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.

Orchestrating a Meeting

December 15, 2014


(c) Derek Brad photography

Perhaps the ultimate example of a collaborative performance is a symphony orchestra.

Picture this: It is opening night for the local philharmonic orchestra. You enter the concert hall and find your seat. The stage is covered with chairs, instruments, and music stands but it’s otherwise empty.

You exchange pleasantries with the people sitting on either side of you, take your seat, and begin reviewing the evening program. It tells you what music you will be hearing tonight, who the conductor is, and who the guest performers are.

A few minutes after you’ve settled in you look up to see the musicians walking onto the stage. They find their seats, put their copies of the evening’s score on the music stands, and begin to warm up and test their instruments.

At first the musicians play individually; perhaps the violinists are running through a section from the third movement, while the horns are working on their key part in the first movement. Gradually the noise level rises, and of course it’s a cacophony; there is no harmony, no meaning, no collaboration.

The Conductor comes on stage and taps the baton on his music stand to get everyone’s attention. The entire concert hall falls quiet; then at the Conductor’s signal the first violinist plays an extended middle C; after a moment all the other musicians play the same note on their individual instruments. They adjust their instruments as needed to ensure that everyone is “in tune.”

Now there is a sense of unity, of harmony. And the Conductor initiates the first performance of the evening by raising his baton, looking over the entire orchestra, and focusing his attention on the Concert Master, or first violinist. The first note sounds and suddenly there are no individual musicians; there is only the orchestra and the sounds of the symphony.

You are now witnessing one of the finest examples of collaboration I can think of. [click to continue…]


Monarch Caterpillar eating milkweed Those of us who study and write about the difficulty of leading organizational change often use the image of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly as a metaphor for dramatic transformation.

But wanting to become a butterfly doesn’t make you one. You have to want to become a butterfly so badly that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.

That’s a fancy way of saying that having even a compelling vision of the future isn’t enough; to get there you have to give up the past and walk away from the present.

But there is another component of the caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation that most of us don’t think about and certainly don’t understand very well. [click to continue…]


Report Card ClipartStanford Professor Carol Dweck tells a marvelous story about a Chicago high school I wish I’d attended. When a student receives a report card on a course he or she has not successfully completed, the grade shows as “Not Yet.”

It doesn’t say “Failed,” but rather “Not Yet.”

Think about that for a moment. For me, and clearly for Professor Dweck, that choice of wording is incredibly powerful.

What does “Not Yet” say to that student? It does not say, “You are stupid, you are a loser, you can’t do it.” Instead it says “You didn’t pass this time.” It presumes there will be another time, and it also tells the student “You might pass the course the next time you try.”

Professor Dweck has been studying achievement, learning, and happiness for a long time. She’s written a book called Mindset (Ballantine Books, 2007) in which she identifies two very different ways of experiencing life. And while most of her research has focused on young children and adolescents, her insights are equally important for adults in the workplace.

She describes two distinctively different attitudes, or mindsets, about success and failure (or rather, success and “Not Yet”) [click to continue…]


InternetYesterday I wanted to understand a definition of leadership that I’d heard about at a recent conference. I typed the first four words of the definition into my browser search engine, hit Return, and in 0.42 seconds I had a list of over 58,000,000 relevant links. 58 million links! In 0.42 seconds!

Many of us don’t really understand how fortunate we are to be alive in 2014. Each of us has access to practically all the world’s recorded knowledge, whenever we want it, no matter where we are, in almost no time at all, and at practically no cost.

Not only that, but each of us can also communicate with almost every other human being, no matter where that person is, almost instantaneously, and again at almost no cost.

And every one of us can publish our ideas and our opinions on a global basis. In the last week alone my website has been visited by people from countries as far away from my home base as South Africa, Namibia, Russia, Iran, India, China, Australia, Vietnam, Brazil, and Nigeria (among many others).

I’m not bragging; I am simply astounded. [click to continue…]


Editor’s Note: My newsletter/post  from last week, Why are Good Conversations So Elusive?, provoked more reaction than I’ve seen in a long time. I think I touched a raw nerve!

Bruce Rogow, a former colleague and good friend who I admire deeply, sent me such a thoughtful Comment that, with his permission, I am making the slightly edited version below my entire post this week.

Warning: Bruce is a self-proclaimed and non-apologetic curmudgeon who cares little about being politically correct – which is one reason I admire him so much. I hope you find Bruce’s observations as on-point as I did; please keep the the conversation going by adding your own comments and sharing your own stories.

by Bruce Rogow

Jim, I strongly agree that a major exposure of US business today is the inability to have meaningful and material conversations. I’ve been watching successful and unsuccessful businesses and their leaders for over 45 years. In addition to the fine points you raise, the constructive dialog necessary for business today also often suffers from:

“Diversity” is Dead: We have corrupted and distorted this word. It used to mean a diversity of views, perspectives and experiences were welcomed and solicited. Now it means, Do we have the right ethnic, sexual, or racial mix? No one pays attention to the diversity of peoples’ perspectives. Often, the people in the meeting are overly similar in experience, perspectives, and beliefs. It can be dangerous to have divergent views, and often those with divergent views were seen as dysfunctional and shunned out of the organization as we tightened down “the way we do things around here.” [click to continue…]


Ask Me About My BookIt happened again. I was at a National Speakers Association Northern California Chapter event on Saturday, proudly wearing my button that reads “Ask Me About My Book” (a gift from Cathy Fyock, my writing coach).

Several people did ask (thank you!), and I responded something like this:

Thanks for asking. The working title of the book is Changing the Corporate Conversation. I want to improve the quality of meetings and all kinds of conversations at work. I’m convinced the workforce as a whole is wasting millions of hours of time attending mundane, non-productive meetings of all kinds. My goal is to enable people to design and lead innovative, productive meetings that leverage the talent inherent in every organization.

How did that premise strike people? [click to continue…]


To Live is to Learn

November 3, 2014

Experience is inevitable. Learning is not.

(Nancy Dixon, Conversations Matter blog)

John Dewey would have loved Thomas Watson.

Thomas J. Watson Sr.There is an old story (I really don’t remember where I first heard it) that in IBM’s very early days a young project manager had the unpleasant task of informing IBM’s founder and CEO Thomas Watson Sr. that a major design initiative had gotten off track and had to be shut down after costing the company about $6 million.

When he finished explaining what had happened, the project manager said to Watson, “I’m know I screwed up. I suppose you’ll be wanting my resignation.” [click to continue…]


Creating Community

October 27, 2014

The most expensive part of a workplace is the salary of the person who occupies it.

(Kevin Kampschroer, Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, General Services Administration)

Woman at desk

I am optimistic that the facilities world is gradually getting beyond purely physical measurements of workplace efficiency (eg, cost per square foot, square feet per occupant); we are in the early stages of learning to look at the relationship between workplace design and the employee experience, which is what ultimately drives organizational effectiveness.

At IFMA’s World Workplace conference in New Orleans in September I was pleased to hear David Karpook, Nancy Johnson Sanquist, and Joe Harris of Manhattan Software/Trimble discuss their research on “Workplace as Experience.” Drawing on The Experience Economy: Work is Theater and Every Business a Stage by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore, David, Nancy, and Joe educated all of us in attendance about just how powerful an impact place has on people.

And then my appreciation of how important that impact is rose several more notches when I heard Kristine Woolsey of Carrier-Johnson+Culture talk about the connection between workplaces and communities at the recent WorkTech14 summit in San Francisco. I was so impressed with Kristine’s insights that I invited her to meet and share her perspectives with my Talking About Tomorrow conversation group a few weeks later. [click to continue…]


Eisenhower on planning

(photo: FEMA Mgt. Institute)

“Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
(Dwight Eisenhower)

All too often as executive teams attempt to develop visions of the future and define strategic plans for growth and profitability, they descend into arguments focused on differing predictions about the economy, or technology, or the workforce.

Or they become distracted by “bright shiny objects” like powerful new technologies (driverless cars, voice recognition, holographic distributed meetings – you know what I mean) that may be fascinating but usually have little to do with their own business.

Like so many other areas of organizational leadership, developing new kinds of conversations and new forms of inquiry about the future are critical components of organizational leadership.

Historically, strategic planning was all about focusing an organization’s attention on a particular marketplace and ensuring that it had the operational capabilities to compete effectively in that market segment. And today most strategic plans continue to make explicit assumptions about future trends, estimated probabilities, and include educated guesses about what’s going to happen.

However, in today’s highly volatile and unpredictable world, assuming any kind of predictability in the marketplace can be fatal. Traditional strategic planning is worse than useless when dealing with the uncertainties of today’s economy. Indeed, I believe that traditional thinking about the future, as if it were actually singular, and knowable, is downright dangerous. [click to continue…]