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Living Room Conversations

February 9, 2015

LRC_logo

(htttp://www.livingroomconversations.org)

Several years ago my good friend Joan Blades co-founded a national nonprofit group called Living Room Conversations, or LRC, with the explicit goal of improving the level and quality of social discourse around public policy issues.

Joan, like many Americans across the political spectrum, is deeply concerned about the apparent inability (and unwillingness) of people with differing political views to talk to each other – and more importantly, to listen to each other. We all know how “broken” the US Congress is; its national approval ratings have never been lower.

But Living Room Conversations isn’t trying to reform Congress (except through grass roots public pressure); it is a movement aimed at bringing “ordinary” people holding different basic views together in their own living rooms to explore issues such as voting rights, prison reform, immigration, tax policies, health care, the Middle East, and other major issues that seem to divide us from our neighbors – and yet are fundamentally important to our collective futures on this planet.

In contrast, my professional focus is on conversations at work, and how they affect organizational performance and the workplace experience for individuals and teams. [click to continue…]

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LargeCrowdSome time ago I heard a story about a CEO who had opened up his organization’s strategic planning process to solicit ideas from all of the company’s 5,000 employees. When asked why he did that instead of relying on his executive committee, he said, simply, “I woke up one morning and realized that 5,000 people are a whole lot smarter than five.”

But that kind of openness is highly unusual among senior executives. Most of the executive leaders I have known and worked with see themselves as the “deciders” and the visionaries whose instincts about what is needed are superior to everyone else’s. Most of them are convinced that’s why they are in a leadership position.

But in large complex organizations it’s not that simple.

As I pointed out last week (“Getting Everyone in on the Action”), there is valuable knowledge distributed throughout every large organization – but it’s usually buried deep within the rank and file, and most executive leaders do not seem interested in seeking it out. [click to continue…]

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Men Playing The Game Of Rugby UnionHow can you get everyone in on the action and still get action?

Several years ago I was consulting with a major international bank on the deployment of a global IT system. Coincidentally, the bank was also actively engaged in a company-wide cultural change program. Although I wasn’t involved directly in that effort I heard about it almost daily from my clients, who were senior directors in the bank’s IT group.

Unfortunately, what I heard wasn’t particularly positive; in fact, most of the comments were negative and highly emotional. My clients believed the new “vision and values” didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and more importantly saw them as being imposed unilaterally on the whole organization by the chairman’s office.

In fact, almost everyone I knew inside the bank referred to the change program as “Bob’s Vision” or “Bob’s values.” In short, no one other than Bob, the chairman and CEO of the bank, felt any ownership of the new vision or its accompanying values. The real tragedy was that Bob’s vision made logical sense from a rational business perspective, and the bank was in dire need of a major shakeup and redirection. Bob could see that but had been unable to persuade even his direct reports to support his initiative. [click to continue…]

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Orchestrating a Meeting

December 15, 2014

OrchestraConductor

(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…]

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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…]

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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…]

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Date: 9 October

Venue: 221 Main Street, San Francisco, in the heart of SoMa

40% of all Americans between 18 and 36 prefer an urban setting; how will this impact the Future of Work? Find out at WORKTECH14 West Coast.

WORKTECH will be heading to San Francisco once again, with another insightful Future of Work conference. On 9th October 2014, we will gather at SOMA, 221 Main Street to focus on the alignment of business strategy and the workplace, and hear from renowned international and local thought leaders.

Breaking News:

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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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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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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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