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Posts Tagged ‘leadership’

One of my favorite Peanuts cartoons shows Charlie Brown and Linus leaning against a fence. Linus asks Charlie Brown a theological question: When you go to heaven are you graded on a percentage or a curve? Charlie, without hesitation replies, “On a curve, naturally.”  When Linus asks, how he can be so sure, Charlie responds, “I’m always sure about things that are a matter of opinion.”

That exchange provokes thought on many levels, not the least of which is the topic I’d like to explore today: Balancing Advocacy (communicating one’s perspective) with Inquiry (asking questions and listening to others).

Of course, Linus was the deep thinker in the neighborhood. As an Inquirer, he got there by asking questions…seeking the truth. Charlie Brown, the Advocate, was often the buffoon; outsmarted by his dog; as manager, never a winning baseball game; and, always falling for Lucy’s fake sincerity when she pulled the football away just when Charlie was about to kick it.

Inquiry seems to have the edge in this comic strip.

Now let’s look in the corporate world. Here, it’s often those who have the greatest conviction in their set of assumptions who win. Advocacy rules over inquiry because at the end of the day, decisions must be made and action taken based on available information. Analysis paralysis does not move a company forward.

So where is the balance to be found? Where’s the line between think and over-think? And where is the time to do either? How can the Advocates be sure they hear from the Inquirers—and not just get their way because others are insecure or afraid of being wrong? Or because they fear uncovering a different, less pleasant truth? Or, perhaps because they’re apathetic?

A Playing Field for Advocacy and Inquiry

Innovation is one arena where Advocacy and Inquiry must play well together. In order to be innovative, one has to question everything. All assumptions are suspect, everything must be seen through fresh eyes. Wild ideas, experimentation and mistakes are catalysts for breakthrough solutions. But in the end, innovation requires change. Someone has to sell the new idea—be its Advocate—to those who might still be in Inquiry mode. And even more importantly, to those in the Off mode.

I love this quote by Fredrich Jacobi, who says, “We must try harder to understand than to explain.” A great endorsement for the clarifiers among us.

On the other hand, Teddy Roosevelt once said, “In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

The Inquirer in me will continue to search for the balance. The Advocate in me tells me to get back to work.

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Have you ever tried to sell yourself or sell an idea with a logic that seems so obvious to you, yet for some unknown reason, it doesn’t sink in with others? Like the time you had that perfect pitch to a prospect who was less than generous in providing feedback? Too often our presentations and marketing materials focus on what we believe are our strengths or the strength of the idea. We cite statistics and stories for support. Yet these presentations miss the mark because they fail to consider what the prospects might need to hear before they can even listen to what we’re selling.

In short, many of us present ourselves and our ideas by talking about what’s important to us rather than what’s motivating to our prospects. We miss the important step of considering the context for our message, before crafting the content of the message.

The following is an approach for 1) exploring context, and 2) focusing content for your message.

Exploring Message Context

What’s happening? Begin by looking at your own assumptions, perspectives or attitudes that influence your presentation, and how they might be similar or different than those of your prospect?

Why is it happening? What market forces, personality traits and other issues might be affecting those assumptions, perspectives or attitudes, and therefore influence the decision to act?

What do we want to happen? What is the goal of the communication? And if different, what is the ultimate long-term goal of the relationship? What are the obstacles that might get in the way of achieving the goal?

Use the insights from this exploration to frame your content. Two examples:

  • If  your prospect has engaged the organization in a customer relationship initiative and you’re trying to sell sustainability, your prospect might not want his employees to lose focus with another initiative. You might frame your proposal as a way to enhance customer relationships. Or you might wait until after the customer relationship initiative is well seeded before attempting to sell in a sustainability initiative.
  • If, after thinking about your prospect’s personality, you decide she is an implementer who is not much interested in hearing about the planning process, you might want to begin by talking about goals, deliverables, metrics and schedules before talking about your process for finding and leveraging the insights that drive your work.

Focusing Message Content

Once we know the context of the message, we can better focus the content of the message. The trick here is to avoid the mistake of focusing only on the What of the message, and failing to connect the So What and Now What. Below is the distinction we make between What, So What and Now What.

a) What you want the prospects to know.

There are a variety of tools to help you arrive at a pinpoint focus on what you want to communicate. For example, if you’re selling the services or products of your organization you might use a concept in Jim Collin’s book, Good to Great and explain, what you do better than any other organization on the planet, If it’s an idea you’re selling, write the newspaper headline that explains it. Then elaborate; but remember, the object is to engage your prospect in the What, not to demonstrate your encyclopedic knowledge of the topic.

b) So What it means to your prospects and why they should care

It’s always good to list the traditional benefits that you believe the prospect might hope for or even expect. Then explore what benefit you might deliver that the prospect doesn’t even know is needed until it’s offered. This is meeting the unknown, unmet need (we call it the gift) and if you meet all known needs plus a compelling unknown, unmet need, then you have successfully differentiated your organization or idea from all others.

c) Now What I want you to do about it

While this seems obvious, many times we forget to “ask for the order.” We are so focused on presenting ourselves that we forget to tell the prospects what we want them to do.

So this is what I’d like you to do. Try exploring context for your next presentation. Connect your What to the So What and Now What. Share this post with others. Then give me feedback. Let me know what helps you…what confuses you…how we might improve this communication model.

Oh, and let me know if you come up with any new ideas for “what’s in it for you.”

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One of the most useful insights I gained in my studies of creativity and facilitation training was a model of group dynamics that says all groups go through the same four phases: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Now, different groups may linger longer in one phase or another. And, it’s not always linear; that is to say you might go from Storming to Norming to Performing and then back to Storming. Some groups—and we’ve all been in them—actually abort before ever getting to the Performing phase.

This insight has helped me better cope within any group, of which I’ve been a part. It allows me to not be so discomforted by my confusion during my group’s Forming phase. I’m not as dispirited by the bickering that may occur in the Storming phase. I don’t get quite as bored by the Norming phase. And because I have a name for it, I become exhilarated in the Performing phase.

The mindfulness of these phases gives me both hope and direction to get through any rough patches my group might experience. It gives me clues for how to move on. For example, I make sure there is plenty of time for the Clarifiers in the Forming phase. The sooner they use their clarifying questions to help the group understand why it’s there, the faster the group can move onto the next phase.

A Storming phase might suggest time needed to examine the facts and sort out those assumptions masquerading as fact. It might suggest a listening exercise to make sure everyone heard what was said and understands what was meant (not always the same thing). Then make sure everyone agrees on the implications.

A Norming phase, where structure has been established and participants know the group rules, will often cry out for some divergent exercises to help people accelerate their thinking in new and innovative areas.

A team in the Performing phase needs to be vigilant in maintaining its creative culture. It requires the resources to sustain its efforts. And it should take a breath every now and then to celebrate the magic.

Back on January 21st of this year, I wrote about George Land’s Transformational Theory, in which he posits that every living organism (he would include a group as a living organism) travels the S-curve as complexity grows over time. That theory is consistent with the four-phase construct I just described: the bottom dip of the “S” representing the Forming and Storming phases; the first break point representing the Norming phase; and the Performing phase represented by the ascent up the S-curve. (click for more on the  Transformation Theory)

The S-curve also includes a fifth phase, which may take the form of either starting a new S-curve for new growth, or becoming obsolete and going away. The professor who taught me the four phases of group dynamics included a fifth phase for that construct, which she called Adjourning.

I believe this “add-on” phase is so important that I will stop here and discuss Adjourning in my next post.

In the meantime, if you have other insights to add about group dynamics, I would appreciate learning from you.

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Who doesn’t want to be the expert? It means you know all the answers, earns you respect, moves you up the organization chart, increases your demand and makes you more money.

It doesn’t necessarily make you a good innovator, though.

In fact, an expert’s very identity is based on knowing the answers. Experts draw upon their years of experience. They seek out and promote best practices. They use their creativity to adapt and improve within the existing paradigm. They reduce risk and minimize change.

Experts are extremely valuable—until an innovative competitor creates a new product or service, making yours obsolete.

So how do innovators do it? An innovator’s mantra is don’t let what you already know get in the way of what is possible. Innovators aren’t ruled by the rules. Assumptions can’t masquerade as fact. Innovators look at the status quo with fresh eyes, imagine an ideal new reality and create a plan to get there. They accept some risk in order to change the game.

Here are a couple of exercises to engage your innovative thinking:

  • Ask, what would you love to see happen for your business if there were no obstacles in your way? What would your clients or customers love to see happen with your business if there were no obstacles in your way?
  • Once you know where you could go, try looking at your work through fresh eyes. Journal about every detail of your product or service as if you are an alien. Take photos like you’re a tourist. Collect materials like you are an anthropologist. Use your fresh eyes observations to bubble up new insights that might drive innovation.
  • Brainstorm everything you “know” about as many aspects of your business as you can. What has to happen for you to be successful? What do your customers expect from you? What processes are required? Who are your allies and who is your competition?
  • Then ask, if this weren’t true, then what could we do?

But then, I’m no expert. What ideas do you have for driving innovation?

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There are many people who I admire—smart, funny, talented, generous people. Then there are people who align those winning traits with a strong set of moral values and act to create something brilliant. These people inspire me.

And, I’m a bit surprised to say that social media is the reason I come to write about this topic.

I began to see the power of social media to enable such inspiration when my nephew Elliot posted on Facebook that he had a birthday coming up, and if anyone was planning on giving him a gift, he would love for that gift be a donation to a charity he chose. He suggested an amount, a dollar for every year he had lived, but was grateful for any amount. He set a modest goal, which he blew past immediately. He announced a new goal. Then another. Then another. He must be a popular guy with people who like to exceed goals because he raised a lot of money from people who never intended to buy him a birthday present. Brilliant. Elliot blogs at http://goodworkpeople.com.

Another example first came to me in the form of a viral video called The Money Tree. It showed what happens when you tape 100 $1-bills to a tree on a busy city sidewalk, each bill with a life-affirming note to take one. It’s beautiful. Check it out at http://www.­boingboing.­net/­2010/­09/­08/­what-­happens-­when-­yo-­3.­html.

This is the work of Amy Krouse Rosenthal. She blogs at WBEZ in Chicago. http://www.wbez.org/blogs/mission-amy-kr and is a brilliant filmmaker and writer who inspires “connection, reflection, and creativity.” She has a mission for her followers (of which I’m one) every week. Often she asks for participation from her followers (sadly, I’ve yet to participate) from which she makes beautiful art. For the last three years (8/8/08, 9/9/09, 10/10/10) she’s invited anyone and everyone to meet her at the Bean in Chicago’s Millennium Park for an evening of “missions.” If you like life celebrations, check out her films chronicling these moving experiences.

A third example, I just found out about yesterday. Carlo Garcia has a site called Living Philanthropic: livingphilanthropic.tumblr.com. He has committed to contributing to and featuring a non-profit organization on his blog and through his tweets every day for a year, hoping that his followers will respond to the cause and also donate. I’m sorry I didn’t find him until day 314 when he featured Changing World’s, one of my clients. So far, Carlo has donated $3,753 to his featured organizations and his followers have reported donating another $9,915. Another brilliant idea.

Elliot, I know. I don’t know Amy or Carlo. Yet I have a pretty good idea of who they are. They inspire me, and perhaps elicit a bit of jealousy. But I’m glad they’re here. They give me a compelling reason to participate in social media rather than merely curse it as another distraction.

I also know, this is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have other examples like this, I would appreciate knowing about them. I would like to spread the brilliance. If you are inspired by Elliot, Amy or Carlo, spread their brilliance. These are the lights that need to shine.

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I just finished serving on a jury—this, my first time even called for jury duty. And like with all new experiences, when finished, I reflected on what I learned.

Now, without getting into the details of the case, it’s safe to say it was a fairly ordinary offense. In fact, many of the jurors (myself included) admitted in deliberation that they weren’t sure why such an offense would ever come to trial. It seemed routine. Cut and dry.

The prosecuting attorney went about his argument as if it were cut and dry. A morning of building the credibility of the arresting officer. Confirming the due process. He even showed us a video that he felt proved guilt beyond reasonable doubt.

Then, in the afternoon, the defense attorney provided context to the morning session, giving the jury an informed perspective on the credibility of the arresting officer. He provided context for understanding due process and where deviations might have occurred. He provided context for looking at the video.

And while the prosecutor never really recovered from his inability to provide general context, he would have been alright except for his failure to provide context for the one specific piece of irrefutable evidence. Nor did the defense attorney provide us context for that piece of evidence. And the State made it even tougher when it asked us to use this piece of evidence to rule on two different charges. So we, as a jury, were left to make up our own context, right or wrong, for that piece of evidence. Our deliberations on this routine offense spilled into a second day because each of us had different life experiences, sensibilities and interpretations of the instructions, causing us to create different contexts from which to interpret the content of the evidence.

In the end, the prosecution and defense attorneys did the system an injustice by not providing full and proper context for their arguments. They told us “What happened” but often failed to tell us “So what that means is…” Or, “why this is important is…”

The lesson is a stunning reminder that while content might be king, it easily becomes pauper without appropriate context. I’m reminded that in all of my communications, I must help my audiences understand why my content is important and what they can do with it. In other words, provide the appropriate context.

On a side note, I got to spend time deliberating with a very tall ex-NBA basketball player. I’m sure had there been an inter-jury basketball tournament, we would have won it going away.

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What's the secret of life? Just one thing.

Recently, I was invited to be a guest instructor for a graduate class in public administration at DePaul University. I was asked to talk about how I integrate deliberate creativity into the strategic planning process. As part of my lesson plan, I included time for each student to develop a personal strategic plan. I started with having each of them develop a personal mission statement to help shine a light on the goals, strategies, initiatives and work plans of their strategic plan. If you haven’t done this for yourself, I highly recommend it. But be warned, it’s not easy and it will likely evolve as you go through multiple iterations. If you have done it, I would love to hear about your process and result. I come at it from a couple of directions. I use one of Jim Collin’s Hedgehog principles from his book Good to Great. He asks, what do you do better than any organization (person) on the planet? A daunting question, but one that can provide laser focus. I also ask, what gift do I leave after I’m finished with a project? This is above and beyond a benefit. A gift is something you give without being asked. It’s the value you add that makes you that best person on the face of the planet. Once I have answers for that, I ask, how do I do it? To say these are difficult questions is an understatement. But if you can answer them—if you can fight through the temptation to accept the easy way out and decide you’re not best at anything, or you leave no gift—then you will arrive at a personal mission that will center you, guide you and give you a strong personal identity. Last week, I watched the movie City Slickers for the umpteenth time, and was reminded of the importance of having a personal mission by Curly’s enigmatic philosophy: The secret of life is just ONE thing. For the record, here’s my personal mission: To use my facilitation, training and communications skills to help others ignite their own creativity in order to reach their potential. What’s your one thing?

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