Tag : change


Myths and privileges


I hear a lot of stories talking with people about being a Rebel at Work.

Many people are angry at not being heard. Some are sad that their organizations are on a bad downward spiral, with management rallying around what no longer works. Others have checked out of work and checked into being complacent and “just getting the paycheck.”

For a while the complacent ones got to me the most. To go to work every day and not give a rat’s ass just seems like giving up on life itself.

And the cynicism? Scorching. It would be tough to work with someone with that kind of negative mindset.

But the stories that get to me the most are the people who don’t try to change anything because of the CHANGE MYTH. These people have come to believe — or been led to believe — that if you’re going to try to fix problems you need to be some sort of crusading take-no-prisoners, storm the ramparts hero.

You might imagine the type. A confident Steve Jobs wannabe talking about disruption, not backing down, pushing for “go big or go home.” The kind of person who doesn’t worry about failing, whether that means getting fired or quitting to find the next gig.

How did this change maker myth become so ingrained in our culture?

Has the Silicon Valley “failure is good” entrepreneurial spirit been taken as the way things work at work? Are people with good ideas becoming intimidated about stepping up because they are not Steve Jobs wannabes and they are afraid to fail and lose their jobs?

Last week Jen Meyers sent these two tweets that acknowledged the myth and, more importantly, acknowledged the fact that most people making change are doing so thoughtfully within the rules and corporate culture.

Jen Meyers Privilege jpeg

Because that’s how so much change happens. Bit by bit. Working with our co-workers vs. leaping from tall buildings in superhero change-maker capes.

If you’re a disruptor and get fired, your big idea dies. So much for heroism.

Whereas if you get smarter about working within the existing organizational culture, your idea actually has a better chance of happening. And you have a better chance of keeping your job.

(Because if we’re honest like Jen, we know that most of us can’t afford to walk away from our jobs. It’s not that simple.)

So maybe it’s useful to remember that having a good idea is easy. Being able to work with people willing to do the hard work to shepherd that idea through corporate politics, budget conflicts, and the often-messy roll out is a privilege.


PS — note Jen’s apt Twitter handle: @anitheroine. Nice

12 things I learned during BIF9


There is one week every September where I fully immerse myself  in ideas, possibilities and new people. Last week I attended the Business Innovation Factory’s annual innovation conference. Here’s what I learned and was reminded of:

1. Show up more.  (Or better, always.)

When we lay bare our vulnerabilities and dreams, we connect with people in rich ways. As author and venture capitalist Whitney Johnson said, “There are no regrets when you show up, and when you show up your dreams can find you.  Dreaming is at the heart of disruptive innovation.”


2. Good questions start good ideas. 

I’ve attended every BIF conference and have noticed that innovators ask good questions, and those questions get people thinking in new ways. One of my favorites this year were what educator  Angela Maiers uses to challenge high school students as part of the Choose2Matter movement: What breaks your heart about the world?  What can you do about that? What do you need?


3. Do the work, the path will appear.

Food geek Scott Heimendinger kept his day job in technology and on weekends and nights wrote a food blog and started experimenting with sous vide cooking.  Acknowledging that it’s OK to be risk averse, which he is, Scott just kept working away on his love for molecular gastronomy as a side project.  Eventually, he found his new path as director of applied research at The Cooking Lab.  Innovators just start without knowing what the outcomes should or will be.


4. Nothing is too big to change.

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, has created a new higher ed approach, aimed particularly for disadvantaged, often marginalized adults who want to get ahead at work. For just $1,250 people can earn an associate’s degree and learn the competencies they need to get a promotion and access the social mobility needed to have a better life.   Rather than tweaking the traditional higher ed model or continuing to engage in side issues  like student loan rates, SNHU created a new model that goes to the root issues: people want to learn competencies in new, affordable ways so that they can get better jobs  FYI: Fast Company has named SNHU one of the worlds’ 50 most innovative companies.


5. Oh, God.

Speaking of not being too big to change. Just as Pope Francis’ stunning interview urging The Catholic Cburch  to preach more about mercy and less about dogma was published  last week (Hallelujah!), Rabbi Irwin Kula was speaking on stage about the urgent need to un-bundle wisdom and practices from the people who own them, and to make sure that our moral enhancements keep pace with technological enhancements. “Religion is just a tool box,” he said. “It’s time to consider blending practices from all religions and make love and empathy the source of what we are designing for the world.”  Amen.


6. “A network is worthless if you do not give it away.” 

The wise and generous innovation adviser Deb Mills-Scofield reminded people that it matters not how large or extensive your network is if you do not use it for good, sharing it with others to open up possibilities for them.


7. The fastest way to change is…

The easiest and fastest way to create more innovation in an organization is to accelerate generation change, said Bruce Nussbaum, former Business Week editor and now professor of Innovation and Design at Parsons The New School of Design.  My thought: how do we help Baby Boomers share their wisdom and transition to new roles so that younger people can step in and create more of the change that is so needed?


8. Sleep is not over-rated.

Towards the end of the week after many consecutive 16-hour days of intense listening and provocative conversations, I was reminded of how much I value sleep and quiet think time.


9. Optimism is the greatest form of rebellion.

The huge value of empowering the rebels inside organizations seemed to resonate with many, as did Carmen Medina‘s belief that optimism is the greatest form of rebellion and positive change. Rebels at Work see possibilities, not insolvable problems.


10.  Oh joy...

Playfulness, joy and unexpected silliness are essential to our humanity. Erminio Pinque, founder Big Nazo Lab, creates big, funky, life-sized foam creatures for parades and for their own special Big Nazo Shows. Erminio told me that the surprise of the creatures and costumes opens people up to being people. While going through airport security recently, the  TSA screeners pulled the foam creature masks out of the suitcase and yelled across to  their colleagues, “Hey Joe. Check this out.”  Everyone in line forgot their frustrations and frantic schedules and laughed together. Like children in awe of the world’s wondrous surprises.


11. Digital handshake, in-person hug

Tim McDonald, director of communities for the HuffingtonPost, and I sat together during the conference. As we said our goodbyes he gave me a big bear hug and explained that he sees meeting people via social media as “the real world,” and when he gets to meet them physically he likes to give big hugs.  I love his approach to digital handshake, in-person hug. Talk about connecting.


12. Control is for beginners.


The life of  Carl Stormer‘s wife was upended when she had a massive stroke at age 43, and they learned to keep going and find meaning in a life that is not what one would choose.  Carl’s wife believes that control is for beginners.  And that, dear friends, was my greatest takeaway of an intense week of learning.



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.




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.

20 ways to be a more effective rebel, maverick, edgewalker, change agent

So many corporate mavericks and rebels have great ideas, but those ideas often never see the light of day because of the way we truth-tellers and fire-starters behave. As a lifelong outlier — yet successful business executive — here are some of the things I’ve learned, often the hard way,  that may help you or the rebels in your organization.

1. Be positive: recommendations that are stated in the affirmative, that show what’s possible vs.what’s wrong, are more likely to be heard and acted on.

2. Frame it: frame how your idea helps the organization’s goals, cause, purpose. The more relevant the idea is to what everyone wants to achieve, the more open people will be to the idea.

3. Ask questions that highlight the possibilities vs. further damn the problems.  Possibilities create energy, problem dissing saps it.

4. Judge ideas, not people.  The first creates useful conversations, the second hurts, disrupts and usually dead-ends.

5. When angry, stop and wonder why. This has been especially helpful to me. I used to get so angry that I’d immediately react, or should I say over-react. Wondering why a person or company did or said something provides helpful perspective. The more we understand hidden motivations the more we can frame our ideas.

6. Strive for influence not power: influence inspires and motivates people to believe and act; power requires them to do so. Influence evokes possibilities, power evokes fear.  Power requires authority, titles and positions. Influence can be earned by anyone, no titles required.

7. Start the flame, tap into the collective brilliance of others to fuel the fire:  Change agents and rebels are the ones with the courage to be the first to stand up. To move from ideas  to action, bring in others who want to help. One person with a contrary idea usually gets little attention. Three people with a shared passion around a contrary idea start to get noticed.

8. Share the glory:  Revel in achieving something that benefits many, sharing the credit and the glory of all involved.  During my freshman year in college a philosophy professor told us, “Those who know know.” Even if it’s never publicly shown.

9. Communicate in ways that create clarity from complexity:  People need to understand what the idea is, why it’s relevant, and how it will provide value. Too often we get caught up in the “how we’re going to change things” before addressing the other important issues: context, relevancy, value.

10. Address the cost/value tradeoff:  are the benefits and value of the new way commensurate with the costs of change?

11. Let it breathe:  people often need time to absorb a new way, think on it for a while. As rebels we see things sooner and clearer than most and  get impatient with other people who aren’t as fast and decisive as we.  If we go too fast, we can mow over people, hurting the chances of being able to affect change.  In my corporate rebel research study, one write-in comment summed it up, “know that our velocity scares people.”

12. Pick the right boss or executive sponsor: find that person who appreciates your creativity, your fire-starting ideas, your naked truth-telling — and who can help guide and protect you  through the complexities of organizational politics and decision making.

13. Ask good questions, become a keen listener:  These two skills will serve as your advanced navigational systems as you chart through often foggy and potentially dangerous corporate seas.

14. Learn how to facilitate messy collaboration workshops to improve on your ideas, get buy in from others. People act on what they believe in. The more people who participate in shaping a new way, the more likely it is that they will adopt that new way.

15. Show how success can be measured.

16. Address the fears:  understand what people fear about the idea; respect, explore and test their assumptions; and/or explain how you plan to remove or minimize those fears.

17. Learn how to have constructive conversations. Most organizations are use to discussions (usually in the form of PowerPoint) that advocate for ideas, a win/lose form of communications. Constructive what/if conversations examine assumptions, open up possibilities, invite everyone to contribute, and value all points of view. A good book on this topic is “Naming Elephants: How to Surface Undiscussables for Greater Organizational Success.”

18. Be thoughtful in all you do: Thoughtfulness engenders support, abets truth telling, brings more humanity to our work, and adds more meaning to our cause.

19. Know when to walk away: perseverance is important. But so is knowing when to walk away, when the support for your idea just isn’t there. It may have nothing to do with you or the idea, the timing might not be right. Or the risks may be too great for the corporate culture.  Or people might not believe it’s really possible.  Don’t let your idea turn into a negative soapbox, where you lose your influence and rob yourself of energy and health. As Yogi Berra supposedly once said, “If no one wants to come, there’s nothing we can do to stop them.”

20. Believe you are enough.

The change dilemma

The dilemma of change is all around us. School reform. Government reform. New business and marketing models.  There’s no lack of ideas on how to innovate in diverse fields. The big hairy audacious problem is getting people to change.

I’ve seen some brilliant, innovative ideas proposed to companies this year that didn’t happen. Not because the ideas weren’t sound, but rather because people didn’t want to learn new skills, change behavior, work outside their comfort zones, hire new types of talent with which they are unfamiliar.

The energy invested in the politics to stop new approaches can be formidable.   Being on the outside as a consultant I get to watch objectively as people battle to maintain the status quo. It’s astonishing. The talent to block change is so nuanced and skilled.  But how depressing. Not just because it stunts an organization’s growth, but these change naysayers are killing their careers.

Watching these incredible situations has presented me with my own professional development agenda this year: change. (There’s something about the back-to-school calendar that forces me to set my own learning goals this time of year.)

I’m a practical sort, so what I want to learn is how to make change real. Change management theories are intriguing, but that’s not for me.  Here’s what I’m exploring in my change quest.

Changing one leader at a time: people change organizations, not policies, best practices or methodologies. So I’m starting a 15-month Courage to Lead program in the fall.  I told one of the program leaders that I like the concept of courage in leadership, where you learn to face down your fears. She told me that her intent is for leaders to feel “compelled” to lead. Fascinating. I’m also helping Harvard’s new non-profit Institute of Coaching to build its membership  and in doing so I’m learning about the field, which I thought was soft and squishy, but is actually invaluable especially in helping people change in ways that give them purpose and fulfillment. I’m also learning that much of any consulting includes some element of coaching, and many of us can benefit from the research and practices of the coaching field, even if we never label ourselves as coaches.

Required learning: for one of the largest corporations in the world I’m developing an extensive social media e-Learning program, which will be required of the company’s communications and marketing professionals. Social business and communications skills are becoming  fundamental competencies, but people aren’t voluntarily learning at the rates companies would like. So the program will be required and linked to their performance assessments.  To get people to change, one important approach is to  tie the desired new behavior or skills  to what people most care about — their salary, bonuses, and chances for promotion.

Telling stories: in this online social media era, I think in-person storytelling is more powerful than ever. I’m working with The Moth, a storytelling non-profit, to create a program for a corporate client where employee story slams will be held across the country (and hopefully the world).  What I find fascinating about storytelling is that it helps build a deeper sense of community and trust in an organization, two elements necessary for any change to have a chance in hell of happening. Also, the “authenticity” word has been used and abused way too much in social media conversations in the past couple of years.  I believe that the most authentic corporate stories are from its employees and customers — unedited.

Creating clarity through infographics: Meaning making requires that people see patterns and relevancy to them.  I’m quite fascinated with how infographics can create this clarity from complexity, helping people see ideas in new ways.  While my other change assignments are big and focus on behavior, I remain fascinated with innovating communications, particularly the way people gain understanding.  I’ve long been a fan of Edward Tufte, and am now enjoying seeing how to use technology (carefully) in new ways to tell a story with data. (Here’s a link to some interesting infographics related to marketing and social media.)

“They must often change, who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” Confucius

Things I've been noticing

Every quarter, or change of season, I reflect on things I’ve been noticing and ponder what they may mean.   Here are some  slow trends and emerging patterns I’ve been noticing, and my thoughts on what they might mean.

2500 people sign up for a “spirituality-based” marketing teleseminar at 8 p.m. on a Wed. night

Here’s more evidence that people are hungry for meaning and purpose in their professions and business. I saw that more than 2,500 people dialed in for a conference call about how to run a spirituality-driven business. Nothing about religion. But doing work that feeds your soul. Holy cow.   This trend should send a signal to leaders in business:  is it high time to step back and refresh and reframe your organization’s purpose so people see that it matters? And what they do matters to this purpose?  I saw a recent study that showed a significant disconnect between executives saying that their company’s purpose was clear and employees saying that they had no  idea of the company’s purpose.

John Seely Brown and John Hagel recently published a Change This Manifesto where they declared: “All too often those who are passionate about their work are frustrated with their employers and bosses. They are not satisfied. Far from it. They want to do more, but they feel held back.”  Are you inadvertently holding your people back?

I’ve also talked with several corporate executives who think they should leave big companies and do something else. Maybe. But it might be that they just need to reset the context of their organizations and position to get recharged.  We need great leaders and  successful companies now more than ever.

World of Warcraft: teaching leadership and collaboration skills

Like many parents of teenagers I get crazy seeing how much time my son spends playing World of Warcraft. But over dinner with a bunch of teenagers, I started to see that this game may actually be a powerful way for people to learn collaboration and leadership skills. My son’s guild leader is a leader. In fact, he recently started footing the bill for Oovoo, a video conferencing and chat program, so that the guild members could work more closely together as a team. I listen in some nights and I hear these kids helping one another, with a shared purpose and genuine collaboration.

I believe that multi-player game applications have tremendous potential in the corporate world. Interestingly, the American Society of Training & Development recently wrote an article about the parallels between games and business team building —  solving problems together, being presented with harder and harder challenges, getting recognition, etc.  Worried about how to engage GenY, think games.

New questions: why does the world need your business now?

The people who are asking new questions — provocative but simple questions — are changing and realizing their goals faster.  Every year when I go to the BIF innovation conference, I am stunned at the powerful questions that these innovators in business, science, education and the arts ask themselves and their organizations.

I was having lunch with author and psychologist Maria Sirois recently and we got to talking about a new non-profit being organized by a major university. “Why does the world need this organization now,”  she asked.  WOW. What a question. Recently I’ve been helping clients reclaim their purpose and passion by asking them the same question. “Why does the world need your business/product now?” “Why does your corporate especially need your organization now?”  This question helps you make meaning — why you’re so relevant, why you matter.

Another question I recently heard that opens up thinking: “Are we giving ourselves titles that demand fearlessness and innovation?”  If you had to put your senior vice president of marketing or  director of sales title aside, what would call yourself?   Mine would probably be chief possibility officer.  John Seely Brown, former chief scientist at Xerox and visiting scholar at USC, calls himself “chief of confusion,” helping people to ask new questions.

Not for everyone: consultants rejoining corporations and agencies

Every day I see Tweets and blog posts about consultants leaving to join companies and agencies.  It’s not really surprising.  Running a consulting business, as I have for 15 years, isn’t for everyone. You have to be focused on helping your clients succeed. Period. It’s not about your big ideas or your “personal brand” (oh, puhleeze), but about passionately wanting to improve clients’ conditions.   And, of course, it’s all about execution, hard work, discipline, deepening and developing relationships, and relentless follow through.  Consulting is not for everyone. But for those of us who consciously or unconsciously practice servant leadership, it can be incredibly rewarding.

Where are the new ideas? What are we missing?

There’s a deep restlessness in business.  People want fresh ideas — new ways to market, better ways to shorten sales cycles, ideas that attract and influence prospects. This restlessness is a good thing as it drives people to innovate. The downside I see is that the relationship between companies and their agencies (advertising, PR, digital) is not what it use to be. The trust and loytalty is tenuous, and the relationships are often short lived because companies say that they’re “just not getting new ideas.”

I’ve counseled many a client recently about NOT firing its agency. Especially for this reason.  Instead  I believe clients and agencies need to spend the time doing offsite ideation and relationship retreats at least once a year, facilitated by an independent party.

I also believe managers need to do this with their employees to recharge, uncover ideas,reset purpose, and address those  burning question: What are we missing? What new ideas could make a difference to what we’re trying to achieve?

Pattern watching as business competence

How to build trend spotting and ideas into your organization? Consider  having your team hold a “Things I’m Observing” lunch every quarter.  This helps everyone on the team become more observant and bring new ideas into the organization. In addition to sharing ideas, ask people to share their  interesting sources — off the beaten track bloggers, communities, foreign films, books, niche publications, unusual friends.  Developing a competency to bring emerging trends into the organization and discuss what they might mean is becoming more important than ever for anyone in a leadership, sales or marketing position,

(NOTE: I’ll soon be sharing my plans on a new business that helps clients in many of the ideas discussed above.  Leadership, marketing and sales run on purpose and passion, but many companies need help to see possibilities among the relentless day-to-day business demands.

The courage to change: a business story

The audience quieted down after the CEO introduced the keynote speaker.

A woman came on the stage and sat on a chair.

“What is she doing just sitting there?”

“They pay these presenters so much that she’s probably getting ready to be ‘creative.’ God help us.”

Then the speaker began. But with no words.

“Is she really doing what I think she’s doing? Oh, my God.”

“Don’t look away now. I think I know what’s coming. The conference organizer must be shitting his pants.”

“No way. This is effing unbelievable. This so gross. Oh, geez, she’s eating it too.”

The 500 people were here to hear about innovation and organizational change, and here sat the keynote speaker picking her nose, and then putting her finger in her mouth.

“Friends, the reason why people and companies don’t change is fear. A tribe of alpha fraidy cats will never be successful.

“The next time you’re brainstorming new approaches, think about me picking my nose in front of this esteemed audience.

“If I can pick my nose in front of 500 executives, you can be courageous enough to try new business approaches.”


Note: today’s prompt for my writing group — write about something you’d never do, but might. This story  is the result. Imagine being at a conference where someone did something so radical to make a point?  If you’ve ever seen a true “outrageous” presentation, please share!

What is the frustration telling us?

Frustration is a good thing.  Really? During a conversation this morning with my wise friend Lissa Bergin-Boles over at TrueCallings, Lisa explained that being frustrated can be hugely constructive as it’s a recognition that we know something is wrong and needs to be fixed. If you put the frustration on the table and tease out what’s going on, you can usually figure out how to fix things. (Although there are those who use frustration to just whine.)

Having been with many different companies this week I heard a lot of marketing frustrations, and on this Friday afternoon I’m reflecting on what might be behind the frustration:

  • “We’re just not getting any value from our public relations agency.” Is it the agency — or is the real issue that traditional publicity-driven public relations isn’t as valuable as it was five or 10 years ago?
  • “I’m blogging for my company but am not sure it’s valuable. Just how do you measure this social media stuff?” My question to this gentleman was, “Why are you blogging?” If you have a purpose or goal, you’ll more easily be able to assess the value. Turns out there was no real goal, hence the frustration.
  • “We’re not generating enough sales leads.” Is it the lead generation strategy — or is market interest waning in the overall category? Or is it that your product has a reputation for being hard to use? Or is it that you’re not making it interesting enough for people to want to know more? And just what is considered a lead — registration information from a podcast — or someone who wants to talk with a sales rep?
  • It’s hard to get people to contribute to our online community.” Is there a good reason for them to contribute? What do they get from it? Or is it that your tools make it too hard for people to contribute?
  • “I really have to find another job.”  Is it the job? The company? Or something else? During one particularly frustrating point in my career I thought the answer was to get out or marketing.  On closer inspection I just hated commuting three hours a day. I got rid of the commute, stayed in marketing, and glad I did.
  • “I’m so frustrated that it’s Friday and I can’t stay focused on getting this project done.”  Admit that you hate this type of work and stop taking it on.  Focus on those projects that give energy vs. take it away.

Thanks again Lissa — and if I missed any other advice, please share!