leadership dot #3380: curation

I was asked to teach a Global Business Communication class and said yes, even though I have no personal experience with the subject. Despite that (or maybe it’s because of that?), class is going exceedingly well. I brought in guest speakers each week to bring to life their stories from different countries. I have empowered the students to research and share. We have done debates, a simulation, skits, and case studies that have added to the understanding. We are all learning a lot.

I shared this example with a coaching client to illustrate that he doesn’t have to be the expert in something to be effective. Maybe his talent lies in curation, facilitation, or empowerment. Instead of lamenting that he doesn’t know everything about a subject, he could redirect that energy to assemble a few people who could contribute or crowdsource for ideas on one of many platforms.

It reminds me of the story of Rob McEwen* who purchased an abandoned gold mine and had no luck in finding anything of value, so he shared his seismic maps and offered $500,000 to anyone who could tell him where to look. He received 1400 responses from people using a variety of techniques and found $39 billion worth of gold!

We put too much pressure on ourselves to know it all. The real genius comes from being humble enough to ask for input and a willingness to co-create.

*Source: Create the Future by Jeremy Gutsche, Fast Company Press, 2020, p. 112-113.

leadership dot #3379: belonging

In addition to sparking my curiosity about minimalism, the movie Nomadland shed a light on the modern-day transience of a group of people — and reinforced the importance of belonging. You may think that those who live in a van or RV roam aimlessly and alone, but the movie portrayed much more intentionality and structure to their movement and highlighted the communities they create along the way.

Many of today’s nomads go from seasonal-job to seasonal-job, working in such places as warehouses during the holidays and in hospitality during the summer tourist season. They have a routine where they return to the same locations — thus know others and have friends. Nomads often rotate between designated RV parks, again where they build community and rekindle relationships, creating a neighborhood complete with entertainment (e.g. outdoor movies or campfires) and camaraderie. While they do not have houses the modern-day nomads depicted in the film certainly have homes.

I thought about this lifestyle as many organizations wrestle with the question of remote work. It may seem that the employee is requesting to detach from the culture that is built in person but there may be a way to create routines and protocols that create community even from a fluctuating base.

The need to belong is powerful. Capitalize on that desire to create opportunities for those with less anchoring to still feel the connection to the whole.

leadership dot #3378: minimize

I watched the movie Nomadland about a character that is “houseless, not homeless” and instead lives out of a van. It got me thinking about which of my possessions I would keep if I had to reduce them to the bare minimum. When you factor in the items necessary for maintenance, cooking, and hygiene, there is not much space left for sentimentality. (For example, Frances McDormand’s character keeps one picture (total), and one plate from the full collection her father left her, etc.)

The movie prompted me to pay attention to what I actually use in my home, and I have observed that a large portion of my things is only for occasional use. When I did the same exercise about what I pack into a suitcase for a weekend trip, I realized that there are many items I take “just in case” I need them (e.g. a Bandaid, swimsuit, or extra phone battery).

It occurred to me that there is a link between possessions and risk tolerance. If I’m willing to take the chance that I’ll need to improvise, run out, or substitute I can get by with a lot less. If I am afraid of going without or being unprepared, then I accumulate a bunch more. This is true whether I’m shopping, presenting, or going on vacation.

Become your own observer and see what your insights tell you. Can you expand your risk tolerance for the bigger issues by starting with some small risks around your possessions? How much of the “in case” preparations do you actually use? How have you responded when thrown a curve ball? The time and energy you devote to contingencies may be better spent pursuing opportunities.

leadership dot #3377: hammer

Hammers have been around in essentially the same format for an estimated 3 million years. If they’ve made it this long, why tinker with them?

But hammers are another example of a product evolving to meet the needs of its users. To the uninitiated (me), all hammers are pretty much alike. But to professionals, weight is an essential element that drives the functionality of the tool.

As contractors age, they still require the power of a heavier hammer but have a harder time yielding one on a repetitive basis. Manufacturers have noticed the change in demographics and demand and are now utilizing different materials to create lighter hammers with the strike of a heavier tool.

Even products with centuries of longevity need to change to stay relevant. Don’t assume your “hammer” will always be able to hit the nail on the head if you don’t retool and adapt to contemporary needs.

Thanks Curt!

leadership dot #3376: trade

Many people are baseball card collectors so they were delighted when the Topps Truck showed up at the game and started handing out packets of free cards. I’m sure there were no Mickey Mantles in the giveaways, but for some people, it resulted in an addition to their collection.

What I liked best was that next to the truck they had a board where people could leave any duplicates they received and take other cards that were new to them. Not only did it expand the net result for many, but for everyone, it provided a new level of engagement and intrigue. Serious fans returned to the board numerous times throughout the evening and I think some enjoyed it more than the game itself.

This nearly no-cost feature made a big difference in the experience. Is there a way for you to replicate the idea at your next function? Have a table where people can share extra resources? Swap recipes? Trade unwanted baby items? Create an in-person Little Library?

Providing options to swap is an easy way for people to feel like they received a benefit for free.

leadership dot #3375: revisit

The tagline for Patriot Day is We Will Never Forget, and if you are of a certain age, you remember exactly where you were when the Trade Towers were attacked. But 70 million Americans have no firsthand experience to remember. It’s hard for me to believe that 9-11 was 20 years ago or that students in college were born after it happened.

Today is an important reminder that we need to revisit the seminal events in our personal, organizational or national history. People from more recent generations (or employment status or family ties) need to hear the stories from those who can tell them. We need to bring to the forefront the memory of the experiences that shape us, and 9-11 certainly is one of those.

The United States has designated September 11 as Patriot Day as a reminder to pause and remember that tragic day. In between all your usual business, take a moment not only to reflect but to share your memories with someone who doesn’t have their own. The history books can’t help others feel the emotions, but you can.

leadership dot #3374: flatten

The only time I purchase marshmallows is to make S’mores and apparently, I am not alone in this. I recently saw flattened rectangle-shaped marshmallows designed specifically for that use. Brilliant!

It is a good example of paying attention to the customer and observing how a product is actually being used. For years, manufacturers only made rounded marshmallows. The company produced what it thought the customer wanted. But the customer had other ideas and continually modified its usage until someone realized they could grab part of the market by acknowledging that change.

How are your customers actually using what you produce? Do you know? Observing or conducting listening sessions to hear real-life stories may clue you into new opportunities. You think people come to your conference for the educational sessions but they really care about the vendors — could you create a virtual vendor fair instead? You require people to open a checking account to bank with you but they really use Venmo — could you have your base product become electronic transfers through you in place of checking? You suspect people read your newsletter for the information but the cartoons are the real draw — could you create infographics and sketched videos to convey your important announcements?

Let the end-user drive the evolution of what you offer. If you flatten the gap between intended use and reality you may find a sweet spot to leverage.

leadership dot #3373: old house

You hear a lot about a cultural revolution or an organizational transformation, but Kevin Oakes has a different take on how to frame your efforts. The author of The Culture Renovation suggests that you will lessen the resistance to the change if you speak about it in terms of a renovation instead, likening it to bringing a historic house up to code with technology, electrical power, etc. You still keep what gives the house its character, but you make it better.

In a podcast with Brené Brown, Oakes talks about the essential strategy of figuring out what to keep. It can be a tough call to know what to let go of and what to carry forward, but ascertaining the good and reminding people of what you are preserving helps the organization make progress. As in a renovation, we typically focus on what is new, but for a change effort to be successful you need to explicitly point out what will remain the same.

Oakes outlines 18 researched strategies that can serve as a handbook for those involved in a change effort (and who isn’t these days?). They follow a structure of Plan, Build, and Maintain — and whether you read the book or not, the renovation analogy can be a useful framework for any innovation. Too often, the Maintain element is forgotten, and “this old house” falls into disrepair again.

The next time you want to make changes, set out to implement a renovation. More people can agree that updating is a good thing — whether it be a new coat of paint, faster wifi, or a whole new kitchen — and you’re apt to get more buy-in than if you trigger their fears of losing everything they know.

The Culture Renovation by Kevin Oakes, 2020
Dare to Lead podcast — Brené Brown with Kevin Oakes, January 11, 2021

leadership dot #3372: too fast

I was whizzing through a Solitaire game last night, quickly putting many of the cards onto their respective Aces.

And then I got stuck.

It seems that I put too many of the cards there instead of leaving them in the rows where they could serve as connections to the other cards I needed to play. By putting some of the cards from the Aces back into the game, I was able to complete the round as a winner.

It reminded me of change efforts and the downside of trying to go too fast. Sometimes, we zip along on our own and make lots of progress — but fail in the end because we have not spent the time to make the bridges necessary for ultimate success. We then need to backtrack which, of course, takes more time in the end.

Play both Solitaire and the game of life with enough intentionality to value connection over speed.

leadership dot #3371: dark side

My niece recently had surgery and as part of that process, there was a nurse in the operating room texting updates to the family. This was very helpful during the hours-long operation and comforting to know that things were going well (which, fortunately, they did.)

But what if they didn’t?

Would the nurse deliver bad news via text? Or, if they just stopped the updates the family would convince themselves that something had gone wrong — which may be worse than waiting to hear from the doctor when the procedure was finished.

A junior staffer may be able to speak with the press about routine business but do you have a plan in place to communicate the news when a tragedy happens? Your internal newsletter may work well for information and updates, but how will you let your employees know about negative situations?

When you design a process or share information, you need to prepare for undesirable outcomes. Before you give someone the combination to the safe, access to the checkbook, or knowledge of the secret formula, consider what would happen if their morals went astray. (e.g. Can you require two people to be present before access is given or can you receive a notification if a withdrawal of over $X is made on the account?)

It’s nice to assume the best about people and to develop practices that presume good intentions, but it doesn’t always turn out that way. You don’t have to prepare for doomsday, but anticipating an occasional dark side is best done in advance rather than in the moment.