So Far, So Good

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Read this in the church bulletin this morning. It made me smile.

Dear God,
It’s a good day.
So far, I have not lost my temper or my patience.
I haven’t been greedy, gripey or grumpy.
No untrue or unkind words have passed through my lips.
Thank you for all of this.
But, I’m going to get out of bed soon and will need your help.
Amen.

Scare Yourself

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This is a repeat of a pre Halloween post from last year.  I’m up to the challenge again. Hope that you are, too.

The Halloween push is on. Pop up stores dot shopping centers, candy displays crowd aisles, and domestic goddesses like Martha Stewart show us how to transform our homes into Halloween themed party centers. If you are around anyone in the ten years old and younger crowd, the decision about “what to be” for Halloween is among the most important of the year.

Permission to Transform
Halloween gives us permission to transform ourselves.  For one day at least, we set aside the neural connections that form our self-impression.  As David Brooks (2011) describes in his book The Social Animal, one reason why it’s easier for children to get into the spirit of transformation on Halloween is that they are particularly skilled at blending, or the task of taking two mental connections that do not belong together and create something entirely new. It’s the basis of imagination. It’s why a child takes clothes to a dog to create an canine fashionista, or invents their own words to a story. They haven’t formed the strong, rapid cognitive patterns that tell them dogs don’t wear clothes and the story can only have the words in the book. Maybe why children so love the imaginative liberty of Halloween is that for one day, the rest of us get in the act.

The Day After Halloween
For most of us, our adrenaline rush of reinvention ends early next Tuesday just after midnight. The mad scientists’ lab returns to a family room, the witch’s hat goes back in the basement, the dog is delighted to get out of the dress and candy goes on sale. We’ll return to “real” life and our “real” selves.

An Alternative
No, I won’t suggest you go to work masquerading as Lady Gaga next Tuesday. But, I will suggest that there is something about the spirit of transformation offered at Halloween that we can extend into our work lives. The neural connections that Brooks and others have described may help us swiftly navigate days but stymie our imaginations. We don’t lose our ability to blend ideas; it’s just becomes easier to come to the same conclusions.  It doesn’t have to be that way.

Our pattern of looking at the same things in the same ways hit me in a certification workshop with the Team Management System with TMS Americas this week. First, they challenged us to reexamine what work we do, especially as part of a team. Simple, right? Yet, I was struck by how often we (myself, included) make assumptions about what and how we’ll work together.  We do it the way we did it the last time, without making new connections about different possibilities or approaches.

A second challenge regarded our preferences.  For example, we label ourselves as “not creative” because somewhere along the way we formed that pattern. So, we don’t try to be creative. Often, we label someone else on the team as “creative” and give him or her this responsibility. The same is true of all the “not’s”: not organized, not good communicators, etc., etc., etc. How many times do we wear the mental costume of who we are and what we do and never stop to consider transformation? Even on Halloween?

Moments of greatness are possible when we imagine ourselves, and our work, differently.

  • It may be rusty, but the imagination you loved as a child is still there. Challenge assumptions about your preferences.  Try something you have not done in your job, or try something in a new way.
  • Reflect on your next task, either by yourself or with a team. Ask Is there a better way? There probably is.
  • In areas where you or your teams have a deficit, can you get a little better? As a colleague of mine used to ask: Can you get to The Realm of Okay? You can probably be better than you think you are.

Finally, next Tuesday, scare yourself a little. Make it a day when you don’t just try to look different, but try to be different. Look at just one task in a different way, and try just one new skill.  To show that I’m up for the challenge, I’m going to scare myself next Tuesday by taking my own advice. Check back to see how I do.

To find out more about thinking patterns and self-definition, check out The Social Animal by David Brooks.

To find out more about Team Management Systems, check out the TMS Americas website at http://www.tms-americas.com.

A Collision For Good

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Two great ideas collided yesterday. I left not only unharmed but enlightened; the kind of energy that produces the Oh, this is so cool feeling. The first idea came to me carried within Rosabeth Moss Kanter’s article How Great Companies Think Differently in the November issue of Harvard Business Review. The second came from reading about the intersection of design and knowledge management featured in Jeff Merrell’s blog Learning. Change. By Design. I’ll share my excitement about both ideas, then possibilities from the great collision.

Reviewing my yellow highlighted version of her article, Kanter makes the compelling point that great companies just think differently. Their primary focus is  building enduring success through meaningful societal contribution. Sure they make money; but money is an outcome, not the singular intent.  To use an old phrase, they “do well by doing good.”  She compares this thinking to transactional companies who view profit as a primary intent and people, communities and societies as parts to ft in “later. ”Not naming names, but we can think of companies in both categories.

Kanter suggests six practices that distinguish great companies:

  • They have a common purpose and core identity. Their purpose and values guide their actions, not numbers of widgets.
  • They have a long-term view. Decisions are made in terms of creating a sustainable institution, recognizing that immediate investments in human capital may have a longer term, but lasting, pay back.
  • They create emotional engagement. The positive energy from purpose and values that serve real needs of real people encourages the hearts and inspires effort from constituents.
  • They partner with the public. Instead of a tired “public or private” debate, great companies recognize that agendas that align with private partners, people and public agencies frequently produce long term benefits.
  • They are innovative. Of course, great companies have innovation practices. But because of their practices- leading with purpose, a long term view, emotional connection and a wide net of partners- great companies also create more possibilities.
  • They allow self-organization. They trust people to work in the organization’s best interests and build relationships based upon shared interests.  They encourage connections across borders and reporting relationships to pursue ideas.

The second idea was encouraged by Jeff Merrell’s observations about what design does, particularly in the minds of Design For America students. Design thinkers see solutions where others see problems.  They do it by sort of standing in the middle of the mess and looking, listening and learning. They see patterns and make connections.  And, they suspend judgment about what should be and work with what is and what could be. Design thinkers look at the same connections the rest of us do but see new possibilities.

Now I’m at my collision.  Could design thinking move transactional companies to be great companies? Could it inspire an elevation of the “how much and how many” conversations to “why” conversations? Conversations that tackle questions like:  Why are we here? Who do we serve? How do we improve their lives? in meaningful ways.

My question is a bit rhetorical, because I believe design thinking can move more companies to the great side. Maybe it’s the right thinking at the right time; a path out the binary choices of greed vs. envy, profit vs. service and mine vs. ours. Rosa Beth Moss Kanter makes a compelling case that great companies don’t make these false choices. Design thinking can guide the rest.

To learn more about design thinking and Design For America, check out http://designforamerica.com.

To read Rosa Beth Moss Kanter’s article What Great Companies Do Differently, see the November issue of Harvard Business Review at http://hbr.org/magazine

To read Jeff Merrell’s blog Learning. Change. By Design, check out http://purplelineassociates.com

Expeditions

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My husband, Peter, and I just completed visits to all 50 of the United States of America.  A photo commemorating the visit to our last State, Idaho, accompanies this post. We experienced plentiful rewards along this marvelous adventure – magnificent scenery (America IS beautiful), interesting people, and inspiration from the pride people take in the part of the world they claim as home.  These rewards strengthen my belief about the value of exploration to personal and professional growth. Since the last part of my journey covered some of the same ground as the quintessential American exploration – the Corps of Discovery quest to find a path to the Pacific led by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark  – the lessons from both strike me as guides to hitting the real and metaphorical trails of life.

My Expedition Notes
Be Open – Towns might have been named after George Rogers Clark, and generations of Americans might know his story, had he not turned down the offer to co-lead the Corp of Discovery.  His brother, William, said “yes.” The rest, as we know, is history. While less the makings of a legend, I think about the things learned and people met because I said “yes” to the invitation. On the other hand, I wonder what was missed because I passed up other opportunities. I can’t grow if I don’t go. 

Surround Yourself With a Diversity of Talent – The thirty-three people on the Corp of Discovery were primarily white Americans with a military background. However, if not for replacing two majority members en route with a Frenchman and his wife – Charbonneau and his Shoshone Indian wife Sacagawea – the history of the American West may well be different. Charbonneau had the language skills to negotiate with Indians experienced with French traders. The surprise talent may have been 16-year-old Sacagawea, who became known as Bird Woman because she had a vision of the land “like a bird.” She brought not only language skills but an appreciation of Indian culture that served the Corp well on their expedition.  I reflect on times when skills or experience needed to win came not from the expected members selected for the task, but from the heroes who saw it differently.

Give, Don’t Just Take– The Corp of Discovery landed in Idaho sick, hungry and dispirited. One of the reasons the Nez Perce Indians did not kill them in their weakened state is that William Clark offered his medical skills. He helped the Nez Perce cure infections, so they saw value in keeping him and his band of explorers around.  Explorations offer great potential for personal growth, and not only for the traveler. It’s not just about taking, but giving. Exploit opportunities to make everyone better because of the journey.

Build Alliances – From the Mendan camp to Fort Clatsop, red hands and Indian wisdom helped The Corps of Discovery through alliances.  Lewis and Clark traded skills for horses, goods for guns with the Nez Perce.   The tribe went so far as to agree to store the Corps’ horses as they finished the trip by canoe. The Clatsop Indians advised the soaked and sick Corps on where to build their winter camp away from high tide and where food was plentiful.  Lewis and Clark gave the camp to the Clatsop in gratitude when they left. We can’t possibly know everything we need to when we set out on a personal or professional adventure. But those who have traveled our road or live in the destination do know. Be open to alliances to fill our gaps, and make sure any trades make everyone better.

Enjoy The View– The Corps of Discovery did not set out to have fun, but even they packed whiskey and fiddles for the road. It occurs to me that I often expect the reward to be at the end, which means I could miss much along the way.  This occurred to me when I was navigating a bicycle down a steep, S shaped hill on Old Highway 30 near Hood River, Oregon. The slope and the speed presented quite a challenge for my intermediate skills. I proceeded with heart pumping and white knuckles, gripping the handlebars and looking intently down at the road. Then, I happened to glance up. I enjoyed the most magnificent view of the Columbia River Gorge on a beautiful autumn day. Sunshine bounced off the white caps to make them glitter like diamonds. Hills with deep blue and green fir trees, with pops of bright red maples, sloped right down to the water. Sailboats and wind surfers danced across the river. The reward was not at the bottom of the hill that I was so anxiously trying to reach, but the view presented from the top. I wonder how many other times I missed the fun and the reward because it was not at the end after all, but along the way.

Moments of greatness are possible on expeditions for purpose or pleasure when we:
Say “Yes.” Whenever possible, take the trip.  Take the challenge. Take the tough job. Visit the unexpected. You’ll be different because of it.

People Not Like You Can Be Your Best Guides. “There” is not like “Here.” Surrounding yourself with a diversity of culture, experience, age, and skill may be the difference between success and failure. You never know what you need.

Leave People and Places Better.  You may get the most satisfaction from offering skills on your adventure. Many who take humanitarian trips claim it’s the giver who gets the most benefit.  Offer your skills, offer to help, offer support.  Allow everyone to gain from your presence.

Develop New Alliances. Make the benefits of your expedition last because of new contacts and/or new partners. They help the journey continue, even after you’ve returned home.

Stop and Look at The View. Often, the reason to climb the hill, scale the mountain, take the ride is to see something. Don’t focus so much on the end that you miss the joy along the way.