The Story We Tell Ourselves

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Situational awareness is a skill of insight, anticipation, and respect for personal boundaries in social and organizational contexts.

It is the skill of perceiving reality as it is, not as we want it to be, or how others see it, but as it is.

Situational awareness is knowing how to be yourself regardless of the context you are in.

This series on situational awareness is principally about how we learn to relate to people in situations outside of our comfort zone.

To do this we need something more than tactics for making conversation. We need to be able to know who we are, what matters to us, and why.

What I've learn by working with a wide variety of people and groups, who are in the midst of change, is that we need a story that we tell ourselves. This story distinguishes us in every situation we are in. It is a story that enables us to know who we can trust, and who we can't. It is a story that tells us, don't go there, or, let's find out more.

Another way of understanding this story is as a foundation, a platform, upon which we stand, while everything whirls around us. It is the story of our inner strength and commitments in the context of the external world.

It is not necessarily a story that I will tell people. This story is private, not public. It isn't a branding or a promotional story. It is, rather, a story of the values that matter to us, that we are unwilling to negotiate away by our accommodation to others. It is the story that enables us to walk into any situation and not feel compromised.

In this post, I'm going to describe two ways to create this story. One way out of reflection on who we are and what we want. The other through a more analytical approach using the Circle of Impact. 

Let's start with the first method which creates the story by looking at a couple of  scenarios.

Seeing the Situation

For example, when you go on vacation, what do you want to gain from it. Are you like some of us who enjoy adventure and discovery, or, like others, seek to be quiet and still. What appeals to you here is a part of your story.

I know folks who love going to the beach. They love sitting in a chair at the beach, reading a book, watching the waves come ashore, and then going out for a seafood dinner at night. They don't enjoy a manic schedule of biking, card playing and trips to the outlet malls. They have come for peace and quiet.

In this instance, that is their story. As a result, they need to be honest with their family members who love an action oriented vacation. That is the story which they tell themselves.

As a result, both types of vacationers need to be honest and respectful of the other. Both have to give in a bit, let the other have their approach, and plan to join them for some of the time that they enjoy, whether quietly on the beach or riding a jet ski jumping waves.

Here's another scenario. You are invited to a business after hours networking social event by a friend in your industry. You've never been to one of these meet-n-greet things. You don't really know what to expect. You are meeting your friend there. As you walk in the door, he texts you to say that he is running late, and will be there in 15 minutes. What do you?

The story you tell yourself, about who you are and what matters to you, guides your response in this awkward situation. You can stand outside and wait for him. Or, you can go in, register at the door, get your name tag, get something to drink, and stand near the front waiting for your friend. Or, you can immediately begin to introduce yourself to people you do not know. If you are somewhat shy, this may take some effort. However, I believe, what you will find is that many of the people in the room are experiencing the same uncomfortableness.

If being uncomfortable in social settings is the story you tell yourself, then you will be. If, on the other hand, the story you tell yourself is

"I'm not here to impress people. I'm here to listen, and learn, and make one new contact with whom I'll schedule a follow up meeting."

In effect, the story is a plan of action which sets specific boundaries, and is focused on one goal. Once there, and the goal is met, then, a release of pressure will be felt, and our story changes.

This shyness thing used to be me. Those of you who know me personally may find that hard to believe. But it is true. The story I told myself in those days was

"What do I say? How do I start? What if I look weak and silly?"

It took time but the story I told myself changed. I began to walk into those situations looking for someone whom I could befriend. I would not go to a mingling of 3 or 4 people, but to the person who was standing by themselves. I'd introduce myself, and just start asking questions. Each question was not planned other than the initial one,

"So, what do you do? How do you spend your days?"

After they told, me, I'd ask a question about that thing. If they said,

"I sell insurance."

I'd respond with,

"What kind?"

Then they say, something, and then I asked, something like.

"How do your new customers find you?"

Or,

"What is generally the first question people ask you when they come to you for insurance?"

My story shifted from being about my fear to about my curiousity and interest in the other person. The rapport that comes from asking questions is the kind that builds trust, at least when the questions are kind and respectful. Now, I am not afraid to meet any person regardless of who they are.

Another Approach

The story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but about who we are. If your sense of identity is murky, then the story you tell yourself will be too. As a result, it may then be helpful to take a more analytical approach to developing your story. My Circle of Impact model can be a help.

3dLeadership - Purpose-Vision-Values

To develop the story that we tell ourselves, we don't start with the Three Dimensions of Leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. Instead, we work from the Four Connecting Ideas - Values, Purpose, Impact and Vision. Let's take them one at a time.

Think of this discovery process as a conversation between us right now over coffee or dinner. Just the two of us talking. We aren't looking for the perfect answer, but an honest, beginning point of understanding. We've just met, and I'm just asking questions because I'm curious, not nosey, just interested getting to know you.

Values:

I ask:

"If you didn't have to work for a living, and you had access to all the financial resources you would need, how would you spend your days, and why?"

"What do you think are the values that are important to you in doing those things? Do you think those values define you more than any other? Do they please you, make you smile, get you excited about the day ahead?"

In discovering the values that matter to us, we are identifying the foundation upon which we have built our lives. These values help us to establish the boundaries that guide us. If this is new to us, then we may have to live into this awareness. These values may not be evident, active or relevant at a particular moment, with some people, and then, some comment, triggers in us an awareness. This is how we grow into the values that matter. We try many, discard many, from our emotional investment in them, and then come to realize what is truly important to us.

These are the values that tell us who we are, and are the ones we want to have always present. I have five of these values, and I'm looking for them in every thing that I do. I, personally, have decided that if three of the five are not present in the opportunity before me, that I'll not participate. Knowing the values that guide and give meaning to our lives is a way of saying No to situations that are not supportive of the values that are important to us. This is why knowing what our core values are is so critical to being able to walk into any situation and function well.

Purpose:

I ask:

"How do you spend your days? How did you end up doing this kind of work? Does it give you a sense of purpose, a sense that you are making a contribution?"

The conventional thought is that we all have a singular purpose for our lives. I find that very limiting. Instead, I see purpose as an intentional focus on applying our values in a specific way in the situation that presents itself to us. Here's how this could work.

One of my values is integrity. It is so that I don't live with regret or fear, or, even the sense that I've compromised by values to accomodate some person or situation. The purpose of integrity beyond that is to provide me a basis of relating to every person from the same position of respect towards them. My purpose, then, in social situations is to act with respect, by listening, being honest and truthful, without being beligerent. The purpose of my integrity is to establish a basis of friendship that is open, mutual and filled with opportunity for shared work and contribution.

Purpose is a way of translating the values that matter to us into action. While our values may become clearer and more specific over time, they rarely change in any radical sense. Our purpose, however, can and should change. For purpose is the mechanism for focusing our values in the situation that is before us right now. Even if we are talking about our purpose as sort of a life mission, it still is subject to change. With our values as a foundation, we live out a purpose in an adaptive manner to fit the time and place in which we live.

While our purpose is about what we do in acting upon our values, it is also about the effect that we want to have.

Impact:

I ask:

"Tell me what difference you think your work makes? Why is it important? Who is impacted by what you do? What do they tell you?"

The way our world works is by an exchange of products or services by an agreed upon price. Money is the most tangible medium of measure we have. It is simple, straightforward, and for that reason obscures many of the signs of value that actually exist, yet we never really see.

To look at the difference a person makes, we have to look at what our expectations are, right now. This requires us, on both sides of a relationship, to have an idea of what we want, or, what our purpose is. If we can define our purpose, not as what I do, but rather the difference I want to make, then my story takes on a very different feel.

Let's return to our business after hours event. In that room, our purpose is what? Is it to meet people? Or, is it something more. Is it primarily about "my" interests or about the other person's?

My friend and colleague Meridith Elliott Powell told me years ago about her strategy for after-hours business events. Her focus was to go, meet people, and leave as soon as she had three follow-up meetings with new contacts. She would go to alot of these events, and built up a substantial client list through that focused approach to business relationship building. She's one of the best I know at this. I found her approach incredibly helpful, and focused on the purpose of the event, which is to initiate new business relationships. Then she works her "magic", she's really good, in the interaction she has with people within the context of their business.

When the story we tell ourselves is not about what we do, but what we create, the difference that we make, about the relationships that we form, then we approach everything with a different level of confidence. If we measure our lives by our activity level, then we never really see clearly the outcome of that activity.

Measuring by activity comes out of the old factory production model focus. The most tangible measure of that work was the paycheck. Measuring by impact is a change model focus. One is repetitive. Let's see how many events I can go to this month. The other is a creative relationship with people where together we learn to make a difference. How many relationships do you have right now that if asked they would say, "She makes a real difference in my work." And, then be able to describe precisely what that impact is.

The Four Connecting Ideas are not isolated from one another, but, are interconnected as a way to understand how things can fit together in our life and work. To be able to see the impact of our values and purpose in real life, then our perspective changes, and our story does too. It opens up possibilities that may have been present, but were hidden behind the production measure mindset.

Vision:

I ask:

"Where do you see yourself in a year? What's your plan for today?"

The vision we need is not some grand, epic adventure into the future. Instead, our vision is our story lived out in real time, right now. It is the story we tell ourselves every day that enables us to make decisions. In the context of the Circle of Impact, it is about people, and the organizational structures in which we live and work. Our vision emerges and is lived out every day through the story we tell ourselves.

A vision then is simply what I do and the decisions I make, based upon my values and my sense of purpose for this particular moment, all through a deep desire for impact, with the people that I work with and encounter everyday.

The story we tell ourselves is a guide in the unexplored land of today. It helps us to know the boundaries that will both protect us from the unwanted compromise of our values, as well as, opening us up to the possibilities in every human relationship and situation.

When we find the story we tell ourselves, and, we grow into it, it ceases to be a story "out-there" that we tell myself. We become the story. We become the living embodiment of the values, the purpose, the difference and the vision for being an authentic person regardless of where we are and with whom we are with.

The story that we tell ourselves is the secret to being situationally aware. If you are a person who finds him or herself overwhelmed by circumstances, people and change, then you need a story which helps you live in those moments that are threatening and uncomfortable. 

Where do you begin to write your story. Here are two suggestions.

1. Think of the situations where you are most comfortable. What are the values at work in those situations that you'd like to see in those uncomfortable situations.

2. Write a three sentence introduction of yourself that describes the person you believe you actually are. This is not what other people think of you, but you at your strongest, most impactful, most free and at peace self. Write it down, carry it with you, and edit it until you've found the story you really want to tell yourself. Then toss it away, and let your story unfold.

It all starts with personal initiative. One step. Then another. And another. If you need to share your story with someone outside of your world, send it to me. I'll not critique, but will ask questions to clarify, so you can be clear. Then you can go live the story you tell yourself.

Find other posts in this series on Situational Awareness:

Three Keys to Situational Awareness

The Speed of Change

The Social Space of Situational Awareness

Social Conformity and Situational Awareness

In the Moment of Situational Awareness

The Story We Tell Ourselves


The Platform of Desire, Part 1

“It is experience, rather than understanding, that influences behavior.” - Marshall McLuhan

Recently, my friend David Pu’u asked me about my vision. In a moment of rare, uninhibited candor I said,

“I want to change everything related to 20th century organizational purpose and structure. I want to replace the institutions that created the problems we face now.  I no longer want to be sad because of the waste of human potential that I see around me.”

The structures that I am referring to are not just organizational structures, but also social, moral and ideological structures. It is important to understand that these structures are systems of processes that affect us through our experience of them. Circle of Impact

From the vantage point of my Circle of Impact model, my conclusion is that ideas change, relationships change, but the social and organizational structures that comprise the context in which we think and relate do not change without great forces of disruption.

This is especially so as social and organizational structures disconnect Ideas (Values, Vision, Purpose and Impact) and Relationships from the processes and order of the institution. These structures are highly resistant to change, and only change when people join together around a set of common values, a shared purpose and a clear understanding of what difference their organization should make.

The Structure Lives

I have had a long standing interest in the structure of organizations. Not the structure of the organizational chart; but the living structure, the one that actually functions.

If an organization's structure was a spy, it would be a double agent, both working for and against the people of the organization.

The structure of an organization, whether it is a bricks & mortal business or a social media business, is designed for a purpose. Henry Ford's assembly line that made the Model T was designed for the purpose of mass production. Facebook's platform structure is also designed for a purpose.

A business' purpose and the purpose of its organizational structure are not the same.  The former is born out of the values that inform its mission; the latter out of the need for order and efficiency.

Marshall McLuhan said a half century ago that "the medium is the message".  At that time, he was speaking about how the form in which a message is delivered is a message in-and-of-itself. The form of communication is as important as the content of the message.

The classic example from McLuhan's era, the 1960s, is the effect of the nightly pictures of the Vietnam War. During the dinner hour each night, we saw pictures of US aircraft dropping napalm incendiary bombs, of piles of dead bodies, of unclothed children running from the fires of bombings, and executions in the streets. 

The visual medium of television created an experience, whether accurately or not, which words in a newspaper or magazines, and governmental spokespersons could not. The medium was greater than the message in itself.

Today, the digital revolution is an extension of this same reality. Even in a day when any photo can be Photoshopped, pictures carry a stronger influence than words.

The medium, the structure, the platform is the message, and always has been.

It is important to understand how organizational structures and social media platforms affect us. They are not neutral, but a living context which change in response to our actions.

Consider for a moment the morale in your office today. Is everyone happy and productive?  Or are there people who are disgruntled and angry about being there.

Several years ago, in collaboration with a global group of colleagues, an ebook of a conversation about morale in the workplace was published called Managing Morale in a Time of Change. It is worth reading. Without stating it, the conversation points to the impact that organizational structure has on the people who work with it.  The structure attempts to dictate identity and behavior.  To paraphrase McLuhan's words at the beginning of this post,

"It is the experience of working within a highly integrated corporate structure, not the understanding of its structure, that produces issues of low morale."

The medium of structure is a message to which we must pay attention.This is true regardless of size or organizational form, whether industrial or digital. We are influenced by the structures of the organizations where we engage in life and work. This is also true for all things digital and virtual,especially the form of social media platforms.

Social Media Platforms as Organizational Structures

I began to think about this after listening to Mitch Joel's Twist Image and Joseph Jaffe's Across the Sound shared podcast as they discussed Facebook's future. I left a comment at Mitch's blog. Here's apart of it.

... Facebook is a new thing. But it thinks like an old thing. It thinks bigger is better. It’s the old industrial mindset. The bigger it gets, the harder it will be to change course. I’ve felt for some time that FB has about five years of relevance left before it is replaced by multiple platforms that someone figures out how to tie together without creating confusion. This is already happening.

Why? Because people change, and it isn’t that they want more, they want better or different. Facebook is changing their expectations, their behaviors, and their attitudes towards themselves. We already see it in the proliferation of so many different social media platforms.

Here’s where I see the shift.

It used to be that we individuals had to fit into the institutional structures, and Facebook is an institutional structure, to find relevance and identity. The institution was king, and we were simply serfs. Now, that scenario is flipped, and the individual is king, and becoming more so, and Facebook is just an optional tool for our use. For these platforms it is a race to relevance in a fickle marketplace.

It isn’t that these platforms are changing, people are changing by using these tools to express themselves in way that they did not have in previous eras. They / we will gravitate toward those platforms / tools we need right now. I find Facebook is the lowest common denominator social media platform that provides a basic level of interaction, but not much more. I know they are trying to add features, but the mold / brand is set. FB is a slave to their own brand, not we to them.

The medium of social media is changing us. It is a platform for change. And, we, just may be changing faster than the platforms can keep up. Why is this?

What is it about social media that makes it so appealing?

How does it touch us, touch those aspects of our lives that other structures can not?

How can we better utilize these platforms to align the Four Connecting Ideas with our relationships in the organziational structures where we live and work?

These are the questions that I find most compelling.

We'll look at these questions in Part 2 of The Platform of Desire.


Relationships in Transition

Transition Point Coaching Logo

A couple of my friends have had adult children who moved back in with them. In one instance, a son returned from a long term overseas assignment to restart his professional career. For another, a son lost his job, and estranged from his wife, moved home.  I learned from both these friends the importance of openness and compassion in the midst of change.

These transitions, for both child and parent, are difficult. The found space that parents retrieved after their children began their adult life is taken over by their children whom they love. The question that nags in these situations is, "What should our relationship be now?"

Transitions in life and work are not simply processes of change and economic reordering of life and work. The social and organizational contexts that encompass them are intensely relational. They strain the well-worn path that relationships built over time develop.

When life altering change comes, and we find ourselves in transition, we need to focus on the social as much as the practical questions of job search and finding a new place to live.

Long-standing relationships develop a predictability that becomes expectation for continuity. Disturb that pattern, and relationships become frayed.

Something as simple as a job change that requires a move can become highly disruptive. It isn't just the one employed who moves, but the whole family who is uprooted to a new place to establish roots in a new place.  If the family unit is fragile, the transition can be more difficult than it should be.

When we enter a transition space moving toward that point where change is made and a new course is set, reflection, communication and a refocusing of values is needed.

Reflection is a form of self-criticism that enables us to see the logic of change in the midst of the transition.

Communication allows us to see a broader picture as we discover how those who are also impacted feel. We listen and learn from them how best to manage the transition.

Refocusing of values serves to ground us in what is matters most to us, which serves to focus our purpose as a vehicle for those values to live.

All of this is best done in open and honest conversation regularly scheduled.

If you are a parent whose adult child has moved home, talk with one another about how this is personally impacting each of you. Discuss what is important in the function of the home, and reach an agreement on the basics of living under the same roof again.  While the adult child is still a child to the parent, and the parent to the child, they are also adults who should share responsibility for living together again.

If you are in transition, and find yourself, living at home again, especially after years away, recognize that you are not reentering the home of your youth. You have entered a social environment that has changed. No longer is this place oriented around the nurture and protection of children. Your parents, while they still love you, have moved through their own transitions into new stages of their life as adults. There is a place for adult children in the lives of their parents. But it must be discovered, and not merely assumed it is an extension of what their childhood was like.

Change is hard. It doesn't have to be as hard as we make it.  All is required is for us is openness for the relationship to be what it needs to be today, not as it was in the past, or wish it had always been. Going through the transition points in our lives are hard enough without our relationships becoming an obstacle to positive change.

FiveActionsOfGratitude
A Support Plan for Relationships in Transition

My proposal is not a widget that fits every situation, but can beneficial in many situations.

Simply apply the Five Actions of Gratitude to how you live together in the midst of change.

This is a tool you can use to negotiate how you live under the same roof again. A simple translation could be something like this.

Say Thanks - At least once a day, with sincerity and specificity.

Give Back - Take responsibility for caring for both the private and shared spaces.

Make Welcome - Be hospitable to one another. Be open to the gifts that you have to offer and receive. Think of this as a new relationship.

Honor Others - Even at the most difficult moments, treat one another with dignity and respect. Be honest, caring and trustworthy. Be apologetic and forgiving. Be kind to one another.

Create Goodness - Establish new paths of interaction and sharing. This is particularly true in the transition is to be lengthy.

Practice these things, and the transition will go more smoothly, and new dimensions of your relationship will emerge.


Understanding What You Have To Offer

Hermione_bag-harrypotterwikiacomwiki

I like to think of people as bottom-less reservoirs of unrealized potential. Sort of like Hermione's handbag in the Harry Potter stories. Her handbag is useful because literally everything can fit in it, from a complete camp site to a huge broad sword.

The reality is that most of us don't see ourselves this way ... as full of unrealized potential. 

We are not even sure we know what we can do well, much less the difference we can make every day.

In this post, we are going to change all that.

Do you have paper and pen handy?

You are going to want to write down some things as we go along.

Change and Transition

Change for most of us, today, is a way of life. It isn't always as we expect it either. In some cases, the change is just the slow decline of all that we thought was good and hopeful when we were younger.

You can see it when people talk about their work. It is something to endure. It is as if the job's purpose and their idealism left them a long time ago. They still get up every morning, drive to work, and go through the necessary activities to do the work. But, it isn't a happy picture of the good life for many people.

Add in a global recession that may become a way of life for many people, and it is easy to understand how we can lose touch with the things that matter. Especially the talent, the skills, the passion and the unrealized potential that is who we are. We carry them around inside of us everyday, just like the stuff in Hermione's handbag, that has the potential of enriching every place we touch,and every person we encounter every day.  

So what do you do when this is not your situation, like it happen to one of my friends, who found himself out of his dream job after 40 years, and is definitely not ready to retire?

These are two sides of the same coin. Both the person who has lost their passion and purpose for work, and the person whose work lost him, need to understand who they are, distinct enough from their workplace, so that a picture of their unrealized potential can begin to be drawn.

The first thing we need to determine is "What do I have to offer to the world?"

Say that to yourself.

What do I have to offer the world?

Say it out loud if you want, emphasizing the "doing" of the offer.

What do I have to offer the world?

Write the sentence down. Look at it again.Think of your hands open extended out in front of you. In your hands is what you have to offer. It is the gift that you give to people, organizations and places that makes a difference that matters.

Now imagine that every day you climb out of bed to offer to the world all the unrealized potential that you have been storing up in the Hermione's handbag of your life. 

We are, now, beginning see that our unrealized potential is not some abstract value, but something real that we have to offer. Something tangible that can make a real difference in the world. We are recognizing here that we have within our own abilities the power to bring change that creates goodness wherever I am, even at work.

To learn what we have to offer is a process of self-discovery. It leads to a realization of all that we have been storing away, out of sight, out of mind, down deep in Hermione's handbag all these years.  It is all we've learned, gained and developed in the way of knowledge and experience over the course of our lifetime.  The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide
Five Questions

, I sat down with my friend who lost his job and talked him through the Five Questions That Every Person Must Ask.

After 40 years of doing the same job, it is understandable that we don't know really know what we know, and we need help getting down into Hermione's handbag to find out what we have to offer.

To understand this is to see that we are not what we do.

We are what we desire to change, the impact that becomes the validation of who we are.

This is what we offer, our gifts, talents, wisdom and experience to make a difference that is an expression of the very best of who we are.

Now, let's answer the Five Questions.

Transition

The first question asks what has changed. If you are out of a job, then the answer is easy. If you are at a dead end in the work you are currently doing, then you need to reflect a bit more on how things got this way.

It is important to see that our lives are a long progression of changes that has an inner logic. To see the rationale behind the changes in our lives is to understand how we are always in transition from where we were to where are going to be.

Write down what helps you to understand what this sequence of change looks like. It is a reference point for understanding what you've been going through. Keep what you write down, and the benefit of seeing this transition will grow over time.

If you are in a hard spot right now, go back in time as far as it takes to that point when you were happy in your work. Because when you were, you were fulfilling some of the unrealized potential that you have. Remember fulfillment is happiness.

Impact

It is a simple question. What is my impact?

It may be the hard to answer because it forces us to look at the world differently.

So, think in terms of what is the impact that you'd like to create? Put yourself back in your old job or back when you were the happiest in your work, and then ask, What is the impact that I had then?

Don't be too analytical. Keep it simple.

Who are you impacting?

You need two lists of people.

Create a list of those people whom you believe were impacted by your work and relationship with them.

Contact them to discover what it was that made the difference.

Create a list of people whom you know who can provide you connections to people and fields of work that are currently not open to you.

Follow these steps.

Ask, who do I know?

Ask, who do they know that I don't know that I need to know?

Contact your list to set up a conversation.

Share with them the impact that you'd like to achieve.

Ask them, who do you know that you think I should know?

Ask, are you willing to make an introduction for me?

Go to see these people, repeat the process.

Opportunity

When you go talk to people, don't go looking for a job. Go looking for an opportunity to make a difference with the assets that you bring to the business.

Think ... I'm looking for opportunities to create impact.

Your opportunities are not limited to the work and occupations that you have had in the past. By understanding what you offer, you can demonstrate how they can be applied in many more situations than you can imagine.

Obstacles / Problems

Let's be honest with ourselves. Often the loss of a job is the product of our own failure to do what we needed to do to stay current in our field or demonstrate the value of the impact that we bring to the company.  As a result, there may be obstacles or problems that stand in your way of fulfilling the opportunity that you see before you.

Don't sit around paralyzed by guilt and regret. Neither will bring the next job or the good life. Get to work on resolving the issues that hold you back so that you are prepared for the next opportunity to make a difference.

The Offering

Knowing what we have to offer the world is an important step of bringing fulfillment to the unrealized potential that fills our Hermione's handbag. What we have to offer is our gift. When we give it, the impact is magnified because the spirit of the gift strengthens the environment of the relationship and organization.

Our offering of service to create impact distinguishes us from those who are simply looking for a job. By giving of ourselves, we create the conditions for goodness to be realized for the companies and clients we serve, and for our own sense of well-being to be fulfilled.

The steps above are simple. Believing that we have something to offer is hard. I hope that this process is helpful. If you need more specific help, just let me know.


Lost Horizon - New Frontier

Mt Holmes - YNP

During the 19th century as pioneers moved West, they went with a purpose in mind. They had a vision for a better life on the frontier. The open spaces and freedom of the frontier were a place of opportunity.

Near the close of the century, historian Frederick Jackson Turner in his famous essay, The Significance of the Frontier in American History, noted that the 1890 Census claimed that the free and open land in the country had been sufficiently settled that there was no longer an identifiable "frontier line."  Turner wrote,

"This brief official statement marks the closing of a great history movement. Up to our own day American history has been in a large degree the history of the colonization of the Great West. The existence of an area of free land, its continuous recession, and the advance of American settlement westward, explain American development.

Behind institutions, behind constitutional forms and modifications, lie the vital forces that call these organs into life and shape to meet changing conditions. The peculiarity of American institutions is, the fact that they have been compelled  to adapt themselves to changes of an expanding people - to the changes involved in crossing a continent, in winning a wilderness, and in developing at each areas of this progress out of the primitive economic and political conditions of the frontier into the complexity of city life."

Just as Turner evoked, over a century ago, a belief in the American people to meet changing conditions, so today we are confronted with a world of changing conditions that demand that we change. One of the questions that rises from this perspective is ...

"Whether American institutions are still able "to adapt themselves to changes of an expanding people?".

If the 19th century was the century where the frontier of free land was eclipsed, then the 20th century was the century where the frontier of economic opportunity was eclipsed in favor of the institutions of government and business. In both cases, these institutions created a type of dependency that required individuals to turn over their own individualism to become, essentially, wards of the institution. The egregious of this system were those men and their families that worked the mines and "owed their soul to the company store."

The consequences of reaching a mature state, for both the institutions and the people within their social and organizational contexts, is the loss of a horizon that that marks the frontier that is our future.  As we look at the institutions of society, it is difficult to look beyond them to see what might be in the future. Is our present state of government and business our future, or are they a picture of the past that obscures our vision for the future?

The Necessity of the Frontier

Human beings need frontiers. We need them for we are seekers, discoverers, creators, innovators, and movers-and-shakers.We do not stand still. We seek to acquire, exchange, settle, resettle, destroy, restore, and expand that which is in our reach. For these human behaviors, we need a frontier to give us purpose and a horizon to reach after.

Stand at the edge of the frontier and we see ourselves better than at any point. We find that we are both great and small.  We see beyond our reach. We discover that life is not yet complete, settled and fixed. We realize that change is natural and healthy, as long as it leads towards the horizon of the frontier.

Grant Tetons 2

Without a horizon for our lives, with no frontier, we lose perspective, we retreat into the comfort of what is known and owned.  Our smallness before the frontier becomes diminished within the confines of what we can control. Without a frontier, we lose the better part of ourselves. Instead of initiating to create the future, we react to preserve a treasured, often nostalgic past.

 A generation after his essay on the frontier, Turner published a follow up essay on The Significance of the Section in American History. In it he compares the West of the frontier to the settled civilization of the East.

"The East feared an unchecked democracy, which overturn minority rights, destroy established institutions, and attack vested interests. The buoyant, optimistic, and sometimes reckless and extravagant spirit of innovation was the very life of the West.  In the East innovation was a term of reproach. It always "stalked" like an evil spirit. The East represented accumulated experience, the traditions of the family living generation after generation in a single location and under a similar environment, as President Thwing, of Western Reserve University, has aptly put it. But out in the newer West through most of its history men lived in at least two or three states in the course of their migrations."

These basic human differences become regional, or sectional, cultures. These differences exist today, and mark the tension that makes social change so difficult now.  They are so difficult because once the frontier has been settled, a shift takes place from the freedom and openness that is the frontier to the confines of institutionalization.

The American experience of the frontier is unique for the American West was not first colonized by institutions of government and business, and then the people came. No, the people came, and then their institutions followed. As a result, the Western United States, were not colonies of the East, but their own unique sectional creation.

The New Frontier

The frontier today is still geographic and economic, even more so now, technological and social. The geographic frontier is local, "How can our community thrive in the midst of the chaos of global change?"  The economic frontier line is discovering alternative and complementary resources for communities and their business and organizations.  

The advance of technology is where innovation and creativity is most broadly nurtured as the landscape of the frontier. It is free and open space, its virtual geography is in human ingenuity, relationship and the networks that provide the structure for our interaction. From those networks, the frontiers of science and human knowledge present horizons that are only now coming into view.

Today's line of the frontier is more personal than ever before. If technology and its application in social networks are making a difference that matters, it will because it is utilized for a clear purpose. That purpose is an identified frontier that marks a horizon for us to venture toward. Whatever unexplored, under-achieved, far off goal or aspiration that we have is the frontier of our lives.

It is personal because the social and organizational institutions that defined the parameters of society in the 19th. and 20th. centuries are disintegrating, proving to have run their historic course. It is doubtful that a person graduating from high school or college next spring will spend their entire career with the same company. It is as Frederick Jackson Turner identified above in his essay on sectionalism in American history.  When the frontier is sought, people move to where the opportunities are that mark the horizon.

The challenge of this new frontier, for most of us, is not how to master the latest Facebook social media app or decide which smartphone to purchase. Rather, it is knowing for what purpose do these technological innovations exist.

Activity or Achievement

The evidence to me that we have lost our horizon is how purpose is generally understood.

Here's an example of what I mean.

I take a trip to Florence, Italy, one of the most beautiful and picturesque places in Europe. I go to art galleries, eat fantastic food and drink wonderful wine, climb to the top of the Duomo, and return home to tell the tale of my trip.

In describing the trip, I tell of my flight, the hotel where I stayed, the museums and outlying towns I visited, the meals I had, and show the souvenirs that I purchased. And if you are really interested, I could take you through my credit card statement to show you what it cost me.

What does this description of a great trip tell you?

It is a listing of activities, of what I did. It is an accounting of the energy expended. It doesn't tell you the impact that the trip had upon me. It doesn't tell you how seeing Michangelo's David or the Chapel of San Lorenzo had a transformative effect upon me. It doesn't tell you how I am now different for having gone to the seat of the European Renaissance.

A statement of purpose, which is only a description of doing, is a purpose that has lost its horizon. It is a statement of institutionalized identity. It doesn't tell what it is that I seek to achieve or to become or to create or the impact that I wish to have. It doesn't say what I hope to change or the difference that we seek to make that matters.

The Journey is to Change Us

I use the journey illustration intentionally because to venture towards our horizons is to journey into the future.  And it should change us and the people around us and the organizations where we spend our lives. 018_18

Over a decade ago, I became inspired by the story of Lewis and Clark and the Corps of Discovery. In that tale, I saw a picture of "the first 21st century leadership team."  I was so inspired, that I persuaded my family to travel parts of the Lewis & Clark Trail with me. On one of our trips, we traveled by train from Chicago to Montana, to reach the portion of the trail that we were to visit.Over the course of 36 hours, we passed through very different geographic landscapes, from green regions of lakes and rivers, to flat, wide expanses of golden prairie to the “purple mountain majesty” of the northern Rockies.

Seeing those same horizons that Lewis & Clark crossed, floating down the Upper Missouri in a replica keel boat, camping where the Corps camped, reading their journals in the geographic setting where they were written, I began to see why their Journey of Discovery impressed me so. It changed the way I perceived the nature and character of leadership.

It changed the way I perceived the nature and character of leadership. I realized that Meriwether Lewis and William Clark understood something two hundred years ago, that we are just now rediscovering about leadership. That personal initiative and mutually respectful, collaborative relationships are the key to organizational leadership in our time. (Read my, now dormant, blog on the expedition, Lewis & Clark for the 21st century to learn more.)

The experience of the trip changed our family. We were no longer a collection of genetically-linked individuals, each pursuing our own individualized personal mandates, in some zero-sum game of parent / sibling rivalry. We had a set of shared experiences that created a bond that is not only still with us a decade later, but the values derived from those experiences define who we are as both individuals and family.

If the journey of our lives or our businesses is only an activity, only an amusement, or only a utilitarian means to provide income for that which we really want to do, then its purpose is passive and limiting.  It can be the source of the short-term thinking and immediate gratification that limits what we can do. For if our purpose does not provide a far enough horizon, that we will not be willing to do the hard work and make the serious sacrifices to achieve what we seek. If so, then that horizon is too close.

However, if we approach our lives and the development of our organizations from the perspective of seeking to identify a lost horizon that sets a new frontier line, then immediately we are invigorated for a journey of self-discovery and future impact.

The New Frontier

We each must find the new frontier. Its far horizon calls us to think long term, to delay gratification, to build social networks of collaborative endeavors, to take responsibility for making a difference beyond our own interests, and to create new institutional structures for the future.

Yet, in the midst of a persistent global recession, these words may ring hallow and seem to lack reality. Surely, to seek for new frontiers when jobs are scarce and money hard to come by, to do this is unrealistic. This is why the frontier exists, to show us that whatever is our experience today, tomorrow presents us with a new horizon.

For me, this perspective about the frontier, and how we as human beings relate to it, may best be described in a poem that Western poet Waddie Mitchell wrote for the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. I find it a testimony to the truth that a horizon exists for each on of us if we'd only look up and see. I end with That No Quit Attitude, my favorite of his poems, which celebrates the spirit of the frontier.

THAT NO QUIT ATTITUDE  - Waddie Mitchell

Parker Homestead near Three Forks

While gathering cattle near the ruins of a long abandoned homestead in the shadows of the mountains, questions swarmed around my mind of the people who had claimed there, most forgotten now, and long dead still.

I wonder what had prompted them to leave their worlds behind searching for a life uncertain, in a vast and rugged region up and leave their home and kin for opportunity to find.

Taking little more to start with than an idea, and a reason and a dream of their succeeding in a future yet defined.

Soon these queries led to more like …

Why it is that some folks always need to push their borders out beyond the furthest milestone on a never-ending quest to find new ways and trails to blaze and in the process stretch that realm of what is built and done and known?

From the little draw above me and my pard’s ride with his fine’ns, throwing his bunch with mine now shaded up and settled down.

I could see that he had gone through battle for his pony sporting lather but his smile claimed that he had made it in with everything he’d found.

The sweat and dust and brush streaks on that pair done heaps of speaking as he pulled up near, dismounted and loosen latigo a bit.

He said, “We jumped them in the rough, and would have lost them had we weakened but I swear, this here caballo ain’t got one half ounce of quit.

And that no quit phrase speaks volumes on one’s character and makin’s to a cowboy drawing wages riding ranges of the West.

Them who have it you’ll find usually conquer most their undertakings for the best in them is drawn out when their spirits put to test.

Then I spot my cow dogs bushed up staying well hid from the cattle knowin’ with a cue they’d give all to do anything need done.

I thought then how the most of us will opt to shun that battle never knowin’ fully what we could accomplish or become.

Still, I believe like dogs and horses we’re all born with resolution.

Like muscles and good habits it needs use and exercise, if left dormant, its in jeopardy of lost evolution for eventually it shrivels ups and atrophy and dies.

But when flexed, it blossoms heroes in a source of inspiration for we all recognize that virtue and a no quit attitude.

And it proves its attributes in competition and vocation that evokes appreciation and a show of gratitude.

And since mankind started walking, it has been swifter, higher, stronger, as if pushed by some deep need to keep their limits unconfined,

Almost thriving, always striving for things bigger, better, longer in an unrelenting pursuit of perfection, redefined.

And in this world that is soft complacence there are still a few among the masses who will readily give all to see a job or dream fulfilled.

It’s a trait that’s void of prejudice toward races, sex or classes just demanding its possessor be of valor and strong will.

 Then as we start our cattle homeward lettin’ the dogs bring up the rear, and we leave what’s left of once somebody’s hopes and dreams behind.

I’m convinced that no quit attitude will always persevere. Now its the essence and the promise and the crown of human kind.


Three Turns

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Near the end of my father's career, the company for whom he had worked for over 35 years, was purchased, and, not so slowly, its assets drawn off and exploited for use by the parent company.

I remember him telling me of the day that he was on a management recruiting trip in Pennsylvania, and received a phone call that the company was not going to make payroll that week. He returned home to help usher through the closing of the company and be the last executive remaining as he handled the outstanding employee medical and benefit claims against the company. He was of an age where he could retire. It was a sad day for him. He had worked for the company his entire career. 

My dad's story is not unusual. It is symptomatic of the time we are living in. I thought of my father as I watched last year's under-appreciated film, The Company Men.  It is a story of executives and their families coping with change as their corporation goes through a series of downsizes simply to raise the share price. Like my father's experience, the film illustrates a very common experience of change. Here's a clip of a meeting where decisions are being made as to who is to be let go.

 

This has become a very normal experience for people. Even with a nice severance package, the emotional trauma of being fired is something that doesn't quickly go away. What lies behind this approach to quantifying the value of a company is a way of thinking about organizations that I believe is ultimately destructive rather than a path to sustainability.  The logical outcome from over a century of this way of thinking has been the narrowing of the value of a company to something short term and specifically related to its financial value.

Consider the executive's rationale for downsizing staff and eliminating a division of the company in this exchange between Tommy Lee Jones and Craig T. Nelson's characters from the movie. .

Nelson: "Stock is stalled and revenue is flat."

Jones: "Entire economy is flat. We are in the middle of a recession."

N: "I only closed two of the shipyards. Should have closed all three of them. Stock is in the toilet."

J: "Everybody's stock is in the toilet."

N: "Well, the stockholders would like to see their share value maximized."

J: "Heh, Heh, Heh, Well ... sell the Degas'. ... three thousand jobs?"

N: "Gene, we aren't some little shipyard any more. I'm not going to keep pouring money into a losing operation."

J: "We innovate, retool ..."

N: "American heavy manufacturing is dead. Steel, auto, shipbuilding ... the future is in healthcare infrastructure and power generation."

J: "I have to be involved in any decision that affects one of my divisions."

N: "You wouldn't have approved the cut. ... You'd go behind my back to the board again, right?"

J: "They were good people, Jim."

Both men are backed up against a wall. They are caught by a way of thinking about the value of companies that worked in times where growth was relatively assured. Now, the competition is tougher, more astute and far more flexible in their ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Do you think they could have seen this coming? I'm not sure. It goes back to how to you determine the value of a company. I'm not talking about how Wall Street values it, but the people who are touched by the company in some manner. How do they value the company?

Can the value of a company be reduced to one thing, like the share price, or the charismatic leadership of the CEO or a design innovation? Or is the value embedded in the whole structure and context of the organization?

We are in a time of global transition in all aspects of life. Short-term, reductive, passive aggressive, reactive thinking is not going to lead us out of a recession into a new era of peace and prosperity. Instead, we need to realize that our approach is failing, and that we need a new way to think about how organizations function. It must start with the willingness to be different, to think differently, and invest in changes that provide for long term development.

The Context of Change

The ancient Greeks had a word for change which is metanoia. Literally, it means a change of mind, but it has come to mean something much larger and more comprehensive. Metanoia points to a change of orientation, perspective and direction.  There is a sense in the meaning that the change of mind is accompanied by some regret. So the change, upon reflection, is a choice to follow a different path. People choosing to turn toward different values and new ways of expressing them.  Metanoia is a change that embraces the whole person, the mind, feelings and will, and is expressed in action that is change.

This change of mind is an awareness that the path we have been on is no longer sustainable. As I wrote in my post, The End and The Beginning, this change marks an end of an era in several ways. The nature of this redirection means that the recent past is no longer an adequate guide for understanding what we must do in the future. As I began in that post,

What if our past experience instead of illuminating the future, obscures it? What if the way we have always approached a problem, or the conduct of a single day, or the organization of our work makes it more likely that we end up not accomplishing what we envision?

The continuity between the recent past and the near future has broken down. This is a turning point for us. The 20th century may provide our most immediate experiential memory, but for the purpose of understanding the future, it is now ancient history.

Reflect upon the attacks on 9/11, our response to them, and the global recession of past three years, and our response to it. Can you see how the tried-and-true methods of the last century have not worked. Neither peace nor prosperity are being restored, in fact, the world is less peaceful and prosperous than it was a decade ago. Terrorism maybe contained upon our shores, but it still festers in places of poverty throughout the world.

Fear, doubt and diminishment in the confidence in our leaders and institutions are increasing.  Greater diversity, interconnectivity, and, yes, even greater business efficiencies, are not answering the question about what it is that we must do.

We are now at a crossroads that requires metanoia, a change that is comprehensive and whole. This change of mind requires us to begin to see businesses as a whole organizations, rather than as a collection of interchangeable, discardable, transferable, value-specific parts. The company in The Company Men was dying because it too, like my father's company, was just a collection of assets to be exploited. There is no future in this way of thinking. To have a future requires us to change our minds and see things differently.

Three Turns 

To change our minds, we need to make Three Turns of perception, understanding and orientation. 

The Moral Turn  In the first clip from The Company Men, above, Tommy Lee Jones' character raises questions about the selection of people to be let go. His response, that there is an ethical question involved, is met with a legalistic answer. 

By reducing the decision to a question of share price and what is required under the law, the company is not just making a business decision, but also a moral choice.

What is a company that no longer manufactures its products?  Is it now a money machine for its share holders as long as the money holds out?

The moral turn is first and foremost about the purpose or mission of the company. 

Does a company whose actual purpose is share price encourage confidence and trust?

Does a company whose primary focus is share price understand its connection to the people who work in the business and the communities where they are physically located?

Is a company more than its financials?

Does a company have a responsibility that goes beyond i ts shareholders, and what is defined by what is strictly legal?

Every organization exists in a context that is greater than the sum of the parts of the organization. There is a culture that is physical, ideological, technological and social.

For example, what distinguishes an insurance company in London to one based in Sao Paulo or Detroit is geography and culture. Yes, they each ofter insurance plans. Yes, they each have customers. Yes, they each generate revenue. The difference is the local context that helps to define the culture of the business.

As a result ...

a company is not primarily its mission or purpose, but its values that are embedded in ideas and relationships within the context, culture and structure of the organization. 

Values permeate the whole of the business, including those persons and organizations outside of the business who are influenced by it. Values inform its purpose, its vision of impact, its relationships with all those who are touched by the company, and how the company measures its impact.

The mission of a company is a product of its values.

When the purpose of the company is more than its financial value to shareholders, it is no longer, just a reservoir of assets to be exploited, but a context in which to create the future.  

Recently I heard a presenter during in an organizational development  workshop describe organizations that are mission driven as organizations on the rise. He used a diagram similar to this one that I use to describe organizations in transition.

Transition Point - without Title
When a company reaches a point of maturity or stabilization or equilibrium, the importance of its mission as a guide often fades. What follows is an increasing focus on its financial assets as its primary purpose. The presenter was convinced that once an organization shifts from a mission focus to a financial focus, it has entered a stage of decline.  In effect, they no longer see how a company can grow, but rather be sold. 

The moral turn that a company needs to make is to reaffirm its values and reestablish its mission as the driving force of the company as a whole.

The Social Turn  When the value of a company is reduced to its share price, the company loses the value that exists within its social structure. Not every member of the organization benefits from a rise in the share price. As a result, the company fragments into internally competitive parts to see who will survive the company's disintegration.

For example, as a Boston Red Sox fan for over 45 years, I was particularly disappointed in their collapse this year. It was not that old patterns of attitudes and behaviors that had hampered the team in the past had returned. Rather, it was the squandering of the talent and potential that existed on paper, at least, at the beginning of the season.

By all appearances, the social environment of the team is the core reason for their decline. At the beginning of the season, they were the odds on favorite to win the World Series. Great pitching, the acquisition of two all-star hitters, and a coaching staff that had produced two World Series championships held great promise for the upcoming season. Yet all that collapsed into a mess in what appears to be based in a collective selfishness and lack of accountability for the team's social environment and on field performance.

The Social Turn is the recovery of the human dimension in organizations. As human beings we are social beings through which our individuality develops. Much of the fragmentation of modern business organizations isolates individuals and business units into individualized roles that make collaborative team work more difficult. As a result, the connections that exist between people in the workplace are treated as having marginal value. 

Structural Hole 2

In The Company Men, when Ben Affleck is fired, the stated reason is that his position is redundant. In effect, the company was recouping a cost that it viewed was exceptional rather than necessary.  The company also loses in this kind of fragmenting of the social structure of the business. Affleck's character was not just a person in a cubicle, but was a connection point in a network of relationships that provided information and influence beyond the company. The value may be redundant, but it is a redundancy that creates strength and resilience, not weakness.

Social fragmentation is not just found in businesses, but in global society at large. Its destructiveness finds its way into companies and organizations, weakening their ability to marshal the talent that exists. The Social Turn is one that values relationships of honor, respect, humility, trust and mutual reciprocity. These values function to create a social fabric that allows for diversity and interconnectivity that creates the sustainability that businesses and communities need.

The Structural Turn The industrial model of business was conceptualized around the idea that a business is filled with a few smart people and a lot of laborers. The world has changed, yet the structures of organizations have not. Still the structure is a hierarchy of decision-makers "leading" a larger number of decision-implementers.

This approach does not work as well as it once did. Here are just a few reasons.

1. Technology levels the information playing field.

2. Advances in public education, and the expansion of higher education has created a society of workers who are much better informed and equipped to do decision-making type work.

3. The complexity of working in a global environment of diverse cultures makes it more difficult for a few people to know everything they need to know about the issues that confront their business.

4. The skills required for leadership and management of business are much more accessible to far more people than every before.

5. Hierarchical structures are organized for control through compartmentalization and standardization.

The Structure Turn that is taking place elevates personal initiative, network collaboration, and adaptive learning as the keys to the organization and leadership of businesses.

Instead of a structure organized around compartmentalized roles and defined areas of responsibility, the emerging structure is an open environment where the skills and resources needed for the work of the business is acquired through a network relationship structure.

In this structure each person is responsible for the whole of the project, not just their segment. Each person can function in the role of leader, while not having a title as one.

In this networked structure, the premium skills are placed upon thinking skills that are both analytical and intuitive.

As I recently commented to Dana Leman of RandomKid,

"Imagine Proctor & Gamble without bosses and managers, and everyone is a leader."

Leadership ceases to be a title, and becomes a set of behaviors and attitudes that all share. For the character of this kind of leadership to take root, it requires changing the structure.

Structure - Collaborative into Hierarchy
The Structural Turn is towards an organizational culture where people are free to create and contribute, to communicate, to initiate and to pitch in where they see a need.  Instead of being doers of assigned responsibilities, they are facilitators and problem solvers.
In many companies, this kind of structure is developing. However, it must happen at the senior level for the turn to be successful.

How would the company in The Company Men function differently if they operated under a network structure?

1. More people would be engaged in meaningful reflection about the challenges facing the company because they knew that had an actual stake in its success.

2. Innovation would be more prevalent as employees practiced a higher level of leadership initiative and problem solving.

3. New business applications through employee ingenuity would expand the number and range of revenue streams the company has.

4. The company would be unified behind its shared values and mission.

5. The company would be a more attractive place for the top talent to work.

6. The company could more easily adapt to financial downturns.

7. Communities would be vying for the opportunity for the company to create a local operation.

The central message of the Three Turns is for your mission to drive change in the company, centered around values that unite people to create a shared company culture of trust, personal initiative, and a desire to contribute to the company's success. When this happens, the turn from hierarchical structure to a network one can take place as a natural evolution of the company.


10 Assumptions about Change

 IMG_6884

Change is embedded in everything. It is the subtext of every topic of conversation that I have. It is the core issue of every project that I do.

Our assumptions about change need to change.

First Assumption: Change is bad.

Change is neutral. It is needed in every aspect of life. Without change there is no life. Too much change too quickly can be destructive. Change functions on a continuum between growth and decline, even life and death.

Second Assumption: The Opposite of Change is No Change.

Staying the same isn't a very sustainable strategy. Yet, it seems to be the response I hear most often to the prospect of change.

Third Assumption: Manage Change through Attitudes and Behaviors.

This is a good approach to a point. It assumes that human beings are living in an environment which is changing and their response (attitudes and behaviors) is how we address change. However, I find that this is an inadequate approach to the management of change.

I can understand why these assumptions are the ones I encounter most. They are based on assumptions that are the conventional wisdom of the past century. What are those assumptions?

Fourth Assumption: Large, Global, Transnational Organization is the logical, progressive direction of human civilization.

This assumption is captured most succinctly in the phrase "too big to fail." Yet, we do see failure, decline, possible disintegration and collapse of the world's largest and, at one time, the most progressive and prosperous nations and organizations.

Fifth Assumption: Stability, efficiency and maximumization of resources are the highest values of organizations.

What this perspective actually produces is vocational instability, economic volatility, social dislocation and the concentration of power and resources into the hands of the few.

Sixth Assumption: Urbanization, and the loss of an agrarian socio-economic culture, is the progressive and beneficial outcome of these historic trends.

While I am not an urban sociologist or economist, my on-the-ground observations is that increasing urbanization is more inefficient, is poor ground for the sustainability of inter-generational communal social structures, and increases the cost and demands of daily living. It seems to me that all these factors exist within a continuum where too little and too dense are not ideal for community or socio-economic sustainability.

Seventh Assumption: The above trends have disrupted natural cycles of growth by accelerating the process of change beyond what is now manageable under the assumptions of the past century. 

As an out-of-alignment wheel on a car spins more chaotically as speed and variation increase, so are the cycles of change increasing in speed and variability.

Eighth Assumption: Change is cyclical and we are at the end of a long cycle of the kind of growth in organizations described above.

From a contemporary context, is Greece's economic meltdown the anomaly or is it the canary in the coalmine?  Are we at the end of the era where large, global, transnational organizations can function?

Ninth Assumption: The future will be or should be like the past.

There are two assumptions here. One is if the past is prelude to the future, then what in our past should we have seen that would have helped us to predict the past decade of terrorism, war, political division and global economic recession?

It is helpful to read Professor Carroll Quigley's Oscar Iden Lectures, "Public Authority and the State in the Western Tradition: A Thousand Years of Growth, A.D. 976 - 1976” Quigley was a professor in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University for over forty years. His perspective is unique, expansive and, I find, very insightful.

The other assumption concerns our nostalgia for past golden ages as Professor H.W. Brands of the University of Texas describes them. He describes that much of this nostalgia is focused on the decades between 1945 and 1965, the golden age of American political economy as he describes it.

... for Baby Boomers, this is the age of our childhood. There is this tendency of humans to look back to a golden age. If you quiz people, the golden age usually corresponds to their childhood.  They’ll say, life was simpler. Of course, life was simpler, you were 8 years old.

There’s this thinking of, if we could just get back to the way things were in 1950 or 1960, then all will be well. Part of it is this individual nostalgia.

But part of it is this historically anomalous position during this period from 1945 to 1965. Because in a fundamental way, the US was the only victor of World War II. The US was the only country that came out with a stronger economy than it went in. America’s principal industrial competitors were either gravely weakened, like Britain, or absolutely demolished like Germany and Japan. So, it was easy for the US to embrace free trade. Yeah, level the playing field because we’ve already leveled the industrial capacity of all our competitors.

The weakness of this assumption is that underlying it is a belief often held that our best years are in the past, not the future, therefore, what changes we experience today are taking us further away from the golden age of the past.

Tenth Assumption: Change is Structural, and cannot be adequately faced by just changing attitudes and behaviors.

The future is going to be different. The last stage of acceptance of this will be the recognition that many of the above assumptions are declining in validity. Yes, of course, as individuals we adapt to change by modifying our attitudes and behaviors. We also must adapt by changing the social and organizational structures that have led us to this point in history.

The indicators of structural change are already evident. They are awaiting application in theory, design and practice.  I'll write about them in my next posting.


Creating an Open Culture of Gratitude*

Five Actions Gratitude- horizontal

The executive leaders of businesses are not just strategic decision-makers and systems managers, but the creators of culture.  This culture is the human dimension of their organization. It is how people interact, communicate, collaborate and operate ethically. 

There are some aspects of a healthy culture that transcend time and place, industry and organizational purpose. One of those marks is openness.

Two questions drive this interest for me.

What is an open culture?

How can the practice of gratitude contribute to it?

Think of a culture of a business as being the product of the ideas and relationships of people connected to it.

A culture has distinguishing characteristics, activities, branded products and services. and specific processes that represent that culture. It is also the connecting ideas of purpose or mission, values, vision and impact that are given life by the people within the culture. A culture is what binds people together as a group, a movement or an organization, and provides them a way to interact and support what matters to them collectively.

Cultures can be open or closed, healthy or dysfunctional, unified or confused, sustainable or dying.

The key to creating a healthy, sustainable culture is openness.

The Marks of an Open Culture

In an open culture there are low barriers to contributing.

A new person can join, and immediately make an impact. There is no process of jumping through hoops to determine whether you are worthy of contributing. I see this particularly in social organizations, whether a club or religious congregation. In an open culture, people join and start participating and contributing right away. Their contribution is valued and recognized.

Another characteristic of an open organizational culture is a high incidence of personal initiative being taken by members. In my mind, initiative is the beginning of all leadership. Without initiative, there is no leadership, only passive followership.

In a closed culture, the initiative is reserved for the authority figures. They decide what the group does and doesn’t do. This high control environment means that personal initiative is resisted and those who may be more independent, creative and innovative in their attitudes and behaviors are discouraged or punished for being so. In an open culture, people recognize that they have the opportunity and responsibility to create new and better ways of realizing the impact of their organization. So, they take personal initiative to make difference that matters.

A third mark is that openness creates a higher level of adaptability. In a closed culture, the mindset becomes defensive and resistant to change. The assumption is that a culture is fixed in time, and remains the same over time.  Rather, what is fixed are the values that drive the culture. The expression of those values can change over time. But the values don't.

Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, Built To Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, make the distinction between core values and cultural practices.

“Core Values are the organization’s essential and enduring tenets – a small set of timeless guiding principles that require no external justification.”

Cultural practices, in their model, are those practices that have replaced the core values as the drivers of the company. These practices have lost their connection to the core values with the result that the company becomes closed to opportunities through change.

In an open culture, values matter. 

Your mission or purpose can change. Your vision can change. Your understanding of the impact that you want to have can change. They can because you are adapting to changes that are occurring simultaneously throughout the landscape of your business.  What guides you through change are your values. 

In an open culture, people find a culture where there are low barriers to contributing, their personal initiative to make a difference that matters is welcomed, and the company adapts more easily to change by being rooted in its values.

The challenge to creating an open culture is implementation. It is one thing to have well defined connecting ideas. It is another thing to know how to act upon them within the structure of the organization.

What I've discovered is that the practice of gratitude, as characterized in Say Thanks Every Day: The Five Actions of Gratitude, is a set of strategic practices that support an open culture.

The Five Actions of Gratitude as Openness Strategy 

Each of the five actions is an outreach of openness to others. It is not protective, defensive, exclusionary or elitist. It is open, grateful, giving, welcoming, respectful and creative.

Five Actions Gratitude

To Say Thanks is appreciate the actions and impact of another person.

It is recognizing another person or group’s contribution to your life and work. It is also a type of self-awareness that sees the beneficial place of others in our life

To Give Back is to recognize that I want to give back in service to persons, groups or communities some measure of the goodness that I’ve received from them.

This is not a payback of a debt owed, except as a debt of gratitude. It is an act of thankful contribution.

Imagine if this was the culture of your office right now. What would it would it look like. Maybe, what you’d see is a higher level of not just contribution, but sharing of work and responsibilities so that it gets done, and done well.

To Make Welcome is to create an open environment for people to take initiative to contribute.

With openness comes personal responsibility to make the workplace a better place to work, to innovate ways to better serve customers, and to resolve problems and issues before the grow into a crisis.

This is the key action for creating an open culture. It requires a specific kind of leadership that permits others to lead along side one another. It is a culture of shared responsibility and opportunity.

To Honor Others is to treat people with dignity, respect and kindness.

These are values that characterize the best of relationships. The are the basis for a culture of gratitude and trust.

The reality for most businesses is that these are rarely evident with any degree of strength. Why is it so?  My guess is that these practices require effort and commitment.  They do not easily translate to a company's bottom-line. They are not typically the qualifications for executive leadership. These values only create efficiency when the culture has reached a level of maturity. As noted above, it is this culture that produces the adaptability that is so essential for sustainable growth in the current business environment.

To Create Goodness is the outcome of an open culture that invites personal initiative to make a difference that matters.

Creativity is born in the initiative of a person. It rises from their values, their sense of purpose, the questions that lead them to explore new ways of doing the things and finally to make a difference that matters.

Goodness is the impact of an open culture. As the ancient Greeks understood goodness, it is a way to understand the fulfillment of purpose. It is way to understand wholeness, completeness, integrity and success. It is the fulfillment of the potential that resides in each of the connecting ideas. It is that intangible quality that brands the experience that people within a company's culture comes to measure the organization by.  It is the product of personal initiative, which flourishes within an open culture.

Creating an Open Culture of Gratitude

These practices are not just good ideas, which they are, not just good things to do, which they are, but more importantly a systemic strategy for the effective functioning of every organization. In order for a system of gratitude to be developed, the system that currently exists must be changed or replaced. It may be a small change or a large one, but turning your organization into an open culture of gratitude creates an environment of shared leadership that attracts the best talent to join you.

Leading in an Open Culture of Gratitude

I hear from people that gratitude is this sweet, grandmotherly sentiment that has little relevance to leading organizations. Obviously, they didn't know my grandmother. Instead, to practice gratitude as I've outlined here requires personal maturity, inner confidence, and a willingness to trust. Instead of it being trite, it is the most transformative, courageous thing an executive leader can do. 

To transform an organization’s culture from a closed one to an open one is dependent on the person at the top changing. It is a simple change, but a very difficult one. It is difficult because it is not tactical, but personal.

In order for an open culture of gratitude to grow, you have to decide that you are not the go-to-guy for everything, that you can’t make every decision, resolve every issue, be the king or queen on the throne, and be the one who dictates the course of your business. You can't even be the expert at creating an open culture of gratitude. You have to realize that you are a facilitator of talent, and that the value of that talent is only realized fully when each person is free to exercise their personal initiative for the greater good of the customer, other employees, the business and the community.

This is a change of mindset, of attitude and behavior. This is the supreme test of the character of the leader. Can you let go and let you people lead? If you can, then you can create an open culture of gratitude. If not, then you will be following those who can do it.

Openness is the key, and gratitude is the strategy that elevates openness to a practical, functional level.

Be grateful, giving, welcoming, honoring and creative and you’ll find new depth of impact emerging from the parts of your organization that have never produced to their potential. It all starts by being open and grateful.

* An earlier version of those post appeared as one of The Stewardship of Gratitude columns in Weekly Leader.


The Common Ground of Shared Responsibility

Creating an effective business structure is a very difficult proposition. I am not talking about a business or marketing plan. I referring to how a business is structured so that it functions well. 3Cs of Alignment - image

As you know, I look at this challenge through the lens of the Circle of Impact. My sense is that we need to foster alignment between the three dimensions of leadership - Ideas, Relationships and Structure. We do this by focusing on the conditions that create effective Communication, Collaboration and Coordination.

For me this is a baseline from which all organizations need to begin. What happens beyond that is a change in the function of each of the dimensions.

Communication ceases to be a major problem; your message gets out; and work related issues seemed to be less intractable.

Collaboration grows, new ideas emerge from the improvement of relationships, and the organization needs to change to accomodate a higher level of engagement and initiative by people.

Coordination, though, lags in improvement across departments, remote sites, and programs. The reason is that the system of organizaiton is always the last to change. It has the highest resistance to adapting to changing circumstances.  As a result, the optimism that initially rose as communication and collaboration grew also begins to lag. 

After a few months or years, a growing impression of either being at a plateau or in Transition Pointdecline begins to be discussed openly.  Whether rightly or wrongly, the perception that the organization has reached a Transition Point begins to take hold.

In reflection, we can see that the easiest things to change, did.  New, fresh, inspiring ideas infused new confidence and motivation in people, impacting how they communicated and collaborated together. This is what is happening in many organizations.

The jump from one inspiring idea to the next ends up artificially propping up the emotional commitment of people to the company and their relationships together.This is not sustainable.

The resistance of the organization's structure to change remains the primary obstacle to a well functioning, fully aligned organization.

The distance and disconnect that employees have from the mission and outcome of the business is the most basic identifying mark of a structure out of alignment. Indifference that people have to their workplace grows.  The desire to be left alone to do their job so they can get on to what really matters in their life becomes the defacto attitude of the workforce. In effect, there is no emotional access point for them to invest their whole selves in the work they do.

When this scenario is widely experienced in a company, inspiring ideas and motivational team building programs don't have a lasting impact. The problem is a structural or systems one. Issues of communication and collaboration are symptoms of the problem. 

Assumptions about the Product of an Effective Organizational Structure

As I analyze organizations during various projects, I'm looking for various intangilbes that matter. Let's call them assumptions about what an organizational system should produce.

1.  Initiative by employees measured by higher rates of engagement and contribution. 

2. Interaction by employees that is open and collaborative and that transcends organizational barriers to achieve higher levels of efficiency and impact.

3. Impact awareness by employees who can express their own contribution to the organization's impact as a change that is a difference that matters.

These assumptions are difficult to measure, yet relatively easy to see.

Their performance is more evident when they are missing. People not taking initiative. When there is little interaction between people from different parts of the organization. When employees show little appreciation for the organization's mission and impact. 

The question that many of us then have is how to do we redesign our organizational structures so that we realize a higher level of initiative, interaction and impact.

One way to address this issue is through strategic organizational redesign to creates an environment of Shared Responsibility.

Shared Responsibility

Every organization has a responsibility or accountability structure. In older, traditional hierarchical systems, Responsibility resides in varying degrees throughout the organization, but not accountability, which is top down. Shared Responsibility
A shared responsibility structure creates a shared space of mutual, collaborative, coordinated accountability. This illustration shows an organization where management, staff and the board of directors have a common ground of shared responsibility.  The shared space is common ground because the expectation is that each person engaged in this space has an opportunity to contribute out of their own talent, knowledge and expertise within the strictures of their position and role in the organization.

For example, while some members of the management team would not ordinarily work along side of members of the Board of Directors, in this scheme they would because the structure is is organized to provide a shared space of contribution for impact. This approach lowers the organizational barriers that typically make it hard to create a common ground for work.

The purpose of this structure is not order or standardization, but alignment of the functions of communication, collaboration and coordination for the purpose of impact. It is the mission of the organization, not the structure, which drives the change in structure. RK- Org Design

This approach is currently being developed for an international non-profit organization whose constituents are in all 50 states and 20 countries globally.  The board is small in number; is highly active in collaboration with the staff; and works with a large number of advisors and supporters from around the world who contribute  according to their ability.

This organization's aim to create an environment where participation is not boring or disconnected from its mission, but is marked by personal initiative, collaborative interaction, and an organization environment each person has the opportunity to make a difference.

The way an organizational design of this sort works is when the Connecting Ideas of purpose, mission, values, vision and impact are well defined and aligned within the structure, and the leadership of the organization serves as a faciliator of interaction and contribution. Because the organizational structure is a shared space for collaboration, the barriers for constituents to lead through their talent and abilities are low, producing a more highly engagement staff and board.

This kind of structure and leadership must be intentionally designed and developed.  This is not a radical departure from the past, but at the same time, it is also not a logical step forward for most of the legacy structures that exist today.

This approach fosters a shared leadership of responsibility. Leadership from this perspetive is the impact or influence that is the result of the personal initiative take to create impact. When the senior leadership of an organization understands that this is where the future of organizations lays, it requires a change in their own leadership approach.

The Ultimate Question

Can legacy organizational structures change to this model of shared responsibility? 

I believe it can. The pathway to this approach is in appreciating the importance of the relationship dimension for the creation of the strength and impact of an organization.  From that perspective barriers to interaction and collaboration lower or are removed, enabling people to become more engaged with the purpose and mission of the organization, and to do so in relationship with other members of their organizational community.


An Idealist in the midst of Cynics

COL-ICON

An old friend sent me the following note that is worth discussing.

Hey, Ed! I have a topic that I would love for you to address. What happens when a true believer and a cynic are put together on a work team? Or, perhaps more difficult, when there is a faction of true believers and a faction of cynics?

In my situation, I tend to be a bit "rah rah" and idealistic. Most of the others on my team find fellowship in a cynical viewpoint. It's sort of the difference between putting up those "success" motivation posters and putting up the despair.com posters. (I certainly see the humor in the despair posters, but when they represent an approach to life, I find it sad.)

Anyway, I think you get the picture. From my viewpoint, I think it's important that I value where they are coming from and have compassion for my co-workers like I would anyone else, but I also have a preference for people who appreciate the efforts our company makes to promote some sense of common cause (after all, if the company doesn't make money none of us have a job) and I find life is challenging enough without having to endure negativism about everyone and everything. Put it this way: Many of my co-workers would find your blog to be the very type of thing that they see as unappealing, touchy-feely, idealistic nonsense, while I eat it up. Anyway, I'd love for you to talk about this.

Of course, I had to laugh - "touchy-feely." What? No Kum Ba Yah?

There is lots to say about this topic.

Idealists often want to escape from the harsh realities of life and work. Cynics want to avoid their own responsibility for it. Both are inadequate.

Both are products of human experience that provide the idealist and the cynic a way of managing the emotional demands of life and work. This is isn't touchy-feely. This is the hard edge of reality folks. Our attitudes and behaviors are the result of experience. They are not rational, but more emotional. We rationalize them to give us a reason to act a certain way. But they certainly are not touchy-feely.

I'm a realist, who is also a recovering idealist/cynic. I've been both during my adult life, and neither were effective in helping me develop as a person or develop my work.

What may be viewed as touchy-feely is not a superficial approach just to make everyone feel good. Instead, helping people face reality that is both realistic and opportunistic is my aim. We each need to recognize our potential at the same time recognize the problems that we create in our life and work.

The situation that my friend describes is a management problem. And most managers are not equipped to deal with it. Why? Because most are not trained to deal with people, but with policies and processes. Even in the best of organizations, people and their relationships are a secondary consideration. Why? Because the perception is you can't quantify relationships. I don't agree, but that isn't the point here.

Now, what does my friend do? Do he go confrontational? Does he go touchy-feely? Does he ignore them? Does he push or pull for improvement?

First, recognize that the world isn't perfect, and none of us are.

Second, recognize that a person's negativity is telling you what they care about.

Third, recognize that maintain high standards of performance in life and work require us to lose the fantasy world of idealism and cynicism.

By embracing reality as it is, we see both the opportunities and the problems that are within our control.

The Five Questions - Work-Life Coaching Guide

Check out my Five Questions That Every Person Must Ask . Use this guide to stay focused on what is ultimately important, not what is inconvenient, uncomfortable or irrelevant to your life and work.

I also recommend two books.

Leadership & Self-deception by The Arbinger Institute describes how we put ourselves into a box to avoid having to take responsibility for our life and work. We want to blame our difficulties on other people, situations and circumstances over which we have no control.

Read the sections in Jim Collins' book, Good To Great on The Stockdale Paradox. Here's an earlier post where I wrote about it. Admiral James Stockdale has been an important influence on my thinking for over twenty five years. I think Collins perspective on him provides some helpful insight for how to function in a corporate environment today.

In the end, the best relationships are those where mutual service, respect and trust are the guiding values. Where they are missing, the challenges of attitude and behavior will be evident. Stay true to your own ideals, without being idealistic, and you'll grow to learn how to be effective in a challenging situation like the one you describe.

Thanks for asking. It is a great question.