Listening WITH or Listening FOR

Have you ever felt someone was talking to you not with you? I was trying to sell my apartment a few weeks ago so I had many meetings with real estate agents. I remember sitting in some of these appointments and after a few minutes thinking to myself – “this guy is not talking with me – he is talking to me”. The guy went on and on about how great his agency is, about their system and its benefits etc. he did not start by asking me what I need. He did not notice that I understood the point he was making after the first minute and kept boring me for ten more minutes. He was so in his own world that there was no way I was going to connect with him on any level – personal or professional. In a profession that is built on trust, his lack of attention to me truly amazed me.

The whole situation reminded me of how Edgar Schien defined one of the main problems with helping in his book Helping: How to Offer, Give, and Receive Help (I wrote about this wonderful paragraph in the past):

The trap for the helper is to move too rapidly to solutions, to provide advice or guidance on the hypothetical problem and, thereby, cut off the opportunity to learn what the real problem might be. Working the hypothetical problem does little to equilibrate the relationship.

Then I was watching the above TED talk by Julian Treasure and heard this:

Ears are made not for hearing, but for listening. Listening is an active skill. Whereas hearing is passive, listening is something that we have to work at. It’s a relationship with sound. And yet it’s a skill that none of us are taught. For example, have you ever considered that there are listening positions, places you can listen from? Here are two of them. Reductive listening is listening “for.” It reduces everything down to what’s relevant, and it discards everything that’s not relevant. Men typically listen reductively. So he’s saying, “I’ve got this problem.” He’s saying, “Here’s your solution. Thanks very much. Next.” That’s the way we talk, right guys? Expansive listening, on the other hand, is listening “with,” not listening “for.” It’s got no destination in mind. It’s just enjoying the journey. Women typically listen expansively. If you look at these two, eye contact, facing each other, possibly both talking at the same time. Men, if you get nothing else out of this talk, practice expansive listening, and you can transform your relationships.

I love the idea that “Listening is an active skill”. It reminds us that it doesn’t just happen. It requires work. It requires as to be present and attentive. It is a skill one can develop.

I think it goes both ways. In professions that are based on relationships, and management is all about relationships, I think developing the ability to talk with and listen with is crucial

So my question is – are you talking to or with someone? Are you listening with or for?


We are all Heroes

Dave Meslin gives a great talk about apathy at TED. This is what he says about heros [starts at 3:43]:

Look at these 10 movies [Matrix * Harry Potter * Golden Compass * Pokemon * Power Rangers * Sailor Moon * Lion, Witch & Wardrobe * Alice in Wonderland * The Neverending Story * The Golden Child]. What do they have in common? Anyone? They all have heroes who were chosen. Someone came up to them and said, “You’re the chosen one. There’s a prophesy. You have to save the world.” And then someone goes off and saves the world because they’ve been told to, with a few people tagging along. This helps me understand why a lot of people have trouble seeing themselves as leaders. Because it sends all the wrong messages about what leadership is about. A heroic effort is a collective effort, number one. Number two, it’s imperfect; it’s not very glamorous; and it doesn’t suddenly start and suddenly end. It’s an ongoing process your whole life. But most importantly, it’s voluntary. It’s voluntary. As long as we’re teaching our kids that heroism starts when someone scratches a mark on your forehead, or someone tells you that you’re part of a prophecy, they’re missing the most important characteristic of leadership, which is that it comes from within. It’s about following your own dreams — uninvited, uninvited — and then working with others to make those dreams come true.

This is what I wrote a few weeks ago:

We have a bias towards the need of a forceful – somehow holy and external – leader who will show us what needs to be done and take us to a better place… these myths about the importance of the single leader stand in contrast to the needs of many modern organizations. In contemporary knowledge-based, dynamic and complex team environments, both the cognitive and the behavioral capabilities of the wider workforce are needed to achieve optimal effectiveness and competitiveness. While some may be drawn to the idea of a larger-than-life, charismatic, all-knowing leader who can inspire and single-handedly positively transform work systems and the employees who work in them, the realities and challenges of contemporary organizational life require an alternative view of leadership.

Leadership is not about hierarchy. It is not about being told what to do. It is about making a change. It is about creating a different future. It is about not accepting the status quo.

Some perform leadership by relating with other people, creating environments where they can excel and be creative. I call that management. But that is not the only way to be a leader. A leader is somebody who speaks up and says “You’re hurting us, this is wrong”. A leader is somebody who creates Art – something new and wonderful that touches us, each in our own way. A leader is someone who changes the world by performing one small meaningful intervention at time.

Most importantly – leaders are not other people. Leaders are all of us. If we choose to be one. Like many things it would probably not be easy, but that why it’s worth it. I decided not to keep waiting for the hero or the prophecy. I decided I am already a Hero. How about you?


What is your team’s creed?

I was watching Stanley McChrystal’s TED talk the other day. He gives an interesting perspective of leadership and learning the deal with the challenges of modern management in a very hierarchical style organization like the army. This is one issue he discusses:

And you have to watch and take care of each other. I probably learned the most about relationships. I learned they are the sinew which hold the force together. I grew up much of my career in the Ranger regiment. And every morning in the Ranger regiment, every Ranger — and there are more than 2,000 of them — says a six-stanza Ranger creed. You may know one line of it, it says, “I’ll never leave a fallen comrade to fall into the hands of the enemy.” And it’s not a mindless mantra, and it’s not a poem. It’s a promise. Every Ranger promises every other Ranger no matter what happens, no matter what it costs me, if you need me, I’m coming.

When we talk about culture and the norms of the team that are a part of that culture we always need to consider how these norms are maintained. What is your team’s creed? What do you stand for and do you talk about it every day? What do you actively encourage – not as a blind command coming from above – but by a passionate belief emerging from below?


Capitalism, unions, equality, the fallacy of the average and mediocrity

Photo by finsec

A short caveat: while this post is not totally unrelated to my regular line of writing, it does somewhat detaches from my usual subject matter and is focused more on personal doubts, questions and thoughts and less on practical implications.


I see myself a capitalist. I believe in its basic premises. And while my views have become less extreme in the last few years and I do think there is a need to rethink and change some of the basic practical behaviors we derive from the concept, it is still a part of how I define my world views.

Within this framework I have always wondered about the idea of work unions. On a very shallow level it seems incompatible with the some of the ideas I used to think capitalism represented, so in my younger years I immediately thought of unions as something wrong. However, over the years I understood the importance of mechanisms that will put some balance into the capitalist system so it will not undo itself. Having said that, maybe because of my biased viewpoint, wherever I looked I saw unions resisting change and progress, upholding stupid rules (see this Gates talk on TED for some examples) and keeping the interests of the top quartile of employees instead of those who actually need protection. This has always bothered me.

Lately, because of current political and economic issues in Israel, I have been thinking about this issue quite a bit. This week, while listening to a freakeconomics podcast about the negotiations between the NFL league and the players union (negotiations, many of the players themselves are not privy to) I came to a realization that what troubles me about unions is something that has been troubling me about other fields as well. The misuse of the idea of equality. I have written before (see also here):

Equality is an important concept in many aspects of life, especially in the legal field, I know so well, as a former lawyer. But in real life, because equality is intertwined into our thinking DNA it is used in ways that many times hinders excellence. All men are not born equal. Whoever tells you that is lying. All man should deserve an equal opportunity to excel, to be happy and to use their comparative advantage. That is the truth. And there is a big difference between the two.

In western societies, equality is part of the ethos. People fought for the right of equality for ages and it is so commonplace and understood (even if not completely practiced) we regard it as a given right. The quotation “All men are created equal” is arguably the best-known phrase in any of America’s political documents. And if all men are created equal, they should be treated as equal in the workplace as well. And they think as themselves as equal. And this creates problems. Because we are not equal. We are unique. Special. With different talents, skills, perspectives, life experiences, likes and dislikes. And that means that treating us as if we are the same is wrong.

In the case of unions, the idea of equality means that unions can act like all workers are equal. If they are equal, they can talk about the average worker. It is a classic case of the fallacy of the average. Because of everybody is equal and we are taking care of the average worker we are losing the individuality. And that is the fastest way to mediocrity.

In Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing, Barry Schwartz and Kenneth Sharpe write:

That’s what Aristotle meant when he said that practical wisdom as opposed to a universal rule was necessary because of the priority of the particular. A wise person knows how to do the right thing, in the right way, with this person, in this situation. To be wise, we need cognitive and perceptual machinery that picks up on similarities without being blind to differences.

I am not an expert on the issue of unions, their history and their contribution to society. I am also not against the idea that workers should be protected to some degree and have a right to be represented. I do resent the fact that some unions focus their attention on keeping the status quo and base their thinking on a misconception of equality that leads to a discussion of averages. In general, the work of any leader, political, business, union or other, is to balance similarities and differences. I am not sure that many of the union leaders or those that sit with them to the table of negotiations are actively thinking of this balance. What will happen if both sides of a labor dispute (or even better, prior to the dispute) will start doing just that? Isn’t it worth a try?


Re-learning about purpose

If there is a lesson I am happy to re-learn many times it is the important of purpose in numerous organizational contexts. Its importance for employees’ happiness, for long-term organizational success and for alignment of strategy never ceases to amaze me. In the last few days, I encountered a number of reminders for its importance.

In the fascinating TED talk above Barry Schwartz gives many examples for the importance of practical wisdom. One of them is other the story of Judge Russell:

Judge Russell created the Veterans’ Court. It was a court only for veterans who had broken the law. And he had created it exactly because mandatory sentencing laws were taking the judgment out of judging. No one wanted non-violent offenders — and especially non-violent offenders who were veterans to boot — to be thrown into prison. They wanted to do something about what we all know, namely the revolving door of the criminal justice system. And what the Veterans’ Court did, was it treated each criminal as an individual, tried to get inside their problems, tried to fashion responses to their crimes that helped them to rehabilitate themselves, and didn’t forget about them once the judgment was made. Stayed with them, followed up on them, made sure that they were sticking to whatever plan had been jointly developed to get them over the hump.

This reminded me of something I wrote almost two years ago:

I don’t remember where exactly I read it. I think it was in one of Marcus Buckingham’s books. Anyway, the writer described an interview with a manager of the prison authority in England. That manager told the interviewer about the ways in which that organization became much more effective. Now, when you think of a prison, you would probably think about things in the lines of tightening security. But the most important activity that was described had to do with the way the prison authority measured its effectiveness. Instead of measuring how many people got out or escaped, which was the traditional way to measure the effectiveness of prisons, the manager changed the way that organization measured it success. They started measuring how many people who got out of prison legitimately, returned to prison. The manager said that he realized that the objective of a prison is to make sure prisoners who return to society don’t go back to the life of crime. In how many other places in life do we still measure the wrong thing because of habit or because of the available data?

I think the two stories are connected. Later in the talk Schwartz explains that none of the Vets that appeared before the special court have re-lapsed. None. 108 success stories. When you think about it through the lenses of the right measurement you understand how profound an achievement it is.

And this made even more sense when I read this paragraph from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Good Business: Leadership, Flow, and the Making of Meaning:

Much of what modern workers are required to do on the job is dictated by demands that make sense at some higher organizational level, but are obscure to the worker. Why do we need to fill out these forms? What is the purpose of this rule? What is the outcome of this process? And often even if the worker understands what she is doing, it is not clear to her why. Yet without well-defined goals, both long-term and moment by moment, it is difficult to enjoy what one is doing.

Do I really need to spell out the connection? I don’t think so. It is obvious. I wish it was also more common.


Environment of learning

Photo by afromusing

A couple of days ago, the Freaknomoics blog wrote about TED quoting Anya Kamenetz saying that:

TED is in the process of creating something brand new. I would go so far as to argue that it’s creating a new Harvard — the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years.

More interesting was the quote by college professor and TED-lecturer, Barry Schwartz:

Well, people who come to TED are open to being changed by their interactions and conversations. They’re in an environment where they’re going to learn something new every five minutes. You could create something like that on a college campus, but generally that doesn’t happen.

As lately I have been grappling with the issue of learning behaviors and how you encourage them in team settings in order to support innovation, I find this comment fascinating. The answer to the question of how you create an environment where people are receptive and actually expect to learn is a million dollar question for organizations that are focused on radical innovation as part of their strategy. And frankly, that is true for most companies today.

Work used to be a place where you come in, punch your card, don’t ask questions and do what you already know. The more time passes, the more the jobs that answer this description disappear. Instead, we have jobs where you have to constantly learn and more importantly, be open to other disciplines, perspectives and assumptions about how to do things. But when you come with the attitude of the former to a workplace that employees the later, bad things are going to happen. Thus, companies need to find ways to create the “Magic of TED” in their own back yard and to make people ready to be changed by their interactions and conversations. Not an easy task. How do you think companies can accomplish this challenge?



Passion as the basic capability


I copied the above picture from a slide on a presentation given by Gary Hamel in a webinar as part of the Management Innovation Exchange (you need to register to access it; it will be available for a limited time). The hour-long presentation touches on so many subjects and is defiantly worth the time of anyone who leads or manages people, but this particular slide really sparked my interest.

Trying to create some equivalent to Maslow Hierarchy of Needs, Hamel created what he calls Gary Hamel’s Hierarchy of Capabilities. These, according to Hamel are the thing people can bring to their work place. The bottom three is what we used to rely on and what most companies rely on every day. However, the three things at the top (Passion, Creativity, Initiative) are the capabilities that create wealth in this new creative economy. The problem is that these capabilities at the top cannot be commanded. These are things that people choose to bring to work every day or they don’t. Thus, Hamel claims that our job as managers is to create work environments that create a sense of purpose, that motivate and cultivate an atmosphere where employees can bring these things to work every day.

I can’t agree more. In a very simple way, Hamel touches on what, in my view, is the heart of managing. Helping people find their flow. In addition, it also reminded me of an important point about passion.

A lot of people have a problem with the issue of passion. They claim that “Follow you passion” is advice that makes a great story, but in the real world, you can’t really make a living out of your passion. Yes, some do, but they are the lucky ones. You need to be careful with the idea of passion, because it could lead you on a fool’s errand. Mike Rowe makes this claim in his TED talk.

I have written about it before and it is an important lesson that I need to remind myself of:

After I thought about it I realized that I don’t agree with Rowe. I think “follow your passion” is a very good advice. But I think our disagreement lies in the interpretation we give to the phrase “follow your passion”. While – I think – Rowe interprets “Follow your passion” as “do something you love”, I interpret “Follow your passion” as do whatever you do with passion. In the E-book I describe how in my view, being passionate means three main things: Being interested in what you do, striving for change and improvement and sharing your knowledge.

Now, I don’t know that pig farmer from Las-Vegas [Rowe motions him as an example in his talk], but I am pretty sure, that the moment he went into this industry, he followed some or all three of these rules. This doesn’t mean he loves the pig industry and sees higher calling in it. It just means that he does what he does with passion. And this leads to him being successful.

One thing troubles me in Hamel’s explanation as I think he did not take it far enough. In contrast to Maslow’s theory, Hamel’s is not really a hierarchy. The point is, in today’s creative economy, we need to flip the list and start with passion. Creativity, Initiative, intellect, diligence, and yes, even obedience, emanate from passion, and not the other way around. At least the sustainable true kinds do.

So, where are you and your employees on this hierarchy? How are you going to change that and utilize the power of passion?



Preconceived ideas about management


As very often happens, Paul Hebert, the Managing Director for i2i and writer of Incentive Intelligence, writes something that resonates deeply with my held beliefs. In two related posts, one on his blog and one in Fistful of Talent, he touches upon the issue of the meaning of the word “management” and how it is perceived, especially in comparison to the word “supervisor”. Here is the gist:

… I checked the online dictionary to compare the definition of supervise and the definition of manage. The interesting thing? The root of supervise is all about “vision” – overseeing, watching. The root of manage is about controlling, training … After viewing these definitions, I believe we’ve got too much management and not enough supervision.

Managing = External Locus of Control

When “managing” projects to you “tell” people what to do, when to do it by and how to do it?  Most would say sure because  – “I’m the manager and my butt is on the line if we don’t deliver.”

Supervising = Internal Locus of Control

Supervising however means watching – overseeing and correcting when something goes awry.  In this case the real locus of control is with the individual with the supervisor allowing them to do their work, their way (obviously with some constraints such as time/cost.)

I have written before about the fact that I believe that language matters, especially in the world of management.  I have puzzled about the different definitions of the word manger. I tried to explain why I think management and leadership are different things and that opposite to what some think, it is not true that you manage resources and lead people. I am also part (although humble) of an attempt to reinvent management as management 2.0.  God knows, I am an advocate of losing control and stopping with management by rules.

But the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that we don’t only have a problem with our habits, our ingrained assumptions and our language and usage of words. The words themselves – leader, manager, and supervisor – have lost their original meaning and are full of the preconceived ideas that stand behind them. I think Hans Rosling opening statements (which I shortened) for his amazing TED talk, are appropriate:

About 10 years ago, I took on the task to teach global development to Swedish undergraduate students … And I started in our medical university, Karolinska Institute, an undergraduate course called Global Health … I thought, these students coming to us actually have the highest grade you can get in Swedish college systems — so maybe they know everything I’m going to teach them about. So I did a pre-test when they came. And one of the questions from which I learnt a lot was this one: “Which country has the highest child mortality of these five pairs?”

And I put them together, so that in each pair of country, one has twice the child mortality of the other. And this means that it’s much bigger a difference than the uncertainty of the data. I won’t put you at a test here, but it’s Turkey, which is highest there, Poland, Russia, Pakistan and South Africa. And these were the results of the Swedish students. I did it so I got the confidence interval, which is pretty narrow, and I got happy, of course: a 1.8 right answer out of five possible. That means that there was a place for a professor of international health and for my course.

But one late night, when I was compiling the report I really realized my discovery. I have shown that Swedish top students know statistically significantly less about the world than the chimpanzees. (Laughter) Because the chimpanzee would score half right if I gave them two bananas with Sri Lanka and Turkey. They would be right half of the cases.

But the students are not there. The problem for me was not ignorance: it was preconceived ideas.

Our problem today is not ignorance as much as the fact that the words, loaded with preconceived ideas, represent ideologies. In his book, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, author Dan Ariely Writes:

“Once we take ownership of an Idea – Whether it’s about politics or sports – what do we do? We love it perhaps more than we should. We prize it more than it is worth. And most frequently, we have trouble letting go of it because we can’t stand the idea of its loss. What are we left with then? An ideology – rigid and unyielding”.

And as we know so well from politics, once the discussion is about ideology, everybody tends to forget the original question. And in our struggle with words like management, supervision and leadership, loaded with preconceived ideas as they are, we forget what we are trying to achieve. As someone wrote in a Linkedin discussion I am taking part of:

To convince managers to change from obsolete 1.0 to 2.0 is like to convince Luis XIV to change to republic – I’m afraid a revolution is necessary!

I debated with myself how to finish this post, because I try to keep the blog focused on practical suggestions and specific issues to consider. And I have no bottom line for this post. I guess, just raising the issue is part of the solution! Any thoughts/ideas?


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Do you have to know where you are going in order to create something wonderful?


Joshua Prince-Ramus gives an interesting TED talk called: Building a theater that remakes itself. In it, he says the following:

Now, I believe that one really amazing thing will happen if you do this. I’d like to call it the lost art of productively losing control. You do not know what the end result is. But I promise you, with enough brain power and enough passion and enough commitment, you will arrive at conclusions that will transcend convention, and will simply be something that you could not have initially or individually conceived of.

And to remind you that here is an example in which architecture actually did something. But we got to that conclusion without understanding where we were going, what we knew were a series of issues that the company and the client was confronted with. And we took positions with them, and it was through those positions that we began to take architectural manifestations and we arrived at conclusion that none of us, really none of us could ever  have conceived of initially or individually.

Those few of you who regularly follow my blog (thanks by the way) know that lately I have written a lot about creativity and how it is the opposite of productivity as it entails purposeful loss of control. This is due, in part, to research I am conducting these days on the issue of knowledge creating teams.

Prince-Ramus saying resonates with these concepts and highlights an important facet of this. For years, the idea that we must understand the goal and the destination we want to reach before we set on the path. “If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there” says the Cat to Alice. But as Alice’s amazing journey shows, and Prince-Ramus tries to convey, sometimes, the real creativity comes from not knowing what the final destination is. The creative process by definition is one that requires we reach a destination that we haven’t encountered before and while some people can envision it, the real innovative destinations today come out of a combination of minds that allows synergy.

So, do you always know where you are going or do you allow for some productive loss of control?


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Shorts: Clay Shirky on the gap


In this wonderful TED talk, Clay Shirky says one mind-blowing sentence:

The gap is between doing anything and doing nothing.

Think about it. When have you last crossed the gap and did anything? What’s stopping you? Is there any chance that doing nothing will result in good things for you?


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