leadership dot #3390: place

New Mexico has a lot in common with Disney World — in that seemingly every detail of the environment is intentionally designed. From crosswalks to bridges, signs, highway barriers, ceiling beams, and overall architecture, it all seamlessly blends together to create a profound sense of place. You know you’re in New Mexico when you’re there as even the McDonald’s or banks follow the zoning regulations and contribute, rather than detract, from the atmosphere.

Why can’t every state be like this — using bridges as art galleries rather than ugly concrete structures? Adding symbolism to decor instead of leaving things plain? Creating community standards that define an area instead of letting randomness run rampant?

It would be hard to retrofit a place to achieve the sense of continuity that New Mexico has fostered, but maybe you can achieve it in your own space. Think about every decision and every inch — does it tell a story in addition to serving an architectural function? Opportunity lies in every beam.

Ceiling beams inside the Albuquerque “Sunport” (aka airport)
Crosswalks in Taos
State’s Zia symbol on all their highway signs

leadership dot #3388: looking back

When you’re involved in any type of change effort it’s natural to focus on the future. But we often get so caught up in what we want to have happen or what we’re trying to make happen that we forget to take that moment and reflect on the change process itself. More specifically, we fail to look back and capture the decisions that we wrestled with, the inflection points that shaped what came after them, the struggles and steps just to get started, or the first glimmers of success.

By the time a project is over, all those memories are overshadowed by the present and we lose the opportunity to learn from them. In contrast, if we document some of the earliest stages of a change effort we can use the learning as a reminder the next time we’re fresh out of the gate and feel like we’re not making any progress at all. We can see that it took us a few months to align our human infrastructure and figure out a game plan. We can be reminded that some of those earliest choices are the most important ones as they shape everything else. We can reflect on where we need to move more quickly and where going slower is ultimately more prudent.

The next time you embark on a new initiative, set some reminders to pause and take stock of what you’ve been up to. Looking back at the early, small steps can be invaluable knowledge in the future.

leadership dot #3386: clasp

I have written before (dot 2202 and dot 2672) about my pearl analogy — how small strengths, initiatives, or programs can be strung together to form a “necklace” or cohesive whole. The string that serves as the through-line is a critical element — if you aren’t sure what you’re trying to achieve, it’s hard to know which “pearls” should be included and which are distractions.

But I think the most important part of the necklace is the clasp. The clasp is the element that not only holds it together in the short term, it also ensures viability over time. The connector keeps the pearls from entropy — falling off when people are no longer paying attention to assembling them. In a project, the metaphorical “clasp” is often overlooked — people are so excited to have all the pearls strung that they rejoice in the moment and fail to take those extra steps to strengthen the work for the future.

A string with a bunch of pearls is not a necklace without a clasp. Don’t stop short of making that final connection that allows the work to be useful for years to come.

leadership dot #3381: age

When I think of Legos, I think of little kids sitting around a pile of them building things but the company sees it differently. Legos is deep into the adult market and is continually adding kits that challenge the patience, dexterity, and wallet of their customer.

Whereas model cars used to be built with assembly kits and glue, today’s gearhead can buy Legos for many special models, including the Porsche 911, and Ferraris. Lego announced that they are adding a bonsai tree package and a floral bouquet collection that are designed to “encourage mindfulness” in adults. Each kit has over 700 pieces for people to inadvertently step on!

Lego kits also continue to become more elaborate. You can make a model of the White House or Disney Castle with Legos. A Colosseum kit retails for $549.99! The Imperial Star Destroyer is $699.99! Many others are several hundred dollars and are still back-ordered or listed as “hard to find.”

Think about your audience. Have you focused something only on youth that could also be adapted for adults? Or in reverse, could children benefit from a “young-adult” version of your service as many authors have done? Age is fluid in people’s minds — and should be in your targeting.

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 #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 #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 #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 #3366: bathtub

The book Systems Thinking for Social Change reminded me of a common-sense principle that is often overlooked — the Bathtub Analogy. The concept is simple: the level of water in the tub is determined by the rate at which the water flows in and the rate at which it drains out. Too often, we only focus on the faucet.

The analogy is applied in many settings such as John Sterman’s Carbon Bathtub (describing the level of CO2 put into the atmosphere vs what nature can disburse) and the analogy framing homelessness (decrease the number becoming homeless/increase those moving to permanent housing). However, it can apply to many constructs in our organizational or personal life:

  • We can reduce the calories we eat to lose weight — or increase the number that we burn
  • We can increase hiring to expand staff — or reduce the attrition of current employees
  • We can reduce spending to meet our budget — or increase income
  • We can purge possessions to have more room — or increase storage space
  • We can increase new membership — or increase retention of those we serve

The Bathtub Analogy reminds us to pay attention to the flow rather than focusing only on the level. When we consider both inputs and outputs — and the relative rates at which they are occurring — often new solutions come to mind as well as a deeper and more nuanced understanding of the whole.

The next time you are trying to shift behavior, draw the system through the lens of a bathtub. The analogy might help you find solutions that otherwise would have gone down the drain.

Source: Systems Thinking for Social Change by David Peter Stroh, 2015

leadership dot #3365: frequency

I write my sister a letter every day and somehow manage to ramble for a few pages, but when I write to those on my “occasional letter” list, I sometimes have to think before I can even fill a notecard.

I see the same principle in action with coaching clients: when I meet with them weekly, there is always more to discuss than time allows, but when we switch to bi-weekly or monthly it takes longer to get into meaningful topics. This is also true for 1:1 sessions with supervisor/employee, meetings of project groups or task forces, and most other encounters.

Frequency — and then by default, recency — allows for more depth, emotion, and substantive interactions. You spend less time ramping up and returning to where you ended and can have greater continuity and flow to your engagements. If you find yourself starting with “where did we leave off…” it’s time to connect more often.