March 12, 2012

We welcome comments from anyone on any blog post; we want to generate active, meaningful dialogue about issues related to the future of work, the workforce, and the workplace. However, we will not approve blatantly commercial comments, and we reserve the right to edit submitted comments to ensure mutual respect and remove commercial promotions.

General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler, the “Big Three” of the American automobile industry, draw on the same talent pools to staff their organizations. They hire from the same design, engineering, and management schools. Their assembly factories and distribution centers are often located within miles of each other and are staffed from the same local communities. Indeed, in many instances they hire people away from each other.

Yet those three organizations have distinctively different brands, different customers, vastly different organizational cultures, and clearly different track records.

Similarly, The Seattle Seahawks and the Oakland Raiders are two NFL football teams that draw on the same pool of college athletes, recruit coaches from the same broad cross-section of talent and experience, follow the same policies and rules of the game, use the same basic equipment – and have dramatically different won-loss records.

What makes an organization unique?

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How often do you come home from a professional conference and say something like: “The best part of the event was the coffee breaks and the cocktail parties.”? I sometimes say that even when the keynote presentations were world-class.

In this age of social media, free long-distance phone calls, and webinars, why do we spend so much time and money to attend conferences?

Well, for most of us there is still plenty of power in face-to-face communication. Good keynote speakers can have an incredible impact even in a big, crowded ballroom – an impact that is substantially different from reading their books and blogs or listening to them during an online webinar.

But I know as well as you do that the real value of going to most conferences is the opportunity to meet and have personal conversations with colleagues and professional friends, both old and new.

So why do so many conference organizers still fill up their agendas with pontificating platform speakers and with endless breakout sessions that always seem to be “I will talk and you will listen” experiences?

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Moments of Meaning

July 7, 2014

I have just returned from the annual convention of the National Speakers Association. It was an energizing gathering of professional speakers, authors, storytellers, facilitators, and consultants. We spent four days together focusing on the art and craft of informing, influencing, and inspiring our audiences.

As I reflect on what I heard and learned during that week one insight in particular stands out for me. Freddie Ravel, a professional musician, was one of the early General Session speakers. During his presentation he played bits of music by artists like Duke Ellington and Count Basie.

But he wasn’t focused on the notes; he wanted us to hear the quiet moments between the notes – the pauses that let the just-completed sounds sink in and that produce the cadence and rhythm that makes the music so memorable.

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There is only one of you

June 30, 2014

Ponder this for a moment:  as big and as global as the Internet is, every single human being is born with a far more impressive network. It’s called a brain.

I learned last week from author Steven Campbell (Making Your Mind Magnificent) that the human brain has  more than 100 billion neurons (that’s not a typo!). But, as Campbell says,

...this is nothing! Each of those neurons has an average of 10,000 connections to other neurons. This computes to 100,000,000,000 connections! That is a quantity found by multiplying 100 billion times 100 billion, times 100 billion...ten thousand times. As a comparison, 100 billion multiplied by 40,000 is a number larger than the number of stars in the Milky Way. We truly cannot fathom the number of connections our brain has.

(Making Your Mind Magnificent, p.4)

Campbell is describing the network inside just one human brain! And there are upwards of 7 billion human beings alive today – most of them in possession of a functioning brain.

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It’s a cliché you’ve heard before: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.”

That’s often said in a highly derogatory tone, criticizing people who get a job, or win a contract, or get into an exclusive restaurant, because someone they know has opened a door or an opportunity for them based more on the relationship than on their skills or experiences.

And of course that is often the way things happen. But there’s a positive side to this picture as well; when you know someone, and trust him or her, you have a reasonably accurate understanding of what s/he is  capable of, and how reliable s/he is. So your predictions about how well s/he will perform should be fairly accurate.

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There is no such thing as “a team.”

There are big teams and little teams; there are research teams and problem-solving teams; there are fact-finding teams and product design teams. There are functional teams and cross-functional teams. There are co-located teams and distributed teams. There are departmental teams and multi-company teams.

And there are certainly many, many books, websites, thought leaders, and trainers who offer general prescriptions for building effective teams. But today we want to focus on the things that make every team and its work different from every other team.

For the last several weeks we have been exploring the value of looking at teams – and entire organizations – as living systems. We are deliberately moving away from Industrial-Age models of leadership and management, and we are seeking lessons about team effectiveness from fields like biology, zoology, and other disciplines that focus on living systems.

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Instant Mind Meld

June 9, 2014

Twitter is the best way we humans have to broadcast instant messages (short and sweet) to our colleagues – and to the whole world. And we all know the profound impact that Twitter has had on our global society, most clearly in the context of recent populist uprisings in the Middle East.

Yes, there are undoubtedly many more mundane messages on Twitter (and Facebook) than there are life-changing ones; but the impact of the messages that matter is worth all the idiotic ones about who you had coffee with, what your baby sister said this morning, or how much water your cat drank out of the toilet (and never forget that what you consider mundane might be cherished by someone else).

Once you get past those trivialities, our ability to send essentially instantaneous broadcast messages to almost every other human being on the planet is far more profound than most of us realize.

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Leading the Living

June 2, 2014

I’ve been stewing for many years about my personal experiences with Industrial-Age bureaucracies and the way they constrict, and even destroy, human creativity and innovation.

And I know it’s not just me. I’m convinced that the dismal levels of employee engagement (in American organizations at least) that have been reported recently by Gallup (see State of the American Workplace) and widely discussed ("The Costs of Ignoring Employee Engagement," “Why You Hate Work”) are symptoms of a fundamental misfit between people, work, and current organizational practices.

The latest, and very articulate, commentary on this Very Important Topic appeared last Friday, May 30, in the New York Times (“Why You Hate Work”). If you haven’t seen that article yet, I urge you to go read it and then come back here.

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Listen to Your Mother

May 27, 2014

Mother Nature, that is.

No, this is not a rant about climate change (although I hope you know how important that is).

Rather, I think it is imperative for us to learn from living systems as we design organizations and determine how to manage them.

I spent most of this past holiday weekend outdoors (it was Memorial Day here in the United States, a time when we honor our military veterans, remember their sacrifices, and give thanks for their service).

We enjoyed wonderful weather, and the inherent beauty of the mountains, streams, forests, and fresh air reminded me of how much we can learn from thinking about the world we are so fortunate to inhabit.

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