Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

When you don’t know the answer, what do you say?

When you are asked a question and you don’t know the answer, what do you say?  What does that say about you?

What happens to people in your organization who say “I don’t know.”? Are they lauded or laughed at? Are they promoted, overlooked, or demoted? How many people do you know that have said: “I don’t know.”?  And what does that say about your company?

When you know someone doesn’t know, what do you do? Do you ask them a pointed question in public to make everyone aware that the person doesn’t know? Do you ask oblique questions to raise doubt about the person’s knowing? Do you ask them a question in private to help them know they don’t know? Do you engage in an informal discussion where you plant the seeds of knowing? And how do you feel about your actions?

When you say “I don’t know.” you make it safe for others to say it. So, do you say it? And how do you feel about that?

When you don’t know and you say otherwise, decision quality suffers and so does the company. Yet, some companies make it difficult for people to say “I don’t know.” Why is that? Do you know?

I think it’s unreasonable to expect people to know the answer to know the answers to all questions at all times. And when you say “I don’t know.” it doesn’t mean you’ll never know; it means you don’t know at this moment. And, yet, it’s difficult to say it.  Why is that? Do you know?

Just because someone asks a question doesn’t mean the answer must be known right now. It’s often premature to know the answer, and progress is not hindered by the not knowing. Why not make progress and figure out the answer when it’s time for the answer to be known?  And sometimes the answer is unknowable at the moment.  And that says nothing about the person that doesn’t know the answer and everything about the moment.

It’s okay if you don’t know the answer.  What’s not okay is saying you know when you don’t.  And it’s not okay if your company makes it difficult for you to say you don’t know. Not only does that create a demoralized workforce, but it’s also bad for business.

Why do companies make it so difficult to say “I don’t know.”?  You guessed it – I don’t know.

“Question Mark Cookies 1” by Scott McLeod is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Trust-Based Disagreement

When there’s disagreement between words and behavior, believe the behavior.  This is especially true when the words deny the behavior.

When there’s disagreement between the data and the decision, the data is innocent.

When there’s agreement that there’s insufficient data but a decision must be made, there should be no disagreement that the decision is judgment-based.

When there’s disagreement on the fact that there’s no data to support the decision, that’s a problem.

When there’s disagreement on the path forward, it’s helpful to have agreement on the process to decide.

When there’s disagreement among professionals, there is no place for argument.

When there’s disagreement, there is respect for the individual and a healthy disrespect for the ideas.

When there’s disagreement, the decisions are better.

When there’s disagreement, there’s independent thinking.

When there’s disagreement, there is learning.

When there’s disagreement, there is vulnerability.

When there’s disagreement, there is courage.

When there’s disagreement, there is trust.

“Teamwork” by davis.steve32 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

What Good Coaches Do

Good coaches listen to you.  They don’t judge, they just listen.

Good coaches continually study the game.  They do it in private, but they study.

Good coaches tell you that you can do better, and that, too, they do in private.

Good coaches pick you up off the floor. They know that getting knocked over is part of the game.

Good coaches never scream at you, but they will cry with you.

Good coaches never stop being your coach. Never.

Good coaches learn from you, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t compromise. Ever.

Good coaches have played the game and have made mistakes. That’s why they’re good coaches.

Good coaches do what’s in your best interest, not theirs.

Good coaches are sometimes wrong, and the best ones tell you when that happens.

Good coaches don’t care what other people think of them, but they care deeply about you.

Good coaches are prepared to be misunderstood, though it’s not their preference.

Good coaches let you bump your head or smash your knee, but, otherwise, they keep you safe.

Good coaches earn your trust.

Good coaches always believe you and perfectly comfortable disagreeing with you at the same time.

Good coaches know it’s always your choice, and they know that’s how deep learning happens.

Good coaches stick with you, unless you don’t do your part.

Good coaches don’t want credit. They want you to grow.

Good coaches don’t have a script. They create a custom training plan based on your needs.

Good coaches simplify things when it’s time, unless it’s time to make things complicated.

Good coaches aren’t always positive, but they are always truthful.

Good coaches are generous with their time.

Good coaches make a difference.

Certainty or novelty – it’s your choice.

When you follow the best practice, by definition your work is not new. New work is never done the same way twice.  That’s why it’s called new.

Best practices are for old work. Usually, it’s work that was successful last time.  But just as you can never step into the same stream twice, when you repeat a successful recipe it’s not the same recipe. Almost everything is different from last time.  The economy is different, the competitors are different, the customers are in a different phase of their lives, the political climate is different, interest rates are different, laws are different, tariffs are different, the technology is different, and the people doing the work are different. Just because work was successful last time doesn’t mean that the old work done in a new context will be successful next time.  The most important property of old work is the certainty that it will run out of gas.

When someone asks you to follow the best practice, they prioritize certainty over novelty.  And because the context is different, that certainty is misplaced.

We have a funny relationship with certainty.  At every turn, we try to increase certainty by doing what we did last time.  But the only thing certain with that strategy is that it will run out of gas.  Yet, frantically waving the flag of certainty, we continue to double down on what we did last time.  When we demand certainty, we demand old work.  As a company, you can have too much “certainty.”

When you flog the teams because they have too much uncertainty, you flog out all the novelty.

What if you start the design review with the question “What’s novel about this project?” And when the team says there’s nothing novel, what if you say “Well, go back to the drawing board and come back with some novelty.”?  If you seek out novelty instead of squelching it, you’ll get more novelty.  That’s a rule, though not limited to novelty.

A bias toward best practices is a bias toward old work.  And the belief underpinning those biases is the belief that the Universe is static.  And the one thing the Universe doesn’t like to be called is static.  The Universe prides itself on its dynamic character and unpredictable nature.  And the Universe isn’t above using karma to punish those who call it names.

“Stonecold certainty” by philwirks is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Continuous Improvement Is Dead

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time, just three percent better, so none of your people can try new things.

Discontinuous Improvement – Make a radical step-change in performance at the expense of continuously improving it.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so you can say “no” to projects that are magical.

No-To-Yes – Make the product do something it cannot.  That way you can sell a new value proposition to new customers and new markets.  And you can threaten those that are clinging to your tired value proposition.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so no one will be threatened by meaningful change.

Less With Far Less – Reduce the goodness of today’s offering to free up design space and create an entirely new offering that provides 80% of the goodness at 20% of the price. That way, you can sell a whole new family of offerings to customers that cannot buy today’s offering.

 

Continuous Improvement – Do what you did last time so we can rest on our laurels.

Obsolete Your Best Work – Design and commercialize new offerings that purposefully make obsolete your most profitable offering.  This requires level 5 courage.

 

And how do you do all this? Mobilize the Trust Network.

 

“fear — may 9 (day 9)” by theogeo is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Discomfort Around Diversity of Perspective

When your organization doesn’t want to hear your truth because it contradicts a decision they’ve already made, that’s a sign of trouble.  It’s a sign they’re going to do what they’re going to and they don’t care all that much about you. But, what if they’re wrong?  And what if your perspective could snatch victory from the flames of an impending train wreck?  As someone who cares about the company and thinks it would benefit from hearing what you have to say, what do you do?

When you have a culture that makes it clear it’s not okay to share divergent perspectives, you have a big problem.

In domains of high uncertainty, increasing the diversity of perspective is the single most important thing we can do to see things more clearly.  In these situations, what matters is the diversity of culture, of heritage, of education, of upbringing, and of experiences. What matters is the diversity of perspective; what matters is the level of divergence among the collective opinions, and what matters most is listening and validating all that diversity.

If you have the diversity of culture, heritage, education, and experience, congratulations. But, if you’re not willing to listen to what that diversity has to say, you’re better off not having it.  It’s far less expensive if you don’t have it and far fewer people will be angry when you don’t listen to them. But, there’s a downside – you’ll go out of business sooner.

When you have a perspective that’s different than the Collective’s, share it. And when there are negative consequences for sharing it, accept them.  And, rinse and repeat until you get promoted or fired.

“A Sense of Perspective” by dolbinator1000 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Will you be remembered?

100% agreement means there’s less than 100% truth.  If, as a senior leader, you know there are differing opinions left unsaid, what would you do? Would you chastise the untruthful who are afraid to speak their minds? Would you simply ignore what you know to be true and play Angry Birds on your phone? Would you make it safe for the fearful to share their truth? Or would you take it on the chin and speak their truth? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Best practice is sometimes a worst practice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is putting immense pressure put on the team to follow a best practice, yet the context requires a new practice, what would you do? Would you go along with the ruse and support the worst practice? Would you keep your mouth shut and play tick-tack-toe until the meeting is over? Would you suggest a new practice, help the team implement it, and take the heat from the Status Quo Police? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

Truth builds trust. If, as a senior leader, you know the justification for a new project has been doctored, what would you do? Would you go along with the charade because it’s easy? Would call out the duplicity and preserve the trust you’ve earned from the team over the last decade? As a senior leader, I’d do the last one.

The loudest voice isn’t the rightest voice. If, as a senior leader, you know a more senior leader is using their positional power to strong-arm the team into a decision that is not supported by the data, what would you do? Would you go along with it, even though you know it’s wrong? Would you ask a probing question that makes it clear there is some serious steamrolling going on? And if that doesn’t work, would you be more direct and call out the steamrolling for what it is?  As a senior leader, I’d do the last two.

What’s best for the company is not always best for your career. When you speak truth to power in the name of doing what’s best for the company, your career may suffer. When you see duplicity and call it by name, the company will be better for it, but your career may not. When you protect people from the steam roller, the team will thank you, but it may cost you a promotion. When you tell the truth, the right work happens and you earn the trust and respect of most everyone.  As a senior leader, if your career suffers, so be it.

When you do the right thing, people remember. When, in a trying time, you have someone’s back, they remember. When a team is unduly pressured and you put yourself between them and the pressure, they remember. When you step in front of the steamroller, people remember. And when you silence the loudest voice so the right decision is made, people remember. As a senior leader, I want to be remembered.

Do you want to be remembered as someone who played Angry Birds or advocated for those too afraid to speak their truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who doodled on their notepad or spoke truth to power?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who kept their mouth shut or called out the inconvenient truth?

Do you want to be remembered as someone who did all they could to advance their career or someone who earned the trust and respect of those they worked with?

In the four cases above, I choose the latter.

“cryptic.” by dfactory is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Just start.

You’re not missing anything. It’s time to start.

Afraid to fail? Start anyway.

Don’t have the experience? Well, you won’t be able to say that once you start.

Just start. It’s time.

Don’t have the money? Start small. And if that won’t work, start smaller.

Start small, but start.

Worried about what people might say? There’s only one way to know, so you might as well start.

You’re not an imposter. It’s time to start.

Waiting isn’t waiting, it’s a rationalization to block yourself from starting.

Here’s a rule: If you don’t start you can’t finish.

The only thing in the way of starting is starting.

The fear of success is the strongest stopper of starting.  Be afraid of success, and start.

There’s never a good time to start, but there’s always a best time – now.

Worried about the negative consequences of starting? Be worried, and start.

Don’t think you have what it takes? The only way to know for sure is to start.

There’s no way around it. Starting starts with starting.

“Golfland start” by twid is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The Dark Underbelly of Success

Best practice – a tired recipe you recycle because you think the world is static.
Emergent practice – a new way to work created from whole cloth because the context is new.

Worst practice – a best practice applied to a world that has changed around you.
Novel practice– work that recognizes the world is a different place but is dismissed out-of-hand because everyone wants to live in the comfortable past.

Continuous improvement – when you try to put a shine on a tired, old process that worked ten years ago.
Discontinuous improvement – work that is disrespectful to the Status Quo and hurts people’s feelings.

Grow the core – when you do what you did in 2010 because you don’t know what else to do.
Obsolete your best work – when you do work that makes it clear to your customers that they should not have purchased your most successful product.

Reduce operating expense – what you do when you don’t know how to grow the top line and want to eliminate the flexibility to respond to an uncertain future.
Grow the top line – when you launch a new product that causes your customers to happily throw away the product they just bought from you.

A PowerPoint slide deck that defines your strategic plan – an electronic work product that distracts you from the reality of an ever-changing future.
A new product that is radically better than your last one – what you should create instead of a PowerPoint slide deck that defines your strategic plan.

MBA – a university degree that gives you a pedigree so companies hire you.
Ph.D. – a university degree that teaches you to learn, but takes too long.

Return On Investment (ROI) – a calculation that scuttles new work that would reinvent your business.
Imagination – thinking that will help you navigate an uncertain future, but is knee-capped by the ROI calculation.

Standard work – a process you used last time and will use next time because, again, you think the world is static.
Judgment – thinking that creates a whole new business trajectory to address an uncertain future but can get you fired if you use it.

A sustainable competitive advantage – a relic of a slow-moving world.
Continual change – the only way to deal with an ever-accelerating future.

Success – profits from work done by people who retired from your company some time ago.
Success – the thing that blocks you from working on the unproven.

Success – what pays the bills.
Success – what jeopardizes your ability to pay the bills in five years.

Success – why people think old practices are best practices.
Success – why new work is so difficult to do.

Success – why continuous improvement carries the day.
Success – why discontinuous improvement threatens.

Success – the mother of complacency.

“dark underbelly” by JoeBenjamin is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The Innovation Mantra

We have an immense distaste for uncertainty. And, as a result, we create for ourselves a radical and unskillful overestimation of our ability to control things. Our distaste of uncertainty is really a manifestation of our fear of death. When we experience and acknowledge uncertainty, it’s an oblique reminder that we will die. And that’s why talk ourselves into the belief we can control thing we really cannot.  It’s a defense mechanism that creates distance between ourselves and from feeling our fear of death.  And it’s the obliquity that makes it easier to overestimate our ability to control our environment.  Without the obliquity, it’s clear we can’t control our environment, the very thing we wake up to every morning, and it’s clear we can’t control much. And if we can’t control much, we can’t control our aging and our ultimate end.  And this is why we reject uncertainty at all costs.

Predictable, controllable, repeatable, measurable – overt rejections of uncertainty. Six Sigma – Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control – overt rejection of uncertainty.  Standard work – rejection of uncertainty. Don’t change the business model – a rejection of uncertainty. A rejection of novelty is a rejection of uncertainty. And that’s why we don’t like novelty. It scares us deeply. And it scares us because it reminds us that everything changes, including our skin, joints, and hairline. And that’s why it’s so challenging to do innovation.

Innovation reminds us of our death and that’s why it’s difficult?  Really? Yes.

Six Sigma is comforting because its programmatic illusion of control lets us forget about our death? Yes.

The aging business model reminds us of our death and that’s why we won’t let it go? Yes.

That’s crazy! Yes, but at the deepest level, I think it’s true.

I understand if you disagree with my rationale. And I understand if you think my thinking is morbid. If that’s the case, I suggest you write down why you think it’s so incredibly difficult to create a new business model, to do novel work, or to obsolete your best work. I’ll stop for a minute to give you time to grab a pen and paper. Okay, now put your pen to paper and write down why doing innovation (doing novel work) is so difficult. Now, ask yourself why that is. And do that three more times. Where did you end up? What’s the fundamental reason why doing new work (and the uncertainty that comes with it) is so difficult to do?

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you tell everyone that innovation is difficult because it reminds them that they’ll die. I explained my rationale to give you an idea of the magnitude of the level of fear around uncertainty so that, when someone is scared to death of novelty, you might help them navigate their fear.

Trying something new doesn’t invalidate what you did over the last decade to grow your business, nor will it replace it immediately, if it all.  Maybe the new work will add to what you’ve done over the last decade. Maybe the new work will amplify what’s made you successful. Maybe the new work will slowly and effectively migrate your business to greener pastures. And maybe it won’t work at all. Or, maybe your customers will make it work and bury you and your business.

With innovation, start small.  That way the threat is smaller.  Run small experiments and share the results, especially the bad results.  That way you demonstrate that unanticipated results don’t kill you and, when you share them, you demonstrate that you’re not afraid of uncertainty. Try many things in parallel to demonstrate that it’s okay that everything doesn’t turn out well and you’re okay with it.  And when someone asks what you’ll do next, tell them “I don’t know because it depends on how the next experiment turns out.”

When you’re asked when you’ll be done with an innovation project, tell them “I don’t know because the work has never been done before.” And if they say you must give them a completion date, tell them “If you must have a completion date, you do the project.”

When you’re running multiple experiments in parallel and you’re asked what you’ll do next, tell them you’ll do “more of what works and less of what doesn’t.” And if they say “that’s not acceptable”, then tell them “Well, then you run the project.”

We don’t have nearly as much control as our minds want to us believe, but that’s okay as long as we behave like we know it’s true. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, I think it’s a good thing.

If people aren’t afraid, there can be no uncertainty. And if there’s no uncertainty, there can be no novelty. And if there’s no novelty, there can be no innovation. If people aren’t afraid, you’re doing it wrong.

As a leader, tell them you’re afraid but you’re going to do it anyway.

As a leader, tell your team that it’s natural to be afraid and their fear is a leading indicator of innovation.

As a leader, tell them there’s one thing you’re certain about – that innovation is uncertain.

And when things get difficult, repeat the Innovation Mantra: Be afraid and do it anyway.

“Mantra” by j / f / photos is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

How To Know If You Are Trusted

When you have trust, people tell you the truth.

When you don’t have trust, people tell you what you want to hear.

 

When you have trust, people tell you when others tell you what you want to hear.

When you don’t have trust, people watch others tell you what you want to hear.

 

When you have trust, you can talk about the inconvenient truth.

When you don’t have trust, you can’t.

 

When you have trust, you can ask for something unreasonable and people try to do it.

When you don’t have trust, they don’t.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need organizational power.

When you have organizational power, you better have trust.

 

When you have trust, you can violate the rules of success.

When you don’t have trust, you must toe the line.

 

When you have trust, you can go deep into the organization to get things done.

When you don’t have trust, you go to the managers and cross your fingers.

 

When you have trust, cross-organization alignment emerges mysteriously from the mist.

When you don’t have trust, you create a steering team.

 

When you do have trust, the Trust Network does whatever it takes.

When you don’t have trust, people work the rule.

 

When you have trust, you do what’s right.

When you don’t have trust, you do what you’re told.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need a corporate initiative because people do what you ask.

When you don’t have trust, you need a dedicated team to run your corporate initiatives.

 

When you have trust, you don’t need control.

When you don’t have trust, control works until you get tired.

 

When you have trust, productivity soars because people decide what to do and do it.

When you don’t have trust, your bandwidth limits productivity because you make all the decisions.

 

When you have trust, you send a team member to the meeting and empower them to speak for you.

When you don’t have trust, you call the meeting, you do the talking, and everyone else listens.

 

When you have trust, it’s because you’ve earned it.

When you don’t have trust, it’s because you haven’t.

 

If I had to choose between trust and control, I’d choose trust.

Trust is more powerful than control.

 

Image credit — “Hawk Conservancy Trust, Andover” by MarilynJane is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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