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Small Details Matter January 29, 2012

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You have a pretty good idea of where you are.  You have a picture of where you want to be.  You have goals, objectives, resolutions, a vision of success.  You may even have a concrete example of the end state – a mentor, a hero, a role model.  The problem is, it’s very difficult to map out the path to take.  You need someone who has walked it before – or at least has accomplished the same goals and can competently help you avoid the pitfalls.

As always, failures can lead to success, but it’s up to you to take advantage of the years of trials and errors that have already been tangled with.  Whether it’s a coach, a consultant, or a friend, you will need that support.  Even when you know the basics, the small details will get you every time.

Meetings and Play-Dates January 24, 2012

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Curious about “collaboration” as a buzzword, I Googled the phrase “collaboration without”.

The first four suggestions were:

You can also collaborate without email, limits, headaches, chaos, costs, co-location, and even – inexplicably – head shaving.  To our credit, we cannot apparently have collaboration without communication nor common values.  Seems logical enough.

This got me thinking; is it possible to have collaboration without meetings?  Of course, collaboration is defined by two or more people working together toward a common goal.  One would naturally assume that at least one “meeting” would be required somewhere in the process.

But if a meeting is defined as a formal session with a clear start and end, along with other niceties, I think it is perfectly reasonable to do without them.  What would this look like, and why is it important?

I’ve observed many people, sheltered in their cubicles, who believe that any human interaction during their workday is taking them away from the “real work”.  Any commitment outside their box must be received and accepted via Outlook.  Sad to say, but this attitude is probably causing them more grief than they are trying to avoid in the first place – not to mention bringing down overall productivity.

By demanding (whether from the employee’s or employer’s perspective) formal meeting agendas and set time commitments, the organization is forced to have such things as “pre-pre-meeting meetings”.  This is getting out of hand.  I know of no organization that can function without regular human interactions – formal or not.  It seems, rather, that many organizations have become groups of individuals who must have their entire days scheduled as if they were play-dates.

The problem is that collaboration, design, science, and even basic conversation is messy.  It does not conform to schedules, timetables, and clear agendas.  Don’t get me wrong – agendas have their place; the bigger the meeting, the more important they are.  But for daily interactions, sometimes you just have to go down the hall, pick up the phone, or (dare I say, as a last resort) send the email – no pre-meeting agenda required.

This means that those recurring meetings may not be required if no one has anything to share.  And they may not if, during the week, they have informally sat down together as groups of two or three to work out a resolution or a plan.  If your job requires synthesizing, analyzing, recommending, or planning based around some set of information, you don’t have to wait for the meeting to get it.

Logarithmic January 23, 2012

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For the record, my past article in 2006 on…well…you know… tallied up at just over 0.91%.  The document that I used as a reference (from 1992) came up to 0.67%.  Either I’m right on track, or way ahead of my time…

Though 100 years is longer than a lot of our resources

{click for full size image}

Government vs. Corporations January 19, 2012

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It’s interesting and puzzling that corporations represent “them” while government supposedly represents “us”.  Those supporting the Occupy movements want, among other things, greater accountability for corporations when it comes to social responsibility – through additional regulations and enforcement, one assumes.

But corporations are “us” as well.  Both institutions represent us in different ways.  And regardless of their respective “motivations”, they are both just organizations of individuals.  A corporation has no conscience to speak of – but nor does government.

Somehow, we are to believe that one organization is in a better position to decide the fate of another organization, when both are operated by inherently flawed individuals – and those individuals are ALL of us to some degree or another.  Supposedly, the government organization is more attuned to the pleas of the 99% than the corporations, which I guess therefore represent the 1%.  Or something like that.

I have not seen evidence of this as of yet.  In the meantime, it’s really just a lot of noise.

Improving People, Improving Organizations January 16, 2012

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If your life includes teaching, coaching, or mentoring (and, I claim that everyone’s does), there are many occasions during which learning “plateaus”.  That is, there will be times when it seems – to the student at least – that upward progress has ceased.  Student pilots study and expect this as part of the learning process.  Instructors are taught to use such times to work on other topics and let the difficult issue temporarily drop in priority.  This is done because the human brain often takes time to assimilate and synthesize the thinking required for complex tasks.  There are biological limitations to our capacity to learn.

But what about the learning environment (i.e., the workplace)?

Funny enough, individuals don’t work in a vacuum within their organizations.  Not only will each person learn and develop at different rates, but the organizational culture will almost assuredly change much more slowly.  Each new bright spot of success brings with it the realization that not everyone is “seeing the light” in the same way.  Like a religion, there will be fanatics and disbelievers.  But within any given organization, the fans will quickly become frustrated and disillusioned if the rest of the group doesn’t catch up.

What’s happening here?  Again, we have our own brains to blame.

We are wired to believe our way is the right way.  When those around us don’t agree, it creates a conflict, called cognitive dissonance.  When working in an environment of change and – ostensibly at least – improvement, this becomes more difficult to handle, since we must now reassess our co-workers as we and they change together.  Who is working with me, and who is against me?

This is the point at which the organizational leadership is critical to both harness the power of those bright spots and to convince everyone else that the change is really the right thing to do.  Without this commitment, those who have improved – by whatever objective measure you choose – will become more frustrated at the lack of progress around them.  At worst, they become so fed up that they leave the organization.  That leaves you, as the leader, with a less and less motivated team and a more toxic environment in which to make any change.

The forthright commitment from all levels of the organization is critical to keeping those “early adopters” of change from disillusionment and to keeping everyone else headed in the same direction at the same time.