What Do Respect and Agreement Have to do With It?

If I say it louder, then you’ll agree.  If I say it more, then you’ll agree. You must not be listening or hearing me if you don’t agree with me.  And, if you don’t agree with me, you don’t respect me!

Sound familiar? Maybe you grew up in a house like this.  Maybe your management treats you like this.  Maybe you treat your employees like this. Guess what? It’s total BS.

Growing up, my parents made me read things that disagreed with my view to help me critically hone, or change, my opinions, understand different perspectives and learn.

The last several months have shown us the depth of disagreement in our families, cities, country and world.  Saying it louder or more won’t make it right and make it so. We need to listen to others respectfully and thoughtfully, and then agree or disagree, just as we want them to listen to us. Disagreeing does not and should not mean, by default, lack of respect.

So, how about trying at least once this week to really listen to someone you disagree with.  See it from their perspective.   You don’t need to increase the volume or frequency, just talk and listen.  Maybe you’ll learn that respect and agreement aren’t synonymous.  So, try it! Model it, encourage it – and let me know!

Light the Fire and Clear the Path

In Jon Mertz’s new book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders, Jon talks about Soul Sparks:

“Soul sparks are those small ignitions of inspiration that fan into big changes, new directions, or fresh works. They come from deep down inside. Make your body and mind shake with excitement. These are soul sparks.” 

I am blessed to have had bosses who saw soul sparks in me and gave me opportunities to develop and spread them. These bosses mentored and supported my soul sparks up to the highest levels of the company and made sure I succeeded.  They viewed their job as lighting the fire and clearing the path for me.  Because that was how I was managed and led from the start of my career, because that was really all I personally and gratefully knew, that was how I managed and led others; how could I know otherwise?

Just as one candle lights another and can light thousands of other candles, so one heart illuminates another heart and can illuminate thousands of other hearts. ~ Leo Tolstoy

In my career, I’ve helped clients ignite soul sparks and surpass goals we thought were long shots.  I’ve had C-suiters give air cover to employees with soul sparks that when implemented changed industries, delivered value propositions for their customers’ customers and created opportunities for new hires and employee growth.   Needless to say, this is fun, rewarding and keeps sparks spreading.

Perhaps most joyful has been fueling soul sparks with Millennials I’m privileged to mentor who also mentor me.  Serendipitously, many of their stories are posted on Swearer Sparks! I love “my” Millennials sense of entitlement.  Yes! Entitlement –of being entitled to pursue their soul sparks to change the world and ignite soul sparks in others.  

Soul Sparks challenge orthodoxy

Sidney Kusher founded CCChampions as a junior in college to match kids going through the horrors of cancer treatment with pro athletes and heroes, to help them feel like champions.   Sidney’s soul spark changes the lives of these kids, their families, their doctors and nurses and their “champions” in ways he never could have anticipated.  And it changes the lives of those of us who have been a part of this journey.   I’ve been privileged to help Sidney keep the spark going when the daily frustrations of managing a staff, fundraising, and emotional drain of cancer’s reality take a toll. But soul sparks cannot be contained.  Soul sparks are contagious.  I don’t know who benefits more – Sidney when I help him be the leader at 24 I wasn’t at 30 or me from his wisdom, honestly and authenticity.  Despite the rapid growth of kids in need without the rapid growth in staff to support it, CCChampions March Madness March to Friendship surpassed all expectations and broke records – raising enough funds to support 40 new kids with cancer! 

Soul Sparks ignite when the focus is on others, not on oneself.

Jayson Marwaha and Han Sheng Chia started MED-International as sophomores in college providing medical equipment and tools for maintenance in emerging markets.  They started in Zanzibar with incubators and X-ray machines that were too ‘old’ for us in America.  Computer science and engineering students caught the spark, developing tools to track and repair equipment so it could be up and running to save and heal lives.  MED tried to grow into other emerging markets, but no viable business model emerged. After a summer of research in Tanzania and Ghana, they realized that to scale and impact patient care, they needed to be on the ground most of the time.  As a board member, I should have pushed shutting the business down earlier, since there was no viable path to profitability.  As a mentor, I knew they needed to come to that conclusion on their own, having tried all possibilities.  In the end, they created an elegant, gracious and compassionate solution – they open-sourced the software so it can be used in any hospital anywhere in the world.  In the four years MED was running, it saved lives.  Not many of us can claim that.

Soul Sparks are real.  They drive us to innovate and to make an impact.  So what will you do to ignite the Soul Spark in others? Find a way, because it will ignite a spark within you!


This post is part of a community-wide initiative on Soul Sparks celebrating the launch of Jon Mertz’s book, Activate Leadership: Aspen Truths to Empower Millennial Leaders.  Please read it and visit his site, Thin Difference

52 Ways to Build Trust

Many thanks to Barbara Kimmel of Trust Across AmericaTM for letting me contribute to Trust Inc.: 52 Weeks of Activities and Inspiriations for Building Worldplace Trust (Vol 3.).  My mantra, Experiment-Learn-Apply-Iterate, is a way to start building trust in one's own capabilities and one's team (pg 29).  Get the book, try out these various ways and you'll be surprised at how it works! (And if you want, buy Vol 1 & 2 as well (ok, i'm in Volume 1 too)).

Death by Data

Data isn’t important in decision-making. What? Shocking! Then why aren’t we shocked when someone says that all decisions must be totally data driven? Perhaps it depends what we mean by data, which is usually something quantitative. 

We need to get out into the world and gather data by watching, observing, listening, asking – qualitative data. We don’t live in a binary world – it’s not either-or, it’s and-both.  We need quantitative and qualitative data. We need to consider both equally valid forms of data.  After all, as the sociologist William Bruce Cameron said (guess Einstein didn’t *),

Not everything that can be counted counts. Not everything that counts can be counted.”

Quantitative data needs to be part of the equation, part, not all.  More and more I see companies defining “data” as purely quantitative, dismissing or minimizing, at their peril, the importance of the qualitative.  Quantitative data can tell us a lot.  It an also tell us little.  Quantitative data has limitations – as does everything. These limitations are because the data usually is…

  • About existing “stuff”. It tells us about our current features, functions, customers and markets.  It tells us what customers are [stuck] using now, not what they really want.  It doesn’t tell us what our “stuff” could become or what new customers, markets and applications are out there;
  • Based in the present or the past.  We don’t have much ‘future’ data: what will, could, should or might be and what we could do to make that happen;
  • A glimpse in time.  It can be a year, five years, ten years, but it’s always piece of the bigger picture;At the Edge (Pemaquid Point, ME)
  • About the what, where, why and maybe even how, but rarely the why. Data usually doesn’t tell us much about fringe factors or trends that impact it.  It’s hard to have data show us the subtle societal, cultural, behavioral “whys” of influence;
  • Used to make things more efficient instead of more effective. Yes, efficiency (or optimization to be more eloquent) still rules for most of business today.  Data helps us figure out to eliminate unnecessary steps, improve productivity, reduce costs, etc.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us why things need to be improved in the first place or new, different ways of doing, period.

As I like to tell my engineering students, most of today’s wicked problems aren’t optimization problems; they are system and design problems.  Think of the remote controls on your den table! Optimization issues are a symptom, not a root cause.  Data doesn’t necessarily tell us how to make the problem go away because it doesn’t tell us why the problem is there in the first place.  We have to actually get out of the office and look at how the problem is being addressed, not addressed, or not well enough by human beings.  We need to see how things are organized, structured, laid out, used, not used and under what conditions, circumstances and contexts. 

Data can tell us a whole lot about how our sites and stores and companies are working or not working, but data can’t necessarily tell us the whys – why it is or isn’t working, or working well enough. Without getting out and observing reality first-hand with all our five senses, we risk optimizing our organization into extinction. 

* http://quoteinvestigator.com/2010/05/26/everything-counts-einstein/

When Did Accountability Become Passé?

From customers’ and suppliers’ viewpoint, Company X is fast growing, exciting, and high-energy. Inside, though,Diamantini & Domeniconi and designed by Tak Cheung  it’s a tornado. Fighting fires, arguing over who committed to what, why it didn’t happen, and noticing things that fell through the cracks in just enough time is normal.

How can this happen when they have weekly departmental meetings, keep track of action items, and post projects and timelines everywhere? Easily! There is no accountability. They don’t hold each other accountable for commitments. They’ve seen what happens when you fail, and it isn’t pretty, which undermines individual commitment. Requesters frequently change their minds, reprioritize, or create new, more urgent projects without ever really closing the loop on the old ones.

The Bell Labs culture I grew up in had a strong sense of accountability. When you’re working on things that literally change the world, it’s easy to be committed to something bigger than yourself. The “Labs” culture meant failure was a viable option. Success was discovery and application, not climbing a corporate ladder. At AT&T, the culture was the opposite. While I was privileged to have great management, the majority of AT&T focused on the bottom line. Failure was not an option. When I left AT&T and started working with many companies, I realized this culture was more the norm, not Bell Labs. That’s why I believe culture creates (at least?) two reasons for people’s struggle with accountability.

First is the fear of failure. Even before kindergarten, we’re taught failure is bad. What if we can’t do it or do it right or something goes wrong? So, we whittle down the scope, involve others so blame can be shared, make resource requests we know won’t fly, or let our fear hold us back from really creative solutions.

Since “failure is not an option” is still the modus operandi in most organizations and the odds of success are never certain, accepting accountability can be very risky. What if I can’t deliver? What if the people I need to work with won’t make the time or collaborate? What if factors I can’t control impede or inhibit success? Will I get a poor performance appraisal? Will I lose prestige, status, or my promotion? If there is a downturn, am I going to get cut? Unfortunately, these are natural, normal responses to accountability.

Accountability means putting our word and reputation on the line. Someone is counting on us — and we should care that someone is counting on us. If failure’s not an option, that can feel like too much of responsibility — or a liability — to take on.

The second problem is a lack of commitment on either or both sides. Either we don’t believe the request is important enough to make us change our priorities, or we don’t trust the “asker” to keep his end of the commitment. If the requester keeps changing his mind, his priorities or timelines, then it’s tough to accept accountability for the outcome. Trade-offs have to be made which means sacrifice — of time, priorities, perhaps things we are passionate about. Accountability works both ways, and if one party isn’t really committed, it can undermine the entire project.

Realities of 21st century business make accountability even more daunting. In the “old” days, a commitment’s path to success was fairly clear, linear, defined and prescriptive: follow this framework or process, and you’ll get there. Today, the path is usually messy, ambiguous, paradoxical, and maybe unknown. We may need to create our own frameworks and processes. It’s a discovery, not a prescriptive process, with many ways to get where we’re going, not “a” way to succeed. Success itself has changed; it used to be via a tangible output, a new product or service, a “thing” based more on what was probable than possible. Success today can be both tangible and intangible, like new learnings, viewpoints, networks, or opportunities, where we look for what is not just probable, but possible.

So, how do we help our cultures, ourselves, our people overcome the fear of failure and commit in a uncertain world? I have a few suggestions based on my experience in both accountable, and unaccountable, company cultures:

  • Communicate100. Communicate why the request is important to the organization, to both of you, and how it’s fulfillment will make a difference. What may seem trivial to us may be profound to someone else. To commit, we need to believe in something bigger than just ourselves or the organization, such as the mission and purpose of the organization. That is how we start changing behavior and making new habits.
  • Make sure that you’re present to support the request and remove or mitigate obstacles. Meet regularly to identify potential challenges and opportunities before they become a major problem.
  • Re-prioritize responsibilities and tasks to allow the person or team to complete the request. Don’t just add on. Not everything is urgent and important. Seriously, show your commitment to the request you’ve made. If it’s not worth re-prioritizing, then it isn’t worth asking.
  • Create ways to eliminate or minimize the stigma of failure. Focus on what’s been learned and how that applies, watch how you react to and treat the person, how you discuss it with others affected by the result and how you let it impact that person’s future success in the organization. Even if you can’t change the organization’s performance management process, your own personal demeanor and handling has an enormous impact.

I’ve also started to experiment with using the classic virtues to help improve accountability, but don’t have enough data’ to posit it as a suggestion above yet (though it can’t hurt).

Accountability is important on so many levels — professionally and personally. Let’s create the environment where it’s easier to have it be the norm than not.

Originally published in Harvard Business Review

Communication Is Not A Fairy-Tale

"Once upon a time, NYFM (Not-Your-Father’s-Manufacturer), a very old,
established company, decided they needed to drastically change in order to grow and be around many more decades.  So, they created a highly disruptive ‘bet-your-career’ strategic plan.  And they lived happily ever after." Believe that? Maybe Fairy Tales do come true.... 
Communication is Not A Fairy Tale is part of the series “Communication,” a weeklong effort co-hosted by Switch & Shift and the good people at SmartBrief’s SmartBlog on Leadership.  


Result of a #RCUS? Libyian & California Kids Sharing Art

Have you just started grinning when reading something? This post by Tomas Quinonez-Riegos will do just that! While being the international program director for iTeach, using video to teach English to kids all over the world (e.g., Cambodia, Panama, etc.) and spending his first semester junior year in Japan, Tomas has started yet another new venture, which he shares with us here.  How did this come about? By Random Collisions of Unusual Suspects #RCUS!  Read on, revel in his excitement and in the impact it can have.

Just over two months ago as I wrapped up my preparations for a semester abroad in Kyoto, Japan, I decided to take a quick look at the TED activity in the area.  I am an unashamed fanboy and was curious to see how I could get involved in the TED community of Japan.  To my utter delight, I discovered that there was to be a TEDxKyoto conference during my second weekend in the city.  I applied immediately, held my breath, and let out a shout of joy and excitement a few days later when I was accepted.  On the day of the conference I arrived nearly an hour before the doors even opened to make sure that there was absolutely nothing I would miss, nothing I didn’t experience.  I had to make sure that I was able to soak up every last drop of TED that was offered.  I was not disappointed.  My twelve hours at the conference was an unbelievably stimulating torrent of inspiration, passion, and elegance that began with the gorgeous piece by a 13th generation Noh performer and continued with a series of Japanese and foreign speakers giving talks on their incredibly innovative work and honest personal stories.  From the artist who sat next to me to the people I met during the intermittent break periods, I found only openness and warm hearts.  One particular encounter, however, has carried on well beyond the conference.

During the lunch period we were served small, boxed meals and encouraged, in the collaborative spirit of TED, to sit and converse with other attendees we had not met or did not know.  After I received my lunch box, the man "Introduce Yourself" Drawing by California kid to Libyian Kidwho happened to be behind me in line met my eye and he complimented me on my bowtie.  I thanked him and as we started to walk toward the dining tables he asked me if I was sitting with anyone.  I told him that I was recently arrived into Kyoto and knew almost nobody, so I suggested that we sit together.  As we made light conversation I learned he was a 30-year old salary-man working at a pharmaceutical company in nearby Osaka.  When I asked him why he came to the conference, what he hoped to gain, he completely lit up.  He told me that although he is more or less satisfied with his day-job, he is a staunch believer the idea of art as a means of universal communication and dreamed about somehow connecting communities of children around the world through their artwork.  I was absolutely thrilled by the idea and could hardly contain my excitement as we bounced ideas off of each other, and furiously brainstormed the potential of the concept until the end of the lunch period.  The remainder of the conference fanned the spark we had ignited such that before we parted ways, we had decided on a follow-up meeting in Osaka a few days later.

From that meeting, the organization He(ART) Exchange was born.  The concept behind the project is that dialogue between communities that share neither cultural, geographical, nor linguistic commonalities is not only"Introduce Yourself" Drawing by a California kid to a Libyian kid possible, but critical to developing well-rounded understandings of today’s world.  By using weekly art projects as the “language” of this dialogue, students have a “conversation” with their partners abroad and in so doing are not only exposed to the lived reality of other cultures and peoples, but also develop an understanding of art as a valid and powerful tool of self-expression.  This, I believe, will have lasting effects as participants will perhaps one day be able to use their art to deal with and confront the various obstacles they will face throughout the remainder of their life.  From this idea, we developed a rough organizational model, and as my partner worked on developing the website and the legal documents, I began reaching out to schools, teachers, and educational non-profits in my network.  After three weeks we had finalized our first partnership between two middle schools in California and Libya, with schools in Panamá, Argentina, Indonesia, and Japan also interested in the project.  At this point we are still not sure what the impact of the project will be, yet based on the enthusiasm thus far from the teachers and students, we will try it out regardless.  I, for one, look forward to observing what eventually will sprout from the program.  I expect we may be pleasantly surprised. 

Strangulation Of The Status Quo - Lessons from the 19th Century

In light of the recent unrest in Turkey, Brasil and the ongoing effects of the Arab Spring, I thought this was worth reposting...

If you haven’t seen the [new] Les Misérables movie you should. It powerfully portrays many of today’s issues: poverty, inequality and inequity, the struggle of self-organized groups versus command-and-control and liberty to name a few. Most profoundly, it speaks to the overwhelming and dangerous hold of the status quo on our minds and souls.

The battle between the new and the status quo is epitomized in the relationship between Javert, a policeman ingrained the life of Law and Order, and Valjean, a reformed ex-con who through grace and freedom has become a just and caring businessman in the community. Javert, unable to receive Valjean’s grace and freedom, actually kills himself instead of accepting a world where compassion and understanding counterbalance the rule of Law, a world most of us prefer.

So what does this have to do with business? A lot. On first blush, the lesson is the stranglehold of the status quo binding us to the present, and past, so we are unable to see the benefits of anything different. The present may not even be great, but we know it and how to deal with it.

Change is scary, threatening. We will have to learn new things and maybe we won’t be able to. Then what? It also means risk, risk means failure and failure is punished. None of these options are good.

So what do we, our people, our organizations do? We shut down. We show up, do our jobs, follow policies and procedures and check our hearts, souls and even minds at ‘the door’. We know what that does to growth, profitability and purpose!

On a deeper level, it highlights the death throws of a binary world so many of us cling to: yes and no, either or, good and evil, America vs. the USSR.

The new world is grey. It requires integrating disparate ideas, accepting paradoxes, looking for the And Both instead of Either Or, combining things in new ways. . . which leads to freedom, to innovation and growth and solutions to real customer needs and wicked problems.

It leads to loosening some of the harsh, unjust shackles of the Law through Compassion. Let’s face it, it’s much easier to live in a black and white world where we know the rules, we know what’s expected, the probability of failure is much lower.

That binary world doesn’t exist anymore and actually, never did. It was an illusion that lasted a century. Increasingly, we define our jobs, blur lines of responsibility, integrate once discrete disciplines (e.g., design and engineering), and experiment and iterate instead of perfect. While a grey world may be scary to some, it unleashes innovation and new ways to realize profits that can create meaningful outcomes.

Javert’s Suicide Soliloquy shows the glaring self-destruction inherent in status quo’s black and white world – a world so stark that Javert views freedom as another chain (“hold dominion”) and chooses death:

What sort of devil is he [Valjean] to have me caught in a trap and choose to let me go free…

Vengeance was his and he gave me back my life!

Damned if I’ll live in the debt of a thief! Damned if I’ll yield at the end of a chase…

How can I now allow this man to hold dominion over me…

He gave me my life. He gave me my freedom…

And must I now being to doubt, who never doubted all these years?

The world I have known is lost in shadow

So what does this mean to us? Hopefully, none of us will hold so desperately to the status quo that’d we’d rather literally die than adapt. Make sure your organization's culture doesn't either.

This originally appeared in Tanveer Naseer's Blog

Collaboration for the Long Term

I'm re-posting from the archives because the issue of real, authentic collaboration has been coming up a few times a lot lately, especially in light of the Vulnerability & Trust Leadership Paradox radio showJohn Hagel, Saul Kaplan and Mike Waite did with me a few weeks ago.  Menasha Packaging has a legacy of integrity and authenticity - going back 164 years. These posts demonstrate their commitment to team work, collaboration and how they value their people.... read on, re-read on and listen and learn - so many gems of wisdom in here.

Sustaining Collaboration for Decades: Part I
Sustaining Collaboration for Decades: Part II 

Innovation High-Five

This is a guest post by Tim KippleyGeneca Vice President, Account Strategy and Growth.  In this post, Tim Kippley Tim shares one of the experiments Geneca is running to give its people opportunities to explore new ideas. So far, so good.  It is a journey and I hope we can follow Geneca's path of experimenting-learning-applying-iterating and learn for ourselves. 

By Tim Kippley:

Jeff Bezos, one of the planet’s greatest innovators, once said that: “You need a culture that high-fives small and innovative ideas and senior executives [that] encourage ideas.” 

The Value of Innovation at Geneca 

I have long felt that companies can’t survive without innovating. Fortunately, I work at an organization (a custom software development firm) that also views innovation as basic to our growth:

  • It reinforces our company culture and promotes deeper Genecian engagement;
  • It enhances our brand by allowing us to do more good within our communities and deliver more value to our clients;
  • It improves the ability of our recruiting team to attract creative, out-of-the-box thinkers;
  • And it drives growth by generating ideas that require new capabilities with the potential to create additional sources of revenue, whether direct or indirect.    

During 2012, creating a process for internal innovation moved to our priority list. Because the culture at Geneca encourages personal and professional development and there was buy-in from the leadership team, the preconditions for innovation already were in place.   

The Innovation Group is Born

The innovation initiative was born from our Organizational Growth Team, a cross-functional internal team formed in 2011 to focus on investing in Genecians, evolving our capabilities, and predictably delivering value to clients.

Early in 2012, the team created ideas to impact each of these areas and voted on innovation as the common denominator.  The team then hosted a brainstorming event with the entire company on how to encourage innovation at Geneca.  From this we developed an action plan for the year, starting with the development of a charter statement for our new innovation initiative:  

Innovation Charter: The innovation initiative is to foster a culture of innovation, creativity, and teamwork within Geneca.  Geneca’s pledge is to support this initiative in the form of time (e.g. providing time-codes to track innovation work), environment (e.g. space and tools that help drive innovation), and mindset (e.g. encourage Genecians to change the physics and challenge the perceived norms)

Our next step was kicking off our first Innovation Challenge.

The First Geneca Innovation Challenge

Shark Tank Winner, Jack Morrissey and Tim. Winning Idea is GRITThe first Geneca Innovation Challenge was divided into two events, an Innovation Meet-up followed by an innovation “Shark Tank” event for finalists.

The Meet-up was modeled after "Startup Weekend," the global grassroots for active entrepreneurs looking for feedback, knowledge, and support to launch successful ventures.  Each of the 15 participating Genecians had about 3 minutes to pitch their idea.  Each attendee had five votes to use on one or more of the ideas.  Although we did not specify the number of finalists, six finalists clearly emerged. 

There were no specific criteria posted for this event – purposefully.  We wanted this event to ignite enthusiasm and increase overall engagement within Geneca.  We wanted people to use their own criteria in voting for the ideas that they thought were the coolest, most fun and engaging, even if the idea had nothing to do with our business.

From social media tools to business process gamification to digital wallets, we received over a dozen great ideas.  Six innovations moved on to the Shark Tank:

  • Internal recognition and award tracking system called  GRIT (Geneca Recognition Instilment Tool);
  • iPhone app for drinking establishments to scan and detect alcohols level according to bottle size; 
  • GPS augmented reality game;
  • CrowdLunching application for local lunch deliveries; 
  • Online tool to retrieve documents and track changes for project documents;
  • Digital wallet with QR payments.     

Once in the Shark Tank, the requirements become more specific.

Bring in the Shark Tank

Geneca’s executive team met to discuss the objectives and criteria for the Shark Tank.  We made a clear decision to emphasize the positive aspects of each presentation and to encourage the finalists to continue working on their ideas.  We also told those not selected that it wasn't the end of Geneca's support -- they would continue to receive help and coaching if they wanted to further develop their ideas.  They had the option to resubmit at the next innovation event.

Next, the executive team defined the criteria for evaluating the ideas:

  • Is the idea cool, fun, and/or does it provide learning opportunities for Genecians?
  • What is the potential for monetizing the idea?  If not, are there nontangible benefits to Geneca?
  • Does this support/enhance the Geneca brand? (If not, it must be higher on the monetization side)
  • What is the overhead (cost of support/resources)?

After the criteria was defined, the Innovation Team met with each finalist individually to discuss the highlights of their idea and business plan.  Each finalist was expected to cover the following areas during their presentation: 

  • Business Description (including the walk-thru /"day in the life" of the idea, etc.)
  • Market Analysis and Customers
  • Competitive Landscape
  • The Company
  • Marketing Strategy
  • Sales Strategy
  • Financial Projections – including cost to develop/build
  • Operational Strategy
  • Mgmt. / Ownership

The executive team conducted multiple one-on-one sessions with the finalists, coaching them on their business plan.  One unforeseen benefit was that each finalist really got the opportunity to learn what’s involved in developing a business and gained an appreciation for the strategic effort that goes into growing an idea into a business.  Not only did each finalist feel that this was a really positive experience, the excitement spread within Geneca as well.

And the Winner Is … GRIT  

In order to set expectations, the executive team made it clear that there was a possibility that we would choose none of the ideas -- or at most just one.

That said, the executive team selected one idea to support and develop, an internal recognition tracking application called GRIT.  GRIT was clearly strong on fun, cool, and learning.  Plus, it did a great job supporting Geneca’s brand and core value of giving and receiving feedback. 

What’s Next for the Geneca Innovation Group

As the group matures, we hope to get more Genecians involved from all areas of the organization.  Maybe someone on the marketing team can help the innovator come up with a marketing plan; our financial folks can help the innovator create a Proforma; etc.

As we become more innovative in how we think about our innovation process, we plan to make small adjustments to the ideation and evaluation process.  We’ve already discussed alternating between entirely "open" ideation and more guided innovation challenges directly aligned with Geneca's brand. 

We also intend to continue our discussion of providing support for ideas not directly aligned with Geneca by developing partnerships with incubators in Chicago. We’d look to the incubator to further sponsor ideas originating from Genecians.  Additional support turning great ideas into actual products can play a big part in strengthening our innovation engine.

Based on the energy surrounding our first Shark Tank, we’re all excited about the prospect of creating a sustainable structure that gives us a way to support and reward innovation within Geneca.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips No More

Well, last week’s post got some great responses.  I find it very providential that Jessica Esch has been reading myJessica Esch "#58 At Last" mind as she’s creating her book ;-).  The horrors of last Friday are very fresh for all of us, and sorrowfully, will be permanently fresh for many families in Newtown.  I can’t even fathom their pain and anguish.  It truly is beyond comprehension.

This is the season of merriment, peace and goodwill where we are all smiles and happiness.  Perhaps this should also be the season of taking a stand.  And this is not a paradox!  If we are to truly lead a meaningful, bountiful life that wonderfully makes a difference in the lives of others, then we cannot be the silent majority.  We need to look political correctness in the face and tell it where to go.

We’ve blurred the lines between freedom and license, between having the right and it being right, and between output (a vehement disagreement) and outcome (a solution achieved through work, compromise and promise). Our fear of offending others can have a very high price – life itself. 

So, in this season of joy and blessings, as you prepare for time with family and friends, as you put on your smiles, real and manufactured, find time for a little reflection on what you will stand for in 2013.  What will you refuse to tiptoe around and finally address – with wisdom, firmness, and compassion?  When you look in the mirror, who will you see? I pray it will be someone who has made a significant and powerful impact on and for others…by not staying silent.  Tiptoe no more! Let 2013 be a year of making a difference!

It's not High School Anymore Guys!

It seems I’m spending more and more time in high school these days.  No, not my kids’ school, the business 21 - Sheesh! by Jess Esch world.  Perhaps the economy has increased insecurity, doubt and lack of trust in business; perhaps adolescence’s creeping into the 30’s is why its taking longer to grow up and be professional; or perhaps we’re so politically correct, or conflict avoiding, that we are sacrificing accountability and productivity for fear of offending.  

There are times I feel so “old-school” with my kids’ friends and and in the corporate world.  I see behavior that wasn’t tolerated in ‘my day’ and I’d never tolerate…from my kids let alone colleagues, including the C-suite.  The Harvard Business Review even ran an article “Rudeness at Work: What’s Your Story?” What the heck is going on? Are permissiveness and indulgence endemic everywhere?

Increasingly, the virtue I see that is most needed, aside from Courage, is Temperance.  I love that word.  It comes from Greek sophrosyne (moderation), which Cicero translated into the Latin temperantia.  By the mid-14th C, it evolved from the Anglo-French temperaunce to mean “self-restraint, self-control, moderation.”[*]  I think we need a heavy heavy dose of Temperance today – in any business, be it for/not-for profit, ‘social’, entrepreneurial, etc.   We need to balance protecting wealth with creating wealth, efficiency with effectiveness, and yes, compassion with responsibility. 

Many workplaces are enclaves of aiding and abetting immature, disrespectful, even harmful behavior.  People end up spending more time working around or with these people instead of doing the jobs at hand. Physical and emotional energy is sapped; time is spent in the weeds providing unnecessary levels of detail and hand-holding because people want to be told exactly what to do instead of taking the initiative; and employees are not asked to step up their game, limiting their professional growth and burdening the entire organization culturally and productively.  Trust declines, morale declines, and the company’s ability to attract and retain talent erodes.

What is the outcome? Increasing risk in delighting the customer.  Plain and simple.  At the end of the day, that’s what matters, because otherwise there is no business.  While it may be ‘easier’ in the short term to aid and abet, it will destroy your organization in the long term.  At some point, it’s very difficult to prevent this behavior from affecting your customers in some shape or form.  And let’s face it, we’re not helping anyone by avoiding the issue…we’re kicking the can down the road. 

So, please think about how you can apply Temperance in 2013.  Apply to yourself first, your team, and your organization. As the leader, you set the tone. This may not be easy, but it is so important to create and sustain a culture that continually delights it customers…because of it’s people, it’s culture.

A special Thank You to my friend, Jess Esch, for letting me use her fabulous sketches in my posts! 

[*] temperance. (n.d.). Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved December 11, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/temperance


What's Your Company's Family Tree?

Another wonderful guest post by a friend & client, Lisa Lehman at Thogus.  It's not that I'm abandoning my posts here, it's just that so many wonderful things are happening that I want to share.  Thogus's president, Matt Hlavin, is blessed with 2 brains - one in his head and the other in Lisa's.  Her initiative to create a family tree atThogus Family Tree Thogus has had an impact beyond expectation.  Read it and see if you can create your own company's family tree!  And I'm sure Lisa would be willing to give advise. 

Getting to Know your Company “family” by Lisa Lehman

Studies suggest that most of us spend more time with our co-workers than we do with our families.  Not shocking if you have a commute that requires you to leave before the kids are up or maybe you work afternoons to accommodate your spouses work schedule so that a babysitter is not required.  Whatever your situation, working 40 hours a week is more than the waking hours you spend with your own family in a weeks time.

Thogus decided to take a look at every employee and sent out a brief survey (8 questions actually) to really get to know him or her.  The questions included asking about their families (spouses, children, pets), what hobbies or interests they have outside of work, where is their ultimate vacation spot, even something as simple as their favorite food.  The most important question to me as a resource to our Employee Management team was asking our employee to provide an unknown fact about themselves that they were proud of.  Reading those, at times, took our breath away.  How about our shipping clerk who tried out for three (3) major league baseball teams when he was 17 or our in-house fabricator who worked on the International Space Station.  We learned more about our employees in eight Thogus Wear Blue Day(8) questions then we had in years.  It was simply awesome!

Once the survey was returned, the employee’s name was placed on a leaf and put on our “Thogus Family Tree”.  Once the leaves started going up, the excitement was contagious.  We would receive surveys several times a day as each employee was ready to turn in their survey, laugh at what they wrote, and proud to see their leaf on our tree.  We kept each survey in a binder for quick reference when rewarding our team or when we see an article that may be of interest to them.  It’s amazing to see the faces light up when you ask them about something they love.  It is and will remain a defining moment in our culture.  We chose to dig deep and the payoff wasEmployee's Thogus Tattoo! BIG.

Our employees were able to share the things with us that are closest and dearest to their hearts.  We have many that are proud parents and grandparents (one employee has 11 grandchildren).  One was named after a Ninja Turtle and one who spends his weekends volunteering with his dog at nursing homes.  All in all, we have a group of employees that are as unique as their fingerprints.  In an effort to bring us together, we wanted to uncover the common and uncommon traits we all have and use it to gain a stronger and more loyal bond between the employee and the company. 

We made a decision to get to know our employees so that they are treated as an individual; one who just happens to also be an employee of our company.  Now we know that when we host luncheons, we have a vegetarian or when we raffle sports tickets, we have more Pittsburgh Steelers fans than Cleveland Browns.  The idea was simple.  Who are we as individuals and how can we help foster the morale in the Patrick Gannon & Matt in Stratasys "3D" printing machineeight (8) hours we are together every day.  One thing is for sure, we have a lot more to learn about one another and that makes us more than just co-workers, we are a family.

We use the information to better understand how our employees tick – giving us a chance to compliment their individuality.  If they are inclined to art and music, we know that they may be visual learners and great listeners.  If they have jumped out of an airplane to parachute, we know they are adventurous and may be up for any challenge we give out.  We noticed that 50% of our employees had a pet so we decided that our next community outreach would benefit a local pet shelter.  The bottom line is that we want them to know that we are listening.  That we understand who they truly are and respect that they have big, beautiful lives outside of work.


What Value Do I Bring?

I'm honored to host this guest blog by Elizabeth Weber about her summer interning at a financial firm in Hong Kong.  The lessons she shares at age 20 are ones many of us don't even learn in our 40's, 50's or our lives.  She's bringing these lessons home, as Co-President of the Entrepreneur Program at Brown.  Please learn from her, share and impact others.

Summer in Hong Kong

I followed a curiosity this summer, and worked at an unfamiliar profession. I’m a rising junior at Brown University with a passion for supporting entrepreneurs and understanding how businesses develop. The University provided me with an exceptional opportunity - to work in Hong Kong at a financial company in their asset management and private equity divisions. For more than two months I became a proud member of Hong Kong’s colorful, cultured, and ambitious community.

My journey began with a conversation with a kind older woman. In Hong Kong, I lived at the Helena May, a historical woman’s hotel dating back to 1916. In dormitory fashion, I stayed with 24 women between the ages of 18 and 65 years of age, four of whom were eating breakfast the morning of my first day of work. The older woman sitting beside me must have noticed my apprehension because she asked if today was important. I raised my eyes to smile and told her I was beginning an internship today. She gave me a knowing smile and said, “You’ll do fine, just remember the importance of relationships.” And then she added, “Think hard about the value you bring to the company, and if you’re not sure what it is don’t be afraid to ask.” Midway through my internship, the woman approached me at breakfast again and asked if I had discovered my value. I started speaking, and after a few sentences I stopped, realizing that I still didn’t have a good answer. I was working hard at the company; I was last to leave and first to come in each day, and I was doing good work. I had two mentors; one of whom was knowledgeable beyond measure with an entire library encasing his desk area. But it wasn’t his knowledge that was so striking but rather his genuine compassion for sharing that knowledge. I was comfortable around him, comfortable enough to show my vulnerabilities. When I asked him the older woman’s question, “What value did I bring?” He said my value comes from, “The questions I ask and my eagerness to learn.” I hadn’t expected this answer; I had anticipated it would be my research or a presentation I had done. Something more tangible. Then I thought back to the woman’s first statement about relationships and began to understand. The best relationships are those in which, we share ourselves – our genuine beliefs and our thoughts. Even in business, defined by coveted numbers and profit expectations, relationships are what matter. I formed a strong relationship with my mentor not through my research, but through my questions, through showing weakness, and working hard. I learned the best relationships are honest and genuine.

My final lesson took me awhile to fully understand. Much of my work for the company revolved around identifying business opportunity. Through research, I learned what metrics and patterns to look for in a company’s financial statements, and what traps and common misconceptions to avoid. I became curious about process, what to look for first, then second, and then third on the income statement or balance sheet. I was becoming a process thinker. I realize this logic is not singular to investing but rather something I can apply to all aspects of my life. As humans, the first way we empower ourselves is through our thoughts. By constantly improving our thought processes, we can improve our working intelligence and translate that into work performance. At school, I’m head of the Entrepreneurship Program. I connect my peers with advisors, and potential investors to help them become entrepreneurs. Reflecting on my work this summer, I’ve realized a flaw in the Entrepreneurship Program. The organization puts more resources into rewarding success than it does into teaching the process. It’s human nature, to strive for the end product; parents wish success for their children, CEOs desire profit for their company but these end goals cannot overshadow the path to achieve them. The path is sometimes long, ridden with mistakes and struggles, but for the patient teachers and persistent workers, the process is worth far more than the end product.

While cultural differences separated me from my Cantonese co-workers and friends, I believe truths like these hold us together. Cultural differences – how to hug, how to politely eat a meal, and what to give as gifts – seem inconsequential in comparison. These can be learned by reading a book, but to become a person of the world, one needs to understand genuine relationships and respect how others think and learn.    

Also published in Echoes of LBI (Long Beach Island) Magazine.

Summer’s Trump Cards

We use the term "trump" a lot (hum...gambling influence on our culture?).  So I thought I'd posit a few trump cards of my own for the summer - here they are:

Meaning & Purpose Trump Money & Profit: While we see this in the younger generation, isn’t it really true for all of us, even if we don’t admit or realize it? Hey, ½ (or more) of our lives are ‘at work’ – so we should enjoy it, relish it, be passionate about it.  It should be a means AND an end, not just a means to an end….

Challenge:  Increase the meaning and purpose of those who work with and for you before the end of August.

Paradoxical Thinking Trumps Critical Thinking:  While I was raised to think paradoxically (more eastern than western), for most of us, it’s formidable – we’re been trained in logic & linear progression.  But life, work and innovation are about AND/BOTH, not EITHER/OR – that’s a false choice.  Look at the edges.

Challenge:  Discover a paradox, perhaps at the fringe, to help you and your team innovate before the end of August.

Culture Trumps Strategy: The best made plans are worthless if they’re not aligned with the culture. Sometimes the strategy can help transform the culture (for good or bad), but if the culture doesn’t support it, it won’t happen.  Perhaps that’s why I think CEOs need to be CCS’s – Chief Culture Stewards.

Challenge:  Start to check the health of your culture – really, be brutally honest -before the end of August.

Strategy Trumps Structure:  In most crises, the first thing the organization does is restructure; ok, problem solved. How can you restructure without knowing where you’re going and how best to achieve it? Yet I fight this all the time with most clients.  Remember – Form follows Substance. Structure is a trailing indicator, not the cure.

Challenge:  If you have a good strategic direction, check to see if you’re organizationally aligned to make it happen before the end of August. (if you don’t, email me!)

Structure Trumps Processes: In helping clients formalize SOPs, we’ve realized that structure can stand in the way.  Understanding how process improvement in one area affects another can help you negatively affect other process in other areas.  It’s the 2nd, 3rd order effects, the ‘unintended’ consequences that can get you.

Challenge:  Identify a few key processes and see their ripple effects throughout your systems before the end of August.

Please share your efforts on these challenges so we can learn from & help each other!! 


Last month, my friend Whitney Johnson wrote a great post about entitlement being an innovation-killer.  Please read it if you haven’t.  I’m sure we all know examples of this in many aspects of our lives.  In some corporate cultures, Innocide is brazen and in others incredibly polite and subtle.  Perhaps the subtlest of all is Suinnocide – killing innovation within us.  Most of us are masters at that!

Some organizations have an innovation process that includes assessment of successes and failures – but they measure what’s already gotten into the innovation pipeline, not what didn’t even make it in!  Innocide is pre-process murder.  It’s subtle, pervasive, socially acceptable and pernicious…which makes it hard to measure and harder to fix. 

Since this is difficult, how can we start to reduce our organization’s (and our own) Innocide rate?  Start identifying Innocide when you see it!  You could create a cadre of Innocide Detectives!  I bet you already have some – the ones you tend to dismiss or view as radical, rebellious, heretical or ‘out there’.   Give it a try.  This week, start listening for key phrases like But, Ought.  Try asking “What if” or “Why not” or say “Yes, and” – see what happens.  Perhaps you can reduce your Innocide rate before you even know what it is!   Please let me know how it goes!

Status Quophiles and Quophobes

Ever know anyone who will explicitly say he/she doesn't think innovation is important? No! So listen carefully for the magic word - "but".   Some of you know how much I love to challenge the status quo so here's my theory: Status Quophiles see the glass as half empty and want to make sure it doesn't become totally empty.  Status Quophobes are Innovators - they see the half empty glass as half full, waiting to be filled up!  

I've been collecting some phrases I hear from Status Quophiles (SQ) and the rare responses from Innovators (I), Status Quophobes.  Do these sound familiar? If you can add any, please do so in the comments!

SQ: Could be a major breakthrough, but your predecessor tried that a while ago, and that’s why you’re here now.

I: Could be a major breakthrough, and we’ll support you in trying it.

SQ: That could work, but we risk not being able to get the coating on a reliable and consistent basis if the world blows up.

I: That would work, and we can diversify our coating suppliers to assure quality and price.

SQ: Wow, cool, but that’s going to be a problem for our customers.

I: Wow, cool, and that’s going to let us help so many more customers and markets than we can now!

SQAppreciate your enthusiasm and ideas, but once you’ve been around a bit longer and know how we do things here, you’ll understand the challenges involved.

I: Appreciate your enthusiasm and ideas, and the breath of fresh thinking and perspective is just what we need!

SQ: This makes sense in the long run, but remember, we are measured on quarterly results.

I: This makes sense in the long run, and we can show some benefits even in the short term by applying our learning early on.

SQ: Nice idea, but we have to recognize the sunk costs of our existing fixed assets.

I: Nice idea, and let’s face it, sunk costs are, well, sunk!       

SQWe should pursue this, but let’s make sure it’s 150% vetted and tested and has met all the criteria before we start the project, let alone release it, even for a beta.

I: We should pursue this, and figure out how to prototype and test as we go along to make sure we get it right.

SQ: Interesting, but things are going so well, we’re profitable and growing so we must be on the right track.

I: Interesting, and that will let us start adapting to our customers changing needs while we have the resources and loyalty.

Here's my challenge to you to try for just a few days.  Listen for the 'but' in meetings and discussions.  Count them.  Then, listen for the 'and' and count those?  Which do you hear more? And (ha!) what can you do to change that (perhaps starting with yourself!)?  Please share what you hear, your count of but & and, and what you can do to change it!  Learning is no good if its not shared!