Archive for July, 2010

Leading Change-Part I

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Most of the stuff I write about is either something I am thinking about, obviously, or stuff I am struggling to figure out.  More of the latter than the former, I think?  Anyway, I have spent a lot of hours reading books, and having conversations about leadership and its relationship to effecting real cultural change.  By culture I mean the culture of the organization where you are, and by real change I mean the kind of change that results in people acting differently, not just being told to think differently.

I am reading a book entitled, Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard, by Chip  and Dan Heath.  Let me just say that this book is worth your time to read and process.  Let me just say that Chip and Dan nailed me early in the book which kept me reading, not happy, but still reading.  In their terms, I am the kind of leader who likes to think, but thinks too much and therefore comes to the false conclusion that if I can get everyone else thinking what I am thinking that not only will their thinking change but, more importantly, their behavior will change as well.  Wrong! 

I am also the kind of leader who looks at a problem that is 24 feet in diameter and is convinced that the only viable solution is one that is 24 feet in diameter.  This approach to problem solving is great if you can find a perfect solution that fits every problem, but if you can’t then your stuck, or worse yet, paralyze by your continual analysis of a problem you can’t fix.

So what have I learned so far?

1) Approach a problem by asking if there is anything being done right now that actually works and start there even if what works is small compared to the size of the problem.  I may not be able to think my way into a solution.  I may have to start somewhere and figure it out as I go.  I know this sounds elementary but it is my Achilles heal when facing major issues related to cultural change.  I focus on problems not the possible bright spots.   I may have to create some momentum before I can find a solution.

2) My approach to almost all problems has been in this order, Think-Analyze-Change.  And in some cases this works well.  You think through an issue, analyze it, arrive at a workable solution, clearly communicate the needed change and change happens.  This is an effective approach if “the parameters are known, assumptions are minimal and the future is not fuzzy.”  Otherwise, the better approach is See-Feel-Change.

I will write about this alternative approach next week.  In the meantime, have I pushed any of your buttons where you are?


Define Stupid

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Most of us have heard the following definiton of stupidity, “stupidity is essentially doing the same thing over and over  expecting different results”. 

I was recently introduced to a short video that undermined the tried and true notion that says, regardless of the task or the desired outcome, the best way to motivate people or incentivize them is with more money or a bigger contract.  If you are a leader and you want your people to be more productive, creative and energetic, then you need to offer them more money.  More money makes people work harder, work more efficiently, think more creatively and bring  more energy to the team.

What if that is not true?  What if there are certain high level tasks for which money is not an incentive, in fact it becomes a disincentive?  Are  we willing to consider another course of action even if it runs counter to previously thought “best practices”?  What if the goal of making more money is taken off the table as the incentive? 

What if the incentive is not money?  What if the incentive is offering people autonomy, mastery and a deep sense of purpose?   What if the money people make is no longer the issue, what if what they really want is the freedom to think, create and contribute to something that gives them a deep sense of satisfaction and meaning?  What if the things that people really care about they would do for free?  Sound crazy?

Would you be willing to change the incentive or keep being stupid?  Check out this video.

The Truth About What Motivates Us

History In The Making

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

One of my favorite quotes about the nature of life as we all have to live it and the challenging task of trying to accurately represent the causes/effects of past events comes from William Manchester’s The Last Lion, volume two of his two volume work on Winston Churchill.  It was the late spring of 1939 and Adolf Hitler was making threats about invading Poland.  Manchester trys to explain why Churchill’s continual, dire warnings about Hitler’s actions and intentions were consistently ignored by Neville Chamberlain’s government regardless of the amount of documentation and corroboration from other sources in support of Churchill’s conclusions.

Was it because Chamberlain had better or more reliable sources than Churchill?  Was it because Churchill was too rabid and subjective in his views about Hitler?  Was it because Chamberlain disliked Churchill? In other words, why was Chamberlain so adamant in his rejection of everything Churchill offered him?  This is Manchester’s conclusion.

“The present is never tidy, or certain, or reasonable, and those who try and make it so, once it has become the past, succeed only in making it seem implausible.  Among the perceptive observations and shrewed conclusions of the Churchills and Sargents were the clutters  of other reports and forecasts, completely at odds with them.

All of it, the prescient and the cockeyed, always arrives in a promiscuous rush, and most men in power, sorting through it, believe what they want to believe, accepting whatever justifies their policies and convictions while taking out insurance, whenever possible, against the possiblity that the truth may lie in their wastebaskets (that would be a trash can for us). 

Neville Chamberlain required a very large wastebasket, for he was stubborn and strong willed, and long after his subordinates had abandoned their faith in appeasement he clung to the conviction that if he could just put the proper deal together, Hitler would buy it.”

That is more often the way life and history happen.  It is less planned than lived by people who make decisions for reasons more often connected to their own instincts and need to believe that they are right than for reasons based on established policies or reliable information.  That’s one of the reasons history can be both interesting and scary.

The Hard Work

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

For those of you who are interested, here’s a basic rule of thumb for studying and utilizing history for research purposes.  For those of you who don’t care, wait for next week’s blog.

Always try to move beyond description to analysis.  In other words, try to get beyond the who, what, when and where to the why.  Retelling the past is how we share the story, understanding the past is how we apply the story.  So in order to move beyond the retelling to the understanding let me suggest that you apply the following process in this order.


As you study history what are your observations, what stands out to you, what is of interest, what is peculiar, what is not self-explanatory, what seems strange, what demands your attention?

Turn your observations into questions.  Good questions guide good research.  What needs answering?  What seems assumed?  What appears ironic,  paradoxical or counter-intuitive?  What answers have already been offered but they don’t seem to fit the historical record or they seem to be the obvious and are therefore  perhaps off the mark?

Example:J G. A. Pocock’s realized that many historians approached the causes of the Revolutionary War by interpreting the colonists’ responses to England based on the understanding that the colonists were no longer Englishmen, that they hated England and had become so different from their countrymen that they wanted freedom from England.  Pocock reversed that trend by arguing the exact opposite.  In fact, he argued that the colonists became even more English over time and treasured their rights as Englishmen even more as a result of being away from England so that when England acted in ways that violated their rights as Englishmen the colonists reacted more strongly because they valued those rights.  I guess it was a version of absence makes the heart grow stronger, not weaker.  

Research is the third part of the process.  Allow your research to be guided by your questions and if the research forces you to change your questions or revise your questions, good.  If you don’t get the answers you wanted or expected, be true to what you discover and let your research take you where it will.

Finally, provide your analysis.  Offer the so what, your qualified and educated opinion.  This is what is sorely missing from so much public debate in our time.  No one wants to do the hard work that good analysis requires.  Good analysis is clear, concise and compelling, but it is never a sound bite.  This is one of the reasons few people actually do the work.  People like to pontificate and posture and restate the facts with gusto, but few want to really do the difficult and time consuming work that good analysis requires.