Author: Lois Kelly

Slow trends, emerging opportunities

Change

When life slows down during the summer I notice more, read more, and reflect on changing trends and emerging opportunities. Here are some of my random observations.

Chief Communications Officers/Chief Marketing Officers:

There are a lot of C-level titles in companies and one that is slowly fading away is the Chief Communications Officer. The duties of that position are increasingly being folded in under the Chief Marketing Officer. SAP, FedEx, IBM and other companies have all recently made this change.  Much of marketing and communications is similar, particularly the shared goal of building the company’s reputation.  But reputations need to be earned, not just communicated, and therein lies customer experience, product and service, front line employee engagement, customer service and a host of other factors that fall largely into the marketing bucket.  There are still some special communications skills distinct and separate from marketing but do they warrant a C-level executive and another organizational silo?

 

Press releases/one or two sentence explanation:

Not to pick on the PR profession here, but I am on a distribution list where I get  press releases and pitch emails, most of which seem kind of  dumb. Most are irrelevant to me and written in such gobbledygook corporate-speak that I don’t know what the point is. Please tell me in a straightforward sentence or two why your idea or news is relevant and worth me taking a closer look at.  You can also skip writing those phony press release quotes that no one publishes and probably lengthen the review process inside the company . If you use a formulaic press release style I just hit “delete.”

 

Less reading/ more tweeting:

As people spend more of their discretionary time on social networks they seem to be reading fewer books. I’ve talked with people of all ages this summer who told me they “just don’t have time to sit down and read a book” and yet their Tweets and Facebook posts are voluminous. While I find great value and enjoyment from social media, what I learn from reading a book is of much greater value, from learning and spiritual perspectives. Is there a future for both?

 

Newspapers at the end of the driveway/tablets:

When I walk down to the end of the driveway at 5:45 a.m. to pick up my New York Times in its blue plastic bag and The Providence Journal in its clear bag I look around at my neighbors’ driveways and realize we’re one of the few houses that still subscribe to the paper editions.  My ritual of reading the papers and drinking one good cup of strong coffee before the house wakes up may be ending. The online iPad editions of newspapers are becoming  good reading experiences, perhaps even better than the paper versions.  (And I do know that trudging through the snow and ice in the winter to get the paper is  miserable.)

 

Focus groups/unstructured data + communities:

A client recently asked for a focus group to better understand a situation. I was kind of shocked that he thought getting 10 people around a table  for a couple of hours would be worth the time or money. There are so many  easier and less expensive ways to quickly tap into the wisdom of the crowds and get a read on an issue or an idea. And the insights are likely to be better than the old facilitated focus group format.  By polling people in one of the company’s communities we had 140 thoughtful considered responses within 24 hours. Cost?  A few hours to design the questions and analyze the results.  For meatier issues where it does make sense to get people together to think more deeply about a topic I see the opportunity in the Art of Hosting type approaches.

 

Suburban McMansions/neighborhoods, co-housing:

With the middle class being squeezed financially and the Baby Boomers aging, the appeal and maintenance cost of big houses is diminishing. People are beginning to choose new options — smaller homes in neighborly neighborhoods and co-housing communities, like this one in Vermont that I recently toured, and this one in Rhode Island, focused on the arts and agriculture.  Or moving into cities and embracing the no-car life, like in new city centers like Brickell in Miami.  The real trend, however,  may be that people want to be part of communities with people, not just living next to people.

 

Large scale shopping malls/e-commerce, neighborhoods, Makers:

Those big sprawling shopping malls are starting to sag as people look to shop in areas with smaller stores and more of a neighborhood feel. The headline in Neilsen’s recent “Brick by Brick: The State of the Shopping Center” report — Go Big or Go Small — captures the trend.  The WalMart and Target super-centers are thriving, but the days of the shopping mall are waning. E-commerce continues to grow, as do smaller, more neighborhood-like lifestyle centers where you shop, eat, go to a movie, and take a walk. The big trend to watch, however, are inidivdual DIYers and craftspeople creating products and new markets for selling them, like  the Maker Movement and its Maker Faires and marketplaces like Etsy, a personal favorite.

 

Less consulting/more job seekers:

The hardest work of a consultant is developing business opportunities, and many marketing consultants I know are looking for positions with agencies or inside companies for this reason. I have a hunch too that it’s just much more rewarding to work with a team than work solo.  It’s similar to the desire to live in a neighborhood with people vs. living on a three-acre lot in a big house where you never see people.  People are longing for people. Many employers don’t look favorably on resumes where people have been self-employed for a while; they haven’t been on a neat track.  Keep an open mind, there’s some tremendous talent available if you change your lens (and don’t rely on those resume keyword scanners.)

 

Tans/diet & exercise:

Seeing people coming out of the tanning salon next to my dry cleaners with the goggle marks still around their eyes, makes me go, “Hunh?” People with those deep, dark Coppertone tans seem as trendy as people who smoke.  Fortunately, tans are fading. (excuse the pun). The opportunity: people who eat healthy food and exercise seem to have a healthy glow, much more attractive than tans.  While at a recent yoga retreat I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful women at all ages, up through the 70s, looked sans makeup. And tans. (Or maybe I’m just envious that I haven’t been able to get to the beach this summer and am justifying my longing for a wee bit of a tan from swimming and body surfing.)

 

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and keep on noticing the slow shifts that are opening up new opportunities in every field, as well as signaling what to let go of.

 

 

What a question

Every once in a great while you hear  a question that changes how you look at things, how you approach strategy, design, marketing, innovation, and maybe even your own life. Here’s one that’s rocking my thinking:

“Who do you want your customers* to become?”

 

In his book of the same name, MIT’s Michael Schrage says, “Successful innovators don’t just ask customers and clients to do something different, they ask them to become something different.”

Who do you want your customers to becomeBecause customers are always changing, strategy shouldn’t focus on existing customers but on who tomorrow’s customers will — and should — be, and then designing our offers to help the customer become that person. To realize new attitudes, behaviors, values, and habits.

  • Facebook asks users to become more open about sharing their personal information.
  • Disney helps little girls become princesses. Amazon has asked people to become different kinds of shoppers.
  • Google has asked us to  become impatient searchers who demand speed. Social business is asking us to share and tap into our collective intelligence.
  • My Rebels at Work movement is asking people to stand up and lead change within organizations.
  • Uber is asking us to demand lower costs and easier booking for chauffeured transportation.
  • The Khan Academy is asking us to rethink teachers as tutors and coaches.
  • Bobbi Brown is asking us to keep our make-up simple and easy.
  • FedEx is asking small businesses to consider the world their market, not just their local countries.

Once you articulate The Ask, you can more clearly see what you need to do to help your customers  become someone different. This becomes the strategy discussion.

Schrage notes that few company vision statements address the customer. Most are about the company and provide little direction on how to  add value to the customer.  “A customer vision statement, explicitly identifies the qualities and attributes the organization aspires to create in its customers.”

* Note that you could insert client, boss, donor, citizens, association members and other types of customers into this question. How do you want to transform that group of people? How will they benefit?  Do the benefits offset what they’ll need to do to transform?

Schrage’s short and provocative ebook is available on Amazon for $3.03. It’s a must-read, and its question is a must-ask.

Don’t Do It Alone

We can’t do it alone,

whether it’s changing things at work

or living through personal challenges.  

I have  often written about the need to find allies at work to  accomplish change and stay positive.

While I know this to be true, I have been guilty in trying to go it alone.  I am the fire-starter, the organizer, the person who gets things done.  My  husband has a similar mindset. So when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease two years ago, we found one of the most renown Parkinson’s neurologists, got the medication,  read the books, and decided that we wouldn’t let Parkinson’s define our lives.

It was with great apprehension that we went to a  five-day a “wellness retreat” with 57 other people with Parkinson’s and their care partners last week at Kripalu, the yoga and spiritual center in the hills of Western Massachusetts.  Since the program was sponsored by the National Parkinson’s Foundation, we thought that we would learn a great deal  from medical experts about research, symptoms, medications, resources, and what to be aware of as the condition progresses. And we did.

But what I really came away with is less anxiety and more confidence that I can do this, no matter how wonky the disease may affect my husband.  The wisdom, practical know-how, and generosity of those 57 people in the retreat was a stark reminder that it’s better not to try to take on difficult situations alone.  There’s always much to learn from people  who know more and have experienced worse. One self-less act really brought home this message.

 The one self-less act. Yoga Dance

Selfishly I wanted my husband to participate in a noontime event called Yoga Dance, open to everyone at Kripalu not just the PD folks. It’s like a wild-ass dance party with great music and free form dancing. Makes me feel like 19 again. I asked each man in our PD wellness workshop if he would go to yoga dance, explaining that if a bunch of guys went my husband would too.  They all agreed, including Ray who was having a particularly tough day with his PD.

Ray and his partner Richard went into the big dance room, music blaring, lots of athletic yoga people dancing like joyful fools.  Feeling very uncomfortable Ray told Richard he needed to leave, his body just couldn’t move to the music.  They left the room for a few minutes and came back, where Ray tried again.  He and Richard soon left a second time, and then they came back in for a third try.

Ray was upset that he couldn’t move. Richard was upset that Ray was upset. It was a horrible, unsettling incident that reminded them both of the realities of Parkinson’s.

While they struggled my husband and I danced like young lovers. Ray and Richard didn’t know, but it was our 30th wedding anniversary.

Genuine collaboration is what Ray did coming to that lunchtime yoga dance.  He came  from a deep well of thoughtfulness and wanting to help me.  Even though it was so, so hard for him.

As I reenter the “real” world on Monday, I keep with me a new question:

What would Ray do?

 

 

 

When did women stop raising their hands?

An incident last week jolted me awake about women in the workplace.

I participated in two days of new employee orientation for a financial services client.  About 70 percent of the 40 people in the class were women, the rest men. As part of a group exercise the instructor asked for a representative from each table to stand up and share the group’s work.  A man spoke for every group but one, that being my table where I stood up.

I was shocked and saddened. Why are women letting men dominate, even in non-threatening situations like work orientation games?

When I was in my 20s we women boldly stood up and spoke up, knowing that our views were as valuable as the guys, oftentimes even more so.  We weren’t very good at slinging the bull shit like some of our fearless men friends. So our responses were often more considered and thoughtful.

We knew we had to speak up.  Trailblazers like Gloria Steinem and Bella Abzeg had worked hard and sacrificed much to help us move into the corporate world. We wanted to pay it forward by succeeding and helping other women in their journeys.  Having a say and being heard was essential.

When I was working at AT&T early in my career I was promoted into a job where I made $22,000, taking over for a man who hadn’t been performing so well at the job but had been making $48,000.  More than double what I was paid for the same responsibilities. I raised this disparity with HR, which told me that the man had more experience, and, confidentially,  “if you keep speaking up like this you could hurt your career.”  I loved telling that story, and I more loved seeing the pay gap between women and men shrink.

We’ve made such gains over the 30 years, but apparently not enough.

Aside from my fear that women will continue to not get promoted as quickly or make as much as men if they do not speak up and believe in themselves, I worry about businesses being able to adapt and grow.  Research shows that the more diverse the thinking an in an organization, the faster and better it can solve problems.  If women are submissive, organizational performance will suffer.

I was recently planning a conference with a wonderful, enlightened European man.  He recruited the first 12 speakers.  Eleven of the 12 were men.  When I pointed out this imbalance, he was taken aback. He hadn’t even noticed that he had invited almost all men.  I am pleased to tell you that this conference is now equally represented.

Today the Fast Company blog  had a story that caught my eye, “Eight Successful Entrepreneurs Give Their Younger Selves Lessons They Wish They’d Known Then.”  When I clicked on the story all the entrepreneurs were men. Really? The writer couldn’t find one successful female entrepreneur?

Let’s call the media on this imbalanced view of business.

Let’s also get back to supporting and encouraging women in the workforce.

I don’t know about you, but I thought we had come farther.  I thought my  diligence in helping and promoting women had worked and now I could move on to new issues.

Not so.

Just as Sheryl Sandberg is doing with her LeanIn.org,  we need to help women stand up and be heard for their considerable talents and perspectives.   If they don’t speak up confidently they will be overlooked  for promotions and for increased compensation.

Worse, we wont be able to solve the complexity of today’s issues without the equal voices of both women and men, and not just women and men.  But people who think differently from one another.  Believe me, no one has the answers figured out in any industry.

 

PS — this Hay Group study just came out yesterday.

 

Is social media becoming PR?

Is social media becoming PR?

When I started my career in public relations it was a function that tried desperately to show value and “results.”   The assumption was that lots of press and “awareness” or “impressions” were good, less was less good.  None of the PR measurement models correlated to business goals like sales, customer satisfaction, brand preference, competitive intelligence — or the performance drivers of those goals.  PR was one of those “have to have” functions and leaders didn’t take it all that seriously. A career in PR, much like its pink cousin HR, was a “soft” career.

One of my good friends, a well known PR executive,  and I use to joke that our career goal was to get out of PR because it was so hard to convince executives that it could be and should be something more than publicity and crisis communications.  When I ask him how he is he jokes, “Still in PR.”

I see similarities between PR then and social media today.  Instead of impressions people are measuring  social media “engagement.”  But to what end?  How does what kind of engagement support what business goals?  Alas, I see company reports that show “results” being more and more engagement. 2,000, 5,0000, 10,000 Twitter followers.  3,000 likes on the company Facebook page.  2,000 views of the latest company video on You Tube.

My question is, so what.  It’s like the old publicity awareness goal. Awareness of what and how does that help what business strategy.

The potential value social strategies can bring to business is extraordinary.  Data mining of unstructured social data to see ways to develop new types of products and services way ahead of competitors.  Incorporating social apps into products and services to earn customer preference. Crowdsourcing to develop products and services more quickly and with much more predictable adoption rates.

These opportunities require heavy lifting.  Big brain data analysts, developers, new business processes. Willingness to experiment and iterate vs.  the traditional research, plan, develop, market (and publicize!) New types of external partner and developer relationships vs. “the agency.”  Systems thinkers vs. project managers.  You get the picture.

Most companies see social as a better way to communicate.  PR on networked, social steroids.

When I was a young woman in PR the president of my company advised me. “If you really want to get ahead, make sure there’s revenue attached to your job.”

If your company wants to get the most value from social, make sure it’s attached to revenue.  (Or a worthy strategic equivalent.) Not to meaningless impressions or  engagement numbers.

Just sayin.

 

Predicting behavior

 

This week behavioral scientist John Furey shares some of his scientific discoveries from his MindTime project. I’ve worked with many different behavioral models, and believe there’s something very big here for marketers, leaders, and each of us as individuals.

1. Your MindTime mapping system has been called the world’s most accurate personality test and the digital Myers Briggs of the 21st century.  For we non-scientists, what is the system based on that makes it so informative?

Personality tests such as the MBTI are based merely on describing traits and behaviors, categorizing behavioral patterns. MindTime reveals the drivers behind the behaviors and therefore why we behave the way we do, or as scientists might call it, the adaptive value of the behavior. What is significant is MindTime is looking at causation, not simply outcomes.

Understanding why people behave the way they do, rather than simply describing what they do, provides a greater ability to predict what they will do.

MindTime uses a phenomenological framework—Past, Present and Future Thinking—as a means to understand people. These basic concepts of thought— Past/Certainty, Present/Probability, and Future/Possibility—all have adaptive value; in fact, they explain almost all the concepts of the cognitive mind.

So, by measuring how people think, we can use this knowledge to predict behavior, attitudes, and even the personality traits they manifest. By knowing why a person does what s/he does, and the why and how of their strategy, we can use the knowledge in just about any environment to facilitate individual and organizational success.

 

2. What are the perspectives of Past, Present and Future Thinkers?

Here’s a brief snapshot of each:

3. When people get their individual maps, what insights do they learn about themselves and how does this help them professionally?

Our maps provide people with an in-depth interpretative report on their thinking style. It quickly and accurately helps a person to understand the value they bring to the world. We explain a person’s:

  • Communication style
  • Leadership style
  • Relationship needs
  • World-view
  • What they will resist doing. Knowing our resistances helps us navigate our limitations.

The most common comment we hear from people when they take the MindTime profile is “Aha!! That explains so much about me.”  When used in team building it provides this same kind of epiphany for our understanding of others.

However, while these insights are invaluable I think there is a more significant learning that comes out of all this that impacts our professional abilities in a profound way.

We each know people who we can rely on to bring ideas, inspiration and a sense of possibility to our lives. In fact, this might describe you. We also know people who are much more likely to bring order, planning, procedures and stability to bear. They’re much more engaged in creating continuity than they are engaged in bringing change. Likewise, there are those among us who are more keenly aware of and driven to understanding the meaning of data and facts. These folks bring us depth of thought, a need for truth and trustworthiness and can be relied on to think deeply about things rather than coming up with ad lib answers to good and necessary questions.

Knowing that a person is driven towards creating order and harmony versus being driven towards opportunities and risk-taking versus being driven towards information and analysis of a situation can change the quality and value of our interactions significantly.  It empowers us to manage, motivate, listen and speak in a more empathetic, or at least consciously aware, way.

Empathy, messaging, motivation, management, collaboration, roles, engagement style, motivation, change readiness, adaptability, and so on, are all positively impacted by this basic human awareness of each other.

 

4. How can MindTime help teams of people working together? Why do some project teams work very well and others get stuck?  What could managers do to create more consistently high performing teams?

MindTime can accurately predict how well a team will function at a task or towards a goal in view of the mix of thinking styles of people on the team and the roles people are playing. It can also predict the kinds of pitfalls a given mix of thinkers will encounter, both interpersonally and in team dynamics.

MindTime helps the team understand the thinking styles of each team member so that people can understand and value different people’s contributions. Future thinkers will be focused on possibilities, while Past thinkers will want proof and certainty of ideas, and the Present thinkers will want to be able to predict outcomes. Understanding people’s thinking helps us create the right setup and awareness of what’s really going on instead of leaving us to fix what is bound to go wrong.

 

5. You say that how people think influences how they behave.  Many of us are trying to change behavior as part of our work, like getting people to try a new product or approve a new policy.  What should we know or be doing about thinking to affect behavior?

People’s thinking processes are very difficult to change so the best strategy is to figure out how we can align our objectives with a person—or group of people’s—natural inclination.

By understanding people’s motivation, which you do by understanding their thinking styles, you can align your goals with their fundamental objective (to pursue Possibilities, Probabilities, or Certainties). Alignment becomes a simpler way to elicit the desired behavior.

 

6. If you understand how your customers think, how does that help you market to them?  Can you give us an example?

Sure, but given that you’re going to blog this why don’t I give you two visual examples and brief explanations?

This first map is of a target market for a product. Through a separate study the ads used were found to be messaging a Future audience. They contained works such as: ideas, possibility, and phrases like “What could you do?” And, ”What’s next?” Can you spot the problem here? Why did the campaign fail?

Yes, the target and messaging was to Future thinking, the audience on the other hand was very much Past and Present in its thinking. A total miss.

The second map is of a group of people recruited to help with brand innovation. These were loyal supporters, not just customers of the brand, recruited by a brand community management company. Remember here, as you look at this map, that the desired outcome was brand innovation. Innovation typically starts with Future thinking. Do you see why brands were often less than enthusiastic about results? The recruited brand community had self-selected. They were of a mind to turn up on time once a week and participate by offering their opinions, predictably Present/Past thinking people.

The conclusion was that this audience, which lacked in Future thinking, was not really innovating at all. They were discussing problems that needed solving and identifying other “new” ways that the product might fit with their needs.

 

7. What use of your MindTime mapping system has been the most personally fulfilling for you? What happened?

I remember a specific event. I was asked by a headmaster to work with students and faculty on the opening day of school.  The Sage School was a new alternative school in Sun Valley, Idaho. On the opening day I addressed the assembled school and everyone learned the simple MindTime model and how it works. We mapped everyone in the school and spent the day practicing how to collaborate more effectively.

We learned how everybody has value to bring if we would only see it. And, by pointing out the likely pitfalls in human communication between the archetypes, we gave everyone both an awareness and tips on how to avoid them, or at least recognize them before they became an issue. I received a wonderful letter from the headmaster about a year later telling how enduring this learning had been and how it was still being used in lots of ways. That kind of work makes my life sweet in a really good way.

 

8. What potential application of the system would you most like to see happen?

I would support any application of MindTime that decreases violence in all of its forms and increases human empathy. That’s the driving force behind all of this work; it is an ideal shared by all of the partners in the MindTime Project.

 ****************

Note: if you self-identify as a change agent, maverick or rebel at work, Foghound invites you to take  a complimentary MindTime thinking analysis test to get a personalized profile of your thinking style, leadership style, relationships needs, communications style, and what you are most likely resist doing. Click here to get your profile, which takes just a few minutes.

If you’re interested in learning more about the potential application of MindTime for your organization, contact Lois (lkelly@foghound.com) or John (john@mindtimetech.com).

 

Get things under control

“The Cardinals are tired of reading about financial corruption, sexual improprieties and infighting at the Vatican. They want a Pope who can get things under control,” explained Father Thomas Reese to Tom Ashbrook on his NPR “On Point” radio show today.

When there are calls to “get things under control”  there is no hope for control.

Whether it’s trying to control clergy in the Catholic Church, parents angry over school policies, or customers  tweeting unfavorable product reviews, there is no control. 

When I hear “get things under control” I know it’s a situation that can only be addressed by getting at root cause issues.  It’s not a “handling” or crisis communications issue, it’s a systemic issue requiring that the real problems be addressed.

No new Pope can get the Catholic Church “under control” without addressing some deep seated issues.

No business leader can get customers under control if customers  hate the products or customer service.

No school official can get parents under control if they feel their children are not being served.

No politician can get voters under control if they believe the politician is more interested in getting elected than representing their views.

No good can come from trying to control.

 

Optimism lifts

What advice do you wish someone had given you earlier in your career?  “Don’t climb, lift,” said veteran analyst John Bordeaux in his Rebel at Work story.

Don’t climb. Lift.

There’s much to take away from this advice. One question might be, “What allows us to lift?”

Optimism lifts. Skepticism requires climbing.

I remember my first week on a new job talking with a team of discouraged people, demoralized because their client was unhappy with their work.

“Let’s try to show the client how much we’re accomplishing.  How about we change the monthly report formats and  list everything that we’ve accomplished each month in bullet points, right at the top,” I suggested.

“Yeah, right,” said Cindy. “What happens if we don’t achieve those kinds of results?”

Though I had only been at the agency a couple of weeks I was optimistic that we’d be able to achieve more,  especially if we changed a few approaches to the work.

“If we do these two things every month I really think we’ll be able to report some results that will make the client happy. Let’s just try it for a couple of months and see what happens.”

This optimism accomplished two things.  The team didn’t resist my new ideas, although they were contrary to the way most teams did things at the company, and the team did in fact achieve results that surprised them and the client. Someone genuinely believing they could succeed lifted the team, and they achieved more than they thought possible.

Optimism has a powerful influence on people.  It helps us to take a chance, do something new, invest in an alternative approach.

This is not about chirpy, fake platitudes and those motivational “Dare to do the Impossible” posters posted on bulletin boards near the lunchroom. I’m talking about adopting a mindset focused more on possibilities than problems.

In a world where the voices of the skeptics and naysayers seem to shout the loudest, we optimists quietly and persistently keep going. We do so because we believe that our idea is possible. We see the reasons why it can work and the value it will provide. We follow our passions, know and use our strengths, are open-minded and open-hearted, and we often reflect about what is working and where we can do things differently.

Sure we fall back and get frustrated, too. Big time. But it’s how you respond to setbacks that influences how likely you’ll be able to find the energy to get up and continue on.

How optimistic people achieve more:

  • Attract supporters. People prefer to be part of teams that believe what they’re doing is achievable. They also get energy from being around optimistic people, so they like to be on your team.
  • Get the ear of more people. Even if people don’t agree with our ideas, they are more willing to listen to us and have a conversation.
  • Self-motivate themselves.  When you believe something is possible it motivates you to stay with the idea, keep gathering information, ask questions, get input, think how to improve on it. Doing this makes the idea even more likely to succeed.
  • Minimize stress: Persistence and determination are easier to sustain when you have an optimistic attitude. Make no mistake that  being a rebel at work is stressful, but a positive perspective can make it less exhausting.  Optimists ride the possibility wave to keep motivated. Pessimists tackle persistence and determination by pushing a rock up hill. People want to surf with you. Pushing heavy objects up steep hills, not so much.
  • Trigger contagiousness.  Positive ideas get talked about.  Ones that connect with rational and emotional desires hop on the word of mouth train.  “Here’s a way we can do our work faster, easier, safer, with more fun, and with much fewer headaches.”  Sign me up to help.
  • Look inviting.   People who are negative show creases on their foreheads, furrows between their eyes, squint marks by the sides of their eyes, bags under their eyes from lack of sleep. I admit this is a superficial benefit of optimism, but looking healthy and restful also attracts more people to you than when you look haggard.   Think about it. Who do you like to chat with around the proverbial water cooler?  A positive, healthy looking person or someone who is stern, overly serious and coiled like they might strike if you say the wrong thing?

 The science of positivity and optimism

The science backs up these views on optimism.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, a scholar in social and positive psychology and author of Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3-to1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life, has found that positivity opens our minds and hearts, making us more receptive to ideas and making us more creative. Positive emotions help us to discover new skills, new knowledge, and new ways of doing things – and to recover more quickly when things don’t go well.

She suggests that we try to achieve at least a 3:1 positivity ration.

“This means that for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you,” Dr. Fredrickson explains.  “This is the ratio that I’ve found to be the tipping point, predicting whether people languish or flourish.”

You can’t force optimism and positivity, using insincere, gratuitous gestures and words.  That will backfire.  You have to really feel it and mean it. No platitudes and smiley faces. People see right through that.

In fact, the subtle difference between positivity and optimism is action, according to Elaine Fox, a psychologist at the University of Essex in England and  author of a book on the science of optimism, “Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain.”

“Optimism is not so much about feeling happy, nor necessarily a belief that everything will be fine, but about how we respond when times get tough,” she writes.  “Optimists tend to keep going, even when it seems as if the whole world is against them.”

Optimism practices

  1. Use new words. If something doesn’t pan out, refrain from calling it a “failure,” or worse, saying “I failed.”  Sometimes things don’t work out. The idea may be too risky for the organization.  You piloted a concept and the data indicated it wouldn’t achieve enough of the right results.  The thinking was sound but the investment costs were far greater than the likely returns.  You get the picture.  If we use failure words, we label ourselves and our efforts in ways that diminish the likelihood of trying again, or of people supporting us again.  We rebels are idea people. Some ideas will work brilliantly, others not so.  We’re not failures.  We’re thinkers and experimenters.
  1. Hang out with optimistic people.  Not the Pollyannas but realists who see what’s possible. Creators vs. complainers.  Avoid the Debbie Downers and Negative Nicks wherever possible. Including in your personal life.
  1. Picture it. Envision how people will feel and be better off if you’re successful. Keep this image clear. Present this image when taking about your project so people are reminded of the big picture benefit. Ask an artsy friend to make an image of it, for you and for you to use when you have to make a presentation about the idea. Or find a metaphorical image that inspires you. (I like the rising moon image in this post.)
  1. Try to work on things that interest you. This isn’t always possible but when we’re determined it’s interesting to see how we can shift assignments and responsibilities, especially when we can demonstrate why the work we WANT to work on is important to the organization.
  1. Tune out.  Though we rebels tend to have insatiable curiosities, there are some things we should stay away from. Like people who over use fear and anxiety to get attention and manipulate feelings. Hysteria clouds perspective and balanced thinking.
  2. Do one scary thing a year.  Something that interests you but you find intimidating, as in “I don’t think I could ever do that.”  Or, “I’d be way out of my league if I took that course.”  “What would I say if I agreed to give a speech like that in front of those people?”  The thing about doing one scary thing a year is that it builds up your confidence.  You will almost always find that you do better than you think you could, or you were welcomed warmly by people you don’t usually associate with. The benefit? Your optimism increases. You believe that more is possible.
  1. Turn to learning: When you hit roadblocks and frustrations turn to learning and questioning. “What could I learn that would help me figure this out? What’s beneath what’s going on here?”  Questions open you back up to possibilities and restore optimism. Don’t stay parked in dead ends.

 

 

 

Knowing when to quit

Two weeks ago I was leading an American Marketing Association workshop about how to gain approval and adoption of new ideas. We covered the first four items on the following list through a series exercises and then I asked everyone which of #5 – 10 they most wanted to spend time on.

1.   What’s at stake?

2.   Make the status quo unappealing

3.    Use the SCARF model

4.   Uncover the hidden motives

5.   It’s an experiment

6.   What’s the real issue?

7.   Move away from drama

8.   Befriend the Bureaucratic Black Belts

9.   Stay under the radar

10.   Know when to quit

People loved #10.  I have to confess I was surprised and perhaps not prepared enough.  How do you know when it’s time to let an idea go? Or  stop trying to get a project funded? Or get people interested in adopting a new way? Or even leave a job?

Here’s what I suggested:

  • Rate importance: Ask your boss or client how important a particular project is to them on a scale of 1 – 10.  If it’s below six, it’s just not that important.  At this point you’ll probably have a hard time getting it to 9 or 10.  If they say 7 or 8, ask them what it what would make it a 9 or 10.  Then listen very carefully.
  • Just ask:  “We’ve been talking about this idea for a while, but it doesn’t seem to be moving ahead. I think it helps us (insert important organizational goal). What do you think is holding it back? What advice can you give me?”
  • Is the energy waning?  Do fewer people show up for meetings about the idea?  Is the idea put early on the agenda (probably still interested) or last (if we don’t get to it, no big deal.)? Is it even on management meeting agendas?
  • Not performance objective worthy: If you set your annual performance objectives and your boss doesn’t view your big idea as an important for your objectives, he or she doesn’t think the idea is important.
  • How much are your colleagues willing to help? If your work friends just aren’t into helping you with the idea, it may signal that they don’t see the value of it. Another sign that it may be time to quit the idea.
  • Are you becoming not yourself? If you’re starting to be angry, judgmental or righteous, this might be a sign that it’s time to let go.

Yogi Berra allegedly once said, “If the people don’t want to come, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

Sometimes the time isn’t right for an idea. We rebel thinkers work ahead of most people, and it takes a while for them to catch up with our ideas. Sometimes you just need to wait a while and reintroduce the idea.

Sometimes you may need to more clearly communicate the value and relevance of the idea. It’s easy after a while to get so down into the weeds of how a project or idea will work that people have forgotten why it’s such a good idea in the first place. (Go to #1 on the list: show them what’s at stake, what the idea makes possible and how that’s so much better than what exists today.)

Don’t beat yourself up or take on all that failure language or people will begin to see you as a problem person vs. the creative person who knows how to come up with great ideas.

Even if this was the greatest idea you think you’ve ever developed, know that there will be more great ideas.  Creativity doesn’t stop.

Unless, of course,  you spend all your energy hanging on too long to an idea no one cares about.

 

When your horse dies, get off.

 

 

 

Tight pants

By last Friday afternoon I was exhausted, having worked on an especially rebel-worthy assignment.

This meant I had to maneuver around Bureaucratic Black Belts (BBBs) and move people off assumptions that they were willing to fight (me) for. All very congenial, but intense nevertheless.

It also meant that I had to find ways to help people see a better way, be confident while also being honest about the uncertainties, and remain steadfast and open-minded.

Talk about paradox. Can I also say once again how exhausted I was?

Two themes I find about change: there can be no progress without paradox, and leading change is often exhausting. Not always. But often.

On Friday afternoon a good friend was kind enough to listen to me talk about what had happened, and ask good questions to help me clarify the best next steps.  She also said, “You know, being a rebel is a lot like what Terry Pearce said in his book Leading Out Loud.”

“There are many people who think they want to be matadors, only to find themselves in the ring with two thousand pounds of bull bearing down on them, and then discover that what they really wanted was to wear tight pants and hear the crowd roar.”

Real rebels are not afraid stay in the ring.

Many of us also take long naps on the weekend.

10 truths about skeptical employees

I was cleaning my office (!) and found a speech from 18 years ago given by Rod Oldham, of then Bell South, to students at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business.  In an age of disruption, some “truths” stay constant.

  1. We’re smarter than senior managers think we are.
  2. We think senior managers are smarter than they are.
  3. We hate it when you make us feel stupid.
  4. We have short attention spans.
  5. We have long memories.
  6. We’re desperate for direction.
  7. We want to be able to think on our own.
  8. We want the company to succeed.
  9. We don’t want to leave.
  10. We want to believe.

Facilitating healthy dissent

When we corporate rebels (aka intrapreneurs) disagree, it signals we care about an issue. That we want to wrestle with it to find better approaches. So why do people so often try to shut us down?

Many people think disagreeing means that we’re being unkind and insensitive.  Or impolite. (Egads!) “Let’s take this off line,” they say.

What’s unkind to me is pretending an uncomfortable issue doesn’t exist when everyone knows it does. There’s a tension at work when this happens. Nothing is moving forward, corporate inertia is draining us, and we’re becoming ever more skeptical about the cry for  greater collaboration.

Furthermore, the longer an issue is ignored, the more frustrated and demoralized people become. Even worse, trust and respect among people erode. And when that’s gone, the organization gets crippled.

“When someone comes to a meeting and states an opinion or makes a suggestion that his teammates don’t agree with, those teammates have a choice: they can explain their disagreement and work through it, or they can withhold their opinion and allow themselves to quietly lose respect for their colleague,” says organizational health consultant Patrick Lencioni in his excellent book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.

“When team members get to choose the latter option — withholding their opinions — frustration inevitably sets in. Essentially, they’re deciding to tolerate their colleague rather than trust him.”

More than most, we rebels see healthy dissent as a team sport, where everyone with something to contribute is expected to contribute. If you don’t speak up your silence can be interpreted to mean that you agree and have nothing to add.

We view dissent as a way of together getting stronger, like a team preparing to hike Mt. Everest. All the potential issues are honestly discussed and worked through to increase the likelihood of a successful expedition where no one gets hurt. We’re fed by the positive energy around these conversations. We appreciate and value what our colleagues have to say.

We also listen fiercely and ask frank questions.  It’s about inquiry vs. preaching.  But most organizations practice advocacy instead of inquiry in their conversations, say Sue Annis Hammond and Andrea Mayfield in The Thin Book of Naming Elephants.

“Advocacy is a win-lose form of communication…each person is trying to convince the other that he or she is right and there is only one right answer.  Dialogue assumes people see the world differently…each person assumes he or she can learn something new from others.”

Practices for inviting healthy conflict

So what can you do to move from advocacy to inquiry? To help foster healthy dissent vs. angry debates?  Here are some suggestions.

  1. Establish agreements: set some guiding principles at the start of a meeting and keep them posted on the wall as a reminder. If someone starts to violate an agreement, bring everyone’s attention back to the list on the wall. Here are some guiding principles that I have found helpful:
    • Judge ideas, not people.
    • Focus on solutions and ways forward; stay away from drama and problems.
    • Observations are more useful than opinions.
    • Let each person complete their thought; avoid interrupting.
    • Ask questions that illuminate, not interrogate.
    • Ask questions that are brief and to the point without adding background considerations and rationale, which make the question into a speech
    • Respect other people’s truths.
    • If you want your views to be heard speak now. Not later in backroom side conversations.
  2. Set the tone: Open the meeting by going around the room and asking everyone to respond to a soft but relevant question where there is no right or wrong answer. No one comments on what a person says, just respectfully listens. This helps to put people at ease, build personal connections, make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and get comfortable with listening.  I recently asked a group about  the most creative thing they had done outside of work in the past month. The answers were hilarious, and that laughter set a relaxing, collegial tone to dig into important issues.
  3. Set up what’s at risk: Frame the conversation by succinctly stating what’s at risk and why it’s so important to debate the issue and get everyone’s views.  This focuses the conversation and reminds people why it’s worth their time and honest input.
  4. Make sure you have enough time. Issues worthy of inquiry and debate usually require more than the typical one hour time allotment. One hour meetings are good for updates and touching base.  Strategic conversations where we value everyone’s involvement need more like three hours, maybe a even a day or more.
  5. Facilitate or use a facilitator.  Effective facilitators carefully listen, guide, inject good questions to open up new conversation veins, move people off dead horses, prevent any one person from hogging the conversation, help the group to recover if someone has said something hurtful, and adhere to the meeting agreements. If you are facilitating, know that it will be difficult to participate. As a participant you’re focused on the ideas not the meta conversation. Understand what role you’ll be playing, participant or facilitator.
  6. Ask the wind-down question. It usually gets to the real issues: About 30 minutes before the meeting is to end ask, “What hasn’t been said that should? Is there something you feel we’ve been avoiding?  If we never talked about this issue again, would you feel satisfied that we honestly examined all the important aspects of it? If not, what needs to be said?”  Inevitably someone speaks up and speaks the truth and the real conversation starts.
  7. Close with insights: After summarizing highlights and next steps, ask everyone to briefly respond to a closing question, which further respects views and makes sure voices are heard.  Possible closers might be:
  • How did your thinking on this issue shift?
  • What one thing did you find most useful from the discussion?
  • What was the high point of this discussion for you?

For more helpful ideas on facilitating healthy dissent, read Carmen’s post, “Advice for Managers: Do You Make It Easy for People to Disagree with You?”

A ridiculous 2013 strategy

“Mum, if you’re so interested in this folk metal band, why don’t you come to the concert with me on Friday night,” my 17-year-old son asked as we watched the band’s YouTube videos.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said. “All that screaming and headbanging and moshing. Do you know how old I am?”

Later that night I thought, why not? What might I learn if I went? Who might I meet and what kind of story might emerge?

The next morning I read a post by Seth Godin, “Ridiculous is the New Remarkable,” in which he wrote:

We can view the term ridiculous as an insult from the keeper of normal, a put-down from the person who seeks to maintain the status quo and avoid even the contemplation of failure.

Or we embrace ridiculous as the sign that maybe, just maybe, we’re being generous, daring, creative and silly. You know, remarkable.

Generous, daring, creative and silly?  Mmmmm.

Then yesterday a big city mayor’s chief of staff called and asked if I could lead a retreat the Saturday after Christmas for front-line city managers who are burned out and frustrated.  “Their jobs are never going to get easier, but maybe you could help them get re-energized and see that they’re part of something bigger.”

Again, my first thought was, “That’s ridiculous.  I planned on taking a week off. I have no time to get my head around this. I don’t know any of these people, and I’d be giving my time away.”

So I agreed to do it.

This afternoon I have a call with a former editor at Random House about editing a book that I’ve been too afraid to push out into the world, and yet feel needs to get into the world.  I’ve decided to self-publish the book, which seems ridiculous. Will anyone take it seriously if I self-publish?   With Guy Kawasaki’s new book  as my guide, I’m going to do it.  (The books is APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur: How To Publish Your Book.)

You see, I’ve decided to make “ridiculous” a strategy for 2013.

When presented with situations that my gut screams “RIDICULOUS!” I am going to say yes. Ridiculous will be a filter for  making decisions on how I spend my time, how I learn, and how I challenge my own assumptions.

Since I made this strategic decision yesterday, the year ahead feels quite exciting.  Perhaps even liberating.

People often ask me how I make decisions about my business and my own professional development.  In fact, last week someone asked about how I make decisions to support my “personal brand.”  I hope I didn’t offend the woman when I burst out laughing and then told her why I think obsessions around personal branding are self-limiting.  Perhaps I should write to her with a more considered response,  “My strategic filter for my career development in 2013 is ridiculousness.”

I don’t know where this adventure will take me, but I am confident I will learn much, laugh much, and become a more creative and empathetic person.

Warmest wishes for a holiday season that’s ridiculously happy and rich in  possibilities.

Lois

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Staying away from drama

Last month I  was in a board meeting that went off the rails.

The two-hour session devolved into conversations about personalities, systems limitations,  approval hold-ups by the legal department,  problems uncovered by market research, frustrations with the sales strategy, and a concluding “why do we keep talking about the same problems over and over?”

People left frustrated, exhausted and angry.  Not much of significance had been accomplished. Such a waste of time.

And no wonder. When conversations get pulled into the emotion of drama and problems our primitive brain takes over and shuts off our higher order intelligence, says Daniel Goleman in Emotional Intelligence.   In other words, drama begets drama instead of any useful ideas on how to accomplish what’s at stake.

Interestingly I was in a recent academic meeting  focused on innovation and creativity that also fell into the rat hole of drama, problems, details, and more drama. Guess how creative and innovative that two hours turned out to be?

Quiet Leadership author David Rock suggests two practices that I find helpful.  Agree in meetings on where to focus the conversation: vision, planning, detail, problem and drama.  Wherever possible, keep all conversations focused on vision and planning. In this positive, low-anxiety mental state we’re better able to think fully and creatively

When you have to discuss detail, focus on one detail in a 10 minute chunk. After 10 minutes, we lose our ability to concentrate on that topic, says  John Medina, author of Brain Rules. “You’ve got seconds to grab someone’s attention and only 10 minutes to keep it. At 9 minutes and 59 seconds, something must be done to regain attention and restart the clock.”

I see another opportunity in staying focused on the bigger picture: it is in this positive frame of mind that we’re more able to disagree in productive, creative ways.   Because  our minds are calmer and we’re focused on shared goals in this mindset, we’re able to  intellectually consider and discuss  alternatives.  There’s a higher order of thinking that’s possible during this mental state, say the neuroscientists.

Once we get into drama and pointing fingers at people and problems, dissent becomes dangerous and unhelpful.

Not to mention that there’s no emotional energy left for compassion or creativity.

I’ve taken a new professional vow: keep the meetings I’m in focused on solutions, and out of drama and problems.  Want to join me?

Storytelling needs a narrative

I’m kind of sick of everyone in business talking about storytelling.  It’s become a buzzword that people don’t truly understand or know how to use.

If you’re in marketing or corporate communications you’ve been in that strategy meeting where someone inevitably says, “We need to do more  storytelling.”

But most leaders, marketers and communicators don’t really know what to say when they’re told to “tell a story.”

“About what? To what end?,” many wonder. Others push back, “Oh, I don’t like telling stories about myself.”

Here’s my take.  Before telling useful stories,  organizations need a narrative, the reason for being.  The uber purpose.  The big picture context.  Then it becomes much easier for people to share anecdotes and stories that support  that narrative. More importantly, it helps the people —  citizens, employees, customers  — understand what’s important and  how all the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

A narrative is like a clothesline,  and you hang your policies from it, says David Gergen, communications adviser to four U.S. presidents. Similarly, companies hang its products and services from the clothesline.

Narratives are simple explanations.  You shouldn’t need training for people in the organization to “get it.” (A communications executive of a global company told me that his company has a narrative, but I’d have to read the PowerPoint deck to really understand it.  Sounds like there’s more work to do.)

Here are a few examples:

  • The narrative of the United States has been about exploring.  For Israel it’s protecting and defending.
  • For Nike it’s about serving and honoring the inner athlete.  Patagonia is about doing no harm to the environment.
  • Southwest Airlines’ makes it simple and fun to fly. FedEx absolutely, positively delivers the best customer experience.
  • My company’s narrative is about creating clarity from complexity.  The Rebels at Work movement is helping corporate rebels inside large organizations be more successful in creating positive change. An executive coach friend is about helping strong leaders become better people.

These narratives can be like North Stars — a fixed point in the sky that can be used to guide decisions, serve as a organizing prompt for telling relevant stories, open up thinking about new products or ways to work.

Narratives can also be a quest.  I like John Hagel’s view in this Forbes article:

Story chronicles the path and progress of a limited set of protagonists – from the beginning, through the middle, to the end of a story arc.  Narratives, in contrast, are designed for a growing number of protagonists — many of whom are yet to be defined — who share a common quest or journey that is yet to be fully resolved or completed.

How do we find our narrative?

To help companies find their narrative, I invite people to think of their organization as a cause or movement and speed write a rallying cry, starting with a verb.  Or  quickly write many responses to the “I believe that ….” prompt about their organization or company. No over-thinking, self-editing or  corporate speak.  Just ideas, beliefs and aspiration, from the gut.

I’ve also been suggesting to marketing and corporate communications executives that they NOT make this a formal process.  Take some narrative possibilities and insert them into casual business conversations. Then into some presentations as a way of setting context to your ideas.  See how people react. Ask them, “Does this help you better understand our strategy?  Do you see how this new product line fits with our overall business?  Can you imagine how this policy falls outside of our focus?  Is this something you’d like to be part of?”

See how well the narrative serves you. If it works,  quietly seed it so it can grow and serve others without bringing in committees, copywriters, lawyers or naysayers.  Insert it into the CEO’s talking points.  Use it to frame the next acquisition or product launch.  If it helps, then make it better known and  part of the company’s leadership strategy.

And if it doesn’t resonate? Keep experimenting.

Finding a narrative gives your organization meaning.

And meaning changes everything.

 

Additional reading:

“Still Waiting for the Narrator in Chief: Why the president lost his ability to tell a story,” by Matt Bai, New York Times Sunday Magazine, 11/4/2012.

“The Pull Narrative: In Search of Persistent Context” by John Hagel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Has marketing become the screw aisle?

Lisa was cutting my hair and talking about how she fixed her own toilet.

“The worst thing about hiring guys is that they talk so much about the job,” she said. “They get to your house and start talking about all the things they need to check, all the things that could go wrong, and how the project is probably doing to stretch out over a few weeks  because the distributor might not have the right parts in stock.

“In the time it takes a guy to tell me all this I was able to go Home Depot, buy the toilet kit and finish the job.”

Empowered by her success with the toilet Lisa was now building a deck in her backyard.

“The standard sized boards made the project straightforward,” she said, “but the challenge was the screws. Have you ever walked down the screw aisle? There are hundreds, maybe thousands of different sized screws. To make matters worse you need different kinds of tools for different screws. I mean, c’mon, how many different kinds of screws do we need? Why can’t I build my deck with one or two types of screws? I really resent the screw aisle. Why do people make things so complicated?”

I closed my eyes as she started cutting again.

Screws. Financial investments. Health care plans. Government legislation. Business strategies. “Expert” advice. Diet plans.   15-step proven methodologies on everything from marketing to living a better life.

Over-complicated, over-thought and so overwhelming that most of us just freeze. The paralysis numbs us and dumbs us. Making us reliant on experts, products and services that we may or may not really need. Or, like Lisa, just making us resentful, angry and suspect.

Has marketing become the screw aisle?

I fear that it has.

While choice is a wonderful thing, have we gone too far in product extensions?

Have  ‘content marketing’ emails started to sound like the guys who drive us crazy yakking about how complicated the job will be, how tough it might be to find the right parts, how they’ll have to come back again to measure and that’s going to be tough because….”

Are too many preying on people’s fear, uncertainty and doubt? Exacerbating anxiety to sell more than a person really needs?

Is our marketing building a screw aisle or making it easy — and maybe even enjoyable — for Lisa to build a beautiful deck?

 

Find the engine for change

Wonderful insight on change, creativity and collaboration from composer Philip Glass from last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine:

When I talk to young composers, I tell them, I know that you’re all worried about finding your voice. Actually you’re going to find your voice. By the time you’re 30, you’ll find it.

But that’s not the problem. The problem is getting rid of it. You have to find an engine for change.

And that’s what collaborative work does. Whatever we do together will make us different.