leadership dot #2369: peanut

A new scientific study has just concluded which aims to help those with severe peanut allergies reduce their life-threatening sensitivity to the nut. It was deemed “beyond exciting” that two-thirds of the participants were able to ingest the equivalent of two peanuts at the end of a year-long regimen. While the ability to eat two peanuts doesn’t sound like much, it would have a great impact on the millions of people impacted by the allergies.

The study carefully and slowly introduced gradual amounts of peanut protein over the course of six months, followed by an additional six months of maintenance. They started with the equivalent of one-third of a peanut and built tolerance from there.

The peanut study can provide a useful model for the introduction of new skills that are far from our comfort zone. If you are numbers adverse, you could start with looking at one line in a report and gradually over time expand your comfort to the other figures on that page. If you are “allergic” to public speaking, you could begin with a one-word answer and work your way up to full sentences, and then the ability to fully express your position. If your sensitivity has you shying away from technology, perhaps you could pick one piece of software or app and work your way up from looking at a screen to becoming comfortable with one command, etc.

Just as the goal of the peanut immunotherapy isn’t to have the participants eating peanut butter sandwiches, your goal doesn’t have to be to become an accountant, TED Talk presenter or IT professional. You just need to develop enough tolerance to become comfortable with what surrounds you.

Source: New peanut allergy drug shows ‘lifesaving” potential by Roni Caryn Robin, New York Times, November 18, 2108


leadership dot #2356: hole

I recently hit a curb and put a hole in my tire. It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but my car didn’t come with a spare. That meant that I had to have my car towed, buy a new tire and be without a vehicle for a day while all this transpired. It was less than convenient.

The tire incident reminded me about all the small things that we take for granted. We assume that the tires on a car will work. That the lights will turn on. That the paychecks will be delivered. That the copier will have paper and the computer will have properly stored our documents.

Infrastructure is what makes all the other work possible. In this season of Thanksgiving, share your appreciation with those in your organization who tend to your infrastructure and keep the place running. Don’t let a slow leak of enthusiasm deflate your staff or let one little hole grind your whole operation to a halt.

leadership dot #2348: speak

Sometimes when we speak up – pushing back against a bully, an idea with which we think is unjust or a degrading remark – we are unable to achieve the contrition we desire from the other person. Worse yet, the person we opposed may feel even more emboldened to continue in their demeaning ways since no repercussions occurred despite being called out for their behavior.

To pursue justice, you need to realize that you are the stronger one for having used your voice. Speaking up builds courage and gives you the fortitude to speak up again the next time. Remaining silent does nothing to add to your growth or to address the injustice.

You may not win all of the battles, but you won’t win any that you don’t enter. Keep speaking up to confront those who put other people down.


leadership dot #2337: public spiritedness

What does the United States willingly give, without charge, to almost every country on the planet – and they, in turn, return the favor to us?

It is hard to think of many examples to fulfill that criterion, but one of the answers is weather data. Lots and lots of weather data. Michael Lewis said that “weather data is one of the greatest illustrations of the possibility of global collaboration and public spiritedness.”

Weather information is collected, shared and stored from almost every point on the globe. It is compiled from sophisticated satellites and complex radar stations but also from thousands of amateur weather observers, commercial planes, ships, buoys in the ocean and daily weather balloon releases. “Each and every day, NOAA* collects twice as much data as is contained in the entire book collection of the Library of Congress,” writes Lewis.

You may think you get your weather from an app on your phone or a meteorologist on the television set, but in reality, the forecasts are modeled on the complex data collected by governments around the world. Modern computing capacity has allowed the time frame for which forecasts are given to expand – by crucial minutes for tornado warnings and by days for traditional weather patterns. While we clearly don’t have the precision that we would like, empirically forecasting for public safety has become substantially more accurate over the years.

You can envision a scenario where powerful or wealthy countries would keep their data for themselves or charge others for the reports generated by their billion-dollar satellites, but, fortunately, the information exchange still flows freely. If countries who can’t agree on much can willingly exchange valuable data, what can you share with others outside your organization? Conduct your own experiment in public spiritedness and offer your pieces of information to help create enlightenment for the whole.

Source: The Coming Storm by Michael Lewis, an Audible Original, 2018.
*NOAA = National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

leadership dot #2316: bring it

I recently presented at a conference where I understood that I did not need to bring handouts. “Everyone will access them on their tablet or computer or print them from the information in advance,” they said. I had to submit the handouts far in advance and the organizer commented on how they would be helpful for promotion. I thought all was good.

As you probably have already guessed, all was not well. The handouts weren’t posted in advance and so no one in the session had them. I was able to make the session intelligible by referring to the material on the PowerPoint, but it would have been much more beneficial for the participants if they had the information on hand. I will never be without them again.

It reminded me of a story I heard about the touring company of Hamilton. Apparently, they brought everything they needed with them – right down to the paper clips. I suspect that this is because of a similar situation where they needed something that they were told would be provided and it wasn’t.

I’m surprised that I didn’t bring handouts anyway because I routinely follow the scouting motto to “Be Prepared.” I bring my own whiteboard markers and eraser when I teach a class. I always have cash in case the person I’m with forgets his wallet or the establishment doesn’t take credit cards. I bring my own pillow when overnighting and I’m usually the one who has the equivalent of Hamilton’s paper clips when traveling. I come prepared!

It is easy to remember the big things, but it is often the little things that make the experience run smoothly. Think about what items add to your comfort and efficiency when you are away and take them with you. If the session doesn’t go well or the papers aren’t organized, it reflects on you more than the person who was supposed to provide the item for you.


leadership dot #2299: nickels and dimes

If you ever needed proof that a little adds up to be a lot, the Transportation Security Administration can provide it for you. In 2016, the agency collected $867,800 just from loose change that hurried travelers left behind in the screening process. It doesn’t seem like a handful of coins here and there would amount to much, but since TSA’s inception, it has collected over $5 million dollars in forgotten money!

TSA is able to keep all those funds thanks to a regulation that says all unclaimed goods are able to be used to support security operations. I would bet that when the bill was crafted no one guessed that their take would come anywhere near the size it does now, but each year the collection keeps growing.

For TSA, this drip by drip accumulation has added up to quite the windfall. While it is doubtful that your organization is so lucky, I’ll bet that you have some practice that is going unnoticed but is nonetheless aggregating its impact, probably in a negative direction. Have you recently checked if your auto-orders are still the best deal? Is a scheduling fluke that caused overtime continuing long after the need was present? Do you have the best financing rate or are you just using the same credit card that you’ve had for years?

Small fees, unnoticed price increases, or minor changes in terms can all add up to take funds out of your operation just as easily as the forgotten coins put funds into TSA’s. Those nickels and dimes do add up – to a lot. It’s worth your time to try and save a few of the recurring ones for your organization.

Source: Consumer Reports Consumerist newsletter, 6/20/17

Thanks, Brian!

leadership dot #2287: uncommon measures

Most organizations track some data points and behaviors but often these are measures of actions that have already occurred. The lagging indicators are like autopsy reports: they tell an important story but do little to change the present circumstances.

One way to overcome this is to reimagine the types of things that you track. The School Retool project monitors “uncommon measures” that allow then to forecast outcomes before they happen through paying attention to connected behaviors. My favorite example: to assess the level of trust in a school they looked at whether ketchup was freely available in the cafeteria or whether it had to be requested. Schools that trusted their students to properly use condiments also had high levels of trust in other areas like student voice. Ketchup is, of course, not the only indicator they considered, but it did provide clues to other key behaviors they were monitoring.

Rutgers University wanted to assess student conduct so looked at the logs of students who had been transported to the hospital because of excessive alcohol use. They merged multiple data sets to find that football games with lopsided scores resulted in a greater number of transports, allowing them to proactively anticipate and try to head off conduct violations.

Zappos founder Tony Hsieh monitors collisions – which he defines as “serendipitous personal encounters” – as a way gauge not only the culture of his company but the to assess the community feel of the Downtown Project, an urban renewal project he is spearheading in Las Vegas. There he monitors the number of “collisionable hours per acre” as his measure of success.

Personally, I use an uncommon measure for a puppy’s future obedience and companionship by its tolerance for being held upside down and having its belly rubbed. I watch for blog follows from people I do not know as greater predictors of success than likes from pre-existing friends or fans.

It is easy to monitor the same things that everyone else does, but what does your intuition tell you about the small behaviors that forecast the larger actions you desire? Measure those and you may find uncommon success in your goal achievement.

Sources: www.schoolretool.org: watch the great 4-minute “Uncommon Measures” video with several more examples

A University Took an Uncommonly Close Look at Its Student-Conduct Data. Here’s What it Found. By Dan Bauman in The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 24, 2018

Tony Hsieh example in The Culture Code by Daniel Coyle, 2018, p. 66.