leadership dot #2475: find a partner

In workshops or classes, it is often desirable to mix people up into small groups apart from those in their immediate proximity. Too many times the presenter says: “find someone” or does the dreadful counting off by 1, 2, 3, etc. With just a bit of forethought, you can infuse much more creativity.

One of my favorite ways to mix groups is by handing participants a playing card as they enter. This opens up a host of mixing options: by color, by suit, matching number, odds/evens, opposite color, face card and number, etc. You can hand out cards in the beginning and use a variety of sorting strategies throughout the session.

It’s also easy to get people to pair by similarities: the (approximate) number of letters in their name, birthday season, number of “feet” in their family (allowing them to decide whether to count just humans or to include animal feet), number of siblings, astrological sign, etc.

You can also have people line up in order and then pair with the person who ends up next to them. Order could include: number of years with the organization, by height, by the last 4 digits of their phone number or by house number. Having people line up alphabetically also works: alpha by first or middle name, by their boss’ name, by hometown, favorite cartoon character or last television show they watched.

If you know the approximate number of participants in advance you can write names on strips of paper to distribute as people arrive – later having them find the other members of their set to form a group. Examples include: Fred, Barney, Wilma and Betty (the Flintstones); George, Elaine, Kramer and Jerry (Seinfeld); or Amy, Beto, Kamala and Bernie (presidential hopefuls). The same principle applies for categories instead of names: Pacers, Bulls, Lakers, Spurs (NBA teams) or Aquaman, Black Panther, Wonder Woman and Thor (superhero movies).

And, as a last resort, if you find yourself in a pinch to do a quick count-off, please at least do it in another language (uno, dos, tres…) or with some aspect of creativity (Lions, Tigers, Bears, Oh My…). You’ll achieve the same end result, but your participants will pair off with a smile.

leadership dot #2474: red or green

At a recent lecture, the speakers asked us to look around the room and find something that was red. Then we were asked to close our eyes and think of something in the room that was green. Most couldn’t do it. It was a quick, yet powerful exercise to illustrate that we see what we focus on — and often unintentionally ignore what is outside of that narrow view.

Of course, it’s one of the reasons that writing down goals is productive – it elevates our ambitions to top-of-mind and puts them in the front of our consciousness. Focusing on a topic also works for creativity if we allow the time for ideas to “incubate” in our mind. For example, I facilitated a strategic plan for a group that works with generational poverty and as soon as the date was set, I began seeing articles and news items related to that topic. I know that they were always there, but once I began to focus on the subject it was seemingly everywhere.

Our minds are too inundated with information to simultaneously focus in many directions with equal depth. Be conscious about whether you will look for “red” or “green” today and hone in on just one. It is better to bring vibrancy to one color than to mute them all in the background.

Marc and Angel Chernoff lecture “Getting Back to Happy!”, March 21, 2019, Hotel Julien Dubuque

leadership dot #2473: full service

I’ve been at Cell Phone Lots at several different airports and most of them are nothing but asphalt in a remote area of the terminal complex. Not in Austin, TX.

Someone there had the brilliant idea to treat the Cell Phone Lot like a rest stop – complete with a gas station, convenience store, fast food, public restrooms and picnic tables. They even have a large screen that displays flight information in case you need it.

The lot is still in a remote area so only services people who have some connection to the airport, but that includes those who are waiting to pick up passengers, airport employees and rental car returns – it was buzzing.

How can you reimagine a service that you provide and expand it to truly serve?

leadership dot #2472: chicken and egg

One of our grocery stores has recently added a bank of eight electric car charging stations to its parking lot. According to a 2018 government report, there are only 800 battery electric vehicles and an additional 1900 plug-in hybrids in the entire state – making the decision to dedicate eight prime parking spaces to this purpose seem to be a bit excessive at the moment.

I think that charging stations and electric cars suffer from some of the chicken and egg dilemma – which comes first? People are hesitant to buy electric cars if there are no places to charge them yet incurring the expense and forfeiture of space seems premature if no one is using them.

This same store has recently posted signs everywhere that “park and ride” cars will be towed. If their lot is reaching capacity to the extent that they tow vehicles, it surprises me even more that they took a row off-line for a low-use purpose – aggravating many current customers in the process.

One of the challenges of leadership is to determine a balance between addressing the needs of the present and preparing for the needs of the future. Don’t become so focused on the customers you hope to have that you forget about those you actually have today.

 

 

 

 

 

leadership dot #2471: vicious cycle

Shopping malls often get a bad rap for causing the demise of downtowns, but they were started with a more noble purpose beyond pure commercialism.

Architect Victor Gruen, known as the Father of The Suburban Shopping Mall, promoted the concept of malls because he believed that suburbs were missing the gathering space that was previously provided by downtowns. As families moved to the ‘burbs, there was no common area for them to meet neighbors, to walk or to interact as they shopped so Gruen created the indoor mall as a way to bring downtown to the suburbs. He included skylights, atriums, open areas and space for community events as a way to provide not just commerce, but a third-space for gathering.

As his concept became replicated across America, the malls resulted in additional urban decay and decline of downtown shopping districts. Gruen stopped building suburban malls and switched his attention to urban planning – creating “pedestrian malls” and greenways in many downtown areas. His influence is still seen today in many cities.

Through his work, Gruen sought to reverse the effects of what he called “the Vicious Cycle.” The growth of the suburbs initially occurred when planners decided it would be best to have “separation of urban functions.” Previously, everyone lived near where they worked and shopped but planners had the idea that living away from commercial and industrial areas was more desirable, so residential neighborhoods moved away from downtown. This led to a need for more road surfaces, which created urban sprawl, which increased the use of cars and decreased the use of public transportation which further increased the separation of functions.

If you put yourself in the mindset of the people at the time, you realize that those who created suburban neighborhoods and shopping malls did so with the good intentions but obviously had unintended consequences that shaped how we live and work. Ask yourself what we are doing now that future historians will look back on and wonder about our motivation.

Duane Hagerty, ArchiTREK Lunch & Learn: Dubuque’s Urban Renewal, 3/21/19

leadership dot #2470: unconventional

Our arts council sponsored a musical ensemble from Norway for a residency in the local elementary schools. The students’ favorite musician: the percussionist — but not just because of his prowess on the drums. What endeared him to the audience was the wide range of “instruments” that he used to create music: goats’ hooves, butterfly cocoons, sea shells, a peeled cymbal tower and a wide array of bells.

Kenneth Ekornes is a traditional Norwegian folk artist but collects all manner of items that make sounds and incorporates them into his music. He replicated eagles, thunder, frogs, snowstorms and birds by pulling items out of his box of treasures. He crafts some of his own sound-makers, has been given instruments as gifts from native musicians, and picks up some when traveling to other cultures. So, what is his favorite souvenir from America? A washboard tie that you can play while wearing it!

Ekornes has defined music broadly and, as a result, has created an instrumental feast that entranced all who heard it. Think about how you can re-define your specialty area and expand its scope in ways that are nontraditional. It’s much easier to replicate or even to master what has been done before but you can create real magic by inventing unconventional ways to express your talents.

leadership dot #2469: narrow

What do jury instructions and dissertations have in common? The end result is incredibly narrow in focus.

When I served on a jury, I left the courtroom ready to hand over a “guilty” verdict for the defendant. In my mind, the evidence showed that he committed the crime. But the jury instructions we received were ultra-specific: for example, did the defendant send X number of harassing communications between X-Y date, etc. In the end, we could only convict him on two of the five counts because of the tight parameters.

When I wrote my dissertation, I was convinced that it would be something in the area of human resources. Ultimately, my research topic was Role Expectations and Predictions of Trends for Human Resource Development at Small, Private Colleges and Universities within the Southern Regional Education Board Area. If you had asked me at the start, I would not have been able to fathom that I would be this specific or that the whole study would hinge on just five research questions, but it wasn’t until I narrowed it down to this level that the real writing could begin.

Often, we spend time trying to manage an expansive interpretation of the problem when it would be better to dedicate our energy to reducing the issue to a far more minute level than we first anticipated. Unlike on television, it’s never a question of whether someone is guilty or not, rather did or didn’t he violate Statute XYZ(a). Research doesn’t tackle a whole subject area, but only a tiny sliver of it.

Consider the issues that loom large in your world — perhaps you would be better off by parsing them into small, specific bits and resolving them one component at a time. Moving to the narrow part of the funnel is where thinking morphs into action.