The final concept from Trevor Ragan’s Train Ugly presentation that I will share is the role of feedback in cultivating a learner focus (see dot #1916).
If people receive feedback on their performance, it reinforces the importance placed on outcomes and thus highlights the value in looking good. If you say to someone: “You are so great at X”, their mind has the propensity to translate that to “you get praise if you are good at X” so they take the easy road to remain good in this area, or negative feedback gets translated into “that is bad so I must be bad.” Bottom line: the focus stays on looking good vs. learning.
However, if you provide process focused feedback, you help them see the learning process and the focus remains on getting better. Saying: “You did a great job on X, how did you get so good at it?” helps acknowledge the process that can be repeated to do other great things. “You did a great job on X, you must have worked hard,” or “X didn’t go so well, what did you learn from it?” are all ways of helping the focus remain on the process.
I think about this as so many students are recently back to school. What will you say to your children when they bring home report cards or when your child texts you from college? How can you intentionally adjust your feedback to help them focus on “getting better” – even if they are great – vs. trying to look good in the future?
The same applies to organizations and supervisory feedback. Saying “that project went well” and leaving it at that fails to provide the process focus that will free your staff to experiment and take risks in the future.
The old adage is: “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Change that mantra in your head to: “if you can’t say something about process (with both positive or negative feedback), don’t give feedback at all.”
Another concept from Trevor Ragan’s Train Ugly workshop centered around the learning opportunities that occur depending upon where we put our focus.
Choice one is to focus on outcomes – which results in an emphasis on looking good. People who choose this path often take the easy road because failure does not make them look good and that is the goal. Challenges are seen as threats and people with an outcomes focus go to great length to avoid them. If something has the potential to make you look bad, they avoid it, and thus miss out on great learning opportunities.
Choice two is to have a learner focus – which results in an emphasis on getting better. People who choose this path see challenges and failure as an opportunity to learn, so they seek more difficult experiences and learn more from them. Trevor called this “thinking like a scientist” – trying something and learning from the process more than the outcome. Failure is one more repetition in building your learner muscle.
Depending on which focus we choose, how we experience things and what we learn totally changes.
I thought about how this concept relates to the growth in STEM education. There has been a great push in STEM-related activities for children – everything from robotics teams to new Girl Scout badges – all in the quest to encourage more people to go into science or technology as careers. We certainly need that, but maybe a better outcome is that we are teaching more children how to think like a scientist. By pushing experimentation and a focus on process, we are helping people in all fields embrace learning and personal growth.
Maybe you work outside the STEM fields, but choose to think like a scientist. Work hard to create a culture in your organization that values getting better more than it does the initial outcome. By placing your focus on getting better, you inherently will get better, even if some of your attempts blow up along the way.
At Trevor Ragan’s Train Ugly workshop, he teaches about learning using the analogy of a tiger. Ragan maintains that people have the choice to be either a “Zoo Tiger” or a “Jungle Tiger” and which version they choose determines their capacity for learning.
A Zoo Tiger has an easy life and lives safely in a cage, but because of his comforts and limited struggles, the Zoo Tiger does not have the ability to hunt and has not developed the skills to survive in the wild. Ragan contrasts this with the Jungle Tiger whose life is comparatively quite hard, but because of his struggles has developed many skills that serve him well.
Ragan believes that our comfort zone is the human equivalent of a cage, and by choosing to remain within this safe space we are effectively keeping ourselves in a cage and not fully learning. (He illustrates this concept in a quirky 5-minute video here.) “People learn best when they are challenged to the edge of their ability and stressed just outside their comfort zone,” he says.
Think about the kind of tiger you are. Have you unintentionally remained in the safe limitations of the zoo? Pledge to overcome your fears and resistance to see challenges as opportunities to learn and set yourself free.
Imagine that you are a filmmaker and someone asks you to make a short film on the topic of your choice. How would you narrow it down?
When the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture asked Ava DuVernay this question, she made a film about August 28th. It seems that this day is a notable one in the civil rights movement, including:
> African American Emmett Till was murdered on this date in 1955 and the white men accused of the crime were acquitted. Chicagoan Till was in Mississippi visiting relatives when he reportedly flirted with a white woman, and the subsequent trial drew national attention to racial tensions in the South.
> The March on Washington was held on August 28, 1963 where a rally of 250,000 heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I have a Dream speech.
> Senator Barak Obama accepted the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, making him the first African American to be a party’s nominee.
Add your behavior to the list of things that happened on August 28 to advance civil discourse and human rights in this country. Take some action that embraces diversity instead of derides it, and use your free speech to promote acceptance instead of hate.
A rough estimate suggests that over 40 million people attend a convention or conference in the United States each year.
Of course, conferences are great for economics and vendors – not to mention tourism and travel industries. But they are a nightmare for the environment.
I think of all the lanyards and plastic nametags that have made their way into landfills as a direct result of meetings. It seems that every conference gives a new badge to each participant.
Couldn’t there be an effective way for the nametags to be returned at the end of the event? We have check IN for everything; how about establishing a standard practice to also check OUT? Aldi supermarkets offer a quarter to return the cart from the parking lot; perhaps conventions could offer a monetary reward or hold a deposit? Conventions could have people stationed at the last event to collect the badges – or exchange them for a departing gift. People could be encouraged to wear their ID badges or permanent nametags instead of continually receiving new conference ones. Attendees bring their own computers, notebooks or pens to the meeting – add lanyards to the list.
I know that event planners and marketers like to think that the conference-specific branded lanyard will be a treasured souvenir. It won’t. What it will be is another item in the landfill. May the next nametag you make say Mother Nature.
For one of those high school projects where you have to invent a new product, I created rolls of toilet paper with fun factoids printed on them. I harkened back to our spare bathroom at home that was wallpapered in maps of the world. We spent a lot of time learning geography while sitting in that space, so why couldn’t a manufacturer provide learning opportunities in more restrooms by printing on the tissues?
I thought of this the other day when I purchased a package of napkins that came printed with questions on them. Instead of educational facts, these wipes were designed to stimulate conversation, posing questions such as: “What’s the most ridiculous thing you heard today?”, “You get to make the rules, what are they?” and “You’re a world traveler. What’s your next stop?”
Why don’t more paper products take advantage of their ubiquity and add some value to their functionality? Think of how you could use conversational napkins with refreshments at a meeting or reception. Maybe they serve as the icebreaker at your next function or just create some laughs in the lunchroom. Or perhaps you could you tailor questions to a specific event or have simulations that relate to your company (eg: “How have you implemented _____ core value today?”).
Whether you use packaged (Mardi Gras brand) products or create your own, don’t overlook the opportunity for napkins to do more than wipe.
At the event I wrote about yesterday, the balcony in the auditorium was roped off to compel participants to sit in the front section. By the time we arrived, the front appeared to be filling up rapidly, but the balcony remained closed. No one seemed to be taking any action to remedy this until someone finally stepped up and made the decision to open it. The person that opened the balcony wasn’t in charge of the program, but he saw a line full of people backed up into the lobby waiting to get in so he acted. It was a good thing that he did, as the balcony also became full before the program began.
I think about the many situations we have all been in where we could have done something, but instead waited for others to take the lead in doing so. We become too afraid of “getting in trouble” or doing the wrong thing, that instead, we do nothing.
We see a problem with a project or policy, but remain silent for fear of being reprimanded for speaking against authority. We observe a colleague struggling, but fail to offer help because we are not their boss. We know someone is not achieving the results they desire, but we don’t want to get involved to offer a suggestion to them.
Rear Admiral Grace Hopper said that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to get permission. Cultivate that type of culture where intention outweighs hierarchy and let your people feel free to do what they think is best, whether they are in charge or not.
As I was walking into an auditorium for a workshop, several people were walking out. Participants were grumbling about how they were not allowed to take any beverages inside with them, so they were returning mugs and water bottles to their cars. In the lobby, the discontent was more evident as staff at the theater door told those entering that they needed to leave all beverages on the hallway table.
I estimate that at least half of the participants brought something to drink. It was a 7 a.m. start and many had coffee or other forms of caffeine, plus others brought bottles of water in preparation for the 3.5-hour event. Now they began their day earlier than usual, without their typical fix of caffeine or hydration, and their first encounter at the event was to be told “no” before they sat through a workshop for the morning.
Most event organizers know how important the first few minutes are to set the tone for the entire event, and this did not start the day as one would have hoped.
My question is why did it have to be this way? Why would organizers waste an opportunity to say “yes” to something so simple that added to the comfort and convenience of their guests?
Because it appeared that the big picture and overall experience of the program wasn’t taken into account.
The committee attended to the speaker and his needs, but it seemed that no one designed it to be a memorable event. Did anyone picture the participants walking in at 7 a.m. with Starbucks or Camelbacks in their hands and consider what their first impression would be like? The policy says no beverages in the auditorium and no one had the forethought to rescind it for the day, or to go one step further and actually provide beverages or other forms of comfort for those in attendance.
The content was fantastic and by the end the initial inconvenience may have been forgotten. But the “speaker” could have had greater impact as “an event” if planned effectively. The next time you provide some personal development, add some personal touches to your program. Look at the logistics of the whole from the perspective of the participants and see if you can’t “wow” instead of “wallop” right from the very start.
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I recently had a networking conversation with someone who is just starting out on their own as an independent consultant. A mutual friend connected us, and we shared stories about life-working-on-our-own and the kind of work we’re doing.
While we were connected because of our similarities, just in this brief encounter, differences among us became apparent. He was astonished by my 1900 blogs (“what I would give to have that kind of content”) and I expressed the same envy over his network and local connections. We talked about the desire to work from home vs. traveling and varying degrees of our application of technology and marketing techniques. Even though we were doing essentially the same thing in the same city, chatting with him helped me see the distinctions I have to offer and the audiences I could serve better than he could (and vice versa).
We often only see the obvious when it comes up against something new. It is hard to realize your own gifts if you don’t compare to someone else. It is difficult to appreciate the richness of your location if you never travel outside of it. Those who work for extended periods at the same organization forfeit exposure to different processes or cultures unless they interact with others outside their company. If you stay within the same social circles, it is harder to widen your viewpoints or perspective.
Make it a goal to get out a little bit more and to embrace both the differences and discomfort that expanding your world creates.
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I upgraded my internet service last week, thinking that since I had the same provider it would just be a matter of some off-site programming somewhere to provide the enhancements. Oh, was I wrong.
My technician, Jonathan, was at my home for five hours, then called me again in the evening and came back in the morning. To say that there were complications is an understatement, and I was without any internet during all the time he was working.
If I had known in advance this was going to happen, I would have been livid. But instead of being angry, I ended up contacting Jonathan’s boss to tell him what a great job Jonathan did in providing service. He kept me apprised of the process, called after hours as he promised, was back promptly in the morning, stayed to ensure I was fully connected and functional, and gave me his cell phone number in case I needed it later. I became a fan of a company of which I had not really been a fan.
For those who do not believe in investing to keep the best people, please take the Jonathan story to heart. I stopped my service with the cable company because of one person, and I will stay with my internet provider precisely for the same reason. People are not only your most valuable assets, they hold the future of your organization in their hands.
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