Small Acts of Leadership: Nourish Your Team

Transcript
This is a true story. Rona Cant is an adventurer. She taught me something kind of fascinating about dog sledding deep in the northern wilderness of Norway. Each evening on her expedition, her team of three sleds and 28 dogs, they’d usually camp near a frozen lake or maybe a river, and while her traveling partner Cathy put up the tents, Rona, she’d build a fire and she would untether the dogs and inspect each and every one of them for cuts, for injuries, for soreness. And their guide, his name is Per Thore, he would take this huge auger and he would go out onto the ice and he would drill a hole through almost a meter of ice to retrieve fresh water and then Rona, she would hike out to the well through waist deep snow and ladle 40 liters of water into these plastic containers. She’d haul them back to the campsite.

Several more trips were required to deliver all the water to the spot by the fire, where Per Thore was busy sawing chunks of frozen reindeer meat to then mix with some dry food and the water to set over the campfire and make a stew, and it was all for the dogs. The dogs required more than 60 kilos of food every single day. And then finally, Rona would return to the hole in the ice one last time to retrieve 10 liters of water for the humans. You see, only after the dogs were fed and cared for would the three adventurers take their first sip of water and the reason is obvious. Without your team in the wilderness, you die. Without your team, you are going nowhere. They are the engine that makes the expedition possible and without their health, their well being, their rest, their focus, all is lost.

Nourish your people first. The only difference between ordinary and extraordinary is the strength and the conviction of our teams. Teams can take us places that we can only dream of alone.

You may not be racing a team of dogs through the wilderness, but as a leader, you must always nurture your team or your projects will be stuck and lost in the woods. Sanjay’s team has had many disappointments lately. Product tests have failed, systems crashed, and it takes a lot of time to get the operation up and running. What the team needs is support and lots of it. Sanjay knows he cannot solve these problems alone, and he needs to stop and support his team so they can be at their best. Play the video clip for your team. Ask them to think creatively about what nourishes them, what makes them strong and healthy enough to work together every day. Together, think of a few things that leaders can do more regularly to keep the team strong.

A More Powerful Way to Build Habits

I’m trying to play more guitar. So I took the guitar out of the closet, tuned it up, and keep it by my desk, within reach. It works. I play more. It’s a small, simple habit stack that helps me achieve a small goal. But what about longer term goals, bigger goals – the kind which require persistent effort, and the outcome is unclear and far away? Like saving monthly for retirement, or eating kale?

Previously I wrote about the notion of activation energy – which is basically the idea that if you make something bad for you harder to do, you will be less likely to do it. And inversely if you make something good for you easier to do, you will be more likely to do it.

So, for example, if you want to go running tomorrow you place your running gear next to your bed so it’s the first thing you see in the morning and it’s easily accessible to put on. Or if you want to stop eating ice cream, you simply stop buying it, so in order to eat ice cream at 9pm it would require you put on go-in-public clothes and drive to the corner store and buy it. You might, but it would be a hassle.

The ability to delay gratification, and value the future more than the present, seems to be the holy grail for better health, better relationships, and better careers. But the prevailing themes we keep hearing in the media are about grit, tenacity, and perseverance. And often the advice to be grittier comes across as the importance of being more robotic, more cerebral, and more disciplined.

This is an argument in which we try to remove temptation, remove emotion, and take away the stress of dealing with temptation and bad choices, and create better habits simply by applying some self-discipline, and some cool tricks and life hacks. James Clear has lots of habit tricks that I greatly enjoy and apply.

David DeSteno, professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, has different ideas. His research suggests that the disciplined habit-tweaking approach described above is basically a form of impulse control. If our impulse is to do something that has long term negative consequences, then we need only change the environment and circumstance, and be a little mentally tougher, to help control that impulse.

DeStano argues that exercising self-control as a rational, logical approach to solving an emotional self-control dilemma is another way of suppressing our immediate desires. It’s not really human, and it’s not our instinct. DeStano suggests that we may get more powerful results not by rejecting, controlling or diminishing our emotions, but instead by activating the right kinds of emotions and leaning in to those, and using emotion as fuel instead of denying it.

Let me explain. We do have self-control, but our self-control did not evolve to maximize our 401k. Self-control evolved to make us better collaborators with other people. Because if you are viewed as sharing and compassionate and generous, then you are trustworthy and others will work with you, help you and share with you. And when you can figure out how to be a trustworthy collaborator, you are more likely to be part of a tribe and survive longer when the hyenas come around.

The kind of self-control to avoid buying a new car in order to maximize our 401k is an intellectual, rational kind of control. It’s not always easy to simply will ourselves to not eat the ice cream, or not have another drink, or to go to the gym after work. This is because we naturally devalue the impact of our short-term choices and we have a hard time imagining the long-term impact on our future selves. Basically we have a hard time envisioning our future selves because we think we won’t change.

Yes, we recognize that in the past we did change. Look at those photos of young me. I was so silly and naive. But now that we’ve evolved into who we are today, we think we’re all done changing.

It’s easy to look back on our past selves with a kind of bemused, slightly embarrassed recollection, because we can see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned and developed. But at the same time we are terrible at imagining our future selves. We think who we are today is who we will be in the future. Wrong. We are always changing.

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you have ever been.
– Dan Gilbert

The key to envisioning a positive and healthy future version of you is to tap into those emotions which activate future thinking. Gratitude is a powerful emotion for envisioning a positive future self. We often think of gratitude as a reflective emotion, as in “I’m so grateful Sally and Barbara helped me through my difficult break-up with Marcus.” But gratitude is a powerful emotion for guiding our future actions. If we’re so grateful for Sally and Barbara, we are likely to envision ways to reciprocate. We’re likely to imagine who we will be in the future when we are helping Sally and Barbara because of our sense of deep gratitude.

The emotion of gratitude relies on our connection to others. The emotion exists to ensure that we reciprocate and continue building our relationships. If Sally and Barbara help us out, and we never reciprocate because we don’t care or we don’t understand empathy, then the relationship dies.

DeStano argues that the right kinds of emotions to drive the choices and habits that create a better version of ourselves are the morally-toned emotions of gratitude, compassion and authentic pride of a job well done. Morally-toned emotions are the kinds of emotions that make us feel connected with one another, and help us envision a shared future together, and therefore help us value longer term benefits.

In DeStano’s research they asked participants to place values on immediate versus future rewards, and found that on-average, people valued $17 right now as roughly equal to receiving $100 in a year. In other words, almost everyone would rather have a little bit now instead of a lot more later.

Then they primed their research participants to think of something they are grateful for, and found that participants began to almost double the value of future benefits. After priming for gratitude, it would take nearly $33 right now in order to have the same value as $100 in a year. Gratitude and compassion seem to have the capacity to encourage people to place a higher value on their future selves, and thus encourage people to make better long term decisions.

But don’t get lost in focusing on just future benefits. Gratitude and compassion have been demonstrated to reduce blood pressure, increase immune responses, allow people to sleep better and a whole host of other immediate mental and physical benefits.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Achieve Your Goals by Focusing on This One Idea

“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, but a lifestyle to be lived.”
– James Clear

What is something you want to accomplish? Maybe give a great presentation? Write a book? Start a new business? Now think about who that person is who achieved that. That person is a public speaker, or a writer, or an entrepreneur.

Stop focusing on the goals you want to accomplish, and start asking who you want to become. Reframe the story you tell yourself. Stop focusing on running a marathon, instead become a runner. Stop focusing on publishing a book, instead become a writer. Goals aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but instead of focusing on the end result, focus on becoming the kind of person who can accomplish that goal.

Ever since Jim Collins coined the acronym BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), it gets floated around strategy meetings and sales departments, and then drifts over to personal goal conversations about completing triathlons, getting 6-pack abs, or becoming a yoga master.

It’s fairly easy to draft a spreadsheet and lay out the incremental steps to accomplish goals. So, for instance, if you want to run a marathon, you can search for marathon running plans and easily pick a plan that will get you there. But all that careful contemplation and planning to get to the starting line of a marathon doesn’t make you a runner. It’s the habit of running that makes you a runner.

So, instead ask the question, what would a runner do? Well, a runner would have a habit of stretching. A runner would run when it’s raining or cold (or both). A runner would learn how to hydrate for long runs. A runner would lay out their gear the night before.

Or if you want your sales team to reach a quarterly goal of X dollars, you can create a plan that requires Y number of phone calls and Z number of proposals submitted. Your team could execute on the plan, and you might make the financial goal that quarter, but that occurrence doesn’t make a great sales team. You aren’t magically transformed into a great sales leader. It takes time, and it takes building small incremental habits over time by practicing them every day.

Instead ask, how would a great sales leader behave? Well, a great sales leader would lead by example, would be an active listener, would be empathetic to individual styles of team members, and become good at providing specific feedback and coaching.

Life isn’t lived in a singular future achievement, life is a collection of moments lived one day at a time. Who you are is the accumulation of the habits you have been practicing over time.

James Clear says one of the most common questions he gets is, “How long does it takes to build a habit?” And your google search will tell you it takes 18 days, or 21 days, or 66 days, but the honest truth is that it takes forever. Because the moment you stop doing it, it’s no longer a habit.

Change starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Why You Should Surprise People Sometimes

Remember that weird feeling when you’re in 5th grade and you see your teacher at the grocery store, just picking out bananas like a normal human? And it’s really strange because she doesn’t belong at the grocery store. She belongs in math class. Like, what’s she doing here?

Or you see your mean, yelling gym coach hug his crying daughter in the parking lot after school, wipe her tears, and bend down to tie her shoes. Wow, he can also be kind?

When we think of goofball Jimmy who wears a bowtie and suspenders, we think he’s a clown looking for attention. And when we see Hector, the science nerd wearing a bowtie and suspenders we think he’s an eccentric intellectual. When Gertie, the class valedictorian, sits quietly alone for lunch we think she is ruminating on her world peace essay. But when Jackson, the terrorist of 6th grade, sits alone, we think he’s planning his next nasty trick.

I have a friend who works at the bank drive-through window. We laugh and tell jokes. She gives biscuits to my dogs. She’s a great friend. But I saw her in the cereal isle the other day and for a full three seconds I blinked and all I could think was, “I know this person! I like her, but who is she?

It’s both surprising and confusing when people confound our expectations of them. When we see people out of place or out of character doing things we don’t expect of them. People often fulfill our usual expectations of them. We don’t get to see our taxi driver play saxophone in his blues band, and we don’t get to see our boss read bedtime stories to her children.

We seek predictability in others and try to be predictable ourselves. Which is why when we get invited to a barbecue, we hate to say no. Keeping social harmony relies on our own willingness and ability to allow others to reliably predict what we’re going to do. Social consistency keeps the peace.

But sometimes it’s good to surprise people. Sometimes it’s good to bust out something new, something different, something unexpected. It’s not only how we grow, it’s how we develop others’ expectations of what we’re capable of.

You may likely be aware of the small ways in which we can change our environment and surprise and delight ourselves. Driving a different way to work, for example, will likely make you more present and attuned to your environment. Varying your routines can achieve the same effect.

So long as we fear vulnerability, we play it safe and stop ourselves from exploring.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger, authors of Surprise: Embrace the Unpredictable and Engineer the Unexpected

In order to reframe the expectations others have for us, we need to surprise them in delightful ways. Here are a couple ways you can engineer surprise from Luna and Renninger:

  • Initiate an activity in which the outcome is uncertain. Invite a colleague to dinner you don’t know very well. Or better, invite a small group of people unlikely to know each other. Recently we attended a dinner for twelve hosted by friends who were the only couple who knew everyone at the table. It was a fun and memorable night.
  • Delight someone by over-delivering. Tell her you will empty the dishwasher, then also clean out the fridge. Say you’ll prepare the slides, then actually deliver them rehearsed in the meeting.

Workplaces where managers actively encourage experimentation, and lead by experimenting themselves, make us feel more comfortable with being imperfect, with taking chances, with making mistakes. These are the kind of leaders who make us feel like we can be ourselves.

By embracing and engineering surprise you can make our whole world richer. You can inspire wonder, connection, vulnerability, growth, and creativity.
– Tania Luna and Leeann Renninger

Change starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Your Stubborn Optimism Is Contributing to Your Success

One day, the farmer’s horse jumps the fence and runs off. The farmer’s neighbor stops by and says, “I’m so sorry. That’s terrible news.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Several days later, the horse returns with six other wild horses who have followed him home. The neighbor stops by and says, “That’s amazing! What wonderful luck!”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Soon after the wild horses have come to live in their pasture, the farmer’s son is thrown from a horse while trying to tame it. He breaks his leg in the fall and is bound to a wheelchair while he heals. The neighbor stops by and says, “What a horrible accident. I’m so sorry for your son and your family.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

While his son is healing in his wheelchair, the militia marches through the town, conscripting all able-bodied young people to serve in the war. The farmer’s son is spared from serving in the military. Again, the neighbor stops by and says, “What fortune that your son does not have to join the army.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

You get the point. This fable can go on and on. It’s about how our interpretation of events is a result of our view of the world, our innate sense of hope or despair. But hope and optimism aren’t quite the same thing. According to researcher Tali Sharot:

Hope is what you want to happen. Optimism is the belief that what you want to happen will happen.
– Tali Sharot, Ph.D.

Some people say the key to happiness is low expectations. The idea being that if we keep our expectations low, we aren’t likely to be disappointed, and therefore when things do go our way, we’ll be pleasantly surprised. But it turns out that most people aren’t pessimistic. Only 4% of us claim to be full-on pessimists, and that’s a good thing.

We (and by “we” I mean everyone – men, women, old, young, western culture, eastern culture, rich, poor…) commonly overestimate our own optimistic outlook of the world. Statistically we think we are more attractive, more likely to get promoted, more likely to stay married, and less likely to get in a car accident because we’re better drivers than most other people too. And through it all, we think we’re more modest than the next person too.

Privately, we hold more optimistic expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, and our children, yet hold more pessimistic expectations for strangers. Although the actual chance of getting some form of cancer during your lifetime is about 35%, most people think it will happen to the other guy.

This optimism bias turns out to be a good thing because – although it can lead us to underestimate our chances of developing illness, getting divorced, or getting in a car accident – it also leads us to be more cheerful and excited about our own future.

That innate optimism bias allows us to have more favorable expectations of upcoming events in our lives, which in turn, lets us be happier and healthier in the long term, in part because we expect it. According to the scientist Tali Sharot, it’s optimistic anticipation that keeps us cheerful, and that sunny outlook on life comes from the belief that we have control over our future.

The reason we are more optimistic about ourselves is because we believe we have control over our lives. And the reason we are more pessimistic about bigger ideas like the economy, climate change, or real estate markets because we believe we have no control. So when we think about the upcoming weekend, we can get excited about the plans we have made and when we think about the giant project we are on, we might believe it’s going to fail because we have little control over the outcome and success.

Here’s the big idea. When we take a moment to reflect on how our own decisions, efforts and emotions make a positive difference in the world around us, we are more likely to be optimistic about the outcome, which actually makes it more likely to happen, precisely *because* we take control. It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Go forth and never apologize for your smile.

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

If You Commit to Nothing, You Will Be Distracted by Everything

For 100 days, the monk wakes at midnight, prays, and begins his 18-mile trail run around Mount Hiei. The following year, he does it again. The third year, he does it again. The fourth year he runs for 200 consecutive days, on the same trail, at midnight, as always stopping briefly along the way to pray.

In the fifth year, after 200 days of running, the monk must sit in a lotus position before a raging fire and chant mantras for seven and a half days without food, water or sleep. Two monks watch to ensure he does not stop or fall over. On the fifth day, he is permitted to rinse his mouth with water, and then spit it out.

In the sixth year, the monk runs 37 miles per day, for 100 days. In the seventh year, he runs 52 miles per day, for 100 days, and now faces the final 100 days of running.

Up until this point the quest has been voluntary. The monk may continue, or quit, at any time. Once the monk begins the final 100 days in year seven, legend is they must either complete the quest or kill themselves.

The practice is called Kaihōgyō, and evolved into its current form in the 14th century. Literally translated it means ‘circling the mountain’, and is performed by Tendai Monks in Japan. It’s a commitment you and I cannot conceive of.

Dave Ganci is an ultrarunner, and has trained U.S. Special Forces, and Navy Seals. In an interview with the New York Times, he said, “I have been out on the thin edge of heat, cold, fatigue, starvation and dehydration stress many times and to the point where I had to play mental games with my body to keep it moving.

“I still cannot identify with the marathon monks’ regimen and how they accomplish their feats by any physical definition. It has to be a mental quality that carries them through the pain, fatigue, thirst, hunger, heat, cold and whatever dragons they meet on the trail.”

Ganci has studied the marathon monks and discovered something interesting in the early days of following the seven year pilgrimage. In the first few days and weeks, the pilgrim will be wracked with pain in their hips and legs, their feet and toes blistered and beaten, and will alternately suffer through hemorrhoids and diarrhea. But by day 30 or so the discomfort will start to ease. After 70 days, the monks begin to adopt “a smooth gait, head and shoulders erect, back straight, nose and navel aligned.”

The ultrarunner Adharanand Finn traveled to visit a Tendai monk just completing his own seven-year epic quest, and found his feet to be smooth, soft, and clean “as though he had been floating over the ground.”

It’s an extreme example, but the point is nothing is as hard as you think it will be, and the key to accomplishing anything at all is to simply get started. Most great books in the world were written in less than an hour at a time. Our teenage son and I bicycled across America one pedal stroke after another.

No, I don’t recommend attempting to run a marathon every day for 1000 days, but I do recommend starting that one inconceivable project you’ve been putting off for quite awhile. The most common protest is not that you don’t have time, but that you just don’t have time right now.

So instead you tell yourself that pretty soon, after you deliver that big project at work, or finish remodeling the kitchen, or get the kids through elementary school, or clean out the garage… then, finally, you’ll have that time you need. The time will open up to start yoga again, or write that novel, or learn Japanese, or skydive, or take your kids to the county fair, or visit your parents.

Pick one thing. And get after it.

The trouble is, you think you have time.
– Jack Kornfield

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Want to Create Something Cool and Innovative? Box Yourself In.

William Shakespeare is widely known as one of the most prolific, and greatest writers in the English language. But consider how he created, and for whom. He wrote specifically for live 16th century theatrical performances, when it was common for audiences to stand up, wander in and out, go find something to eat, yell their displeasure at the actors, or even yell at each other to shut up and listen. It was often a chaotic and rowdy affair.

With these specific audience constraints, Shakespeare wrote at least 37 plays that are celebrated and studied today. He also invented over 1700 words that are actively used in the English language. All kinds of words. “Elbow” for example, was merely a noun until Shakespeare decided to use it as a verb and allow a character in a play to elbow his way into a room. Other words he wholly invented, like the word “puking”. Here it is as written in the play As You Like It.

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
And then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school.
– William Shakespeare As You Like It, Act 2, Scene 7

In 1960, Theo Geisel (aka Dr. Seuss) accepted a bet with with his publisher Bennett Cerf. Cerf challenged Geisel to write a book using only 50 different words. The result was the acclaimed Green Eggs and Ham, which went on to sell over 200 million copies and is one of the best-known children’s books of all time.

In 1996, the innovative skier Shane McConkey was sitting at a bar in Argentina with some friends complaining that there wasn’t a really good powder ski in existence. He sketched his vision of a powder ski on a napkin which had almost no side cut and no camber. Side cut is what gives skis their hourglass shape and are fantastic for carving on hard, packed snow. Just lean them on edge and they bite into the snow. But they’re terrible in powder. If you design the narrowest part of the ski to be directly underfoot, in soft powder you sink.

The other change he sketched on that napkin was to reverse the camber. Camber is…, well how about a visual to explain it. See here:

Traditional camber creates a tendency for the ski tip to dive in deep powder. And if your tip dives in deep powder you’re likely to fly over the handlebars on your face into the mountain. Instead, skiers had to lean back uncomfortably to keep their tips from diving. Reverse camber allows a skier in powder to center his weight comfortably on the ski, providing more control.

While designing the ski, McConkey borrowed from water skiing. In his mind, powder and water were similar in that they were dimensional. In powder you ski in the snow, not on top of it. He simply imagined using a water ski in deep powder. That ski he sketched on a napkin took two years to be produced. As he describes, “Over the course of the next two years I would talk to people about how cool it would be to have skis with decamber and reverse side cut specifically for powder. Almost everyone I mentioned the idea to would either laugh or politely smile.”

A lot of presentations are boring. Amiright? The speaker drones on while staring at his pie charts with his back to the audience. Some of the most exciting and innovation presentations have come as a result of practicing PechaKucha. In Japanese, PechaKucha literally means “Chit Chat.” It’s a style of presentation in which the presenter gets exactly 20 slides, to deliver in 20 seconds each, for a complete 6 minute and 40 second presentation. Oh, and the slides auto-advance in exactly 20 second increments. That will make you tighten things up, and practice. And practice.

Shakespeare wrote to entertain a loud, rowdy, and distracted live audience. Theo Geisel attempted to write an entertaining book using only 50 words. Shane McConkey designed a ski to only be used in very specific snow conditions. PechaKucha exists to kill boring presentations.

These are all examples of using constraints to create innovation. According to Stanford Professor Bob Sutton, “Research on creativity and constraint demonstrates that, when options are limited, people generate more, rather than less, varied solutions — apparently because their attention is less scattered.”

Innovation isn’t rocket science. It can be deconstructed and learned by anyone. Try our course Out•Innovate the Competition to build measurable innovation in your workplace.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

You Can’t Build a Reputation On What You’re Going to Do

A little northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona is a desert of volcanic ash and rock from an eruption near the year 1065. It’s now called Cinder Lake. It’s a desolate, barren landscape with porous, ashen soil, pockmarked with divots and potholes.

In July of 1967, NASA engineers “improved” the landscape by blasting over a hundred craters in the middle of Cinder Lake to make it more accurately look like the moon. It was here for a couple years thereafter that NASA conducted a series of lunar training trials with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and other astronauts and engineers. They brought in their space suits, vehicles, and crazy-looking apparatus to conduct experiments and stress tests on the lunar buggys.

One day they encountered a Navajo elder who inquired what they were doing. The astronauts explained that they were practicing and training for a trip to the moon. The Native American man was astonished at what he heard, and then fell silent, quietly contemplating what the astronauts told him. After a few moments he spoke.

“The people of my tribe believe that there are holy and sacred spirits that live on the moon. Would you please pass a message to them?” And then he uttered a few sentences in his native language, carefully repeating each line until the astronauts memorized and repeated it back accurately.

“But what does it mean?” the astronauts asked.
“That I cannot tell you. It is a sacred message for only my people and the moon spirits to know.”

When they returned to the training facility they found a Navajo translator who listened to their secret message, and then laughed and laughed. He said, “It means, ‘Don’t believe a word these people tell you. They have come to steal your lands.'”

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.
– Mignon Mclaughlin

It’s a cute story. It’s not true, but illustrates the point that your reputation precedes you. Like it or not, people talk. And your actions say much more about who you are than any marketing brochure you write about yourself. Which is why one of the most important things you can do to generate good will among those you have worked with, and high expectations for those who are interested, is to actively live your values.

It’s hard to live up to our own expectations. We know that mobile devices detract from the quality of our conversations, but we look at them anyway. We know that waiting to talk isn’t the same as listening, and yet it’s hard to quiet our inner dialogue. We know that self-compassion is important, and yet we beat ourselves up over the silliest things.

Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously. He guessed between 80 to 90%. The broader point is that real change is difficult since much of our thought process is unconscious.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.
– Henry Ford

Pick one thing. About ten years ago I was so consumed with my work I would prattle on to anyone who would listen about what projects we were working on, what fabulous things we were trying to accomplish, what we were excited about. Some people were interested, but many weren’t. Many people would just tune out. So I started asking questions instead. It made a big difference in the quality of my relationships when I led with questions instead of statements – particularly more powerful kinds of questions.

Reinforce the change. Whatever small change we choose to act on, when we see it elsewhere in the world, reinforce it. In my own example, I wanted to lead conversations with questions instead of statements. Now, when I see other people around me begin conversations with questions (for example; “How are your kids?” or “You just went to Detroit. What did you learn about the city?”). I point out their considerate questions and say “Thank you for asking.” Or even better, “That was a thoughtful question.”

Build your reputation one small act at a time.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Keeping Score is a Losing Game

Maybe it’s a function of the age, of being 12 years old. I donno. But a few years ago, our son would keep score of everything. If I asked him to empty the dishwasher, he would say it’s his sister’s turn. If we’re stacking wood in the shed, he lets me know how many more pieces he stacked than his brother. If we go out to buy shoes, he would let me know he picked the ones that cost less, or were cooler, or some other metric of comparison.

Everything was counted as points for, or against. Nothing was out of bounds, “I ate more carrots“, and nothing was beyond his calculating gaze “He’s a faster runner, but I worked harder.”

If you are ever wondering whose turn it is to take out the trash, then it’s your turn. And you’re better off to do it without even knowing whose turn it might be. At work, if you’re keeping score on whose turn it is to proof-read the marketing copy, draft the proposal, assemble the meeting agenda, or edit the upcoming presentation, then you’re likely to feel ripped off when you do it, because making contributions based on reciprocation is always going to make someone feel like they aren’t getting a fair deal.

A workplace of zero-sum, scarcity thinking creates an environment in which there aren’t enough jobs, isn’t enough credit, and isn’t enough opportunity to go around. When work relationships are built on the basis of scarcity, we monitor the contribution of others, hoard credit, and harbor frustration at our work. Then we talk trash about our colleagues after work.

To counteract the negative effects of constantly keeping score at work, try hosting a Reciprocity Ring. Developed by sociologist Wayne Baker and his wife Cheryl, the exercise works like this: Assemble a group of people – anywhere from 8 to 50 people – and ask each person to come to the meeting with a request. It could be something as simple as an introduction, or as wild as a lifelong dream. The object of the group is to try to fulfill each person’s wish using their knowledge, resources and connections.

It’s also important to do this live, face-to-face, together. Research shows that requests made in-person are 34 times more likely to be effective and responded to.

The wonderful part about a Reciprocity Ring is that the team goal is to fulfill someone’s personal or professional wish, so it’s a great exercise in giving. The other wonderful part about the exercise is that it normalizes asking for help – everyone must arrive with their own wish. Wayne and Cheryl Baker say they see gender differences at work when it comes to giving. According to Baker, “Women are more likely to suffer generosity burnout. They help but don’t ask for what they need, hence, burnout. Men give and ask for help.” In a Reciprocity Ring, everyone has to arrive with a request, so it creates an environment in which it’s safe to ask for help.

Wayne and Cheryl Baker have tuned the exercise to try to achieve higher rates of granted wishes. They encourage participants to arrive with a wish that meets their SMART criteria – specific, meaningful, action-oriented, real, and time-bound. When a wish has these parameters, it’s more likely the group will come up with a solution they can deliver on.

Go on, give it a try. It’s an easy exercise in creating a culture of trust and giving at work.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your workplace.

    ____________________________________________________

Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Real Moments Will Not Be Televised

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernhard Shaw

It’s school vacation week here in New England and we’re out skiing with the family. It’s pretty cold, and early afternoon yesterday, we sat on the chairlift chatting about taking a break and warming our toes. There was a lull in the rhythm of the day, and our minds started to drift on to the next thing. Someone next to me on the chairlift pulled their hand out of a warm glove and reached for their phone. We weren’t quite present.

Minutes later, we bumped into a few friends on the hill. And then a few more. Within half an hour we were a posse of eight racing through the woods, bouncing among the mogul fields, carving down the mountain, and drifting among each other having new, interesting conversations. It went on for a couple hours. We forgot about our toes and chilled cheeks, and instead deepened our play, deepened our conversations. We were very present and alive. We also created new relationships and deepened others, all in the span of a couple hours.

These are the moments we search for, the moments of meaning and companionship. It’s reflexively easy to reach for a phone and wander through the fast food of social media seeking a quick dopamine hit. Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram in a passive fog never quite finding satisfaction or joy in the effort. Quite a few studies have shown that taking a digital detox from social media predictably improves our sense of happiness and well-being. Other studies clearly show that social media just increase stress and anxiety.

Here’s a useful way to look at it. Nothing substitutes for in-person face-to-face human connection and time together. So think of your digital life as supportive tools to help create more meaningful human interactions. With location services and social updates you can easily triangulate where your friends and family are so you can meet up with them and have in-person, face to face human interactions. I discovered my friend was in town so we texted to have a coffee. In moments together we experience the nuance and joy of real human connection – the tonal inflection, facial changes, gestures, posture and gaze.

Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, famously posited that 93% of our communication isn’t even in the actual words we use. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal intonation, and 55% through nonverbal elements, such as body language and posture. I think the truth varies but whoever true communication happens, we won’t find deep communication through Facebook.

As Cal Newport describes his approach to digital minimalism, first ask yourself What are my values? and What kind of life to I want to be living that is fulfilling? and then layer in a digital life that supports those goals. So instead of asking yourself whether you prefer Instagram or Twitter, instead ask yourself if Twitter serves a purpose that supports your life goals.

It’s important to understand that how we consume media affects the way our brain is wired for deep thinking. Fast media doses of high speed, low attention, vacuous, binge watching media disrupts our ability to think deeply and creatively. Try slow media instead.

“If every moment of potential boredom in your life — say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives — is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work.”
– Cal Newport

Interested in a learning experience on being present and mindful as a leader? Try Karen Hough’s new course, The Art of Leadership Presence.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

Last summer, my son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.