Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Upcoming teleclass - Leading In A Diverse Workplace

It's become evident in the past few weeks and months that we have not yet conquered the diversity issue - in our communities, in our workplace, and in our personal lives. If anything, some of the usually hidden assumptions about people and their "other-ness" have been brought to the surface by the election of our first black president and by the commentary of influential public figures.

Diversity comes in many forms - gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexual preference are the factors we usually think about or read about in the news. But there is also diversity in our education, experience, and thought processes that also plays a role in our acceptance and effectiveness in the workplace.

Join us for a teleclass Friday, October 16 from 1-2 p.m. where we will discuss
  • some of the issues surrounding diversity in the workplace

  • means by which you can detect your own underlying attitudes that might stand in the way of being effective in a diverse setting

  • some methods leaders can use to enable diversity to benefit both employees and business results

Join us for some candid discussion. Our goal is to help you gain more leverage from your investment in your people, and thereby achieve more of the results you want!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Taking - and Giving - Offense

Whether it's a work of visual art with private parts exposed, lyrics of a pop song, or a passing comment of another person, some people love to take offense. They spout off in righteous indignation at the lack of standards or lack of good breeding demonstrated in another person's actions. During the 2008 political campaign taking offense was an oft-used influencing tactic, as though US voters would interpret thin-skinned reactions to satire and the usual political mud-slinging as strength.

Giving offense

Sometimes giving offense is an intentional act to get other people riled up. The point of the words, picture, or action is to garner attention, even if the attention is negative. When people sit up and take notice, even if it's to react in anger, at least they are engaged. So perhaps in some instances the intentionally offensive behavior could be interpreted as a cheap shot at being noticed. Or perhaps the individual is attempting to make social commentary by testing or stretching the boundaries of their audience's values. It may be provocation, but without the intention of injury.

Probably more often, (unless you're a character in a daytime drama) offending is not intentional. The words or actions are intended to be innocuous, but the receiver is negatively stimulated when the message hits their hot (habits of thought) buttons.

Taking offense

It's a choice to feel offended. This is not to be confused with being wrong if you have hurt feelings. But taking offense is a manner of interpreting the actions of other people as threatening or ill-intentioned. Sometimes the offended one thinks (incorrectly) that they and their sensibilities are being targeted. Some of the collateral damage associated with the process of taking offense results from the offended party's response to the triggering event. They may extend or magnify the impact of the incident by taking retaliatory action - complaining, gossiping or counter-attacking. In this manner one action, interpreted as an offense, can grow into a war.

Effective behavior regarding offense

Often the most effective manner of dealing with offense (if you want to keep feathers unruffled and the water smooth) is to avoid giving it, and to avoid taking it. You are only in control of your own thoughts and your own actions. You can choose to behave in a way that is designed to be helpful, not hurtful. You can challenge ideas without injuring the other party, and when you perceive that something has gone wrong you can approach the person directly to address the misunderstanding.

Perhaps it could be said that it's self-centered to take offense. You may be assuming incorrectly that the other's actions are directed at you, with intent to upset you. It's probably not about you. Instead, try to understand the message, and if you're not sure what was meant, ask. Offenses given and taken create walls in relationships that are preventable.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Books and the impact of goals

Sometimes when we are in search of an idea we can transfer from one context to another. I was reminded of this as a result of my daughter's teacher, Mr. Matthews, and the way he helps first graders get into the habit of regular reading.

Once the school year gets going, Mr. Matthews starts to distribute a reading "Touchdown Sheet." On the sheet are ten places for you to document the books your child has read (or that you have read to them.) When the sheet is full your child returns it to Mr. Matthews and receives a prize (often stickers or a new fancy pencil.) The sheets are numbered, so families can track how many total books they've read. Our daughter just handed in her fourth Touchdown paper and has four additional books ready to enter when she gets the new one.

The class newsletter described the teacher's goal by the end of October - unless I'm having a senior moment the class goal is 500 by then. If the class achieves the year-long goal the teacher sets, Mr. Matthews allows the class to watch him get his hair shaved off. Even with the prevalence of the well-buffed head these days, the shaving has been quite the motivator for budding readers!

I'm reminded of several sound principles in Mr. Matthews' practice:

  1. It's more fun when you count your results.
  2. Short term rewards keep the motivation going.
  3. Deadlines generate bursts of activity.
  4. Individual goals and group goals can increase the likelihood of winning.
  5. It's great when an authority figure makes light of himself or herself to help the team feel powerful - and just to have fun.

Having been part of a book group for a couple of years now, I've experienced the benefits of deadlines to finish reading a specific selection. And I've also noticed that I've been more willing than I gave myself credit for to read somebody else's choice - buying in to someone else's goal. Of course it's reciprocal - at one point in the year everyone in the group buys into my goal and reads my selection.

How can you transfer some of these ideas to the tasks, aspirations, even the chores that you have to complete? I'm certain that Mr. Matthews wouldn't mind that his ideas would take you to a higher level of achievement, even if you are an adult already.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A valentine to an online community

valentines day
Originally uploaded by *omnia*

We're all engaged in the learning curve associated with social networking. Some of us have our faves - my husband Tweets like a fiend, while I prefer LinkedIn for work and FaceBook for personal connections. But I've experienced an interesting phenomenon online that I want to acknowledge - a sense of genuine community.

I'm a member of the Leaders & Thinkers group on LinkedIn, and I've answered questions from time to time there, or lurked and read the discourse on various issues. Then one unsuspecting day I answered a question: "What's on your mind?" (Yes, your question Rand.) And then the fun started.

We've got participants from the US, the UK, Australia and Canada at last glance, and in one month we've generated more than 1,400 posts. Our topics have ranged from US politics to the recent weather crises in Sydney and Georgia to gender differences to bad jokes to a recipe for beer soup. Rand's intention, as stated in the question, was to recreate some of the interaction that he used to experience years ago getting together with peers in a variety of professions after work.

In addition to shared laughs, shared sympathies and some raised hackles from time to time, the merry band of posters developed new links, and even a couple of joint ventures - with an international cast that would not have met otherwise. We've gotten to know one another, and to look forward to catching up with the flow of the discussion that happened when we were out getting work done.

Rand, our fearless leader, has had the task of keeping some of us out of hot water with one another from time to time (and he did so gracefully, offline.) He has nudged us with new twists on a topic, assured us that the content of the thread was open to our contribution, and acknowledged the individuals appearing in the thread. The group took notice when people were there and checked in with them when they weren't.

Now it's possible that the thread will go away soon, while it's successful and before it decays into irrelevance. I can appreciate the inclination to do so. And I can also appreciate the amount of work it takes to keep such a lively conversation somewhat coherent and coordinated. But I've got to say that I want to stay in touch with this crowd. I'm interested in what's going on with them. In the end, whatever happens to the thread, I'm really glad to have been a part of it. Thanks, guys.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cultural Obstacles to Quality

Quality improvement sounds like one of those mom and apple pie concepts - who wouldn't want to do it? But it's not just a matter of deciding one day, "We're going to improve the quality of our products and services." Continuous improvement requires the alignment of the company's structure, processes, rewards and people with the strategy. Of these resources, alignment of the people resource requires the most attention.

Cultural obstacles are like the trees on the hillside that keep the snowball from rolling all the way down. Remove the trees and the snowball (your quality culture) can gain momentum. Here are some of the obstacles you can often count on addressing:

  • Management knows best - Although your quality culture needs to be management directed, the activities within it require the involvement of employees at every level. Although managers often have the most extensive formal education, they're not the ones actually doing the work, so they are not aware of the intricacies that impact quality output.
  • Not invented here - This can be a management issue, or a cross-functional one. It's easy to think that your own ideas are the best, but the people that can see beyond an idea's origin to its value and its application will win the day.
  • It's the people, stupid, or rather the stupid people - In some organizations it's habitual to attribute poor quality to employee failings like poor motivation, inattention to detail, lassitude, etc. J. Edwards Deming, the father of the quality movement, tells us the contrary - that 85% of poor quality is caused by bad processes. In service businesses the process impact is 95%.
  • Fear motivates - Perhaps in the very short term fear can cause people to do what their managers want. But if the culture routinely assassinates people for making mistakes it's unlikely that employees are going to stick their necks out to try new ideas. What if they don't work? This doesn't mean that it's OK to make the same mistake over and over. The company needs a "test and measure" attitude to incorporate new ideas while managing the risk.
  • Stick to your own knitting - Functional silos often have their own communication processes and their own cultures. The customers, however, have to interact with multiple departments. Who is managing the "white space" between them? And often the best targets for process redesign are so because they cross functional lines and are likely to have failures or delays in the hand-offs.
  • "We're pretty good" - Jim Collins wrote that "good is the enemy of great." In addition, subjective evaluation is the enemy of good quality. Measurement is quality's friend. You need to know how much you're producing, how much it costs, how long it takes, etc. in numbers and dollars that can tell you whether you're improving or not.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who owns quality in your company?

Originally uploaded by Tarnie

Who do you hold ultimately responsible for the quality of the products or services your company produces?

  1. Your CEO?
  2. Your Quality Assurance Manager?
  3. Line managers?
  4. Or every employee in your business?

If you answered anything but #4, you're missing the boat on quality, and it's costing you money. Think about the costs associated with poor quality:

  • Cost of preventing problems before they happen
  • Cost of detecting quality issues when they happen
  • Cost of handling quality problems before the customer sees them
  • Cost of handling quality problems after the customer has seen them

The costs associated with quality grow as the unresolved problems move farther and farther down the production and sales process in the form of scrap and overtime, then on into returns, complaints, and warranty. And of course once the customer detects quality problems they'll tell other current and prospective customers. Not a good scenario to receive negative word of mouth when you're trying to grow. Advertising dollars can't overcome poor quality.

If you want to identify and resolve quality issues as early in the process as possible, who better than to rely on the people who are doing the work? They understand in great detail what quality looks like. Why perform five operations on a product (waiting to inspect flaws out at the end) when the second one wasn't right?

Quality is more than having pride in one's work. It's more than slogan or exhortation - it's a whole way of doing business that directly involves employees at every level and capitalizes on all of the brainpower in your company.

If you don't currently have a definition of what "quality" means in your company, and if you don't have operating principles on how to achieve it - you're missing a key component in being profitable and competitive over the long haul.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New rules for successful relationships

Pool Rules
Originally uploaded by Joe Shlabotnik

I get a kick out of Bill Maher's "New Rules" so I thought I'd start the week by taking a cut at some of my new rules for relationships:

  • Rule - When he says he wants to watch the game it really means he wants to watch the game. He doesn't want the game to be merely on while you discuss next year's vegetable garden plans.
  • Rule - When she's called you several times to say that dinner's on the table and you haven't come to the table yet - you have just earned 5 credits toward taking her to see a chick flick.
  • Rule - When your significant other experiences the natural consequences of leaving/storing their valuables in any number of different places, don't rise to the bait and say "I told you so."
  • Rule - If your husband or boyfriend isn't hungry, watching football or sleeping, he'd probably prefer that you go find your fancy lingerie and put it on.
  • Rule - If your wife or girlfriend is curled up with fuzzy slippers, an afghan and a good book it probably means you should leave her alone. Or bring her a glass of wine and then leave her alone.
  • Rule - If you don't like your partner's friends you're probably better off keeping the information to yourself and stay home when they go out with them. Exception - if the friends tend to lure your innocent partner into trouble you'd better be there to supervise, or at the very least, to take away the element of fun.
  • Rule - If you think you know better than your partner or spouse how to handle a situation and it's their situation, you're probably better off keeping your mouth shut.
  • Rule - If you think your partner doesn't look nearly as good as they did when you met, go look in the mirror. Hard. Without steam. And with your bifocals on.
  • Rule - If you think your spouse had a really crummy day, give them a hug and a really good kiss. Then go out for dinner. ( I never said that I didn't have an agenda when writing these rules!)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

How are you going to handle the flu?

The swine flu is all over the news again, and back-to-school nights are full of advisories, no, pleas, that parents keep their little walking petri dishes at home when they're sick. Whether you've gotten your flu shot or not, or whether you'll be getting your swine flu immunization too, what are you going to do about the flu in your workplace?

  • What is your absentee policy? Do you penalize people who stay home so as not to infect their coworkers? Does your company have a culture that says people are expected to come in early, stay late, and come in sick to demonstrate their dedication? If you do, the likelihood is greater that an infectious disease is going to run rampant in your company.
  • Is your staff developed well enough to cover for absent workers? If one missing person can mess up your operation you've got a training issue. If you haven't done it, get going on your cross-training as soon as possible. This is really an issue that goes beyond the flu. People could be missing for vacation, leave the company, they could go to training - all of which could require a temporary or more permanent replacement.
  • Do you have a healthy work environment? One of the key flu prevention behaviors is frequent handwashing. Do you keep hand sanitizer in convenient locations so workers who have sniffles and sneezes can keep their hands from spreading whatever bug is ailing them?
  • Are you taking preventive steps? Are you talking about health issues (flu or otherwise) with your employees? Are you guiding them to resources (or providing them) for immunization and/or education?

Think of health education and sickness prevention as preventive maintenance for people, just like you'd make sure to take the steps necessary to prevent one of your key machines from going down. Only there's more to health focus than just maintaining productivity - it demonstrates humanity and values that say employees are more than cogs in your company's production machine.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Celebrating community and achievement

Yesterday my family visited a local treasure, the York Fair - the oldest fair in the United States. First held in 1765, the Fair began before the country was founded, and it survived through a civil war, two World Wars, Vietnam and 9/11. According the fair website, "A charter to hold that fair was granted to the people of York by Thomas Penn, son of William Penn in recognition of “the flourishing state to which the town hath arrived through their industry."

A lot has changed over the years, reflecting changing times and tastes. At first it was a two-day agricultural market on the town commons. Then in 1853 the Agricultural Association was formed, the fair expanded, and it found its own dedicated location. During the Civil War, starting with the firing on Fort Sumter, wounded Union Soldiers were treated on the fairgrounds. The hospitals were made permanent enough that injured soldiers displaced the fair until 1865.

The only other interruption in the fair was due to health issues. The fair remained open after the outbreak of World War I, but was not held in 1918 due to an influenza outbreak that killed 166 people in York.

The York Fair is no longer on the hospital site - it expanded from its original two days to a ten-day event, with national musical acts performing on its Grandstand. The York County Agricultural Association has built several exhibition halls and an exhibition arena, which houses farm animal competitions during the fair and a variety of other events throughout the year.

Over the years the York Fair has changed to meet changing tastes, in some years adding features like strong men, dancing girls, a freak show, horse races, games, a battle of the local bands, and fundraising booths for a variety of community organizations. And of course we can't forget the food - much of it comprised of something delicious deep fried or coated with something sugary.

When families take their children to the fair today, they can ride rides, build bug houses or bird houses at the Home Depot children's workshop, buy trinkets, or they can take the more traditional tour of the original agricultural offerings. Community members submit items ranging from knitted afghans to jellies and pies, from hornet's nests to giant pumpkins - all with the goal of receiving a coveted blue ribbon or Grand Champion designation from the judges.

Until this year we hadn't been to the fair in a couple of years. Like most local treasures, we natives tend to take it for granted. But every now and then, like this year, people like me rediscover its history, its charm, and its recognition of a very special segment of our local economy.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Happy Birthday

I realized the other day that I've been blogging for four years now - amazing to consider that 856 posts later (this is 857) there are still things to say.

Thank you for those of you who have inspired posts, and to those of you who have said to me, "Were you writing about us?" You have seen yourselves in the examples, and that's great. That's my goal - to hold up a mirror in written form so you can see where you are and also what's possible for you.

Thank you to those of you who subscribe (it's easy if you haven't done it yet. Just look in the right column,) and thank you those of you who check in from time to time. Thank you also to my commenters. We may not always agree, but I welcome the conversation.

It's great fun to think through one's keyboard, and then to share. Posting here has become a morning ritual just like my cup of tea and peanut butter-coated English muffin. So enough for today. Go out and conquer, follow your dreams, and hold yourself accountable to do the things that will get you there. I'm rooting for you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

When 99% isn't good enough

32 variations on a theme
Originally uploaded by kevindooley

Nobody's perfect, right? Sometimes in football the kick isn't good, and the extra-point miss on the goalposts places the team at risk if the other team scores. On occasion the souffle flops, or the hair doesn't cooperate with the 'do. Intuitively we understand that it won't work 100% of the time. But there are times when even 99% good isn't good enough - it's variation that must be eliminated.

Here are some examples:

  • Customer complaints (based on 20,000 orders shipped) - 99% performance means that 200 customers are dissatisfied
  • Prescriptions filled (based on 5,000 patients) - 99% performance means that 50 people receive the wrong medication, wrong instructions, etc., perhaps with dire consequences
  • An intersection with confusing traffic signals or deceptive topography that handles 350,000 vehicles per day - 99% performance means that 3,500 drivers will have problems there every day, and that's just at that one intersection.

So how do you get that 99% performance up to 99.9% or even 99.9997% (6 sigma)?

  1. Measure the problem - validate it with data
  2. Keep customer benefits in mind - after all, they make or break your business
  3. Verify the root cause of the variation with facts and data
  4. Develop a new solution - reruns of old solutions will replicate your old results
  5. Test your solution to manage risk - work out the bugs before you do a wholesale implementation
  6. Measure the results of your solution - data, data, data
  7. Maintain your gains

The variation might stem from inputs to the process like orders, raw materials or information. It might occur in tasks within the process, or in the outputs (final defects, on-time delivery.) And ultimately variation could manifest with customers in the form of complaints which could send them and all of their friends and business associates elsewhere to do business.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Communication - what's your goal?

Originally uploaded by DailyPic

When you open your mouth or place your fingers on the keyboard or power up your cellphone - what's your goal? What would you like to accomplish in this interaction, right here, this one right now? Are you trying to share information, convince, elicit a reaction, put down or lift up the other person?

You're only a piece of the communication transaction, so you're only going to be able to choose your piece of it - the rest is up to the receiver(s). But forethought about your goals can help you be more intentional about controlling certain variables that will help you or harm you in your attempts. Variables like:

  • Audience
  • Privacy
  • Interference
  • Timing or time constraints
  • The method you use (oral or written, online or in person, formal or informal)
  • Location
  • Exactly what you choose to say and how you choose to say it - or not

In general, the person who is more intentional and more prepared is the person who is more likely to achieve his or her goals, because more of the variables will be working to his advantage.

It is possible to be too strategic in certain types of communication. Formal addresses or meetings call for multiple levels of preparation and even dry runs to make sure all systems are "go." But if you orchestrate too much in an otherwise informal setting, the receiver's manipulation radar will start to sound - and the effectiveness of your communication will be compromised.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Reaction to Obama's health care speech

This morning I am quite proud of President Obama. I was glued to the television to hear his speech on health care reform. Many have been wondering over the Congressional recess just where he stands. And prior to his speech, amidst all of the partisan circus, some of the folks who voted for him expressed concern that perhaps he wasn't the transformational leader they thought he was. The speech itself isn't the accomplishment of health care reform. A lot of debate still has to be undertaken. But I think the concerns about Obama's willingness to lead this have been put to rest.

A few observations about the speech.
  • The President created context about the long journey of health care reform that began with Teddy Roosevelt 100 years ago, and he acknowledged the persistence of Rep. John Dingle (and his father) in keeping the topic on the agenda.
  • Obama cited details, not just broad concepts. The details of his plan were necessary to allay some of the overblown fears about the meaning of health care reform.
  • One detail reinforced in many ways hit right at the pocketbook - he said directly that he will not sign any bill that adds to the deficit.
  • The President looked us right in the eye and debunked the untruths that have been ginned up by opponents to create fear and opposition to his plan.
  • He acknowledged the positive contributions to his plan made by Democrats and Republicans alike, including his predecessor and his competitors in last year's election.
  • He told everyone in the room that his door is open for serious ideas, but he's not going to waste time on those people who are prioritizing their own political points over the health of the nation.
  • Obama gave the recently passed angel of social justice through health care, Ted Kennedy, his due in a wrapup that named health care reform a moral imperative.

We've yet to see whether Congress will do what they need to do, but for reasons of communication technique, leadership, and of course, political achievement, this speech will be one we will remember.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Are you tooting your own horn?

"If you done it, it ain't bragging." - Walt Whitman

"Conceit is bragging about yourself. Confidence means you believe you can get the job done. " - Johnny Unitas

"It's not bragging if you can back it up." - Muhammad Ali

Why do some of us have a hard time tooting our own horn, talking about our accomplishments to other people? For many people, the reluctance to do anything resembling bragging flies right in the face of their upbringing, religious training, etc. that says humility is the best way. At the same time, the Bible says that we should not hide our light under a bushel basket. Now which is it??

In today's market of "The Brand Called You" (thank you Tom Peters,) your value is determined by your projects, by your track record of accomplishments. This applies whether you're working inside a corporation or running a one-person shop. So it seems that skill at bragging (or self-marketing) is essential for success.

In her book Brag: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, Peggy Klaus cites several myths about self-promotion:

  1. A job well done speaks for itself. Not necessarily.
  2. Bragging is something you do during performance reviews. If you wait until then to let your boss know what you've been accomplishing, your review won't reflect your real performance. And if nobody but your boss knows what you've done and he or she is gone in the next round of downsizing, your track record might go right along with them. leaving you an unknown quantity with their replacement.
  3. Humility gets you noticed. No it won't. It's likely to make you look weak when you don't acknowledge what you've done, or when you pass off the credit to luck, the team, etc. There's a difference between sharing your excitement and stretching the truth.
  4. I don't have to brag, people will do it for me. This is the equivalent of sitting in a soda shoppe in Hollywood waiting to be discovered. If you absolutely must delegate, then pay someone whose job it is to toot your horn. Send press releases to trade publications and newspapers if you don't want to say it with your own mouth, but get the word out!
  5. More is better. Nobody wants to hear your entire curriculum vitae, and especially not if you haven't asked permission first. Share the parts that are the most relevant, that get you excited. It's about editing, about cropping the photo to reveal the best parts.
  6. Good girls don't brag. Old tapes tell many women not to be bossy, not to upstage other people, etc. But if a woman is accomplished yet not willing to share it, she's being inauthentic. And other people won't believe she's valuable unless she believes it first.
  7. Brag is a four-letter word. Bragging isn't about stretching the truth, about faking someone out. It's about sharing the best parts of your story.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What do you stand for?

Caution: Rant warning! This is an assortment of topics that are getting under my skin today:

  • To what extent do you believe leadership is about negotiation vs. standing for something and putting a stake in the ground? To what extent do you believe leadership is about educating oneself and knowing the facts rather than simply about repeating what was heard second- or third-hand? To what extent is it a leader's responsibility to consider the credibility of the source of the information they are taking in?
  • Satire and commentary have a point of view and news is supposed to be impartial, without bias. Leaders know what they're watching. Apparently much of the US public isn't making that distinction right now.
  • Content that makes "good TV" or "good radio" is not necessarily factual, as a matter of fact hyperbole and distortion is often a requirement. Whether listeners agree or not, the fact that they are listening and contributing to ratings means stations win larger revenues from advertisers. At least until the advertisers find the message so egregious that they refuse to be associated with certain shows. I'm not naming names here only because I don't want to give some of the biggest wackos extra publicity.
  • Do you really believe that schools are opting out of the President's message next week because they think he's going to somehow talk the kids into forcing their parents to support health care reform? C'mon - this has only two potential motivations -1) politicizing an event through which it is the privilege, even the responsibility of the president to be a role model, and 2) racism expressed in code, through excuses meant to make the rationale more palatable by a wider range of people.
  • Why is it that attendees at town meetings holler and call for free speech when they aren't allowing other people the same right? Liberty and justice FOR ALL. Where's Emily Post when you need her? Heck, where's the World Wrestling Federation when you need 'em to take somebody down?

Street brawling is not leadership. Shrinking back and staying quiet when you are convinced that someone has inaccurate information is not leadership. Placing one's own interests over the common good is not leadership.

Are you going to stand by and just watch this, or are you going to stand for something?

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Put on your thinking hats

Running short on creative ideas? Feel like you're reliving the same old discussions about solving the same old problems and not making any progress? Try using the metaphorical "hats" developed by Edward deBono in his book, Six Thinking Hats.

The premise is this: we get stuck looking at things from the same perspective. The thinking hats enable us to adopt roles or points of view that change our perspective and thereby come up with fresher and/or better ideas. Here you go:

  • White - Information - Asking for information from others.

  • Black - Judgement - Playing devil's advocate. Explaining why something won't work.

  • Green - Creativity - Offering possibilities, ideas.

  • Red - Intuition - Explaining hunches, feelings, gut senses.

  • Yellow - Optimism - Being positive, enthusiastic, supportive.

  • Blue - Thinking - Using rationalism, logic, intellect.

Take a look at the list. What hat(s) are you usually wearing? Are there some that you resist, or that you're not sure you're "allowed" to wear? What impact has that had on your thinking, and on the decisions you've made?

When in a group setting, certain members tend to adopt roles that might stem from their natural temperament, from the patterns of communication in the group, or from their reluctance to take on a certain role (like black, the hat of the devil's advocate.) Once the group has been introduced to the hats they can use them to

  1. Give greater notice to types of thinking not usually included in the discussion

  2. Overcome reluctance or pressure related to certain types of thinking

  3. Reinforce a vocabulary for different ways of thinking about an issue

  4. Help individuals "sing a different song" in the discussion, thus changing the interpersonal dynamic and boosting creativity.

As in most behavior, it gets back to habits of behavior and habits of thought. Sometimes it's useful, even necessary, to disrupt or suspend habits temporarily in order to get good stuff done. I think the six thinking hats are a cool way to do it.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where does innovation come from in your company?

Originally uploaded by Vermin Inc

Where does innovation come from in your company? Do you have a research and development department or product development group that is charged with generating new ideas? Innovation is often one of those words like "quality" and "honesty" that show up on vision statements - a hearts-and-flowers concept, but nobody exactly knows what the planning team means by it in the context of their company.

Why innovate in the first place? Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a program called "Innovation: from concept to commercialization." That would imply that although the creative process can be intrinsically rewarding, the goal of innovation in business is to make some positive impact on sales. And of course because it all comes down to the language of money in business, innovation efforts can be directed to positively impact the cost side of the equation as well, permitting the ownership of the company to retain a larger proportion of the sales dollars it generates.

  • Innovation in R & D - If your product is highly technical, the knowledge needed for innovation might be centralized within a department of experts. Pharmaceutical formulas, both brand new and tweaks of existing products, would obviously require chemists. R & D in less technical companies with more purchased production components might consist of one person who is charged with staying on top of vendors' best new offerings.
  • Innovation on the production line - when the culture of innovation is well-established in a company, front line folks look for incremental ways to make the production process more efficient and more effective. In complex processes with interdepartmental hand-offs a team may be established to re-invent a process. This "bubble-up" version of innovation relies upon well-trained, motivated staff - but even moreso on leadership that invites, implements and rewards innovation.
  • Customer-driven innovation - This might seem like a no-brainer at first, but an awful lot of companies stare at their own navels when looking for new product ideas or product improvements. They don't ask the very people who might be buying them. A customer driven process actively involves key customers (and vendors) in the innovation, ensuring that the supply chain will support it and the end user will want it.

Innovation need not be limited to product development, although that's the main application discussed here. Companies have created innovative new work environments to support the kind of creative thinking they want, or to boost communication among departments. It's a matter of looking at your goals, then turning things around, upside-down, and inside out to gain new perspectives on how to achieve them.

You and your staff aren't likely to generate your most creative ideas on the first shot. You might have to stretch your thinking and limber it up a bit. You might have to take the automatic editors off so that first blush "harebrained ideas" can be processed long enough that you can find their application.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Taking a Look at Your Circle Of Friends

The social part of our lives serves many purposes - it provides fun and joy and creates the sense of connectedness that humans need to thrive. Our friends comprise an important inner circle in our social sphere - a group that helps us cope when other parts of our life aren't going too well, that celebrates our successes as heartily as we do ourselves, and even defines us.

Let's take a look at some of the factors that can contribute to a satisfying social circle:

  • Diversity - Diversity isn't only a matter of gender, race, religion, etc., although it can be helpful to our overall navigation of the world if we are effective at navigating culturally diverse territory. Friends who are different from us are valuable to us for different reasons. One friend might be the one you go to when you need TLC, another might be a reliable source for laughs. One of your friends might need you, and that's the glue that keeps you connected. If you're married and have kids, it helps you to keep perspective to have a friend who's single, or who has no kids. You'll talk about things outside your daily experience, and get a glimpse at the color of the grass on the other side of the fence. It isn't necessarily greener than yours, so stop complaining.
  • Reciprocity - Friendship isn't a one-way street; both participants need to contribute to make it a real relationship. We can feel hurt when we're always the person who initiates contact, and we can feel like we're being stalked when subtle messages of "No, thank you" aren't understood.
  • Attachment - This component is an extension of reciprocity. Some friends behave as though they're connected at the hip - they do everything together. Others can start right where they left off even if the friends have been physically apart for months, even years. The intensity of some friendships can wax and wane as our (and their) life experiences bring us closer or lure us apart from one another.
  • Shared values - Although diversity adds spice to our friendships, we all have limits on how far afield our friends can be from us in regard to values. I know I look for shared values (mine) when I take a look at my teen's friends and their parents. There's some reassurance when you're pretty sure you're on the same page. On the other hand, there are those of us who love no activity more than a vigorous debate - in that case the friends may not share some values, but do share the value that debate is fun and interesting and that it should be incorporated into your social life.
  • Shared experiences - Our shared experiences give us something to talk about - a context for our friendship. The inside joke is an example of friendship glue that arises from this component. Friends' shared history of foes or illnesses conquered, triumphs celebrated, etc. reveal the qualities of the friendship - trust, reliability, compassion, selflessness.
  • Authenticity - It's hard to be friends when you're protecting yourself. Real friendship sprouts from the revealing and acceptance of our unguarded, unedited, vulnerable selves. The genuine connection with a friend includes good news and bad news. It encompasses the weathering of storms outside of your friendship - and inside it.
  • Trust - Trust precedes authenticity - most people proceed with caution in any sort of relationship until they have tested (a little) and found the other person to be trustworthy. This is easier for some people than others - some of us assume trustworthiness unless our friend is proved to be otherwise. And some of us have a lower tolerance for breach of trust - we may choose to lose the friend rather than feel at risk.

There are, of course, gender differences in friendship. It's tempting for women (at least some of them) to sideline their female friends when they are involved with a man, then to realize later that they've lost something and work to reconnect. It's easier for men to talk about the deeper subjects of their lives when they are engaged in some sort of parallel activity with their friends, rather than face to face. But for today the gender differences aren't important. Friendships are what's important.

It's easy to let friendships slide in the bustle of your daily calendar. They require an investment of time and energy to thrive, just like the rest of your life. There is no prescribed number of friends that you should have, and no prescribed level of involvement. It's your decision to build the kind of circle of friends that nourishes you.