Turn off Your Notifications. Seriously. Do It.

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Turn off your push notifications. The alerts, app banners, pocket vibrations, ringtones, the little email preview pop-ups. Do you depend on them for your job? Is it really urgent? Is it? Turn them off. All of them.

“The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response.”
– Milton Ericsson

If you know your daughter is going to text you and you welcome her note, go ahead and leave your text alerts on. Or maybe you’re expecting an important call from your office. OK, leave your call ringer on. This is an example of purposely using technology designed around an intentional life. You are driving. But when you leave indiscriminate push notifications on, you are no longer in control. You just put yourself in the back seat and gave the keys to a schizophrenic.

Kim viewed your profile!

Understand that for each notification you permit – be it a welcome text from your daughter or an alert from Twitter – you are allowing someone else to dictate your time. You are allowing some company, service, product, or marketing department to hijack your time.

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The creators of push notifications claim they exist for your benefit. Wrong. The alerts are not designed exclusively for your benefit. Remember, you are the product. The notifications exist for the benefit of Instagram, or Facebook, or LinkedIN, or WhatsApp, or TikTok, or whatever RSS river you are standing waist deep in. The goal is not to enrich your life. The goal is to slow you down, steal your attention. The goal is to drive you to their platform, because their platform is where they can redirect your attention again. Pretty soon you are way downstream from where you were a minute ago. And the view is very different.

The problem is not the device. Devices are useful. My Mom used to call her laptop her “cognitive prosthesis.” It’s an apt description. Your phone is a computational appendage right there in your pocket, and it’s incredibly powerful when in service of an intentionally designed life.

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Many people claim they don’t mind the noise. Maybe you are interested in vacations in Italy. So you wander through a few websites looking at Italian villas, and suddenly ads showing photos of Tuscany are following you around the web. Some people say they enjoy being stalked by ideas and products that interest them. It’s like having your own conversational elf perched on your shoulder who chimes in periodically on your favorite topic, and reinforcing your urges. That’s fine. Just understand that you are the target. You are the mark.

Evelyn shared a post!

Push notifications originated in 2003 by Research in Motion. They built a “feature” into the Blackberry in which users didn’t have to go check for email, they could receive a notification altering them that they received one. So convenient! So easy! Apple was paying attention and in 2009 rolled out their own “APNS, the Apple Push Notification Service.” Pretty quickly responding to notifications became the default manner in which we interacted with our devices. No longer did we need to take control and decide how to navigate and interact with our devices. The device would simply tell us what to do.

Congratulate Chris for starting a new position!

Digitally triggered distraction is making our conversations less meaningful, our attention more splintered, and our decisions less satisfying. The research is towering. We’ve known for years that old-school analog note-taking and handwriting reinforces retention and comprehension. And nearly 90% of us understand that the mere presence of devices detracts from the quality of our conversations, and yet we do it anyway.

Take control. Use technology around a life you design, not a life designed by algorithms.

Speaking of building an intentionally-designed life, check out Mindscaling’s new series on Civility in the 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.

In other news, our 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 Vulnerability is an Act of Courage

Imagine you just got in a disagreement with your colleague. You had one idea, they had another. In the moment, the stakes were high. You were adamant. You were right! And besides, they were being ridiculous.

Or imagine you got in an annoying little passive-aggressive argument about nothing with your partner. Something small like who fills the gas tank more often, or who does the dishes, or who takes the trash out more often – a petty kind of argument about keeping score, the greatest of losing games.

In either example, now imagine you are the first to apologize. You are the first to reach out and say words of kindness, or words of reconciliation. How does that makes you feel? You might feel vulnerable, or weak, or embarrassed perhaps. But definitely hesitant. Now imagine something even more vulnerable. Imagine confessing romantic feelings or deep personal doubts or weaknesses to our partner. It can be scary right?

When we admit fault or show vulnerability, we often feel inadequate or shameful.

Now imagine it’s the other person that comes to you first. Your colleague or your partner steps up and says, “I’m sorry that happened. I see your point. I’m sorry I was frustrated and upset.”

When we imagine ourselves showing vulnerability in these situations, we cringe. It often makes we feel small and weak and scared. But when we see others act in these very same ways, we are often inspired and attracted to that person. We see strength in their honesty. While we feel embarrassed or ashamed by revealing ourselves, we can be inspired and impressed when others do it.

When we see others show vulnerability, we often see courage. We see the beautiful, honest mess of a human being that we all are on some level. Yet when we practice vulnerability ourselves, we feel inadequate. Here are a few ideas to help our courage in moments when we reveal we are, in fact, a beautiful, complicated mess of a human being.

Call it what it is. Awkward! You go into a department store and try on a jacket. It was the jacket of another customer. You’re checking out at the grocery store. The pregnant cashier says, “Have a nice day.” You say, “Have a nice baby.” {Smack forehead} These true stories of idiocy go on.

Make fun of your situation. When you call out the comedy and hilarity of a vulnerable moment, you diffuse the tension and appear more confident and courageous to others.

Practice self-compassion. Self-compassion is the act of mindfully acknowledging whatever pain, ill thought, or difficulty we are confronted with, and treating ourselves with humanity and care. It’s the very opposite of the harsh, critical language we often use on ourselves.

Let it go. Seriously, blow it off. Whatever silly or embarrassing comment you made will linger much longer in your own head than in others. Other people, particularly those who care about you are much more likely to assume best intentions and let it go. You should too.

For some people the craving for authentic interactions and relationships is so strong they join the “Authentic Revolution” and attend regular meetings in which the goal of the evening is to be open, forthright and honest. According to participants it can be quite a rush.

“Just revealing something vulnerable about yourself can be its own rush, it can be its own thrill.”
– Bryan Bayer, co-founder of the Authenticity Revolution

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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.

In other news, our 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.

Small Acts of Leadership: You Can Ask for More Than You Think

Transcript:
– [Narrator] Have you ever asked for more and then instantly regretted asking? Like asking for more responsibility or promotion and immediately feeling like you are not worthy? Try to move beyond it. Research suggests you can ask for more than you think.

– People who are seen by others as getting assertiveness right often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong. In 2014, there was a study by some students at Columbia Business School and they’ve found that 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests, their negotiations, their conversations, they were actually seen by the other party as not really very assertive at all and not really very demanding at all. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough. On the other hand, those who believed that they’ve been overly assertive, overly demanding in their requests, they often fall victim to believing they’ve crossed the line, they’ve gone too far, they’ve overstepped their bounds, and the result is that they backpedal. They try to smooth things over. They try to acquiesce. They accept a lesser deal, and that’s a bummer, because in the study, those who were assertive and demanding were often then interpreted by the other party as being very fair, very appropriate. According to the research, we should go for it. We should ask for a little more. We should not back off, and we should not feel badly about what we do ask for. The research tells us you can ask for more, and you are probably more valuable than you think.

– [Narrator] Terry’s team is under a lot of pressure to meet tight deadlines. He has noticed many team members are stressed and overtired. Terry decides to ask the client for some extra time in delivering a project deadline. This request seemed perfectly logical to the client, and Terry’s team felt relieved and grateful. Take a small step in learning to ask for more. Maybe something simple in a coffee shop, a store, or a hotel. Identify something that would greatly improve the quality of your experience. Make the request reasonable, but don’t apologize or backpedal. If you ask for it and get it, be grateful. And if you ask for it and get turned down, think about what you can do differently next time.

The Subtle Art of Being Direct Instead of Being Blunt

“If you want to get your point across, be direct; if you want to destroy any chance of doing so, be blunt.”
– Mark Goulston, Ph.D.

Have you read any David Sedaris? Or better, have you seen one of his shows? The things he says are appalling. My wife and I went to see Sedaris recently. He stands at a lectern and reads his own material in a fairly deadpan manner. In the first few minutes I thought it might be boring. Oh, was I wrong.

He says things out loud in front of a thousand strangers that most people would blush just thinking about. He says things that leave you gobsmacked, wondering, “Did he just say that?” It’s a kind of shock theater he is especially good at.

We go to comedy hour or the theatre to hear something surprising or alarming or shocking. But we don’t go to work to hear our colleagues be crass or rude or smart-ass.

There’s a subtle difference between being blunt and being direct. Think of these two things in terms of tools. A sledgehammer is a blunt force tool. Needle-nose pliers or wood planes require subtle care, even artistry, to use well. It’s the same idea with words. Remember, the words we use not only shape other people’s impression and reaction to us, our words also shape the way we think and act in the world. Choose well, and use words with care.

I’ve been re-reading Goulston’s book Get Out of Your Own Way, and he has some great advice for trying to discern between being blunt and being direct.

  • Slow down. The next time you think about barking out a response or shooting from the hip, take a deep breath and sit up straight. Those two little things will slow you down, and help you think.
  • Respect boundaries. You may think someone else’s boundaries are stupid, but respect them. If you colleague says they want a quiet hour to get something done, give them that space. You may only have a quick, easy question, but that small disruption could derail their thought and energy.
  • You do care. When you get ready to spout off about something and you think to yourself, “I don’t give a damn what they think.” Think again. If you really didn’t care you would walk away. Ask yourself instead, “Why am I trying to get a reaction out of them?” You might have a good reason, and you might craft that comment better.
  • WWJD? What would ______ do? It doesn’t have to be Jesus, of course. Think of someone you love and admire, and ask yourself, “What would they do in this situation?” Do that instead.

Remember, you’re an artist, not a rock-smasher. When interacting with other people, you want influence, and influence starts with empathy and understanding.

Learn how to be confident, consistent, and calm in the middle of chaos by elevating your leadership presence. Check out the Art of Leadership Presence from Mindscaling.

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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.

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.

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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.

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.

The Magic of Bill Murray

“If you can consciously let yourself get taken and see where you go, that’s an exercise. That’s discipline. To follow the scent. Let yourself go and see what happens, that takes a bit of courage.”
– Bill Murray

The comic legend Bill Murray has created decades of urban folklore by simply showing up in odd, random places and interacting with people. Did he really take a french fry from someone’s plate and whisper, “No one will believe you.” Did he really ride a bike in a Walmart wearing a fireman’s uniform, squirting a water pistol? Who knows for sure.

But there is video of him washing dishes at a party in Scotland, playing tambourine at a house party in Austin, and crashing a private karaoke room in New York. And there is a beautiful story from a father who met Bill outside of a hospital and watched him spend half an hour on his knees in the cold, comforting and talking to his son in a wheelchair after brain surgery.

Or this story. Bill gets into a cab in San Francisco and starts chatting with the cab driver, and discovers the cab driver is a saxophone player. Bills asks when he gets to practice his instrument, and the taxi driver says he doesn’t get to practice much because he drives the taxi all the time. So Bill finds out the saxophone is in the trunk and tells the driver to pull over so Bill can drive the car while the taxi driver gets to practice his saxophone in the back seat. They wander the streets of San Francisco with the taxi driver blowing saxophone in the back, and then cross over the bridge into Oakland after midnight to have barbecue together at a diner, and play saxophone for a crowd in the parking lot.

Whether Bill is dropping in to a game of kickball or reading poetry at a construction site, he is showing up to be present, not to entertain. He’s not there to juggle, tell jokes, or get on stage. He’s there to be alive in that spontaneous, inventive moment. In his own words, Bill says when it works best he finds a way to wake people up in their lives. He says he might encounter someone sleepwalking through their life, and hopefully he can help create a moment to wake them up. He also says sometimes he gets lucky himself, and wakes up to a new truth or new understanding.

Universally, everyone who tells these stories describe him as kind, present, and able to bring levity and joy to a moment. But the moments are fleeting and unpredictable. He’s famously impossible to track, or pin down. Even Sofia Coppola who wrote and directed Lost in Translation said that Bill told her he “might think about it” without ever actually committing to doing the film. So Sofia sent him the production schedule, flew to Tokyo to start filming, and then just hoped that Murray would show up, which of course he did.

Katie Calautti, a reporter for Vanity Fair, was asked to do a story on Bill Murray at the Toronto Film Festival. She said he was impossible to coordinate with because he has no entourage, no people, no team to interact with. He just shows up, and since you don’t know when or how he is going to appear, it’s pretty hard to write about his comings and goings. She said she spent most of her time at the film festival chasing a ghost. She said later that reporting on Bill Murray is like reporting on jazz. You just have to show up and see what happens.

It’s easy to be inspired by, and learn from Bill Murray. Show up, listen, give kindness, don’t seek the spotlight, look for opportunities to ease pain, or provoke new ideas. And when it works right, maybe something will happen to transform the moment, and allow an awakening.

“We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.”
– Bill Murray

If you have a quiet hour, I recommend the documentary The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man.

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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.

Break the Cycle of Loneliness at Work

Do you ever feel like you don’t really connect with anyone at work? Do you feel as if your relationships at work are superficial? Do you feel as if people at work don’t really understand you? You’re not alone.

“It was an average morning. I was up at seven, helped get the kids their breakfast and hustled them to get ready for school. They left, and I went back upstairs to get dressed for work. But that’s not what I did. I got back into bed, and lay there for another hour, staring at the ceiling. I’m lonely at work and staring at the ceiling for an hour was about as much as I could face.”
– Anonymous

According to a new survey of 20,000 Americans conducted by health care provider Cigna, we are at an all-time alarming high in terms of feeling lonely and isolated. Almost half of us (47%) feel as if we are left out, which also means that only the other half (53%) feel as if we are having meaningful, connected and valued conversations.

Don’t blame it on social media. According to the study, use of social media wasn’t a big predictor of feeling isolated and alone. Those who describe themselves as regular social media consumers had social loneliness scores nearly identical to those who don’t use social media at all.

The implications for work are enormous. People who feel disconnected socially at their jobs, also feel disengaged from their work. Loneliness in the workplace isn’t a private and personal issue, it’s an organizational culture issue.

“It’s critical that employers create a space where employees can connect face-to-face and form meaningful relationships with their co-workers.”
– Douglas Nemecek, M.D.

Be an Emotional Catalyst
You can start by being the instigator of positive emotional contagion. In order to feel more connected at work, we have to start by being more connected ourselves. I’m suggesting that solving our sense of isolation starts by taking social initiative. Our emotions are contagious, and the more we reach out with intentional empathy and connection to others, the more likely we are to be graciously received. It starts a virtuous cycle and elevates the mood state of our team.

Signal Emotional Fit
When it looks like someone is retreating emotionally and psychologically, be that person who first reaches out. Even better, create an institutional expectation that we support, connect and affirm one another. On the playground, at our daughter’s elementary school there is something called the “Buddy Bench.” By sitting on the Buddy Bench you are signaling to others you don’t currently have someone to play with. As our daughter describes it, there is no stigma associated with it, kids go sit there all the time.

Create a Connective Environment
I’ve been reading a number of interviews with Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh, who claims one of the key ingredients in a successful company with highly engaged people, and high levels of innovation, is to create more moments of casual, unpretentious human to human conversations, or “collisions” as he calls them.

“Research has shown that most innovation actually happens from something outside your industry being applied to your own. And those are the results of random conversations at bars or coffee shops or just when you have collisions with other people.”
– Tony Hsieh

Positive group environments are linked to elevated sense of satisfaction, cooperation with others, heightened work engagement, and performance outcomes. I’m not suggesting we remain constantly positive and ignore failure, give false praise, or overlook adversity. In fact, sharing negative feelings can create solidarity and unify a group. But that shared negativity needs to be brief, specific, and then set aside to move on.

Have a look at our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

When Cultures Start to Drift from Values

Diane Vaughan is a social scientist who coined the term “normalization of deviance” to describe the way organizational cultures can begin to drift morally and then rationalize that drift over such a slow time horizon that they aren’t even aware of it themselves.

As she wrote about in her book The Challenger Launch Decision, Vaughan studied the infamous 1986 Challenger space shuttle explosion and discovered that faulty O‑rings, linked to the disaster, were identified as fallible long before the disaster occurred. Engineers knew they could fail, it had simply become “normal.”

“The culture of any organization is shaped by the worst behavior the leader is willing to tolerate.”
– Steve Gruenter and Todd Whitaker

NASA, from the beginning of the space shuttle program, assumed that risk could not be eliminated, according to Vaughan, because the ability of the shuttle to perform in a real launch could only be mathematically predicted and tested in simulations. For that reason, the engineers expected anomalies on every mission, and disregarding danger signals, rather than trying to correct any problems, became the norm.

“Social normalization of deviance means that people within the organization become so much accustomed to a deviation that they don’t consider it as deviant, despite the fact that they far exceed their own rules for elementary safety.”
– Diane Vaughan

For example, after space shuttle Discovery launched on January 24, 1985, and then returned safely to earth, engineers performed an autopsy on the vehicle, which included carefully examining the O‑rings. In disassembling the Discovery’s O‑rings, the engineers discovered an alarming amount of grease that was blackened from exceedingly high pressure and temperature.

The O‑rings in the Discovery launch held but were more damaged than they had been in previous launches. Engineers calculated that the O‑ring temperature at the time of Discovery liftoff was approximately 58 degrees Fahrenheit. “[Challenger] could exhibit the same behavior,” the engineers reported after the examination. “Condition is not desirable, but is acceptable.”

They also recommended proceeding with the next launch of Challenger. In fact, they not only recommended proceeding with the next launch, engineers painstakingly argued their position regarding the tolerable O‑ring damage in a formal report. At the eleventh hour, only a day before the fatal launch, engineers Bob Ebeling and Roger Boisjoly contradicted themselves and strenuously argued to NASA officials that the O‑rings could stiffen and fail to properly seal the joints of the booster rockets because of the cold January temperatures.

These arguments were not persuasive to NASA officials because, after all, they had the original detailed engineering report stating that the risk was acceptable. It’s important to understand that the engineers were not simply acting or pretending that the damage was acceptable. Up until the engineers made their final plea to officials to halt the launch of Challenger only the day before, they actually believed that there was nothing wrong at all with that classification. “No fundamental decision was made at NASA to do evil,” Vaughan wrote. “Rather, a series of seemingly harmless decisions were made that incrementally moved the space agency toward a catastrophic outcome.”

The O‑ring damage observed after each launch was normal. The culture had simply drifted to a state in which that condition was also considered acceptable. In the NASA example, the existence of the damaged O‑rings after each launch was deemed acceptable. It became an implicit, and accepted, rule that everyone simply tolerated and believed to be quite normal.

But if we step back for a moment and study the situation, as Vaughan did in her analysis, that acceptance of damaged O‑rings seems pretty crazy.

To avoid groupthink, encourage debate and populate your team with different personalities and areas of expertise. And recognize that speed can kill. When we are rushing to deadlines, and racing to complete projects, it’s much easier to overlook mistakes and rationalize errors in an effort to get it done.

As the great John Wooden once said, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership to begin making cultural shifts one small act at a time. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Never Believe You Are Helpless

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end… with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”

That quote comes from U.S. Navy Admiral James Stockdale, who was captured by the Vietnamese, tortured over twenty times, and imprisoned for eight years during the Vietnam War. During that time he observed that those POWs with a deep sense of pessimism and dread would lose hope, succumb to their conditions, and eventually die.

But he also observed those who were wildly optimistic eventually became overwhelmed with despair, and false hope. According to Stockdale,

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

This is also why the feel-good self-esteem movement started in the 1960s may not have worked out as planned. Simply feeling good about yourself doesn’t necessarily translate to a higher sense of capability. To put it another way, according to psychologist Martin Seligman, the feel-good self-esteem movement made “competition” a dirty word.

There is very little evidence that simply feeling good about oneself causes better grades, better work performance, or better thinking. Instead we should be focusing on self-efficacy – the strength of our belief in our own abilities to reach our goals and achieve our potential.

Those who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles are those who have a sense of realistic idealism. They have the ability to visualize and identify an ideal outcome, yet also an ability to realistically face challenges, including the unexpected challenges which will surely arise.

Another trait of those who possess realistic optimism is they lift other people up. During the depths of despair during their incarceration, James Stockdale used an alphabetic communication code by tapping on the walls of the prison cells. In this way the prisoners were able to communicate and not feel completely isolated in captivity.

Our world view is not simply a fixed condition of our situation. We have the power to choose our reaction to changing circumstances, and also to decide whether or not we have the ability to make a difference.

Pessimists, on the other hand, believe that bad events are someone’s fault, will last a long time, and undermine everything.

When things go sideways, remember that circumstances are temporary, local, and situational. It won’t last forever, it’s not everywhere, and it’s not someone’s fault.

Remember James Stockdale. Believing you can make a difference is a choice.

  • In Mindscaling’s newest course, Karen Hough teaches you how to lead in chaos. Check out The Art of Leadership Presence. Message me and I’ll send access to preview the first module of the course. It’s awesome.
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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com