Saturday, November 27, 2010

Leadership: Awakening the Best in People, by Carl H. Neu, Jr.

Leadership: Awakening the Best in People

by Carl H. Neu, Jr.

    Leadership and stewardship are not bestowed upon public officials at swearing in ceremonies. They are, instead, obligations of one’s position as a county commissioner, mayor, council member or public administrator.  One can hold power and possess authority without ever being a leader. Conversely, some highly effective leaders hold no formal authority, but command people’s attention and engage their energies toward bringing about constructive change and responses to challenges facing communities.  
    The rise of neighborhood groups and citizens participating directly in community decision making are testimony to the impact of leaders without formal authority.  In fact, it has been the primary means by which previously disenfranchised persons such as women, minorities and political outsiders captured people’s attention and affected change. It is at the heart of populist philosophy.  Effective leaders and stewards especially at the local level must learn, exhibit and master at least these six

    1. Leaders engage people and their energies rather than give them ready answers and “quick-fix” solutions.

    Leadership isn’t about possessing Herculean strength, Aristotelian brilliance, or the oratorical skills of a Pericles. It isn’t about being charismatic, handsome, beautiful or even perfect in every aspect of one’s life. It is about touching someone’s imagination and conscience. It can start with no more than a simple question or an invitation to become involved in something. It is a process of “reaching out and touching” someone in a way that incorporates that person into a community of people. Leaders move people beyond preoccupation with self and the mundane elements of everyday life to a heightened sense of awareness and the potential to make a difference about issues that really matter to them and their future. Leaders engage people on issues that matter.

    2. Leaders inspire themselves and others to their very best efforts.

    Leaders inspire a worthwhile vision, goals and commitment to make desired future happen. Stewards ensure the capacity to keep the process vital, that required resources are made available, that responsible leadership and management succession occurs, and that the institution will survive and prosper. But, first, people must be inspired to see within themselves their inherent potential for “best. ” Leaders expand the consciousness and capacity of those whose lives they touch toward becoming the best they can be.
    Leaders inspire by example. When they err, they admit it. When they succeed, they are not vainglorious.  They know one’s actions demonstrate their inner character and always “speak” louder and more truthfully than one’s words.  Many who aspire to be leaders fail to grasp this essential concept. They fail as leaders, they fail as persons ethically, they hurt people and their communities, and they lack the humility that comes with maturity and wisdom.  T rue leaders never define a people downward. They inspire themselves and others upward.

    3. Leaders focus on the future and get agreement on common vision, goals, priorities and direction.

    Leaders, in the words of Thomas Cronin, “make things happen that might not otherwise happen and prevent things from happening that ordinarily might happen. [Leadership] is a process of getting people working together to achieve common goals and aspirations--a process that helps people transform intentions into positive action, visions into reality. ”

    4. Leaders empower and support - rather than control and direct - people toward achieving desired outcomes.

    All too often, people in authority or high office feel a need to control or limit the options of others, especially those with whom they disagree. This is the consequence of untamed ego and self importance which over time, if unchecked, produce forms of tyranny. Leaders help those they engage to discover the leadership capacity within themselves and, when that discovery occurs, they step aside so that these new leaders can act and repeat the process. They know human energy and creativity, once released, are limitless.
    Leadership is not just giving people the resources and the authority to act; it also is helping people learn and grow to develop with themselves the capacity to evaluate events and issues, make decisions on how to proceed, to resolve conflicts and build trust, and to achieve the outcomes they desire.

    5. Leaders engender a perspective of “we” and partnership.

    Leaders work with and through people recognizing that organizations and communities really are teams -- people joined together to achieve outcomes no individual can achieve alone. They build a sense of “we” rather than a sense of “me” or “them. ” They do not divide people against each other into camps or factions. They unite people toward common goals.
    Leaders engage people individually because they know one person can make a difference, but they also know that this one person united with others in a sense of partnership produses the “power of many” captured in the phrase “we the people” and the term community. Leaders see communities as living entities in which people interact with and mobilize others to bring about change and progress. Healthy communities, successful societies and even harmonious neighborhoods result from diverse groups focusing on working together toward common goals in a sense of collaboration--a sense of “we. ”
    People are capable of so much if they unite. Leaders are the catalysts of union and progress that result from awakening within people the possibilities they possess. In this sense, leaders really are stewards and servants rather than rulers and masters.

    6. Leaders are principled persons possessing moral behavior, character, values and integrity.

    A leader’s main strength is the ability to operate close enough to people (followers) to draw them to the leader’s level of moral development and maturity. If leaders are to elevate people’s capacities and awareness, they, first, must elevate within others their standards and sense of equity, fairness, prudence, honor, courage and civility.
Values define personality, behavior and one’s character. Values allow one to operate with integrity even in the absence of incentives or sanctions. They give one the courage of conviction, respect for the rules that bind people together, and the ability to act responsibly even in times of chaos and conflicting opinions and choices. When integrity and values flee, people flounder, “we” degenerates into “them,” harsh conflict results, and communities experience that which is referred to as “crises in leadership.
    Leadership is never values free or values loose. Leaders know that their private values and character always impact their public character and behavior. To believe otherwise is self-deception and sophistry. Leadership that lacks personal integrity spawns disingenuousness, perfidy, irresoluteness and incivility as precludes to decadence and community disintegration. These are the very antithesis of the leader’s purpose. For this reason, real leaders never engage in campaigns of deception, manipulation, pedagogy, and self-promotion.

    7. Leaders promote mutual respect and civility in all relationships.

    With increasing frequency, local government officials complain about the increasing amount of coarseness and lack of civility they are experiencing within their councils and in their community’s public discourse especially when controversy arises. Controversy, conflict and disagreement are natural occurrences in all meaningful relationships. The issue is not that disagreement occurs, but how one deals with that disagreement without being disagreeable, rudely hostile and, in extreme cases, irrationally immature.
    All too often, we witness coarseness and incivility in national debates and on many “scram fest” radio and television talk shows. We’ve seen it reach inane proportions in our nation’s capitol and, now, in state legislatures.  The cutting edges of coarseness and incivility destroy relationships, productive communications, and reason as the
basis for resolving disagreements constructively. Ultimately, they destroy communities, render leadership bodies impotent, and become a major disincentive for entering public office. Leaders understand that community is achieved and sustained through relationships nurtured and maintained by courtesy, respect, personal maturity and
civility. All of these essential elements can be preserved even in instances of controversy and disagreement by discussing the issues rather than attacking and belittling those with whom we disagree or whose opinions differ from ours.
Carl Neu is President of Neu and Company and director of the Center for the Future of Local Government™. He is a former council member in Lakewood, Colorado.  
©Neu and Company and the Center for the Future of Local Governance™, 1998 and 2006. All rights reserved. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines

Employees See Death When You Change Their Routines:

You may have had this experience: You alter an employee's routine or change the way he's evaluated, and you get a reaction that's far bigger and more negative than anything you expected.

What did you do wrong? Probably nothing except underestimate his fear of death

Sounds strange, but a fascinating field of research known as terror management theory has shed light on the connection between people's reactions to change and their awareness of the big change that awaits us all

The basic idea is that people go to great lengths to repress awareness of mortality. Studies show that we create three existential buffers to protect us from this knowledge: Consistency allows us to see the world as orderly, predictable, familiar, and safe. Standards of justice allow us to establish and enforce a code of what's good and fair. Culture imbues us with the sense that we have contributed to, and are participating in, a larger and enduring system of beliefs.

Anything that threatens these buffers exposes us to the looming reality of death. Change an employee's routine, and you've undermined the consistency barrier. Tell a salesperson he'll no longer be evaluated on the basis of revenue and now must hit certain cross-selling and teamwork targets, and you've attacked his standard of justice. Alter the company's mission, and you've pierced the culture buffer by requiring him to reconstruct his worldview.

Faced with any of these changes, an employee is likely to feel deeply threatened. The more people feel threatened, the more they dig in — or try to escape. One of us (Bailey) took the latter route when the university where he was working as a young professor merged its separate business schools. Faced with the prospect of new colleagues, new students, new campuses — and, most distressing, new promotion committees — he left the job within months.

Fortunately, there's a lot leaders can do to ease employees' unconscious fear of death. Be consistent — make sure employees are informed about, and trained in, new operational procedures well in advance of any change, allowing them to acclimate. If there are to be changes in performance measurement, painstakingly explain the shifts to illustrate their implications. If there's to be a rethinking of culture, create a detailed and nuanced justification for why beliefs and values need to change — culture shift is less threatening if it's honestly framed as a needed adaptation. And leaders should acknowledge that change equals loss. Otherwise they'll appear clueless.

Change is necessary, but so is an understanding of how it invades people's critical bulwarks against the awareness of mortality. We can't stave off death forever, but good leadership can temper the debilitating effects of being reminded of it at work.

James R. Bailey is the Ave Tucker Professor of Leadership and chair of the Department of Management at the School of Business, George Washington University. Jonathan Raelin is an assistant professor at the University of Bath in the UK.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Colin Powell's Lessons on Leadership, by Bryan McBournie

This post was written by SmartBrief’s Bryan McBournie. Follow Bryan, editor of the free daily newsletter Wind Energy SmartBrief, on Twitter @SB_Energy.
Colin Powell, a former secretary of state, national security adviser and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, is no stranger to leadership. Powell, 73, is now working on projects at home and abroad, including helping to build a new educational system in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. He shared his advice on leadership this week at the American Wind Energy Association Fall Symposium in Phoenix.
Powell said that his idea of what it is to be a leader evolved as he moved through various positions in public service. Among his key points:
  • Leaders exist to give followers what they need to get their job done. It is the followers who go into battle and accomplish the tasks assigned.
  • The most important part of leadership is instilling trust in those you command.If you have their trust, they will follow you anywhere. “Every human endeavor has leaders and followers, and your job as a leader is to inspire,” he said.
  • Leadership begins with goals. When the followers know what the goals are, everyone understands the importance of their own role for the common purpose.
  • People want to know that you are serving a greater purpose than just your own.“Increasingly, our people want to see leaders who are respected, leaders who are selfless,” Powell said.
  • Express appreciation. Make sure that those under your command understand that you appreciate what they are doing, Powell  said. While serving as secretary of state, Powell said, he let people know he appreciated their work through personal visits and thank-you cards.
  • Solve problems. A leader also needs to recognize when someone is not performing well. It is a leader’s job to identify the source of the problem, and fix it. “Leadership is problem-solving, and you are expected as leaders to know what’s going on throughout your organization,” he said.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Leading Without Controlling: Why Leaders Should Try To Be Overwhelmed, by Peter Bregman at HBR

This was the fourth day of our five days together, and we were swirling in chaos. There were almost thirty of us in a small room as part of Ann Bradney's leadership workshop I wrote about last week.
Sara* was on the floor, cradling the arm and leg she had broken several months earlier, feeling broken herself, crying as she thought about her son who died five years ago. A few feet away from her, Angelo stood with his hands on his chest, also crying, immersed in his experience of alienation from his mother. Across the room, Zoe was huddled with her sister, Chloe, as they felt the pain of losing their own mother and confronted their fear of losing each other.
As I looked around the room, I saw two or three other people scattered about, each struggling with deep emotions of loss, fear, anger, and sadness. The noise was disorienting. People were crying, laughing, shouting, hugging, and comforting each other, all at the same time. It was completely out of control.
Just like life itself.
We were a microcosm of the world and of every organization I've ever known. Not just the pain, though that certainly exists wherever we're brave enough to look, but the multiplicity of activity. The variety of individuals and groups, each occupied, engulfed even, by their own concerns, needs, and desires.
To top it off, we had only one established leader, Ann, to manage the mayhem. It was an impossible job. She couldn't be in seven places at once. She couldn't support each of the people who needed her. She had set herself up to fail.
Which, it eventually dawned on me, was her plan all along.
Ann didn't just let the chaos happen by accident. She welcomed it. Because the perfect ingredient to draw out leadership is exactly the one most of us, including leaders, fight so hard to avoid: overwhelm.
Leaders like to be in control. I know that's true for me. I want things to turn out right and I feel — often mistakenly — that if I have control over them, they will.
But here's the thing: the more control I have over something, the less room there is for other people to step into their own leadership. If Ann didn't need the help, many of us would have sat back watching, happy to let her lead.
When I took a bird's eye view of the room, I saw that there were only six, maybe seven, people who needed help at that moment. The rest of us, close to twenty, were in a physical, psychological, and emotional place where we could offer help.
But it's hard to offer help, to step into your own leadership. It requires tremendous courage. You have to risk being wrong, overstepping your bounds, and standing alone.
Which is why we needed a nudge.
So Ann created a situation that she couldn't possibly handle by herself, and people stepped up. One participant, Janice, went over to Zoe and Chloe, the two sisters, and spoke softly to them. Another participant, Holly, sat next to Sara, who was mourning the loss of her son and held her. And I went over to Angelo, who looked up at me for a moment and then fell into my arms crying.
It's not that Janice, Holly, and I were the leaders in the workshop. The day before, it was me who was crying, and Angelo who did the comforting. But on this day, in this moment, we were in a position to reach out.
Designing chaos into a process is the antithesis of what most leaders do. Usually, we try to focus on one thing at a time. One objective, one concept, one conversation, one task.
But in real life, in real organizations, nothing happens one thing at a time. And no one can be on top of it all. At one point, one of the participants accused Ann of allowing too much bedlam. Ann's response was swift and emphatic:
"No. People want to make the leader the one who sees and knows everything. I am just a human being. I can't see everything. I can't know everything. I make mistakes. When you make me more than human, you can bring me down while refusing to take responsibility or any risk. Step into your leadership now."
But wait a second. It sounds great but what if everyone in an organization stepped into their own leadership? What if everyone followed his own impulse? Wouldn't that lead to anarchy?
Maybe. It depends on the strength of their organization's container. How clear is the mission of the organization? The vision? The values? The culture? If we know what we're doing, why we're doing it, what's important to us, and how we operate, then there will be trust, focused action, and abundant, unified leadership. If not, there will be anarchy.
But if the container isn't strong, there will be anarchy anyway. Because, no matter how much leaders would like to, they just can't control everything. And trying to control the uncontrollable just makes things worse. People check out. They feel no ownership. They work the minimum. And things fall through the cracks.
Here's the hard part: leading without controlling. Stepping into your own leadership while leaving space for others to step into theirs as well.
If you find yourself still wanting to control it all, try saying "yes" to everything until you're overwhelmed and can't possibly deliver. So overwhelmed that, like Ann, you will fail to be on top of it all.
If that happens, then, like Ann, you will grow leaders around you. Your failure will prevent others from making you more than human. It will encourage them to take responsibility and risks. To step into their own leadership.
And if, on a particular day, you feel good, grounded, and strong, with a little extra energy, then look around for someone else who is overwhelmed and reach out to help. Take the risk to lead.

*Names have been changed

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Positive Power of Confusion, by Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak

The positive power of confusion

By Dan Rockwell
Have you ever noticed that people seem to know how to do what they aren’t doing? Those who don’t do – know. It’s easy to know how-to-do something you’re not doing.
During seminars/training, people come to a point where they think they know. Being told how to do things makes them feel they can do them. I call this the illusion of perceived knowledge. However, knowing aboutdiffers from knowing how
You can burst the illusion of perceived knowledge by saying, “Ok, now do it on your own.”  It doesn’t take long for casual confidence to become confusion.  Doing new things reveals that we don’t know as much as we think.
Confusion is the teachable moment.
Creating confusion
Ask people to do things they haven’t done before
Give them guidance and support
Let them struggle without your intervention
You help others reach higher by
creating moderate levels of confusion.
Too much confusion
Moderate levels of confusion open minds and fuel passion. However, don’t push it too far or people will shut down in frustration. In addition, your organizational culture must embrace a positive, learning posture toward failure. Fail smart.
You might try this with arrogant sons or daughters, know-it-all employees, or over confident managers.
How can leaders lead and support others through their confusion without destroying the potential of confusion?
What dangers do leaders face if they create moderate levels of confusion?

Do You Have Leadership Lock-in?, by Michael McKinney at Leading Blog

Do You Have Leadership Lock-in?: "As individuals, familiarity breeds cognitive lock-in. We experience cognitive lock-in whenever we choose to do something out of habit even when objectively better alternatives exist. We behave automatically rather than intentionally.

This impacts us as leaders too. It develops a kind of leadership lock-in. We get so locked-in to the values, beliefs, behavioral norms, habits and routines that it is hard to lead intentionally—the way we know we should—the way we want to. We just go through the motions of leadership without really thinking about what we are doing or the long-term consequences of our actions. Instead of adapting and learning, we plow ahead with behaviors that we are comfortable with.

The more we behave or think in a certain way, the less likely it is that we will do anything to change it, even when we can see that it is not serving us well. Instead of “learning” from experience, we really only “see” from experience the effects of our behavior. Learning is an action step. But leadership lock-in contributes to our desire to avoid the effort needed to change our behavior in a way that would get us the results we truly seek. To escape the old, locked-in behaviors, we must consciously practice what we have learned until it reaches a critical mass—until feedback reinforces/rewards that new behavior—and it becomes self-sustaining.

The comforting feel of immediate gratification plays into much of the problem presented by leadership lock-in. For example, self-serving behaviors, emotional outbursts, expediency, unrealistic pacing, and control issues, all give us immediate—momentary—gratification, but in the end, masks the long-term consequences of such behavior and thinking. And we get locked-in to what we think is working or more likely, is only working for us.

Leadership lock-in is at odds with sustainable leadership. That’s why it has been estimated that well over half of leaders don’t finish well. They get tripped up by their own thinking. The cumulative impact of their behavior derails them and eventually neutralizes their influence.

Escaping leadership lock-in begins with asking yourself, “Do I believe in this approach? Is this how I would want to be treated? Is what I am saying or doing expressing the values I believe in?”"

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Dan Rockwell at Leadership Freak

Good Boss, Bad Boss

By Dan Rockwell
Leave a comment on today’s post by Saturday November 17, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. EST and you’ll be eligible for one of five copies of “Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best … and Learn from the Worst.” Simply leave a comment and I’ll put your name in the hat for a random drawing.
Bossholes that are unwilling to change won’t like, “Good Boss, Bad Boss,” byRobert Sutton. The trouble is if you’re a bosshole, you probably don’t know it. “… about 75% of the workforce reports that their immediate supervisor is the most stressful part of their job.”
Sutton’s book is filled with illustrative stories, dynamic scholarship, and enough practical guidance to last a lifetime.
Some favorite quotes:
“Fight as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong.”
“…bosses ought to be judged by what they and their people get done and by how their followers feel along the way”
“Most people suffer from self enhancement bias.”
“Act like you are in control even when you aren’t.”
“Just because people can perform a job well doesn’t mean they should manage it.”
“… spark performance by expressing confidence (in fact, overconfidence) in all your people.”
“I feel like I’ve been going to the same meeting for 25 years.” (V.P. of a retail chain)
“… People who know the most are sometimes the least vocal and pushy.”
“Checklist create especially strong connective tissue between words and concrete deeds.” (From my favorite chapter: Link Talk and Action)
“Do it and you will know.”
“Get people angry by naming the enemy, or get them excited by identifying compelling dreams and goals.”
“… every boss must hurt others. But there is a big difference between what you do and how you do it.”
“When people have no information they fill the vacuum by inventing and spreading false …explanations.”
“Do not delay painful decisions and actions; hoping the problem will go away.”
“… assume the motto, “Assholes are us” means you too…”
“Developing and sustaining self-awareness ought to be at the top of the list for every boss.”
Some people buy books by who the author is. If Robert Sutton writes it, I’m buying it.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

10 Reasons You're An Overthinker, by Dan Rockwell, Leadership Freak

10 reasons you’re an overthinker

By Dan Rockwell

73 percent of 25-35 year-olds  and 52 percent of 45-55 year-olds overthink. (Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, Univ. of Michigan)
Yesterday the garage installed studded snow tires on my truck. I’m ready to battle the steep wintery hill that leads to our home in central Pennsylvania.
A few times in past winters, the hill handed me a crushing defeat and I perilously slid down its dangerously slick surface. But not this year! This year I’ve got traction.
Get traction by thinking less
Every day at 4:50 my coach calls me with a series of questions. Here’s one, “Did you spend time thinking about the future?” A few weeks ago I thought that was an insightful question. After all, when our memories exceed our dreams the end is near. Today, I think it’s dumb.
Focus on thinking, you’ll get more thinking.
Focus on doing, you’ll get results.
Ten reasons you overthink
#1. Thinking is safe.
#2. Thinking feels like doing even though it isn’t.
#3. Thinking makes you look smart.
#4. Thinking helps you prepare solutions for imaginary problems.
#5. You fear not having an answer.
#6. You don’t trust yourself enough to find solutions as you go.
#7. Your organization is filled with people protecting their turf.
#8. Fear of failure rather than passion drives you.
#9. You speculate about the motives of others.
#10. You don’t know where you’re going.
Traction action
I’m asking my coach to ask a new question. “What did you do today that builds your preferred future?” That’s a “studded snow tire” question.
Why do people spend too much time thinking?
Thinking is necessary, how much is enough?
How do you get results?

Moving from Top-Down to All-In, by Suzanne Vickburg, HBR

Moving from Top-Down to All-In

Do you remember the first time your boss asked for your opinion? Do you remember how it made you feel? This happened to me just the other day. Well, it wasn't the first time she had asked — at this point we've been around the block a time or two together — but it still had a big impact, and I think it always will. It made me feel like I really mattered. It made me walk a bit taller for the day. And it even made me work a bit harder, knowing my opinion was valued.

Let's face it, most of us don't want to be spectators at work. We want to be involved. We want to contribute. We want to participate. And those organizations that figure how to harness that desire are the ones that will get the most out of us.

Earlier this month the boss I refer to, Cathy Benko who leads talent at Deloitte, posted her conviction about the evolution from the corporate ladder to the corporate lattice. Part of this shift is an expansion of what she calls "lattice ways to participate." You might remember how orderly things were in the corporate ladder world — who knows, you might even work in an organization still clinging to this old way of life. Does top-down communication and information shared on a need-to-know basis sound familiar? Or a sense that only those at the top have worthwhile opinions? I don't know about you, but that world just doesn't work for me, and that kind of organization is not likely to get my best efforts.

What does work for me is how corporate lattice organizations invite, and even expect, participation from all of their people regardless of position on the organizational chart. In these organizations information flows every which way and people are encouraged to offer ideas and communicate across levels and other invisible boundaries. People form relationships with others who are down the hall as well as around the world. As a result, lattice organizations have an entire workforce of people who are engaged, sharing their best ideas, and working together to help the company succeed. Doesn't that sound like it makes a lot more sense? I know it's the kind of atmosphere I thrive in and you probably do too.

If you work in an organization that hasn't figured out how to do this, there are some great models — maybe you could start a discussion about them in your own company. Or maybe you're in a role where you could start the transformation yourself. Take for example, British telecommunications giant BT. They started to encourage participation with an experimental wiki called BTpedia, designed to facilitate information sharing across the company. On its heels they launched a second experiment that introduced blogging, and a third that created a small-scale social network.These ad hoc efforts then evolved into a robust internal social network, called My BT, that lets individuals customize their own pages.

My BT provides one-stop shopping to access all the content employees have posted on BTpedia, in blogs, and elsewhere, and also shows what other colleagues in someone's network are up to. Involving people through new mediums has been a big hit with BT's people for sure, but the company is seeing an even bigger payoff from their investment. Richard Dennison, principal business partner at BT, described it to us like this, 'I don't think that you can have an innovative company unless every single employee thinks they can make a difference to the organization. These tools are a key enabler for people to think they can make a difference.'

I want to point out that while new technologies enable more interactive communication and collaboration, it's the change in mindset that really matters. Lattice organizations have expanded their views of whose voices can make a difference and where good ideas can come from. While wikis, blogs, and social networks can help, these tools aren't sufficient without making a commitment to transparency and rethinking how to foster inclusion and innovation, cultivate communities, and harness collective wisdom. Lattice organizations have moved from top-down to all-in and are out-innovating the competition as a result.

So how do you see it? Has your organization adopted an authentic 'everybody in the pool' attitude?

uzanne Vickberg, Ph.D, is Senior Manager, Talent Strategy and Innovation for Deloitte Services, LP (US). This is the second in a series of posts related to Cathleen Benko and Molly Anderson's book The Corporate Lattice: Achieving High Performance in the Changing World of Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010).


Monday, November 15, 2010

The Three Threats to Creativity, by Teresa Amabile, HBR

Creativity is under threat. It happens whenever and wherever there's a squeeze on the ingredients of creativity, and it's happening in many businesses today. According to the Labor Department's most recent stats, productivity is up. Butstretching fewer employees to cover ever more work in our job-starved recovery is no way to run the future. Without the creativity that produces new and valuable ideas, innovation — the successful implementation of new ideas — withers and dies. Creativity depends on the right people working in the right environment. Too often these days, the people come ill-equipped, and their work environments stink.
A recent story about the 40th anniversary of Xerox PARCstirred my memories of how the creativity ingredients overflowed at that place, in that time. PARC was a first light in the dawning of Silicon Valley. By 1973, when I moved there, PARC researchers had invented the first user-friendly computer, laser printing, object-oriented programming, a personal workstation, and the foundation of the Ethernet. By the time I left Palo Alto in 1977, they had developed the first graphical user interface (GUI) with icons, pop-up menus, overlapping windows, and the basics of point-and-click screen navigation. At this moment, you are almost certainly using something that sprang from the blossoming creativity at Xerox PARC in the 1970s.
We all wince at the thought of how Xerox utterly failed to innovate on PARC's inventions, allowing Apple and Microsoft to run away with most of them. But there's no denying how world-changing those inventions were. The organization that gave birth to them illustrates — by way of contrast — why so many of today's organizations are creatively sterile.
What made PARC so different from organizations where creativity falters? An abundance of all three key ingredients:
1. Smart people who think differently. The first threat to business creativity is our endangered education system, with its downward trends in science and math, and its increasingly narrow focus on basic subjects. The four dozen people working at PARC were really smart, with two important kinds of smarts. First, they had deep expertise — in computer science, optical science, and system dynamics, as well as broad acquaintance with seemingly unrelated fields. Alan Kay, one of PARC's first computer scientists, brought his colleagues vast knowledge ranging from music to biology. Second, the PARC inventors had creative smarts. Rather than getting trapped by what was already inside their heads, they voraciously consumed new information and combined it in ways no one had previously imagined. They didn't develop those habits of mind by following mandated curricula.
2. Passionate engagement. Aside from small startups, too few organizations today give people a chance to do what they love in service of a meaningful mission. Robert Bauer walked into his dream job at PARC three months after its founding. He stayed for over 30 years. As he recently told, "Conducting research at PARC four decades ago was like magic. ...We came to work every day with a passion ..." My research has shown that people are most creative when they are on a mission, intrinsically motivated by a love for what they are doing. Bauer and his colleagues found immense interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge in "dreaming, proving and making things that had never been done before." Indulging their passion was so exciting, and so much fun, that they worked their tails off. These days, people are more likely to find work frustrating than fun.
3. A creative atmosphere. Under the severe pressures of the financial crisis, contemporary organizational atmospheres resemble assembly lines more than hotbeds of creativity. Too often, the imperative is to do the same thing repeatedly, ever faster and more efficiently; reflection, exploration, and intense collaboration become superfluous luxuries. The PARC culture could hardly have been more different. Like all great organizational cultures, this one started with a bold vision. PARC's founder, George Pake, was out to create "the office of the future." He and Bob Taylor, head of PARC's Computer Science Laboratory, built a near-perfect work environment for creativity: freedom to pursue passions, challenging goals, collaborative norms, sufficient time to really think, and the resources people needed to follow their dreams. Even the smartest, most passionate people won't thrive in — or will soon abandon — a work environment that stifles them. Most people who got into PARC never wanted to leave.
PARC was ahead of its time, but it was no anomaly. Even today, many creative hotbeds exist around the world, in new ventures and in a few more established shops like MIT's Media LabSONY,the design firm IDEO, and Disney's Pixar. But with the three ingredients of business creativity becoming scarce resources, the PARCs of tomorrow will face swift extinction.
Forty years after the birth of PARC, have workplaces gotten any better at fostering that sort of brilliance? Are start-ups the only places where the ingredients of creativity abound today? Is creativity under threat — or is it somehow protected — in your organization?
Teresa Amabile is Edsel Bryant Ford Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. She researches what makes people creative, productive, happy, and motivated at work. The author of two books and over 100 scholarly papers, she holds a doctorate in psychology from Stanford University.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

30 Surprising Facts about George Washington, by Michael McKinney at Leading Blog

IN Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow calls Washington “the most famously elusive figure in American history.” In 928 pages—the longest single-volume biography of Washington ever published—Chernow wants to render George Washington real and credible. And he succeeds. Chernow offers these facts about George Washington. 

  • Washington was the only major founder who lacked a college education. John Adams went to Harvard, James Madison to Princeton, and Alexander Hamilton to Columbia, making Washington self-conscious about what he called his "defective education."
  • Washington never had wooden teeth. He wore dentures that were made of either walrus or elephant ivory and were fitted with real human teeth. Over time, as the ivory got cracked and stained, it resembled the grain of wood. Washington may have purchased some of his teeth from his own slaves.
  • Washington had a strangely cool and distant relationship with his mother. During the Revolutionary War and her son's presidency, she never uttered a word of praise about him and she may even have been a Tory. No evidence exists that she ever visited George and Martha Washington at Mount Vernon. Late in the Revolutionary War, Mary Washington petitioned the Virginia legislature for financial relief, pleading poverty—and, by implication, neglect by her son. Washington, who had been extremely generous to his mother, was justly indignant.
  • Even as a young man, Washington seemed to possess a magical immunity to bullets. In one early encounter in the French and Indian War, he absorbed four bullets in his coat and hat and had two horses shot from under him yet emerged unscathed. This led one Indian chief to predict that some higher power was guiding him to great events in the future.
  • By age 30 Washington had survived smallpox, malaria, dysentery, and other diseases. Although he came from a family of short-lived men, he had an iron constitution and weathered many illnesses that would have killed a less robust man. He lived to the age of 67.
  • While the Washingtons were childless—it has always been thought that George Washington was sterile—they presided over a household teeming with children. Martha had two children from her previous marriage and she and George later brought up two grandchildren as well, not to mention countless nieces and nephews.
  • That Washington was childless proved a great boon to his career. Because he had no heirs, Americans didn't worry that he might be tempted to establish a hereditary monarchy. And many religious Americans believed that God had deliberately deprived Washington of children so that he might serve as Father of His Country.
  • Though he tried hard to be fair and took excellent medical care of his slaves, Washington could be a severe master. His diaries reveal that during one of the worst cold snaps on record in Virginia—when Washington himself found it too cold to ride outside—he had his field slaves out draining swamps and performing other arduous tasks.
  • For all her anxiety about being constantly in a battle zone, Martha Washington spent a full half of the Revolutionary War with her husband—a major act of courage that has largely gone unnoticed.
  • Washington was obsessed with his personal appearance, which extended to his personal guard during the war. Despite wartime austerity and a constant shortage of soldiers, he demanded that all members of his personal guard be between 5'8" and 5'10"; a year later, he narrowed the range to 5'9" to 5'10."
  • While Washington lost more battles than he won, he still ranks as a great general. His greatness lay less in his battlefield brilliance—he committed some major strategic blunders—than in his ability to hold his ragged army intact for more than eight years, keeping the flame of revolution alive.
  • Washington ran his own spy network during the war and was often the only one privy to the full scope of secret operations against the British. He anticipated many techniques of modern espionage, including the use of misinformation and double agents.
  • Washington tended his place in history with extreme care. Even amid wartime stringency, he got Congress to appropriate special funds for a full-time team of secretaries who spent two years copying his wartime papers into beautiful ledgers.
  • For thirty years, Washington maintained an extraordinary relationship with his slave and personal manservant William Lee, who accompanied him throughout the Revolutionary War and later worked in the presidential mansion. Lee was freed upon Washington's death and given a special lifetime annuity.
  • The battle of Yorktown proved the climactic battle of the revolution and the capstone of Washington's military career, but he initially opposed this Franco-American operation against the British—a fact he later found hard to admit.
  • Self-conscious about his dental problems, Washington maintained an air of extreme secrecy when corresponding with his dentist and never used such incriminating words as 'teeth' or 'dentures.' By the time he became president, Washington had only a single tooth left—a lonely lower left bicuspid that held his dentures in place.
  • Washington always displayed extremely ambivalence about his fame. Very often, when he was traveling, he would rise early to sneak out of a town or enter it before he could be escorted by local dignitaries. He felt beleaguered by the social demands of his own renown.
  • At Mount Vernon, Washington functioned as his own architect—and an extremely original one at that. All of the major features that we associate with the house—the wide piazza and colonnade overlooking the Potomac, the steeple and the weathervane with the dove of peace—were personally designed by Washington himself.
  • A master showman with a brilliant sense of political stagecraft, Washington would disembark from his coach when he was about to enter a town then mount a white parade horse for maximum effect. It is not coincidental that there are so many fine equestrian statues of him.
  • Land-rich and cash-poor, Washington had to borrow money to attend his own inauguration in New York City in 1789. He then had to borrow money again when he moved back to Virginia after two terms as president. His public life took a terrible toll on his finances.
  • Martha Washington was never happy as First Lady—a term not yet in use—and wrote with regret after just six months of the experience: "I think I am more like a state prisoner than anything else… And as I cannot do as I like, I am obstinate and stay home a great deal."
  • When the temporary capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Washington brought six or seven slaves to the new presidential mansion. Under a Pennsylvania abolitionist law, slaves who stayed continuously in the state for six months were automatically free. To prevent this, Washington, secretly coached by his Attorney General, rotated his slaves in and out of the state without telling them the real reason for his actions.
  • Washington nearly died twice during his first term in office, the first time from a tumor on his thigh that may have been from anthrax or an infection, the second time from pneumonia. Many associates blamed his sedentary life as president for the sudden decline in his formerly robust health and he began to exercise daily.
  • Tired of the demands of public life, Washington never expected to serve even one term as president, much less two. He originally planned to serve for only a year or two, establish the legitimacy of the new government, then resign as president. Because of one crisis after another, however, he felt a hostage to the office and ended up serving two full terms. For all his success as president, Washington frequently felt trapped in the office.
  • Exempt from attacks at the start of his presidency, Washington was viciously attacked in the press by his second term. His opponents accused him of everything from being an inept general to wanting to establish a monarchy. At one point, he said that not a single day had gone by that he hadn't regretted staying on as president.
  • Washington has the distinction of being the only president ever to lead an army in battle as commander-in-chief. During the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794, he personally journeyed to western Pennsylvania to take command of a large army raised to put down the protest against the excise tax on distilled spirits.
  • Two of the favorite slaves of George and Martha Washington—Martha's personal servant, Ona Judge and their chef Hercules—escaped to freedom at the end of Washington's presidency. Washington employed the resources of the federal government to try to entrap Ona Judge in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and return her forcibly to Virginia. His efforts failed.
  • Washington stands out as the only founder who freed his slaves, at least the 124 who were under his personal control. (He couldn't free the so-called 'dower slaves' who came with his marriage to Martha.) In his will, he stipulated that the action was to take effect only after Martha died so that she could still enjoy the income from those slaves.
  • After her husband died, Martha grew terrified at the prospect that the 124 slaves scheduled to be freed after her death might try to speed up the timetable by killing her. Unnerved by the situation, she decided to free those slaves ahead of schedule only a year after her husband died.
  • Like her husband, Martha Washington ended up with a deep dislike of Thomas Jefferson, whom she called "one of the most detestable of mankind." When Jefferson visited her at Mount Vernon before he became president, Martha said that it was the second worst day of her life—the first being the day her husband died.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Abandoned, by Gene Logsdon at



The abandoned farmsteads shown here are not far from where I live. Such sad scenes are easy enough to find. They have been a part of the landscape of my life, grave markers of the agrarian culture that I love. Each crumbling set of buildings has its own story to tell, but in general, they were built around 1900 or a little earlier, went through a generation or two of gradually diminishing prosperity, and then succumbed to the money-changers and the seeming necessity to expand farm size. These “losers” had no taste for competing with wealthier, sharper, or more aggressive farmers, and died without an heir interested in, or financially capable of, farming in the modern era. The sharper farmer who with his friendly banker bought the farm, chose not to fix the house up and rent it, but couldn’t bring himself to tear it down either. Or in other cases, the new owner did sell the house and barn buildings to someone who, remembering a happy childhood on a farm, wanted to live in the country. The house was saved, but inevitably the grand old barn blew down or was pulled down. Four of the barns that I played and worked in during my youth exist now only in memory.

I think abandonment is the greatest of our sorrows and fears. Death is the final abandonment. I like to linger at derelict farmsteads and imagine the happy family that once lived there, or at least the family that built the place in high hope of happiness. It is easy for me to imagine their lives because I can place my grandparents, parents, and siblings within the confines of such a farmstead and watch them, in my mind’s eye, at work and play.

These homes were marvels of self-sufficiency. No one feared a power outage because the power, at least in the early days, was all homegrown. When “the electric” did come, I remember farmers who resisted it— sensed that it would be a sort of umbilical cord in reverse, drawing away their independent vitality. They grew hay to fuel the motive power of buggy horse and draft animal, cut wood to warm the house, erected a windmill to pump water into a insulated cypress water tank that stood partly above ground or on a high elevation so that water could flow by gravity to the barns and house. They built underground cisterns next to the house to fill with soft rainwater off the house roof for washing, and erected posts in the lawn for a clothesline to dry the laundry. My grandfather even kept a catalpa grove for fence posts. Catalpa endures. Some of his posts, which he used first, and my uncle used again, serve a third life in my fences.

The amazing diversity of the old farmstead was the key to its resilience. The summer kitchen for cooking during the hot months was built close by, but apart from, the house. (One of the photos shows a summer kitchen if you look closely behind the trees. Note how the trees have grown up in what was once the lawn and barnyard. How quickly nature takes back the land when humans disappear.) There were separate buildings for the privy, the smokehouse— I remember one made from a huge, hollow tree trunk with a little peaked roof over the open top and a door cut in the side of it—, the woodshed, the granary, the corncrib, the chicken coop, the pigsty, the carriage house that became a garage. The big hay barn dominated all. Below its mows were the sheep shed, horse stalls and cow stable. If one source of food or income failed, there were others to fill the gap. The only way to starve out such a self-sufficient homestead was by way of paper money and usury which in one guise or another is often what happened.

Always there was a kitchen garden, a larger garden or truck patch farther away, and an orchard. Sometimes on abandoned farmsteads you can find tasty old apple varieties still growing. Frequently, you will still find rhubarb plants, lilac bushes, old fashioned roses, asparagus and lilies of the valley hugging the north wall of the house. All these plants tell in their quiet, enduring way, of farm families making a good life that could still be there if nature’s ways had been followed.

In case I sound overly-romantic or sentimental, what I remember best about our farmstead was that even when my mother was heavy with child and carrying a heavy bucket of water from the windmill pump to the chicken coop, she was singing. I see Dad hurry to her and, scolding gently, take the bucket from her. She had a hard life in some ways, so, I ask, why was she always singing?

And if you think it is easy to sing and carry a bucket of water at the same time, try it.



Don't Take the Wrong Decision Shortcuts, 10:39 AM Wednesday, November 10, 2010, by Steve Martin at

The benefit of an almost inexhaustible supply of facts, figures and data can often be a double-edged sword in our increasingly complex, information-overloaded world. While having all the pertinent facts is critical to good decision-making, at the same time conflicting information can leave us stuck and uncertain of how to proceed.
However, behavioral scientists have found that, remarkably, as decision complexity increases, we actually rely on less information to form our decision, not more. In fact, rather than effectively using all the available information, we often rely on a single rule of thumb as a reliable shortcut to making a good decision.
Understanding these "decision shortcuts" can teach us to make our own decisions more effectively and also make us more persuasive ourselves.
Many of these shortcuts fall into patterns that social scientists have seen over and over; let's look at two in particular. Social proof suggests that one very efficient route to a good decision is to look at how many others are making the same decision:if everyone else is buying it then perhaps I should too. On the other hand, uniqueness suggests that we should be persuaded by the unique and rare features offered in a proposal: if this is the only car with heated seats, I should totally buy it!
Work by social scientist and marketing professor Vladas Griskevicius suggests that often the emotions we experience immediately before we are presented with a message or a proposal can determine which decision shortcuts influence us most.
In the study researchers showed subjects a series of short film clips that were designed to induce either a feeling of fear ("The Shining") or a feeling of romanticism ("Before Sunrise"). A control group read a short story that evoked neither feelings of fear or romance.
Immediately afterwards participants were shown a series of advertisements that employed either social proof messaging or uniqueness messaging. One advertisement promoted a local museum; the social proof message read, "our museum is visited by over one million people every year," whereas the uniqueness message read, "stand out from the crowd." Another ad showed a restaurant review; for the social proof group it read, "many people meet here," and "this is a most popular restaurant," while for the uniqueness group it read, "this is a one-of-a-kind restaurant" and "yet to be discovered by others."
The results clearly showed that those in the "fear" group were more persuaded by the social proof messages, while those in the "romanticism" group were much more persuaded by the uniqueness message.
When we make decisions, therefore, we need to evaluate our own recent emotional experiences to ensure that they are not having a detrimental impact on our decision-making. Were we nervous, and thus predisposed to be vulnerable to claims about how many others are doing something? Or were we excited by a dream, and particularly open to the claim that an offer is just for us? The next time you make a decision, stop and think about your mindset before you were presented with the alternatives.
And when it comes to influencing others? This study points to the importance of assessing the emotional state of an audience before deciding how to frame a message. For example, if you must lead a team of people through change, and those people are already uncertain or fearful of the future, this study suggests that touting the unique opportunities of your new strategy is the wrong approach. Instead, you will gain greater traction and buy-in if you provide testimonials that illustrate out how other teams like yours have already embraced similar initiatives.
On the other hand, if your team has a confident, inspired culture, they may well be more persuaded by messages that point to the unique new opportunities at hand-and less convinced by tales of similar efforts elsewhere.
Considering your emotional state before your next decision can keep you from taking a decision shortcut when you're surrounded by too much information. At the same time, understanding your audience's emotional state can help you present your message in a way that will resonate best with them.

Steve Martin CMCT, is co-author of the New York Times Bestseller Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive and Director of INFLUENCE AT WORK.