Posts in ‘Leadership’

Look at the image of black squares in rows and columns, and count how many black spots you see. While there appear to be many, in fact there are none. When we focus on the figure, we easily ignore the ground. In this optical illusion, the intersections appear to be sprinkled with black dots, which pop in and out and shift about the image with a dizzying effect, purely as a figment of our imagination.

If you calmly focus on any one of the white dots, you can clearly see that it is white, and that the black and grey dots are an illusion. If you focus on the central white dot, and gradually let your field of peripheral vision expand, you may be able to see an expanded range of dots as they are white, without any flickering dots on the screen. This is a challenging shift in focus, because it requires you to see comprehensively the big picture, the details, and the relationships all at the same time.

Easy to get lost in business

The lack of comprehensive vision causes confusion. This happens to many people who enter the world of business. Whether you are an executive or someone on a career path, if you don’t know where you are and where you are going, you may easily find yourself lost in the cross winds.

The flickering mentality leads to a pursuit of short-term profits without regard for consequences. Large organizations and governments which engage in short-sighted or greedy behavior can wreak havoc on the economy and the environment. The pursuit of the flickering dot mirage creates stress, and over time the process tends to chew people up and spit them out.

Itoh Motoshige, Professor of Economics at the University of Tokyo, says that to understand economies today we need a flexible focus, the ability to shift appropriately from the bird’s eye Macro view, to the insect’s eye Micro view for detail, and to the fish’s eye for changes and interrelationships. This is precisely the power of the Mandala Chart, which enables you to shift perspective and focus with ease.

A world of opportunity

The Mandala Chart can help us regain our bearings by seeing our business comprehensively, and what role we want to play within it. It also helps us refocus on the interfaces and spaces between things and people. Because the majority of people are too busy pursuing the mirage to really recognize reality, this is where the opportunities are.

What is typically presented as a good opportunity in business, is often actually an opportunity to be part of somebody else’s business plan. Most of these so-called opportunities are so easy to duplicate, that they lead right to the red ocean of competition for slight edge advantages and dwindling profit margins. If customers are unable to distinguish between brands or quality, they will naturally gravitate to the lowest cost option.

True opportunities are never obvious, because they exist in the spaces between. They represent the world of possibilities and new combinations, and come to life when an entrepreneur or enterprise recognizes and fully engages their potential. This is why so much innovation happens at the leading edge of technology, through interdisciplinary collaboration at the edges, and through networking and mastermind groups.

An ancient principle

The Principle of Comprehensiveness is the second of eight principles in the Framework of Wisdom for the Mandala Chart. Two concepts which help define it have roots in Buddhism, particularly the branch of Esoteric Buddhism which introduced the Mandala to Japan.

(), meaning empty as the sky, which in fact is full of stars, galaxies, and infinite possibilities. In Japanese painting, architecture, traditional and martial arts, space is a powerful entity. It is also an essential idea in Buddhism, often mistranslated as emptiness, but more accurately representing the infinite potential of that which is without form. The realization of this potential depends on the second concept, which is how you engage with this potential.

(en), meaning edge or relationship, which can also mean the opportunity which is abundant in the intersections where people and ideas meet. It may also be thought of as the present moment and space, which is where the past transforms into the future. Think of how often things have developed according to the people you met and the decisions you made at the time. Yet this is an ongoing process, not a final verdict.

The Mandala itself has roots in India, Tibet, China, and Japan, where it was introduced in the 9th Century by a Buddhist Priest named 空海 (Kūkai). From the sixty-four frame (8×8) structure of the Diamond World Mandala, a National Treasure from 9th Century Japan, it is easy to see the roots of the Mandala Chart. The imagery used then represented the iconography of Esoteric Buddhism, as a graphical way of looking at the Buddhist universe with flexible focus.

Back to business

How then do you apply this to business? Once you understand the importance of flexible focus, once you learn how to look at things comprehensively, then you need to fix your eight compass points for business, and place them in the framework of the Mandala Chart.

How you determine those points depends a great deal on your type of business, your role in the business, and the field on which you play. To get you started, try downloading the PDF template COMPREHENSIVENESS MANDALA, which gives you eight coordinates likely to apply to any business. You can apply the Principle of Comprehensiveness to any area of your life (Health, Business, Finance, Home, Society, Personal, Study, Leisure). It is best if you generate your own questions, starting from the essential ingredients of Quality Questions: WHY? WHEN? HOW? WHAT? WHO? HOW TO? HOW? WHY ME?

  1. WHY?
    • Why are you in business?
    • What Legacy do you want to leave?
    • What would you do if you had the resources?
  2. WHAT?
    • What products and services do you offer?
    • What is your plan for ongoing content creation?
    • What are the platforms by which you will deliver your value?
  3. WHY ME?
    • Why are you the right person (people) to carry out this mission?
    • What in your background supports or led up to this position?
    • Why should people choose you above all of the providers available?
  4. WHO?
    • Who are the key players in your organization?
    • Who are the key stakeholders in your business?
    • Who are your ideal customers?
  5. WHERE?
    • Where will you locate your business physically and geographically?
    • Where can people around the world access your business online?
    • What venues and stages do you have to showcase and conduct your business?
  6. WHEN?
    • When do you plan to begin?
    • Can you put your projects on a calendar or timeline?
    • What are your milestones for progress?
  7. HOW MUCH?
    • How much will it cost to operate your business?
    • How much can be expected in revenues?
    • What are the key numbers and indices that you need to pay attention to?
  8. HOW?
    • How do you plan to achieve your goals?
    • What systems do you have in place for delivery?
    • How will you ensure that your business is sustainable?
  9. HOW TO?
    • How to scale up your business?
    • How will your business continue to innovate?
    • How will you automate your business processes for efficiency?
  10. HOW?
    • How will your business secure cash flow?
    • What operating systems and technologies give you economies of scale?
    • What is your system for accountability and follow up?

The logic of the location of these questions on the Mandala makes sense when you refer to the Wealth Dynamics Square covered in the previous article, Time for a Change #16: A Rewarding Business, with FLOW in the center, DYNAMO on the upper side (How to? What? Why me?), BLAZE on the right side (Why me? Who? Where?), TEMPO on the lower side (Where? When? How much?), and STEEL on the left side of the square (How much? How? How to?). The important thing here is to consider them all with the flexible perspective made possible by the Mandala Chart.

Spend some time trying to see your business comprehensively, looking for new opportunities in the spaces between, for new ways to connect and integrate each of these elements.

The next time you find yourself getting tired, confused, or stressed by your job or business, look at your Mandala Chart. See if you can take your mind off of the flickering dots illusion, and refocus on the substantial opportunities that exist in the spaces between. Be sure to write your insights down. What you discover will calm your mind and benefit your business.

Daniel Markovitz’s A Factory of One

Imagine you’re a performance coach or consultant who wants to write a book. You’re aware of the “competition” in the form of well-known efficiency experts including David Allen, Julie Morgenstern, and Tony Schwartz. You also know that the basic advice of scheduling rather than constantly checking email and keeping your desk organized has been done to death. What can you contribute to the conversation that’s not only new – but truly transformative for the reader?

What would you do when faced with that challenge? Throw in the towel?

Not necessarily. You could do what Daniel Markovitz has so deftly done in A Factory of One: Applying Lean Principles to Banish Waste and Improve Your Personal Performance (CRC Press, 2012). You could turn your topic on its head and ask: If it were that easy, why aren’t we all more efficient? Maybe it’s not more tools that people need, but a different strategy? One that’s focused on the root cause of poor performance, not just its effects.

Markovitz has successfully illustrated one of the approaches every nonfiction author needs to consider today, unless you’re content to languish among the “me-too” authors whose books are gracing the remainder tables; combine your core topic with something no one else would think of associating with it.

In the case of A Factory of One, it’s Lean principles, a concept that originated in Japanese manufacturing to “dramatically boost quality by reducing waste and errors.” As the back cover of Markovitz’s book states, “(U)ntil now, few have recognized how relevant these powerful ideas are to individuals and their daily work.”

By cleverly combining personal performance, Lean principles, and self-awareness exercises inspired by the Japanese concept of gemba, this author has succeeded in offering a compelling read that actually works. Shortly after closing this quick and entertaining book I was eagerly on the hunt to spot “waste” in my own working day. And, yes, there was plenty – which otherwise would have remained invisible had I not reviewed this book.

You may already be familiar with the international best seller, Blue Ocean Strategy, which focuses on ways to make the competition irrelevant. This is an issue for all thoughtful authors, many of whom worry that with so many books being published these days it’s becoming harder to produce anything truly unique.

Not so! For a start, most authors (self-published or otherwise) have no clue how to market themselves, so their books don’t even come to their target audience’s attention, which reduces the competition somewhat. But by taking the approach that Markovitz so powerfully illustrates, you need never worry ever again about someone else duplicating or even “stealing” your book idea.

This question is part of my 7-step book development process: What other idea(s) could you combine with your basic concept to strengthen your book and make it uniquely yours? When you think of the permutations, you’ll realize there are endless opportunities for anyone creative enough to do this.

Just think of the ways in which this approach has produced innovations in daily life:

  • Journaling + computer technology = blogging.
  • Coffee + Italian café culture = Starbucks.
  • Wizards + school + and childhood rites of passage = Harry Potter series.
  • Ginger + chocolate + wasabi peas = Terry’s Toffee Asian Accent.™
  • The Roman republic + Montesquieu’s checks & balances + John Locke’s philosophy + English common law (Magna Carta) = The US Constitution.

If you want to avoid worrying about whether someone, in your industry or field, is writing a book identical to yours, you need to adopt a “Blue Ocean Strategy.” Which means going that extra mental distance to come up with unusual concepts – as Daniel Markovitz and others have done – that will make your book uniquely yours.

Next Up: The Teenager’s Folly: The author who only thought he had something new to say, and how to avoid making the same mistake.

To read interviews with many of the authors I’ve reviewed for this Thought Readership column, please go to my Articles page.

Time For a Change #16: A Rewarding Business

by William Reed on May 31, 2012

Finding your path of least resistance

To better understand the Wealth Dynamics Square featured here, a brilliant creation by entrepreneur and founder of Wealth Dynamics, Roger J. Hamilton, it is best to start with the Wealth Dynamics Profile Test, which gives you a measure of where you start, and how far you can go, as well as which direction represents your path of least resistance to Wealth.

Even if you are not an entrepreneur, it will help you understand Wealth Creation, which is a major function of any business, and increasingly an imperative for educational institutions and non-profit organizations, which cannot depend on donations to keep their operations afloat.

There isn’t space here to go into the details of the 8 profiles, except to note that they are supported by successful entrepreneurs and business models in each category, and based on the concepts developed by Carl Jung, and derived from Asian philosophy. More importantly, the Wealth Dynamics Square is like a codex for understanding how people interact with people to create the ideas, networks, products, services and systems that make the business world go around.

Keeping your perspective

There are so many elements to manage in business that it is easy to lose your perspective. By focussing too much on one area at the expense of others, it is easy to win the battle but lose the war. The Mandala Chart can give you flexible focus, like a zoom lens which can look at the bird’s eye view of the whole, the insect’s eye for detail, and the fish’s eye for the connections.

As a guide to navigating and actually applying the concepts in the Wealth Dynamics Square, I suggest 8 categories you can use for Business: Value, Leverage, Wealth, Business Model, Strategy, Platform, Resources, and Network. Download a BUSINESS MANDALA featuring key questions for each of these categories, so that you can begin to create your own customized approach to a rewarding business.

A. Value

Without value you have no business. The challenge is that the value that is obvious to you may not be obvious, and may not even be noticed by the people who have the ability to pay for it. To be successful you need to create value, brand and package it in a way that is easy and attractive for others. This is an ongoing process, if your business is to survive the eroding forces of competition and shifting values. You must have energy and commitment to be at your best.

➀ What is your Wealth Profile, your path of least resistance?

➁ What is your personal platform, you means of showing your value to others?

➂ What is your process and plan for increasing your value over time?

Click here to find out more about the Wealth Dynamics Profile Test.

B. Leverage

Value without leverage is mere potential, a good idea waiting to be implemented. Leverage is how a concept is made known, tangible, deliverable, and ready to use or consume. Leverage is made possible by working with people in complementary profiles who can carry the concept forward into action. It depends on trust, tools, and systems for reliability.

➀ Which profiles offer the most leverage for your value?

➁ What strategies outside of your profile can you engage in to increase your leverage?

➂ What is your process and plan for increasing trust among your leverage partners?

C. Wealth

According to Roger J. Hamilton, Value X Leverage = Wealth (V x L = W). This is higher level of value for business partners, customers, and society, and the reason why a business stays in business. It is also what contributes to the lasting value, or legacy of the business.

➀ What types of value will you create for your business partners and stakeholders?

➁ What type of value do you create for your customers?

➂ What value do you create for society, and what legacy will you leave?

D. Business Model

All successful businesses operate on a structure, or business model that keeps processes running smoothly, and is the key to duplication, repetition, and sustainability. Some business models can be copied, as often happens with franchises. However, the ultimate success depends on the people involved, and not the mechanics of the business.

➀ What are the key elements and processes in your business model?

➁ Can you articulate them in the Business Model Toolbox?

➂ Do you have agreements or contracts in place to communicate and protect your business model?

Click here to learn more about business model generation, as well as tools for generating your own business model.

E. Strategy

While the business model is the vehicle, strategy is the map, the plan that shows where you are going and how you will get there. Strategies should allow flexibility to adapt the plan as you go, without losing sight of the end goal.

❐ Do you have scenarios and simulations for your business potential?

❐ Do you have a business plan?

❐ Do you have a platform for implementing your Strategy?

Click here to learn about a tool that can give you Accelerated Action with GOALSCAPE

F. Platform

In a world which is flooded with information and driven to distraction, you need a platform to be noticed, and to attract people to your products and services. Although there seems to be no limit of choices in how you build your digital or analog platform, the options are increasingly affordable and provide greater reach at a lower cost. The effectiveness of your platform depends on having a sound business model and a good strategy.

❐ What is your digital platform, website, social media, software?

❐ What is your analog platform, brochure, business card, one sheets?

❐ What is your process and plan for leveraging your platform?

G. Resources

No business can last without resources, not only financial, but information, contacts, ideas, all of the things that support and sustain your business as it grows. Pay close attention to and protect your resources.

❐ Do you keep an inventory of your resources?

❐ Do you polish, protect, and use your resources?

❐ What is your process and plan for outsourcing when you do not have particular resources?

H. Network

Ultimately it is the people in your network who make everything possible for your business. You need to identify who they are, and take care of your network well if you would have people take care of you in turn.

❐ Who are the people that can help you?

❐ Who are the people that you can help?

❐ Do you have a process and plan to cultivate and increase your Wealth Network?

Click here to read about the anatomy of your Wealth Network

Developing a rewarding business is hard work, but it becomes easier once you identify and coordinate the elements that support it. The great thing about being or even thinking like an entrepreneur is that you navigate your own course, rather than following instructions to navigate someone else’s course. Use the Business Mandala to keep your perspective and develop your work into a rewarding business.

Being a manager, especially a project manager, can be very challenging. Staying on task and keeping the employees and team members connected as a cohesive group can pull you in many directions at once. Last week we looked at change management and what it takes to “stand your ground” from the employee’s perspective. What about from the manager’s perspective? Let’s take a look at what one might see when consulting in such situations:

  • Initially there is the belief that the consulting firm will get the team’s to stay on task and GET SOMETHING DONE!
  • As work progresses managers see the team is “getting the message” and understanding more of the business side of the situation.
  • The vocabulary introduced regarding change-, process-, and project management helps bridge the gap between managers and team members. An easing of tensions occurs.
  • After a while, though, impatience can set in because, after all, the goal of the change is to get more work done and there is all this talk, talk, talk going on. (At this point a subtle reminder that this mess took years to develop and won’t unwind overnight helps keep the client on track as to the true cost of change.)

As with employees, this is where confronting managers is critical. They need to be pushed on an uncomfortable truth – when they look at the employees they are looking at an active mirror, which reflects the quality of their leadership and management style.

So what does “stand your ground” mean as a manager? THIS is a very tough question to answer.  It comprises several elements:

  • Vulnerability
  • Determination
  • Openness
  • Discretion
  • Humility
  • Standing up for the team
  • Discipline

Vulnerability. The first element is a willingness to be vulnerable on a routine basis. Let me explain. When a team member makes a mistake and catches it this entire process may occur in isolation. The subject matter expert (SME) can be sitting at their desk and the entire process might take place in total silence. For the manager the situation can be quite different. A directive is given which is erroneous.

The entire team, if not the organization and customer, get to see the mistake and the manager may face a credibility issue right along with the technical aspects of the mistake.

Determination. This trait goes hand-in-hand with being vulnerable. Nietzsche’s famous quotation, “That which does not destroy me makes me stronger,” applies.

Openness. Teams work best when there are no surprises. When they are trusted with project information it not only shows respect it challenges them to take on their responsibility directly and work as a team member.

Discretion. This looks to fly in the face of the previous character trait, openness. I must admit the boundary between the two can shift on an almost daily basis. Deciding what to say or not say can be quite challenging. Typically, this is a non-issue. Team members can read body language, sniff the wind, compare notes, and deduce a range of options as to what is going on. Leave them to their own devices. Simply say what you feel is appropriate for the project.

Humility. When it comes to standing one’s ground this is the most challenging for a manager. The Roman philosopher, Epictetus, wrote in the 50 A.D., “The challenge with being adult is having more responsibility than authority to execute.” This is where knowing what you can and can’t do comes into play. Referring back to the employee’s position in the previous blog, you, as a manager, may have to stand your ground with your boss.

There needs to be a willingness to push through the unfairness of life.

Being humble also means staying away from aggression, i.e., avoid abusing the power of the position. It may feel nice to have someone have a report on your desk at 8 AM, Monday morning, but think about the impact on morale and what you are saying about yourself before taking that action.

Standing Up for the Team. In terms of building morale and taking a leadership position this is a critical trait. Combined with vulnerability and determination, taking a bullet…errr…standing up for the team means having the courage to stand up for the appropriate principles in a given situation. Times like this are where the issue of whether or not you have gainful employment may flash before your mind’s eye. This isn’t about false bravado or wanting to be seen as a hero. It is simply about standing up for what is right in a given situation.

The best work is done in climates where everyone is grounded in their appropriate principle set and “standing up for the team” (from CEO to the newest SME) is encouraged. It shows everyone you are top-drawer material. It attracts excellence like flowers attract bees.

Discipline. Discipline is the linchpin. There is a spiritual toughness required that isn’t tough. That sounds oxymoronic but it isn’t. It goes back to:

If everything were okay I’d see _______________ .”

Step back, get a cup of coffee, be quiet, do what ever it takes to find that spot where you can finish that sentence for every component of the project. Do the variance analysis between what you would see if everything were okay and what actually is. Promote work that closes the gap. Be fearless (as in “without fear”) about it.

In closing there are two concluding statements:

  1. Notice how much longer this blog is than the previous one addressing employees standing their ground. That is why there should be more zeroes in your paycheck. It is very demanding being a leader/manager, and;
  2. The very same sentence, If everything were okay I’d see _______________ ,” applies to both team members and the manager. When everyone on the team comes together to get to a communal answer to this sentence that is when the team has nailed it! As a manager you can take a quite pride in facilitating “stand your ground” for the benefit of the client, organization, the team, and yourself.

Think back to your days in college or high school. You’re sitting in a lecture hall or classroom. The speaker is droning on and on using confusing vocabulary. Your mind drifts. You know you should be paying attention but you can’t.

Remember what that was like?

Then hold that experience in mind next time you write. Especially when you sit down to write a book. Because you can’t mandate that your readers will, like dutiful students, force their way through to the end like they had to in those interminably dull college lectures. They’ll shut your book and be done with it.

How do you avoid what I call “textbook creep” – the tendency of new authors, especially, to write incredibly worthy but dull prose?

For a start, you could study a book like Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization (Pearson Education Inc., 2011).

A quick bit of “back story,” first. This was not a book I had intended to review. I bought it only because I was developing a program that covered the metrics of strategic communications and thought it would be especially interesting to my participants to learn about how to measure social media effectiveness.

Thinking that this was going to be a painful but necessary exercise on my part, I dove in to the book – and was pleasantly surprised.

What does author Olivier Blanchard do that so many folks, writing these kinds of instructive books, don’t? Three things.

Before I tell you what they are, however, look at these examples from Chapter One:

“Building a social media program for an organization is hard. I won’t try to convince you otherwise.”

“What do people do on social media all day?… At its core, what people do on the social web is communicate and interact.”

“Now that we have touched upon what a social media program is, let’s discuss what a social media program does.

In the first example, I feel like Blanchard is talking to me — human being to human being. Not expert to novice or lecturer to student. That endeared me to him straight away (remember Know, Like, and Trust from Thought Readership #2?).

A line like “I won’t try to convince you otherwise,” is very conversational. When you read that you already get a sense of Blanchard as a down-to-earth guy who isn’t going to try and pull the wool over your eyes.

In the second example, the author anticipates the kind of questions that his readers will be asking as they read the book. I mean, what do people do on social media all day, for crying out loud? Again, this is a conversational sentence that also conveys that Blanchard is having a two-way dialog with his readers, not offering a soliloquy.

Oh, and if you’re wondering why I chose the word “soliloquy” and not “monologue,” it’s because a monologue is where one person dominates or monopolizes the conversation, and a soliloquy is where they are talking solely to themselves.

Neither are good ways to write a compelling book. Never forget that there is a person reading your words that might not agree with you or have questions of their own. If you can anticipate and address these, as Blanchard does skillfully throughout Social Media ROI, then you’ll score major Brownie points with them.

Thirdly, like all good presenters of information, Blanchard throws in lines that move us deftly from one set of information to the next. Again, that third example above is very conversational and natural – the kind of thing you would say if the person you are writing for were sitting down with you.

So how do you develop a more conversational tone in your writing, if this is something that doesn’t come naturally? One tip that was useful to a client of mine – let’s call her Brenda – was to speak and record.

It was the oddest thing. When I’d ask Brenda a question about her subject matter expertise during our sessions, she was incredibly articulate and natural. But ask her to write something by herself and it was a whole other ball game. Her prose was stiff, full of jargon, and read like it was coming from a textbook.

What we ended up doing most of the time was for me to ask her questions that I believed her readers would want answered and to record her responses. Now that Brenda is working on her second book, she’s doing this for herself.   

Even if you’re not planning to write a book, bear in mind how tortuous it is when “experts” start pontificating about their material, almost forgetting that there is a human being on the other side of the interaction. You don’t want your book (or any business communication) to have the same reputation as the Medicare legislation – over-written gobbledegook – do you?

Make sure your book is as “user-friendly” as Olivier Blanchard’s Social Media ROI. Otherwise, guess what? You’re likely to find you don’t have any users!

Time For a Change #15: Finding Your 80/20 Path

by William Reed on May 18, 2012

The unlikely economist turned philosopher

It seems unlikely that an economist would have an insight that ultimately inspired a philosophy of living, but that is exactly what happened. In 1906 an Italian economist named Vilfredo Pareto observed that 80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population, and that this ratio seemed to recur with regularity even in nature. This observation was picked up by management consultant Joseph M. Juran, who named it the 80-20 Rule, or Pareto Principle. Also know as the law of the vital few, it has become an accepted phenomenon that in business 80% of your sales come from 20% of your clients.

This was taken up as a core theme by Richard Koch, a successful management consultant, entrepreneur, and author, who wrote a series of books such as Living the 80/20 Way, centering on the law of the vital few as a Way of Life. He provides lots of anecdotal evidence on how the principle occurs and recurs in business, in nature, and in our experience, but also provides practical advice on how to get better results for much less effort.

The promise of his philosophy is a way to work less, worry less, succeed more often, and enjoy life more. It is a practical philosophy, one which focuses on getting results, not through the conventional approach of working harder or more efficiently, but by thoughtfully focussing on the 20% of your ideas, contacts, and activities that will yield 80% of your results. He speaks convincingly to business audiences on how most people work too hard for meager results, when they could accomplish and enjoy more by learning how to find and focus on the vital few.

Avoiding digital distraction

It is hard to fathom the degree to which digital technologies and computers have transformed our world. We can now virtually transcend space and time. New economies of scale bring goods from the world to our doorstep the same day. Computers give us windows on the world and affordable access to information, education, media, and entertainment. Through our smart phones and tablets the digital window points in so many directions, it feels as if we have the world at our fingertips.

For all of its fascination, fun and convenience, we should not forget that the world at our fingertips is actually a world under glass, a virtual reflection of what actually exists elsewhere in analog form. Moreover, since we are not actually there, we can easily go somewhere else. We are always just a click away from zillions of choices! Even if your mind is only preoccupied with 3 or 4 choices, that is already enough to cause you to become digitally distracted and lose your 80/20 bearings, losing sight of the vital few.

Bret Victor wrote A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design, an article which raises questions few people seem to be asking; about what we are giving up when we limit the many dextrous functions of our hands to the simple action of swiping our fingers or tapping on a screen. He believes that our future is in our hands, our ability to feel, manipulate and make things, and not in pictures under glass.

In our digital dreams we should not forget the importance of focus, the analog world of sensory experience, the world of sensory serendipity, the world which to appreciate you have to have been there.

Finding fun in focus

In his book, The Innovation Secrets of Steve Jobs: Insanely Different Principles for Breakthrough Success, Carmine Gallo attributes the success of Steve Jobs in part to his ability to “Say no to 1000 things.” Apple’s ability to focus has resulted in game changing innovation, making it one of the most profitable companies in the world today.

For most of us it boils down to the art of time management, which in fact is really the art of self-management. Edwin Bliss is an internationally known consultant on time management, and although his books were written in the 1970s, they as timely today as they were when they first came out. Written in brief chapters with practical advice on everything from managing your schedule to increasing your energy and focus, they are also illustrated with amusing illustrations that depict the dilemmas that we all face in time management. For a wealth of tips on how to manage your time and increase your productivity, is well worth reading his two classic titles on time management, Getting Things Done and Doing it Now.

Your path of least resistance

It is not only digital distraction and poor time management that take us off of the 80/20 Path. One of the most fundamental mistakes that you can make is to spend your precious life energy working hard on something that does not come naturally to you. Sadly, many people find themselves stuck in  a job or career in which they spend years developing an average level of competence, when they could truly excel at something else in a much shorter time if they found the right path.

This is not just the classic dilemma of the would-be artist who works at a detestable day job just to pay the bills and get by. It can apply equally well to anyone in any line of work. It is more a matter of finding your flow, according to Roger J. Hamilton your Wealth Dynamics profile. There is no sense in putting this off. It is one of the most important things you should know about yourself, if you wish to succeed on the 80/20 Path.

One of the hardest lessons to learn is that only a few things matter. How tragic if you look back at the end of your career or life, and feel as if you frittered away your life pursuing things that did not really matter. Take an 80/20 inventory of your life now, and focus on your few true friends, gifts, and goals.

For a visual summary of these ideas and approaches download here the 80/20 MANDALA. Catch up on other articles and Mandala downloads in this series by accessing the Time for a Change file on GOALSCAPE Connect.

Everything is simple but one has to learn to deal with complexity: that is an apparent paradox that may have struck you as you read this and previous entries in this and other blog series. So where does the truth lie? The answer might be found in a word: Universe.

The first thing to notice is the word itself is universe, not duoverse, or trioverse. The implication with “uni” is the existence of one underlying set of principles, matter, you name it. The second part “verse” comes from the Latin word “versare” meaning to stir or churn. This gets to the diversity on your project, the mix of personalities, technologies, business models, and life in general.

So where does this leave you? How is the craziness of your project addressed so that the goal is reached within the triple constraint? Here is a possible solution:

Imagine your project’s universe is a bazaar with all the different vendors, people, attitudes, etc. Step back and look at it from a distance and ask yourself, “What do I see?” Then ask yourself, “How does the bazaar thrive and stay alive?” Then ask, “How do I weave through all the diversity on my project to achieve the goal with the given constraints?”

This can be daunting with all the different vendors and individuals with whom you have to deal. But let’s turn back to the first part of the word universe, “uni-.” Underneath all the apparent chaos and confusion the bazaar continues. It is this underneath part that holds the key to finding simplicity. People are people, business is business, technology is technology, and the bazaar is the bazaar. If you can put together a team that masters the core principles within those arenas a picture will start unfolding. It will be a clear picture. It will be a fluid picture. The bazaar called, “my project,” will stop being a noisy, chaotic, headache-producing mess and will become a kaleidoscope of all the variability present within the one set of rules underpinning the situation. The motives of others will become clearer along with the capabilities and limits within the technologies and business case. The extent to which a path exists will show itself.

So, how does one see their universe? How does one get to that point, that place where things can be seen as they are along with the reality of whether or not their is a path to success? The answer was given in the last blog. Be still and finish THE sentence…

“Nature has given us two ears, two eyes, and but one tongue—

to the end that we should hear and see more than we speak.”

~Socrates (c. 469 BC – 399 BC)

There is nothing more timely than ancient wisdom. What was true in Socrates time over 2400 years ago, must be even truer today in our age of Internet, Satellite television, Skype, Facebook, smart phones, and talking heads shouting in our ears. Those who seek sanctuary to meditate and quiet the mind find it next to impossible in a world in which constant chatter invades our private space. To avoid drowning in the noise, people talk back in self-defense, until all the world is talking, and very few are actually listening. It is comical to see this happening sometimes in cafes when everyone at the table is talking at once, a mini-drama enacting out the larger drama happening on the world stage.

Getting back on the same page

We have gotten so distracted that we are not no longer on the same page, we are not even on the same channel. Remote control and easy access to unlimited channels has seduced us into making this easy escape any time we get distracted or bored. This problem is serious in schools, where flitting minds outrun teachers like jackrabbits. The modern attention span is so short, that the average visitor to a website makes the decision to stay or click away in just 3 seconds. That is ten times shorter than the already super-brief 30-second elevator speech.

While it is definitely harder to get and keep people’s attention today, it is even more important in business to connect with the people who matter most, your customers and your collaboration partners. The first thing to do is to get back on the same channel, then at regular intervals to get on the same page and communicate about what you see. The channel might be Skype or your smart phone, but the page is more likely to be a document, a slide presentation, a spreadsheet. The challenge is that information can get so complicated spread across multiple documents, that it is easy to lose track of the big picture. GOALSCAPE Connect is a perfect way to get and stay on the same channel and page with your collaboration partner on any project, and any level of detail. And you can show the Big Picture to others in presentations on a big screen or a tablet, enabling them to join you on the same page.

Beware the memory trap

Memory is fallible. It can even be called ephemeral, because the details fade quickly. We tend to fill them in with different details which we think are right, which we have selected as important, or simply because the wires got crossed. Memory can be a trap.

Memory is deceptive because things seem so clear at the time, we feel so certain we will remember them just as clearly. Hansel and Gretel could teach us a lesson, for he laid breadcrumbs on the path so that he and his sister could find their way back out of the forest, not realizing that the birds had eaten them, every one. Understanding does not equal recall. There is false security in a paper trail, or an e-mail trail, particularly when you try to retrieve it among shifting subject lines. What started out as RE: abc, over time under the same subject line can turn into talk about xyz. More snares for the memory trap.

The Art of Active Listening

One of the best ways to become an active listener, and to improve your memory, is to become a great notetaker. This is an art in itself, but without active listening your notes will suffer from a lack of discoveries, insights, and original observations.

Given that active listening is an essential skill for students to become active learners, Joe Landsberger created a site called Study Guides and Strategies, which contains excellent advice on active listening and other learning skills. His active listener matrix shows four factors that affect the quality of listening, Subject Complexity, Speaker, Environment, and Presentation. The accompanying questions reveal how highly interactive active listening can be. They also show how important face to face conversation is compared to the on screen or text message communication which has become so common today.

Tell to Win: Connect, Persuade, and Triumph with the Hidden Power of Story, by Peter Guber is a bestseller that has won high praise from people like President Bill Clinton, Daniel Pink, and Muhammed Yunus. Movie producer, sports team owner, and professor at UCLA, Peter Guber shows how story has the power to melt resistance, move hearts, and catalyze business success. Even this master storyteller highlights the importance of active listening in communication saying, “…the more time I spend getting them to do the talking—to tell me their story or, as it may be, their problem—the better able I am to reshape my story to address their specific challenge.”

Now retired University of Maine researcher Dr. Marisue Pickering articulated 10 skills for active listening, skills which a person so intended can learn, practice, and master.

  1. Attending, Acknowledging
  2. Restating, Paraphrasing
  3. Reflecting
  4. Interpreting
  5. Summarizing, synthesizing
  6. Probing
  7. Giving feedback
  8. Supporting
  9. Checking perceptions
  10.  Being quiet

Research on the techniques and attitudes required for active listening show it to be a skill as engaging as playing a sport. This should be good news for people whose mind is so active that they often end up talking more than they listen. It is possible to get better at both.

A New Age for Collaboration

Howard Rheingold, writer, artist and designer, theorist and community builder, delivered a humorous and insightful talk on TED.com called The New Power of Collaboration. A long-time observer of technology and its implications for communities, he will get you thinking about what all of the coming technology might mean for you in terms of collaboration. Particularly appealing is his idea that evolution, or at least our understanding of it, is moving away from competition for domination, and toward cooperation for survival.

You can download an ACTIVE LISTENING MANDALA, summarizing ideas in this article. All of the articles and downloads in the series can be found on Time For a Change GOALSCAPE Connect.

Find a worthy person as a collaboration partner, open your ears, your mind, and your notebook, and see how incredibly much there is to learn.

A client of mine in Toronto, Frank, is challenged in this moment with an interesting dilemma. His project is stalled due to a number of factors outside his area of responsibility. He’s in a “wait and see” place, and what he’s finding is that he’s experiencing a lack of motivation, a sense of inadequacy and he’s questioning his competence.

“Something must be wrong with me or the way I’m doing my job.” Frank says, as he’s struggling to find what’s missing in order to get some momentum going for his project. “On the one hand, I know there’s nothing for me to do but to wait for decision makers to take the next step. On the other hand, though, I keep wondering if there’s something I can do, or something I’m not doing that’s precipitating the stall. I feel unmotivated and I don’t know what to do about that.”

What Frank is calling unmotivated stems from thoughts and beliefs that arise in this period of incubation for the project. In our coaching session he and I discussed the life cycle of essentially every living thing on the planet, including relationships, corporations and projects. By viewing his project within a natural and normal cycle of being, Frank was able to draw from a reality that allowed him to take his proper place in the unfolding of his project. At the same time, he couldn’t stop himself from asking “Am I doing something wrong? What’s mine to do here? Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along?”

Frank’s questions are good ones. First things first, though. One of Frank’s fears is that people are going to find out or decide that he is inadequate. So, in circumstances such as the one he currently is finding himself, the first thought that comes to mind is How am I being inadequate that is contributing to the stall out this project?

Frank’s boss has acknowledged him for his leadership role in bringing the project to this level of completion. He’s been clear with him that he’s done everything he can and now it’s time to wait for others to do their part in order to bring about the next level of the cycle of the project. So, by all indications, there are no inadequacies on the part of Frank. This is one choice-point Frank finds himself at: Can he let go of his fear of inadequacy and allow himself to experience the full capacity of his competence? This is an important step in him defining himself as a leader.

The second question: What’s mine to do?, is the next step. At first, Frank could find nothing to do while waiting for others to do what’s theirs to do; however with a little prodding he was able to come up with a list of five tasks that would be valuable to consider.

  1. Make a list of all the smaller projects and tasks that have not been attended to while he’s been focused on the larger project and take actions towards completing them
  2. Take time with individual members of his team, connect with them, perhaps provide some mentoring and supervision – something he’s unable to do when caught up in the momentum of the project
  3. Meet with others in his company to talk about these types of dilemmas, perhaps brainstorming what’s possible to move projects like this along, as well as openly exploring what he may be missing, as well as provide support for each other when things are not going as planned
  4. Find projects outside the workplace that provide fulfillment when fulfillment isn’t forthcoming in his work
  5. Realize that he is more than the fulfillment of his project, and that he needs to explore other meaningful ways to bring fulfillment into his life.

For Frank, and so many of us, this last item is really important. We’ve forgotten that we are not our projects. We are not our degrees, certifications, job titles, our bank accounts, our successes or our failures. We are beings engaged with the life experiences we currently find ourselves in. We are here to be curious, to explore and experiment with what we know and what we haven’t yet discovered about ourselves. Fulfillment comes from courageously stepping into that adventure – for Frank, the adventure is exploring who he is in the midst of nothing to do. That’s it!

Frank’s final question: Is there something I can do to hurry this incubation period along, is also important to consider. Frank is conscientious enough to ensure that he’s doing everything he can do to keep the project moving, as best he can. He is now in the dilemma of being with patience and understanding that some things take the time they take; you can’t pull on a seedling to help move it along to becoming a tree.

This period of time is growing Frank. He too is incubating, and something is happening within him, just like his project, that, when its time, will automatically generate the beginning of the next phase of the cycle of life. This just may be the very thing required for the project to begin to get some traction. Everything is interrelated. Frank is growing the project, the project is growing Frank, and a greater cycle of growth is being generated that is way beyond our imagination. There’s more to all of this than meets the eye!

Ever have to deal with politics? You know, those situations that can pull on you, the team, and the project. It can be crazy-making.

What to do? If you’ve been reading this series you can guess the answer. Keep it simple. The next question is, “How?” Let’s take a look. But, before giving the solution, going through what didn’t work can help show the value of what does.

  • Over-studying the situation. This involves going deeper and deeper into the details trying to find the solution.
  • Over-thinking. Here the catch is over-analysis, believing that rummaging through all the connections possible will lead to the solution.
  • Over-talking. Talking to everyone and replaying the events can create a sense of satisfaction at first but when there is no progress a numbness can set in.
  • Over-responsibility. Belief that more and more responsibility will lead to power to get things done.

What works requires filling in the blank on the following sentence:

“If everything were okay I’d see ____________ .”

The thing to do is sit with it. Do nothing and just sit with it. Let go of analyzing and the next step will show itself. It doesn’t matter what stage of the project you are in, if you know what you are doing your instincts will lead in the right direction.

In closing it is worth pointing out that doing this takes practice. Be patient, though, and it will come.