Archive for September, 2014

dispersion1Life is so scattered and overwhelming. So much going on inside the mind and outside in the real world. We spend so much time trying to get our hands around it all, trying to collect it and manage it.

We think we are jugglers who must continue to juggle more and more things. We think must hone our juggling skills to take on every new problem that comes along, become virtuoso jugglers to cope with the world.

We invent new technologies to help us juggle more and more. We become tour de forces of juggling. We become multitasking, juggling maniacs. We get really good at it. The complexity of it all.

Except isn’t that really bad? I know dealing with complexity seems so much more impressive to others than dealing with the simplified. Yet we expend so much energy juggling we hardly have any left for the task and objects we are juggling. They are just tasks to be completed so we can move onto the next. We lose context. Lose track of the reasons why.

What if we just stopped juggling? Just said no. Just came to grips with the unsustainability of it all. Let all the balls just fall to the ground. Let them just disperse back into nature. It’s a leap of faith, I know. I’m asking you to walk through the looking glass, which is full of the unknown. Let’s at least do it in our minds. It will be fun. Trust me.

Imagine those fifty balls in the air held up by your juggling skills, by your project plans, by your smart devices, your applications with in applications and so on. Now imagine turning the machine off. All the balls have fallen to the floor and scattered about the room. And in front of you see this complex system that’s trying to hold it all together. Probably rather too complex for its own good.

Now look around the room at all the balls on the floor. Think about the things you are trying to achieve or must achieve. Rank them, prioritize them. The higher the priority the more difficult it is to juggle. Now start picking them up in order. Start to juggle them. Ignore the old system. Juggle as many as you can without gadgets and applications. Juggle them so that you’re giving each object the attention it deserves. In this way the new system will self-define itself without sacrificing the needs of the individual pieces. That’s good juggling.

Are you meeting all your main priorities? Maybe, maybe not. If not, is that semi-critical important ball one that you need to juggle or could someone else? These are the questions you need to ask for every ball you want to bring back into play. You have to make choices. As one strategist once said, he who defends everything defends nothing. We all have to leave things undone.

Let the balls fall. For your own good. For the balls’ good. For everyone’s good. Let your priorities disperse so they can come back together more focused than ever. Be the ball.

crookedaI’m the kind of guy big data hates. I can’t blame them. I’ve been known to profess that if I need data to find my path I’ve already failed.

Don’t get me wrong. I find data important to help determine whether things are getting better. But you see, that’s later when you’ve actually plotted a course and actually know what data is important.

I won’t say that I go just on gut instincts, though I certainly often do, but instead of data I like to look at behaviors and system activities. Data at that point just muddies up the view for me in the beginning, clouds when you need clarity.

So instead of beginning with data I like to go stream of conscious in the beginning. It’s like brainstorming with a narrative. Your goal is to get new possibilities on the table.

You start with brainstorming because even a stream of conscious narrative needs a place to start. In most brainstorming sessions we start out by saying there are no bad ideas, which is good because we want to open up the floor. The challenge we have is that as we begin we also want to view them all as equal. But if you’re looking to open new ground they are not.

The analogy I use here is one I learned writing headlines for a newspaper. If you want a fresh headline, here’s what you do. Obviously you read the article. Next you write down the first headline that comes to mind. You throw it away. If you thought of that headline that quick so will have 90% of the population. Think of a second headline. You had to think a little harder but you’re going to throw that one away too. Maybe you’re down to 40% of the population thinking that one up. OK, now do a third. You had to dig got that one. Let’s keep it. While it may not be the most original, it’s probably pretty fresh.

Same thing with brainstorming for a stream of consciousness session. We don’t want the obvious so we go through the brainstorming exercise and in the end we lop off the top half, maybe more depending on how long the list is.

Now we can start playing with our stream of conscious narrative. Pick one of the brainstorming ideas. Give it to a person who didn’t throw it up there. The person’s job is to take the idea and run with how it would be implemented. A moderator’s job is to prompt with hows: how do you account for this, how do you account for that. At this point the group can jump back in recommending solutions.

No filtering. You take the first idea that jumps up. That’s it. Now what? Now what? Now what? And then you peter out. Who knows what the process or solution will look like? Doesn’t matter.

You can repeat the exercise with the same brainstorming idea and different person. See where it goes. Some place different.

The goal here is not to find “the” solution. The goal is to open up the mind. Let it simmer. Let people go and digest the possibilities. You might even ask groups to take these impromptu processes and fill out the details and come back with a beefed up proposal. Good exercise without pressure.

Team members start to think. Doors are opened. The idea that the path is never straight starts to sink in, which is good. The belief that crooked path is OK is even better.

TrustTrust. I know it’s kind of a tricky word to begin with. Trust can have many different meanings to many different people. The dictionary definition is: firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.

Back to our opening salvo: Why should they trust you? The answer is that if they don’t know you there is no reason for them to trust you. Why not? I’m going to grab onto two of the words in the definition of trust here: reliability and ability. If they have no knowledge of your ability or reliability they have no way to judge your trustworthiness.

Think about when you say “I trust she’ll get it done” whether at work or in your personal life. What are you basing that on? You’re probably basing that on experience. Positive experiences to be precise because we know that negative experiences bring distrust.

Trust we know is the foundation of a good relationship. And good relationships are the key achieving great things. When trust exists in a relationship people will allow you to act in ways that would not otherwise be allowed, and they may follow guidance they otherwise may not. It can mean the difference between getting lip service or feelings of coercion and getting well-intentioned investment. So how are you going to build trust?

Essentially you need to prove yourself. A good reference can get you in the door but only trust will keep you there.

But how do I provide good experiences if they don’t trust me with the opportunity? An age-old conundrum, for sure. Well, there are ways to open the door. Here are a couple thoughts.

• Start with education or coaching before asking them to do work or asking for work. Take in the environment and the context. What are some of the activities you foresee? Based on these, introduce concepts that open the door to the knowledge around these activities. Provide illustrations and anecdotes about how they work elsewhere. What this does is begin to establish a link between your knowledge and the ability you want them to trust you with.

• Give without expectation. Find a problem that they need solved that you think you can help them with. This problem may or may not have anything to do with your mission to help them, in fact the benefit to it not being related is that it eases feelings that an agenda is being pursued. The goal is to demonstrate ability. Keep your eyes and ears open. When you find something make an offer to do some research or an analysis.

• Show that you’re listening. Pay attention to dialogs that are occurring. Look for topics where you might be able to provide insight, especially those not tied to your mission. Look for topics where you may be able to refer them to someone with knowledge or insight. This provides glimpses into your knowledge and experience and also shows good will. Needless to say that piping in about everything might back fire when you end up looking like a know it all. So step gently.

• Common ground. Look for places where your experience and their experience overlap. This will undoubtedly happen. Highlight a few where you can tie back to education and concepts. Everything in moderation, of course.
• Be human. You have a personality. So do they. You have a personal life. So do they. Acknowledge that. Inquire. Share. It’s the little things.

• Deliver. Do what you say you will do. It doesn’t get any simpler. Delivery builds trust. Non-delivery destroys it.

attitude1We try to get people to change, to adapt, to innovate. We teach them new analytical skills and new methodologies.

But does any of that matter, is any of that sustainable if we don’t change people’s attitudes towards the environment, the situation? I think the long term answer to that is no.

So how do we go about changing attitudes? Clearly just talking about it doesn’t work. Re-education is a bit out of favor so we won’t go there. I think we have the elements around us to make some progress. We just need to combine the right pieces to create a more robust attitude-changing environment.

Now before I drop this new combination on you, I just want to make it clear that I don’t know what that specific attitude is.  As with any complex situation it will depend on the circumstances. It is not about my attitude is right and yours is wrong. The goal is to match the attitude to the environment. It’s about the evolution of the attitude.

So my idea is a simple, at least on the surface. You combine the change that’s going on with an ongoing dialog about how our attitudes are changing or need to change.

The first part we are doing all the time, whether it is organizational change, process change, technology change or any other change. While we certainly have a plan to implement these changes, our knowledge and understanding of the change evolves as we move through it. We know more and more about the impacts, the repercussions and unintended consequences a week in, a month in and so on.

With this evolving knowledge we should also have evolving attitudes. How can we not?

The second part is then that we need then to have on-going and proactive discussion about how we think about these changes. Some of this will be positive and some of this will be negative. That’s OK. The goal is to talk through these, to see how old attitudes don’t mesh, to look for new ways to approach the new environment.

The changing environment is also an opportunity to talk about the way we view change. To view hiccups in the plan as normal, to see the need to adjust as a sign of agility, to be comfortable in questioning original assumptions. Using a real, practical implementation to talk about these attitudes is so much more enlightening than talking about them in the abstract. You can actually choose to behave and react in these ways on real-time, in-your-face, challenges.

Make attitude a part of the on-going dialog. Get it out in the open.

How do you talk about attitude?