Be not afraid

Via non trita zaginiis traditionis suffocata est; non timere secare (The untrodden path is choked by the weeds of tradition.  Be not afraid to cut through.)”

I love these words and I love the story behind them too.

The words, “be not afraid,” remind me of a favorite Theodore Roosevelt quote which says, “There were all kinds of things I was afraid of at first…but by acting as if I was not afraid I gradually ceased to be afraid.”

The story behind the quote amplifies its power.  I found this quote, a submitted inscription for a sword actually, while reading The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell.  Apparently Admiral Rickover had been asked by a southern military school to provide an inspirational saying for the student battalion commander’s sword.  Past submitters included Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower.  Admiral Rickover assigned the task to Mr. Rockwell who, with a Latin student, crafted the above saying.

What I find fascinating about the story is that Admiral Rickover allowed a staffer to come up with a saying that he would then take credit for (an act of trust in Mr. Rockwell) and that Mr. Rockwell chose a saying that illuminated an essential philosophy of the early nuclear power program, “Be not afraid to cut through.”

What a gem of a story to find.  I hope it encourages you to “be not afraid” as you cut at the weeds of tradition that continue to choke the untrodden paths.

Let’s hack at the weeds together this week.

Why not try?

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Which rules to follow – a story

I often get into conversations with people about which rules to follow and which rules to fight.  Being a good alumnus of the Navy’s nuclear power program, I pull out a good Admiral Rickover story. This is the story I always tell.

Rickover was keenly aware that there are two kinds of rules.  He understood that laws of nature, such as the effects of gravity, or radiation, or excessive temperature or pressure, cannot be gotten around by fast talk, political influence, or subterfuge.  On the other hand, man-made rules are a different entity.  Some, such as laws passed by legislative bodies, must be obeyed, and he was scrupulous about this.  Others, such as bureaucratic procedures defining how one may carry out assigned responsibilities, sometimes can and should be circumvented, he felt.  In particular, those procedures that “everyone” followed because “it’s just our policy” he not only spurned but did so with great pleasure.” – As told by Theodore Rockwell in The Rickover Effect

Too often we mix up the types of rules.

We ignore the stored energy in an electrical or hydraulic system.  We forget that a closed tank recently opened may not have enough air for us.  We think the heavy thing hanging above our head won’t ever fall.

Yet, we abide by, kneel to, and submit to over-and-over-and-over again a man-made rule (or worse, an acquired behavior) because that’s “just how we do it here.”

When there is something standing between you and the change you want to make, figure out if it is a rule that should always be respected, or one that deserves a good challenge.  Submit if you must, but fight if you can.

You’ll be surprised what you can accomplish once you are fighting and fighting well.

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The Destructive Power of Similarities

Have you ever been punished in your organization for an error that someone else did?  Usually these punishments aren’t personal (e.g., Joe gets a fine for Bob’s behavior), but are more subtle versions like Joe now has to follow a 10 page checklist because Bob messed up once.

Why do punishments like this one and others of its sort spread across our organizations?

I think they spread because of the destructive power of similarities.  Let me explain.

Someone wrote a paper decades ago about the ways scientists and engineers make judgments compared with the way executives and other decisions makers do things.  I’ve never read the paper, but I’ve often repeated this story, told in The Rickover Effect by Theodore Rockwell (pages 128-129 if you’re really interested):

“Well, this guy says that some people, particularly scientists–and I guess that would include engineers and most of us–we tend to see things in terms of similarities…

He picked up two partially filled water glasses and poured the fuller one into the other, to bring the levels about equal. He put them down in front of me and said, “You haven’t read the article yet.  Just tell me about these two glasses.”

“Well, they are physical objects, not an abstraction or an idea.  They are man-made. They are made of glass and contain water.  They…”

“Can’t you see any differences between them?”

I looked long and hard at the glasses and then said, “Well, nothing significant. This one seems to be a little fuller, maybe.”

“Believe it or not, I tried the test on the Boss.  He was amused, but he went along with it.  I asked him to describe the two glasses. ‘Which one?’ he asked.  I asked him to consider them together. ‘That’s ridiculous,’ he says. ‘One has a chip and the other doesn’t. One is fuller than the other.  One has a dirty fingerprint on it,’ and he went on and on.  I’ll have to admit, the article really helped me see why I was having so much trouble communicating with the Old Guy.”

Because Rockwell doesn’t provide any details on the paper I can’t check the authors claims, but I have attempted to test his conclusions.  My testing doesn’t suggest such a clear occupational line between similarities and differences people, but I have found that the differences people are much more rare than those who see the similarities.  The surplus of similarities people, unbalanced with differences people, create the destructive power.

When a similarities person looks at the behavior of Bob, they don’t see the special causes behind Bob’s error.  They see Bob as an employee, who holds a certain position and does a certain job.  When they then look to solutions, they assume that all people who are similar to Bob (i.e., all other employees in similar positions doing similar jobs) will make the same error, and they jump to the 10 page checklist.

Their similarities bias has truly destructive effects when topic of ethics or “right behavior” are involved because an error (blatant or accidental) by anyone of a similar group or class to you is likely to bring an assumption of unethical shame right upon you.  And, when the shame starts flying and the guilt kicks in, organizations shut down.

I see two ways to diffuse the destructive power of similarities:

1. Admit the existence of similarities and differences people.  You can quickly test people with props as simple as two pictures (you know those “Has anything changed?” two cartoons) or as complex as two water glasses.  As them to describe them and see which way they go: listing similarities or decrying differences.

2. Refuse to let similarities win when the differences are what matter most.  There are times to let people have their view of the world, even when it doesn’t seem quite right, but when whole classes of people are going to face real (the checklist) or implied (the shame/guilt attack) you must speak up.

We must not let the similarities wash away the important differences.

True to our driving change philosophy, the place to start is with yourself.  What are you?  A similarities gal or a differences guy?

I’d love to hear from you.  Post which one you are in the comments.  I’ll post what I am too.

For added fun, guess which one I am then check the comments.

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The Only One

When I’m sitting around a table after work with my friends sometimes it’s fun to go around the table and tell our “the only one” stories about how one of us has been the only one who’s done something, knows something or has seen something at work.  A few of my favorites to tell are:

  • Years ago a young officer claimed that I was likely the only person to ever bring a purse into the engine room of the USS Asheville (SSN 758).  He declared this to me in a rather shocked and bothered tone.  (In my defense, a purse seemed a perfectly logical place for me to carry my pen and paper.  Am I right ladies?)
  • You could maybe tell from my first story that I work in a shipyard.  Yesterday I painted my nails while standing just inside the turnstiles to that same shipyard.  By the end of the day I started to wonder if I may be the only person to have ever stopped there to paint their nails.  An entirely non-scientific poll of my friends suggests my assumption may be right. [If you’re wondering what would ever possess me to paint my nails on my way into work, well…I’m very busy at home and I’m nothing if not efficient with my time.  My walk to my office is the perfect nail drying time.  I can’t let that time go to waste.)

These “only one” stories are fun after hours, but when you’re driving change in your organization you can’t afford for long to be the only one who has done something, knows something or has seen something.  Why? Because your change doesn’t depend on whether you can do it, know it or see it.

You have to get others to do it, know it and see it too. To get them there, I bet you’ll need to use stories.

You’ll need to create some “we were all…” stories.

How?

I can’t answer that question in a general sense, but I can point you to some good folks who’ll help you formulate how to tell the right stories.  Check out Chip and Dan Heath’s Made to Stick.

Just last week I used the lessons they taught me to transform an executive’s title change from a dull, administrative choice into a story that people have been telling all week. The story I overheard was, “We were all in the meeting and on a card sitting on the table was his title, but his old title was crossed out with thick black marker.  Now it says…”

Who’s telling stories about your change?

Don’t be the only one.

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Their stories

This blog is filled with my stories, but today I had the opportunity to post two other people’s stories about working with our Guiding Coalition.  We’re now taking applications for our next cycle and I’d asked them to share what they’ve learned, experienced and gained from their time with the Guiding Coalition.  Cheerfully, as I can’t seem to figure out how to cross link to comments on Facebook, here are their stories copied and re-posted:

Mike’s story:

I applied for the Guiding Coalition for several reasons. The first reason is because the job I have is a direct result of a guiding coalition initiative. I wanted to know more about the group that provided me this opportunity. In addition, I felt I needed an outlet from my day job that, at the time, was pretty mundane. Finally, I just wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be a part of something where I could make a positive contribution.

The guiding coalition has stretched and grown me. It’s great to be part of a diverse team where the end product is greater than any one person could have created. We have revitalized IDP’s for the command by creating an instruction, forms, and training. But what really jazzes me is all of the intangible results. Somewhere at PSNS&IMF, right now, someone is having a conversation about their career development with their supervisor, mentor, or coach because of what our guiding coalition team did. The value of that conversation to the individual, his/her team, and our command is immeasurable.

Mike Plotts
command.university

Reina’s Story: “More than what you see”

Imagine, my first experience here at PSNS & IMF: new to the Navy command structure having never been exposed to the military before, and new to the field of being an industrial marine electrician helper, learning a new trade. I didn’t come here wearing a uniform with stars and bars. I didn’t have a stripe on my hat. Instead my hat’s glossy sheen gave me away as a newbie.
Being a newbie to PSNS & IMF didn’t mean I was a newbie to life and I felt I had so much more to offer.

The Guiding Coalition gave me an opportunity to share my experiences and my passion, allowing me to use and develop other skills that are not required as a mechanic (especially my creative and emotional self, being that I love to work with people and problem solve).

I have come to love working here…the work is a huge challenge, with the command bursting with opportunity and I am excited to be a part of its growth and development. The Guiding Coalition had provided me a way to use my creative energy to help promote a culture that embraces creativity in fostering new ideas for improvements on the job. It has not always been easy.

My number one priority is my job so I can support my 4 yr old daughter. To be able to do my job, and create a place where I can love my job, is amazing. Don’t let others stop your passion because there are many out there who will support you. Link arms and move forward. My Guiding Coalition work has made me a more productive worker because I am energized and excited about being a part of the organization, not just a number, and I love to take back information and new things to share with my workgroup.

I get to meet like minded people from all levels of the organization and learn different perspectives I would never have been exposed to.

The Guiding Coalition is a mutually beneficial experience. I remember starting out feeling like a deer in the headlights, but the leadership and support team, as well as awesome folks you get to work with, help you grow. Its an amazing experience. I have not only gotten to learn, but also share ideas and even get the ideas implemented. I still don’t have bars and stripes, no uniform, no stripe on my hat. I’m just an average gal wanting to make a difference where I work. The Guiding Coalition is an awesome vehicle for change… Don’t let it pass you by…

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Stockdale Paradox

If you don’t know what the term Stockdale Paradox means, you must.

When you can “maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, AND at the same time have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be,” you are embracing what Jim Collins calls the Stockdale Paradox. [source: Good to Great by Jim Collins]

Collins writes about a conversation he had with Admiral Stockdale, as Stockdale remembered back to his time as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton.  Stockdale told Collins,

I never lost faith in the end of the story.  I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

When Collins asked, “Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale replied:

Oh, that’s easy.  The optimists. ..Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go.  And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again.  And they died of a broken heart. .. .That is a very important lesson.  You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end–which you can never afford to lose–with the discipline to confront the brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

How does this apply to you, someone trying to drive change?

Simple. Ask yourself: Have I  ever given up on a change I wanted or needed because I played the optimist and allowed myself to break my heart, my will to drive change?

Sadly, I’ve had people quit driving change because of the simplest of defeats:

  • They were let down when a top manager, who has never delivered on a promise of support, fails again to support them.  (And they thought this time would be different. Nope.)
  • They thought the change would be complete well before the summer was over and now it’s late into the fall.
  • They tried and failed to change something in the past and refuse to try again.
  • They think driving change should be more happiness and less frustration (often it isn’t), or
  • They think others (name the group) should help more and complain less. (They rarely will.)

You have not been defeated by some outside enemy when you quit, when you allow yourself to break, or when  you refuse to face the Stockdale Paradox, accept it and persevere;  you have defeated yourself.

Know the Stockdale Paradox.

Seek out and face the brutal facts.

But, keep the faith that someday you will achieve the change you are driving.

You will never prevail unless you believe you will.

Why not believe?

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Leadership Icon Visits PSNS & IMF

Leadership Icon Visits Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & IMF
By PSNS & IMF Public Affairs

When speaking with PSNS & IMF's Guiding Coalition Committee and honored guest John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor, Captain Whitney, Commander, PSNS & IMF, stated, "We are catching the edge where words and actions are aligned. That's making a difference, to me."

BREMERTON, WA—Why would an internationally recognized expert on leadership and change ask to visit the U. S. Navy’s shipyard in Bremerton, Wash.?

John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and best-selling author of Leading Change, visited the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and Intermediate Maintenance Facility March 19, 2010, to see for himself the success the Command has had with his eight-step Leading Change model.

Kotter’s eight-step model describes how organizations can gain the ability to change their culture for continued success. It is a roadmap that has helped people talk about transformation and change.

According to Kotter, his model shows that

“a strong Guiding Coalition [committee] is always needed—one with the right composition, level of trust and shared objective. Building such a team is always an essential part of the early stages of any effort to restructure.”

In the last four years, PSNS & IMF’s Guiding Coalition Committee has formed a Command University through expanded investments in training; created a Diversity Council; and improved the Command’s cafeterias, facilities, communications and more. These successes have reverberated throughout PSNS & IMF.

“You guys are really making some headway; don’t let up,” Kotter said. “It’s easy to see some wins and say, ‘Hooray, we did that,’ and then let up. If anything, you need to put your foot down a little more on the accelerator.”

Dennis Goin, a national facilitator of guiding coalitions who has worked with Kotter, believes that PSNS & IMF is an example of how the Leading Change model should work.

“If you’ve ever wanted your strategic planning book put together with your strategic plan in place, then this is the model to use,” Goin said. “The book stays open; the initiatives are constantly being worked; you are constantly touching them.”

Taking the Leading Change eight-steps developed by Kotter—and blending a mixture of positional power, expertise, credibility and leadership—the PSNS & IMF Guiding Coalition has become more than a committee; it is an engine for change.

“For someone who roams around the world and has seen hundreds of companies, universities and the government, there are some things going on [at PSNS & IMF] that are on the leading edge,” Kotter said.  “If you don’t know about them, you’ve got to figure it out; find it. And if you have been involved, you can pat yourself on the back.”

John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor, visited PSNS & IMF on March 19 for a series of discussions. Kotter shared during his visit, "You've got a lot of terrific talent out there."

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My “Leading Change” Story

Tomorrow Professor John Kotter visits my workplace, to see how successful we’ve become at using his model to create real, lasting change.  (link to the press release) Today I found Rogue Polymath’s post about what reading Leading Change did for him, and his post prompted me to write “My Leading Change Story.”

I can’t remember how I found the book (and that’s odd because I can usually tell you exactly how I found each book on my shelf) but I first read Leading Change in 2005.

I had just entered a newly created position as the Theory of Constraints Project Engineer for a more than 700 person department.   My job: Implement Theory of Constraints principles throughout the department.  I had a huge job on my hands, lots of idealism and very little experience in change management; I needed help.

Then, somehow, I found Leading Change.  I read it, loved it and in my excitement promptly formed my own Guiding Coalition.  I recruited deputies from each area of the department to serve, I set up meeting, worked on a vision and people came to my Guiding Coalition…for a while.

My Guiding Coalition members, rightly, lost interest in spending their limited time listening to me tell them how to make my change.  I hadn’t built the sense of urgency.  I’d jumped straight to the Guiding Coalition, ignored a vision other than my own, refused to empower people and never captured a single win for them.  I had tried to drive people and driving people never works for long.  I learned that lesson hard.

My first attempt at Leading Change was such a huge failure I should say it again:

My first attempt at Leading Change was a huge failure.

Why did I fail? I hadn’t followed the model.  I hadn’t built a sense of urgency.  I didn’t yet understand how to make it work (i.e., the difference between driving people and driving change).

In 2007, on my second try at Leading Change, I had the opportunity to work with the newly formed command Guiding Coalition.  In that group I found people who’d brought their own sense of urgency with them to every meeting.  They’d applies to be there and were grateful for the opportunity to lead change.

What a difference their inner energy made!

They were coming to the Guiding Coalition not because they “had to” but because they “got to.”  They were focused and ready to drive change, and they immediately started to make a difference.

In my years with our Guiding Coalition, I’ve had the privilege to learn:

  • what it looks like when you’ve created a compelling vision and communicated that vision well
  • what if feels like to empower others to take action and then capture, celebrate and consolidate their wins
  • and what is means to everyone involved and everyone affected when you embed the successes in the culture.

Everyone who’s been a part of our Leading Change journey should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished.

I know I’m proud to be associated with all of them.

Let’s keep driving change by Leading Change.  Who’s with me?

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Are you ready to tell your story?

Change is a journey filled with ups and downs, big wins and little intrigues.  Change makes a great story.

Will you mention that day you overcame the seemingly unmovable obstacle?

What about the day you found the first small win and celebrated just because you could?

Whatever story you tell, tell it proudly and tell it often.

This week I was privileged to share my change story.  I’m cheered to report the story and I were well received.

If you can agree with the statement, “We are the stories we tell,” then you should be able to answer the question, “Am I ready to tell my story?”

Make the answer yes.

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Stop waiting. Start learning.

Have you ever caught yourself in a meeting thinking, “How does that guy know about that and I don’t?”

Have you ever toured a new place and wondered, “Why didn’t my boss show me this sooner?”

Have you ever left training saying, “Why didn’t the company send us to this years ago?”

If you’ve had those moments, you’ve seen what you’re missing by waiting for others to drive you to learn.

You don’t have to wait.

You can drive your own learning.

There are lots of ways to drive your own learning, but if you’re more interested in steps that in multiple strategies, you can try these four steps.

Step 1: Choose to drive your own learning.  It really is that simple to start.

Step 2: Read.  You’ll have to read books if you want to learn at a fast pace.

Step 3: Create opportunities to see new things and meet new people.  This step varies depending on your strengths.  If seeing new things and meeting new people sounds awful to you, focus on finding a person who likes those things who’s willing to bring back all the best information to you.  It’s not an ideal set up, but it’s better than nothing.

Step 4: Find the training you need and figure out a way to get it. Often finding training is easy; figuring out a way to get it is harder.  If at first you’re told no, don’t give up.  Find another route.

Step 5: Practice with the books you’ve read, the people you’ve met, the places you’ve been and the things you’ve been told.  Only through practice will you get better at anything.

Are you willing to drive your own learning?

If you’re nodding at the computer screen, fabulous.  I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.  If you want some hints or tips on Steps 2 through 5, let me know.

If you’re shaking your head, wondering if driving your own learning will make any difference for you, maybe hearing what it felt like for me to come to Step 1 and what I’ve done since, will push you off the fence.  You can check out my story below the fold.

If you’re not interested in driving your own learning, let me know if you change your mind.  I’ll be here.

The Story Continues…

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