A Culture of Alternatives

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Some times transitions can be smooth, sometimes difficult. As a global economic community, we are in a difficult transition from the modern industrial age to what will follow. 

Modern organizations share a common assumption. This is true if you are General Motors or the old Soviet Union. Efficiency is the route to an economy of scale and scope.

The problem with efficiency is not what it gives us, the ability to do more with fewer resources. The problem is what it takes from us.

Robust, sustainable cultures are those that have many competing alternatives.

I'm not here writing to advocate for the free market as many conservatives and business people do.  The free market is an ideal, while inviting, it cannot exist while there are powerful institutional structures that can dictate the terms of the market. This is where we are now with the relationship that exists between Washington and Wall Street.

I'm also not here to simply denigrate governments as the overseer of efficiency on a global scale. Governments are important institutions for providing a basis for alternatives to grow and develop.

We are at a transition point because with the elevation of efficiency to its preeminent role, control over the economic and organizational systems of society must also grow.

Over the course of my lifetime, close to 60 years, I've seen the control of society grow to the point where virtually everyone of us is breaking some rule of efficiency every day.

I have been persuaded by Joseph Tainter's thesis that societies collapse when the diversity of alternatives diminish and a one-size fits all culture develops. This is the course our society has been moving along for the past 50 years.

I'm not making a political statement to say the course that the Soviet Union took should be instructive for us today. In many respects, their economy failed because they lacked alternatives. Central planning did not create a robust, sustainable society. It created one of fear, not just fear of impoverishment, but fear of those who control the institutions of society.

The United States is not the Soviet Union. Our histories and founding values are different.

What we do share is a belief in large, supra-national, global institutions guiding the course of society by persons selected by some criteria of elite status.

Whether that control is by law, or political coercion or moral condemnation, the effect is to create a culture of efficiency by removing alternatives that may fail, inconvenience some person or be financially costly.

Our society is no longer robust and sustainable because we are quickly squeezing alternative ways of doing things out of our economic system. As it has done so, it has also squeezed out the benefits of efficiency.

Is there an alternative course?

If Tainter is correct, then we are headed towards an economic collapse. If so, then alternative ways of sustaining society must be developed in parallel with our current system.

I see this, for example, in the rise of local buying initiatives. When farmers are connected personally to those who buy their produce, the relational conditions for an alternative economic culture grow. I hear more and more about bartering between people who have services to provide. And possibly, most importantly, I see it in local efforts to develop cultures of entrepreneurism that create both for-profit and non-profit organizations that provide alternative ways for local economies to function.

The Conditions for a Culture of Alternatives

For an alternative culture to develop three things are needed.

First, individual initiative.

This is what I saw a decade ago as the starting point for all leadership. Individual initiative focused upon creating impact. This initiative is about how people take personal responsibility for their lives and of their families and communities.

Second, community collaboration. 

Consulting with a wide spectrum of organizations over the years I see how institutions force collaboration upon people. It is often seen as a way the old institutional barriers are being brought down. Collaboration can certainly do that, but it must come from the collaborators themselves.

Third, open culture of ideas.

All alternative approaches begin as an idea that needs to be tried. Openness to new ideas, and a willingness to test and fail with those ideas is essential in creating a culture of alternatives.

The End of an Era and The Beginning of a New One

For the past 18 months, I've been writing about the end of an era of industrial capitalism and utopian progressivism. Each was born out of the Enlightenment hope for a better world. Each was a product of, or, reaction to the industrial culture that elevated efficiency as a core societal value.

That efficiency demanded institution control by those who were designated the leaders of the system. It worked as long as the means of production was limited to the industrial plant; as long as advanced education was limited to the few who could afford it; and, as long as the means of communication consisted of the distribution of the information that leaders wanted people to know.

Today, all that has changed. In many ways, the opportunities that we have today are like a return to a pre-industrial era, or as some would call it a pre-modern time. In the past, cultures of alternatives always existed. Today, they are found where people recognized that they must develop new ways of living and working to provide for their families and community. Then, it was understood as the culture of the frontier, today, as sustainable, local cultures. 

The frontier that confronts us now is a world of failing institutions. If we take the perspective of alternatives as a guide, then we'll see that all approaches have a life span. They begin, grow to maturity, and then devolve to extinction of irrelevance. We are in that third stage with the institutions of the modern age.

What will the next stage look like at maturity? It is anyone's guess. I am fairly certain, however, that we will see greater individual initiative, more collaboration and a renaissance of ideas. This is what a Culture of Alternatives will look like.


Leading by Vacuum

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"Nature abhors a vacuum."

Aristotle

Physics IV:6-9


Aristotle is speaking about flow.

See the two channels in this stream. One is meandering and the other is more direct. The meandering one has established its own path which is different from the wider stream bed. I've seen this before in streams near my house as a child. The stream bed was dredged of silt, and it looks like a long straight culvert. Within a few months, the meandering curves return. Flow finds its own path of least resistance.

Professor Adrian Bejan writes,

"Everything that moves, whether animate or inanimate is a flow system. All flow systems generate shape and structure in time in order to facilitate this movement across a landscape filled with resistance..."

It applies to the function of leadership in a way that may surprise you.

Hierarchy of  Structure

The conventional view of leadership is that it is a role within an organizational structure. The people within that structure are divided between leaders and followers.  It looks sort of like this diagram. Responsibility is set at the top and accountability is to the level above. It is built for order, control and efficiency.

This kind of structure worked for a long time, many millennia, for many reasons. Principally, limited access to education and technology kept many people from advancing beyond the physical labor of the family farm or the factory. These cultural situations acted as restrictions on the growth of this structure. Sources of friction, like these, are rapidly being removed, the result is that the place of leadership in organizations is changing.

By place I mean function. The function of leadership in this older hierarchical model was management. The function of leadership in the future will be something quite different. Instead of managing order, it is creating opportunity for leadership.

FlowLeadership

The Flow of Leadership

A vacuum is an open space.

Think of two spaces. A bowl full of water and a sponge.

The sponge is less dense, has more open space than the water in the bowl. Place the sponge in the bowl, and the water flows into the sponge until it can hold no more.

Take that same bowl of water, and leave it out on your kitchen counter long enough, and the water in the bowl will evaporate into the air. The water in the bowl is denser than the air. However, for it to flow into the air it must change into water vapor. 

This metaphor describes the changes and differences that I see in leadership between the 20th and 21st centuries.

In the older model, the corporation absorbed the raw talent into its organizational structure.

Today, there are fewer corporate jobs, and so people are adapting to a world of independence, entrepreneurism, and networks of interdependency.

This is the difference is between a closed system of a few leaders and many followers and an open system where everyone can function as a leader. It may depend upon how you define leadership.

These changes, however, are not caused by our ability to define words. Instead, it is defined by our ability to interpret the natural changes that are taking place all around us.

Adrian Bejan's point above is that nature's pattern is one of flow from one place to another following the path of least resistance. I recommend his book, Design in Nature, as an introduction to an understanding of flow in science.

The flow of leadership then is to remove the barriers, the restrictions, the obstacles and the controls that bar people from developing as leaders.

Is leadership, then, a function of management or is leadership a function of who we are as human beings?

Or, let's reverse the question.

Are human beings born as management functions? Or, are we born to lead, to make a difference with our lives?

It isn't a question of nature versus nurture in human development.

It is instead a question of how human beings function in modern organizational structures.

It is a question of human purpose first, and, and organizational purpose and structure second.

Remove the barriers that block human beings from fulling their potential, and leadership develops.

Create openness, and leadership throughout the social and organizational setting will result.

Leadership in the 20th century was a product of organizational structure. Leadership in the 21st is a product of human action.

Simply put,

Leaders take personal initiative to create impact, to make a difference that matters.

The flow of leadership, therefore, is the change that results from the human action rising from the individual initiative that fills the open spaces of opportunity to create the impact that is needed in each individual situation.

This means that in organization structure after 20th. century models must change

The role of executive changes from one who manages processes to one who facilitates the creation of opportunity and the development of the practice of leadership throughout the company.

The structure changes from a monolithic hierarchical one to a collection of smaller, networked communities of leaders.

In this respect, companies are no longer simply places of employment, but rather places of human formation.

The transition is not an easy one, but a necessary one. It is not easy because the most fundamental structure of the modern world is required to change. What is that structure? The concentration of power and affluence into the hands of those who are designated as leaders.

SharedLeadershipImpact

Leading by vacuum

The title of this post is a way I have come to describe what happens in an organization that opens up the opportunity for people to learn to take initiative to create impact.

We create a leadership vacuum when we refuse to do that which we are not able to do.

In other words, I only do that which I can do.

This isn't a rationalization for the avoidance of responsibility.  It is rather an intentional recognition that each person has gifts to offer to the functioning of the organization. When leaders claim more responsibility, more authority, or more control than they are effectively able to manage, they are at the same time restricting the possibility for the leadership potential of others to be realized.

Here's how it works.

1. Do that which you can do. Invite others to do that which they can do. Be a team of shared initiative and contribution.

2. Celebrate your values by creating a culture of unity and commitment to a shared purpose for your relationships and your work together.

3. Create an organizational structure open to change and personal initiative to create impact.

An open structure of shared responsibility for each person to realize their own potential for making a difference that matters is the future of organizations.

Executive leaders as a result push the responsibility for developing the processes and policies of the company down the organizational chart to the point of implementation.  They also are constantly communicating the Why of the companies values along side the How of the companies policies and approach.  They do this by being clear how the values of the company are functioning throughout the organization. 

Like a stream, openness for leadership helps the organization finds its path of least resistance to create impact.

Like a vacuum, where there is openness to make a difference, people step forward to fill the space provided for them to make a difference. When each person does what they do best through their own personal initiative to create impact, then the leadership capacity of the organization expands to become its greatest asset. This is 21st. century leadership.      

Update:

This post was published March 4, 2012 as an introduction for two presentations that I gave in Ventura, California, March 16-17, 2012. Here are links to those two presentations.

The Flow of Leadership

The Flow of Community

A follow up to this post was published as Still Waters Still Flow.

 Attribution Some rights reserved by Phillie Casablanca


Connect, Communicate & Contribute

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Engagement is the hot leadership strategy these days. On some subliminal level, we know what it means. But on a practical level, it is much more difficult to define. It is like so many ideas during this time of epic transition in society.  Abstractions are easier to understand that actual actions.

I'm involved in a project with the Presbyterian Churches (PCUSA) in North Carolina to raise money for our ministries on college and university campuses. It is more than a fund raising project. It is an engagement one, as we engage all segments, levels and congregations of the North Carolina Presbyterian world to support our work with students, faculty and university administrators.As we have worked through the various strategies that we need to successfully meet our financial goals, we are at the same time affecting change in people's perceptions and actions. This is very much what engagement means in its current use.

Our engagement strategy is built around actions that we are asking people and their churches to take. In this sense engagement, isn't just marketing, but encouragement to action. The emphasis on action, rather engagement, is because engagement is an ambiguous term. It can mean only mental engagement. And ultimately that sort of engagement does not produce results. Actions builds confidence, and confidence builds strength. So the goal of any engagement process should be more people participating, action, doing, taking initiative in three specific areas that we have identified as critical to our success.

We are focused on three types of actions: Connection, Communication and Contribution. If we succeed in increasing the level of connection, communication and contribution, then our campaign will be successful. This is true for any organization.

The simple idea that lies behind connecting, communicating and contributing is the importance of personal initiative. If you want people to be engaged, then they have to take initiative. When their initiative is focused on making connections with people, communicating their mission in terms of a story, and intentionally and strategically contributing by making a difference that matters, then engagement ceases to be a cool abstract business idea, and a living reality within your organization.

I cannot emphasize enough that the key is creating an environment where people feel free to take initiative to connect, communicate and contribute. If there is fear or too many boundaries to cross or obstacles to overcome, then they won't.

What does it mean to Connect, Communicate and Contribute?

Here's a starting point for each.

Connection: Connection

We all move through our lives in relationships with others. Some people are family, others are friends, many are colleagues and the vast majority are people who are nameless faces that we pass by along our life's journey.

There are three keys to connection.

The first key is that through our connections we open ourselves up to a broader, more diverse context.  The perspective we gain helps us to better understand who we are and how we fit in the social and organizational settings where we live and work.

The second key is our connecting strengthens community. When I introduce one person to another, the opportunities that can grow from that connection far out weight the ones we have without those connections. Living in isolation, which is not the same as being an introvert, weakens the institutions that society depends upon for its strength.

The third key is that when we connect, we are placing ourselves in a relationship of potential mutuality of contribution. I can pinpoint people with whom I connect with around the world for whom our mutual support for one another is an important foundation strength for our lives. We don't connect just to receive something from someone, but also to give in mutual benefit.

Communication: Communicating

With the growth of social media, everyone is a communicator. However, what do we mean by communication?

The most common fallacy regarding communication is that it is about what I communicate to others.  It is the old model of information distribution as communication.

The kind of communication that matters, that engages people to participate and contribute, is one that is more like a conversation. It is a two exchange, rather than simply a one-way download of my opinion.

The real purpose behind communication is to establish a connection that builds an environment of respect, trust, commitment, and contribution. This produces real conversations that matter. This is how communication becomes genuine engagement.

Contribution:  

I have seen so many organizations during my professional career that were languishing because there was no spirit of contribution.By this I mean, the people who were the organization did not see themselves as the owners of its mission. They were employees hired to do a job.

A culture of contribution is built upon a foundation of appreciation and thanks.

Typically, people see thanks as a response to a gift of some kind. As a response, it is less an act of initiative, though deciding to write a note, rather than sending an email, is a greater act of initiative because the effort and cost are more. 

The purpose here is to understand how increasing contributions by people is a form of engagement. Five Actions of Gratitude - blogpixRED

The Five Actions of Gratitude are acts of personal initiative. They are intentional and strategic. They are acts of mutuality that provide meaning and reality to the connections that we've made. Let's take a quick look at each to understand their function as sources of contribution. I've written more extensively about this under the title, The Stewardship of Gratitude.

Say Thanks: Too often saying thanks is a way we close a conversation. That is not what this is. Instead, we are expressing a perspective that identifies how the connection to someone, group or community has made a difference to them.  Our giving of thanks contributes to the strengthening of the ties that bind a social or organizational setting together.  I've heard it said that Saying Thanks is the "lubrication" that greases the wheels of society, making them run smoothly.  This is part of its contribution.

Give Back: When we give back in service, we are giving, contributing to a person, an organization or a community that has given to us. This is the heart of what we know as volunteerism and philanthropy. For many people, this is where our most significant contributions are made.

Make Welcome: This act of hospitality, or Hostmanship as Jan Gunnarsson suggests, creates an environment of openness, inviting people to join as participants who give, create, contribute their gifts and talent.  Openness and hostmanship are not automatic actions. They are intentional actions of initiative that create the opportunity for an organization to develop a culture of open contribution. Where there is openness to contribute, there is engagement.

Honor Others: When we practice honor, we elevate the human connection that exists in an organization or a community. I cannot think of an more important contribution than to create an environment where each person is honored with respect and thanks for the contributions that they make. Do this, and the motivation to contribute will grow.

Create Goodness: If we were to live to create goodness, we'd spend our days as contributors, and less as passive recipients of others creative goodness. My vision of this is to see an organization where every single employee take personal initiative to create goodness that makes a difference that matters.  To do this means that we'd face all those obstacles and cultrual barriers to engagement, and create a place where people can discover a fulfilling life of contribution as creators of goodness.

Strategic Connection, Communication and Contribution

These actions of personal initiative are not tactics for failing systems to buffer themselves against the harshness of a declining situaiton. Instead,these are strategies of change that help leaders and their organizations make the necessary transition from the organizational forms of the past into those that emerging. These are strategies of engagement because that create a different social environment for people.

At some fundamental level, we'd have to address the organization's structure to determine to what extent it can support a growing environment of connection, communication and contribution. This is the most difficult question because are embedded forms that are resistant to change. They do not adapt well to creative forces from outside of their own control. Yet, the engagement are identifying with these three strategies is an intentional relinquishing of control so that people are free to create their own ways of contributing.

In this sense, leadership shifts from a control mandate to a facilitating, equipping and visioning one. Leaders create an environment of openness so that personal intiative can create new structures for contribution. As a result, leaders become the keep and nurturer of the values of the company. They are constantly reminding everyone of these values of personal initiative, creativity and contribution.  They are protective of this openness that produces engagement.

The future belongs to those people who can create an organizational and community environment where personal initiative to connect, communication and contribute becomes the culture. When we do this, engagement transitions from being the hot topic of the moment to the reality that we find live with every day.


10 Assumptions about Change

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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 Emergent Transformation

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Creating design-driven innovations requires two assets: knowledge of how people could give meaning to things, and the seductive power to influence the emergence of a radical new meaning.

Roberto Verganti

Design-Driven Innovation: Changing the Rules of Competition by Radically Innovating What Things Mean

Thirty years or so ago, historian James MacGregor Burns published a classic text, simply titled Leadership.   It was the first book on leadership that I had ever read, and it has stuck with me ever since. The reason is a simple comparison that has taken on greater meaning as time has passed. The idea that Burns described in the book was the difference between leadership as a transaction between people, and leadership as transformation. It was this latter notion that he advocated as the way to understand the nature of leadership.

Burns' idea carried such authority that the whole notion of transaction as a the core activity between people in business has been lost. Now it is common for people to talk about how their products transform the experience of their customer. Transformation, which is another word for change, has become a standard upon which we measure businesses, and especially leaders. This is a very good thing.

While we can affirm that this shift of perception has occurred, it doesn't mean that we understand its implications fully. For it may well be that transformation is just another term for transaction. I know you are wondering why this matters. It does seem to be a bit pendantic, but I believe there is something worth discovering about the difference between transaction and transformation.

In simple terms, a transaction is an exchange between two parties. In contrast, transformation points to something changing, of becoming different, growing, expanding and the impact that follows.

Let me describe this in terms of something that I experience everyday.

As a consultant, coach and trainer, it would be easy to create a formula that applies to everyone and every organization. All you need to do is buy the formula. That is the transaction. You buy the product, and our exchange is done.

However, it I take a transformational approach, I'm not selling a formula that you buy from me. Instead, you are buying something else. You are buying a process that leads to the results and the impact of the transaction. The transaction takes place, and it leads to something else. It leads to change.

A transaction therefore is a lower level activity compared to transformation. It is easier. Requires less thought, and can be repeated over and over again. And it works when the circumstances are right, and fails miserably when they are not.

This is an important point. There are activities that we do that are of less significance than others. Higher level activities are actually a combination of many lower level ones, like a commercial transaction. But there is more to it than just an exchange of goods and services.

Why are these higher level activities transformational, rather than simply transactional?

Let's look at this from an organizational perspective.  Here's a personal example of mine.

I chair a committee of a regional organization that serves local chapters. Our committee is also a work team that is planning an event. The event is a day-long workshop with a presenter from out of town.  There is no audience that will automatically show up. We have to recruit them. We discovered from past experience - Our first attempt at holding the event was cancelled in part because only three people signed up. - that a "transactional" approach doesn't work.  By transactional, I mean, treating the event as an activity that provides expert information. We had to offer more. Not more information, but something different, an experience that held the promise that it would matter, make a difference, that it would be transformational. 

A transformational approach requires a different mindset. It is a more complex approach. It functions at a higher level of organization. The popular term for this is emergent.

Emergent gets alot of use. It is sometimes use as a word for new or for revealing new aspects of something. The way I use is it something different. Sociologist Christian Smith provides a helpful, though rather academic, description of what it means for something to be emergent.

Emergence refers to the process of constituting a new entity with its own particular characteristics through the interactive combination of other, different entities that are necessary to create the new entity but that do not contain the characteristics present in the new entity. Emergence involves the following: First, two or more entities that exist at a “lower” level interact or combine. Second, that interaction or combination serves as the basis of some new, real entity that has existence at a “higher” level. Third, the existence of the new higher-level entity is fully dependent upon the two or more lower-level entities interacting or combining, as they could not exist without doing so. Fourth, the new higher-level entity nevertheless possesses characteristic qualities (e.g. structures, qualities, capacities, textures, mechanisms) that cannot be reduced to those of the lower-level entities that gave rise to the new entity possessing them. When these four things happen, emergence has happened. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.
- Christian Smith, What is a person?, pp.25-26 (emphasis mine).

Let me take these four contributing factors to something becoming emergent and show how they are functioning in my illustration above.

First, our event is designed for individuals who have a particular interest in our topic.

We shifted our emphasis from here's an informative workshop to here's a gathering of people who are dealing with the same issues in their local chapter, which meets the second criteria.

Part of our purpose is the third criteria, which is to bring people together so that they form supportive relationships that transcend, yet support, their local individuality. We want to create an atmosphere where there is ongoing interaction after our event.

Fourth, a movement that transforms each local chapter can grow, emerged from the experience. We want to be more than an association of people who occasionally gather (transaction-level). We are creating a community of support and interaction that is transformational. It not only changes us as individuals, but also changes the local chapters through the connectional relationships that are formed.

Apply this idea to organizations, we see that much of what we understand about organizations is functioning at the transactional level, a lower-level of order than what is needed.

A business organized around transaction sees only the activities or tasks that people do. A person is hired. They are assigned work. They do their work. The transaction is complete. In an ideal world, this is the best that a transactional approach offers.

This simple understanding of organizations is just that, overly simplistic, idealistic and largely false. Most organization, regardless of size are filled with the ambiguity and complexity that inhabits all of life. A change in the environment or with technology or policies and regulations, and the organization experiences disruption. In other words, change turns a simple organization on paper into a complex one in real life.

I saw this in a hosiery mill where I once worked on a project. There were seventeen steps in the process of making a pair of socks. Because each stage was its own discrete activity, disconnected from all the others, it took six weeks from weaving to shipping to manufacture a pair of socks. This was a simple transactional approach to manufacturing as it saw each step as it own transactional system. Through out project, the company decided to change their manufacturing system. They integrated the steps of the system, and the transformation of the process reduced the time required for producing a pair of socks to six days.

For an organization to shift from a transactional orientation to a transformational one requires it to move from an understanding of business as a structure of discrete processes to a culture that creates a product that matters in the marketplace. This culture, I'm suggesting, is what theorists call an "emergent reality."  It is so because the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Consider what Apple did when it created the iPod. It was a music player in many respects like many others that were being produed. Except their player transformed the entire experience of personal music listening. It was a transformational product because Apple wanted to change the culture that surrounded that transaction that took place commercially.

What is it that businesses miss that keeps them from this transformation?

Partly it has to do with values.

Every company espouses a set of values. They are printed on cards, posters and are part of the boilerplate language of advertising. You can hear it.

"The most trusted name in ... ." 

This is transactional treatment of values. It is just an exchange of a word or two to convey a meaning.  It is this approach that makes it possible for a company to say it believes in one thing and act in another. Their values are not their culture. They are jingles for sales transactions.

When values transcend the transactional, they create a culture that unites and transforms the company into something different. I've written about my experience with Dayton Power & Light where a project to develop a values statement transcended the card upon which it is printed to begin the transformation of the company. The outcoem of that transformation has been recognition by Forbes magazine as one of the 100 Most Trustworthy Companies in America.

How do you create an emergent organizational culture?

First, you have to distinguish the difference between a company's organizational structure and its culture.

The structure can be reduced down to each individual position, task, department and objective. The culture permeates the whole of the business from the CEO down to the janitor. It is not reducible. It is whole. This means that if the company's values are trust and fairness, then those values are the basis of how each person functions from the CEO down to the janitor. There are not one set of values for one level of the structure, and a different set for another level. Culture is whole throughout.

This is why so many companies are having difficulty adapting to a changed global economic climate. Some people within the company benefit, while others don't.  This is a product of structural design, not cultural development.

Second, there is culture in every organization. It can be whole, yet broken or deficient.

How then do leaders focus on cultural change which produces long term cultural development.

An example is the company where the founder is still in charge, and has never let anyone make a final decision. So the company is full of passive followers, not people who know how to take individual initiative when needed. The value of that company is diminished because without the lone decision-maker the culture is not sustainable.

This specific issue is one of the most significant challenges facing contemporary organizations and institutions. It is a matter transforming the culture of the company into a shared leadership one, sharing from top to bottom.

Third, there are multiple cultures within every company or social environment.

In some cases we may call them silos. These cultures compete for turf and resources. Their individual self-interest is greater than their collective interest in the welfare of the company. As a result, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. The parts can be parasitic within the whole, eroding capacity and strengthen to serve private or limited interests.

The challenge for leaders is to learn to lead from a values perspective. In so doing, to unify the disconnected cultures to join in become one. You cannot attack the micro-cultures. You must identify within each of these cultures the values that are worth affirming and spead of them in a manner that demonstrates their connection to the values of the whole.

I know it sounds far-fetched, but I have seen it work. It is a matter of the difference between a transactional and transformation work culture.

Fourth, you have to quantify how the values of a culture are measured and managed with personnel.

My colleague Bill Kelley has shown me how "values can be a condition of employment." Similar in idea to the idea that values must be "operationalized." The deeper you go in understanding the importance of your values to the success of your company, the more those values will shape the culture of the company.

This transformational approach means that managers must align new hires with the values of the company, and manage them accordingly.

Fifth, an organizational culture is a human, social, relationship phenomenon.

It is about how a company becomes a community. For  some businesses, their culture is shaped by the notion of being a family, where caring is an important aspect of their relationships with one another. For others it is fun, like at Zappos. In others, it is innovation, or excellence, or trustworthiness. Whatever the culture is, it is reflected in the relationships and social environment of the organization.

Sixth, an organization culture is based upon a set of shared ideas.

Principally, values, but not exclusively.  When I refer to Connecting Ideas, I am referring to ideas that are the foundation of an organizational culture. A company's mission; it's values; a vision for the future; and, a clearly defined understanding of the impact that the company is to have provide a way for people to connect together and share a common interest in the success of their collaborative efforts. These ideas are not just tactical points to use in a process. They are the glue which brings together people to make a difference together that is more than what they can do individually. 

In effect, the connecting power of these ideas are the transformative agent for change in an organization. They must connect. They must matter beyond their inspiration power. They must guide decisions, define performance and create a culture that is whole and emergent.

Creating an emerging transformational culture is not an end in itself. It is rather a pathway. It is one that leaders can take to transform their organizations to meet the opportunities of the future in the present.


The Two Levers of Culture

Organizational culture is an important driver of any business. 3891544806_a7b01c8a63_b But culture is often seen as some vague organizational presence, typically personalized in the senior leader or owner. Culture is much more. 

For example, take a person. Hair, skin color, gender, height, shape, family lineage, geographic location and many other facets of a person are the things that distinguish us. But our hair, or lack of it, does not define us a whole person. It is all these things and more. The whole of a person is very similar to what we think of as the culture of an organization or a town. 

The culture of an organization therefore is something whole and complete, always shifting and changing as the context and the people within the organization change. Changes that are happening on a global scale are requiring us to pay more attention to precisely what is the culture of our businesses.

The shift that is taking place in organizational cultures is not incremental, but transformational. The mechanistic culture of the Industrial Age, think Henry Ford, defined the culture of most businesses over the past century. Today a more organic culture based on human interaction is emerging.

Australian Futurist Ross Dawson sees this Transformation of Business being driven by the following developments.

Flexible organizational structures

Distributed innovation

Tapping talent

Dynamic strategy

Scalable relationships

Governance for transformation

What drives these drivers? People, and the changes that they bring to their work in organizations.

A New Kind of Culture

Zappos.com is known for being a unique place to work. Its organizational culture stands out as distinctive. It is one of many businesses that have figured out how to engage its employees so that they want to give their best to their work.

Read the latest edition of their culture book (free for the asking at Zapposinsights.com), and page after page are brief stories by employees of their love and commitment to Zappos. Is Zappos the answer to the question about what the culture of work will look like in the future? No more so than any other business is the answer for every other business.  Zappos does provide an indicator of the kind of cultural change that is possible.

In the 2010 Zappos Culture book, CEO Tony Hsieh explains the Zappos culture.

“For us, our #1 priority is company culture. Our belief is that if we get the culture right, most of the other stuff – like delivering great customer service, or building a long-term enduring brand and business – will happen naturally on its own. … So what is Zappos culture? To me, the Zappos culture embodies many different elements.  It’s about always looking for new ways to WOW everyone we come in contact with. It’s about building relationships where we treat each other like family. It’s about teamwork and having fun and not taking ourselves too seriously. It’s about growth, both personal and professional. It’s about achieving the impossible with fewer people. It’s about openness, taking risks, and not being afraid to make mistakes. But most of all, it’s about having faith that if we do the right thing, then in the long run we will succeed and build something great.”

Tony Hsieh understands what Daniel Pink, in his book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, describes. Pink sees that people today are not motivated to excellence in their life or work by fear of punishment or just by financial rewards. Instead three personal factors - autonomy, mastery and purpose – are the key motivators.

Two Levers of Culture

At a deeper level, organizational culture is a values structure, especially those focused on purpose and mission, and respect, trust, openness and mutual reciprocity.

We can describe this human centered system by identifying two levers. These levers provide energy and strength to the system. One is self-leadership. The other is the functioning of the organization as a Community of Leaders.

Self-Leadership

The old industrial model of leadership was built around the idea that leaders control and the rest follow. That worked when followers lacked education and training, and business systems were relatively simple and predictable. Today, nothing is simple, and the complexity of organizational systems is such that talent has become an important differentiator between businesses.  Talented people need development and the right culture to be able to reach their potential.

These changes also mean that each employee has greater responsibility for their work than ever before. That responsibility is carried out through their own personal initiative.

Personal initiative is the origin of all leadership. Without it, nothing begins or is sustained. In the past, this initiative came from a small, select group of people in positions of leadership. Now, leadership is less a role and more the way a person conducts themselves within the culture of the company.

Personal initiative is product of self-leadership. It comes from the individual him or herself. It is that expression of inner motivation that turns a person who is only there to do the job assigned into a person who is a creator and contributor to the developing success of the company.

Where does this drive for personal initiative that is leadership come from?

It begins with values. Not generic ones that appear on rest room walls with not so subtle reminders to do your best. Rather these values are personal ones that transcend the individual and form a basis for collaboration. These are the kind of values that are expressed by Zappos employee Darrin S. in the 2010 Zappos Culture book.

One of the best bits of advice I've ever received was, "Surround yourself with people that make you want to be your best self."

My Interpretation of "best self" is this:

- Purpose greater than one's own personal interests.

- Fear of stagnation

- Relentless quest for the truth in decision making.

- A thrill for the unknown when the right answer is difficult to determine.

- Trust in the effort of others.

- Genuine desire to watch others succeed.

Zappos has a high concentration of people with these values and the Zappos Culture is a product of these people.

People like Darren are self-motivated to lead from their individual place within the company's structure. They look for ways to contribute, to innovate, and to create an impact that matters.  Grow up a company filled with people like Darren and the company is transformed into a culture of committed contributors.

Community of Leaders

Two experiences inform my understanding of the phrase "community of leaders."

One was a project where issues that began at the lower level of the company's structure would get passed up the line until it reached the head of the business unit. Instead of the issue being a dispute between two people or the performance of one person, as the issue was passed on, it changed into being a dispute between the union and the company.  It was a culture problem. Managers and supervisors avoided taking responsibility because of a culture of mistrust.

The second experience was the tour of a local hospitals where we had the opportunity to meet and dialog with department heads and floor leaders. My opinion of the organization changed as I found middle-tier leaders who not only had a tactical and technical grasp of their specific area of responsibility, but also had a strategic grasp of the region's healthcare issues with an understanding of how the hospital was positioned to meet them.

A Community of Leaders is a way to describe an organizational culture where self-leadership is wide spread. It is more than just a collection of self-led people. It is an emergent culture where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The key change is relational and social.

As I describe above, a culture that avoids responsibility is not a culture where the relationships function well. Lack of respect and trust in any social system is sclerotic, creating an environment that is rigid, unresponsive and unable to adapt.

How many times have I been in a planning meeting with an organization and the group is pushing for greater accountability, not greater trust.  In effect, they are looking for scapegoats to blame poor performance on.  It is a symptom of a failing culture.  If people are not willing to take initiative, to build open, respectful relationships, then something is wrong. I know this is the norm in many, many organizations. Conduct anonymous surveys of employees, and you'll hear it. The social/ relational dimension of an organization is not a second level area of leadership, it is the connectional, the ligament, the glue of the system.

A Community of Leaders is an organization whose self-led members contribute through the leadership of their own personal initiative to build relationships of respect and trust. In order to see this, we have to think a bit differently about how an organization can be a community.

There is the formal structure of departments, business units and process. And then there is the informal structure of relationship. It is this latter structure that needs development in most organizations. It is developed by creating a culture of respect and trust. 

What can an executive leader of a company do to create a community of leadership culture?

First, YOU cannot create it. WE have to create it.

It cannot be controlled or mandated. It must be permitted to happen. There must be openness and freedom for people to take initiative to create the social environment that allows them to show up like Darren S. of Zappos to be their best every day. All you can do is support and facilitate, and most important join them as a co-participant.

Second, you have to understand what people want. Three Goals of Life-Work - Simple

 1. People want their lives and work to be Personally Meaningful In other words, there are ideas, values, a sense of purpose or personal calling that they want to express in the way they spend every day.  Work is personal, and becomes professional as it defines and guides their relationship to the company. The more a person’s core values are in synch with his or her work and aligned with the company’s mission, the more significant the workplace becomes as place to invest oneself in high endeavors and excellence in performance.

2. People want their lives and work to be Socially FulfillingThey want their relationships to be whole and healthy, for respect, trust and openness to be valued and practiced in the workplace. This is more than just about the functioning of a project team or a business unit. There is unfulfilled desire that informs the cynicism and fear that is prevalent in so many organizations.  It is a belief that better work results from relationships of trust and respect.

3. People also want their lives and work to Make a Difference that Matters This desire is more than just to being successful or having a fun.  People want to see the product of their effort at work creating a lasting benefit for their customers and clients.  The sense of accomplishment that comes when one’s mission or their company’s mission is fulfilled through their contributions is what I identify in people. To Make a Difference that Matters is to create change. 

Third, you have to be an example. If you are, then people will follow you. Deeds are much more important than words. If you are starting from square one, then let me suggest you take on developing the Five Actions of Gratitude as a discipline of relationship building within your company.

The Five Actions of Gratitude are five strategic actions that elevates the collaborative work as an organizational asset.

The Five Actions of Gratitude are:

Say Thanks in gratitude to those who make a difference that matters in your life and work.

Give Back in service to those who make a difference that matters.

Make Welcome in open hospitality, inviting people to take personal initiative to make a difference that matters

Honor Others in respect and recognition, as the foundation of healthy relationships.

Create Goodness through one’s own personal initiative to make a difference that matters in life and work.

What I have found is that the greatest change happens within us. The world's needs are not as insurmountable as our own fear and reticence to change.  It may be part ego, but what I find more often is that it is our lack of confidence in being able to succeed.

To take these three steps:

1. Letting go to let a community of leadership culture to develop,

2. Facilitating the development of a corporate culture which allows for people to find their life and work to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and To Make a Difference That Matters, and,

3. Making the Five Actions of Gratitude the basis of your personal and professional relationships,

will initiate a process of personal change that creates the opportunity for others to join you.  As a result a cultural change will take place that will release the unrealized potential that resides in every company. 

People are the levers of strength and change in organizations. Encourage their self-leadership and the result is a community of leaders. This is the future, possibly the only future that we have.

SelfLeadershipInLife-Work
Self-Leadership in Life and Work is available for download.


Bringing the Future into the Present

A generation ago the saying "The Future is Now!" celebrated the presentness of a hope in the future. It foresaw the acceleration of change that compresses our experience of time.   Future-4414647645_1cb7a7e3ca_z

I used to see this frequently in planning projects. The five year plans we'd create, often would take only 18 to 24 months to complete. The sense of time that people had was off kilter. Much more could be done than they imagined. The limiting factor? Seeing beyond the present. Or, to put it another way, being able to identify a future that was truly tangible, beyond the aspirations of today, in which they could root their present actions.

Through these experiences, I often saw its contrasting attitude, not the inability to truly grasp the future, but rather resistance to it. I would hear,"What's wrong with the way we've always done things?"

The traditions and cultural forms, as I wrote about in Bringing the Past into Future, replaced the values that were their inspiration. Instead of a vision of the future, a nostalgia for the golden days of the past provided motivation of resistance to the future rather than engagement.

Whether it is a nostalgia for the past, or a shallow adherence to current organizational fads, the lack of a tangible vision of the future makes it difficult for people and their organizations to develop the adaptive skills needed in a environment of accelerating change. 

Resistance to the Future

A resistance to the future is based in part on the lack of personal confidence to venture into the unknown of the future. It is easier to stay with what is comfortable and known of past ways of doing things. It is also in part how we approach the future, or how we bring our past experience to the task of envisioning the future. It is worth restating what I wrote in The End and the Beginning.

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? 

If resistance to the future is part confidence, part approach, its also part, the lack of skills in managing change or in knowing how to adapt.

Adapting to the Future already in the Present

To adapt is to change on the fly. It isn't a linear process. It is an emergent process. Each adaptive moment moves into a new context of change. It isn't staying in one place and defending the palace against the barbarian hords of change. It is rather like being in conversation with different aspects of the future, very quickly and progressively.

For example, you walk into a room and within two minutes have a twenty second conversation with a 90 year German World War II veteran, a 10 year old girl from St. Louis in a soccer uniform, a thrity five year old couple from Miami with twin 6 year old boys, the 65 year old Japanese CEO of a global communications business, a 16 year old social entrepreneur from Sri Lanka and your great grandmother.  Each encounter requires you to shift your attention from one person to the next. And if each relationship was intended to go somewhere, then within those twenty seconds, you'd have to quickly be engaged in who they were, find common ground and define a shared responsibility for the relationship in the future.

Sounds daunting. But that is what adapting means. The needed skills are a quiet personal confidence that enables you to be the same person with each of those listed in the example, and a tangible vision of the future that provides a conceptual context for the relationship.

This sort of adaptation goes hand in hand with innovation. It is a learned skill, not a personality trait.

See Social Creatives' Six Habits of Highly Effective Social Entrepreneurs as a model for creating a tangible future in the present.  

Those who are involve in technological innovation work in an arena where adaptation is central to their experience of bringing the future into the present. See my post about 3D printing and watch Tony Atala's TED video on regenerative medicine.

These examples may suggest that these are for extraordinary people in unique places. Yes and No. In one sense this is true. They are extraordinary people, but only because the learned to become extraordinary. They developed the confidence and the capacity to adapt. In another sense, they are no different than you or I. They are just further down the path toward the future than most of us. This is one of the core values behind the children and youth social entrepreneur site, RandomKid: The Power of ANYone, (Disclaimer: I chair the board of RandomKid).

Creating a Vision of a Tangible Future

Ask this question of yourself and your organization.

Are you best days / years ahead of you or behind you?

How you answer that question will determine how you relate to the future.

A tangible future can be difficult to imagine because the past is actually not very tangible either. It is an amalgam of memories and impressions attached to random situations, people and objects that represent to us what we selectively remember our past to be.  One person remembers a conversation one way, and another a different way.

Our remembrance of the past changes day to day. It is constantly shifting. We can remember a traumatic situation that leads us to view the future with bitterness and cynicism.  Then, encounter someone who's perspective sheds light on our experience so that we see it differently. In the space of a few moments, our feelings that our best years are behind us shift to hope and optimism about the future.  All of sudden a tangible future begins to form in our minds.

What has taken place within us? What is the source of this change? It isn't simply the influence of someone's different perspective.

What we've experience is the Future being brought into the Present.  All of a sudden, with a flash insight, we see something in the future which is real. It is tangible. We feel we can reach out and grasp it. We want it. Our sense of purpose and self-confidence in a moment has changed. We are different. We have adapted to a new context, a context where the future is here now.

The Future Begins with an Idea

This question about the relation of time to our lives is one that I've reflected upon for a long time. The relation of the past to the future and of the future to the present exists in time. It also exists outside of time. What we remember about the past that we wish to be a part of our future are conceptions of the way we want our life and work to be.

At the most fundamental level, we are talking about ideas.

Several years ago, I conducted a project with a mid-size corporation to develop a values statement for the company. The planning team was a mixture of mid-level managers, Union leadership and a senior vice president. One of the refrains we heard from the group was, "We want to get back to a time when the company was more like a family."  Over the years, things had changed. The company had gone through a scandal with some top executives. Perception by some was that the company's best years were in the past.

Here's a situation where a rememberance of the past influences people's expectations of the future. For this team, being a family meant something. The question was what does this mean. For not every employee has a positive experience of being a family.  As we went through our process, four ideas came to the front that provided a way to understand the past in order to create the future that they desired.

Those ideas were Respect, Trust, Integrity and Pride. 

It would have been easy to take those words and turn them into slogans for an internal marketing campaign. The result would not have been a tangible future of respect, trust, integrity and pride in practice, but continued cyncism about the role of leadership in the company.

But that is not what happened. The company instituted a program of culture building around these ideas.

The first step was to introduce the values to the whole company through small gatherings of employees where they would participate in a discussion of the values and their historic place in the company.

Next, leadership training was instituted for middle managers so that they could implement or "operationalize" the values within their work areas. The purpose was to make the values of respect, trust, integrity and pride live in the functioning of each department. In effect, the process was equipping new leaders to solve problems and resolve issues before that became to big.

Today, the company is recognized as one of the nation's most trustworthy companies.

I share this story to emphasis a point about what it means to bring the future into the present.

 For many organizations the past is represented by traditions and cultural forms. A cultural form could be any practice that is regularly done in which the original rationale has been lost. The future for those companies consists, in many respects, as an attempt to preserve those traditions and cultural forms into the future.

The alternative is to recognize that behind every tradition or cultural practice is a value that matters or at one time used to matter to people and their organization.

Another key to understanding for how to bring the future into the present is to understand where our values fit in. 

Let me be clear about this. I'm not talking about those values that are divisively used to distinguish one organization or association from another. Those values of the negative other have no place in creating a positive, tangible, sustainable future. They are representative of past traditions and cultural forms that have lost their meaning. I say this primarily in anticipation of the distastful unpleasantness that is about to descend upon our country called a Presdential election.

A tangible future is one where values matter in practice, not just in theory. So, if respect, trust, integrity and pride matter, then they matter in practice. If customers matter, then they matter in practice, not just in advertising copy. If innovation and impact matter, then the organization will adapt to make it possible for those values to make a difference in the future.

In order to understand how a value matters, ask this question.

If this value was functioning at its highest capacity, if it was reaching and sustaining its potential, then what would, 1) it look like if we were to shoot a video of its performance, and, 2) be the change we would see as a result? 

Impact or difference is change. If something changes, it can be measured in some way. What is it that is changing when this value is a living practice in your organization? Can you identify at what level it is operating today? Can you see things to change so that it can grow a little bit more today, tomorrow, next week? If you can, then you are seeing a tangible future being brought into the present.

If you can answer this, then you can envision the future. If you can envision the future in a tangible way, then you can identify what must change to make it happen. This is how the future is brought into the present.

This is true not just about values, but especially of each of the Connecting Ideas - Mission or Purpose, Values, Vision and Impact. Make them tangible for today, then you can see how they will be in the future. Transition Point

When you do, what happens is that old traditions and cultural forms that no longer are empowered by their original values can be discarded, and new ones formed.

This means that you have a reached a definitive transition point in your life and work. A clear point of change that either leads towards decline or advancement.  When you do, it is important that you discard dead traditions and cultural forms in a way that becomes a tangible moment of remembrance in the future. As you do, the values that guide you forward will find new traditions and cultural forms to serve as their vehicle for their practice.

Remember, those traditions and culture forms are nothing more than tools for making our values tangible in our daily life and work. Develop new tools, hold true to your values.

Three Things We Want Now and in the Future

I've written before about my observation that people want three things in their life. They want it to be Personally Meaningful, Socially Fulfilling and Make a Difference that Matters. Ask yourself today the following questions.

1. Where do I find meaning in my life and work? What are the values that matter to me most in what I seek to do each day? What activities do I regularly do that support what is meaningful to me?

2. Who are the people that matter most to me? How am I fulfilled by being with them? What are the values that matter to us? How do we practice them together? What are the traditions and cultural forms that we use to celebrate the values we share with one another?

3. What do I do that I feel makes the greatest difference to people? Where do I see my actions creating change? If I was to continue to develop the confidence and skills to make this difference, what do I see myself doing in the future that is different from today? Am I at a transition point in my life and work as it relates to the impact that I am having?

What then is the tangible future that you can begin to create today?

The Future is Now. The future is an idea, a tangible idea that provides for us a point on the horizon to lead us forward. Our idea is a value or values that defines for us meaning, fulfillment and the difference we can make.  When our idea becomes clear then we know what we must do. And a tangible future becomes a reality that we can reach.

Picture: Attribution Some rights reserved by H.L.I.T.


Trend Lines Going Forward

Lemhi Dawn 4 9-16-04

It is hard to believe that the first decade of the 21st century is now history. It has not been the decade that most of us expected. It has been filled with terror, war, economic disruption, political disappointment, natural disasters that showcased governmental inadequacies, and the emergence of social media as a force. In many respects, it was a decade where society did not move forward, and little prospects for broad scale improvement in the near future. 

Andy Crouch, an insightful cultural interpreter, has posted his assessment of the 10 tends that marked the first decade of the 2000's.

  1. Connection
  2. Place
  3. Cities
  4. The End of the Marjority
  5. Polarity
  6. The Self Shot
  7. Pornography
  8. Informality
  9. Liquidity
  10. Complexity

I'm in basic agreement with most of what Crouch offers here. However, it raises questions for me.

If these are trends, then where are they leading us? 

What is the line that extends from the past through the present to the future?

What should we do in response to these trends?

These trends are markers or sign-posts of changes that have been long in development.  I see these trends leading forward in the following ways.

Connection / Place / Cities / Pornography / The Self Shot

This trend line is complex because it is a mixture of several converging ones.

The need ...

for relationship,

for rootedness in a place,

for a place of openness, discovery and genuine diversity,

for intimacy, and,

for a real understanding of one's own identity.

All these are converging. Each of these trends have their problematic dimension though:

Of the shallowness of online connection

Of the disconnection of people from the physical places where they live and work

Of the economic viability of both rural and urban environments that fail to create an environment for human creativity

Of the failure of the institution of marriage to be a viable form of human intimacy for large numbers of people

Of a religious and political culture that offers narcissism rather than human community as a basis for human purpose.

The End of the Majority / Polarity / Informality / Liquidity / Complexity

This trend line is moving fast away from the social conventions and institutions of previous generations. The status of elite groups and institutions once secured by a culture of common perceptions and simple approaches is under going dramatic change. One-size-fits-all, works-for-all, and is available-to-all is no longer reflective of the way the world works, if it ever truly did.  Instead, complexity is the structure of society. As a result, no single or generic approach works. Instead many different approaches can be effective. The key here then is to understand how complexity impacts us on a daily basis.

Donald Norman writes in Living with Complexity,

"The keys to coping with complexity are to be found in two aspects of understanding. First is the design of the thing itself that determines its understanding. Does it have an underlying logic, a foundation that, once mastered, makes everything fall into place? Second is our own set of abilities and skills. Have we taken the time and effort to understanding and master the structure? Understandability and understanding: two critical keys to mastery."

Questions that I have.

What is the underlying logic that explains the meaning of these trends?

What is the "design (of the thing itself)" of the time we live?  

What is the historical movement that helps us to gain understanding of the past decade, the past generation, and what we may expect of the next decade and generation.

My conclusion is that we are in the midst of dramatic period of unprecedented change. In order to understand these trends, we need to understand the assumptions that have guided human history for the past several centuries.

For example, beginning in the 18th century a shift began that impacted virtually every country. It was the shift from aristocracy to democracy. What may not be readily evident in this shift is the continuity that was maintained throughout these great historic changes.

I wrote about this shift in my review of Lucino Visconti's masterpiece, The Leopard. It is a picture of the change from the old aristocratic order to new world order of democratic progressivism. In that post, I include a long dialogue that the Prince of Sicily and the representative of the new modern, progressive government of Italy have. Here's a portion.

The Prince: I am a member of the old ruling class hopelessly linked to the past regime and tied to it by chains of decency, if not affection. I belong to an unfortunate generation straddling two worlds and ill at ease in both. And what is more, I am utterly without illusions.

What would the Senate do with an inexperienced legislator who lacks the faculty of self-deception, essential requisite for those who guide others? No, I cannot lift a finger in politics. It would get bitten off.

Chevalley: Would you seriously refuse to do all you can to alleviate the state of physical squalor and blind moral misery in which your own people lie?

The Prince: We are old, Chevalley. Very old. For more that 25 centuries, we have borne the weight of superb civilizations that have come from outside, never of our own creation, none we could call our own. For 2,500 years, we've been nothing but a colony. I'm not complaining. It's our fault. But we are worn out and exhausted.

Chevalley: But all that's over now. Sicily is no longer a conquered land, but a free member of a free state.

The Prince: Your intention is good, but it comes too late.

Sleep, my dear Chevalley, a long sleep - that is what Sicilians want. They will always hate anyone who tries to wake them, even to bring them the most wonderful gifts. And between ourselves, I doubt whether the new kingdom will have many gifts for us in its luggage. Here, all expression, even the most violent, is a desire for oblivion. Our sensuality is a longing for oblivion. Our knifings and shootings are a longing for death. Our laziness, the penetrating sweetness of our sherbets, a longing for voluptuous immobility, that is ... death once again.

Chevalley: Prince, are you exaggerating? I myself have met Sicilians in Turin who seemed anything but asleep.

The Prince: I haven't explained myself well. I'm sorry. I said Sicilians. I should have said Sicily. This atmosphere, the violence of the landscape, the cruelty of the climate, the constant tension in everything -

Chevalley: Climate can be overcome, landscape improved, the memory of evil governments canceled. Surely the Sicilians want to improved.

The Prince: I don't deny that a few, once off the island, may wake up, but they must leave very young. By 20, it's too late. The crust has already formed. What you need, Chevalley, is a man who is good at blending his personal interests with vague public ideals.

The picture here is of the clash between the ideals of progressivism and the exhaustion of the old order. With the former there was a belief that the world's problems could be solved, and with the latter, a realization that even in the midst of change, there is not much that changes.

What we can see here is not the replacement of the aristocracy with a populist government, but rather the transfer of power from one kind of elitism to another. It is the elitism of modern democratic progressivism that is reaching the same point that the old order aristocrats reached two centuries ago. That exhaustion is the inadequacy of the ideas and values that inspired revolution to create a sustainable society in a highly complex context. Ultimately, what happens is the loss of the ideals themselves and the adoption of a formula that is designed to resist change and perpetuate the system.

This trend suggests other trends.

The end of institutions as a unifiying force in society.

Whether those institutions are political, religious, social or educational, they no longer command the loyalty or respect by people as they once did.  Instead, communities of causes have replaced them and is seen in Crouch's Polarity trend.

This emerging trend is really the mixture of several changes.

A shift from a global to a local perspective as locus of solution making.

The impracticality of one-size-fits-all approaches to solving social and econonic problems is reflected in the persistance of the recession in its many forms.  This a product of the growing complexity of society that responds better to small, local initiatives than those applied from a single source.

A shift from a national orientation to a relational one.

As I've written previously, online technology enables us to work with colleagues globally as if we are locally connected. National origin means less, and personal values mean more in this context of local collaboration on a global scale.

The emergence of belief as the common bond that unites people organizationally.

One doesn't have to look farther than the passionate advocacy of the environmental movement or the Tea Party movement to see how traditional institutions are being replaced my groups of people who form temporary communities to advocate for a cause. This puts institutional elites at a disadvantage as institutional integrity has been less about causes or beliefs and more about process and operational integrity.

These are some trends that I see, and see them as positive developments. However, there are aspects of these changes that I don't think are quite yet apparent, yet will bring a new level of disruptive change as they emerge.

Many of the governing assumptions of our time are based on social, political and economic philosophies that were born in the era of The Leopard. I'm convinced that the ideologies of capitalism, liberal progressivism and its socialist varient, and individualism will come to be replaced by new ideas that provide a way forward.  It is my impression that we think these are given, guiding assumptions of contemporary society. I'm not convinced that these philosophies represent the future, but the past. It is why I see the two political parties as regressive, rather than visionary.  As these ideologies lose their vitality and relevance, their advocates have become more divisive and defensive. In my opinion, this divisiveness is a sign of the fading viability of these social philosophies.

If I was a betting man, which I'm not, I'd wager that the future trends that we'll see emerging over the next few years are:

New organizational structures that are designed for shared responsibility and collaboration.

Values as the unifying force, not only in organizations, but in society.

New confederations of cities and organizations that circumvent the artificial constraints of state and national boundaries.

Lastly, what should leaders do to be prepared to adapt to these changes?

1. Develop the leadership capacity of everyone in your organization.

2. Build organizational community through an emphasis on and the operationalizing of the Connecting Ideas of the Circle of Impact - Purpose, Mission, Values, Vision and Impact.

3. Take time to develop an understanding of the logic of what is happening locally and globally. Test assumptions, and be positively self-critical. In other words, think for yourself by constantly seeking to develop your capacity to observe, think, assess and make judgments.

My wish for each of us in 2011 is that we find new strength of purpose, greater capacity for leadership, and an ability to make a difference that matters that changes our world for the better.  All the best to you in your leadership endeavors.


Organizational Obsolescence

IMG_1161

Walk into most book stores, and look at the books on leadership that line the shelves, and you'll see very few that address the actual organizational structure of a business. If there are, the focus is primarily about measuring performance, not about how the business is structured.  As valuable as quality programs are, as change mechanisms, they are incremental at best if the real need is a reinvention of the culture and purpose of the business.

The chief problem affecting organizational performance today is not the ability of people to perform, but the structure within which they do so. 

This video is a snap shot of a conversation between two military officers. We have two cultures clashing in this conversation. One is the culture of the careerist who is a slave to the structure of the system. The other culture is of the leader who understands the organization's mission (which is not the perpetuation of the structure) and the leadership of the people who serve to achieve that mission.

If you are familiar with the HBO mini-series Generation Kill ( I highly recommend it.) you'll see these same two cultures colliding. You see the officer corps who are concerned about the unit's mission (which is in effect is reduced to their concerns about their own career advancement and longevity) and the NCO culture, where the concern is for the men who are charged with the dangerous mission that combat soldiers have.

The bureaucratic structure that constrains many large, complex organizations requires dramatic levels of change in order to function well in the future.

Network-Hierarchy Image
This image is one I've used before as a way to visualize a collaborative team working within a traditional hierarchical structure. Hierarchy does not necessarily exclude collaboration. Rather, when the system has turned in on itself to the point that the organization's mission is now the perpetuation the its structure, then you end up having the clash of cultures that is seen in the video.

The longer I work with issues affecting leaders the more convinced I am that structure is the last frontier of organizational development. There are three things to say about this.

1. The structure of an organization exists to serve the mission and the people who are employed to bring to fulfillment. 

It is a tool. Nothing more. To make it more brings it into conflict with the organization's mission. Yet, what I see is structure dictating what the mission should be, and how people are to function with in it. The structure of a business exists to facilitate the leadership of each individual member of the organization. By leadership, I mean the personal initiative that each person takes in collaboration with others to fulfill the mission of the organization. 

2. Structure is ultimately determined by leadership.

If a structure functions as it does in the animation above, then it is because the leadership of the system has allowed it to degenerate to that point. The relation between executive leadership and structure is a moral one. As a tool, structure serves a purpose. Just as a hammer can drive a nail into a board to build a house, it can also break a window to steal a briefcase from a car. The hammer remains what it is. It is the human use of that tool that determines its moral value.

3. Structures, not aligned with the organization's mission, and not open to the individual leadership of its members, will ultimately fail.

There is no such reality that a structure is too big to fail. They are failing all around us. Evidenced by the disparities in compensation, high unemployment rates, and the inability of many organizations to adapt to a changing economic environment.

The Leadership Question for 2011.

As we begin a new year, I want to raise some questions that we all reflect upon during the coming year.

Is your business structure obsolete?

Are your employees reflecting enthusiasm, independent initiative, collaborative decision-making and a passion for mission?

As the senior leader of your business, are you a liberating force for change or a careerist seeking to maximize your own personal benefit from a broken, declining system?

If any of these are true, then you need to take some time to consider what your alternatives are.

Every structure is just a tool. Resolve, then, to develop the very best structure to serve your business.

The challenge is before us all. The time to address these issues is now.