My latest post on Harvard Business Review: Four Lessons from the best Bosses I Ever had
My latest post on Harvard Business Review: Four Lessons from the best Bosses I Ever had
One of the most amazing leaders I’ve ever met, Mike Waite, President of Menasha Packaging Corporation, believes his job is making sure his people get to live their dreams. While profit, revenue, shareholder value etc. are critical, without his people’s ability to turn dreams into reality – for customers and for themselves – there is no revenue, profit or anything else…simple…and too rare. Mike is Menasha’s ODE, Official Dream Enabler.
Dreams allow us to think of what could be, of what is possible - maybe not probable, but possible. That’s why dreams are innovation’s fuel. We know what happens to organizations that don’t innovate - look at the 1990 Fortune 100 list.
We are innately creators and dreamers. Somewhere along the way, for most of us, we are taught, encouraged, required to push those inherent capabilities to the back and obey the status quo (e.g., public education). So how do we become an ODE to innovation?
My friend Whitney Johnson’s book, Dare, Dream, Do, provides a framework for becoming an ODE to our people and ourselves. It provides a roadmap for risking to and realizing dreams – both for individuals and more broadly organizations. If individuals aren’t allowed to dream, how can teams and organizations?
Three quotes in the book stick in my mind:
Do you define your role, your success, by the ability of your people, let alone yourself, to dream?
Do you allow your people, yourself, the freedom and autonomy to turn dreams into reality?
After some tweet and email discussions with Anne Marie Slaughter and Cali Williams Yost about Anne Marie’s article on The Atlantic, and the uproar about Marissa Mayer becoming Yahoo’s CEO while she is pregnant, I decided to weigh in. Finally, we are having an honest discussion of “having it all” instead of perpetuating a fairly tale. While this has mainly been viewed as a ‘woman’s’ issue, it is a very human issue.
The phrase “having it all” is a huge part of the problem. First, no human being can have it all, regardless of gender. Second, as an advocate of Buber’s “I-Thou”, the focus of “having it all” is on I, not Thou. I firmly believe that focusing on “I” always leads to disappointment (in ourselves and others), dissatisfaction with one’s life and an addiction to seeking satisfaction and happiness. It leads to judging others and ourselves by what we don’t have but want, what we feel we are entitled to and what we did or didn’t do. It leads to a treadmill of keeping up and keeping ahead. It reinforces a binary world of it’s “me” or “them” - either/or – not “us”, not “and”. Throughout my career, when I focus on the “Thou”, helping my clients’ solve challenges and innovate resulting in growth, jobs, philanthropy, the “I” takes care of itself. When I focus on the needs of others, clients, entrepreneurs and students I mentor, my network, my own business grows as well, allowing me to do more “Thou”… a virtuous and incredibly rewarding (oh, “I”!) cycle.
My journey of work+life has been blessedly based on “I-Thou” + “AND”, very progressive for its time. Growing up in Bell Labs, I was very spoiled with a great deal of freedom, intellectual stimulation, and no sense of gender discrimination. It was a discovery ‘factory’ that sought AND solutions. My bosses were mentors who led with “I-Thou”:
When I said I was quitting to move to Oberlin, OH to marry my husband in 1988, AT&T/Bell Labs offered to move me if I wouldn’t quit…another “I-Thou” moment. My management made the case for paying to move me to Oberlin and pay for weekly commutes than lose me. For 9 years I flew to NJ every week and to Europe or Asia monthly, was given a laptop with global network access, a cell phone and a fully equipped home office. When I had children, with fabulous maternity-leave and benefits, I returned to work from home, no travel, part-time – keeping my same level and responsibilities. I was able to do very meaningful, impacting work because I demonstrated my talent and my management recognized my worth.
I love what I do. I am passionate (and blessed) about the impact my work can have on my clients’ business, employees and communities, my mentees, “portfolio companies” - professionally, organizationally and even personally. I find it difficult to separate my passion for my ‘work’ from my passion for ‘life’ and hope to impart that to my children. I pray they find an ‘avocation’ that integrates the various aspects of their lives. I want them to know that they can impact the world in many ways – from career to marriage to parenthood to friendships etc.; that their solution is an AND, not Either/Or. The workplace is evolving, in fits and starts as it fights the status quo, to make this goal more achievable than in the past.
We’ve all make trade-offs in our lives. It’s impossible not to. Anne Marie Slaughter’s essay makes it clear that these are personal choices that require honest and straightforward discussion without judgment. This is not to say that we don’t have an issue with women’s accessibility to influence and power in the ‘corporate’ world. We do. But we need to ease up on prescribing and focus on enabling solutions that meet the needs of the working person as a whole: as an employee, parent, spouse, sibling, child, community member, etc. It’s messy – welcome to the 21st C! Everything is a ‘mess’ – and what a blessing! This messiness is the foundation of change, transformation and innovation. Perhaps we needed to reach this point to finally create flexible, agile, nimble solutions that don’t discriminate between “work” and “life”. This is the century of AND not Either/Or…of trying to ‘give it all’ vs. ‘have it all’.
So, what can you do to evolve to an “I-Thou” management style, culture, habit? How can you leverage that to help you and your employees create an AND solution? How can you avoid creating a false choice of Either/Or? How can you change your perspective and leverage the opportunity this ‘mess’ provides to create incredible outcomes for Thou’s?
My previous post on serendipity and randomness has caused a #RCUS (Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects via Saul Kaplan)! Many of you have commented, shared personal experiences of Random “happy accidents” and cited “serendipity” research. Thank you!
Let’s look at the 2nd letter – C: Collisions. It originated in the early 15th Century as the Middle Frenchcollision from the same period of Latin collisionen, “a dashing together”. The definitions imply a variety of outcomes: 1) the act or process of colliding; a crash or conflict; 2) Physics: a brief dynamic event consisting of the close approach of two or more particles, such as atoms, resulting in an abrupt change of momentum or exchange of energy [emphasis mine]. While the first definition is rather violent, and innovation can arise from major clashes and conflicts, the 2nd definition is closer to type of Collision in #RCUS.
Think about the people you have met, collided into (virtually or literally), and the relationships and results – personal and professional. Here are but a very few, examples:
What do these have in common? In each of these, the collision caused a big change of momentum, an exchange of energy to say the least. Something ‘new’ came from each of these: relationships, kids, ways to work, corporate cultures, products, and ways to collaborate. The sum of the parts is indeed greater than the parts. The Collision formed new ‘stuff’ – intangible and tangible. It’s not just about running into someone and having a nice chat; it’s about running into someone that creates enough energy to create more energy and more collisions. That’s what is so exciting and energizing. When you meet someone and create something together, isn’t that just amazing? It’s almost hard to express how profound it can be. This has, blessedly, been the story of my life at many levels, so I’m a little enthusiastic. The power of the collisions’ outcomes can create solutions to wicked problems, can change ghettos into urban neighborhoods, can transform a stagnant corporation into a living company, can create vaccines for horrid diseases, and can change just one life.
So, my usual question – what collisions have been transformative for you? How did they happen? What new ‘thing’ came from them? Where will your next collision come from? Please continue to share your Randoms and Collisions in the comments, on twitter, or to me! #RCUS on!
Look at a few of the ones we use: Job Security, Jobless Recovery, Criminal Justice, Great Depression, Graphic Language, Organized Chaos, Budget Deficit (and many government related ones for the “realistic cynics”). Saul Kaplan tweeted one of my favorites “Being an innovator is both a blessing (always finding a better way) & a curse (job is never done)”.
It’s the denotation, not connotation that makes these phrases oxymorons. We use them unwittingly – not really thinking about the inherent paradox, and implications, in our every day language. We have become inured to the real meaning. But does this translate to how we approach innovation or strategy? Rarely! When looking at innovation opportunities, oxymorons and paradoxes are used as barriers: how can we really put a process & discipline to innovation? How can we support open innovation and retain our intellectual property? What we miss is that inherent is an oxymoron or paradox lays the opportunity to innovate! It’s the AND, the BOTH, not the Either/Or.
One of my very dear friends is my archetype for oxymoron and paradox. Matt is the 3rdgeneration running his family’s business, Thogus. He has created amazing new business models, new approaches to existing and new markets, fired customers that didn’t fit the new paradigm, sees the world as it could and should be and is making that real. He doesn’t hesitate to try, experiment, prototype, iterate unceasingly. He embodies invention and innovation in how he manages the business, including how he defines management itself (see Chapter 11 of Radical Management by Steve Denning). Result? Matt has doubled the business and dramatically improved the culture since he took over from his mother 2 years ago. Pretty radical huh? And he is. And every morning, Matt has the same breakfast, gets to the office the same time, drives the same way – lots of ‘same’ in his life. Matt is a paradox – he is extremely innovative and creative AND very tied to, dependent upon, daily habits and patterns. It’s hard to argue with either of these traits and its successes.
What are the oxymorons and paradoxes in your business? Your organization? You? How can you embrace them, find the opportunities within them, celebrate them, make more of them? Please share your thoughts and comments here or email me if you want, but let’s start collecting some of the great oxymorons of the 21st Century!!!