart-risk culture. Define a smart failure—the acceptable boundaries within which it is okay to fail. Reward both the successes and these smart failures.
Communication is a critical element of each of these stages. “At every stage of any risk, improving the way in which you discuss thoughts, plans, and actions is the single most effective way to derisk the risk, that is, to make it smart.”

Taking Smart Risks makes a solid case for and gives the methodology to push ourselves and our organizations out of our comfort zone to achieve growth, innovation, results, and satisfaction. Importantly, it also a book about how to live with the inevitable failures that are part of a meaningful life.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:34 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , Communication , Creativity & Innovation , Management , Problem Solving , Thinking


The Success Equation: Separating Luck and Skill

In the mid-1970s, a man hunted for a lottery ticket with the last two digits ending in 48 for a chance to win the Spanish National Lottery. He found a ticket, bought it, and won the lottery. When asked why he was so intent on finding that number, he replied, “I dreamed of the number 7 for seven straight nights. And 7 times 7 is 48.”

You can be wrong and still win—in the short term.

Some things are a matter of luck. Some things are a matter of skill. The problem is we have a hard time untangling the two.

In The Success Equation, Michael Mauboussin aims to helps us to understand the relative contributions of luck and skill and then how we can use that understanding to make better decisions.

Untangling luck and skill is made more difficult because “our minds have an amazing ability to create a narrative that explains the world around us, an ability that works particularly well when we already know the answer.” When we see the effect we want to find (or create) the cause.


In the left hemisphere of our brain is what Steven Pinker calls the “baloney-generator.” “One of the left hemisphere’s main jobs,” writes Mauboussin, “is to make sense of the world by finding a cause for every effect, even if the cause is nonsensical.” Consequently, we attribute too much to skill especially in hindsight. “Once something has occurred and we can put together a story to explain it, it starts to seem like the outcome was predestined.”

“We have a natural tendency to assume that success and failure as caused by skill on the one hand and a lack of skill on the other. But in activities where luck plays a role, such thinking is deeply misguided and leads to faulty conclusions.” He notes that luck can be overwhelmed by the influence of luck.

To understand the relative impact of luck and skill, it is helpful to place activities on a “luck-skill continuum.” Mauboussin shows you how. He also shows why in competitive situations, when you’re the favorite, “you want to simplify the game so that you can overwhelm your opponent. If you are the underdog, you want to inject luck by making the game more complex”—creating new points of competition.

In business, “challengers almost never succeed by taking on the established companies in their core markets. The larger companies are simply too strong and too motivated. But they are often too smug to admit that a small, upstart firm could pose a threat. And therein lies the advantage for the little guy.”

Building Skill and Improving Your Luck

Whether or not you can improve your skill depends a great deal on where your activity lies on the luck-skill continuum, says Mauboussin. “In cases where there is a clear relationship between cause and effect, and in activities that are stable and linear, deliberate practice is the only path to improvement. … For activities near the luck side of the continuum, a good process is the surest path to success in the long run.

Feedback is critical in any case. “Improving your skill means constantly looking for ways to change your behavior, either because what you’re doing is wrong or because there’s a slightly better way of doing it. … No matter what your profession or level of expertise, the chances are very good that accurate feedback can improve your performance.”

One final thought: Mauboussin presents what he calls the Paradox of Skill. “As skill improves, performance becomes more consistent, and therefore luck becomes more important.” If everyone is getting better, then luck plays a more important role in determining who wins.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:05 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking


Resilience: How We Can Learn to Bounce Forward

All of us will be tested from time to time on our ability to adapt—on our resilience.

The goal of resiliency is not necessarily to bounce back, but to bounce forward. It is the ability to maintain your purpose even while adapting your methods.

“If we cannot control the volatile tides of change, we can at least learn to build better boats,” write Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience. “We can design—and redesign—organizations, institutions, and systems to better absorb disruption, operate under a wider variety of conditions, and shift more fluidly from one circumstance to the next.”

Resilience-thinking is not the same thing as being in a defensive mode. It’s engaging the world in a different way. They discuss tight feedback loops, dynamic reorganization, built-in countermechanisms, decoupling, diversity, modularity, simplicity, swarming, and clustering, as proactive ways to encourage resilience. They don’t give check-lists or quick fixes (indeed, there are none) so you’ll have to think about the ideas they offer. Most of the ideas are quite useful in principle on a personal level.


Interestingly—but not surprising—they found that resilient communities had a special type of leader: a translational leader. “These leaders demonstrated an uncanny ability to knit together different constituencies and institutions—brokering relationships and transactions across different levels of political, economic, and social organization.” They were leading from the middle out.
Translational leaders do not dispense with hierarchies; they recognize and respect their power. Instead, standing at the intersection of many constituencies, translational leaders knit together social networks that complement hierarchical power structures. Rooted in a spirit of respect and inclusion, these complementary connections ensure that when disruption strikes, all parts of the social system are invested, linked, and can talk to one another.
It sounds like they have a high degree of emotional intelligence or ego-control. That necessitates a leader that is reflective and operates from strength rather than weakness; a grounded mindful leader.


Many of the lessons learned from the disruptions discussed in the book boil down to adhocracy, say the authors. Adhocracy is adaptive, creative, flexible and non-permanent organizational style. “In the digital age, an adhocracy can be put together in a plug-and-play, Lego-like way, well suited in fast-moving, fluid circumstances where you don’t know what you’ll need next. If it were a musical genre, adhocracy would be jazz.” (Robert Waterman on Adhocracy.)

They caution: “When systems are structurally overconnected … or when interventions are bureaucratically imposed on communities rather than developed with them, there is no space for adhocracy to germinate.” Of course formal organizations have a role to play. “But when we focus too strongly on them as the sole actors in response to a disruption, we don’t just ignore, but can actually smother the opportunities for these kinds of successful, improvisational approaches to emerge.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:22 PM
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Innovation at Bell Labs

Bill Gates once remarked, “My first stop on any time-travel expedition would be Bell Labs in December 1947,” That was the year Bell Labs invented the transistor—a tiny invention that makes possible the technology we have today.

Finding an aspect of modern life that doesn’t incorporate some strand of Bell Labs’ DNA would be difficult. Cellular communications, the laser, digitized and synthesized music, the solar battery cell, the first orbiting communications satellite, and the UNIX operating system, are all products of Bell Labs.

AT&T officially created Bell Telephone Laboratories on January 1, 1925. At its peak in the late 1960s’, Bell Labs employed about twelve-hundred PhDs and produced 13 Nobel Prize winners.

In The Idea Factory, author Jon Gertner brings back to life not only the story of Bell Telephone Laboratories through the people that worked there, but the story of innovation—how it happens, why it happens, and who makes it happen. It is a well told and fascinating story.

Our Mr Sun
(My first encounter with Bells Labs was like many school aged kids in the sixties, through their series of science filmsHemo the Magnificent, Our Mr. Sun, Gateways to the Mind and others. A great way to spend an hour in science class.)

John Pierce is one of the brilliant and interesting people we are introduced to in Gertner’s story. It was Pierce that suggested calling the new device of 1947 a transistor. Peirce was what Gertner calls an instigator. “An instigator is different from a genius, but just as uncommon. An instigator is different, too, from the most skillful manager, some able to wrest excellence out of people who might otherwise fall short.” Pierces real talent was “in getting people interested in something that hadn’t really occurred to them before.”

Humans all suffer from a terrible habit of shoving new ideas into old paradigms. “Everyone faces the future with their eyes firmly on the past and they don’t see what’s going to happen next,” observed John Pierce.

For creativity to flourish, it needs both freedom and structure. When pierce first came to Bell Labs “he was given free rein to pursue any ideas he might have. He considered the experience equivalent to being cast adrift without a compass. ‘Too much freedom is horrible,’ he would say in describing his first few months at the Labs. Indeed he eventually came to believe that freedom in research was similar to food; it was necessary, but moderation was usually preferable to excess.”

Gertner writes, “We usually imagine that invention occurs in a flash, with a eureka moment that leads a lone inventor toward a startling epiphany. In truth, large leaps forward in technology rarely have a precise point of origin. At the start, forces that precede an invention merely begin to align, often imperceptibly, as a group of people and ideas converge, until over the course of months or years (or decades) they gain clarity and momentum and the help of additional ideas and actors. Luck seems to matter, and so does timing, for it tends to be the case that the right answers, the right people, the right place—perhaps all three—require a serendipitous encounter with the right problem. And then—sometimes—a lead. Only in retrospect do such leaps look obvious. When Niels Bohr—along with Einstein, the world’s greatest physicist—heard in 1938 that splitting a uranium atom could yield a tremendous burst of energy, he slapped his head and said, ‘Oh, what idiots we have all been.’”

Today there is nothing quite like the Bell Labs of AT&T and Western Electric to produce the creative technology that they did. Bell Labs laser scientist Herwig Kogelnik describes the magic of Bell Labs well: “It’s the interaction between fundamental science and applied science, and the interface between many disciplines, that creates new ideas.

First Transistor
The first transistor created in 1947 was a quarter of the size of an American penny. Now a computer-processor chip the size of a postage stamp contains 2 billion transistors. Intel alone, makes 10 billion transistors every second. Time marches on. “I am afraid that there will be little tangible left in a later age,” Pierce wrote of his world at Bell Labs, “to remind our heirs that we were men, rather than cogs in a machine.”

While the Bell Labs story is a fascinating read on its own, Gertner’s The Idea Machine has much for leaders about designing a innovative environment and the management of creative people. Great read for the summer.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:54 PM
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Are You a Culturematic Maker?

A Culturematic, says author and anthropologist, Grant McCracken, is a little machine for making culture. It is an exercise in edge finding. But at the same time, a Culturematic must speak to us. It must make us go, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” A Culturematic is also an attitude of mind that goes beyond the box of ordinary thinking “not because it is mischievous to do so, but because there might be a world out there and it might be interesting to find out what this world is.”

McCracken says that because we live in a world of constant change and because we must adapt to it with an experimental stream of new ideas, we need Culturematics.

It is when the problem is too complex or difficult and the solution is not forthcoming that Culturematics shine. Culturematics aren’t sure where they are going. When we aren’t sure what we’re looking at but think, “I’ll know it when I see it,” then we need ideas we can’t possibly guess we will need. “The trick,” says McCracken, “is to invent our own serendipity, to establish a cloud of possibilities in which we can spot the telling pattern.”

Start a Culturematic by asking “what if?” Then, try it. The result should discover and distribute meaning. It helps us to see ourselves or something in the world, differently. It should also unleash value—even repurposing value; discovering “value in the artifact the maker does not know is there.”

“Culturematics manage a tension between the order of the starting point and the unpredictability and disorder of the ending point.” Which is not to say that we point a Culturematic in any direction and pull the trigger. A Culturematic is working with the culture that is already in place, so we point it in the direction where we think we might be able to create meaning and value.


• start playing in our heads immediately. They capture our attention.
• make the world manageable.
• are something we want to try.
• like order out of accident. They don’t file a flight plan, so we can’t tell where they’ll end up.
• find value invisible to others.
• are both playful and deadly serious.
• aim to change the contents of our heads.
• work from native curiosity.
• make scientists, social chemists, and adventurers of us all. The thing is to try. Failure is inevitable.

Fantasy Football, Twitter, and Reality TV are just a few of the examples of Culturematics discussed in the book. More can be found at the Culturematic Pinterest site.

Culturematic is not based on entirely new ideas. However, it will not only make you look at the world (and what you are doing) differently, but you will develop a new appreciation for what you see, feel, and think. McCracken explains how to Culturematic yourself or your organization. Worth the read if you’re trying to create meaning and value in the world.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
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Master the PRIMES

“Master the Primes and you can master leading groups,” says Chris McGoff. The Primes are 46 universal patterns of group behavior that show up every time people join up in groups to solve problems, drive change, and transform systems.

Faced with the need for transformative change, a leader’s ability to form and sustain effective groups is critical. The Primes will help you to understand the reasons behind what is blocking the progress of your group.

Each of the Primes that McGoff identifies challenges you to take a look at fundamental components of group dynamics by asking key questions. For example the Change versus Transformation Prime asks, “Are you fixing or creating?” The distinction between fixing or creating is important and requires a different approach. What kind of problem are you trying to solve? Fixing is about making a better, faster, cheaper past. Fixing involves corporate improvement programs like Activity Based Costing, Six Sigma and others.”These tools are effective when a better past is the desired outcome, but they’re dead weight in the business of transformation.” Creating is about transformation—imagination, declaration, invention, and innovation.

The Trust the Universe Prime asks, “Is your vision limited to what you have already seen?” This Prime is a mindset that understands that we don’t know what we don’t know and whatever we need to realize is out there in the future somewhere. But…“Trust in the Universe is a myth. It’s a required myth, an essential myth for any true leader, but a myth just the same. Embracing this Prime is the only real way to create transformative possibilities.” Importantly, McGoff adds, “Leaders understand that although Trust in the Universe promises no guarantees, it gives us the ability to imagine without limit and watch what shows up.”

The PrimesThe section on gaining a shared perspective asks questions like, “How do you help people to see the ‘whole thing’?” and “How do you help people to see the same ‘whole thing’?” The S-Curves Prime is recognizing that “every system has a time of ‘figuring it out,’ a period of growth, and then an inevitable collapse if no change is made. But there is hope: you can build a second curve before the first one goes down. However, you have to get the new curve started before the first one even begins to peak.” The question is, “Where are you on your current S-curve?

The Facts, Stories, and Beliefs Prime is the need to distinguish facts from stories from beliefs. There is one of each in the following sentences: “Our revenue was $50 million last year (FACT), and that is simply not enough (STORY). Marketing is inept (BELIEF).”

One of the last Primes discussed is an increasingly difficult one: A Clearing. How skilled are you at creating nothing? A clearing in your schedule, your office or meeting place, or your mind: a space where possibilities can exist.

The Primes leaves you with plenty to think about. Each concept is illustrated with “back-of-the-napkin” style illustrations, and explained with tangible examples. The Primes will show you where you can grow as a leader.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:03 PM
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The 11 Essential Elements Needed to Achieve True Collaboration

Dan Sanker states that ironically, in order to remain “competitive” companies will have to become more collaborative. Collaborate: The Art of We is a practical guide to going beyond democratic or cooperative work to creating truly collaborative work environments as a growth strategy.

Collaboration is not a new concept, but globalization and new technologies have turned it into one of the best methods of competitive advantage available. Rather than engaging in an endless tug-of-war over the dwindling crumbs in a finite market, collaborative companies find ways to make the pie bigger, or create whole new pies, expanding everyone’s market and revenue. “It’s not about how many people you can defeat, but rather about how many people you can help win.

Although networking, coordination and cooperation may look like collaboration, they are not. True collaboration is the “synergistic relationship formed when two or more entities working together produce something much greater than the sum of their individual abilities and contributions.” It results in something that did not exist before. The focus is on results and not process.

Collaboration is distinct from cooperation in that “although both cooperating parties may achieve a common goal, they do not necessarily enhance each other’s capacity. In addition, cooperating parties do not fully share risks, responsibilities, and rewards. In the case of collaboration, all available resources, as well as risks, responsibilities, and rewards, are fully shared.”

For a collaboration to be successful, Sanker says that eleven elements must come together:

Ongoing Communication. People need to be able to talk to one another freely and regularly. Groups that do not have this kind of interaction are nothing more than loose collections of individuals working on their own tasks, toward their own ends.

Willing Participation. Everyone believes that they are working toward the same, mutually beneficial goal and that each one of them will have gained something valuable when that goal has been achieved.

Brainstorming. It’s the creative part of the collaboration process, in which members of the group move beyond the “same kind of thinking” to come up with new ideas that bring true value to the collaborative effort.

Teamwork. It’s teamwork that keeps people with a diverse set of skills, knowledge, information, and perspectives working together effectively and efficiently to achieve their common goal.

A Common Purpose. If the group moves forward too quickly without taking the time to clarify their goal and make sure that everyone is in agreement about what it is, they will undoubtedly run into huge disagreements that are likely to tear the effort apart.

Trust. You need to feel confident that other people in the group are putting the group’s shared goal—not their own interests—first, and that they will keep confidential or sensitive information within the group, take you seriously, respect your point of view, and not take credit for your ideas.

A Plan for Achieving the Goal. Everyone needs to be working from the same script, clearly understanding roles and responsibilities, and they need to have the same understanding of what success looks like.

A Diverse Group. Diversity is the power behind collaboration. Without diversity groupthink sets in. It is diversity that gives a team the unique perspectives needed to create truly innovative solutions.

Mutual Respect. For collaboration to be successful, team members must encourage, listen to, and seriously consider all of the ideas suggested by others in the group, no matter how unworkable they might seem.

A Written Agreement. A written agreement helps the group avoid misunderstandings and lack of clarity that could derail the process after everyone has invested a great deal of time, effort, and resources.

Effective Leadership. Whether one person has been formally designated as the leader or the group is self-led, leadership of some sort is essential to keep the group focused on its destination and facilitating the process of getting there.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:33 PM
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Uncertainty Will Freeze You in Place if You Let It

Ambiguity is not only certain; it is a necessary state for advancing. Jonathan Fields writes, in Uncertainty: “The more you’re able to tolerate ambiguity and lean into the unknown, the more likely you’ll be to dance with it long enough to come up with better solutions, ideas and creations.”

The problem is that most of us, to one degree or another react so strongly to ambiguity or uncertainty, that it becomes a limiting factor in our lives and stops us from acting in the face of it. The issue is not so much failure as it is not wanting to “be judged for taking the less-mainstream path and coming up empty.”

But taking the risk in the face of uncertainty is “not about tempting fate, it’s about going to that place where magic happens.” Living in the question. So how do we push forward when everything seems to be spinning out of control?

Fields suggests we first find our certainty anchors. Certainty anchors are rituals and routines that we build into our life that help to counter the resistance. On those occasions when you find that it is “Twitter-Time,” rituals and routines will help move the process along. “Ritual helps train you to sit down when you most want to stand, when you’re forced to work on the part of the process that leaves you anywhere from bored to riddled with anxiety.”

Get feedback along the way. Build a hive of heroes, mentors and champions. Consider ways to bring into the process the very people you are creating for.

Train your brain in the art of focused awareness through meditation, mindfulness, visualization, and exercise to stay focused and grounded. Randy Komisar, author of The Monk and the Riddle, told Fields:
It’s a process of stripping myself bare of all the pressures, all of the barnacles that accumulate around you every day as you interact in the world—the pressures, the expectations, the ego, the things that ultimately make your vision unclear.
Exercise in the list above wasn’t an afterthought. Most of us feel we don’t have time to work out. But we really can't afford not to. Fields, writes:
Studies now prove that aerobic exercise both increases the size of the prefrontal cortex and facilitates interaction between it and the amygdala. This is vitally important to creators because the prefrontal cortex, as we discussed earlier, is the part of the brain that helps tamp down the amygdala’s fear and anxiety signals.

For artists, entrepreneurs, and any other driven creators, exercise is a powerful tool in the quest to help transform the persistent uncertainty, fear, and anxiety that accompany the quest to create from a source of suffering into something less toxic, then potentially even into fuel.
I emphasize this a lot on the Leading Blog, but I think it’s something we really have to work at. Randy Nelson, Pixar’s former head of education said, “The core skill of innovators is not failure avoidance, it’s error recovery.” Fields adds, “When that’s baked into your creative culture on all levels, people become more empowered to lean into the creative abyss—and magic tends to happen.”

Creating value involves varying degrees of uncertainty. But that uncertainty can lead to fear and paralysis unless we learn how to use it to our advantage. And it’s important that we do because that’s where the greatest creations and experiences happen. The poet John Keats put it well. He called it “Negative Capability.” He referred to it as the quality that people of achievement possess: the capability of being in uncertainties. Fields shows how to be okay working in that space.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 06:39 PM
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Managing the Unmanageable

If we truly want to deal with a difficult or unmanageable person, we have to get at the thinking behind the behavior. Why do they do that? Why are they that way?

Instead of going deeper, it’s easier to just label them and avoid the issue. He’s rude. She’s unreliable. He’s an egomaniac. She’s self-absorbed. Anne Loehr and Jezra Kaye, authors of Managing the Unmanageable, say that these “unmanageable” people are costing companies a fortune. Loehr estimates that her clients lose, on average, 30% of their productivity because of issues related to unmanageable employees.

The fact is, “there’s a world of difference between someone who’s acting unmanageable, and someone who can’t [won’t] act any other way. There’s a world of difference between someone who’s become unmanageable in response to a particular set of circumstances (that can, at least theoretically, be changed) and someone who’s just like that.” Perceiving the difference is the task of leaders, managers, and coaches. Most of the time we deal with people at the symptom level.

Managing the Unmanageable is written to help you do just that. They begin with an appropriate caution: If you find yourself being convinced that someone could never have the slightest redeeming good quality, find a way to deal with your own feelings before you try to manage theirs. Good advice.

There are some early warning signs that it is time to look deeper than the behaviors you see:

Diminished Motivation: “Frustration with a job can grow out of unmet or unrealistic expectations, company-wide uncertainty or relationship problems on a team or with a manager.” You’ll hear comments like:
“I’m just not into it anymore.”
“This job isn’t what I expected.”
“I can’t stand the people on my team.”
Unclear Expectations: Misunderstandings are common. We don’t always communicate as clearly as we think. Too much often goes unsaid. Sadly, too, “managers and executives sometimes purposely lead employees astray, confuse them, or keep them in the dark to avoid unpleasant issues or consolidate power in their own hands.” It sounds like this:
“I have no idea what she wants.”
“It’s impossible to satisfy him.”
“She thinks everything I do is wrong.”
Lack of Confidence or Self-Esteem: “It’s natural to wonder if you have what it takes when the stakes go up or your job becomes more complex. But if that lack of self-confidence persists, an employee can become resistant, defensive, and ultimately unmanageable. They will say things such as:
“I don’t know why they thought I could do this.”
“It’s just never going to get done.”
“Maybe I should switch careers.”
Personal Issues: “When your employee is distracted, self-absorbed, or unable to focus, her problem may stem from conditions outside of work. It might be expressed as:
“I haven’t slept through the night in weeks.”
“I just can’t seem to concentrate.”
“Life is too damned hard these days.”
“A radical shift in behavior,” say Loehr and Kaye, “may be your first indication that a good employee is morphing into an unmanageable employee.”

In short, other people have many of the same problems we have, it’s just that they haven’t learned how to deal with it or are not in a position to do anything about it in the same way that we would as leaders.

The book specifically deals with the excuse-maker, the grumbler, the egomaniac, the loose cannon, the joker, the do-gooder, the wallflower, the gossip, the slacker, the rude-nik, and the AWOL.

Each “salvage” operation follows the 5-C Model: Commit or Quit, Communicate, Clarify Goals and Roles, Coach, and Create Accountability. The focus of each chapter is to get behind the behavior of each type and understand it. You will find helpful composite cases, practical tips and dialogues for dealing with each type.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:41 AM
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Hacking the Creative Process

While creativity is associated with artists, creativity is really part of life. It is how we shape our work into something meaningful. Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “To cease to think creatively is but little different from ceasing to live.”

You might not think of yourself as being creative, but if you are expected to solve problems, strategize and come up with new ideas, then you are required to be creative. "While a designer will solve a problem visually, a manager may solve it by developing a new process. But they're both using the same creative tools and wrestling with many of the same obstacles." What’s more you are expected to do it consistently and on demand. This isn’t easy. “If you want to deliver the right idea at the right moment, you must begin the process far upstream from when you need that idea,” says Todd Henry, author of The Accidental Creative.

Henry believes that you can create faster and more effectively over the long term if you build powerful practices into your life to help you to do so. Ironically, if you are going to thrive in a create-on-demand world, you need structure. “Creativity craves structure. When you establish effective boundaries, you are focusing your creative energy rather than allowing it to run rampant.” Working harder isn’t the answer. An “always on” approach works against you says Henry. “You need to incorporate practices that instill a sense of structure, rhythm, and purpose in your life.” Consistent creativity demands it.

In creative work there is the tension between possibilities and pragmatics. Creativity is about exploring, innovation, and the next big breakthrough. But it’s also about budgets and deadlines. It’s easy to get off-track doing creative work. "Because we tend to gravitate toward possibilities, many creative people wrestle with focus." We can become fascinated by the process and never really accomplish anything. Yet we are paid for the value we create. It’s important to be able to articulate exactly what we are trying to accomplish.

Henry discusses the assassins of creativity and offer many ways to counter them. One very simple yet profound suggestion is “The Big 3.” The Big 3 is not a to do list, a wish list, or a project list. It is “best described as the three most important ‘open-loops’ in my life and work. They are the three most important items that I’m still looking for critical insight on.” The key thought here is that by identifying them and writing them down, it helps you to filter the stimuli you take in each day through the lens of your most important creative priorities.

This technique is a very helpful way of keeping your mind focused and looking for connections to create unexpected insights.

Henry also emphasizes the importance of relationships. “We sometimes begin to see the act of maintaining a relationship as an obligation that pulls us away from our important work, rather than as an opportunity to stretch ourselves, explore new possibilities, and take advantage of collaborative opportunities within our team.” You must engage with other people. This is a big point for leaders. When we get busy this always seems like the first thing to go. Big mistake.
Relationships give us perspective on our unique strengths, on which of our ideas are most likely to gain traction, and on how we can most benefit the world around us. Our relationships play a vital role in helping us understand how we can get moving on, and devote our best efforts to, the work that really matters.
This is an essential read for all knowledge workers. You will find ideas here to help you to reduce non-work, focus on real work, and filter information, to produce better and more consistent results.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:35 AM
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Have a Nice Conflict!

Reading Have a Nice Conflict was like listening to my Dad again. He first met “Doc” Porter in the early seventies and they clicked almost immediately. Elias Porter’s Relationship Awareness Theory, on which the book is based, resonated with my Dad.
Behaviors are the tools we choose and use to support our self-worth.

You can look at personal strengths like behaviors. They represent the different ways a person can interact with others to achieve self-worth. When a person tries one of these strengths and has success with it, they use it more often. Other strengths might have rendered poor results, and so they might tend to use those less and less. Over time, we develop a set of “go-to” strengths. They become our modus operandi.

But it’s important to remember that you have a whole tool chest of other options that may get you better results from time to time.

It is possible that some of your conflict at work happens because other people don’t see your strengths the way you intend them to be seen. … So when you find another person’s behavior annoying, look for the strength behind it. What are they overdoing? What are they really trying to accomplish? Most likely, their intent is not to annoy you. If you can find the strength lurking behind the perceived weakness, you’ve discovered insight into that person that may help you understand them better.

Conflict can happen when other people misinterpret your strengths.
Have a Nice Conflict is the story of sales manager John Doyle who has been passed over for what he believes is a well-deserved promotion. He has lost some of his top performers because he rubbed them the wrong way. When he turns up at an old friend and client’s office to explain yet another change in sales reps, he puts him on to Dr. Mac to help him improve his people skills at both work and home.

Dr. Mac explains to John that there are many ways of interacting with others. We have default ways of behaving and when in conflict we often shift into other behaviors to maintain our self-worth. While we are trying to do the “right thing” to maintain our self-worth, conflict can happen when our “right thing” appears to be the “wrong thing” to another person. Conflict can be prevented by seeing contentious behavior as merely a different style instead of a direct challenge or threat aimed at annoying you or derailing you.

He introduces him to the Strengths Deployment Inventory (SDI) which is a tool to help you understand the motivations behind your own behaviors and to better discern the motivations of others. By giving you a framework it helps you to understand what you and others are feeling and then helps you be better able to respond.

Having a nice conflict is about taking personal responsibility for the interaction. To create movement toward resolution, we need to show the other person the path back to self-worth—where they feel good about themselves. That path may be different than yours. SDI The SDI helps you understand those paths. “When we’re stuck in a place of protecting our self-worth, it’s much harder to help others protect or restore what’s important to them. And that’s the primary mission of managing conflict. Managing conflict is about creating the conditions that empower others to manage themselves out of their emotional state of conflict. To effectively manage conflict, we have to begin with ourselves. If we’re pulled into conflict ourselves, we’re usually not in a great position to help others.”

The concept should be taught in schools, however the thought process is essential for leaders. The book alone offers valuable insights into the process and methodology, but coupled with the SDI you’ll have greater success. The authors offer a discount on the SDI to readers of the book.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:08 PM
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4 Lessons from the Toyota Crisis

“Crisis response must start by building a strong culture long before the crisis hits,” say Jeffrey Liker and Tim Ogden, authors of Toyota Under Fire.
Turning crisis into opportunity is all about culture. It’s not about PR strategies, or charismatic leadership, or vision, or any specific action by any individual. It’s not about policies or procedures or risk mitigation processes. It’s about the actions that have been programmed into the individuals and teams that make up a company before the crisis starts.
The accident in August 2009 that took the lives of four people in a runaway Lexus brought national attention to Toyota. Fueled by innuendo and speculation by Congress and some media, it escalated into something it was not. Toyota Under Fire deals with not only the massive recall of 2009-2010, but also Toyota’s response to the oil crisis and recession. Toyota’s response has not been typical, but it does follow the Toyota Way. It is a reflection of their culture. That way includes what is probably Toyota’s “greatest contribution to the world as a model of real continuous improvement” at and by all levels in the organization. Liker and Ogden describe the Toyota Way as:
Face challenges with a clear head and positive energy. Hold fast to your core values and your vision for the company. Always start with the customer. Understand the problems that you face by analyzing the facts, including your own failings, and understanding the root causes. Thoroughly consider alternative solutions, then pick a path, develop a detailed plan, and execute with discipline and energy.
“You do not turn a culture off and on again like a light switch.” Culture—like character—is built over decades of living your values in the real world. And then in a crisis, when you really need it, it is there to carry you through. The authors isolated four lessons for dealing with a crisis:

Lesson 1: Your Crisis Response Started Yesterday. What a company does isn’t likely to change much when a crisis strikes or for any length of time. “They are driven by culture, and culture simply can’t be changed quickly, even in a crisis…. Therefore, the chief questions to ask yourself about how your company will respond in a crisis are not contingency plans and policies, but about your culture and your people. Have you created a culture that rewards transparency and accepts responsibility for mistakes? Have you created a culture that encourages people to take on challenges and strive for improvement? Have you created a culture that values people and invests in their capabilities? Have you created a culture that prioritizes the long term?”

Lesson 2: A Culture of Responsibility Will Always Beat a Culture of Finger-Pointing. Common sense? Yes, but the question is how far do you go in accepting responsibility? What if the factors were beyond your control? The answer illuminates an important nuance in understanding Toyota’s culture of responsibility and problem solving. “There is no value to the Five Whys [belief that you have to ask why at least five times] if you stop when you find a problem that is outside of your control. There will always be factors outside of your control. When you reach a cause that is outside of your control, the next why is to ask why you didn’t take into account forces outside of your control—either by finding an alternative approach or by building in flexibility to adjust to those forces.”

Lesson 3: Even the Best Culture Develops Weaknesses. The greatest threat to a culture of continuous improvement is success. “To survive the weaknesses that inevitably develop, a corporate culture has to have clear and objective standards, codified in such a way that self-correction is possible. Having a culture that recognizes a loss of direction is absolutely critical to long-term survival.”

Lesson 4: Globalizing Culture Means a Constant Balancing Act. The clarity of Toyota’s culture and values is essential to growing the culture in every employee. And there is a balance to strike—balance between centralized and decentralized, local and global—that is not easy. “There is an inherent demand here that especially the people who are at the margins, at the periphery of the organization, be deeply steeped in the culture, and that they are to be trusted to make decisions because they are at the gemba.” One of the root causes of the crisis they identified was centralized decision making. They will now pursue a regionalization strategy which will require trusting the leaders they have trained to maintain the culture.

Toyota Under Fire is an in-depth look at the value of having a strong culture that can serve you when things go south. The discussions explaining the reasoning behind why Toyota does what it does were very helpful. They demonstrate that the most important decisions are the ones made before the crisis. And then when the crisis hits, return to basics. Go deeper and wider.

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:21 PM
| Comments (0) | Change , General Business , Leadership , Management , Problem Solving , Teamwork


Leadership: Artistry Unleashed

The executive functions … are feeling, judgment, sense, proportion, balance, [and] appropriateness. It is a matter of art rather than science, and is aesthetic rather than logical.
—Chester Barnard, The Functions of the Executive
Leadership is an art. But what does that really mean?

Leadership can be taught in the way that art can be taught. There are techniques and principles that need to be understood. Seeds that can be planted. But ultimately it has to be practiced and experienced. There is the part that really matters, as Georges Braque observed, that can’t be explained. That is the art; the ever-changing context of leadership and the dance between leaders and followers that molds and shapes both the leader and follower. There is an art to bringing leadership teaching into the nuance of life.

Leadership practiced, is artistry unleashed.

Artistry Unleashed
Hilary Austen does a masterful job of explaining, even if indirectly, the art of leadership in Artistry Unleashed. She takes design thinking beyond the surface concerns of practical design and to the processes behind it. These are important issues for leaders as we face what Austen terms enigmatic problems: those that push us to the edge of what we know. “Our best solutions to such problems lie not just in better analytical tools but in a fundamentally different approach to our work—an approach that follows from cultivating qualitative intelligence in our given profession or medium.” Anymore quantitative approaches alone won’t work. She explains the difference:

Quantitative thinking allows us to be precise and to share understanding; we use it to define fairness and rationality and effectiveness. It’s this utility that has led so many people to equate quantitative thinking with intelligence.”

“A qualitative approach embraces the unexpected, the subtle, the open-ended, the unique, the poetic; it escapes rules, single answers, or single perspectives. These features are by their very nature hard to pin down and can be quite unnerving to people who want precise information and specific answers. The quantitative approach gives us the means to predict and control what we can measure, to record and codify what can be clearly defined, to collect sharable facts, and to identify universal rules and laws.

To be sure, Austen is not advocating one or the other. “Each has its own set of purposes, and developing one does not mean abandoning the other. Achieving artistry means being able to use qualities to help you work, when that’s what the situation demands; it doesn’t mean rejecting quantitative methods.”

We gravitate to quantitative thinking. We like things nailed down. Numbered. Labeled. Defined. It gives us some certainty. It makes us comfortable. We can check it off and move on confident that we’ve done the “right thing.” Unfortunately life is messier than that. Austen cites Ted Sorenson’s observation from his book Decision-Making in the White House: “White House decision-making is not a science but an art. It requires not calculation but judgment….Every decision a president makes involves uncertainty.”

Qualitative thinking is less about imposing an answer and more about shaping an answer from awareness of the present and feedback from the application of knowledge to it, when predetermined steps and measurable goals are absent. The present and the possible are considered at the same time so that ends and means influence each other as they occur. Austen writes, the “interdependent relationship between ends and means is a hallmark of artistic work. As your effort to solve an enigmatic problem proceeds, the ends evolve as means are generated. Likewise, as means unfold, new ends become possible; these may in turn demand new means.”

It means managing the tension between mastery and originality in search of the possible. “The forces that drive mastery are conservative. Mastery brings predictability and control to action. By contrast, originality is driven by often unpredictable responses to immediate experience. Finding originality means leaving behind some of what you know. Artistry is driven forward by the interplay of these two competing forces.”

New York University professor David Ecker’s six phases of qualitative problem solving developed from the work of John Dewey, described in Artistry Unleashed by Austen is helpful:
In the first phase, artists engage what Ecker calls the presented or initial relationship between existing qualities….Some of these relationships may be problematic, others intriguing, and so they attract the artist’s attention. Different practitioners may see different qualities and make sense of what they see differently, depending on the ideals, concepts, and sensibilities they bring to bear on the situation.

In the second phase, working with these initiating qualities and their interrelationships, artists enhance some and destroy others….They begin to imagine possible ends—what Ecker calls ends-in-view. Artists enhance, destroy, shape, and reshape initiating qualities, ultimately turning these qualities into the means they can use to reach the qualitative end-in-view they have imagined.

The third phase that Ecker identifies can be recognized because a pervasive quality eventually takes hold of the work in progress….In the fourth phase, the artist can make subsequent changes based on how they fit, or don’t fit, with this pervasive quality.

In the fifth phase, exploration and experimentation still occur, but they do so as tests of what will and will not sustain the pervasive quality….Finally in the sixth phase of Ecker’s sequence, a total quality is shaped, and the work is judged complete.
A leader’s function is to create the disequilibrium needed to go from the known to the unknown possibilities. Qualitative thinking is important to the leader because without it we can easily impose answers rather than exploring possibilities. We can too, get in our own way by overvaluing the importance of our own experience and thought and thereby limit possible outcomes.

Austen develops a Knowledge System model comprised of the interdependency of Experiential Knowledge, Conceptual Knowledge and Directional Knowledge, that can be used to help anyone develop and apply qualitative thinking. The cursory view I present here of the connection between business and art, she more fully develops in her book. The examples she gives dramatically demonstrate this important connection and essential understanding needed by leaders of every type.

Related Interest:
  5 Leadership Lessons: Artistry Unleashed

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:21 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (2) | Creativity & Innovation , Leadership Development , Problem Solving , Thinking


7 Signs You Might Be In Denial

Nothing is easier than self-deception. For what each man wishes, that he also believes to be true.
Business historian Richard S. Tedlow, shares in Denial examples of CEOs who have made mistakes that could and should have been avoided and those that did it right and why. The lessons Tedlow uncovers in these examples provide us with insight into our own flirtation with denial and how we might battle it.

You might be in denial if you think you have all of the information you need. “Power deranges. Powerful people are routinely surrounded by yes-men, but that is not the real problem because they are relatively easy to spot. The real problem is the courtier who is sufficiently clever not to be detected.” Powerful people, Tedlow continues, “don’t really know as much as they may think about their own organization because people stop telling them the truth.”

You might be in denial if you don’t make a point to listen. If people think they won’t be heard they will not speak up. You need to create an open environment where it is safe to say what’s on your mind. Tedlow offers a quick test of your environment: “are the private conversations that follow meetings usually more frank and honest then the public discussions in the meetings themselves?” If so, it’s because everybody is talking about what didn’t (couldn’t) get said.

You might be in denial if you think short-term. You are sticking your head in the sand. Trying to put a Band-Aid on a much larger problem only delays your response to the inevitable. Deal with it now and completely. “Denial is all about you—and how you view the world. Your view does not change the world, the realities of which you will inevitably have to face sooner or later.”

You might be in denial if you talk trash about competitors and individuals. Anna Freud called it “defense by means of ridicule and scorn.” Tedlow writes, “If you find yourself trash-talking your competition take a moment to think about what you’re doing. What am I using this derision to hide—perhaps from myself?”

You might be in denial if you relabel actions rather than changing them. When you don’t like reality, you just change its name. The result as George Orwell said is to “perform the important service of partially concealing your meaning even from yourself.” “Troubled assets aren’t ‘troubled assets.’ They are worthless pieces of junk.”

You might be in denial if you don’t tell the truth. “Denial occurs when we push aside hard truths in favor of more palatable or convenient narratives.” This works two ways: the lies we tell and the lies others tell us. Don’t participate in either.

You might be in denial if you don’t think denial is a problem you face. That of itself is denial. Tedlow cautions, “It can never be completely defeated because we can’t fully know or face the truth about ourselves. It is impossible to be both subject and object.” You need to develop a self-awareness about it. “Denial-avoidance is a life’s work, not an agenda item….If one could simply resolve to wake up tomorrow and unflinchingly confront reality, denial would hardly be the problem that it is….You can’t avoid blind spots when you drive. However, good drivers know those blind spots exist and take them into account when they get behind the wheel. So it should be with denial.”

Some people deny less than others. How can you be one of them?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:16 PM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Problem Solving , Thinking


Developing a Small-Wins Strategy for Growth

When moving through difficult times, it is helpful to develop a small-wins strategy. In difficult times, deficit-thinking is so easy to fall into and often becomes the norm. It is hard to defeat but by highlighting small-wins you help to create the kind of abundance-thinking needed for growth and forward momentum. A strategy of small-wins helps to develop the kind of outlook associated with abundance-thinking—self-efficacy, hope, optimism and resilience.

A small-wins strategy also helps to eliminate the tendency to be consumed by past disappointments, obstacles and failures. The need to look for “what is working now” is key to moving forward. It opens your thinking to possibilities and paves the way for improving processes.

Small-wins focus on the here and now. What can we do now and what can we safely ignore or eliminate. It is an antidote to the fixation error trap. It’s easy to caught up in “everything”—the full impact of what is happening and the habits and perspectives that have become so much of who we are—that we become overwhelmed and unable to act at all. Fixation errors keep us from noticing what is really happening, separating us from reality. Reassess after each win and keep moving to build momentum.

Begin by breaking tasks and issues down in to manageable pieces; pieces that you can take responsibility for and act on now. If you are not in a position to implement this strategy on an organizational level, adopt it for your team or even individually. Lead from where you are. It’s contagious.

Of Related Interest:
  The Nature of Small Wins

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:35 AM
| Comments (0) | Management , Problem Solving , Teamwork


Why Design Thinking Is the Next Competitive Advantage

We live in a reliability-oriented world. And understandably so. We want predictable outcomes. We want things to keep working as they have always been—perfectly.

Success. Repeat. Success. Repeat.

But that thinking ultimately limits our growth and quite possibly harbors the seeds of our own destruction. It can be (very) valuable to a point, but it isn’t adaptable because by its very nature it has to leave something out of the equation. While reliable outcomes “reduce the risk of small variations in your business, they increase the risk of cataclysmic events that occur when the future no longer resembles the past” and the reliable is no longer relevant or useful.

To remain relevant—to foster innovation—you need to incorporate into your thinking outcomes that are valid. That is, outcomes that produce a desired result even if the solution employed can’t produce a consistent, predictable outcome. A perfectly valid solution is one that produces a result that is shown, through the passage of time, to have been correct. It is best to have a system that incorporates both—validity and reliability—into their approach. Balancing and managing the two approaches—analytical and intuitive—is what design thinking is all about.

In The Design of Business, Roger Martin presents the knowledge funnel to show how knowledge moves. Each stage represents a simplification and ordering of knowledge. At the beginning is a mystery; a question. It is the observation of phenomena. Things we see but don’t yet understand. knowledge funnel

The next stage is a heuristic, “a rule of thumb that helps to narrow the field of inquiry and work the mystery down to a manageable size.” Heuristics don’t guarantee success but do increase the probability of success.

The last stage is the development of an algorithm. “An algorithm is an explicit, step-by-step procedure for solving a problem. Algorithms take the loose, unregimented heuristics—which take considerable thought and nuance to employ—and simplify, structuralize, and codify them to the degree that anyone with access to the algorithm can deploy it with more or less equal efficiency.”

Martin uses the example of the development of McDonalds to illustrate how they proceeded down the knowledge funnel. In 1940 the McDonald brothers opened their first drive-in restaurant in San Bernardino, California. It did well, but by 1950 they began to lose business. Food was getting cold before it was delivered and families were put off by the hoards of teenagers they attracted. They had to develop a winning heuristic. They reduced and standardized the menu, and implemented their Speedee Service System.

Ray Kroc saw an opportunity in it and bought them out. While the Speedee Service System was good, Kroc thought it left too much to chance. So he refined it and simplified it down to an exact science. The new system left nothing to chance and it was repeatable. “Kroc relentlessly stripped away uncertainty, ambiguity, and judgment from the processes that emerged from the McDonald brothers’ original insight. And by fine-tuning the formula, he powered McDonald’s from a modestly prosperous chain of burger restaurants to a scale previously undreamed-of.”

The problem is getting stuck in any one stage. We tend to operate within a knowledge stage as opposed to moving across the knowledge stages. We need to explore and question, we need to exploit our solutions, even reducing them to a repeatable, efficient, formula where possible, but we need to be doing these things simultaneously.
The vast majority of businesses follow a common path. The company is birthed through a creative act that converts a mystery to a heuristic through intuitive thinking. It then hones and refines that heuristic through increasingly pervasive analytical thinking and enters a long phase in which the administration of business dominates. And in due course, a competitor stares at the mystery that provided the spark for this company, comes up with a more powerful heuristic and supplants the original business.
McDonalds did well for decades, but eventually the heuristic (Americans want a quick, convenient, tasty meal) changed (Americans want a healthier menu). The solution for McDonalds is to go back and rethink the mystery and develop new rules of thumb to guide them. A trip back through the knowledge funnel.

design of business
Avoiding this cycle is the job of the leader—a leader at any level. Martin writes, “CEOs must learn to think of themselves as the organization’s balancing force—the promoter of both exploitation and exploration; of both administration and invention.” This is design thinking. We need to develop our design thinking skills, analyze what’s working and why, and at the same time revisit the original mystery while considering entirely new mysteries. “The design thinker develops the capacity for observation, for seeing features that others may miss. The design thinker, in the words of novelist Saul Bellow, is ‘a first-class noticer.’” Always cycling through the knowledge funnel.

Of Related Interest:
  How to Develop Integrative Thinking
  Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry
  Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:28 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Management , Problem Solving , Thinking


How Fascinating is Your Message?

fascinate Robert Louis Stevenson said, “Everyone lives by selling something.” Leaders are always selling something—an idea, change, themselves or even their example. It’s influence.

While we know a clear consistent message is necessary it is often hampered or even marginalized by competing messages and issues. Sally Hogshead is an expert at delivering messages and changing people’s minds. In her book Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, she writes, “A competitive environment demands a more captivating message.” A more captivating message is a more fascinating one. Fascination is the connection we make with others that causes them to change their mind and behave differently. “People won’t change a preference, start a thought process, form a bond, or make a behavioral shift unless they’re provoked to change their opinions or actions.” Fascination provides the provocation.

A fascinating message steps outside the norms in one or more of the following ways: provokes strong and immediate emotional reactions (love it or hate it), creates advocates, becomes “cultural shorthand” for a specific set of actions or values (people identify with it), incites conversation, forces competitors to realign around it, and/or triggers social revolutions (forces us to think differently).

The key to mastering fascination is learning to effectively activate the seven triggers:
  • Lust creates craving for the sensory pleasure (Anticipation)
  • Mystique lures with unanswered questions (Know when to end your message)
  • Alarm threatens with negative consequences
  • Prestige earns respect through symbols of achievement (“We’ll be fascinated by prestige as long as we remain hardwired to compare ourselves to those around us.”)
  • Power commands and controls (As with the others, power lives on a spectrum ranging from delicate suggestion to crushing force. “Used intelligently and selectively, this trigger strengthens your reputation and earns respect.”)
  • Vice tempts with “forbidden fruit,” causing us to rebel against norms (The idea isn’t to get your audience to sin, but to encourage them to “change their patterns and try something different.”)
  • Trust comforts us with certainty and reliability (For building long-term relationships)
The point of all this is that you can make your message (or yourself for that matter) more fascinating. “All seven triggers affect decision making whether or not we intend them to.” She offers tools for evaluating your message, developing the appropriate triggers and then executing those triggers. She says there’s no “right” way to fascinate and that’s a good thing because we all operate a bit differently and tend to utilize different combinations of the fascination triggers. On her web site you can find out your fascination score (F Score) by taking a short test.

In an interesting example concerning teenage drinking and driving she notes that a graphic photo of a car wreck doesn’t seem to effectively dissuade teenage drivers. For teens, fear isn’t necessarily a reason to avoid something. How do you provide a fascinating message for this group?
Luke Sullivan, a legendary advertising writer, solved the problem. Luke knew that teems don’t fear death in the same way as adults. He also figured out what does create alarm among these drivers: Losing their license. Armed with that fact, he threatened teens with the ultimate dire consequence.

In Luke’s ad, we see a picture of a teenage guy on the way to prom, with his corsage-wearing date at his side. The headline reads: “If the thought of losing your life doesn’t keep you from drinking and driving, imagine losing your license.” In the photo, the boy is being chauffeured to prom … by Mommy.
How could you change your message to make it more fascinating and thus more effective for your audience?

Throughout the book she blends art and science to demonstrate what fascinates people and why. You might be surprised to find out which fascinations are driving your own behavior. Her writing style and examples are very entertaining. (If you get on her web site download a couple of her Hog-isms.)

“Whether we realize it or not—whether you intend to or not—you’re already using the seven triggers,” she writes. “The question is, are you using the right triggers, in the right way, to get your desired result? By mastering the triggers, your ideas become more memorable, your conversations more persuasive, and your relationships more lasting.”

How do you try to change people’s minds? Could you make your message more fascinating?

Meet Your 7 Fascination Triggers

Posted by Michael McKinney at 05:47 PM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Marketing , Problem Solving


The Right Fight

The Right Fight
If you believe that the single most important thing leaders have to get right is alignment, if you think that the leader’s time is best spent promoting teamwork and making sure everyone is on the same page and playing nice, then you might want to take a look at Saj-Nicole Joni and Damon Beyer’s book, The Right Fight.

The book is based on a counterintuitive premise: In an environment where alignment is the only goal, alignment robs us of necessary dissent, of the checks and balances that mitigate risk, and of the tensions that create innovation and sustainable value. In short, you need to systematically orchestrate the right fights but … you need to fight them right.

The Right Fight principle is based on the idea that you learn and grow by the right amount of friction and stress. “A certain amount of healthy struggle is good for organizations and for individuals. Indeed, people and organizations perform optimally when they are under the right kinds and amounts of stress.” They add, “With alignment and properly managed tension, organizations hit a sweet spot and start realizing their potential.”

Citing a studies by Theresa Wellbourne of eePulse, the single greatest predictor of poor performance is when employees are happy or complacent and thus unmotivated to change. The second greatest predictor is when employees are overwhelmed. Both groups exhibit a low level of energy. They conclude that, “Tension in the right measure creates the emotional energy people need to change.” The trick for leaders is to avoid these extremes. “Knowing where and when to use tension is critical. Knowing how to work through the tension is equally important.”

They lay out three principles that identify right fights and three more principles that clarify the rules of engagement. The first three Right Fight Principles will help you in identifying and eliminating destructive tensions:

Right Fight Principle #1: Make it Worth Fighting About. Make it Material. “A right fight has to create significant value, require integration of multiple perspectives, and change the way work gets done in an organization. In short, a material fight is worth the trouble.”

Right Fight Principle #2: Focus in the Future, Not the Past. “Obsession with past performance, or intense interest in decisions made months or even years before, is a dead giveaway that your organization is stuck in a wrong fight.”

Right Fight Principle #3: Pursue a Noble Purpose. “Right fights connect people with a sense of purpose that goes beyond their own self-interest, unleashing profound collective abilities to create in ways they didn’t think possible.”

The final Right Fight Principles guide you in fighting right fights right:

Right Fight Principle #4: Make it Sport, Not War. “Right fights, like sports, have to have rules. One of the key tasks for leadership in a right fight is to define the parameters so everyone involved understands how to participate and what it takes to win.”

Right Fight Principle #5: Structure Formally but Work Informally. “You need to structure right fights through the ‘formal organization,’ but work out the tensions created by those fights through the ‘informal organization.’”

Right Fight Principle #6: Turn Pain into Gain. “There is a fine line between productive tension and destructive distress, and no two people draw that line in exactly the same place. For right fights to be fought right, leaders need to make sure no one is put under unbearable pressure. Turning pain into gain requires leaders to relate to their team members as individuals and to figure out what creates synergy, stretches skills, and honors outcomes for each of them.”

There are case studies to illustrate each of these principles in action. It’s easy to see the negative side of tension: focusing on the past, stigmatizing the losers, fighting over turf. “But without tension, nothing moves.” Tension creates an opportunity for leaders to help their organizations fight the right fight.

Of Related Interest:
  Focus on the War, Not the Battle
  A Pyrrhic Victory

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:57 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , General Business , Learning , Management , Problem Solving


The Nature of Small Wins

Karl Weick
In the face of overwhelming problems, we can feel helpless to do anything. Organizational theorist Karl Weick argues that calling a situation a serious problem requiring a sweeping change, may be when the real problem starts. (e.g., "I can't solve that problem, so I'll just focus on something else.") And so nothing gets done.

In Small Wins: Redefining the Scale of Social Problems, Weick explains that small wins help to create an environment where change is not overwhelming and therefore more likely to happen. He writes, "The massive scale on which social problems are conceived often precludes innovative action because the limits of bounded rationality are exceeded...People often define social problems in ways that overwhelm their ability to do anything about them."

In order to solve social problems, he suggest that we define them as a series of smaller problems that can then be affected by small wins. He defines small wins as a "series of concrete, complete outcomes of moderate importance [that] build a pattern that attracts allies and deters opponents." This strategy of focusing on “a series of controllable opportunities of modest size that produce visible results”, works directly on the construction of a problem and indirectly on its resolution.
A small win is a concrete, complete, implemented outcome of moderate importance. By itself, one small win may seem unimportant. A series of wins at small but significant tasks, however, reveals a pattern that may attract allies, deter opponents, and lower resistance to subsequent proposals.

Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible. This occurs because new allies bring new solutions with them and old opponents change their habits. Additional resources also flow toward winners, which means that slightly larger wins can be attempted.
While small wins provide less effort to produce and provide stable building blocks to build on, they are not orderly because each small win changes the context for the next small win. Weick explains:
“Small wins have a fragmentary character driven by opportunism and dynamically changing situations. Small wins stir up settings, which means that each subsequent attempt at another win occurs in a different context. Careful plotting of a series of wins to achieve a major change is impossible because conditions do not remain constant. Much of the artfulness in working with small wins lies in identifying, gathering, and labeling several small changes that are present but unnoticed, changes that in actuality could be gathered under a variety of labels.

Small wins provide information that facilitates learning and adaptation. Small wins are like miniature experiments that test implicit theories about resistance and opportunity and uncover both resources and barriers that were invisible before the situation was stirred up.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:57 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking


What Prevents Me From Learning Here and Now?

Could we be looking at success and failure in the wrong way? Fritz Roethlisberger, former professor at Harvard Business School and author of Man-In-Organization (1968), found that students that were preoccupied with success or failure couldn’t concentrate on their studies. The common thread he found in the cases is that they all viewed success and failure as an either or proposition; either their project was a success or it was a failure. Roethlisberger called it a false dichotomy.

Fritz Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger said that projects can be both a success and a failure or neither a success nor a failure. What is lacking with this kind of thinking is “the notion of adventure.” He adds, “There is little or no place for exploration and experiment. They work so hard in preventing themselves from making mistakes that they never learn anything at all.”

A preoccupation with success in the future, says Roethlisberger, makes it difficult to relate to the present. You end up asking the wrong question: “What is the secret of success?” Instead they should be asking “what prevents me from learning here and now?” When we are overly preoccupied with the future we miss the present where learning and growth take place. We need to stop viewing the present as the means and the future as the end. The future is really just another present when it comes and a new opportunity to learn. If we treat the present as nothing until we achieve success, we miss the significance of the present.

To ask “am I a success or a failure” is a silly question argues Roethlisberger. We are all both a success and a failure. The question is “What are we learning in our present situation?”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:52 AM
| Comments (0) | Learning , Problem Solving


Learning to Apply Right View and Right Conduct to Your Decision Making

Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama and consultant Laurens Van Den Muyzenberg have collaborated in The Leader’s Way to fuse Buddhist and Western philosophies to address responsible leadership.

In order for a leader—“one who makes the right decisions”—to make the kinds of decisions that “generate a better quality of life for themselves, their organizations and everyone else affected by those decisions” they must learn to “understand more clearly what happens in their minds and the minds of others.” This involves two concepts they introduce as Right View and Right Conduct.

The Right View has to do with action based on the right intention and the right motivation. It means taking into account that nothing that exists is permanent, nothing exists without a cause and every cause has many effects.

The Right Conduct is the endgame; to take action that serves the needs of individuals and organizations. The right conduct should always align with your stated values principles.

The application of the principles of Right View and Conduct are made better by training your mind to be calm, collected, and concentrated in all circumstances.
When the mind is disturbed by anger, jealousy, hate, impatience, fear, lack of self-confidence, or negative emotions about things that happened in the past, it is wasting valuable time that instead should be used for constructive thinking. The purpose of training the mind is to maximize its power by focusing it on the decisions that matter.
Meditation or reflective thinking plays a big part in training the mind. A Harvard study cited in the book compared brain scans of meditating and nonmeditating people and found that meditation had seemingly enlarged the part of the brain that regulates emotion, attention, and working memory.

They discuss ways of developing your thinking to improve your performance, the performance of your organization, and for acting responsibly in our interdependent world. One important pattern emerged: “one should celebrate joyful events while not becoming too attached to their meaning, either in the present or as a predictor of the future.” The danger is in seeing success as permanent. Right View and Right Conduct is a process that always needs to be renewed.

To make calm and collected decisions they recommend asking yourself four questions:
  1. What is the reality and is it a problem?
  2. What is the cause of the problem?
  3. What do I want to achieve?
  4. How can I get to the goal?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:54 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking


Rules for Conquering Risk

In How the Wise Decide, authors Bryn Zeckhauser and Aaron Sandoski cite a study by Princeton psychologist Daniel Kahneman. The study finds that “our brains are programmed to worry substantially about the possibility of loss, and not enough about the size of the loss relative to the gain. We don’t like to lose period.” It’s called risk aversion. It means that we put a far greater weight on losing than on winning.

The authors say the problem arises when our penchant for risk aversion begins to cloud our thinking. They write that we “can get so caught up in the possibility of losing that we ignore the realities of the situation.” We “wind up shying away from taking a risk even when the probability of winning big is high.”

They ask, “What if you could routinely overcome loss aversion? Think of the possibilities if your competitors, shrinking before the prospect of possible loss, shun a move that you know has a very good possibility of succeeding. What a competitive advantage! Wise leaders are constantly searching for ways to use that advantage.”

Rather than fight over the same fabric as everyone else – low risk/high reward – it’s better to investigate those situations that appear to be high risk/high reward. They give five rules for dealing with or fear of risk:

Identify What Really Drives the Risk. Conventional wisdom can keep us from seeing reality. Ask what drives the risk and what information do I need to evaluate that risk.

Reward People for Taking Smart Risks. Reward your team for “simply making the smart decision, not the outcome of their decisions….You have to engineer the risk-taking environment that best suits your own situation.”

Test the Waters Before Taking a Plunge. “Sometimes it pays to let a concept simmer for a while, experimenting with an idea before fully committing to it. Experiments limit your downside risk, but not your upside reward.”

Create a Risk-Tolerant Environment. Dean Kamen of DEKA Research & Development says that he wants “outrageous new ideas about the project that go well beyond the normal constraints of time and budget. The trouble is, if you carry the basic human aversion to risk and the need to be predictable and meet schedules into the world of R&D, you’re snuffing out the future.”

Ask “What Would It Take?” The question helps you make the right decision, not the safe one.

Conquering the fear of risk is just one of the six core decision-making principles presented in the book. The other five are go to the source, fill a room with barbarians, make vision your daily guide, listen with purpose, and be transparent. All are worth examining for finding application in your particular situation.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:38 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Iconoclast: Learning to Think Differently

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

Because the mind is designed to function as efficiently as possible, it serves as its own barrier to being an iconoclast. (The brain runs on about 40 watts of power. There is partial truth to the myth that you only use 10-15% of your brain. We use all of our brain, but only a fraction of the brain is active at any given time to conserve energy.)

In Iconoclast, Berns explains that “when confronted with information streaming from the eyes, the brain will interpret this information in the quickest and most efficient way possible.” This “efficiency trap” blocks us from seeing alternatives to what we perceive as real; it imposes limitations to what we believe is the only way of seeing something. Iconoclasts don’t allow themselves to fall into the efficiency trap as often as the average person does. “Automatic thinking destroys the creative process.” Berns adds—and the implication is very important—“iconoclasts, either because they were born that way or because they learned how to do it, have found ways to work around the perceptual shortcuts that plague most people.” Thus, we can learn to do this too. Fundamentally, we need to create novel experiences.
Iconoclasm begins with perception….Sometimes a simple change of environment is enough to jog the perceptual system out of familiar categories….Unfamiliarity forces the brain to discard its usual categories of perception and create new ones….When confronted with places never seen before, the brain must create new categories. It is in this process that the brain jumbles around old ideas with new images to create new syntheses.
The iconoclast’s fear response—specifically the fear of uncertainty and the fear of public ridicule—are different than that of the average person. Fear is damaging to creativity in the workplace. “In many people the brain would rather avoid activating the fear system and just change perception to conform with the social norm.” You can not eradicate the fear response but you can learn to tame it. “Neuroscience is showing how the rational part of the brain can regain control over such toxic emotions like fear.”
The individual who feels overwhelmed by uncertainty or social stresses in the workplace may benefit from taking on projects that have defined endings. Although these may increase in the short term, their completion may actually decrease overall stress.
All of this is well and good, but to be a successful iconoclast, you must be able to sell your ideas to other people. That boils down to social intelligence. “As well-respected, upstanding citizens, connectors form the glue of local society. Iconoclasts, by their very nature, upset this delicate web of connectedness. But iconoclasts need connectors. Without them, the iconoclast stands no chance of achieving success. Sometime iconoclasts have to create the connectors themselves.” Additionally, it is a challenge to leaders to be able to find ways to connect iconoclasts to others so that their talents and insights can be capitalized on organizationally.

It is extremely rare for one person to have all three qualities of a successful iconoclast. But you can compensate by building a team around you in areas where you aren’t strong. Iconoclast: A Neuroscientist Reveals How to Think Differently is supported by research and persuasive stories. The immediacy of the topic will be helpful not only to individual development, but to organizations seeking to bring new thinking to old patterns of thought.

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


Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions

Think Again
Why do good leaders make bad decisions? This question is at the heart of Sydney Finkelstein, Jo Whitehead and Andrew Campbell’s book, Think Again.

The authors begin their analysis with the notorious 2005 hurricane Katrina disaster. As the retelling of the events are explained, you might even find yourself compelled to stop waving your placard, change your t-shirt, pull up a chair and listen for understanding. A series of understandable mistakes—errors of judgment—were made by very competent people. The same kinds of errors of judgment that we all make.
A bad decision starts with at least one influential person making an error of judgment. But normally, the decision process will save the day: facts will be brought to the table that challenge the flawed thinking, or other people with different views will influence the outcome. So the second factor that contributes to a bad decision is the way the decision is managed: for whatever reason, as the decision is being discussed, the erroneous views are not exposed and corrected.
Drawing on the findings of brain research, they conclude that “our brains use two processes that enable us to cope with the complexities we face: pattern recognition and emotional tagging.” Neither of these is inherently bad, in fact they are quite helpful and necessary much of the time. The problem is when we are faced with new types of input that do not match up with our previous experiences. This most often leads to flawed thinking.

They describe four conditions under which flawed thinking is most likely to happen. The first two are pattern recognition problems and the latter are emotional tagging issues.
  • Misleading Experiences: If we are faced with unfamiliar inputs—especially if the unfamiliar inputs appear familiar—we can think we recognize something when we do not.
  • Misleading Pre-Judgments: When we connect previous judgments or decisions that are inappropriate or inaccurate with our current situation, they disrupt our pattern recognition processes causing us to misjudge the information we are receiving.
  • Inappropriate Self-Interest: “The reason why self-interest is such a pervasive influence is that it is particularly difficult for decision makers to be self-aware about how their personal interests are affecting their choices….We are particularly prone to screening the effects of self-interest from our conscious mind.”
  • Inappropriate Attachments: While attachments add greatly to our lives, they can also trap us without realizing it. This includes inappropriate attachments to colleagues when cuts must be made or to a strategy we have an emotional investment in.
How do we avoid these traps? Good judgment is not enough. It is important to take the steps necessary “to guard against the inevitable distortions and biases that can lead to a flawed decision.” The authors offer four safeguards:
  • Provide decision makers with new experience or data and analysis to reduce the risk of failure at source.
  • Introduce processes that challenge entrenched views.
  • Include a governance team to stand in the way of any flawed judgments that make it past the decision team.
  • Put in place a special ongoing monitoring and reporting process from the beginning of the decision-making process.
You can’t eliminate bad decisions, but Think Again offers a fresh and readable method to reduce the risk of them.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:34 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Newswire: What the French Revolution Can Teach America

    An interesting viewpoint from Dominique Moïsi, visiting professor at Harvard University and author of the forthcoming The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World
  • What the French Revolution Can Teach America
    by Dominique Moïsi, Financial Times

    French Revolution
    “Eat the wealthy.” The ferocity of the words used by some demonstrators in London on the eve of the Group of 20 summit evokes the worst excesses of the French revolution.

    Of course, America in 2009 is not France in 1788, the year before the fall of the Bastille (the prison that embodied the oppressive nature of the monarchical regime) and the symbolic beginning of the French revolution. The fall of Lehman Brothers in September 2008 has nothing to do with the fall of the Bastille; symbols of wealth should not be confused with symbols of oppression. There is no guillotine around the corner and it would take a lot of imagination to compare President Barack Obama to Louis XVI, or Michelle Obama to Marie-Antoinette.

    Yet as a European living in America – watching news on television every night, talking to friends, colleagues or my students – I sense fear, anger and a deep feeling of injustice reminiscent of the climate on the eve of the French revolution. Just replace bread shortages with foreclosures, aristocrats with bankers, and privileges such as the right not to pay tax with stock options. Add to that support for the king but rejection of many of his ministers, and the comparison looks less far-fetched.

    The problem with the economic team of the new president is that, like the court of the king of France in pre-revolutionary times, it has inherited all the bad reflexes of the ancien régime, mixing excessive sympathy for the outdated logic of the world of finance, which it helped to create, with insensitivity to the emotions of the ordinary people, which it tends to ignore. This sympathy is perceived to contrast with the harsh treatment of carmakers.

    Bankers and financiers have to reinvent not only their trade but also their way of life and, above all, their value system. In the Madoff scandal, just as shocking as the crime of an individual was the behaviour of many of his rich customers, who combined greed with a lack of financial common sense.

    The greed of some was tolerated as long as most of society continued to progress. But today’s combination of fear and humiliation with a deep sense of injustice leads to anger that is potentially irrepressible. The strength of the American republic has been bolstered by the popularity of its new president. This capital should not be squandered on reliance on a media-savvy communication culture. As can be seen so often in history, less is more. The president of the US simply speaks too much.

    Revolution is not around the corner; at least, not in America. But there are lessons Mr Obama can learn from the French king’s failure to manage dissent. He must not fall prey to populism. His goal is to save the economy, not punish the bankers. At the same time, he must not be seen to have too much sympathy for the world of finance and its excesses or to cut himself off from the suffering of his people. If he fails, the corporate laws of today will face the same fate as the ancien régime rights of yesterday.
See the complete atricle on the Financial Times web site.

* * *

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:29 AM
| Comments (0) | Communication , NewsWire , Problem Solving


10 Survival Tips from Donald Trump

What's happened to the economy has been likened to a tsunami as well as an implosion. When the undersea earthquake and subsequent tsunami hit in Indonesia in 2004, the world was stunned by the devastation that took place. It triggered earthquakes around the globe as far away as Alaska. It happened in a very short amount of time. This kind of event takes shape over a period of time and then erupts with incredible force. What happened this past year is similar in that respect -- it'd been brewing for some time. When it hit, it was like a tsunami which caused other economies to start crumbling as well. We are all familiar with that scenario. What we need to do now is deal with it.

The aftermath of a tsunami requires surveying the damage, picking up the pieces and moving on. Some people have bigger losses than others, but everyone has to keep going.

When it comes to implosion, it's more of a cave-in than a wipe-out, but equally potent. We saw the effects of an implosion watching the towers fall on 9/11. It's a domino effect. We won't sink because we can swim, but let's not go the way of dominos. Let's be smart and learn to think for ourselves in positioning ourselves for what comes next. Here are a few survival tips:
  • Pay attention to national and international news and finance coverage at least several times a day, preferably hourly. In volatile times, vigilance is necessary.
  • Absorb, assess, and then act. Knowledge without action is impotence.
  • When a tsunami hits, there's no time for procrastination. Keep your momentum in tune with the times.
  • Avoid your comfort zone -- it's probably outdated anyway.
  • If you're honest, you should know the questions that should be asked, as well as the answers. That's probably why there's so much confusion out there today.
  • Remember The Blitz. That can put things into perspective. Things may be tough and getting tougher, but we're not being bombed day in and day out either. If you don't know what The Blitz is, use your time wisely to study WWII to find out.
  • Is your life half empty or half full? Half is better than zip. Count your blessings.
  • Realize that fear is the exact opposite of faith.
  • Resolve to be bigger than your problems. Who's the boss?
  • Don't negate your own power. Whatever you've been dealt, know you can deal with it.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:12 AM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Personal Development , Problem Solving


What To Do When Growth Stalls

growth stallsIt happens to every company. No one is exempt from the cycles of business. It’s not a question of competence or enthusiasm. It’s normal. “Generating consistent growth is just plain hard, no matter how smart, experienced, or talented you are. As one of the company leaders we interviewed told us, it’s like ‘trying to keep an ice cube from melting.’ It can be done, but only in the right environment.”

Steve McKee has written an insightful analysis of the problem. When Growth Stalls “is about generating growth for your company at a time when growth may be nothing but a glimmer of hope in your mind.”

There are external forces that we all fall victim to: economic upheavals, aggressive competition, and changing industry dynamics. But McKee’s research has identified four internal factors that work against recovery and often paralyze you:

Lack of Consensus. Consensus doesn’t mean management by committee. It means “agreement among an organization’s senior leadership about the nature and purpose of the company and where it’s intended to go.” McKee writes, “Consensus issues are hard to identify and unpleasant to face. But if you have a consensus problem, things can’t get better until you recognize it.” Only then can you work together to uncover the genuine issues you are facing. Everyone needs to be on the same page working from the same playbook.

Loss of Focus. “No matter how big the company, its management team has only a finite amount of resources—money, time, talent, energy—at its disposal. The less focused those resources become, the less muscle management can muster to move the company forward or, if necessary, pull it out of a ditch.”

Loss of Nerve. Probably the most insidious factor. When growth stalls, as McKee points out, it’s confusing. “Great leaders are supposed to be firm, decisive, and sure-footed. When things go wrong, you just fix them. That is, until the problems spin beyond your control.” It’s discouraging. “When the road drops out from under the company, the CEO’s own discouragement can be difficult to hide.” It’s contagious. “It’s one thing to struggle privately…it’s quite another when the discouragement and disillusionment hit you so hard you can’t hide them. When the CEO is worried, everybody’s worried.” It's paralyzing. “You don’t have the luxury to think strategically when things are so desperate.” It’s wearying. As one CEO told him, “I wasn’t so much scared as ticked off and drained. I was tired of pushing the rock up the mountain like Sisyphus.”

redlightWhen you’re struggling to keep your head above water, taking risks is the last thing you want to do. Ironically, some risk taking is just what is needed. Nobel Prize winner Myron Scholes “believes that companies should outsource as much ‘generalized risk’ as possible and focus on ‘idiosyncratic risk’; that is, risk related directly to a company’s core competency, where the company’s unique knowledge has a chance to produce better-than-expected results.”

Marketing Inconsistency. “The companies with the strongest track records do everything they can to maintain a consistent identity in the marketplace, even as the economy moves up and down, competitors come and go, and consumer tastes shift.”

When Growth Stalls
These four factors can create a vicious cycle that can be crippling. The first step is to step back and understand that while it is common as a leader to feel guilt, “that attitude is not only unhealthy and unproductive, in most cases it’s just plain incorrect….As long as denial, doubt, and fear—and in some cases, sniping, finger-pointing, and other destructive behaviors—are wreaking havoc with your internal dynamics, you’ll remain stuck in the vicious cycle.”

McKee shows you how to identify and deal productively with these factors. Writing from personal experience, he uses good examples and appropriate metaphors to explain what is happening when growth stalls. This adds to the book’s credibility and the friendly, thoughtful tone of his writing. If your growth has stalled, you need this book to help you get your company back on track.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:00 AM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Problem Solving


Six Ways Companies Mismanage Risk

Ohio State University professor René Stulz writes in the Harvard Business Review, “Of course, financial institutions can suffer spectacular losses even when their risk management is first-rate. They are, after all, in the business of taking risks. When risk management does fail, however, it is in one of six basic ways, nearly all of them exemplified in the current crisis. Sometimes the problem lies with the data or measures that risk managers rely on. Sometimes it relates to how they identify and communicate the risks a company is exposed to. Financial risk management is hard to get right in the best of times.” Obviously, risk assessment needs to be tempered with time-tested experience and calculated risks need to cast a wider net when calculated. In summary, here are his six paths to failure:
  1. Too much reliance on historical data. It’s only a partial guide to the future.
  2. Reliance on narrow daily measures to reduce risk.
  3. Knowable risks have been overlooked. A big picture approach is needed.
  4. Concealed risks have been overlooked. Reward downside reporting. Unreported risks tend to expand. Sound familiar? Know What You Don’t Know
  5. Failure to communicate effectively. Need the ability to explain what is happening in clear, precise and most importantly, simple terms.
  6. Risks not managed in real time. Essential for quick response.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:07 AM
| Comments (0) | Management , Problem Solving


7 Vital Behaviors of Effective Problem-Finders

Leadership Nuggets
In Know What You Don’t Know, Michael Roberto has identified the key skills and capabilities required to ensure that problems do not remain hidden in your organization. Keep in mind that problem-finding does not precede processes of continuous improvement.
Know What You Don't Know
Learning does not follow a linear path. Take the athlete who practices her sport on a regular basis. She does not always discover a problem first and then practice a new technique for overcoming that flaw. Sometimes, an athlete sets out on a normal practice routine, and through that process, she discovers problems that diminish her effectiveness. In sum, the processes of problem-finding and continuous improvement are inextricably linked. A person should not focus on one at the expense of the other, nor should he expect to proceed in a linear fashion from problem discovery to performance improvement. We often will discover new problems while working to solve old ones.

Here are seven vital behaviors of effective problem-finders. To discover the small problems and failures that threaten your organization, you must do the following:
  • Circumvent the gatekeepers: Remove the filters at times, and go directly to the source to see and hear the raw data. Listen aggressively to the people actually doing the work.32 Keep in touch with what is happening at the periphery of your business, not simply at the core.
  • Become an ethnographer: Many anthropologists observe people in natural settings, which is known as ethnographic research. Emulate them. Do not simply ask people how things are going. Do not depend solely on data from surveys and focus groups. Do not simply listen to what people say; watch what they do—much like an anthropologist. Go out and observe how employees, customers, and suppliers actually behave. Effective problem-finders become especially adept at observing the unexpected without allowing preconceptions to cloud what they are seeing.
  • Hunt for patterns: Reflect on and refine your individual and collective pattern-recognition capability. Focus on the efficacy of your personal and organizational processes for drawing analogies to past experiences. Search deliberately for patterns amidst disparate data points in the organization.
  • Connect the dots: Recognize that large-scale failures often are preceded by small problems that occur in different units of the organization. Foster improved sharing of information, and build mechanisms to help people integrate critical data and knowledge. You will "connect the dots" among issues that may initially seem unrelated, but in fact, have a great deal in common.
  • Encourage useful failures: Create a "Red Pencil Award" philosophy akin to the one at Build-a-Bear. Encourage people to take risks and to come forward when mistakes are made. Reduce the fear of failure in the organization. Help your people understand the difference between excusable and inexcusable mistakes.
  • Teach how to talk and listen: Give groups of frontline employees training in a communication technique, such as Crew Resource Management, that helps them surface and discuss problems and concerns in an effective manner. Provide senior executives with training on how to encourage people to speak up, and then how to handle their comments and concerns appropriately.
  • Watch the game film: Like a coach, reflect systematically on your organization's conduct and performance, as well as on the behavior and performance of competitors. Learn about and seek to avoid the typical traps that firms encounter when they engage in lessons learned and competitive-intelligence exercises. Create opportunities for individuals and teams to practice desired behaviors so as to enhance their performance, much like elite athletic performers do.
Adapted from Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen by Michael A. Roberto

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:25 PM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Nuggets , Problem Solving


How To Know What You Don’t Know

Having studied some of the biggest decisions of our time, Michael Roberto is an expert on decision making. But his new book is not about decision-making. Not exactly anyway.

Know What You Don't Know
Something Robert McNamara said to him made him take a step back. McNamara said that while business schools dutifully teach decision making, in the real world, identifying the true problem often proves to be the bigger issue. Have you ever found that you were working on a solution to the wrong problem? Of course, knowing that a problem exists at all is first the critical step. Too frequently, we uncover the problem too late and the small issue has become a major problem. By now, we are all well acquainted with this scenario. Roberto writes, “Small problems often precede catastrophes. In fact, most large-scale failures result from a series of small errors and failures, rather than a single root cause.”

Peggy Noonan recently wrote in her weekend column, “Every new president starts out fresh, in part because he doesn’t know what he doesn’t know. Ignorance keeps you perky.” It also makes you vulnerable. So a leader must become a good problem-finder. We need to get good at knowing what we don’t know. The purpose of Michael Roberto’s book, Know What You Don’t Know, is to help us do just that – become an expert at finding problems. It’s an important book on a timely – if not ever present – issue.

Problem-finding is an ongoing process and a bit of a trick. Simply asking won’t give you the answer. People are prone to tell you what you want to hear. People tend to do – and think nothing of – what makes sense to them, but it might not make sense in the context of what you are trying to accomplish. So you have to learn to read between the lines and connect the dots. It requires intuition. Improving that capability is essential to your success, so that when you do put two and two together, you get four and not something else.

You have to create a learning environment where people are allowed to make mistakes and learn from them. And they need to be trained how to communicate their thoughts and allow others to communicate theirs without shutting them down.

Through numerous examples he shows how people have improved their problem-finding skills. Many of these examples can be applied in a wide variety of contexts. A successful leader must develop the mindset of a problem-finder. This, Roberto says, is not just another set of behaviors and competencies. It begins with “a certain level of intellectual curiosity. You must be willing to ask questions, seeking always to learn more about both the familiar and the unfamiliar….Perhaps most importantly, you must be willing to question your own prior judgments and conclusions.” (And have enough humility to even think that that is necessary.)

You also must “embrace systemic thinking.” A good problem-finder recognizes “that small problems often do not occur due to the negligence or misconduct of an individual. Instead, small errors frequently serve as indicators of broader systemic issues in the organization.” It might be prudent, in the aftermath of a major problem, to use it as an opportunity to look at the “whole” organization for contributing factors.

Finally, Roberto says you need to have a healthy paranoia. “Effective problem-finders acknowledge that every organization, no matter how successful, has plenty of problems.” And that’s OK. “Effective problem-finders acknowledge their personal fallibility, rather than cultivating an aura of invincibility.”

Roberto concludes, “Successful leaders do not see problems as threats. They see every problem as an opportunity to learn and improve.” Leave no stone unturned.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:11 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Why Problems Hide

Leadership Nuggets

Know What You Don't Know
Problems remain hidden in organizations for a number of reasons. First, people fear being marginalized or punished for speaking up in many firms, particularly for admitting that they might have made a mistake or contributed to a failure.

Second, structural complexity in organizations may serve like dense "tree cover" in a forest, which makes it difficult for sunlight to reach the ground. Multiple layers, confusing reporting relationships, convoluted matrix structures, and the like all make it hard for messages to make their way to key leaders. Even if the messages do make their way through the dense forest, they may become watered down, misinterpreted, or mutated along the way.

Third, the existence and power of key gatekeepers may insulate leaders from hearing bad news, even if the filtering of information takes place with the best of intentions.

Fourth, an overemphasis on formal analysis and an underappreciation of intuitive reasoning may cause problems to remain hidden for far too long.

Finally, many organizations do not train employees in how to spot problems. Issues surface more quickly if people have been taught how to hunt for potential problems, what cues they should attend to as they do their jobs, and how to communicate their concerns to others.

Adapted from Know What You Don't Know: How Great Leaders Prevent Problems Before They Happen by Michael A. Roberto

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:51 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Nuggets , Problem Solving


Hitting Your Goals by Knowing What Matters

“The trouble with an overload of information isn’t just that it’s confusing. It’s that the data have conflicting implications,” writes David Apgar in Relevance: Hitting Your Goals By Knowing What Matters. Today, data is cheap so we make more of it. But in generating more of it, we unwittingly complicate our decisions. The problem is in determining what is relevant.

Two tests help to determine the usefulness of any piece of information. First, is its specificity “because you can draw more conclusions from precise outcomes rather than vague ones.” And secondly is its relevance. “Relevance has to do with how well a piece of information tests your expectations.”

Apgar suggests that while we have become used to less relevant data we have developed two bad habits. “Instead of devising a specific strategy to meet a financial goal like a sales or profit target, we’re increasingly tempted to enumerate requirements for meeting the goal…. Requirements are not strategies. An unlike strategies, there’s little to learn when they fail to work.” And then there’s our growing reliance on red herrings. “Red herrings are results that appear to confirm your plans but in reality are merely consistent with them.” We end up chasing after the wrong thing.

It leads to an unintended use of the balanced scorecard. “It’s too easy for organizations to fill out balanced scorecards with lists of obvious requirements for success that resemble ingredients in a cookbook. The trouble isn’t that the ingredients may be wrong; it’s that they run so little risk of being wrong. As a result, they end up saying very little.” The strategy should look more like a recipe than a list of ingredients. There is little chance of the ingredients being wrong. You can execute the ingredients, but the recipe is what needs to be tested.

Apgar offers a quick and efficient way to get the indicators that test strategic assumptions and devising better performance strategies. He writes, “A leader must both promulgate polices clear enough to test and be ready to change them. Clarity and a critical attitude are great virtues when combined. Instead of avoiding leaders with simplistic or nuanced approached to the world, organizations and countries alike need leaders who alternate between them.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:21 AM
| Comments (0) | General Business , Management , Problem Solving


Thinking Gray and Free

In The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership, author Steven Sample, shares the idea that leaders think differently. “Leaders are able to maintain their intellectual independence by thinking gray, and enhance their intellectual creativity by thinking free.”

Leaders have to deal with ambiguities and unknowns. The idea is to learn to think gray while holding firmly to your core ideals. It’s not being binary and instant in your judgments and seeing the nuances to be found in many situations.

Free thinking is more than just brainstorming. It’s brainstorming beyond your current reality. What would we do if we had no budgetary constraints, no time restrictions, no personnel problems, no legal restrictions and no fear of failure? It’s to “contemplate absolutely outrageous and impossible” ideas and solutions.
The leader whose thinking is constrained within well-worn ruts, who is completely governed by his established passions and prejudices, who is incapable of thinking either gray or free, and who can’t even appropriate the creative imagination and fresh ideas of those around him, is as anachronistic and ineffective as the dinosaur. He may by dint of circumstances remain in power, but his followers would almost certainly be better off without him.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:04 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Thinking


Why Do Seemingly Smart People and Companies Make Such Blunders?

Billion-Dollar Lessons
In business, don’t we have structures in place that are designed to bring in a variety of expertise when making major decisions and ensure that no one person can send the business in the wrong direction? Don’t we do our due diligence?

As a species we are not as rational as we would like to think. We tend to be overconfident, too quick to come to a conclusion and not inclined to learn from our mistakes. In the well-executed Billion-Dollar Lessons, Paul Carroll and Chunka Mui write that “humans are hardwired to come up with bad strategies.” Doing due diligence is extremely difficult because of these natural tendencies:
  • People home in on an answer prematurely, long before they evaluate all information
  • People have trouble being objective about many kinds of information because they aren’t set up very well to deal with abstractions.
  • People conform to the wishes of a group, especially if there is a strong person in the leadership role, rather than raise objections that test ideas.
  • People also don’t learn as much as they could from their mistakes, because we humans typically suffer from overconfidence and have elaborate defense mechanisms to explain away our failings; sharp people appear to be even less likely to learn from mistakes or to acknowledge their errors.
Organizational structures and their accompanying social structures also hurt decision making. It’s hard to deliver bad news any time but especially in a culture that doesn’t support it. They relate that “Saddam Hussein did personally shoot a senior minister in his government when the minister suggested, quite mildly, that Iraq might want to consider looking for a peaceful settlement of its 1980s war with Iran.” That certainly puts a lid on things.

Inertia too, is a big contributor to poor strategy. The hoops that one has to jump through and layers of bureaucracy that have to be appeased “make it hard to derail a strategy once it has reached a certain point. It’s just too painful to go back and start over.”

The authors say it is not enough to be aware of these issues. If we are to learn from our mistakes, there has to be some incentive to do so.
US Air Mail
“In the early days of flying, transporting mail became a huge business. But it was dangerous in those flimsy planes that were used right after World War I. Of the first forty pilots with the U.S. Mail service, thirty-one died carrying the mail. The life expectancy of a pilot was four years. Finally, in 1922, the pilots worked out a deal. If the manager of a field told a pilot that he had to take off to deliver the mail even though the pilot thought the weather was too dangerous, the manager had to be willing to sit in the plane’s second seat and fly once around the field. That year, U.S. Mail pilots had zero fatalities.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:39 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Are You Having a No-Good, Very-Bad Day?

No Complaining RuleIf you are like most of us, anything going on but what you want, warrants a complaint. Not an action-oriented, let’s get this solved kind of complaint, but your everyday run-of-the-mill mindless kind of complaining that leads nowhere (except to more negative thinking).

Jon Gordon, author of The No Complaining Rule, says there are two main reasons why we complain: (1) because we are fearful and feel helpless and two, because it has become a habit. He urges us to outgrow the complaining habit. He cites a Gallup poll that finds that negativity costs companies nearly $300 billion each year.

“In life,” Gordon writes, “you have a choice between two roads. The positive road and the negative road. The positive road will lead to enhanced health, happiness, and success and the negative road will lead to misery, anger, and failure. Since your bus can’t be on two roads at the same time, you must decide which road you want to be on. And wen you complain you travel down the negative road.”

“In life,” Gordon writes, “you have a choice between two roads. The positive road and the negative road. The positive road will lead to enhanced health, happiness, and success and the negative road will lead to misery, anger, and failure. Since your bus can’t be on two roads at the same time, you must decide which road you want to be on. And when you complain you travel down the negative road.”

As former chronic complainer, Gordon effectively delivers his message through a story. The No Complaining Rule doesn’t rule out complaining – it requires that it be constructive.
Employees are not allowed to mindlessly complain to their coworkers. If they have a problem or complaint about their job, their company, their customer, or anything else, they are encouraged to bring the issue to their manager or someone who is in a position to address the complaint. However, the employees must share one or two possible solutions to their complaint as well.
The No Complaining Rule
Gordon explains how do develop a positive culture by creating a culture where negativity can’t breed, grow, and survive. A crucial key is to all this is to focus on gratitude. “Research shows that when we count three blessings a day, we get a measurable boost in happiness that uplifts and energizes us. It’s also physiologically impossible to be stressed and thankful at the same time. Two thoughts cannot occupy our mind at the same time. If you are focusing on gratitude, you can’t be negative. You can also energize and engage your coworkers by letting them know you are grateful for them and their work.”

Start a revolution in your own life, at work and at home. Download free No Complaining Rule posters and other tools from Jon Gordon’s web site. Have no complaining day!

Related Interest:
  10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:22 PM
| Comments (0) | Management , Personal Development , Problem Solving


What’s the Hidden Danger of Being the Brightest Person In the Room?

Leaders in organizations who are dealing with a specific issue or problem should ensure that they collaborate with team members toward its resolution, even if they are the best-informed, most experienced, or most-skilled person in the group. Not to do so would be fool-hardy.

In fact, behavioral scientist Patrick Laughlin and his colleagues have shown that the approaches and outcomes of groups who cooperate in seeking a solution are not just better than the average member working alone, but are even better than the group’s best problem solver working alone. Far too often, leaders-who, by virtue of greater experience, skill, and wisdom, deem themselves the ablest problem solver in the group—fail to ask for input from team members.

The research conducted by Laughlin and his colleagues tells us why the best leader operating individually will be beaten to a correct solution by an all-inclusive cooperating unit.

First, lone decision-makers can’t match the diversity of knowledge and perspectives of a multi-person unit that includes them.

Second, the solution seeker who goes it alone loses another significant advantage—the power of parallel processing. Whereas a cooperating unit can distribute many subtasks of a problem to its members, a lone operator must perform each task sequentially.

But isn’t full collaboration risky? After all, decisions made completely by committee are notorious for suboptimal performance, Mindful of that problem, our recommendation is not to employ a vote-counting strategy in order to come to a resolution; in fact the recommendation is not for making joint decisions at all. The final choice is always for the leader to make. But it’s the process of seeking input that leaders should engage in more collectively.

In Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive authors Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini, tackle a lot of interesting questions regarding the art and science of persuasion. For example, they ask what common mistake causes messages to self-destruct? The answer is found in the answer to why a sign pointing out the problem of vandalism in the Petrified National Park actually increased the theft of pieces of petrified wood. What we learn is to focus our communications on the fact that there are a lot of people doing the right thing and build on that. You will find a lot of good practical insights here.

Adapted from Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to Be Persuasive by Noah Goldstein, Steve Martin and Robert Cialdini.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:15 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Define the Correct Question

Business environmentalist Jack Giampalmi, remarked in a recent speech the importance of asking the right question if we are to get the solution that will bring change.
Solutions are easy. Where leadership is essential is in defining and understanding the real question. For example, global warming, or climate change, finds its way onto many agendas, and many agendas may even be hidden. But is the right question being asked? Be sure to know what the real question is when faced with a problematic issue. We are constantly being bombarded and facing hidden agendas while solving problems which address the wrong question. This hinders sustainability.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 03:37 PM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


Learning Requires Personal Responsibility

Teaching Smart People How to Learn
The Harvard Business Press is publishing some of the classic articles from past issues of the Harvard Business Review in handy pocket-size book form. This month they are releasing Teaching Smart People How to Learn by Chris Argyris. It first appeared in the May-June 1991 issue. In it he tells us that “success in the marketplace increasingly depends on learning, yet most people don’t know how to learn.” Worse still is the fact that those we assume to be the best at learning – knowledge workers – are not very good at it.

True learning, what Argyris calls double-loop learning, requires that we be open to criticism. Most of what passes for learning is, according to Argyris, single-loop learning. Single-loop learning is, problem solving. That is to say, working on problems in the external environment – behaviors and tactics. This is really nothing more than fixing symptoms. Instead, workers need to “reflect critically on their own behavior, identify the ways they often inadvertently contribute to the organization’s problems, and then change how they act.” It is looking at “why we do what we do.” It is rethinking the assumptions behind why we do what we do.
Double-Loop Learning

Argyris describes single and double-loop learning using this analogy: a thermostat that automatically turns on the heat whenever the temperature in a room drops below 68 degrees is a good example of single-loop learning. A thermostat that could ask, ‘‘Why am I set at 68 degrees?’’ and then explore whether or not some other temperature might more economically achieve the goal of heating the room would be engaging in double-loop learning.

The ideas Argyris lays out in this article are truer today than when he wrote it. Knowledge workers must by the nature of their work, put themselves – their identity - out there in the workplace. This makes them more vulnerable and more likely to become defensive when they are shown to be responsible, to some degree, with a problem. Double-loop learning requires taking personal responsibility and a willingness to challenge what one is doing. Know Thyself begins to take on a new dimension.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 09:23 PM
| Comments (0) | Learning , Problem Solving


Getting the Information You Need

In the Spring issue of the Leader to Leader Journal, authors Mark Ronald and Robert Shaw tackle the issue of getting the good information needed to make informed decisions in Developing Peripheral Vision. The problem we are often faced with is that people are reluctant to talk about their concerns. They write, “For a variety of reasons, individuals often communicate in subtle or even misleading ways in regard to how they feel about a key decision.” There is a lot that we as leaders, can do contribute to the problem of open and clear communication.

Leadership Communication

They list six behavioral flags or signals that might mean that the leader needs to take more direct action to get the information they need. In brief:

Silence: In leadership teams, members who don’t support the trend of a decision often simply disengage from the dialogue and remain silent rather than pose a contrary point of view—particularly if the leader appears to support the decision or the group is moving quickly to closure. Who has checked out?

Non-answers: People can opt out by appearing to agree with the leader when, in fact, they do not. “If you think it’s the right decision, that’s good enough for me.”

Omissions: It is often what is not said that is most critical—particularly on issues that the leader believes will be problematic.

Specific language: People surface their true feelings in hundreds of subtle ways. Leaders need to pay attention to the specific use of words that are flags suggesting that more discussion or follow-up is needed.

Offline input: Often, the insights people bring to a leader (or each other) during the breaks of meetings or in informal hallway conversations are more important than what is said in formal discussions.

E-mail traffic: In many firms, e-mail offers insight into potential issues that may require a leader’s attention. For example, an overly formal e-mail message with multiple people copied (or blind copied) is often a protective action taken by a team member with concerns.

It is up to the leader to determine what is important and what is simply noise.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:26 AM
| Comments (0) | Communication , Problem Solving


Insultants Wanted

Breakthrough Company
We need people who will tell us like it is in the right way. Often we don’t like to hear what they have to say but we should never discourage them. Frequently, leaders are the last to know. Keith McFarland author of The Breakthrough Company, calls these straight-shooters insultants (inside consultants). He describes them as those people “willing to ask the tough questions that cause a company to think critically about its fundamental assumptions. The value of insultants is that they will go to great lengths to get their companies to reevaluate a position or adapt to a changing environment.”

If you think that you welcome these people, think again. A survey showed that while 90 percent of CEOs believed that their companies regularly implemented ideas that the CEO initially didn’t like, only 60 percent of their direct reports agreed.

McFarland reports that people tend to differ to authority and rank because they feel that they must know better. “But often authority figures are wrong, and if an organization doesn’t have a strong insultant culture, errors are likely to be propagated throughout the company.”

If you feel you are an insultant, don't think you begin by charging in like a bull in a china shop. There is a right way and a wrong way to do things. You are trying to make the leader successful, not trying to show how smart you are or place the spotlight on yourself. Good insultants must learn to excel at relationships based on genuine care for others. McFarland offers these tips that one would do well to heed:
  • Be Empathetic. Yours isn’t the only point of view. Understand where others are coming from.
  • Don’t Attack. Finger pointing is not acceptable. “The most powerful tool in the insultant’s arsenal is the question—and knowing how to ask the right question at the right time.”
  • Don’t Triangulate. “Most people find talking behind someone’s back to be insulting—so effective insultants avoid it at all costs.”
  • Don’t Kid Yourself—Your Real Motivation Will Be Obvious. “If you mean to embarrass, demean, or criticize another person, while you might succeed in that goal, you will have unnecessarily sacrificed any opportunity you had to contribute change.”
  • Be a Grown-Up. “An insultant’s job is to make sure an issue gets a thorough vetting, not to convince everyone to see the world his or her way.”
  • Be Assertive and Persistent. “Not everyone will be receptive to the hard truth, so an insultant must be both assertive and persistent, returning to the issue as often as he or she thinks is necessary to get the point across.
As a leader, you gain nothing by not knowing what people are thinking. People with ideas and challenges to your way of doing things are not necessarily being insubordinate. They are practicing leadership. Leaders can encourage a candid environment be celebrating productive failure, involving people enough in the issues that they can make intelligent contributions, focusing on both employees and customers that have left the company, and using humor to encourage frankness and trust.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:47 PM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Change , Leadership Development , Management , Problem Solving


What to Do When Things Go Wrong

When things go wrong, we often begin by asking ourselves the wrong questions like “Why is this happening to me?” In QBQ, John Miller writes that “our first reactions are often negative, bringing to mind incorrect questions. But if in each moment of decision we can instead discipline our thoughts to look behind those initial questions and ask better ones (QBQ’s – the Questions Behind the Questions), the questions themselves will lead us to better results….The answers are in the questions.”

When a problem (or a challenge is you prefer) arises, we start looking for some control of the situation. The problem is, we quite naturally begin by looking at those around us and ask the wrong types of questions like “why?” and “who?” The wrong questions take away any control of the situation we might otherwise gain.

In LeaderShock, Greg Hicks suggests that we look for meaning in the situation first. Ask self-revealing questions like:
  • What does it say about me that I have this problem—about my practices, my departmental policies, my relationship with customers and staff?
  • What can I learn from this?
  • How can I make this situation useful to me and my employees?
He adds, “You’re on shaky ground if you attempt to fix a problem without first understanding what it means to you and your organization. By looking for inherent meaning, you open a rich treasure chest of valuable gems that lead to new information, insight, and opportunities.”

John Miller stresses that the right questions contain an “I” and not “you,” “they,” and “them.” “I” questions lead to action. “Questions that contain an “I” turn our focus away from other people and circumstances and put it back on ourselves, where it can do the most good. We can’t change other people. We can’t control circumstances and events. The only things we have any real control over are our own thoughts and actions. Asking questions that focus our efforts and energy on what we can do makes us significantly more effective, not to mention happier and less frustrated.”

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:28 AM
| Comments (0) | Personal Development , Problem Solving


Deciding How We Decide

How we come to decisions has to be as important as the decisions we come to. Changing how we decide may be the fundamental shift we can make in how we—as individuals and organizations—change. It is appropriate to spend some time thinking about it. While a single person may make the final decision, it should always be made in an atmosphere of open listening and sharing.

JFK Cuban Missile Crisis
In Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer, professor Michael Roberto, devotes a chapter to this issue. He begins by showing how John F. Kennedy changed the decision-making process from the tactics employed in the failed Bay of Pigs decision to the better process employed in coming to the successful conclusion of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It demonstrates “how leaders can learn from failures and then change the process of decision that they employ in the future.” It’s an interesting case in demonstrating the importance of deciding how we decide and having the mindset to do so.

He discusses four critical choices that affect a leader’s ability to “cultivate constructive conflict and build enduring consensus:

First, the leader determines the composition of the decision-making body. The selection should be based on access to expertise, implementation needs, the role of personal confidant, and the effect of demographic differences.

Second, they shape the context in which deliberations will take place. What norms and ground rules will govern the discussions?

Third, the leader determines how communication will take place among the participants. How will people exchange ideas and information, as well as generate and evaluate alternatives? Structured? Free exchange?
Michael Roberto

Fourth, the leader must determine the extent and manner in which they will control the process and content of the decision. What roll will the leader play?

Roberto adds these important cautionary comments about content-centric and process-centric learning:
When decision failures occur, many executives focus on the issues involved, and they seek to identify the mistaken judgments and flawed assumptions that they made. However, many leaders do not push further to investigate why they made these errors. Too many of them engage only in content-centric learning. By that, I mean that they search for lessons about how they will make a different decision when faced with a similar business situation in the future.

Kennedy adopted a different learning orientation. He engaged in process-centric learning, meaning that he thought carefully about why the Bay of Pigs decision-making procedures led to mistaken judgments and flawed assumptions….He searched for lessons about how to employ a different process when faced with tough choices in the future.
Good material. Check it out.

See Also:
  JFK’s Leadership Style

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:41 PM
| Comments (0) | Learning , Problem Solving , Thinking


How To Avoid Making the Wrong Moves: Think Twice

In their 2008 Investor’s Guide, Fortune magazine offered ten tips to help you “prevent the heat of the moment from melting your better judgment.” The tips form an acronym – Think Twice – and are worth keeping in mind no matter what you’re thinking about.

  1. Take the Global View. Always keep an eye on where you’re headed.
  2. Hope for the Best – But Expect the Worst. Having a plan for the worst case scenario can help keep you from panicking.
  3. Investigate then Invest. Get the facts; count the cost.
  4. Never Say Always. Leave room for error.
  5. Know What You Don’t Know. Don’t assume you know it all; keep an open mind.
  6. The Past Is Not a Prologue. Things tend to move in cycles.
  7. Weigh What They Say. Know where your information is coming from.
  8. If It Sounds Too Good to Be True, It Probably Is. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
  9. Costs Are Killers. Keep an eye on the details. The little things can make the difference.
  10. Eggs Go Splat. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Don’t burn your bridges or pin all your hopes on one solution. Have a back-up.

Think Twice

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:57 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving , Thinking


Which Should You Have? Performance Goals versus Learning Goals

Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck once made a great distinction between performance goals versus learning goals.

Performance goals are about “winning positive judgments of your competence and avoiding negative ones. In other words, when students pursue performance goals they’re concerned with their level of intelligence: They want to look smart (to themselves or others) and avoid looking dumb.” A person usually does this by playing it safe.

Learning goals are ones that are about increasing your competence. “It reflects a desire to learn new skills, master new tasks, or understand new things—a desire to get smarter.”

Both goals she noted are common and can fuel achievement. So there’s nothing wrong with either one. “In fact,” she says, “in the best of all possible worlds, students could achieve both goals at the same time.” Unfortunately, we don’t live in the best of all possible worlds. One is usually pitted against the other. “The tasks that are best for learning are often challenging ones that involve displaying ignorance and risking periods of confusion and errors. The tasks that are best for looking smart are often ones that students are already good at and won’t really learn as much from doing.”

What she has found is that an overemphasis on performance goals – wanting to look good – can foster a helpless response. In a 1988 study they found that “many of the students with performance goals showed a clear helpless pattern in response to difficulty. A number of them condemned their ability, and their problem solving deteriorated.

“In sharp contrast, most of the students with learning goals showed a clear mastery-oriented pattern. In the face of failure, they did not worry about their intellect, they remained focused on the task, and they maintained their effective problem-solving strategies.

“When children are focused on measuring themselves from their performance, failure is more likely to provoke a helpless response. When children are instead focused on learning, failure is likely to provoke continued effort.”

Another interesting tidbit came out of the study. “Some children were told at the start of the study that they had the ability to do really well at the task. Others were told (temporarily) that their level of ability at the task was not so high. For students with performance goals, this message made a real difference: Students who were certain of their high ability were more likely to hold on in the face of failure and remain mastery-oriented. But students who thought their ability was lower fell right into a helpless response.” It made no difference to the student with learning goals.

How are we structuring the environment in our schools and organizations? It seems to me, we foster environments that encourage and reward levels of achievement and not degrees of learning. In such a case, most people would opt out for performance goals. Who wants to take a chance of being criticized for looking dumb? Are we learning or looking good?

Incidentally, an important book by Carol Dweck has just been released in paperback. It covers some of this material. Check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:59 AM
| Comments (0) | Learning , Problem Solving


Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry

The Opposable Mind
I’ve had some questions about "assertive inquiry" as presented in Roger Martin’s book The Opposable Mind. Here are some explanatory excerpts from the book:

“When we interact with other people on the basis of a particular mental model, we usually try to defend that model against any challenges. Our energy goes into explaining our model to others and defending it from criticism.

“The antidote to advocacy is inquiry, which produces meaningful dialogue. When you use assertive inquiry to investigate someone else’s metal model, you find saliencies that wouldn’t have occurred to you and causal relationships you didn’t perceive. You may not want to adopt the mental model as your own, but even the least compelling model can provide clues to saliencies or causal relationships that will generate a creative solution.”

  • “Could you please help me understand how you came to believe that?”
  • “Could you clarify that point for me with an illustration or example?”
  • “How does what you are saying overlap, if at all, with what I suggested?”

  • “Don’t you think that…?”
  • “Wouldn’t you agree that…?”
Obviously tone is important here. If your attitude is one of really seeking to understand and build bridges, it will come across. Otherwise, it is just another way you’ve picked up to try to argue your point and that will come across too.

Martin continues, “Assertive inquiry isn’t a form of challenge, but it is pointed. It explicitly seeks to explore the underpinnings of you own model and that of another person. Its aim is to learn about the salient data and causal maps baked into another person’s model, then use the insight gained to fashion a creative resolution of the conflict between that person’s model and your own.”

Related Posts:
How to Develop Integrative Thinking
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:38 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Communication , Problem Solving , Thinking


How to Develop Integrative Thinking

A 2007 study (PDF) conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership found that nearly 92 percent of the executives surveyed believe the challenges their organizations face are more complex than they were just five years ago. Organizations will continually be asked to do even more with less and respond even faster to changes in their industry and economy.

Complexity is not going to go away, but developing the skills necessary for integrative thinking as described by Roger Martin in The Opposable Mind (the ability to hold two conflicting ideas in constructive tension) can be an effective way to keep from being sidelined by it. “Integrative thinking is largely a tacit skill in the heads of people who have cultivated, knowingly or otherwise, their opposable minds.”

How do we develop integrative thinking? First, we begin be thinking about how we think. Martin writes, “When you refuse to take your thinking for granted, you give yourself the best opportunity to enhance and utilize your opposable mind to its fullest.”

By taking a look at your personal knowledge system – how you know what you know – you can get some insight into how you make decisions. Martin has defined three areas, as shown in the diagram below, that guide and inform each other as your experiences grow.

Stance: How you see and interact with the world; your philosophy. Martin lists six important ways of looking at the world and self.

Tools: Integrative thinkers use generative reasoning (asking what might be instead of what is), causal modeling (considering not only linear and unidirectional relationships but nonlinear and multidirectional relationships as well) and, what I found helpful, assertive inquiry (not argumentative, but pointed questions seeking to find common ground). [Note: There is a great example beginning on page 159 in this regard.]

Experiences: Your stance directly affects the kinds of experiences you will accumulate. Structured repetition of a consistent type of experiences develops mastery. Combined with originality, mastery will help you to grow.

The Opposable Mind

With an understanding of how these areas interact with each other, you can, over time, take an active role in crafting your personal knowledge system. Martin has packed into a short book, a good primer on developing a mind that can grapple with complex issues and find creative solutions that would otherwise be missed. It’s well worth your time.

Related Posts:
Integrative Thinking: The Opposable Mind
Roger Martin on Assertive Inquiry

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:08 AM
| Comments (0) | TrackBacks (1) | Problem Solving , Thinking


How To Get Great Ideas: Lessons for Brainstorming

Thinking Better
In 1941, advertising man Alex Osborn (BBDO) came up with the idea of “Thinking Up” which was later changed to brainstorming by his “thinking-up” colleagues. In an excellent book about innovative and productive thinking simply titled, Thinking Better by Tim Hurson, he reviews Osborn’s list of four essential rules for effective brainstorming:
  • Criticism is ruled out. Adverse judgment of ideas must be withheld until later.
  • Freewheeling is welcomed. The wilder the idea, the better; it is easier to tame down than to think up.
  • Quantity is wanted. The greater the number of ideas, the more the likelihood of useful ideas.
  • Combination and improvement are sought. In addition to contributing ideas of their own, participants should suggest how the ideas of others can be turned into better ideas or how two or more ideas can be joined into still another idea.

Hurson notes that studies have shown that the last third of a brainstorming session usually results in the best ideas. He calls it the miracle of the third third. “You’ll have a greater chance of coming up with that one brilliant idea if you get all the way to the third third than you will if you stop at the first “right” idea.” He writes:
The first third of the session tends to produce mundane, every-one-has-thought-of-them-before ideas. These are the early thoughts that lie very close to the surface of our consciousness. They tend not to be new ideas at all but recollections of old ideas we’ve heard elsewhere. They are essentially reproductive thoughts.

Generally, the second third of a good brainstorming session produces ideas that begin to stretch boundaries….The third third is where the diamonds lie.
He says, “Brainstorming is like cholesterol—there’s good and bad, and most people have only experienced the bad.” We have all experienced brainstorming like this:
There’s no separation of the different ideas of thinking going on. Creative, idea-generating thinking is being stopped cold by critical, judgmental think. Ideas are being killed before they’re fully articulated.

The session isn’t about new ideas at all. It’s actually a version of a sad little business game called “Guess what the boss is thinking.” Everyone in the room knows it, and so as soon as someone says the boss’s secret word, the duck comes down and the meeting is over.

Perhaps the deadliest of all, the people participating in the braindrizzle stop as soon as they come up with “the first right answer.” They satisfice on the first reasonable idea they think will solve their problem and out them out of their misery.
He adds, that “Bad brainstorming is binary; ideas are either good or bad. Good brainstorming is full of maybes." The biggest issue we face in creative thinking is our own patterns of thought that keep us on the straight and narrow. We hold ourselves back because of personal notions of what is right and wrong and what will and won’t work. There’s no magic pill to conquer this. It takes a conscious effort. He suggests though that “Generating long lists of ideas flushes those early ideas out of your head so you can make room for new ones.”

Tim Hurson is a founding partner of thinkx  intellectual capital. It is a global consultancy for productive thinking and innovation.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:53 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Thinking


It's Not About Me?!?

In The Ring in the Rubble, Gary Brandt brings up something that can hold us back from defining our problem, immobilize us, and block us from finding solutions.
you are here
It’s an attitude that is easy to slip into and the last thing we want mentioned when we are in trouble. But if we can deal with it now, we can have a better chance of avoiding it when we are in trouble. He writes:
We tend to think that what we see is reality, and to forget that there is a much bigger world out there that, if we considered it, would put our situation into perspective. When we forget this, we tend to take our own perspective a little too seriously, and in the process, we take ourselves too seriously as well.
Brandt suggests that a well-developed sense of humor makes a good antidote.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:25 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Personal Development , Problem Solving


The Great Brain Robbery

On the heels of my last post where I quoted Will and Ariel Durant’s observation that out of every hundred new ideas ninety-nine or more will probably be inferior to the traditional responses which they propose to replace, comes a related idea. It may take a dose of humility to accept, but whatever problem you are faced with—whether personal of professional—someone else has faced the same problem and solved it. Although it sometimes gives us comfort to think we are different, we are not totally unique in this way.

Paul Sloan, author of The Innovative Leader, says that we should harness other people’s solutions. Ray Considine called it The Great Brain Robbery. Baseball Hall-of-Fame inductee, Bill Veeck said, “There’s nothing wrong with stealing other people’s ideas. And anyone who doesn’t is presumptuous. Because there simply aren’t that many new ideas. You simply take something used somewhere else and adopt it for your own use.” These people aren’t taking about plagiarism. What they are saying is that we should find ideas that have worked for others and adapt them to our own life situations and to make them our own. By careful observation, you can start where others have finished and be the better for it. This is part of the thinking behind listening to others (especially your elders), reading biographies and histories. Armed with the knowledge of what others have done, you can jumpstart you problem solving capabilities.

Paul Sloan relates this example: “Doctors had a problem with hypodermic needles. Patients were afraid of them. Children dreaded them. The pain the needles caused was not intense bit it was unpleasant and it dissuaded many people from having important injections. So the doctors asked – Who else has this problem? Who else injects into people and has solved this problem? The answer was quickly given. Mosquitoes insert a tiny needle into people and extract blood. They carry the deadly malaria virus. They go about their deadly work without being felt. By studying how the mosquito stings its victims, scientists were able to develop a hypodermic needle that patients do not feel.”

Sloan adds, “A successful innovation in your business does not have to be an all-new invention. It just has to be something new to your business that is beneficial…. Maybe every consulting firm does it but yours is the first doctors’ surgery to try it.” You need to cast your net widely and look around for connections in otherwise unrelated fields and disciplines and make their solutions your solutions. What can you adapt?

Posted by Michael McKinney at 10:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving


Fast Company Interview with Sir James Dyson

The discussions on Appreciative Intelligence and Charles Pellerin’s views on the social leadership aspects of project management, parallel a good short interview in the May issue of Fast Company with Sir James Dyson. Here are a couple of his comments:

FC: You once described the inventor's life as "one of failure." How so?

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That's how I came up with a solution. So I don't mind failure. I've always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they've had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.

FC: Not all failures lead to solutions, though. How do you fail constructively?

We're taught to do things the right way. But if you want to discover something that other people haven't, you need to do things the wrong way. Initiate a failure by doing something that's very silly, unthinkable, naughty, dangerous. Watching why that fails can take you on a completely different path. It's exciting, actually.

leadership  Fast Company Podcast: Sir James Dyson On Getting It Right

Posted by Michael McKinney at 11:13 PM
| Comments (0) | Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Thinking


Charles Pellerin on Project Management

Appreciative Intelligence—the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present—is an important component to develop as part of organizational culture. AI contributes to a high incidence of innovation and creativity and the potential development of previously unnoticed strengths in people. This happens by the actions of leaders at all levels, to encourage people to look at everyday issues—the commonplace—in a new way; by telling a new story.

Former Director of Astrophysics for NASA, Charles Pellerin believes that most projects fail around social and leadership issues. Both "unknown and unnamed" social undercurrents are at the root of many, if not most, project difficulties. NASA publication, ASK Magazine talked to him about project management and how social and leadership issues come to play in why projects fail. Here are some excerpts from that interview:
Can you explain what you mean by "social issues," and how they relate to leadership?

I began to see a pattern repeated far too often when a successful project manager would get promoted or leave a project for some reason. I would replace him with someone who looked just as good on paper, but three months later, all of a sudden, the project started to fall apart. Milestones got missed. Reserves depleted too fast.

I was frustrated that I couldn't anticipate and recognize the difference between project managers who were going to succeed and project managers who were doomed to fail. We could predict things like sensor performance. We could understand the detectors. We could understand the power systems. But we couldn't understand this one critical, invisible piece: What makes a good manager?

Was it the magnitude of the Hubble telescope problems, launching it with a flawed mirror, which brought this all to a head?

Yes, exactly. If you go back to what was happening at the time, we launched Hubble in 1990 and very soon thereafter we found that a technical person had made an error. At first we thought, "Now at least we know what the error was. We can figure out how to fix it." And that's just what we did -- we fixed it. This would appear to be a very happy story for me; I got a NASA medal for the repair mission.

That's all well and good, but then I said, "Wait a minute. We should have had systems in place to find this kind of thing." The procedures are written. The engineers sign them. Safety & Quality Assurance stamps it all to verify that this is being done properly along the way.

Hubble was the final straw for me. I needed to understand what had happened, because when I looked around me I realized it was commonplace. I mean, take a look at Challenger. It was not, in a sense, a technical failure. It was another human communications failure. I knew a bunch of those people. They were damn good managers and engineers, but they got caught in a story. They created an environment where it wasn't safe to tell the truth.

That's interesting how you describe it as people who got "caught in a story." How do stories figure into this leadership quotient?

The stories that you carry affect how you make decisions in your life. That's why I'm very interested in the stories we tell. We all perceive reality through the filter of the "stories" we believe. We create stories to make sense of our experience. And, we act within this context as if it were truth, because to each of us it feels like truth.

You said that leadership was at the core of the Hubble mishap. Do you find evidence of this in other projects?

Sure. Diane Vaughn, in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, said she was a year into her study before she realized that then-accepted accounts of what happened were wrong. Vaughn concluded that the disaster was caused by an "incremental descent into poor judgment." And she went on to say that the technical risks grew out of social issues. Notice the word "social" again. She realized that signals of potential danger had been repeatedly "normalized." That was okay in the context of the stories their culture supported.
This would help to explain the recent experiment reported in the Washington Post by Gene Weingarten to discover if violinist Josh Bell—and his Stradivarius—could stop busy commuters in their tracks. Surprisingly, he did not. If our story is to ignore street musicians and includes the belief that no famous musician would ever do it, then we will ignore street musicians and we will not scan the streets looking for our favorite artists. (If you haven’t read it yet, do so. It’s a great story.)

Pellerin has been developing since his retirement from NASA in 1995, a leadership/culture assessment and learning system called "Four-Dimensional (4-D) Leadership." He states, “We began with workshops, and then added coaching, and now have Web-based diagnostics customized for NASA projects. Simply put, we make three measurements in each of the social dimensions -- directing, visioning, relating and valuing—that we believe are fundamental to effective leadership and efficient cultures.

“I truly believe that we can identify and address the root cause of most project difficulties. That's my story. And many of the projects I'm working with are choosing to run that story as well -- because they see results. You know, no story is "good" or "bad." Some just get you the results you want and some don't.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:21 AM
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Appreciative Intelligence

Hubble Telescope
In April 1990, shuttle Discovery launched the Hubble Space Telescope into its planned orbit. However, within weeks it became obvious that there was a serious problem with the primary mirror. Authors Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker describe the events that followed in their book Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn.
Congress demanded an explanation for the failure. The project and its creators became the butt of late-night television jokes. Stress was high among NASA engineers, as were health problems. “It was traumatic,” said Charlie Pellerin, the former director of NASA’s astrophysics division, who oversaw the launch of the Hubble. Nobody could see how to fix the problem, which many seemed afraid even to address.

Well, nobody except Pellerin. He not only had the initial insight to solve the problem but also found the funding and the resources to repair the telescope, for which he received NASA’s Outstanding Leadership Medal.

What was behind Pellerin’s success? There were dozens of other people at NASA with high IQ and world-class technical knowledge—they were, after all, rocket scientists. They could perform the same analysis, use the same logic, and wield the same models and mathematical formulas.

Pellerin possessed something more than the others did: Appreciative Intelligence. While he lived with the same conditions and circumstances as everyone else, his mind perceived reality very differently than others did. He reframed the situation as a project that was not yet finished, not as a completed product that had failed. He saw the potential for a positive future situation—a working space telescope. He saw how that positive future could happen as the result of technical solutions—a corrective optics package and repairs performed by a crew of astronauts—that were already possible with a rearrangement of funding and resources that already existed within NASA. By reframing, recognizing the positive, or what worked, and envisioning the repaired telescope, he was able to help orchestrate the unfolding of a series of events that changed the future.
Appreciative Intelligence is defined as “the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.” More simply, it is “the ability to see the mighty oak in the acorn. It is the ability to reframe a given situation (or person), to appreciate its positive aspects, and to see how the future unfolds from the generative aspects of the current situation.” These three characteristics form the foundation of appreciative intelligence.

Reframing is about shifting reality by choosing what feedback we will ignore and what feedback we will pay attention to. Appreciating the positive is the ability to see the positive aspects of any given situation. To see how the future unfolds from the present refers to the ability to see what can be done instead of what can’t. Appreciative intelligence is the mindset that allows you to step back and access the situation and move forward instead of being thwarted by circumstances.
Appreciative Intelligence

Appreciative intelligence can of course, be developed by consciously expanding your responses to situations as they occur. Asking yourself different questions by questioning your assumptions (what you know to be right), looking for positive and different meaning in what you experience, and becoming what Saul Bellow calls a first-class noticer, will help you improve your appreciative intelligence.

Additionally, keep in mind the AI qualities of persistence, conviction that your actions matter, tolerance for uncertainty, and irrepressible resilience. As these qualities develop, so too will your creativity and success in finding resolution to the issues you face. Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn provides in more detail what I have outlined here.

Tomorrow we’ll look at what Charles Pellerin has to say about leadership and project management.

Additional Interest:
  The Prepared Mind of a Leader : Eight Skills Leaders Use to Innovate, Make Decisions, and Solve Problems
  Quiet Leadership: Six Steps to Transforming Performance at Work

Posted by Michael McKinney at 07:42 AM
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Charles Koch on Decision Making

Charles Koch finally published the ideas he applied and named Market-Based Management (MBM) in his book The Science of Success. While there is no such thing as the science of success (it is a comforting idea), this book presents a lot of ideas that are worth taking a look at for possible application elsewhere. I did appreciate his viewpoint on decision making:
Proximity to a problem or process does not determine who is in the best position to make a decision. In a world characterized by knowledge-driven rapid change, top-down decision-making is commonly criticized as being highly inefficient. It is true that centralized command-and-control business management suffers from many of the same problems seen in centrally planned economies. Those with local knowledge are often in a better position to solve the problem at hand. The ideas and creative energy of all employees should be leveraged, but universally decentralized decision-making has its own problems. Some decisions, if made at the local level, can be unprofitable because a broader perspective is required.

The mindless application of either approach—universally centralized or completely decentralized decision rights—is not the answer. For example, decisions about how to gain optimum throughput from a refinery at any given time probably are best made by people on site. On the other hand, people further removed, but with broader knowledge, may be better positioned to make a decision on what the most profitable product mix will be in five years. Decisions should be made by those with the best knowledge, taking comparative advantage into account.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 01:43 AM
| Comments (0) | Problem Solving


In Difference Lies the Potential to Contribute


We tend to think that if we get the smartest people all together in one room, we will get the best solutions. In a very readable book, The Difference, Scott Page shows that in fact diversity in thinking and perspective produces more and better solutions and contributes to overall productivity. He maintains that “when confronted with a difficult task, be it solving a problem, predicting the future, or making a choice, we benefit by including diverse people.” Value can be added just by virtue of its being different. How many disciplines have benefited from interdisciplinary approaches? Diversity doesn’t necessarily mean black/white or men/women, but diversity in thinking and perspective. He notes that “cognitive diversity increases innovation. Preference diversity leads to squabbles.” So we’re looking for relevant diversity and informed intelligence.

The trap we fall into is that we prefer to continue to work with and consult people who think like us—people with the same general background and types of experiences. The familiarity is more comfortable and seems right to us. In the end, we get the same way of looking at things and we bring the same kinds of tools to the table to tackle our problems. We miss important clues. If one of us gets stuck, then we all get stuck. “People who think alike get stuck.” We also create barriers to innovation and radically new ideas.
A preference for working with people who bring the same formal perspectives to bear on a problem leads to segregation by function in firms and by discipline in the academy. In each case, the tendency to interact only with people like us creates the same micro-level dynamic. Each culture in a society, each identity group in a city, each department in a university, and each functional area of a firm ends up building walls around itself. As these walls become higher, the members of each group—be they Evangelicals, African Americans, chemists, or accountants—find themselves inside silos of their own creation.

He suggests that we should not only get more kinds of people involved in tackling the issues, we should also encourage our people to think differently by giving them time to pursue individual projects that interest them (varied experience) and by creating skunk works type groups within the organization. He observes, “as individuals, we can accomplish only so much. We’re limited in our abilities. Our heads contain only so many neurons and axons. Collectively, we face no such constraint. We possess an incredible capacity to think differently. These differences can provide the seeds of innovation, progress, and understanding.”

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Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:56 AM
| Comments (0) | Books , Creativity & Innovation , Problem Solving , Thinking


The Go Point

Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.
—Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon

go point Yet, within those constraints, argues Michael Useem, we have the opportunity to make our own destiny. We all make decisions all the time. Some decisions are in consequential, but often we are called upon to make consequential decisions—those that affect other people. Some people are very good at consistently reaching good decisions in a timely way. Yet, it is surprising how many people are just not great at knowing when to pull the trigger, and how to pull it when they do. The Go Point seeks to address that concern. By taking us into the moment when decisions were made, both good and bad, Useem digs out the principles that emerge from these experiences. From these examples, he constructs templates of fifty principles and tools we can bear in mind when faced with similar types of decisions. He advises us to identify the five or ten lessons that are most salient for the decisions that we most frequently face and then concentrate on just those.

The underlying point in this book is that decision making is a learned skill. You've got to make decisions and then look back on them and mine what lessons you can in order to improve your next decision.

Whether it's a long term decision or a split second decision, there is a point when you have to force yourself to make it. That moment is the go point. He writes, “The go point is not always a matter of getting to yes….Rather, the go point is that instant when the choice gets made, whether no or yes, and the commitment moves from consideration to action. How you jump at that moment can make a vast difference, not only for yourself but also for all around you."

Below is a template for looking at some of the most commonly encountered problems in reaching a decision.

Unfamiliar responsibilitiesAppraise the pastLui Chuanzhi built a leading global computer maker by recurrently reviewing the past week’s major decisions
Inexperienced gutEducate your instinctsFlight simulators help NASA astronauts train their intuition so they can decide instinctively
Analysis paralysisThe 70 percent solutionThe Marine Corps trains officers to make decisions when they are 70 percent confident of the outcome
Rush to JudgmentPreserve optionalityU.S. treasury secretary Robert Rubin and Scottish Power CEO Ian Russell both delayed major decisions as long as possible to reduce complexity and uncertainty
Anxiety overloadLook at the clockWhen other dials are whirling on their instrument panels, Navy pilots control themselves by studying the steady hands of the clock
Wiley adversaryClone your opponentNew England Patriots coach Bill Belichick assigned a backup quarterback to mimic the Colt’s Peyton Manning
Repeated failureRestrategize and restaffThe Royal Geographic Society’s Himalayan Committee changed plans and replaced leadership for its triumphant 1953 assault on Mt. Everest

Posted by Michael McKinney at 08:49 AM
| Comments (0) | Leadership Development , Problem Solving


Problem Solving with a Design Attitude

Professors Richard Boland and Fred Collopy from the Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherland School of Management had the opportunity to work with Frank O. Gehry on the management schools new building. The design process exposed them a problem solving approach they call a design attitude.
gehry design
In an article published in the Rotman Magazine Spring/Summer 2006 issue they wrote:
We believe that if managers adopted a design attitude, the world of business would be different and better. Managers would approach problems with a sensibility that swept in the broadest array of influences to shape inspiring and energizing designs for products, services, and processes that are both profitable and humanly satisfying.
Working with Gehry has led them to see “how both management practice and education have allowed a limited and narrow vocabulary of decision making to drive an expansive and embracing vocabulary of design out of circulation. In our focus on teaching students advanced analytical techniques for choosing among alternatives, our attention to strengthening their design skills for shaping new alternatives has withered.”

The most dominate approach we see today they call the decision attitude. This approach uses mathematical and scientific approaches—economic analysis, risk assessment, multiple criteria decision making, simulation, and the time value of money—to choose among alternatives. “It starts with the assumption that the alternative courses of action are ready at hand—that there is a good set of options already available, or at least readily obtainable. “ The design attitude on the other hand assumes the best alternative may have to be invented.

Design thinking doesn’t mean bringing more creativity to bear. “Creativity itself is not going to bring us to the organizational, product, or process innovations we require. Creativity needs the guiding energy of a design attitude in order to focus our efforts on results that will be truly innovative and produce long-lasting organizational betterments.”
Design is in that sense larger than creativity. Design provides a context for creativity by channeling it toward humanly satisfying purposes, and that is why we cannot allow calls for increased creativity and techniques for enhancing creativity to take the place of increased attention to s design attitude in management practice and education.

The decision attitude and the analytic tools managers have to support it were developed in a simpler time. They are the product of 50 years of concerted effort to strengthen the mathematical and scientific basis of management education. Now is the time to incorporate a better balance of the two approaches to problem solving, both in management practice and education.
The illustration below from The Central Office of Design adds a graphic explaination of design thinking.
Design Thinking
figure 1: The Design Process from a great height

They explain on their web site that they "start each project assuming nothing, especially about what the solution to the problem might be, and embark on the process with empathy for the final consumer of the solution. Whether it be an employee, child, or mother of three."

Posted by Michael McKinney at 12:36 AM
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