Archive for the ‘Fear’ Category

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

The truth can set you free, but only if you tell it.

 

Your truth is what you see.  Your truth is what you think.  Your truth is what feel.  Your truth is what you say. Your truth is what you do.

 

If you see something, say something.

If no one wants to hear it, that’s on them.

 

If your truth differs from common believe, I want to hear it.

If your truth differs from common believe and no one wants to hear it, that’s troubling.

 

If you don’t speak your truth, that’s on you.

If you speak it and they dismiss it, that’s on them.

 

Your truth is your truth, and no one can take that away from you.

When someone tries to take your truth from you, shame on them.

 

Your truth is your truth. Full stop.

And even if it turns out to be misaligned with how things are, it’s still your responsibility to tell it.

 

If your company makes it difficult for you to speak your truth, you’re still obliged to speak it.

If your company makes it difficult for you to speak your truth, they don’t value you.

 

When your truth turns out to be misaligned with how things are, thank you for telling it.

You’ve provided a valuable perspective that helped us see things more clearly.

 

If you’re striving for your next promotion, it can be difficult to speak your dissenting truth.

If it’s difficult to speak your dissenting truth, instead of promotion, think relocation.

 

If you feel you must yell your dissenting truth, you’re not confident in it.

If you’re confident in your truth and you still feel you must yell it, you have a bigger problem.

 

When you know your truth is standing on bedrock, there’s no need to argue.

When someone argues with your bedrock truth, that’s a problem for them.

 

If you can put your hand over mouth and point to your truth, you have bedrock truth.

When you write a report grounded in bedrock truth, it’s the same as putting your hand over your mouth and pointing to the truth.

 

If you speak your truth and it doesn’t bring about the change you want, sometimes that happens.

And sometimes it brings about its opposite.

 

Your truth doesn’t have to be right to be useful.

But for your truth to be useful, you must be uncompromising with it.

 

You don’t have to know why you believe your truth; you just have to believe it.

It’s not your responsibility to make others believe your truth; it’s your responsibility to tell it.

 

When your truth contradicts success, expect dismissal and disbelief.

When your truth meets with dismissal and disbelief, you may be onto something.

 

Tomorrow’s truth will likely be different than today’s.

But you don’t have a responsibility to be consistent; you have a responsibility to the truth.

 

image credit — “the eyes of truth r always watching u” by TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³ is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Without a problem there can be no progress.

Without a problem, there can be no progress.

And only after there’s too much no progress is a problem is created.

And once the problem is created, there can be progress.

 

When you know there’s a problem just over the horizon, you have a problem.

Your problem is that no one else sees the future problem, so they don’t have a problem.

And because they have no problem, there can be no progress.

Progress starts only after the calendar catches up to the problem.

 

When someone doesn’t think they have a problem, they have two problems.

Their first problem is the one they don’t see, and their second is that they don’t see it.

But before they can solve the first problem, they must solve the second.

And that’s usually a problem.

 

When someone hands you their problem, that’s a problem.

But if you don’t accept it, it’s still their problem.

And that’s a problem, for them.

 

When you try to solve every problem, that’s a problem.

Some problems aren’t worth solving.

And some don’t need to be solved yet.

And some solve themselves.

And some were never really problems at all.

 

When you don’t understand your problem, you have two problems.

Your first is the problem you have and your second is that you don’t know what your problem by name.

And you’ve got to solve the second before the first, which can be a problem.

 

With a big problem comes big attention. And that’s a problem.

With big attention comes a strong desire to demonstrate rapid progress. And that’s a problem.

And because progress comes slowly, fervent activity starts immediately. And that’s a problem.

And because there’s no time to waste, there’s no time to define the right problems to solve.

 

And there’s no bigger problem than solving the wrong problems.

Feel It All

In these trying times, when 30% of Americans cannot pay their rent or mortgage, is it okay to put hard limits on the amount of work we do or to take good care of ourselves or to feel good about taking a vacation?

With remote work, we commute less, which should give us more time to take care of ourselves.  But, do you have more time?  If you do, what do you do with your freed-up time?  Do you work more? Do you exercise? Do you worry? Do you take the time to feel grateful that you have a job?

When you work from home do you stop and make time to eat lunch?  Do you shut off the work and just eat? Or, do you eat while you work? Do you take more time than when you are (or were) in the office or less? If you take more time to eat than when at the office, do you feel good that you’re taking care of yourself? Or, if you take less, do you feel good you’re doing all you can to prevent layoffs?  Or, are you simply thankful you still have healthcare benefits?

When you work at home do you attend too many Zoom meetings? If so, what happens to all the work you can’t get done? Do you attend half-heartedly and multitask (work on something else)? Multitasking is disrespectful to the Zoom meeting and the other work, but do you have a choice? To get the work done, do you extend your workday to include your non-commute time?  Or, do you decline Zoom meetings because other work is more important? Is it okay to decline a Zoom meeting?

Do you feel good when you set limits to preserve your emotional well-being? Do you preserve your well-being or do you do all you can to keep your job?

And now the tough one. Do you feel good when you go on vacation or do you feel sad because so many citizens have lost their jobs?

Thing is, it’s not or. It’s and.

It’s not that we must feel bad when we work during our non-commute time or feel good when we take care of ourselves or feel thankful for our jobs or feel bad because so many have lost theirs. It’s not or, it’s and. We’ve got to hold all these feelings at once. Tough to do, but we can.

It’s not that we feel bad when we work through lunch or feel good when we go for a walk or feel happy when we do all we can to prevent layoffs or we are thankful we have a job at all.  It’s and.  We’ve got to handle it all at once.  We do what we can to prevent layoffs and take care of ourselves. We feel it all and make the choice.

We attend Zoom meetings and decline them and multitask. We process the three potential realities and choose.  The bad ones we decline, the good ones we attend wholeheartedly, and for the others we multitask.

We feel great when we go on vacation and feel sad that others are in a bad way.  We feel both at the same time.

Or, as word, is binary, black and white. But today’s realities are not black and white and there is no best way.

If you’re looking for some relief during these trying times, give “and” a try. Feel happy and sad.  Feel grateful and scared. Feel it all and see what happens.

I hope it brings you peace.

Image credit — David

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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