The Problem with Stereotypes

“A single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. When we stereotype others, we reduce them. We imprison them in our own small view, a dark and tiny place with no light and no room for growth.”

novelist Chimamanda Adichie

 

 

Isn’t that the truth. When we only see the world through our own fixed lens and refuse to listen deeply and empathetically to those we encounter along this path of life, we reduce and belittle them.

Measure your success by what you give and not what you get for it will make everyone – yourself included – happier in the long run.

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

    ____________________________________________________

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, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Change the Task, Not the Person

Ask yourself. Does our company only hire the best and the brightest? Only accept the most remarkable and enlightened ones?

And does our company try to mold them, transform these new recruits so they talk like we do, sell like we do, write code like we do, and write marketing copy like we do?

What if the way our company does things is tired, stagnant, and outdated? What if our company is recruiting talented people with new skills and ideas, and then training it out of them?

Maybe the problem isn’t teaching the new person our way of doing things. Maybe the problem is the task, and the tools we’ve been using.

Don’t try to change someone to do a task or a process better. Change the task or the assignment to better fit the strengths of the amazing new people you hire. Or better, let the new person choose the task and the tools.

Who Does Not Move Forward, Recedes

I spent this past weekend visiting with dear college friends, reminiscing, laughing, and catching up. Of course, we’ve all changed over time. But back in the day we thought we were special, unique.

The term is chronocentrism. It’s the belief that our group, our cohort, at a particular moment in time is special, and poised on the brink of history, as if we are locked in a remarkable and magical moment. It’s pretty common for graduating classes to feel this way, or groups of employees at a company to feel this way when working together during a period of change or growth. During these times we solidify our values, deepen our identities.

It’s a good feeling and creates lasting bonds among the group that can persist for a long time. But it’s also important to move on. It may have been a watershed moment in your evolution, but who you are then is not who you will become.

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

Never believe that you are done learning, or done changing and evolving. The choices we make today will lead to who we become tomorrow.

En francais, “Qui n’avance pas, recule.” Which means, “Who does not move forward, recedes.”

Learning is Interactive, Not Consumptive

We have a new puppy. The kids named him Wallace, although he has immediately become “Wally”. Neighbors want to hold him, get a selfie with him. He is adorable. He also creates disasters everywhere around the house, chewing, shredding, drooling, peeing everywhere. He can be a wrecking ball.

He’s also learning more quickly than I expected. We have an older yellow lab named Penny who knows all the tricks of the house. She knows when mealtimes are, where to nap, where the walking trails are, and where the bathroom is (See Wally? It’s in the woods beyond the backyard, not in the living room).

Wally is picking up on all of this by following Penny’s lead. He’s not learning half as much from the humans. On walks, Wally follows right behind Penny and sniffs where she sniffs, stops where she stops.

Numerous studies demonstrate puppies (and chimps, and rabbits, and cats, and mice, …) all learn faster by imitating the behavior of older, more experienced members of their own kind. Here is a super cute video of an older dog teaching a puppy to walk down scary stairs:

The same is, of course, true in humans. Yet in the United States younger people don’t apprentice under masters nearly as much as they do in other countries around the world. Britain has been enjoying a renaissance of apprenticeships with their successful “Get In, Go Far” initiative.

Get In, Go Far matches younger aspiring learners with companies and opportunities to develop skills in their particular interest. And it’s not confined to skilled labor jobs like electrical or plumbing work. Get In, Go Far is matching younger people with apprenticeships in information technology, project management, marketing, computer science, teaching, and much more.

We conducted a leadership workshop recently with participants from around the world including Brazil, Spain, Germany, England, Poland, Philippines, Canada, and the United States. When the conversation turned to mentoring at work, everyone said they had strong mentorship and lots of opportunity to learn from masters at work. Everyone, except the participants from the United States. They said the philosophy at their US-based location was more “sink or swim” or “figure it out on your own.”

It’s time-consuming, and expensive to find, and keep, good talent. Retaining talented people requires constant care and respect for their development. Remember these two small truths about mentoring:

  • It’s not one to one. People in organizations can, and should, learn from many different people, in different settings, with different skills. You have your workout group, your monthly book group, your hiking friends, and your dinner club. You learn different things from all of those experiences. The same is true at work. Create variety. Diversify learning opportunities.
  • It’s a two-way interaction. Whatever your level of seniority, you have something to teach, something to share. Learning is an interactive process, not a consumptive process. You don’t get paired with a single master, like Obi-Wan, and metamorphose into a Jedi. You have an obligation to contribute. You’d be surprised what you know that others don’t understand yet.

Check out 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!

    ____________________________________________________

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, is a Washington Post bestseller! 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

You Can’t Control People. But You Can Control the Environment

This may surprise you, but prior to the early 1970s the word “parenting” didn’t exist. The word parent was a noun, not a verb. A parent was something you are, not something you do. In the same way that we don’t child our parents, and we don’t husband our wives.

According to Alison Gopnick, a researcher at the University of California, in the 1970s we came to think of being a good parent as a problem to be solved, a skill to be developed. And if only we had the right manual, and the right set of skills, we could then excel at being a parent, in the same way we try to excel at our classes or our jobs.

The analogy she uses to illustrate her point is to imagine a carpenter and a gardener. The carpenter is exacting, measured, controlling the materials, bending them to her will, designing the results. The gardener creates an ecosystem, plants seeds, introduces fertilizer and diversity, and watches growth unfold. The gardener manages an environment, the carpenter presses resources into service of his vision.

In her research, Gopnick has found that parents in the United States and western Europe have, over the past few decades, gradually adopted practices to design outcomes for their children (in extreme, think Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother). In doing so, we have also increasingly removed the level of risk we allow children to take.

In 1971 80% of third-graders walked to school alone or with their friends. By 1990, it had dropped to 9% and today is even lower. Most parents will tell you the world is more dangerous than it was back then, but it’s not. There are fewer traffic accidents, fewer playground injuries, and fewer of the most horrifying of fears – abductions. The rate of classic abduction-by-a-stranger is less than one-hundredth of 1% of all missing children, which itself is less than .04%, and also trending down over the last few decades. I understand any number above zero is intolerable, but the chances of a child being kidnapped by a stranger are more remote than being hit by lightening or winning Powerball.

Alison Gopnick’s point is that as we attempt to remove risk from our children’s lives, we also remove their ability to solve problems, persevere through adversity, and deal with the inevitable uncertainties of life.

In a post-industrial world, exactly the skills that we need – innovation, creativity, risk-taking – are exactly the ones that we’re not encouraging in this very kind of narrow, competitive, academic parenting culture.
– Alison Gopnick, Ph.D.

Deep play – the kind that is unstructured, open and immersive – helps build critical thinking skills necessary for thriving later in life.

Kids then grow up and go to work. At our workplaces, most organizations set clear guidelines for behavior, and expectations for performance. Salespeople are expected to sell in a certain way. Programmers are expected to code using particular protocols. Marketing writers are expected to follow rules of copywriting, and product placement to drive customer influence. And everyone needs to keep track of what they do.

As a leader, instead of controlling people, try instead to change the environment and give opportunities for deep play by:

  • Changing the environment: schedule a walking meeting outside, meet at a different location, attend a conference or event with your team, ask your peers in other departments to flash mentor members of your team.
  • Pushing people to develop new skills: Encourage people to grow new capabilities by providing opportunities and encouragement to try new tasks, and take on new projects.
  • Giving autonomy: Define what needs to be done, not how to do it. Help team members envision best results, but let them decide how to accomplish the task.

Check out 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!

    ____________________________________________________

SmallActs-3DWe’re doing the best work of our lives right now at Mindscaling, a company designing custom curriculum, and building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can buy a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? 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.

How to Trigger a Great Day

Whatever you love to do, aspire to be, or dream of creating, keep at it.

Keep at it every day. Even if for just a bit. Think of it as your craft, something you need to stay close to, something that requires nurturing, like gardening or singing or cooking. If you don’t attend to it, you’ll lose your place, and lose your rhythm.

I went to boot camp this morning. It’s an exercise class I go to with my wife in the middle of the night at 5:15am. Or I used to go to. I haven’t been in weeks, and after I rubbed my eyes, and looked around during the warm-up I felt like I didn’t know half the people there. I turned to my friend Karen and whispered, “I haven’t been here for so long the clientele has turned over.” Even the warm-up routine was different. It’s called a routine, and it felt entirely new to me. That’s how long it had been. I had lost touch a little.

Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, says she writes a little bit every day, even if it’s only for 30 minutes. The novelist John Updike once said the best novels in the world were written less than an hour at a time. The National Cathedral in Washington D.C. was commissioned in 1907, and completed 83 years later in 1990. Which means it was started, and then completed over multiple professional lifetimes. To work on something that won’t be finished in your lifetime takes vision, and patience.

Think of your work, your dream, your aspiration as a verb, not a noun. In an interview we had recently with Aaron Hurst, author of The Purpose Economy, he talked about understanding our purpose as not a noun, but instead a verb. It’s an act of constantly becoming, not a destination.

It’s the same with all of our goals. If we want to become an athlete (noun), it happens through the constant, and diligent practice of exercising. If we want to write a book (noun), it happens through regular writing. And if we want to help build our communities, it happens one conversation at a time.

As we have learned from studies with Harvard researchers, making progress in work we find meaningful is the most powerful motivator of all. Money, praise, support, recognition, and vision are all important, but making progress has the biggest likelihood of triggering a feeling of a “great day.” The most common event triggering a “worst day” was a setback.

Focus on making incremental progress, identifying catalysts around you, and nourishing the progress of others. Uplifting others is also positive progress.

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!

    ____________________________________________________

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

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!

    ____________________________________________________

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

Innovate How You Innovate. Reward Creative Deviance.

HCL Technologies is a big company, with 117,000 employees and 7.4 billion in annual revenue, it’s big. And as a big company you might think it’s also slow to react, slow to innovate. Not quite. HCL has built innovation into the mindset of the people in the company and created a culture that can sometimes be intentionally, creatively subversive.

A few years ago, Krishnan Chatterjee, HCL Technology’s senior vice president of marketing, was approached by a group of young associates who wanted to create their own social media sharing environment, accessible only to the company’s employees. Kind of like their own internal Facebook. They were really excited about the idea.

They wanted to build their own private social media environment instead of licensing something else. Chatterjee objected. Chatterjee told them it was a waste of time. They could easily license social platforms such as Yammer, Chatter or Jive, make them readily available for HCL associates, and the company wouldn’t be responsible for the hosting and the maintenance of these external systems. So why build our own? Chatterjee isn’t opposed to innovation of course, but he is opposed to wasting time and energy.

The young engineers at HCL listened to Chatterjee’s advice, and then they did it anyway. They built an online forum, and called it MEME. MEME allows HCL employees to interact with their colleagues across the organization, and quickly attracted more than 50,000 members.

Initial reviews of the social media site were positive, and Chatterjee himself confesses to being a big fan and an active member. HCL Technologies has an average employee age of 26 and consistent double-digit growth, and innovative leaders need to understand they are invited to take initiative, regardless of where they sit on an organizational chart.

“In most companies people walk in and leave their true personality hanging on a hook outside like an overcoat. That’s not what we want at HCL.”
– Krishnan Chatterjee, HCL Technologies

But this particular project wouldn’t have happened if those junior programmers in the company had heeded the advice of their managers. Instead, they chose to persist in their creative subversion. Ultimately, of course, they were acknowledged, and rewarded by their bosses.

The advice is this: if you have a dream, stick with it, gather a following, and build, or at the very least prototype what you’re championing and proposing, because the farther along you get in your thinking and development, the more likely you are to build support. When you pitch an idea, start first by creating value before you create perceived risk.

Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges.

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.

The Hardest Part is Starting

Last summer a couple friends and I took our teenage kids and cycled across the United States from Seattle to Portland, Maine, and I can tell you the hardest part wasn’t doing it. The hardest part was getting to the starting line.

The adventure of cycling every day for two months in strange, beautiful places became part of our lifestyle. Doing it became as easy as our everyday lives. The hardest part was convincing ourselves and our kids to do it. Sure, there were some difficult moments on the trip. When we were tired we rested, when we were hungry we ate, and when we were bored we played in the river or went to the movies.

Life is full of unrealized dreams because we don’t know how to get started. Yet it turns out the hill isn’t as steep as it looks, the trail not as long as it looks once we get started. Experienced parkour athletes estimate the height of walls and fences lower than novices. Successful football field goal kickers estimate the upright posts as farther apart than less successful kickers. Golfers who are better at putting often describe the hole as “big as a bucket” or “as big as a basketball hoop.”

It’s not the doing part, it’s the starting that is almost always the hardest. Here are three useful ideas to get started.

Think About What Can Go Right.
What can go wrong is easy. 2:00am awake and wondering if your client will like the project you delivered, what the reviews will be on your most recent presentation, if your kids are exposed to bullying at school, the fact that you haven’t tipped our newspaper delivery guy and probably should, if you am ever going to finish this current book project, and generally if you should be doing something else with my life. That kind of stuff can go on if you let it.

It turns out that luck is a choice, and we can create positive outcomes often by imagining them.

A Little Stress is a Good Thing
I once had an interview with the master entrepreneur and writer Seth Godin. I asked him what does he do when he finds himself in a stressful moment. He said he reminds himself that he is in exactly the right place. What he means, of course, is that when we place ourselves in challenging situations, we have the opportunity to accelerate our learning, become more resilient and gain new skills and insight.

“I think intermittent stressful events are probably what keeps the brain more alert, and you perform better when you are alert.” – Daniela Kaufer, University of California

Find People Who Have Done It
Other people who have been there, done that, are more trust-worthy advisors than your own instincts. But you won’t believe them anyway. In a study entitled, “The Surprising Power of Neighborly Advice,” Dan Gilbert and his colleagues demonstrated repeatedly that the advice of others, who had experienced what the participants were contemplating, was consistently a better predictor of happiness, and positive outcomes. The reason we are likely to reject the advice of others is because we overestimate our uniqueness. We think we are special.

“We don’t believe other people’s experiences can tell us all that much about our own. I think this is an illusion of uniqueness.” – Dan Gilbert, Harvard University

The research suggests we should get over ourselves, give trust and listen thoughtfully to those who have gone before us.

    ____________________________________________________

Shawn 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

What’s Your Habit Trigger?

“In a nutshell, advice is overrated. I can tell you something, and it’s got a limited chance of making its way into your brain’s hippocampus, the region that encodes memory. If I can ask you a question and you generate the answer yourself, the odds increase substantially.” – Michael Bungay Stanier

Recently, I had a habit I was trying to get rid of. Sometimes I was in a bad mood in the morning. It’s a drag. It affects everyone in the house and sets me up for a distracted, frustrated day.

One morning, my wife’s alarm went off at 6:15am, which is fine since it’s not my alarm. It’s her alarm. I don’t use alarms. Don’t be impressed, I just don’t need one. If I want to wake up, at maybe 6:30am, I just tell myself to and I will open my eyes at 6:29am. It’s not a superpower, it’s just a thing I have. I can’t remember the last time I set an alarm.

So when my wife’s alarm goes off at 6:15am, it can’t be for me because, like I said, I don’t set alarms. Then she says, “We should help get Annie ready for the bus.” But I don’t hear we. In my mind I hear, “You have to get up and get Annie ready for the bus.”

So I get annoyed and say, “What would you like me to do?” Which instantly I know is a stupid thing to say becomes it comes from a place of resentment. To which she says, “I don’t want you to do anything. I want you to do whatever you want to do.” She’s smart that way. She doesn’t get baited easily.

Now my day is now only 60 seconds old and already I’m annoyed. I close my eyes and ask myself a new question, what is the most useful thing I could do right now? Then I answer myself, the most useful thing I could do right now is gently wake up Annie, make the coffee, and prepare her breakfast. So that’s what I do.

And suddenly I’m not frustrated, resentful and annoyed, because all of my actions have a different intention. My motivation is to be helpful, not to satisfy what I imagine to be someone else’s expectations. If the goal is to be helpful there’s nothing to be resentful about. By recognizing what triggers my bad mood, and then choosing a different response to that trigger, I changed my outlook and changed my day.

Take a tip from a master of understanding habits, Charles Duhigg. In order to change a habit, we first have to:

Understand the trigger. According to Duhigg there are only 5 types of habit triggers: location, time, emotion, people, and the preceding action. The goal is to be as specific as possible in identifying the trigger. For example, “I get annoyed (emotion) when my boss Sally (person) reviews my project report each week (time).”

Next identify the usual response. So if your usual response is to make a smart-ass comment to Sally and then fall into a funk for the next hour and complain to your colleagues, you should clearly outline and understand, with as much detail as you can imagine, what your habitual response is. Envision what you usually do each week when the trigger occurs.

Finally, define a new behavior. Envision reacting to that trigger in a new way. Again, be specific and imagine something that takes very little time, only a minute or less. Imagine your very first response being different. For example when responding to Sally, you might say “How would you approach this problem?” And then really listen to the answer. Don’t wait for your turn to talk. Listen to what Sally has to say. If you think her suggestion isn’t constructive, instead of reacting, keep your remarks to yourself, then let it go.

Remember you can’t change someone else, that’s up to them, but you can have a new response and develop a new habit whenever you’re around them.

When we change our questions, we change the way we see the world. We change the results. See Question Thinking with Marilee Adams. Message me and I’ll send access to preview the course. It’s awesome.

    ____________________________________________________

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