Archive for the ‘Meaning’ Category

When on vacation, be on vacation.

monks avoid unintended time travelAs vacation approaches the work days drag. Sure you’re excited about the future, but when compared to the upcoming pleasantness, the daily grind feels more like a prison.  Anticipating a good time in the future rips you from the present moment and puts you in a place you’d rather be.  And when you don’t want to be where you are, wherever you are becomes your jail cell.

Mid-way through vacation, as the work days approach, you push yourself into the future and anticipate the stress and anxiety of the work day.  Though vacation should be fun, the stress around the workday and the impending loss of vacation prevent your full engagement in the perfect now.  I’m not sure why, but for some reason your brain doesn’t want to be on vacation with you.  It’s difficult to think of your perfect vacation as your jail cell, but while your brain is disembodied, I think it is.

And when vacation is over and you return to work, it’s pretty clear you’re back in jail.  You put yourself back in the past of your wonderful vacation; compare your cubicle your previous poshness; and make it clear to yourself that you’d rather be somewhere else. And the better your vacation, the longer your jail time.

But it’s easier to see how we use unpleasant situations to build our jail cells.  Our aversion to uncomfortable situations pushes us into the past to beat ourselves up over uncontrollable factors we think we should have recognized and controlled.  We turn a simple unpleasant situation into a jail cell of self-judging.  Or, we push ourselves into the future and generate anxiety around a sea of catastrophic consequences, none of which will happen.  Instead of building jails, it’s far more effective to let ourselves feel the unpleasantness for what it is (the result of thoughts of our own making) and let it dissipate on its own.

The best way to become a jail breaker is to start with awareness – awareness your mind has left the present moment.  When you’re on vacation, be on vacation.  And when you’re in the middle of an unpleasant situation, sit right there in the middle of the unpleasant situation.  (No one has ever died from an unpleasant situation.)  And, as a skillful jail breaker, when you realize your mind is in the past or future, don’t judge yourself, praise yourself for recognizing your mind’s unintended time travel and get back to your vacation.

But this is more than a recipe for better vacations. It’s a recipe for better relationships and better work.  You can be all-in with the people you care about and you can be singularly focused on the most challenging work.  When someone is standing in front of you and you give them 100% of your attention, your relationship with them improves.  And when you give a problem 100% of your attention, it gets solved.

Think about the triggers that pull and push you out of the present moment (the dings of texts, the beeps of emails, or the buzzes of push notifications) and get rid of them.  At least while you’re on vacation.

People Are The Best Investment

BuddhaAnything that happens happens because of people, and anything that doesn’t happen doesn’t happen because of people.  Technology doesn’t create itself, products don’t launch themselves, companies don’t build themselves and trust doesn’t grow on its own.  Any kind of work, any kind of service, any kind of organizing – it’s all done by people.

The productivity/quality movement has been good for factories – parts move in a repeatable flow and they’re processed in repeatable ways by machines that chunk out repeatable output.  Design the process, control the inputs and turn the crank. Invest in the best machines and to do the preventative maintenance to keep them in tip-top shape.  Just follow the preventive maintenance (PM) schedule and you’ll be fine.  But when the productivity/quality movement over-extended into the people domain, things don’t go as well.

People aren’t machines, and their work product is not cookie-cutter parts.  And, there’s no standard PM schedule for people. We all know this, but we behave like people are machines – we design their work process, train them on it and measure their output. But machines are iron-based entities that don’t have consciousness and people are carbon-based beings with full consciousness.  The best machines do what their told, but the best people tell you what to do.  Machines and people are fundamentally different, but how we run them is markedly similar.

Where machines need oil, people need empathy. And for empathy you need vulnerability and for that you need trust. But there’s no standard PM schedule for trust.  There’s no flowchart or troubleshooting protocol for helping people.  What work do you give them? It depends. When do you touch base and when do you leave them alone? It depends. How much responsibility do you give them? It depends.  With machines it’s follow the PM schedule and with people – it depends.

Where machines wear out, people develop and grow. And to grow people you need to see them as they are and meet them where they are. And to do that you’ve got to see yourself as you are.  You can’t give people what they need if you add to the drama with your reactivity and you can’t discern their suffering from your projections if you’re not grounded. How much time do you spend each day to learn to dampen your reactivity?  How much time do you spend to slow your monkey mind so you can see your projections?

With machines it’s control the inputs and get what you got last time.  With people it’s maybe; it depends; don’t worry about how it will go; and why don’t you try? Growing people is much more difficult than keeping machines running smoothly.  But, there is nothing more fulfilling than helping people grow into something they couldn’t imagine.

Image credit – Benjamin Balazs

 

 

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Your Words Make All The Difference.

universal thank you noteSometimes people are unskillful with their words, and what they say can have multiple interpretations.  But, though you don’t have control over their words, you do have control over how you interpret them. And the translation you choose makes all the difference.  On the flipside, when you choose your words skillfully they can have a singular translation. And that, too, makes all the difference.  Here are some examples.

It can’t be done.  Translations: 1) We’ve never tried it and we don’t know how to go about it.  2) We know you’ll not give us the time and the resources to do it right, and because of that, we won’t be successful.  3) Wow. I like that idea, but we’re already so overloaded. Do you think we can talk about that in the second half of the year?

We tried that but it didn’t work.  Translations: 1) Twelve years ago someone who made a prototype and it worked pretty well.  But, she wasn’t given the time to take it to the next level and the project was abandoned.  2) We all think that’s a wonderful idea and really want to work on it, but we’re too busy to think about that. If I come clean, will you give me the resources to do it right?

Why didn’t you follow the best practice? Translations: 1) I’m afraid of the uncertainty around this innovation work and I’ve heard best practices can reduce risk.  2) I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but this seems like a safe question to ask without tipping my hand.  3) I want to make a difference at the company, but I’ve never been part of a project with so much newness. Can you teach me?

That’s not how we do it. Translations: 1) I’ve always done it that way, and thinking about doing it differently scares me.  2) Though the process is clunky, we’ve been told to follow it.  And I don’t want to get in trouble. 3) That sounds like a good idea, but I don’t have the time to think through the potential implications to our customers.

What are you working on? Translation: I’m interested in what you’re working on because I care about you.

Can I help you? Translation: You’ve helped me in the past and I see you’re in a tough situation.  I care about you.  What can I do to help?

Good job. Translation: I want to positively reinforce your good work in front of everyone because, well, you did good work.

That’s a good idea. Translation: I think highly of you, I like that you stuck out your neck, and I hope you do it regularly.

I need help. Translation: I know you are highly capable and I trust you. I’m in a tight spot here.  Can you help me?

Thank you.  Translation: You were helpful and I appreciate it.  Thank you.

How you choose your words and how you choose to assign meaning to others’ words make all the difference.  Choose skillfully.

image credit — woodleywonderworks

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Scarcity and Abundance

glass half full or half emptySupply and demand have been joined at the hip since the beginning.  When demand is high, the deck is shuffled so supply seems low.  The fabricated scarcity drives up prices and shareholders are happy.  When demand is low, the competition pushes each other on price.  The abundance creates a commodity, and it’s a race to the bottom.

But this is old thinking.

Scarcity isn’t a lever to jack up prices or manipulate relationships, it’s an opportunity to spend your limited resources on the most important work and to build relationships.  When you tell a potential partner you want work with them and you are willing to spend your finite resources to make it happen, it’s a huge compliment.  Voting with your feet makes a powerful statement that you’re serious about working with them because you think they’re special.  You are telling them that you will say no to others so you can say yes to them.  Both know they’re part of something important and the free-flowing positivity results in something otherwise impossible.

Scarcity is limiting only if your mental framework thinks it is.  If you hoard and hold tightly, scarcity breeds win-lose relationships governed by power dynamics.  But if you choose the anti-framework, scarcity creates trust.

Played differently, abundance does not create commodity, it’s opportunity to show others you have enough to spare.  In personal relationships, when you share some of your work for free your relationships blossom.  When you give it away you are signaling that you have plenty to spare.  It’s clear to everyone you are a geyser of new thinking.  Here – take this.  I’ll make more.  These simple words create a foundation of trust which bolsters your personal brand.  And because all business relationships are personal relationships, it does the same thing for your company’s brand.

Make it a commodity or give it away – how you see abundance is your choice.  The old way breeds bare-knuckled competition.  The new way creates a brand steeped in trust.

If you have scarcity, be thankful for it.  Allocate your precious resources thoughtfully and with love.  Spend your time with the people and causes that matter.  It will feel good to everyone, including you.  And if you have abundance, be thankful.  Choose to develop closer relationships based on trust. Choose to give it away.

Happy Thanksgiving.

image credit — GloriaGarcia

Diversity Through Podcasts

The Headphone IncidentPodcasts are short bursts of learning curated to please your ear.  And with training budgets slashed, podcasts can be a wonderful and cost effective (free) way to learn.

The only way to battle uncertainty is to increase diversity.  Bringing together people with diverse experiences lets us see things from multiple perspectives so we can better navigate uncertain terrain.  But increasing your personal diversity helps too.  Giving yourself new knowledge from diverse fields helps you broaden your perspective and makes you better at handling the uncertainty that comes with life.

The hard part about podcasts is deciding which ones to listen to.  In my work to increase my diversity, I’ve listened to a lot of podcasts.  Some were interesting and inspiring and others weren’t.

Below are some of my favorite podcast episodes.  There’s a short description of each one, along with what I learned from them.  Click the link to take you to the episode and you can listen to each one.  No need to download.  Just find the play button and click it.

Enjoy.

9-Volt Nirvana (Radiolab) — I learned about how the brain works and how it can be supercharged (with a 9-volt battery) to learn faster.  I listened to this one on a long car ride with my daughter.  She doesn’t like podcasts, but she was captivated by this one.

The Living Room (Love and Radio) — A story about how things can look differently than they are, especially when looking from the outside.  I learned how our assumptions and the stories we tell ourselves shape how we see the world.  This one is emotionally gripping.

Guided by Voices (Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything) — How Kant and Kepler both tried (and failed) to record the universal harmonies Pythagoras once heard.  They struggled to make peace with the irrationality and disharmony of nature.  I learned disharmony is natural and to embrace it.  There’s a segment in the middle that’s not about Kant and Kepler that you may want to skip. To skip that segment, listen from the beginning and at 9:30 skip to 23:07 and listen to the end.

Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now (On Being) — I love Eckhart’s voice and his chuckle.  I learned how I am not my emotions; I am the space for my emotions.  And I learned about the Pain Body.  That, on its own, was worth it.  Krista Tippett is a brilliant interviewer.

Belt Buckle (Mystery Show) — A story about a long-lost belt buckle and its journey home.  I learned how we attach meaning to objects, and that can be a good thing.

The Wrath of the Khans 1 (Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History) — This is a riveting story of Genghis Khan.  Dan Carlin is wonderful – he sits you right in the middle of history.  (Listen for two minutes and you’ll feel it.)  I learned the power of personal will and how history changes over time.  To skip Dan’s wonderful introduction and get a feel for the Great Khan, start at 19:00 and listen for 10 minutes.  If you like what you hear, keep listening.  This podcast is long almost 2 hours and it’s the first of a series of five on the Great Khan.  This is one of my most favorite favorites.

image credit — mpclemens

The People Business

the common vision bus

 

Things don’t happen on their own, people make them happen.

With all the new communication technologies and collaboration platforms it’s easy to forget that what really matters is people.  If people don’t trust each other, even the best collaboration platforms will fall flat, and if they don’t respect each other, they won’t communicate – even with the best technology.

Companies put stock in best practices like they’re the most important things, but they’re not.  Because of this unnatural love affair, we’re blinded to the fact people are what make best practices best.  People create them, people run them, and people improve them. Without people there can be no best practices, but on the flip-side, people can get along just fine without best practices.  (That says something, doesn’t it?) Best practices are fine when processes are transactional, but few processes are 100% transactional to the core, and the most important processes are judgement-based.  In a foot race between best practices and good judgement, I’ll take people and their judgment – every day.

Without a forcing function, there can be no progress, and people are the forcing function.  To be clear, people aren’t the object of the forcing function, they are the forcing function.  When people decide to commit to a cause, the cause becomes a reality.  The new reality is a result – a result of people choosing for themselves to invest their emotional energy.  People cannot be forced to apply their life force, they must choose for themselves.  Even with today’s “accountable to outcomes” culture, the power of personal choice is still carries the day, though sometimes it’s forced underground.  When pushed too hard, under the cover of best practice, people choose to work the rule until the clouds of accountability blow over.

When there’s something new to do, processes don’t do it – people do.  When it’s time for some magical innovation, best practices don’t save the day – people do.  Set the conditions for people to step up and they will; set the conditions for them to make a difference and they will.  Use best practices if you must, but hold onto the fact that whatever business you’re in, you’re in the people business.

Image credit – Vicki & Chuck Rogers

Celebrating 5 Years of Writing

20141001-193440.jpgToday is a celebration.

I have written a blog post every Wednesday evening for the last five years. No guest blogs, no ghost writer, no repeat blogs, and no editor. Just me.

The main theme last year was around doing new. Though I used the word innovation too many times, I provided real examples and grounded observations on what to do and why. There are many tools, processes, and philosophies around innovation – too many to cover fully even over a year or two of blogs – but there are two things that apply to all of us.

Innovation is context specific. Whatever you do going forward is strongly shaped by what you did to make the present what it is. And because every company’s history is different, every company’s go-forward activities will be different. Yes, become knowledgeable about best practices, but use only the ones that fit and don’t use them as-is – twist them to match the curves of your company. Yes, understand what other companies have done, but don’t copy them.

Innovation is all about people. If you can get people to try new things, you’re well on your way. And to get them to try new things, figure out why they’re afraid and do the small things, the everyday things, that make is safe to try.

My goal for year six – another year of meaningful writing.

Thanks for reading.

Mike

Image credit – woodleywonderworks.

Inspiration, Imagination, and Innovation – in that order.

InspiredInspiration is the fuel for imagination and imagination is the power behind innovation.

All companies want innovation and try lots of stuff to increase its supply. But innovation isn’t a thing in itself and not something to be conjured from air – it’ a result of something. The backplane of innovation, its forcing function, is imagination.

But imagination is no longer a sanctioned activity. Since it’s not a value-added activity; and our financial accounting system has no column for it; and it’s unpredictable, it has been leaned out of our work. (Actually, she’s dead – Imagination’s Obituary.) We squelch imagination yet demand more innovation. That’s like trying to make ice cream without the milk.

No inspiration, no imagination – that’s a rule. Again, like innovation, imagination isn’t a thing in itself, it’s a result of something. If you’re not inspired you don’t have enough mojo to imagine what could be. I’ve seen many campaigns to increase innovation, but none to bolster imagination, and fewer to foster inspiration. (To be clear, motivation is not a substitute for inspiration – there are plenty of highly motivated, uninspired folks out there.)

If you want more innovation, it’s time to figure out how to make it cool to openly demonstrate imagination. (Here’s a hint – dust off your own imagination and use it. Others will see your public display and start to see it as sanctioned behavior.) And if you want more imagination, it’s time demonstrate random acts of inspiration.

Inspiration feeds imagination and imagination breeds innovation. And the sequence matters.

 

Image credit – AndYaDontStop

How to Make Big Data Far More Powerful

The Seeing EyeBig Data is powerful – measure what people do on the web, summarize the patterns, and use the information for good. These data sets are so powerful because they’re bigger than big; there’s little bias since the data collection is automatic; and the analysis is automated. There’s huge potential in the knowledge of what people click, what pages they land on, and what place the jump from.

It’s magical to think about what can be accomplished with the landing pages and click-through rates for any demographic you choose. Here are some examples:

  • This is the type of content our demographic of value (DOV) lands on, and if we create more content like this we’ll get more from them to land where we want.
  • These are the pages our DOV jump from, and if we advertise there more of our DOV will see our products.
  • This is the geographic location of our DOV when they land on our website, and if we build out our sales capacity in these locations we’ll sell more.
  • This is the time slot when our DOV is most active on their smart phones, and if we tweet more during that time we’ll reach more of them.

But just as there’s immense power knowing the actions of your DOV (what they click on), there are huge assumptions on what it all means. Here are two big ones:

  1. All clicks are created equal.
  2. When more see our content, more will do what we want.

Here is an example of three members (A, B, C) of your demographic of interest who take the same measurable action but with different meaning behind it:

Member A, after four drinks, speeds home recklessly; loses control of the car; crashes into your house; and parks the car in your living room.

Member B, after grocery shopping, drives home at the speed limit; the front wheel falls off due to a mechanical problem; loses control of the car; crashes into your house; and parks the car in your living room.

Member C, after volunteering at a well-respected non-profit agency, drives home in a torrential rain 15 miles per hour below the speed limit; a child on a bicycle bolts into the lane without warning and C swerves to miss the child; loses control of the car; crashes into your house; and parks the car in your living room.

All three did the same thing – crashed into your house – but the intent, the why, is different. Same click, but not equal. And when you put your content in front of them, regardless of what you want them to do, A, B, and C will respond differently. Same DOV, but different intentions behind their actions.

Big Data, with its focus on the whats, is powerful, but can be made stereoscopic with the addition of a second lens that can see the whys. Problem is, the whys aren’t captured in a clean, binary way – not transactional but conversational – and are subject to interpretation biases where the integers of the whats are not.

With people, action is preceded by intent, and intent is set by thoughts, feelings, history, and context. And the best way to understand all that is through their stories. If you collect and analyze customer stories you’ll better understand their predispositions and can better hypothesize and test how they’ll respond.

In the Big Data sense, Nirvana for stories is a huge sample size collected quickly with little effort, analysis without biases, and direct access to the stories themselves.

New data streams are needed to collect the whys in a low overhead way, and new methods are needed to analyze them quickly and without biases. And a new perspective is needed to see not only the amazing power of Big Data (the whats), but the immense potential of seeing the what’s with one eye and the whys with the other.

Keep counting the whats with traditional Big Data work – there’s real value there. But also keep one eye on the horizon for new ways to collect and analyze the whys (customer stories) in a Big Data way.

Collection and analysis of customer stories, if the sample size is big enough and biases small enough, is the best way I know to look through the fog and understand emerging customer needs and emerging markets.

If you can figure out how to do it, it will definitely be worth the effort.

Do The Work No One Is Asking For

boredWe spend too much time on the mundane. Every day people come to work, turn on their PCs, and the mundane magically happens on its own accord. Email gets sent, phones get answered, mail gets delivered, and processes get followed. And after lunch, the hamster wheel spins back up and the mundane consumes the rest of our day. Yet there’s no need because that stuff runs on its own. It’s time to leave it alone and manage the mundane by exception. If there’s a hiccup, give it a drink of water, and otherwise leave it alone. It’s time to recognize the massive opportunity cost of the mundane – mundane comes at the expense of meaningful.

But when the mundane withers and there’s finally time for meaningful, there’s another chasm to cross – no one asks for meaningful work. Because meaningful work makes a difference and making a difference threatens the legacy of success, no one asks you for it. Because it’s considered impossible, there’s no request to do it. And because it’s considered a strength of your business, no one suggests you dismantle it. Crazy, but it’s time to stop the mundane so you can start doing work no one is asking you to do.

But it’s not any old work no one is asking for, it’s a special flavor, a flavor that meets a tight set of criteria.

Don’t do it unless it will make a difference. But not any old difference, a difference of epic proportions. If you explain the concept to the customer and they want to buy ten, you’re on the right track. If after you show the prototype the customer won’t give it back to you with a wrestling match, that’s the right work. If you present the concept to the core business unit and they immediately try to scuttle it, you’re on to something.

Don’t do it unless it resonates with you, personally. As subject matter expert, it must make your hair stand on end. As the inventor who must swim against the tide of “you can’t do that”, it must fill your deep need to help others. As the pariah who threatens the success of the company, it must be more than an idea – it must be part of you.

Leaders – it’s time to ask your people to work on things that are meaningful to them. Give them four hours a week and ask for an informal fifteen minute presentation every other week. They’ll make extreme progress and amaze you. Magically, because they’ll be so charged up, there will be time for all the work. Morale will skyrocket, the best folks will ask to work on your team, and you’ll have working prototypes for all the things you should have asked for.

Gifts Are For The Giver

giveI’ve read emails from engineering students telling me I whipped them into a fervor over engineering.

I’ve received notes from engineering leaders that, based on a single line of a post, reinvented the cost signature of their products.

I’ve been sent messages from folks who were stuck in a rut, and after reading my post, were able to work through their self-imposed constraints.

My inbox has let me know a reader, after thinking about my thinking, tried something that truly scared them.

They all thanked me for what I gave them, but, really, I want to thank them for what they gave me.

They listened; they thought; they changed their behavior.  There can be no bigger gift.

I know not everyone celebrates my holiday, but, nonetheless, I want to share it with you.

Merry Christmas, and thanks for your gifts.

Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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