Missing the kisses

In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’m writing about missing kisses. Trust me. This will get to a typical Engine for Change point soon enough.

The classic picture book Strega Nona–written and illustrated by Tomie dePaola and published in 1975–tells the story of a beloved local witch, Strega Nona (translated as Grandma Witch) and her inattentive servant Big Anthony.

Strega Nona’s prize possession is her magic pasta pot.  She sings an incantation to encourage it to make pasta. Big Anthony listens attentively, though he’s been cautioned by Strega Nona to never use the pasta pot.  When they have eaten their share of pasta, Strega Nona sings a different ditty to make it stop.  Big Anthony listens attentively to this second song too, then gets distracted.  He misses an essential step in the process.

Strega Nona seals the end of the pasta making by blowing three kisses to the pasta pot.

089/365 [explored] Erika via Compfight

The story reaches its climatic peak when Strega Nona goes on a trip leaving Big Anthony home alone with the pasta pot.  He quickly ignores her warning to stay away from the pasta pot, and begins making pasta.  After feeding the whole town their fill of pasta, Big Anthony sings to the pot but the pot doesn’t stop.  Without its kisses, the pot remains boiling and bubbling.  It quickly cooks enough pasta to drown the town.

True to the children’s book story arch we all know, at the moment the town is in true peril, Strega Nona returns. She sings to the pot and blows it three kisses.  Big Anthony is dutifully punished, required to eat all the wayward pasta covering the town, and the story is complete.

I share the outline of Big Anthony’s story with you because it is a children’s version of the Cargo Cult story, illustrating the dangers of mimicking behaviors without understand the mechanism at work.

Apprenticeship schemes rely on mimicking at the start of the apprentice’s learning process, but the apprentice only mimics only under the watchful eye of the master.  The master watches for gaps in knowledge (e.g., missing the kisses) and closes the gaps immediately.  If Strega Nona had been Big Anthony’s mentor, she would have observed his first attempt at stopping the pot, quickly realized which step he had missed, and either told him what to do or shown him one more time.

I often observe people trying to mimic the mannerisms and sayings of someone whose outcomes they want.  They dress like them.  They grimace like them.  They attend the same meetings.  And yet, they can’t make it work.  Either they can’t get the process to produce the same results or worse, as in Big Anthony’s case, they can’t make it stop.

Many times the mechanism that made it work is right there to be observed, but the student must look longer and harder then they are accustomed.  Teachers, writers, bloggers cannot make everything so simple that you’ll get it merely by parroting our words.  You must watch closely, ask to be watched as you try the first time, be open to feedback, and try again.

Without diligence you’re bound to miss the kisses…and who would want to do that on Valentine’s Day?

 

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More Highly Valued

Those who work to solve problems are more highly valued that those who merely label them.” – Robert Mager and Peter Pipe in Analyzing Performance Problems

This week, so long as I get my voice back, I’ll have the privilege to provide three days of training to a highly motivated group of problem solvers.  I can hardly wait to introduce them to Mager and Pipe’s Analyzing Performance Problems.

You should read the book if you are sick of always pulling out the usual solutions to problems at work: more training, more supervision, more punishments.  There is a different way to look at problems and solutions, and with a handy dandy flow chart, Analyzing Performance Problems is appealing to all my process-oriented friends.

Check out Analyzing Performance Problems.  I bet you’ll be glad you did.

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A Guide to Breaking All the Rules (Part 2)

Last week I encouraged you to break all the rules by following three new rules (yes, I see the humor in that hypocrisy.  I hope you do too.)  Today, we’ll continue our journey of replacement rules with some more.

Rule 4: Let your words reflect the honor in every role performed to excellence. 

This rule requires two stories.

The first centers around the “only” conversations that you might often hear in your organization.  You know the conversations: “He’s only a technician.” or “She’s had a good career, but she’s only a secretary.”  These conversations disgust me.  They disgust me because careers–and the human beings that have them–shouldn’t be judged almost solely against a measuring stick of their rank in an organization.  There are so many more facets of a career well-done that matter more.  I’ve even heard people talking down themselves, saying things like, “I may only be a mechanic, but…”  Don’t buy into that language.  Don’t use it against others or against yourself.

The second story describes how you can observe the difference in dignity when a role is performed to excellence.  Marcus Buckingham covers that well in First, Break All the Rules, introducing us to the concept by sharing the examples of a machinist, a grocery store clerk, and a manager:

You are the machinist who bothers to write down all the little hints and tips you picked up so that you can present them as an informal manual to apprentice machinists just learning their craft.  You are the grocery store clerk who tells the customer that the grapefruit are in aisle five but who then walks her to aisle five, explaining that the grapefruit are always stocked from the back to the front. “If you like your grapefruit really firm,” you say, “pick one from the front.”  You are the manager who so loves your work that you get tears in your eyes when asked to describe how you helped so many of your people succeed.”

He continues (and this part is highlighted in my copy of the book),

Whatever your role, at the summit of this mountain you are good at what you do, you know the fundamental purpose of your work, and you are always looking for better ways to fulfill that mission.  You are fully engaged.

From that, this follows: Rule 5: Seek your mountain summit instead of chasing someone’s expectations for you.

No one thinks about your career, your happiness, your challenges, and your well-being as much as you.  Therefore, others can give you their perception of how you are doing, but they can’t crawl inside your head and live there with you.  Don’t let others lead you to chase higher rungs on the ladder, or new, check-the-box job switches, or money just for the sake of the ladder, the switch, or the money. But, you may be thinking, “How do I not be led by others to do something that isn’t the right role for me?”

Rule 6: Know your strengths and cultivate them.

A large portion of First, Break All the Rules is devoted to introducing readers to the then developing Gallup concepts of talents (later, strengths).  These portions of the book are interesting, but appear antiquated in contrast to the fully developed detail within Gallup’s StrengthsFinder 2.0 book and online assessment.  Where Buckingham starts the conversation about selecting for talent and hints at different talent attributes you might look for in others (and yourself too), he doesn’t yet have the rich vocabulary that he would start to share in Now, Discover Your Strengths and continue to develop in later books.  When I read First, Break All the Rules in June 2005, I only had to wait one month (I probably got a bit distracted by the short Pacific Northwest summer) to read Now, Discover Your Strengths and take the StrengthsFinder 1.0 assessment.  Combining the insights of First,… and Now,… I committed myself to looking for opportunities to leverage my newly named strengths.  That point was another turning point in the trajectory of my life.  Since then I’ve had multiple opportunities to leverage and develop my strengths and I even doubled down in 2009 with the development of an in-house strengths training program at my day job.  I blogged about that program and developing your strengths in Supercharge Your Strengths,  You, We Are Strong, Be Your Sun, Partnership, and Strategy for Strengths.  I could talk about strengths for days.  Writing this blog is one way I play to my strengths.  I started the blog so I could maximize the learning I was strategically arranging for others so they could activate themselves effectively.  Every time I sit down to write, I’m immediately energized.  It’s an outstanding feeling.  I hope you invest in your strengths and find something equally as invigorating for you.

That’s where I’ll end this two part discussion of First, Break All the Rules.  To recap:

Rule 1: Stop waiting to learn when others deliver it. Take yourself to the learning you want.

Rule 2: Pay attention to the details in questions. They matter the most.

Rule 3: Find someone at work, besides (or in addition to) your boss who cares about you.

Rule 4: Let your words reflect the honor in every role performed to excellence.

Rule 5: Seek your mountain summit instead of chasing someone’s expectations for you.

Rule 6: Know your strengths and cultivate them.

Bonus – Rule 7: Complete the Strengths Interview in Chapter 7 (page 225 in the hardcover).  If you’re a boss, complete the Strengths Interview with each of your employees at least once.  If you’re an employee, complete the Strengths Interview with your boss as soon as you can, or fill it out and give it to your boss.  It just might make a big difference.  (It did for me.)

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Made you look

You’re going to have to wait a few more days for the second portion of  A Guide to Breaking All The Rules (which happened to be just a bunch of different rules to follow) .  Though I had the best of intentions, I have failed to deliver.  I let others things creep into my blogging time and now that it is gone…well, it’s gone.

I bet there are lessons in all this…something like:

  • Don’t believe every due date someone gives themselves.
  • Yet, missing a due date on something that isn’t driving another due date, isn’t that big of a deal (all you due date obsessed people out there take note…not all due dates are made the same).
  • In the end, we’ll still get what we want, it’ll just take a bit longer, and that’s okay.

While you wait for the next installment, I hope you are out enjoying with family and friends the start of summer.  You may be driving change for most of the week, but every now and then you need to slow down and coast for a few miles.  Then, after you’re rested, you’ll be all set to drive forward again.

Happy coasting my friends.  Happy coasting.

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A Guide to Breaking All the Rules

At the end of the month, I’ll deliver a one-hour discussion on the book First Break All the Rules (1999, Marcus Buckingham).  I was going to wait to try out the material on the audience before I shared it with you, but then I thought: Why not experiment on the blog?  Isn’t that why you have a blog?  Why, yes.  Yes it is.

Enjoy!

A Guide to Breaking All the Rules

First, the context.   First, Break All the Rules is the first in a series by various authors employed by Gallup, building on Gallup’s research into what measurable factors make some work groups or companies more successful than others.  I’ll admit to being a fan of the series, of Marcus Buckingham and of new Gallup author, Tom Rath.  I have read, shared, and trained others on the content in Now, Discover Your Strengths (2001), The One Thing You Need to Know (2005),  Strengths Finder 2.0 (2007), Strengths Based Leadership )2009), Go, Put Your Strengths to Work (2010), and other similar volumes.

In 2007, Buckingham split from Gallup to create his own company and has since produced a DVD titled Trombone Player Wanted, an excellent “jump-start your best life” sort of video.  You can tell, if you read his writings or watch his DVD, that Buckingham loves talking about people’s strengths, the habits and tendencies that make them excellent in their lives.  His enthusiasm for a life lived well easily rubs off.  Meanwhile, his partners at Gallup, with (before 2007) and without him since, always add a quantitative piece to the strengths story, luring you in with easily repeatable facts like only 17% of Americans say they have the opportunity to do what they do best every day (how sad!) or that a measly 1% of employees say they are engaged in their work if they say their leaders fail to make them hopeful for the organization’s future (ouch!).

I first read First, Break All the Rules in June 2005.  I was given the book by a friend who was given the book by our mutual friend who is a lover of books and good ideas (Hi, Terry!). In the book I found some hope that the monolithic nature of management could instead be varied, energetic, and hopeful.  The lesson I took away was that there was room for originality if only you would break the rules that everyone else was following.  I was game.

I was ready to read the book because I’d broken with the rules several years before.  I’ve blogged before about that rainy day in January 2003 when I reported to my cubicle at my engineering job, just like I did every winter day in the Pacific Northwest.  That day was memorable for me because that is the day I snapped out of my obedience for obedience sake and took control of my own life.  I decided to learn what I wanted to learn when I wanted to learn it and that decision changed the trajectory of my life and led me to:

Rule 1: Stop waiting to learn when others deliver it. Take yourself to the learning you want.

One of the first things you read in First, Break All the Rules is that people don’t leave companies; they leave bosses.  I had a great boss at the time, so I didn’t go to the first place people often go when they read that (i.e., find a new boss).  Instead, I began to wonder if there was a way to find out which bosses in the organization were following the rules and failing and which were breaking them and succeeding. (Yes, I am a do-gooder and these were my wandering thoughts.)  So, armed with that wonder, I kept reading and found within First, Break All the Rules Gallup’s wondrous  Q12 test.  Now, you can’t administer the test without permission, but you can springboard your thoughts off it as it is contained within the book, so I cheerfully jumped on the springboard.  One of the things I took away from the Q12 test was the value of paying attention to the details in the questions you ask.  Gallup didn’t ask “Do you have an opportunity to do what you do well?”  Instead the question focuses you on “Do I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day? Best every day is bounded and specific and exceptional and determined not by someone else, but only by me.  Do I think I have that opportunity (whatever that looks like to me) every day?  Wow!  Yes…maybe…yes?  Yes. 

Rule 2: Pay attention to the details in questions. They matter the most.

Following Rule 2 has helped me create better questionnaires, interview better, and listen better to the details people offer in their stories.  When they talk about something they love, they are specific and bold.  When they talk to pass the time or please their boss they are often vague and generic.  Try it and you’ll see (and hear) the difference.

Rule 3 is an off-shoot of Rule 2.  One of the questions asks if your boss, or someone else, cares about you at work.  Notice the “or” statement. That’s where the power lies. 

Rule 3: Find someone at work, besides (or in addition to) your boss who cares about you.

If you’re not the type to make friends easily, then the best place to start is to find a mentor.   Mentors help balance out your sense of self when a boss becomes a challenge or the choice to change jobs gets stressful and overwhelming.  Gallup was right to measure having that someone.  We all need that someone.  I’ve been lucky enough over my career to have several people who took a personal interest in me, my success and my well-being.  I owe those people a lot.  If you don’t have those people yet, don’t worry.  You will.  And, if you can’t find them in your organization, and your boss doesn’t care either, then I’d send you down the same path Buckingham did in First, Break All the Rules.  Leave.  Find another job.  You’ll be happier after you do….

What’s next?

Join me back here on Friday morning (okay, late Thursday night) for another installment in A Guide to Breaking All the Rules.  Feedback is, as always, welcome.

 

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Weigh and consider

Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted … but to weigh and consider.” – Sir Francis Bacon

Perhaps this is a silly quote of the week, for how few of us read these days (beyond blogs of course)?

In many organizations, if you express a penchant (noun: a strong inclination, taste, or liking for something) for reading you will be ridiculed.

Why?

I think the answer has at least two parts.

First, the American education system has taught us (quite sadly) that books are things that people do to you.  Teachers, bosses, and parents force you to read books, think about books and report on books. Books = Have To. Books = Have To. Books = Have To.  Books = No joy.  No curiosity.  Just Have To.  UGH!

Second, we’ve somehow (and I haven’t figured out how just yet) been conditioned to believe that someone who enjoys doing a task we loathe is “maladjusted.”  The reasoning goes: Someone liking what I like is adjusted.  Someone disliking what I like is maladjusted.  Perhaps this reasoning is infused in us during our teen years where we are taught conformity to the group norms as the highest virtue.  You want to fit in, so you seek out what fitting in looks like and then you do that.  Anyone who doesn’t must not be part of the group. Step this habit forward in time to the workplace.  Readers are mocked in many organizations because the majority of the people in the organization aren’t readers, so ipso facto, the readers are maladjusted and worthy of ridicule.  UGH!

So what do we do if we are readers and our organization is not?

First, don’t lead into your points in meetings by saying, “I read a book recently that said,…”  No one is listening to your point after you lead in that way.  Just make your point, and offer your source later.  Remember the quote above: “Read not to contradict and confute, nor to believe and take for granted … but to weigh and consider.”  As long as you’ve done the reading and weighed and considered the points, then state where you’ve arrived at, not how you got there.  You can always bring that up later on if the discussion continues.

Second, don’t stop reading.  What a huge advantage a curious mind is within an organization of non-readers.  Imagine how much of the world and the combined thinking of all the great minds they have shut themselves off from by not reading.  You get to join the great conversations because of your willingness to read.  They may never know such enjoyment.  Just keep reading.  You’ll be glad you did.

Third (and this may be the most important), when you do find another reader in your organization, never stop sharing what you’ve read with them.  Create a network of the readers and thinkers.  They are a vast resource for you to expand the reach of your reading far beyond what you can do alone.  I’ve had my life changed many times by the suggestions of my fellow readers.  (Bonus: Make friends with the librarians…they make the best friends!)

Read.  Read because you get to.  Weigh and consider because you get to.  Expand your mind because you get to.  Enjoy it because you get to.

Read.

[Bonus #2: What have you read lately that’s worth sharing?  I finished The Meaning of It All: Thoughts of a Citizen-Scientist by Richard Feynman this weekend and I’ve enjoyed reading to my kids every one of the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books by Maryrose Wood

 

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Visual Thinking

Last May I posted a long discussion about the importance of drawing pictures:

If you want to succeed a driving change, practice drawing pictures.  Specifically, practice drawing pictures of either what the future looks like or what the journey to the future looks like.”

Today I was back at it, drawing more pictures in an attempt to bring two sides of an issue closer together.  We attempted to draw a picture that both sides could see themselves in.  We’ll know next Friday if our picture worked.  I can’t say if it will for sure, but I can say for sure that if either side had stuck to only talking the two sides would never agree.  The pictures in their heads are just too different.

That picture drawing exercise got me thinking again about the impact Dan Roam’s book Back of the Napkin has had on my life.  Before I read his book I rarely drew pictures to get my point across. Now, that seems to be almost all I do.  Why? Because pictures are powerful tools, especially when you are trying to communicate brand new concepts, which is much of what you do when you are driving change.

Here’s a video where Roam discusses part of his premise:

And here’s a video (handheld camera so beware the picture bouncing) of the last five minutes of a recent speech.  Both videos are worth a quick look.

SXSW 2010: Dan Roam on Visual Thinking from Teehan+Lax on Vimeo.

I’ll probably be buying his two new books soon, Unfolding the Napkin and Blah Blah Blah. Why not continue to support an author that taught me so much in one quick book? If you haven’t checked out Dan Roam’s work, you really should. It will help you drive change. I can promise you it will.

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The Authors You Need to Know

If you hope to understand what makes driving change work so well, there are some authors that you should know.

You could start with John Kotter.  His Leading Change gives us the 8-step process, the antidote to the failed change behaviors too many companies continue to employ.  My favorite Kotter books are  Sense of Urgency and Buy-In.

You should know who Seth Godin is and you should start to meet him via his book Linchpin.

You’ll want to pay attention to Daniel Pink and the Heath Brothers, Dan and Chip.  Pink’s Drive is fun and this video sums it up nicely.  Dan and Chip’s Made to Stick and Switch are worth devouring and the two books could almost be categorized as beach reading by the business book nerds among us.

There are many more authors I could point you to, but I don’t want to bog you down all at once.

If you set a goal for yourself that by the end of the year you would read all the books mentioned above, I can almost guarantee that you would be even more effective at driving change.

You want to be even better, don’t you?

So what are you waiting for?

Get reading!

Bonus question: What author(s) do you think deserve to be on a short list of must reads for anyone driving change?

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“Poke the Box” Reviewed

This afternoon I devoured Seth Godin’s new book, Poke the Box.

As an activator, someone accustomed to starting things, I found much to love in this rant, as Godin calls it, devoted to encouraging all of us to start things, lots of things.

As a Guiding Coalition practitioner, I found a lot to enjoy relative to how we have institutionalized the behaviors of starting boldly, improvising as we go along, and being okay with failure of first concepts without losing momentum to keep trying to win.

Here are a few of my favorite snip-its from Poke the Box:

All my Guiding Coalition friends should be able to announce proudly the last line of this clip.

“What do you do here?”

That’s a question I often ask people in organizations.  It’s interesting to hear people describe their roles, their jobs, their sets of tasks.  Some people are self-limiting (“I sort the TPS reports every Thursday”), while others are grandiose (“I’m responsible for our culture”).

Almost no one says, “I start stuff.”

A truth that needs to be more often repeated.

If your project doesn’t have movement, then compared to the rest of the wold, you’re actually moving backward.

This is sadly true.

Those who fear risk also being to fear movement of any kind.”

This is a rallying cry:

…find the energy and the will to challenge the mediocre.”

I love this one:

…the new system depends on unpredictable human beings adding unscheduled insights.

My favorite paragraph title and a strong ending

Organizing for joy …These are the companies that give their people the freedom (and the expectation) that they will create, connect, and surprise. These are the organizations that embrace someone who makes a difference, as opposed to searching the employee handbook for a rule that was violated.

Finally…

Forward motion is a defensible business asset.

Check out Poke the Box.  Since it is only 84, small, quick pages, you too can fly through the book and begin a whole new level of initiating–driving change!

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