Quote of the day by @gapingvoid

I’ve often been asked by young people, which do I think is a better career choice: “Creativity” or “Money”? I say both are the wrong answer. The best thing in this world is an effective human being. Sometimes that requires money, sometimes it doesn’t. Be ready for either when it happens.

Hugh MacLeod Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity

Sometimes, there is not much you can add.

I am sure as hell trying to be an effective human being. What about you?


Language matters!

Photo by viZZZual.com

A few weeks back I wrote a post about the language we use in management. Describing a post in HBR.org giving advice to leaders and managers I complained:

Just look at the language. I, the little employee, need you, the big boss, to take control. I cannot excite myself. I need you, my liege, to get me excited. I want you, my monarch, to impress me and set me up to win. You are on top. I am in the bottom waiting for your holiness to give me some autonomy.

Really? Are you serious? Has it turned 1900 and I haven’t noticed? Or maybe more like the 1200?

Language and words matter. They affect our thinking and more importantly our behavior. I was thinking about this issue while reading Tom Peters’ blog post about helping. He describes Edgar Schein’s new book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help and some of the principles described in it. This is one of them:

PRINCIPLE 2: Effective Help Occurs When the Helping Relationship Is Perceived to Be Equitable.

In the comments to that post, you find a comment by Schein himself explaining what this principle means:

The reason a helping relationship has to be equitable is that all relationships work best when each party feels he or she is getting something out of it, not necessarily the same thing.

Peters is fond of saying, and I have taken after him, that one of the most important roles of managers is to help employees, or take hurdles out of their way (or as he calls it: Boss as CHRO—Chief Hurdle Removal Officer – see #125 here). I think Schein’s perspective completes that. It is not just help, it is equitable help. It is help that comes out of partnership and not out of hierarchy and control.

Language matters.


Shorts: Kip Tindell on hiring great people and the power of unshackling

I was reading an interview with Kip Tindell, chief executive of the Container Store, which was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant from the New York Times. There are a lot of golden nuggets in this interview but two struck me as particularly interesting. Here is the first quote:

One of the other foundation principles is that one great person could easily be as productive as three good people. One great is equal to three good. If you really believe that, a lot of things happen. We try to pay 50 to 100 percent above industry average. That’s good for the employee, and that’s good for the customer, but it’s good for the company, too, because you get three times the productivity at only two times the labor cost.

Indeed. I wrote in the past about the importance of choosing the right people. I love the fact that they also pay more as they know they will get more. Now, we can be cynical and say that this is what every company tries to do. But when the CEO talks about it with such passion, for me at least, it rings differently. Imagine knowing you are working in a company that states it hires great people. How will that make you feel about your work? How will this kind of environment support your motivation?

This is the second quote:

So we have what we call foundation principles. They are talked about and emphasized around here constantly. They’re all almost corny, a little bit Golden Rule-ish, but it causes two things. It causes everybody to act as a unit. Even though we’re sort of liberating everybody to choose the means to the ends, we all agree on the ends, and the foundation principles are what cause us to agree on the ends. As a result, we have people unshackled to choose any means to those ends, but it’s not mayhem because our foundation principles kind of tie us together.

I created a 47 minute presentation to explain the power norms have over rules and the meaning of that on the practice of rules in the management world. Tindell put it into one paragraph!


What’s working?

Photo by Marcin Wichary

We often hear people say that they need to work on their weaknesses. Today in class, I heard someone say that he sees the positive feedback he receives as pat on the back, but he really wants people to focus on his areas of improvement.  The problem is, our weaknesses are not only hard to fix, fixing them will lead (at best) to marginal improvement in results. The more effective way to improve our performance is to focus on what we are good at and think of ways to do more of that! I love David Rendall ‘s approach to this issue:

Fact #5: There is nothing wrong with you

How does a sundial work? What does it require? It tells time by casting a shadow on the appropriate hour. It needs to be in the sun. What happens when you put a sundial in the shade? Does it work? Of course not. But is it broken? Is something wrong with it? No, it isn’t broken and nothing is wrong with it. Then what is the problem? The problem is that the sundial is in the shade. It is in the wrong spot. The sundial doesn’t need to be fixed; it needs to be moved.

It is the same in our lives and our work. When things go bad, it is not because something is wrong with us. It is because we are in the wrong spot. The job or the relationship didn’t work out because it was the wrong fit.

Instead of fixing our weaknesses, we need to look for the right fit. We need to find situations that match our strengths, highlight our abilities, and bring out the best in us. We need to get out of the shade and into the sun.

It is a mindset that is relevant both in the personal and the professional level. We spend too much of our lives worrying about what is not working. About how to fix or change things that are broken. Negativity is contagious and when you spend all your time thinking in negative terms, it affects you well-being and performance. But positivity is also contiguous. What will happen if instead we focused on what is working? A few months back I quoted the Heath brothers from What Matters:

We’re wired to focus on what’s not working. But Murphy asked, “What IS working, today, and how can we do more of it?”

You’re probably trying to change things at home or at work. Stop agonizing about what’s not working. Instead, ask yourself, “What’s working well, right now, and how can I do more of it?”

So, what’s working for you?


Omission and commission

Photo by cesarastudillo

In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the difference in the regret we experience when thinking about two different situations in our past. The first situation is an action that did not turn out well (acts of commission) – for example, asking somebody out and getting a negative response. The second is a situation of inaction (omission) – for example, not even asking somebody out on a date. This is what Schwartz writes:

When asked about what they regret most in the last six months, people tend to identify action that didn’t meet expectations. But when asked about what they regret most when they look back on their live as a whole. People tend to identify failures to act. In the short run, we regret a bad educational choice, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed educational opportunity. In the short run, we regret broken romance, whereas in the long run, we regret a missed romantic opportunity. So it seems that we don’t close the psychological door on the decision we’ve made, and as time passes, what we’ve failed to do looms larger and larger.

And I ask you this: What kind of behaviors are you omitting because of this fear of short-term regret? Speaking up in the next meeting? Confronting you peer or boss?  Trying that new strategy or tactic? Making a different choice? Sitting in a different chair? Taking up a new managerial skill or process?

We all know that failure and risk are important. We all hate failure and risk just as equally as we know they are important. But if we also know that we will regret not trying even more in the long run, isn’t it worth a try? Isn’t it time we starting committing?


No more rules – the video presentation version

What do Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, Dan Ariely, Malcolm Gladwell, Lawrence Lessig, Barry Schwartz, Jonathan Zittrain and Philip K. Howard have in common?

Well, they have all given amazing talks in TED conferences and I recommended watching all of these talks. However, that is not the commonality I had in mind. What is common to all of them is that their ideas are all mentioned in a new presentation I created and called “No More Rules”. This presentation gathers many of the ideas I have been writing about in this blog for the last few months and puts them all together with new, exciting and even surprising concepts and examples.

I set out to create a ten minute presentation and ended up with a much longer one. And this is after limiting myself and leaving many examples and concepts out of it for the sake of time and clarity. I hope you would invest your time with me and allow me to take you through a journey of re-thinking about the way we use rules in the workplace and in the management of people.

This is the first time I am recording a narration of a presentation online and turning it into a movie. This may be obvious even to the untrained eye (and ear) who chooses to watch it. However, I had a lot of fun creating this over the last few weeks and hope you will enjoy watching it just as much as I did creating it and thinking about it.

If you do, the best way to reciprocate is to comment here, post about it and spread it in any way you can considering your relationships in the social media space and beyond. If you don’t, those methods are just as valid to teach me a lesson and vent your frustration. Anyway, I hope to engage you in a conversation.

Thank you for visiting my blog.


Deliberate Unplugging

Photo by functoruser

Yesterday, Peter Bergman wrote a post on the HBR.org blog titled The Mostly Unplugged Vacation. Bergman describes a phenomenon I am sure many of you are familiar with. Our connectivity and workaholism. He describes the expectancy that developed in our world from people to be available all the time for almost any reason. Worse, as he says, people have been starting to expect it from themselves. It is a worthy and interesting post as are comments about his proposed solutions. However, I took one paragraph in a different direction. Here is what he writes about coming back from a vacation one time:

When I returned to civilization — and a phone — I had over 50 messages. But here’s what I found most interesting: the first half of the messages all raised problems that needed to be resolved and the second half were the same people telling me not to worry about the first half because they had resolved the problems on their own. It turns out that unplugging created an opportunity for my team to grow, develop, and exercise their own judgment.

Sounds familiar? For me it did, as it echoes things I have been constantly writing about here. Resisting the temptation to give answers allows people to find the solutions themselves and as a result grow. Letting go of the control, allows people to exercise their own judgment and make wise decisions.

I used to give workshops about leadership (which I now prefer to call management) in the Israeli Air Force. One of the models I taught was that of the Full Range of Leadership developed by Bernard M. Bass. The basic idea is that every leader exerts many types of behaviors that are all effective depending on the situation, the followers and the time. The behaviors are placed on a range from very active (which is called Transformational Leadership) to very passive behaviors called Laissez-Faire after the famous economic term. The idea that sometimes the most effective leadership behavior is disengagement and doing nothing was always hard for the participants of the workshop to grasp.

Sometimes deliberately unplugging is the right course of action. It is just what our team or employees need. We don’t have to go on a vacation to do that (even though that could be a good test of other issues). We can do that every day in small issues that slowly gather up to become major issues. By deliberately not being there for our employees, we might actually be there for them, by allowing them to stand on their own.

How do you use deliberate unplugging in your everyday management style?


Why saying you are motivating someone else is wrong

Photo by mcbarnicle

Paul Hebert from Incentive Intelligence wrote a wonderful post yesterday. Using his “writer’s block” he explained that sometimes, it is not a matter of incentives or motivation. Employees just don’t have the tools to do the job. He says that you could have paid him a big bonus for writing a post, but at the best case, that would only lead him to create a bad post and at the worst case to plagiarizing somebody else’s post.

Here is an excerpt:

Too often in business we look at poor results and assume it’s an issue of motivation. It sometimes is, but more often than not it is another issue. But it’s easier to assume it’s someone else’s fault and go from there … Most of our business leaders assume we’re all waiting to be motivated when in fact we’re waiting for them to do their job.  Yeah – I said it – Managers – do your job. Find out WHY stuff isn’t getting done. Do some research. Talk to someone. Come out of the mahogany office and bump against us unwashed masses and see if it really is a motivation problem. I’m guessing it is a tools problem. A training problem. A communication problem. It may not be a motivation problem.

I agree. Let’s take a step further. And this is in the line of what I wrote about a few days ago (and I think Hebert wrote something similar in the past). I think the conversation about motivating someone else or creating motivation in our employees is wrong. It is a use of language that implies a wrong relationship. It assumes dominance. It assumes control. But it is an illusion. I don’t think you can motivate someone else. People don’t have a button you can push in order to move them. Motivation is an internal state. It is someone’s understandings, desires, inner cravings and thoughts. And if someone doesn’t want “to be motivated” we can’t make him.

We might help someone understand himself better. We might support his internal process of acquiring self-confidence. We might create an environment where he feels motivated. We might help with providing the right tools or taking hurdles out-of-the-way.

But in the end – the motivation is his or her inner choice. The sooner we realize that and stop trying to push motivation down people’s throats and start pulling them with the right understanding, support, tools and processes, the sooner we will see the external results of their inner process.


Re-visiting priorities

Photo by Jonas B

Yesterday I was reading a blog post on HBR.org by Alexandra Samuel about the five unsolved problems of social media. Here is a quote describing one these problems:

Information overload: RSS started as a way to aggregate all the streams of content we found online, but today we’re more likely to be drowned in a river of feeds — not to mention e-mail, texts, updates, voicemail transcriptions….need I go on? We’ve got great tools for creating, finding, organizing and viewing content, but very little to help us thin out and manage the volume of information that now flows online. The challenge of information overload and attention management isn’t just a technical problem, but some better tools would sure help.

As far as I see it, there is no tool which will make priorities for you. We can have an endless amount of tools to help us organize, filter and present information, but I personally don’t see a tool that will replace human judgment and ability, but more importantly, need, to prioritize. One blog post after that, I read another HBR.org blog post, this time by Ron Ashkenas called, The Problem with Priorities:

Despite the realization that they had too much on their plates (and too many cards on the wall), this leadership team still struggled with narrowing their focus. Many felt that everything was important and nothing could be dropped without serious consequences. But if everything is called a priority, then nothing is. In fact, what’s worse is that people at lower levels, faced with the impossible task of trying to respond to everything, end up deciding what is important based on their more limited sense of the company’s strategy and their ability to get things done. By not clarifying the few key priorities, leadership teams unintentionally delegate priority-setting to their people. And then they wonder why everyone isn’t on the same page.

Here is what I wrote a while back:

Every time I gave that workshop there was a least one person who would come up to me and tell me: “Look, I am swamped. I just have too many things to do and not enough time”. I always gave those people the same response: “You don’t have a time problem, you have a priorities problem”.

Because time-management is about choosing your priorities, being consistent with them over time and accepting that this process will inherently include some tradeoffs. There will be things you will not be able to do. But until you get your priorities straight you will face problems.

Yes, we have more information than we ever had. Yes, our workloads are bigger. Yes, due to the recession we are doing a job that two people did before. It does not matter. Time is limited. We can only spend it every day on certain things.  The question is, do we want to make an impact on a few things or create mediocrity in a lot of things.

Priorities are a risk. There is a chance that our choice will be the wrong one. We think that if we do a little of everything, we will mitigate that risk. But as the risk of a making a bad choice goes down, the risk of being unfocused goes up.  Guess which one is more important?

And if you are a manager of people I ask you – where are your people in your priorities? What are you trading off in order to be a great manager for them? Because you cannot be that great manager without putting time and effort into the process. No online digital tool will ever take away that piece of judgment from you.


A manager’s job is simple but in no way it is simplistic

Photo by Katie@!

From Wikipedia:

The representativeness heuristic is a rule of thumb wherein people judge the probability or frequency of a hypothesis by considering how much the hypothesis resembles available data … While often very useful in everyday life, it can also result in neglect of relevant base rates and other cognitive biases

Want a simple explanation? We believe that “like goes with like”. We think the big effects must have big causes and vice versa. According to some researchers, that is why it took so many years to understand that Malaria comes from mosquito bites. Could such a horrible disease come from such a small insect? Well, yes.

However, the representativeness heuristic is much more common than you think. If something looks simple, we assume it is simple. Yet, as one of my professors is fond of saying – “simple does not mean simplistic”.

Here is one of my favorite quotes from Ignore Everybody by Hugh MacLeod:

Being good at anything is like figure skating – the definition of being good at it is being able to make it look easy. But it is never easy. Ever. That’s what the stupidly wrong people conveniently forget.

Think about it. Look around you. My favorite example. Sports. You sit on your couch at home and watch the player miss an easy shot. “Come on!” you shout out. “What a loser! Such an easy shot”. But it’s not easy. Chances are you could not make that shot. It looks easy, because you have seen professional athletes, who probably have been practicing since they were 6 years old for thousands of hours, doing it again and again, make such a shot.  They make it look simple. And it is simple. Put the ball in the basket. Couldn’t be simpler than that. But it is not simplistic. Ever. This is the heart of the 10,000 hours idea so popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers.

And why am I writing about this? Because so many of the issues I write about in this blog seem so simple. The concepts a great manager should understand and follow are not rocket science. Yet, the fact that they are simple does not mean they are simplistic. The so called “soft skills” are the hardest to master. We should not confuse like with like. To get to the simple, we need to pass through a lot of complexity.

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.



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