Posts in ‘Leadership’

Time for a Change #23: Getting Your Team into Flow

by William Reed on August 16, 2012

Individual and Team Flow

No one truly works alone. We all depend on other people to earn and provide a livelihood. But the quality of our work experience, the quantity of our productive output, and the sustainability of our engagement all depend on the degree to which we are able to maintain individual and team flow over time.

Individual flow is often described as an experience of relaxed concentration, the enjoyment of high performance, challenge, and mastery. Athletes call it being in the zone, musicians in the groove, business people call it full engagement.

Alas it is easy to be pulled out of individual flow by a mismatch of talent and task, leading to boredom or anxiety; and by a mismatch of team energy, whereby other people pull you out of flow. You are in flow if you have a real reason to go to work. You have a passion for what you do. You would do it anyway, and not just because you are getting paid. Considering how much time and life energy we spend on work and careers, finding your flow is urgent and important business.

To gain deeper insights into your individual and team flow take the Talent Dynamics Profile Test online and get immediate results in the form of a profile graph and detailed report. Visiting the website will also help you learn more about the 8 Talent Dynamics Profiles shown in the illustration, and how this approach is used in business.

Team members also depend on one another to get into and keep working in flow. This requires an appreciation of differences in styles and strengths, and the ability to communicate and collaborate with people who share your workspace. This cannot easily be achieved with just a pleasant smile and a cooperative attitude. Once you understand the profiles, strengths and weaknesses, and flow requirements of each individual in your team, it is easy to understand who and what is missing in your composite profile. This will also help define your identity and style as a team, as well as help you determine and attract the outer edge supporters and providers who can help balance and fortify your team.

A high performance team is a priceless asset. Think of what happens to a band when a key member leaves, or how highly interdependent are the members of a sports team. The team’s performance is highly dependent on the team and team members remaining in flow.

Shared Mission and Motivation

Sun Tzu’s classic strategy on winning without fighting applies equally well to what happens inside the team, as it does to the opposition. To be successful it is critical that the team have a shared mission, which is more than a mission statement. What holds it together is an emotional commitment, the genuine feeling that we are in this together.

Working together should be a pleasure, your team an extended family. The team that plays together stays together. Having fun at work makes it easier and more natural to socialize with your team outside of work, within the bounds of friendship, and not as a forced obligation. All for one and one for all is not a bad thing to aspire to if it is felt from the inside.

Shared motivation is the other half of the coin that keeps the team together. Motivation depends on a good match of talent and task, role and responsibility. Players in position, passing the ball to the right person at the right time, and celebrating your success. Talent Dynamics gives you a framework for determining both roles and strategy.

Life/Work Balance

One challenge of full engagement in your work is that it can absorb time, money, and resources that might otherwise be devoted to health, financial planning, family and friends, study, personal development, leisure, or even volunteer activities. Almost by default your work will occupy the lion’s share of your time. Hopefully it will also make the other areas of your life better, but the balance is likely to be asymmetrical.

Management guru Peter Drucker found that people who were only successful in business were often quite unsuccessful and unhappy in other areas of their life. Revisit Drucker’s thinking on this through a book by Bruce Rosenstein, who interviewed Drucker at the end of his life, which I reviewed in a separate article, Living in More than One World.

Value and Leverage

Looking at the Talent Dynamics square in the illustration, you can see it as composed of a vertical Value axis, and a horizontal Leverage axis. To a business, Value represents the things that its customers are willing to pay for, its products and services. Leverage represents the way in which value is made known and available, through its people and systems.

The questions to ask on the vertical axis are what is it worth and when? DYNAMO energy in the green triangle is where you find innovation and ideas in the form of products; whereas TEMPO energy in the yellow triangle is where you find timing and sensory experience in the form of services.

The questions to ask on the horizontal axis are who will deliver it and how? BLAZE energy in the red triangle is where you find people who can make the company’s value known and available; whereas  STEEL energy in the grey triangle is where you find the systems and distribution mechanisms which make the company’s products and services readily available.

Making Magic

The Great Multiplication is where you multiply Value X Leverage, which results in sales and profits for the company, as well as increased value delivered to the customers. Companies which do this well over time are able to grow and continue to deliver additional value to customers at higher levels. Amazon.com started out as an online bookstore, but now sells all kinds of products in many consumer categories. It also offers customers a chance to resell used books, and even has a credit card service. They deliver more things, faster and more cheaply, so they continue to grow. But behind the scenes, this is all made possible because many of the individuals and teams working at Amazon.com are themselves in flow. Companies which drive sales and performance by forcing their people out of flow are not able to sustain growth.

Who are gonna call to make magic? Call EMC Quest and we can show you how to make the most of your energy, mind, and creativity when it is time for a change in your business.

For a summary of this article and reminders of next steps to take, download a PDF file COLLABORATION MANDALA.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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Innovation. Barely a day goes by without some piece of content related to that topic dropping into my e-mailbox. Are you finding that?

And what about the 385 billion links that Google provides for the search term “innovation”? Or the fact that Amazon lists over 52,000 books on the topic (without getting into sub-categories and associated terms such as “creativity”)?

Sounds like innovation has been well and truly covered, doesn’t it? So why would anyone in their right mind write another book about it – aside from the fact that “the ability to innovate” remains a top concern and priority for CEOs?

Well, let’s employ one of the tactics commonly used by innovative individuals. Let’s ask a different question. Imagine that like Scott D. Anthony, author of The Little Black Book of Innovation: How it works; How to do it (Harvard Business Review Press, 2012), you’ve “been focusing exclusively on innovation for more than a decade.” How might you resolve the dilemma of writing on a topic that’s already swollen with content? You would ask yourself: How much of what’s currently available truly serves readers’ needs?

When Anthony reviewed what was already out there he came to the conclusion that, “Academics and leading practitioners have generated a huge amount of insight – but it’s not readily accessible. In addition, there isn’t a lot of practical information about innovation.”

Hence his Little Black Book  – an odd title choice given an association with the likes of Hugh Hefner and Tatler’s annually produced “shallow compilation of the 100 ‘most eligible’ below-thirty-somethings in London.” But I digress!

One of the most valuable services that have emerged in the era of information overload is “content curation.” Consider, for example, that every 60 seconds there are over 1,500 new blog posts available, more than 168 billion emails sent, and goodness knows how many presentations made. And if you’re an executive, entrepreneur, project manager, or consultant and want to know how to boost the innovative capacity of yourself or your team – well, you have over 52,000 books to choose from.

Who on earth has the time (or energy) to wade through all of that material to find which nuggets can actually help you be innovative?

Enter Anthony who (as many delighted Amazon reviewers attest) has distilled all of that otherwise confusing, conflicting, or unintelligible “wisdom” into a single book that is accessible, practical, and immediately implementable. And it’s an approach that can be “stolen” by any of you looking to write a book, whose core expertise lies in a similarly over-written area.

Instead of trying to figure out what you can say that’s new, think instead of how you can curate information that readers can use. Why not produce a “primer” that makes your topic understandable and shows people what they can do with that material to achieve their goals? Anthony does this by including, in Part Two of his book, “The 28-Day Innovation Program” offering four weekly sets of daily questions to ask, one-sentence answers to those questions, as well as how-to action points. There’s plenty of meat in the book too, including my favorite way of sharing information: stories.

How do you craft the kind of book that is truly useful in an over-populated arena where, in Anthony’s case, you’re competing with luminaries including Jim Collins and Clayton Christensen? Start with the end in mind, as the late Dr. Steven Covey outlined. What would you need to do for future reviewers to say, “If you read only one book on X, it has to be this one”?

Here are three suggestions:

  1. Make it simple: Distill what readers need to know – and no more.
  2. Make it practical: Give them a roadmap to follow.
  3. Make it readable: Write in a conversational style (as opposed to how some Amazon reviewers described Clayton Christensen’s The Innovator’s Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business (HarperBusiness, 2011): “The book reads like a Ph.D. thesis written by a lobotomized 3rd grader” and “This book was as compelling to read as a college quantitative analysis text.”)

What business book have you read recently that offers all three of these must-haves? Share them by commenting below.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Have you ever kept 200 executives waiting? It isn’t a nice experience, and if you are a presenter it can be something of a nightmare. Some years ago I was the second of two speakers to a group of about 200 executives in a large city in southern Japan. The first speaker used PowerPoint from his PC, and I was planning to use Keynote from my Mac. I was told that all we needed to do was switch cables when my turn came to speak, so there was no need for a break between speakers. My slides were ready, but I was not ready for what happened.

Who knows if it was the projector, the cable, or the computer, but immediately after I was introduced as the next speaker, the air froze when I realized that they couldn’t get my slides to display. I had 200 executives waiting for me to start, the assistant in a cold sweat trying to connect the cables, and a presentation that I might be forced to deliver without slides. Unfortunately, my presentation depended entirely too much on my slides.

We did manage to get the slides on the screen after about 5 minutes, but it was one of the longest 5 minutes I can remember as a speaker. Even today I don’t remember what I presented, but I vividly remember the folded arms, the impatient expressions, the frequent glances at watches, and the feeling of near panic deciding whether to wait for the slides, or deliver entirely without them. In retrospect, had I prepared to deliver with or without slides it would not have been difficult, and might have been more fun without slides. As it was, I would have been happy to have an ice pick to break the ice that formed in those unfortunate five minutes.

Though it doesn’t happen often, you are much better off if you are prepared for if and when…

  • You don’t have time to prepare slides
  • The slides you have aren’t any good
  • You have to make your presentation shorter/longer
  • The equipment isn’t working
  • You have an idea to share, but no computer or projector
  • You want to try it without…

Start with Why?

If you have to present without slides, the most important question to start with in your preparation is to know why you are there. Hopefully you have something you want to say, because you want to change the world in some way. Realistically, the reason may be that you have to present as part of your job. In either case you will want to do your best and present something of value to the people in your audience. This is the same talking to a large audience or sitting around a table. Knowing Why will help you pinpoint your passion. Fnd the part that you care about and it will be easier to convey why you, and why now. Otherwise you might as well just send your message as an attachment to an e-mail.

Show and Tell

Long before the days of slides and presentations, I remember well from elementary school the time for Show and Tell. Kids would bring things from home and tell the rest of the class something about it. No one ever taught us how. That wasn’t necessary because it is easy to talk about something that you want to show to others. Many adult presenters spoil the show by showing off, or telling too much. Technology sometimes takes away from a presentation by breaking off the emotional connection, or even masking the lack of real content.

You can often connect better with your audience by sketching your ideas in your own hand. A lack of artistic skill often prevents people from doing this, but a rough sketch conveys more personality and humor than any stock photography from the Internet. Diagram your ideas, and be sure that your diagrams lend clarity not confusion. You can also effectively demonstrate ideas with your face, hands, and body. People much prefer an animated speaker to a talking head. And as Hamlet said, “Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.”

Dialog takes you directly into the scene, which is why movies are mostly made of dialog. Use it liberally by sharing what people said. Drama engages the mind, so the more you can dramatize what you talk about, the more engagement you will get from your audience. Dramatizing is a skill, and not to be confused with using histrionics for effect. Exaggerated emotional behavior calculated for effect will turn people off faster than you can count to three. Use stories in your presentations, but make sure that they have a heartbeat. Stories should stand on their own, that is they shouldn’t need slides to be understood. They are your best chance to bring your presentation to life, to keep people on the edge of their seats, and to gain a permanent seat in memory.

Experiment with different writing tools and surfaces. Write large and write small. Above all practice in all kinds of environments, especially when you can be relaxed and conversational. It can be lots of fun to pull out your favorite writing tools and surfaces, and then strut your stuff!

Improvising and Improving

The best way to move beyond slides is to also move beyond the script! Learn how to improvise. It is a skill which seems inborn in the personality, but in fact is learned over time. Improvisation is practice taken to such a high degree that it looks effortless. It comes to the person who is thoroughly comfortable with the material. An excellent guide to help you learn how to improvise as a presenter is Improvise This! How to Think on Your Feet so You Don’t Fall on Your Face, Mark Bergren, Molly Cox, Jim Detmar.

Improving is just as important. It is will keep you on an upward curve. Watch speakers on TED.com Ideas Worth Spreading—Riveting Talks by Remarkable People, and you will see that many of the best speakers use slides only sparingly, if at all. Watch speakers who present well without depending on slides and you will learn volumes on how to improve your own presentations. Learn how to doodle and draw from the unsinkable Sunni Brown! http://sunnibrown.com/. A useful skill to have in business presentations, whether before a large group or in a small meeting, is solving complex problems with simple pictures, which you can learn from Dan Roam, author of the bestselling book The Back of the Napkin: Solving Problems and Selling Ideas with Pictures, http://www.danroam.com/.

Back to Slides

Once you have gained confidence that you can do pretty well presenting without slides, possibly even better without slides, then it is time to revisit slides and see how they can possibly enhance your presentation without interfering with it. Be a Slide Minimalist. Lean how to do without, and then you can be more effective with. The key is to learn how to be great with or without slides.

Learn to use the “B” key on your keyboard, which will blank out your screen until you hit it again. That brings full focus on you as the presenter, and prevents the distraction of flickering shadows on the screen when you hand or body stands in the way of the projector. If you must use slides then learn to use them well. Two excellent guides to begin with are Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen and Cliff Atkinson’s Beyond Bullet Points. But before you dig into that and fall back into slide dependency, go back to If and when…? Prepare yourself to present at your best any place and any time.

Download a summary of this article and tips on reaching the other side without slides at  NO SLIDES MANDALA 

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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Have you ever attended a writing workshop were one of the participants doesn’t want to publicly share their book idea because it’s so good someone is likely to steal it? Yeah, right!

As avid readers of Acknowledgments pages know, (take a look – they’re incredibly instructive), professionals never think that way. Well-known novelists will tap the resources of numerous experts to research their plots; leading non-fiction authors discuss, share, and ask for feedback on their ideas before they begin to write.

It appears to be the mark of the amateur writer to fear “giving away the store.”   Which is probably why so many of them are incredibly stingy with the insights they’re prepared to give in their books. This seems to be especially true of consultants, who fear that if they put all their knowledge into a book no one will need to hire them!

If that thought has concerned you in the past, I highly recommend Gihan Perera’s excellent Fast, Flat, and Free: How the Internet Has Changed Your Business (First Step Publishing, 2011).

What Perera has produced is that rare find: a high quality, self-published book whose content is vastly more valuable than the cover price. Indeed, what stood out for me as I read the book was how generous Perera has been with his material.

How many business books have you read where you get to the end only to wonder, “How the heck do I put any of this into practice?” Particularly frustrating are those books that give high-level advice without any examples or a means of embedding true understanding (rather than just knowledge).

When I work with clients I always want to ensure that they’ve covered the “4 Es” – preferably within every chapter. By which I mean:

  • Give a clear Explanation of what you’re talking about.
  • Offer reputable Evidence (from other books, scientific papers, respected articles etc) to back up your claims.
  • Provide relevant Examples so readers can see how others have applied the advice you’re offering.
  • Follow this up with ways that readers can achieve Empowerment, by suggesting practical exercises: things they can think about and do.

It’s rare to find a book that embraces all four of these reader “must-haves” – and even rarer in a book that’s self-published – which is why, hands down, Perara’s book is so outstanding in its accessibility and usefulness.

Here are just two examples of what this author did that any subject matter expert worth their salt should be able and willing to do:

  • In the Introduction Perera identifies one of the biggest challenges for small businesses today: how to compete with the “big boys.” He relates the issues faced by owners of small wineries in the region of Western Australia close to his home town of Perth, then outlines 18 specific on-line marketing and positioning actions that these wineries could take (two for each of the nine strategies highlighted in the rest of the book) – which could be adapted by any reader.
  • In the section cleverly headed Familiarity Breeds Content, Perera mentions a prospective client who wanted to position herself as an expert in selling Belgian chocolates. He reminded her that she should think instead of becoming an expert in solving her customers’ problems and goes on to mention three concrete ways in which she – and other readers – could do exactly that. (Unfortunately the silly woman decided she just wanted to be an expert on Belgian chocolates!).

There’s a valid complaint about this book in one of many testimonials on Perera’s website, and it’s one I agree with: this isn’t a “dip in, dip out” book. It’s a book that compels you to sit down, pen in hand and take copious notes. It’s choc-full of amazing advice – the kind, I imagine, that Gihan the Consultant offers to his clients for large sums of money.

Why isn’t he concerned about “giving away the store” as so many author-consultants do? Because once you’ve read his book you’d hire him in a heartbeat!

In this Fast, Flat and Free world we now live in there are – as Perera points out – so many “passionate amateurs” who will share their expertise with you for nothing. They’re all over the place, including online bookstores, where you can often get suckered into buying their ill-conceived, poorly written works full of superficial thinking.

Authors like Gihan Perera (and you, if you follow his example) have nothing to worry about in the era of Fast, Flat and Free…because they deliver those rare, superior experiences that savvy business people will always pay for!

Note: For an interview with Gihan Perera and some of the other authors featured in the Thought Readership series, please visit my AG page.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Time For a Change #20: Memes Can Drive You to a Goal

by William Reed on July 13, 2012

According to Wikipedia, a Meme is “an idea, behavior, or style that spreads from person to person within a culture.” The word was coined by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins in his book, The Selfish Gene (1976). It is based on the Greek word mimeme, the root of the word mimic, and is a play on the word gene, reflecting the process by which ideas spread and reproduce. In French the word mȇme has similar meanings ranging from same to even so.

The concept that ideas spread within a culture is nothing new, but the biological comparison has taken hold and captured the imagination of people in fields from social science to marketing. Once a meme takes hold, it has the power to motivate as well as duplicate. It is the infectious viral quality of memes that gives them such a powerful influence over people.

Another evolutionary biologist and prominent philosopher is Dan Dennett, who spoke about Dangerous Memes at a TED Conference. His talk begins with an ant which has been infected by a parasitic fluke that commandeers its brain, leading it to senseless and suicidal behavior. He says that memes can commandeer the human brain and also produce behavior that makes no sense from the perspective of biological survival. Religious and political memes can be so powerful that to the believer, they are worth dying for. Many people have laid down their lives in the service of an idea.

Urban legends are also memes. Originating as macabre jokes or fabricated tales, they often suggest dire things that can happen without proper precaution. Tourists are drugged and anesthetized, only to wake up with one kidney removed. Stories about contaminated foods or tampering with the water supply seem to contain an element of plausibility, and even though the rumors lack any detail for verification, they spread like wildfire. The Internet makes the spread of ideas easier than ever before.

Although memes have a viral quality in the way that ideas are spread, now even the idea of the meme has taken hold as a meme, and this has spawned meme generating software, which falls somewhere between low grade advertising and digital graffiti. Most of these artificial memes are meaningless, and therefore not likely to go viral unless force-fed by spam mail. Memes are used in marketing, but there are so many competing memes for products and services, that it takes more than a catch phrase to change people’s behavior

Making memes work for you

One book which makes the process very clear is Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath. It shows the essential ingredients that ensure that an idea will survive and thrive, and why urban legends and bogus schemes often spread effortlessly, while people with worthwhile ideas often struggle to even get the word out. Their acronym for these ingredients is SUCCES: Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional, Stories. These ingredients are what give ideas virility and the power to motivate people.

Once you understand this you can actually begin to create and cultivate your own memes. Start with your notes and sketches related to your GOALS, and watch your motivation rise and your memes gain power as you communicate them to others.

Memes are usually a combination of verbal and visual elements. The more meaningful they are to other people, the easier they are to remember to to share, the faster they will spread.

Verbal memes can be found in slogans and catch phrases, powerful statements and quotes, parables and stories. Strong memes survive centuries, and get translated into many languages. Weak memes fade in the morning sun.

Visual memes can be found in photos with captions, videos and movies, and duplicatable demonstrations. A wonder source of memes is the site TED.com Ideas Worth Spreading—

Riveting Talks by Remarkable People. Great books can shape your life. Can you name 5 to 10 books which have truly changed your life, without having read you would not be the same person you are today? Great people can have an even more powerful transformational effect, and they are often connected the great books you have read.

Memes are hypnotic, and hence are a powerful way to commandeer the mind for a cause. Not all memes are in your best interest. For that reason it can be useful to know also how to break the spell of a meme. Understanding how memes work can help build your immunity. An excellent book on the power of semantics to create our reality is, Language in Thought and Action, by S.I. Hayakawa and Alan Hayakawa. A book which will help you see how even numbers and graphs can misrepresent reality is, How to Lie with Statistics, by Darrell Huff. Propaganda propagates because people succumb to memes without understanding them. Awareness and reflection can make you more conscious of memes before they command your consciousness.

An excellent way to examine a meme is to view it through a Mandala Lens, by analyzing its elements in at least 8 frames rather than just one. A good place to start would be to download the MEME MANDALA summary of this article, and then start looking for ways to use memes to motivate you toward goals and causes of your conscious choice.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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“Beware of dissipating your powers; strive constantly to concentrate them.”

~Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe (1749-1832, German poet, dramatist, novelist)

A Japanese proverb has it that if you chase two rabbits, you lose them both. This is a good description of the problem of distracted pursuit. Do you know people who do this? Have you experienced it yourself?

The worst thing is not when the rabbits get away, but when you actually pursue and catch one that turns out to be the one that you did not want. Meanwhile your real dream has slipped away. If you are in the wrong job or career, you know exactly what this feels like.

The problem actually lies deeper, in the mind which pursues goals in the first place. Truly successful people concentrate and attract the rabbits to them.

“When you fully focus your mind, you make others attracted to you.”

~ Toba Beta, Betelgeuse Incident

Another Japanese proverb has it that perseverance prevails (Ishi no ue ni mo san nen, literally “it takes 3 years to warm up a rock”). Despite the traditional wisdom that it takes time and concentration to achieve something worthwhile, technology seems to be rushing us in the opposite direction.

Baroness Susan Greenfield, a prominent Neuroscientist at Oxford warned that the Internet and Social Media may be rewiring our brains toward hyperactivity and attention deficit disorder (ADD).  Three years on a rock has been super compressed to the 3-second rule on the Internet, the time it takes web surfers to make a decision whether to stay or click away. The question to ask is, are we grounding or floundering when we scatter our attention in this way?

The 10,000 hour rule

Research from both Cambridge and Harvard supports the idea that expertise in any field depends more on years of deliberate practice than on inborn talent. The 10,000 hour rule suggests that it takes about 4 hours a day of deep concentrated practice with skilled coaching over a 10 year period to achieve a level of world class expertise or performance.

This fits the traditional view of discipline in the Japanese arts, where 10 years is actually considered a relatively short time to have practiced a traditional martial or performing art. By that standard, the average person today could scarcely qualify as a curious passerby.

Is Attention Deficit a disorder or a myth?

Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), hyperactivity combined with lack of ability to concentrate, is officially ordained as a psychological disorder. That diagnosis has led to the prescription of the drug Ritalin to now over a million children in the United States. Dr. David Keisey, professor of behavioral sciences at the University of California at Fullerton, and author of the bestselling book on Temperament Please Understand Me, wrote an article exposing this widespread practice, The Evil Practice of Narcotherapy for Attention Deficit. This article seriously raises the question that the phenomenon of ADD may be a grossly misconstrued myth, which has led to the untenable practice of drugging hyperactive children into submission, despite serious long-term side effects that could wound an entire generation.

And yet predisposition to ADD behavior may actually be built into our media and lifestyle, where technology and lifestyle choices encourage us to concentrate very briefly on many things at once. Checking e-mail during a meeting, watching TV while eating dinner, or listening to music while falling asleep may seem like perfectly normal behavior. But increasingly this habit of dividing attention between several things at once is leading to dangerous behavior like distracted driving, that is eating, drinking, reading, texting, talking on a cell phone, or even putting on make up while driving. It comes in 3 forms visual distraction: taking your eyes off of the road, manual distraction: taking your hands off the wheel, and mental distraction: taking your mind off of the task of driving. Even though it is inadvisable, and sometimes illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving, it is not uncommon to see.

What to focus on?

A good rule of thumb is to take your To Do List, all of the musts and shoulds and coulds in your mind, and squeeze it for all it is worth. That is, reduce it to size with the 80/20 Rule, by concentrating on the 20% of activities, ideas, and people that yield 80% of the benefits and results in your life. This is easier said than done. Can you really say no to the 80% of the things and people who compete for your time and attention? Can you attend to the 20% that matter most?

One thing that can help you decide and act appropriately is to shift your attention from What you should do, and focus on Why?, as recommended by Peter M. Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline.  It is said that if you met Steve Jobs in the elevator at Apple, your answer to his simple question, “Why are you working at Apple?,” determined whether or not you kept your job.

Bringing peace to the monkey mind

According to Wikipedia, the definition of the Monkey Mind is a Buddhist term meaning “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable.” It is an ancient concept, suggesting that it is a fundamental part of the human experience. How we deal with this restless inner state is the key to our happiness and productivity. The scatter brain can never sit still long enough to appreciate deeply or perform at a high level.

A key question to ask yourself is, Where does the Monkey Mind reside? Is it inside you, or built into the fabric of society? Wherever you find it, what will you do to bring it under control? Fortunately, there is a far better and more natural solution than Ritalin, and it is found right in our own bodies.

Dr. William Bloom is the author of The Endorphin Effect, a book which led to breakthroughs in healthcare and personal development. This book shows how visualization and awareness can release endorphins in your body, which will heal, energize, and revitalize your life.

Dr Bloom outlines five triggers that release endorphins, and all of them are accessible to us in daily life.

  1. Enjoyable thoughts or activity
  2. Inner smile with whole body
  3. Deep and conscious rest
  4. Connection with natural world
  5. Engage in physical exercise

Endorphins is a natural ambrosia that we can produce with our own bodies, that is highly responsive to our emotional and physical awareness, and which can soothe even the beast that bothers us through the Monkey Mind.

Lastly, as a solution to the problem of goal pursuit in which the divided mind chases after two rabbits and loses them both, the calm mind is able to attract the rabbits by being calm and focused.

“For him who has no concentration, there is no tranquility.”

~Bhagavad Gita (c. BC 400-, Sanskrit poem)

Download a CONCENTRATION MANDALA which summarizes the ideas in this article, and serves as a reminder on how to practically apply the principles.

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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Thought Readership #9: Title Fights

by Liz Alexander on July 2, 2012

It begs the question. If human beings are so smart, how come it took us so long to combine the wheel (invented circa 3500BC) with the suitcase (first believed to have been used by Roman legionnaires traveling the then-known world)? Yet once Bernard Sadow arrived at his “aha” moment in 1970 and began manufacturing luggage that could be pulled along with castors, incremental innovations followed suit. Only to be expected, right?

For example, by 1989 Northwest Airlines pilot Bob Plath had come up with something better than pulling along luggage horizontally on four castors with a strap, as Sadow had proposed. Plath’s Rollaboard® creation was a vertical bag with two wheels and a “telescopic” handle. Compare that today with the even more advanced 360 degree swivel wheeled versions…or the further evolution known as the Climbing UP suitcase, that can be pulled up stairs and inclined surfaces because it exchanges fixed wheels for all-round rubber tracks.

The modern, wheeled suitcase is just one example of how iterative innovation works. Why don’t we see much of that with books that directly contradict an earlier concept?

A rare example is Harvard Business Professor Deepak Malhotra’s book I Moved Your Cheese: For Those Who Refuse to Live as Mice in Someone Else’s Maze (Berrett-Koehler, 2011). Now, you’ve probably just done a double take on the title because, yes, it’s almost identical to Spencer Johnson and Ken Blanchard’s 1998 classic bestseller Who Moved My Cheese? Which was precisely the point.  (Did you know, by the way, that you cannot copyright a book title – which is why you often see so many same or similar ones appearing – such as this example of my own 1999 book?).

The point Malhotra is making is that the way we need to deal with change has, well – changed in the ensuing 13 years since Johnson and Blanchard’s classic was first published. He addressed that head-on by challenging the premise of WMMC and offering up a fresh way to look at how to handle situations where the goalposts (“the cheese”) keep shifting.

How many other classic business titles can you think of that could benefit from a 21st century overhaul? So why don’t more authors do what Malhotra has done? We certainly expect, with respect to everyday products, that original innovations (like Sadow’s roll-along luggage) would soon be superseded by better iterations. So why do we leave it only to the original authors to update their books? Most of the time that rarely happens and is unlikely to lead to any radically different thinking in any event (largely because experts don’t like to be seen to change their minds, at least not in public).

I raise this point because you might be a business expert who wants to write a book, and need an attention-grabbing idea. My challenge to you is this: what “classic” bestseller is there in your space that you could contradict, overhaul, and bring up-to-date? What was written years ago that everyone in your industry continues to reference, when you know there’s a much better way to do things? And do you have the chutzpah, as Malhotra obviously has, to use the (slightly tweaked) original title?

If everyone in your world is still metaphorically lugging along honking big leather suitcases with makeshift castors fixed to the bottom and your business offers clients the equivalent of ones that glide on jet packs – why aren’t you writing a book like that?

As I pointed out earlier, we humans like to think we’re smart, but how many companies do you know where processes remain in place only because “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Similarly, how many business book concepts are still being embraced today, despite there being a better approach that you could share?

Next time you read an industry “standard” and think to yourself: I know a better way than this, why not bring attention to your book by directly challenging the old one? Let’s see more iterative innovation with respect to book ideas! After all, moving “cheese” around was just ripe (if you’ll forgive the pun) for an overhaul. So whose business classic would you like to give 2013/14 “makeover” to, and what would you title it? Email me with your suggestions and I’ll compile them into a future article. Best one will receive an (as yet undetermined) small but highly covetable prize!

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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“You’re the same today as you’ll be in five years

except for the people you meet and the books you read.”

~Charlie “Tremendous” Jones

The philosopher’s choice

In the late 1970s I took a graduate school course in the Philosophy of Education which changed the way I thought not just about Education, but about the very way we assemble and articulate the ideas by which we live. The course was taught by a professor who had been first trained as a lawyer, and he had an uncanny ability to persuade you to his way of thinking. Although any good teacher can be persuasive, this man could make you a believer in a particular approach to Education one week, and the next week bring you in total opposition to it.

The course was structured so that in 12 weeks we covered 6 major Philosophies of Education, each of them quite different from one another, and each with both a history and a following. The first week was devoted to the pros of that philosophy, all of the excellent reasons why that approach was not only the best, but perhaps the only way to educate children. The following week took exactly the opposite point of view, destroying each argument he had made one by one, until you become a total believer that this particular philosophy of education was not only fundamentally flawed, but perhaps outright dangerous to the education of children.

He systematically constructed and then deconstructed the pros and cons of the six major philosophies behind Education in the Western world from the time of the ancient Greeks to modern day. His persuasive prowess was impressive enough, but even on the final day of the course, his response to our burning question of which philosophy did he believe in, was simply to smile and laugh under his breath, like Buddha turning a flower in his fingers rather than making any final statement of belief.

It was also remarkable how the same belief systems would rise and fall throughout history, each having its crusaders and opponents, each enjoying a heyday and a May Day. Although the professor was skilled at presenting the various perspectives on the Philosophy of Education, what really stimulated our thinking at the deepest level was reading the various arguments pro and con. It was an exhilarating and exhausting mental exercise, touching deepest at the roots of how we think about teaching and learning, and it would have been nothing by mere opinions were it not for the reading we did.

Which way reading today?

The mental shock came with real world aftershocks, on realizing that in schools not only were students reading less and less, but teachers and educational administrators were also reading less and responding to believe systems of which they were barely aware, just for the sake of survival. And this was in the days well before the Internet, which arguably has stricken a massive blow to the world of reading as we knew it.

A generation which grew up reading no longer reads books, at least in the same concentrated reflective way. The newer generations are growing up with too many distractions to take an interest in books. Reading today is more like sampling from a digital smorgasbord, than eating a well prepared meal.

Leaving regrets and longing for older ways to the Luddites, let’s consider what can actually be done today to make reading an even richer experience than was ever possible in the past.

Quotes. “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” ~Emile Buchwald. These ten words speak volume on what is required to raise a generation of readers. It is not the love of knowledge that drives the process at first, but rather the love of parents, and the way in which adult society views and enjoys reading that guides the future of the next generation.

Benefits. Though there are many benefits of reading, there is an excellent summary of the definitive benefits in an article called “10 Benefits of Reading” on the www.inewsindia.com website. They can be summarized as ➀ Active mental process, ➁ Increased vocabulary, ➂ Other cultures and places, ➃ Concentration and focus, ➄ Builds Self-esteem, ➅ Improves Memory, ➆ Improves Discipline, ➇ Improves Creativity, ➈ Material for Conversation, ➉ Reduces Boredom.

Sharing Knowledge. It is not just the process of reading that changes you, and certainly not the tests that you take on what you read and soon forget, but rather the way in which you share the knowledge you have gained through reading. Talk about what you have read, write about it both formally and informally. Encourage others to talk about what what they are reading. This is what makes ideas come alive and have a practical bearing on how we live our lives.

Digital vs Analog. Although e-books and tablet reading is rapidly overtaking paperbacks, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. We are blessed with a choice that previous generations never had. Each has advantages that they other cannot provide, so why not engage in both/and thinking, rather than making an either/or choice?

Notetaking. This is where the mind gains traction and actually begins to travel. If you read without taking notes, you will merely skim the surface or spin your wheels. People who read books without taking notes often feel they are trying to scratch an itchy foot with their shoes still on. They never reach the deeper part of the mind that is calling for attention. Your notes reflect the quantity and quality of your thinking. Therefore, why not emulate the great geniuses of history and keep a notebook as a matter of course? Fill your notebook with sketches and illustrations, no matter how rough. Your thoughts will come alive and reward you with greater insights than you can get from reading without notetaking.

Commonplace Book. Read my article “Making Your Mark” to learn about the lost tradition of the commonplace book, the handmade personal book, which was not only taught at Oxford and Harvard until the early 20th Century, but was practiced by people in all walks of life. Active journaling make for active reading.

Foreign Language. An even greater way to stretch your mind than reading is to learn to speak and read in a foreign language. You quickly learn that all a foreign language dictionary can do is roughly point you in the right direction. Words are not mathematical equivalents, but rather living nuances, like the spread of a fan. This is why a literal translation is actually a mistranslation. The proverb “Out of site, out of mind” was translated into Chinese by a computer, and then back into English. The words came back, “Invisible Idiot.” Clearly there is more to translation than plugging words into a formula. A new language means a new world, new opportunities, and greater flexibility in your thinking.

Flexible Focus. Reading itself stretches your mental legs and gives you new perspectives on people and places. But you can also enrich your reading experience by introducing more variety into what you read, where and how you read. Try changing your reading environment, read aloud, read together, read alone.

Lastly, for reading follow the wise advice of Peter Drucker.

“Follow effective action with quiet reflection.

From quiet reflection will come even more effective action.”

Download a READING MANDALA for a summary of the ideas in this article, and as a guide to how to enhance your approach to reading

William ReedWilliam Reed specializes in applying practical wisdom from Japanese and Asian culture to solving the problems of modern business and living. He is the author of the Flexible Focus column on Active Garage, the syndicated column Creative Career Path and the book A Zoom Lens for Your life. William is also a Representative Director and Co-Founder of EMC QUEST Corporation, which provides Coaching for Communication and Change, World Class Speaking™, and Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE™.
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Avoiding The Teenager’s Folly

Back in the days when I was young and foolish I’d be arguing (as I frequently did) with my mother about some relationship or other. Mum was pretty open-minded, but it always seemed to me as if she didn’t really understand what I was going through.

I remember her looking at me on one occasion with an arched eyebrow and saying, “You know, Elizabeth, you’re not the only person in the world who has had this experience. We were all young once!”

I was reminded of that conversation as I read Phil Simon’s Kickstarter-funded book The Age of the Platform: How Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google Have Redefined Business. 

Simon’s thesis is this. We live in The Age of the Platform, a time requiring “a completely different mindset.” One in which companies “must not only exist but they must thrive in a state of constant motion.”

Okay – nothing new there. What else?

Well, Simon says, the “Gang of Four” (Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google), “are following an entirely new blueprint and business model.” Basically, I gather, by fostering “symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationships with users, customers, partners, vendors, developers, and the community at large.”

But wasn’t that what chocolate manufacturer, Cadbury, did back in the 19th century? And the Ford Motor Company in the early part of the 20th century?

Cadbury founded a model village for its employees, so were both business and community oriented. Its collaborative efforts were particularly appreciated during both World Wars when the company not only paternalistically looked after the male employees who fought on the front during WWI but converted part of the Bourneville factory to produce parts for fighter planes during WWII.

And while Simon credits today’s supposed “Platform Age” with engendering a business and consumer focus, I couldn’t help remembering that Henry Ford paid his employees enough money so they could become consumers, not just producers of his motorcars.

In their day, the assembly line and mass production were groundbreaking technologies. Between 1911 and 1920 the number of cars coming out of the Ford plant increased 1,433 per cent. And the “ecosystem” that Simon attributes to today’s Platform Age was surely evident in one particular Ford innovation: establishing brand-loyal, franchised dealers!

As my mother used to point out, just because “oldies” have lost their edge, doesn’t mean that they weren’t like today’s “youngsters” once.

If the platform is indeed a new business model and not simply another empty buzzword, one could argue it was also around in the days of the Medicis — the 14th century banking dynasty.

Through a series of clever strategic activities, including marriages of convenience, the family significantly increased their social network in a way we now describe as “stickiness.” And innovation? The reason why Frans Johansson named his book on creative breakthroughs The Medici Effect was in honor of the way the family sponsored an ecosystem of scientists, philosophers, and artists, breaking down long-established barriers in order to herald one of the biggest explosions of innovation in history.

Did the Medicis, Cadbury, and Ford do extremely interesting and innovative things in their day, “especially with respect to emerging technologies?” Check!

Did they (once) adapt extremely well and quickly to change? Check!

Did they (once) routinely introduce compelling new offerings? Check!

Did they (once) work with partners in very exciting ways? Check!

Every era has its own form of what Simon calls a platform; this is not a new concept. Which begs the question: is the way that Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google do business so very different from yesteryear? Or are some so bedazzled by technology that it blinds them to historical truths?

This is where the “ecosystem” vital to crafting superior books comes in. The problem with self-published books like this one is that the author no longer has to go through the rigorous vetting process required by commercial publishers. One in which an acquisitions editor will query (and probably reject) spurious arguments and superficial thinking.

As an author, being provoked to think deeper and harder about your material either produces a superior product or reveals the unsettling fact that you don’t have much to say that’s new, so would be better off not publishing a book at all.

The best time to do this kind of thinking is early on in the project. Otherwise send your manuscript to honest, discerning readers (not your mother!) for their feedback before you go into print.

Here’s the issue with many of the books that are written in the space of a few months. If it’s that quick and easy, you’re not really thinking! Take a look at what Daniel Kahneman writes in his book Thinking Fast and Slow about the two kinds of thinking: System 1 is effortless, automatic, intuitive – and error-prone. It’s what most people do most of the time.

Which is why authors who wish to be taken seriously need to establish a habit of System 2 thinking, which is reasoned, slow, and takes so much more effort.

A clue to how to develop that can be found in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s wonderful book The Black Swan. In the Acknowledgments section he points out the value of finding detractors to your argument. “One learns most from people one disagrees with,” Taleb says.

An important piece of advice for any author not wanting to appear like a teenager who thinks they’ve discovered something new when they haven’t.

Liz-AlexanderLiz Alexander is a prime example of how childhood passions are the best indicators of future careers. She’s been writing since she could pick up a pencil, was reading newspapers at age two, and Homer’s epic poems by the age of 8. As “Dr Liz” (granted after five years in the educational psychology doctoral program at UT Austin), she draws on 25 years of commercial publishing experience to transform subject matter experts into best-selling thought leaders. Instead of the usual bio blah, blah, you can find an infographic depicting her communications career here, as well as social media links. Liz loves mutually respectful, intelligent arguments; feel free to challenge anything she writes here, or on her website
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Hank is a young fellow working for a fifteen year old company in Sarasota, Florida. He is frustrated because there is a lack of momentum on the part of his manager to fully implement Hank’s gifts and skills. He’s frustrated because he feels underutilized and unfulfilled. He feels like a racehorse that isn’t given enough rein to really run the race and win. He’s being held back, but why?

More often than not, managers aren’t conscious of how they influence their team. They don’t even know that there’s a way that they are being that limits the success of their direct reports and the success of the company as well. Only sometimes are they holding back their direct reports in service to their own desired outcomes. Usually, they just don’t know.

What Hank hears from his boss is to not push for change too quickly; “Things take time around here. Slow and steady wins the race.” Hank isn’t a tortoise; he’s a thoroughbred. He was hired for his expertise and the results that he’s capable of. He has the passion and capability to make things happen quickly. After two years with this company under this particular manager, Hank has exhausted much of his creative energies fighting his manager for more free rein.

Hank’s dilemma

Hanks dilemma isn’t foreign at all to many individuals working under a management style that holds them back rather than supports growth and expansion. How does he bring the best he can to a situation where his manager really doesn’t know how to manage a thoroughbred like Hank? He could quit; however, is there something else that’s happening here for Hank that could bring value to his time in this company? What’s possible here as a learning opportunity?

Through our coaching, Hank gets clearer that he is being exposed to a management style that is ineffective for him and people like him. He wants things to change – he wants his manager to be more of a mentor; he wants to move up in the ranks and be a leader himself in bigger and better ways. He’s stuck behind a plow horse and can’t see his way clear to run the race he believes he is here to win.

A fascinating aspect of Hank’s dilemma is that he is actually in a perfect internship opportunity where he has the most to learn to be a really good leader for people like himself. Rather than focus on how ineffective his manager is, he can focus on two things:

  • What’s missing in his manager’s style that if it were present would spur Hank on to greater success?
  • What’s available in the current situation that can be of benefit to him and his leadership development? What’s incubating within himself that will bring about a much more powerful leadership style?

I believe that these questions are so essential in business coaching. Sometimes our clients can’t change their circumstance, however they can shift their perspective. I believe that every situation we find ourselves in is an internship – a place to learn what we need to learn. More often than not, like Hank, we didn’t consciously sign up for these internships – these learning opportunities. Thoroughbreds want to run – they don’t want to do anything else – there’s nothing else to do but get to the finish line. However, Hank has an opportunity to learn through experience and take notes on how to be a leader – committed to the best and highest contribution of his team. He can only do this through his current experience.

Being fully immersed in his current circumstances, Hank is having an experience that informs him about his own personal reality, needs and desires; informs him of what capacities he sees is required to work in the environment within which he finds himself; and, informs him of what capacities he wants to cultivate to be the manager he wishes he had for himself, and that he wants to be for others.

Hank’s practice is multidimensional: He has to get out of his normal operating strategies, which include the automatic generation of thoughts and feelings. He has to look around and see how his environment is currently affecting him. He has to think – I mean really think, about what there is to learn right now beyond perceived constraints. He has to accept that what he thought would be the rewards and outcome of this position in this company isn’t forthcoming, yet there are greater rewards far more rich, delicious and sustainable for him to achieve, right here, right now. Hank can get – and is getting, that this is a leadership development opportunity of a lifetime that isn’t available in any MBA program; not even at Harvard Business School. If he can shift his attitude and perspective, Hank will become an exceptional leader and manager.

We all have dreams about what we imagine our careers will reap. More often than not, we see it happening soon, faster and better than it actually occurs. We get frustrated, pissed off, resentful because it doesn’t look the way we imagined it. As we each step into being grown up and adult, realizing that life doesn’t show up the way we want, but shows up the way it does, we have a much greater capacity to choose willingly to explore the opportunities for growth and learning that are right in front of us. By meeting what feels like demands with openness and curiosity we will be given the rewards we anticipated in ways we’ve yet to imagine.

Though it appears as if Hank’s manager is inept at his job, he will actually be one of the greatest contributors to Hank’s development as an up and coming leader. However, it’s up to Hank to fully utilize his time under his guidance to fully benefit from his mentor’s style.

Rosie KuhnThis article is contributed by Dr. Rosie Kuhn, founder of the Paradigm Shifts Coaching Group, author of Self-Empowerment 101, and creator and facilitator of the Transformational Coaching Training Program. She is a life and business coach to individuals, corporations and executives.
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