leadership dot #2711: sticker

There are many electronic methods that allow you to spread the word about an event, but the University of Wisconsin-Platteville took a decidedly low-tech route to advertise an upcoming concert at the school. UWP promoted its concert by trumpeter Wayne Bergeron by placing stickers on the boxes at the area bakery. It was simple, low cost, novel, and the colorful sticker stood out on the otherwise plain box. I don’t know how many tickets it sold, but it certainly created awareness and, unlike the barrage of ads elsewhere, was hard to miss.

How can you think outside the box (in this case, literally!) to spread your message? There may be a nontraditional partnership just waiting for you to use as a vehicle to get the word out.

Thanks, Amy!

leadership dot #2710: indicators

Today’s smartphones provide a wealth of data to the owner: heart rate, number of steps, sleeping habits, screen time, etc. They are sophisticated monitoring machines yet fail to alert the owner when something as simple as voicemail has reached capacity. This week alone I learned from another that my voicemail box was full and experienced the same frustration when I was unable to leave a message on my sister’s phone. Why can’t the phone tell us that?

The same principle applies to cars – vehicles monitor gas mileage, tire pressure, average speed and a host of other measurements but don’t tell the driver when a headlight or taillight is burned out. There should be a notification system for something that you can’t see on your own yet is important for visibility and safety. Instead of the annoying “advances” in lane mitigation systems, I wish they would have added a “bulb-replacement-needed” indicator instead.

In the race to add more bells and whistles sometimes the fundamentals are overlooked. Don’t make the same mistake in your organization. Before you monitor something, make sure it’s what matters to the user.

leadership dot #2709: pink elephants

In the book SuperBetter, author Jane McGonigal advocates the use of game theories to reduce depression and increase resilience. There is substantial scientific evidence that it works – in part by redirecting your attention and strengthening willpower.

In the book, McGonigal outlines numerous “quests” – tools to build emotional, social and mental resilience – and these challenges help develop the power to take control of your thoughts, and then in turn, your feelings and reactions. She makes a persuasive case that games, and the brainpower we use when we play them, really can make us mentally stronger.

An example of one quest: First, do not think of a pink elephant for the next 10 seconds. Did it work? Of course not. Just the mention of a pink elephant made you think of one. But the real quest – the one that does redirect your brain from seeing the rosy pachyderm – is to use the letters P(ink) and E(lephant) to think of as many words as you can that contain both P and E (in any order). Examples: empty, pie, except, plane.

Most people will come up with a list of between 10-20 words – and, more importantly, completely forget about the elephant. You can apply this technique (using any two letters) to redirect your thoughts away from something that is painful or upsetting, allowing you to take control of your emotions and re-center.

SuperBetter is a fascinating read with applications for trauma, illness, pain management and stress reduction. Use the pink elephant as a starting point on your gaming journey.

Source: SuperBetter by Jane McGonigal, 2015


leadership dot #2708: ask for advice

Research reported in the Harvard Business Review shows that asking for advice instead of feedback is more effective in eliciting actionable input and specific comments that may actually help to improve performance. It appears that “feedback” often is vague and focused on past performance whereas “advice” triggers forward-thinking that can help you in the future.

I totally agree! For example, the official university course evaluation asks questions about my performance as an instructor in the course that just concluded such as “The instructor demonstrated respect for students – strongly agree, agree, etc.” It requires a bit of guessing and inference as to how to apply the evaluation scores to my next course. Contrast that with the feedback form I personally administer that asks things like: “If you teach this course again, do/don’t _____ (something specific)”. I find the advice I receive to be much more direct and relevant to how I can alter my teaching.

The same principle applies to most settings where we are soliciting input. In your employee appraisals, are you providing just feedback or is there an ongoing opportunity to ask for/provide advice that can drive changes in behavior? In focus groups or on service evaluation forms, are you asking for vague feedback or could you re-word the questions to ask for advice as to what you could do differently or what you should continue to do? In relationships, can you ask for advice on how to be a more loving or helpful partner?

If you’re serious about utilizing the input you receive, my advice would be to reframe how you ask for it. Focus on obtaining specificity and advice that you can apply in the future rather than commentary about the past.

Source: Why Asking for Advice is More Effective Than Asking for Feedback by Jaewon Yoon, Hayley Blunded, Ariella Kristal, and Ashley Whillans, in Harvard Business Review, September 20, 2019



leadership dot #2707: a beautiful day

If you are wondering why many people seem to be wearing cardigans today it is to commemorate Mister Rogers on World Kindness Day. The holiday itself is a way to bring random acts of kindness to the forefront, and the Mister Rogers frenzy is heightened in anticipation of the movie about him to be released later this month. So, World Kindness Day paired with #CardiganDay equals a social media trend.

Personally, I was not a fan of Mister Rogers’ show. While he wished for me to have a “beautiful day in the neighborhood”, the cadence at which he delivered his messages of self-acceptance and empowerment was like nails on a chalkboard to me. I did much better when I read his words in print!

One of the passages (in print!) that resonated with me: I like to swim, but there are some days I just don’t feel much like doing it – but I do it anyway! I know it’s good for me and I promised myself I’d do it every day, and I like to keep my promises. That’s one of my disciplines.”

 There are books of Mister Rogers quotes – inspiring sayings that spread kindness and reinforced the good he saw in all people. Today may be the day where your cardigan and random acts can be highlighted on social media, but every day can be more beautiful if you follow some of Mister Rogers’ wisdom.


leadership dot #2706: start local

It’s interesting to me to watch the growing momentum to legalize marijuana. Right now, 33 states allow some use of the drug and 11 states fully allow it for recreational use. It has become part of some presidential candidate platforms and my guess is that it will be federally approved within a few years.

Think about the social initiatives that have started at the state or local level: same-sex marriage, 65mph speed limits, casinos, sports betting, abortion laws, civil rights – many of these issues were approved state by state by state until the federal government stepped in and codified the issue.

Change works the same way in organizations. One unit, department or division first implements a change and then others adopt the practice before it becomes company-wide. Cities create policies that eventually are modeled by the county or state. Siblings develop habits that other siblings emulate before the whole family incorporates them.

It’s incredibly hard to implement big change on a big scale. It’s far more effective to start local and build momentum with pockets of small changes coming together to make a significant shift.


leadership dot #2705: mess with it

A Lifehacker Facebook post read: “Hi bosses. If you’re gonna mess with sh*t, you should be able to explain why things are the way they are before you change things.” It’s advice that applies far beyond bosses and is especially a temptation for new employees.

People want to make progress and everyone wants to put their own stamp on things. Change is omnipresent, but it doesn’t make change-for-change’s-sake a good thing. It’s a good rule of thumb to be able to understand why things are the way they are now before you jump in and head a different direction. There may be valid reasons why the status quo came to be and vested interests in keeping it that way.

Organizations and people are only able to absorb so much change at one time. You may decide to save your change capacity for something else if you learned more about “what is” and why, or you may uncover points that give merit to your argument about why change is necessary.

Either way, if you’re gonna mess with it, first come to appreciate what led to it being how it is now. The time it takes to understand the context is almost always time well spent.