March 12, 2012

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As someone who thinks a lot about the future (and in particular about the future of work), I often remind my clients that in fact the future doesn’t actually exist. We all imagine what the future will be like, or what we want it to be like. But of course we can live only in the present – in the moment. That’s the very nature of existence.

But that reality is what makes life so exciting. We, all of us together, create the future every moment of every day. The actions we take, and the choices we make, add up to what tomorrow will be.

Yet in a world where so many things seem so uncertain, it often seems futile to make any effort at all to predict the future. The future is not only hazy and difficult to anticipate, it can feel chaotic, uncertain, and downright mysterious. How often have you just thrown up your hands in frustration and refused to spend any time at all thinking about tomorrow?

That’s probably why most of us don’t spend anywhere near enough time thinking about tomorrow, even if we can’t do anything about it in the short term. As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad pointed out many years ago (in Competing for the Future) that the typical executive team spends less than 3% of its time thinking and talking collaboratively about the future and how it might affect their organization.

For me that is truly frightening. Too many of us rush headlong into tomorrow without a clue of how – or if – it’s going to be different from today.

Peter Drucker once observed that planning for the future isn’t about what is going to happen at some distant time beyond tomorrow; no, it is about what you do today to prepare yourself and your organization for the future you think is going to happen.

But that means that the first step in strategic planning is to spend some quality time developing an understanding, no matter how crude, about what could happen, or might happen, in the future. Having an informed sense of what is possible, let alone what is probable, must be at the very beginning of strategic thinking.

But how can you expect to make any sense at all of the blooming, buzzing confusion that comes at us these days with the force of a high-pressure fire hose?

I recently rediscovered a powerful book that offers an insightful way of thinking about how to move from confusion to problem-solving to certainty about what the future will be like.

DesignofBusinessThe book is titled The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. The author is Roger Martin, who was Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto from 1998 to 2013 (he currently heads the Martin Prosperity Institute and writes a regular column for Business Week’s Innovation and Design channel).

It’s a great read. Here I just want to highlight Martin’s concept of a “knowledge funnel” that describes a three-phase process through which we move from being overwhelmed by a mystery to developing heuristics for coping with that chaos, to building algorithms that produce completely reliable solutions to the problems we are facing.

Martin describes several examples of how that knowledge funnel works. For example, in the 1950’s two brothers named McDonald had opened a couple of restaurants in southern California but were struggling to make them profitable. One of their suppliers was a milk-shake machine salesman named Ray Kroc who consulted with the McDonald brothers to help them make sense out of how the automobile was creating a whole new mobile culture and changing the rules of the game for the restaurant business.

Over several years Kroc and the McDonalds tinkered with their business model, trying a variety of different ways to become more efficient and more popular with their customers.

One of their first heuristic solutions was to eliminate the car hops (servers) who delivered burgers and fries directly to cars in the parking lot. They also standardized on the size and cooking time for the burgers, invented deep-fat fryers for cooking french fries quickly, and identified the precise skillsets they needed to look for in the servers they were hiring. It took many years, but they gradually moved from guesswork to proven methods that enabled them to teach almost anyone how to operate a successful fast-food restaurant.

Before long, they had moved from a chaotic, unprofitable, small-scale business to an incredibly successful franchise operation that has by now served close to 1 trillion hamburgers, from over 13,000 locations arou
nd the world.

That’s the power of design thinking. It starts with discovering patterns in the midst of chaos, inventing rough “rules of thumb” that begin creating value, and moving from there to highly precise algorithms that generate predictable, reliable outcomes:

I believe every senior executive needs to understand how Roger Martin’s knowledge funnel works; while each knowledge-creating venture is unique, the process unfolds in a consistent fashion. The essence of taking charge of tomorrow is the process of converting chaos into certainty. That’s the journey we are all engaged in, every day of our lives.

If you want to demystify your organization’s future, and understand the choices you have to make today in order to thrive tomorrow, give me a call at +1 510.558.1434. I welcome the opportunity to help you explore the mysteries of the future and build an effective knowledge funnel for your own organization.

Contact me today for a free 20-minute conversation about how you can make your strategic planning meetings both productive and popular.


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covermeetingRecently I’ve been offering tips and techniques for making meetings more productive – and more popular. A few weeks ago I listed 10 tips for meeting leaders (“10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter”), and then on May 30 I shared a reaction to that first article that was largely inspired by Bob Leek of Multnomah County, Oregon (“Making Meetings Matter: Distributed Leadership”).

Those ideas, in turn, sparked a comment and a question from Steven Beary, Principal and CFO of The Beary Group. Steven observed that Bob’s suggestion to “call for adjournment” if a meeting isn’t going well relies on Roberts Rules of Order, which is a common source of principles for leading public-sector meetings. As Steven pointed out, in most private-sector organizations that kind of pushing back or “taking over” a meeting could well be seen as insubordination, and in any case could easily become a “career-limiting move.”

Steven then asked the following question: [click to continue…]


business meetingLast week I offered ten tips for making a meeting flow smoothly (“10 Tips for Leading Meetings That Matter”). They were clearly directed at meeting leaders who have responsibilities for designing, convening, and directing meetings.


Bob Leek, Deputy Chief Information Officer for Multnomah County, Oregon, responded to that article by observing that, while meeting leaders are nominally “in charge” of their meetings, individual participants also contribute directly to the quality of the meeting conversations.

Bob’s suggestions for participant leadership are so compelling that I want to share them more broadly. Here, with only minor editing to clarify his perspectives, is Bob’s advice for meeting participants: [click to continue…]


Concept of leadership

Do you want your meetings to matter? Of course you do. But wanting and doing are two very separate things. And as I have often stated, I’m convinced that being an effective meeting leader is as much about your mindset as it is about your skillset.

Based on my experience and my research, if you approach your meetings (as either a formal leader or an active participant) with the following ten “Big Ideas” in mind, your meetings – and all your conversations at work (and elsewhere) – will be more productive, more engaging, and more meaningful. [click to continue…]


Group Meeting

There is no question that the future of work is centered around meetings. Meetings are the way people share ideas, learn from each, collaborate to produce new knowledge, solve problems, and make decisions.

Meetings are central to the future of work, yet most people I talk to complain that their meetings are horribly mismanaged most of the time, and are all too often a painful waste of their time.

That’s why I am on a crusade to make every meeting matter.

The first step to making your meetings matter is to be more intentional about them. And that starts with being exceptionally clear about why you are calling the meeting and what purpose you want it to accomplish.

With apologies to Gertrude Stein, a meeting is not a meeting is not a meeting. [click to continue…]


Meeting ImageThe first step in making your meetings and other conversations matter is to be more intentional about them.

However, because every one of us engages in work-related conversations of all kinds every day, it is highly unrealistic to suggest that you spend time thinking through every conversation before it takes place.

So let’s focus on formal meetings. Every meeting you set up and hold consumes scarce corporate resources – time and money. Don’t walk into any meeting or significant conversation without thinking through the basic variables, being clear about your purpose and expectations for the meeting, and sharing those expectations with the invited participants.

What information will you share during the meeting? What information do you want to learn? What decisions will be made? What commitments do you need, and from whom? How will you get to where you need to be? [click to continue…]


Join me on Tuesday, April 26, at 1 PM Pacific as I describe many of the insights from the research that led to my new book, “Making Meetings Matter: How Smart Leaders Orchestrate Powerful Conversations in the Digital Age.”

Most organizations waste countless hours conducting meetings that are boring, unproductive, and a major source of employee dissatisfaction. As the economy moves from mass production to mass collaboration we must build a new leadership mindset – one that recognizes, respects, and values the insights and experiences of every meeting participant.

I will describe my proprietary “P4+” model of leadership, discuss why it produces meetings that are both productive and popular, and offer practical tips for engaging staff members in creative, constructive conversations.

If you want to explore these ideas to learn how smart leaders apply them in real-time, register for my free webinar “Redefining Leadership for the Digital Age.” I am holding it on Tuesday, April 26, at 1 PM Pacific time.

Register at this link, and even if you can’t attend live, and I’ll send you a free recording of the one-hour program.

Register here:

Registration URL:
Webinar ID: 146-058-459

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mmm180x490pxsmallAre you ready to become a smart meeting leader?

I invite you to join me on Tuesday, April, 26, at 4 PM Eastern time, for a free one-hour online conversation focused on “Redefining Leadership for the Digital Age.”

You can register here:

Registration URL:
Webinar ID: 146-058-459

In this inaugural offering I will identify why a new mindset is essential, describe the “P4+” model of meeting leadership I’ve developed, discuss how it produces meetings that are both productive and popular, and offer practical tips for engaging your meeting participants in creative, constructive conversations.

Participating in this program will enable you to:

  • Understand how the digital age differs from the industrial age;
  • Know why collaborative leadership is so central to success in the digital age;
  • Describe the behaviors of collaborative leaders;
  • Ask questions that draw out the ideas, insights, and experiences of others; and
  • Bring your meetings to an effective ending that achieves your desired outcomes.

[click to continue…]


qmark1If you accept the idea that a meeting leader’s role is to orchestrate the conversation, or to sense and guide, then pay very close attention to what every participant is saying, and what emotions they are expressing. But listen for understanding, not to judge or evaluate what is being said.

As conversation expert Judith Glaser explains in Conversational Intelligence (link is to,

When we listen to connect we open and expand the space, allowing [the speakers’] aspirational [selves] to emerge. [When] we think out loud with them, and share our dreams with them and co-create with them we all experience ourselves in a new way.

Ask penetrating, open-ended questions, and add follow-up questions that extend your understanding. In the back of your mind you might question the validity of a statement, or be upset about a negative tone of voice. But remember that as the meeting leader you want to create an environment where everyone feels safe and free to express themselves, no matter what the content of their message (within the bounds of civility, of course). [click to continue…]

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