#Whatif We Valued Trying?

We humans love to divide the world: yes, no; either, or; black, white; true, false; winners, losers; successes,Arianna Huffington, Co-Founder Huffington Post (designed by behappy.me) failures.  Yet little in life is really that nice and tidy, despite how much we want it to be.  And our world is not going in that direction anymore.

Many of us know that new discoveries, the disruptions, the innovations are found in the grey – in between the extremes, by recombining what is out there through And and Both instead of Either and Or.  As someone with a head of black, white and grey hairs, believe me, I live it!

Perhaps one of the most dangerous of these artificial constructs is that of successes or failures.  This has insidiously permeated so many of our systems – especially the language of entrepreneurship and innovation.  We don’t allow a middle or blended path.  When we look at the successful entrepreneurs, how many of them were successful the very first time? How many had overnight successes that truly were overnight, instead of years? Very few. 

What if we start talking about Tryers (which obviously means people will go to the opposite extreme of Non-Tryers) instead of just winners or successes?

What if we started encouraging and supporting those who try, over and over, be it the same or a different venture. 

What if we helped the Non-Tryers to understand why they didn’t try? Perhaps it is fear, time, who knows… but perhaps we could develop a support structure to allow them to become Tryers, in their own time?

What if we started to infiltrate our education system with tools, lessons, examples, opportunities to Try so that our children could become Tryers at earlier and earlier ages.  And What If we rewarded them for it? And What if we rewarded our teachers for teaching smart Trying?

While a full societal adoption of the Trying construct certainly will take time, you can start now! There are many ways you can start embedding Tryers into your organization’s lexicon.  So What If you, tomorrow, asked one of your people to Try and What if you back her or him up when she/he raises objections for why something couldn’t be done?  What if you just started with that?

Thank you to @mattmurrie for helping me more fully embed “What If” in my lexicon.

Red, Right, Returning...

Red, Right, Returning – when returning from the sea, make sure the red buoys are on the starboard (right) side to stay in the channel.  This phrase was drilled into my head as a kid when I learned to sail, leaving the secure confines of our harbor for the big wild sea.

Every business, organization, entrepreneur, C-suiter, yes, humans need ballast - guiding principles, missions and core values to help navigate the big wild sea.  

Herein lies a fundamental paradox: the importance of getting outside one’s comfort zone, exploring, discovering, lens-shifting and living at the edge based on a foundation of values providing guidance and ballast – like the bell buoy at the harbor entrance.

What’s your Red, Right, Returning?

  • For businesses and organizations, it’s your mission and purpose – the reason the organization exists, the way you benefit your customers, employees and stakeholders, the way you create powerful outcomes that others can’t;
  • For entrepreneurs, C-suiters and humans, it’s your personal values you won’t compromise, your integrity, character, the impact on those that work for and with you and the impact on those around you – family, friends, acquaintances.

The photo is of the Pemaquid Point Gong Buoy #2 at the entrance to the Johns River and Pemaquid Harbor.  It is my favorite bell buoy gifting a sound that gives me comfort, rest and peace.  A sound I return to over and over – after a long day of excitement, stress, hectivity, whatever (yes, I have it on my iPhone).  

As you approach the end of summer, before the fall arrives, what is your Red, Right, Returning? What is your ballast? Defining, refining, communicating that is not a ‘nice to have’, it’s not something that ‘can wait til later.’  It’s something that is critical to your organization and business, to your customers, your employees, your stakeholders and yourself.  Please spend some time to reflect, rediscover and then launch out to sea, knowing that buoy is always there.

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!! 

The Paradoxical Gift of Paradox

This is just a quick post on something that hit me yesterday.  In preparing for a strategic planning session this week, I realized that no matter how many of these I do, there is always a paradoxical feeling of being nervous about doing an excellent job for my client and being confident (hopefully not arrogance) in being great at what I do.  After all, the stakes are pretty high: people’s livelihoods, families, safe working environments, taxes paid to schools, police, etc. and the rest of a business ecosystem to say the least. 

It’s that paradoxical feeling that keeps me on my toes, asking dumb questions, challenging the status quo and trying to draw out the client’s wisdom and courage to grow.   This week, the client’s leader is the epitome of paradox!  He is one of the most innovative, creative, ‘out-there’ thinkers I’ve ever met and one of the most dependent on routine and habit.  That paradox is the reason they have more than doubled growth in 3 years - paradoxically in an industry that is shrinking! 

As some of you know, I love paradoxes.  They make us think, explore, reflect, discover, search, question. Innovation is found in new combinations of existing ‘stuff’.  Paradox is crucial to making that happen – it leads us to revisit and question assumptions, to combine things in ways we didn’t or couldn’t have imagined, to take the best of both and discard the worst.  Paradox makes us ask Why and Why Not repeatedly. Paradox puts us out there at the edge (per John Hagel), where new things are happening, even if it’s not always ‘safe’.

So this week, as a few of us will be intensely embracing paradoxes, why don’t you too?  Look for just one area in your business, organization, environment that seems counterintuitive, that is an oxymoron and question why, and why not.  Please share what you discover.

Mentoring Paradox

I believe mentoring is a gift for the mentee and the mentor.  Throughout my career, I’ve been blessed with incredible mentors who, perhaps unknowingly, taught me how to mentor.   It’s something I take seriously and joyfully. It is a paradox - an incredibly selfless thing that is also very selfish.

Recently, my mentoring has increased.  In addition to mentoring Brown seniors and startups, I’m mentoring Oberlin College students applying for a fellowship to start their business after graduation in May.  Many of these kids were in my recent Business Model Innovation class. They are eager for advice and guidance.  They really listen! For some reason, the stakes seem higher to me than in mentoring 'adults'. For these kids' their first entrepreneur experience will shape their view of entrepreneurship, innovation, success and failure.  That's part of why they are making me a better mentor.  How? They make me challenge my own ‘status quo’ views and improve my ability to ask dumb questions.  Here’s what I have (re)learned from them:

  • Status Quo is a powerful Siren Song: It’s so easy to succumb to the status quo; though I fight it, it’s the boiled frog syndrome – and it’s so very human.  When you’ve been doing, investing in and supporting startups and consulting with businesses for a long time, it’s easy to get lulled into thinking you know a lot; and you do, but not everything and not forever.  In our dynamic world, the lifespan of knowledge is increasingly decreasing. I have to challenge my own reasoning and ideas;
  • Paradox of Inexperience and Experience:  The blank slate, the fresh naïve perspective these kids have creates innovative solutions to real needs with non-traditional business models for non-traditional customers and markets.  I learn so much about different perspectives, shifting my lens so I see the ‘usual’ in unusual ways. And my clients will benefit from lessons I’ve experienced from the inexperienced.
  • Mentor Mentors: Through the network of alumni mentoring women at Brown and my friend Whitney Johnson’s insightful, must read posts about mentoring, I’ve learned how to be a good mentor: what does/doesn’t work, when, why, in which circumstances.  This has also broadened the network I can share with my mentees – teaching them the importance of The Network.

So, take some advice from these kids – start mentoring.  It will stretch you in ways you can’t imagine, let you to share your learnings with others for their success, and provide life-long experiences to be shared, imparted and enjoyed.

Paradoxical Oxymorons of the 21st Century

Does it seem like the 21st Century is the century of oxymorons and paradoxes? Sure does to me and I love these words because they challenge our thinking, our beliefs, our feelings and the status quo.

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!!!