March 12, 2012

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Telling isn’t Teaching

September 15, 2014

A lecture is a process in which the notes of the professor become the notes of the student – without passing through the minds of either one.

– Immanuel Kant

ceo speaker

The most energizing experience I ever had as a teacher was many years ago at an IBM customer executive seminar, held at IBM’s development center in the bucolic hills near the Hudson River about 30 miles north of New York City. It was part of a five-day program called “The President’s Class.”

The course was designed to expose senior IT executives to the kinds of issues their presidents faced. IBM brought in a different Harvard professor each day to cover a single topic – marketing, finance, operations, HR, government relations, and so on. Each time we taught the course there were about 40 IBM customer executives and an equal number of IBM sales personnel in attendance.

My topic that day was leading large-scale organizational change. I taught two 90-minute classes in the morning, using Harvard Business School case studies. The well-known HBS “method” was to engage the class participants in an open, wide-ranging conversation about the decisions facing the protagonists in the case story.

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Bring Out the Blue Chairs

September 8, 2014

Conference RoomPlace matters. Last week I focused on the way most of us knowledge workers are moving around from one workplace to another, finding “the place just right” for getting our work done.

Sometimes we need a quiet place, sometimes we want to engage with colleagues in an informal lounge-like area, while other times we attend meetings with either focused group decision-making or open-ended brainstorming agendas. Each of those activities works best in a different physical setting.

Okay, that makes sense. But how does the design of the workspace affect your mood, your creativity, your ability to concentrate? More importantly, how does place impact conversation? And how does a change of place change a conversation?

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That's the title of my article that was just published on Huffington Post - my first submission and first acceptance.

I'm very proud of that accomplishment, but what matters is that you read my analysis of why management is so broken, and what we should be doing to replace it.

Here's the link to the post: Don't Fix Management; Replace It.

Please read it, and then comment there, or comment here - but don't just read it and forget it. Act on it!

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As I reflect on the history of work on this Labor Day holiday (in the United States) I am thinking that I don't need a workplace; I need many workplaces.

Of course, I can only be in one place at a time. But sometimes I need to be in one place, and sometimes in another.

I am a knowledge worker. I use my head to create value. Sure, I use my hands too, but mostly just to hit some little square pieces of plastic in a particular sequence that produces images of text on a computer screen. Sometimes I hold a pen or pencil and spread ribbons of ink (or graphite) on paper as another way to create and capture my ideas. But however I record my musings, it’s what goes on in my head that matters.

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Small Talk Isn’t Small

August 25, 2014

There's nothing small about small talk.

conversations1In western economies it has almost become a cultural norm to spend the first five or ten minutes of a formal meeting engaging with the other participants in what we call “small talk.” You know, those pre-call-to-order conversations that seem to just happen as people arrive in the meeting room – conversations that begin with questions and comments like:

  •  “How was your weekend?’
  •  “What are your kids up to?
  •  “Man, it’s way too hot this summer!” (or, “Can you believe how cold it was last night!”)
  •  “How about those 49ers! Is Kaepernick a world-class quarterback or what? [well, I can dream]
  •  “Congratulations! I just heard about your daughter’s gymnastics victory last night.”
  •  “Hey, I just heard that Freddie in marketing got a big promotion because of that killer ad campaign he designed.”

Most of us think of those topics as trivial, and primarily a way to kill time until everyone arrives and the “real” meeting starts. And yes, they do help occupy people’s minds until the host calls the meeting to order. But they can also make or break the “real meeting” that follows.

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ConfusionLR2

Peter Drucker liked to tell a story about a senior military officer who asked a junior technician a question about a complex new fighter plane. After trying for several minutes to explain how the plane’s sophisticated guidance system worked, the technician finally threw his up hands and said, “Oh, forget it, you wouldn’t understand anyway.”

That certainly sounds like insubordination; did the technician think the general was stupid? No, Drucker believed the technician was just telling the truth; the knowledge required to fly the plane was indeed far too complex for the general to understand.

And that is the nature of work and management in just about every knowledge-intensive business today.

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"What does a fish know about the water in which he swims all his life?" (Albert Einstein)

I’ve become convinced that the “water” in which organizations swim is the conversations that take place every day, in meetings, in hallways, in the executive suite, on phone calls, in email exchanges, and in marketing materials and contract negotiations.

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Conversations at work

August 4, 2014

As I have mentioned previously, my first corporate job was with a mid-sized publishing firm. I was hired by the Vice President of Human Resources as the company’s first-ever Manager of Training and Development.

At that time I was particularly interested in management as a skill and as something that could be taught (I was a relatively newly-minted MBA graduate). I was excited about my new job because I saw my role as an opportunity to design and lead an ambitious set of management training programs – sales training, problem-solving, leadership, team-building. I wanted to create programs that would brand the company as “with-it,” help us recruit stronger talent into the organization, and – oh, by the way – enhance our performance and profitability.

Much to my surprise, my boss refused to let me set up a formal program.

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Physical space matters. My first job after graduating with an MBA at age 25 was with a leading textbook publishing firm based in the Midwest.

The year before I was hired the company had moved from an aging center city eleven-story skyscraper to a suburban campus complex of four two-story buildings spread out on several acres of grassland with plenty of small trees that created a distinctive park-like setting.

Sounds idyllic, right? Employees now didn’t have to commute to the center city, riding the train or bus; they could drive to the office, where there was free parking and a brand-new, well-designed facility to work in.

I now believe that change in the physical layout of the corporate headquarters was actually a disaster. It completely changed the company’s culture and in particular the relationships between the senior executives and the rest of the employees.

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