Posts Tagged ‘active garage’

Success takes us to difficult places. Imagine getting the big promotion and finding the engineer from hell heading the department from which you need cooperation. A flood of feelings can surface – rage, fear, anxiety, going blank, etc. What to do?

First, let me say it is best to avoid trying to get the feeling to go away. Embrace it. Why is that? First of all, it will only intensify if you fight it. Second, in that intensity you can lose yourself and cause havoc to occur. Let’s explore.

The feeling can stem from a number of things. This blog is limited to one source, which has to do with an aspect of the weaker part of psyche. So why bother with this weak part? Shouldn’t one just add to strengths and push through? You can but there is an issue with this when taken to an extreme. A strength taken too far leads to weakness based on a one-dimensional approach to everything. Many people take this approach. Look at it realistically, though. You’ve probably worked with someone like this. Can you recall the feelings you had when around this person? Why should others feel any different about you if you try acting similarly?

If we get down to it, there is a big plus to addressing emotional intensity within oneself. It can work when dealing with others, as the following story will show.

The assignment was in Manhattan with an important client. After checking in at the hotel a phone call was placed to the client. None of my support materials had arrived. Panic!

Going to an office supply store the night manager of the printing department was given my copy of the materials. He promised I’d have copies by 7:30 AM the next day. I felt like a winner!

Arriving promptly the next morning at 7:30 there turned out to be no copies. The day manager became “testy,” to say the least.  Rage and panic surged within me. I started escalating with him and use my strength of pushing through in a focused, insistent way to get things done. Before going too far with that approach a question fell out of my mouth, “Does he do this to you often?” The manager stopped dead and asked, “Do what often?”

“You know, promise at night a job that has to be delivered on your shift and then he just goes home without logging the job or starting on it.” He was surprised and his emotions turned on a dime. “Yes, he does this to me all the time. Serving my customers means a lot to me and I am stuck with his messes!”

I asked, “What can we do? I need your help.”

He replied, “What do you need to get through to noon today?” Immediately I selected the bare bones that would get me by until noon and decided to throw myself on the mercy of the client by making the commitment in my mind we would complete the assignment but for just this morning the work would be rearranged a bit. I was able to get to the client’s on time, abridged material in hand, explain the situation and get down to work. The remainder of the print job was not only done by noon but they delivered it free of charge. The next morning I went back and thanked the day manager.

Acceptance

So what was this about? In a word, “Acceptance”. Acceptance of Powerlessness. The night manager had taken the day manager and myself hostage. The unfairness of life was squatting on our heads.

The freedom to act came through the acceptance of the powerlessness and shifting on the spot to empathy with the day manager and answering the question, “What can we do with what we have?”

Those intense feelings that were starting to surge were about not having control. They had a message within them. They were life knocking on the door going, “Hello, time to go a little deeper to get a little stronger!”

I learned a great deal about letting go of emotionality in that split second when the question came out.

“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.

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!

“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

The Soul of a Project #19: Faith in a Vacuum

by Gary Monti on June 26, 2012

“If I only knew it would work!” How often do you say that? After all, a great deal of stress would be relieved if you could say for sure the plan would be successful. Unfortunately, you can’t. That is why your leadership position has vulnerability associated with it. It can be crazy making. At the same time commitments are being made everything that could happen, both right and wrong, is swimming in your head. To make matters worse, there can be the sense of isolation where “project manager” is a politically correct way of saying “official scapegoat.”

What to do? The answer is straightforward, stay with the belief everything is simple once you find the right vantage point. Sounds nice but how can you avoid having it be another pious platitude that sounds Pollyannaish?

The answer lies in remembering the same vacuum that promotes a sense of isolation is also a place where you can get power.

What the heck does that mean? What throws a project off balance is greed, fear, or indifference. For example, the boss that wants unlimited overtime is showing greed. The employee who is concerned they will be ground into dust with the overtime can become afraid. The constant deprioritizing of a project shows indifference. In those situations a vacuum is present, a vacuum that lacks a connected set of principles. The project and maybe the organization fragment. People start spinning aimlessly.

What you can do is be the one person who works the principles that apply believing the most that can be accomplished will occur by sticking to those principles. You become a dampening agent, a shock absorber who helps the situation settle down and become productive. People are attracted to those who help heal such situation.

Notice I said, “the most that can be accomplished.” This means as you progress in practicing what you believe you will attract stakeholders. The question is at that point, “How much power do these stakeholders have?” That power base sets the limits of what can be accomplished.

The attraction of others is cemented in showing empathy. See if you can find something specific with which you can work with each stakeholder. For example, with the boss insisting on excessive overtime talk about the possibility of a major catastrophe occurring and she’ll look bad. For the employee who is afraid ask them to stick with laying out their work and realistically state what they can accomplish in the time available. For the manager who de-prioritizes the project state what they won’t get by failing to staff/fund the project.

To the extent you can get realistic stakeholders and team members on board the odds of success go up.

While we think of success in terms of achieving project goals it can also include the cancellation of the project. The fact it doesn’t align with corporate goals or distracts resources from more critical activities can come to the surface and a healthy decision can be made. This can be a difficult decision especially if people are highly invested in the project.

Remember, you may feel isolated but being empathetic and sticking to what works brings about the connections needed.

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.

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.

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.

The Soul of a Project #18: Beware The Full Moon!

by Gary Monti on June 6, 2012

A strange beast shows up when the full moon rises on a project. It’s the full moon that appears when fundamental changes brought about by the project are free to take shape. The beast seems vaguely familiar while frightening and surprising at the same time. Actually, more than one appears. They are very common. I am talking about the organizational werewolves.

The full moon rises when the impediment to success or progress is removed. It’s right when the project is ready to go into full stride and grow. One of the most common impediments is the Manager From Hell (MFH). The team and supportive stakeholders grumble about the MFH, wondering how (s)he got power since they only seem to hurt situations. While moaning and groaning about the MFH the gossip mill generates enough power to light a small city. Productivity drops. Everyone dreams of a day when this person is GONE!

When that day finally arrives there is a collective sigh of relief. But something odd happens that night. The next day strange creatures show up aggressive behavior, both passive and active, arising at the tactical level.

Where did these creatures come from? Simple…THE TEAM…and stakeholder population!

So what is this all about? Let me explain. When working on projects that bring about substantial change a warning is given at the kick-off meeting and goes something like this:

As we progress impediments to progress will be found. Some will be technical and some may be individuals. A word of caution, “Avoid demonizing the person!” To the extent you’ve been working with and adapting to their behavior you have enmeshed and have issues of your own to address. When impediments are removed do not relax. That is the starting point NOT the finish line! Everyone will be challenged to take responsibility for themselves and see what behaviors of their own need to be changed.

Trust me, no one remembers this. Such a focus is placed on the MFHs people lose sight of their own shortcomings. When this occurs with senior managers the project is in danger. The infrastructure issues that need repaired or built for the first time, in order for the project to succeed, are considered superfluous. It is assumed everyone will do just fine with the project automatically proceeding towards success. It is a simplistic, dangerous view. Think of Yugoslavia after Tito’s death. Freedom! Or at least that is what everyone thought. A new age dawned but it definitely wasn’t what everyone expected. Instead, the slow descent into hell that made international news occurred.

What this all boils down to is taking leadership of one’s own responsibilities and examine where your own performance has slacked off because of the MFH. Where have you given yourself a get-out-of-jail-free card because the environment is harsh? It is time to turn those cards back in, return to the principles that matter, and work in a disciplined way. Build. Get the job done!

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.