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Kanju

Work takes me to Africa quite a bit. Mostly I spent my time in places that aren’t on the tourist trail: Uganda where it joins South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo, Benin just about anywhere, Ghana, rural villages in South Africa, Katatura – the township that butts up to Windhoek Namibia, Rwanda, northern Botswana, and the Namibia/Angola border.

I’ve notice they all have something in common that catches my attention and yet is hard to describe. Wherever I go there is a kind of entrepreneurial innovation at work. People are creating all kinds of business ventures with minimal resources. I’ve talked about it many times as I’ve noticed how different this entrepreneurial activity in the lean world is from that of the fat countries.

Now I have a name for it: Kanju. In her book The Bright Continent Dayo Olopadean takes a ground level view of the energy, innovation, and entrepreneurial spirit thriving throughout Africa. As I read the book I realized it is a guide for leaders everywhere for shifting your thinking not just about Africa but about the power of people unleashed to solve their problems themselves…with whatever resources are at hand.

The book starts with a quote from E F Shumacher that captures the problem faced by so many: “A man who uses an imaginary map thinking that it is a true one is likely to be worse off than someone with no map at all.”

So many are following imaginary maps and treating them as thought they are depicting reality. Kanju is based in reality not fantasy. In Yoruba, a Nigerian language, kanju literally means “rush or make haste”. As used colloquially it means “hustle” or “make due”.

The fat world often is run under formality bias. Formality bias: the inability to notice that informal ways are as good as and often better than the structured and formal. The inability to notice that informal arrangements and ways of doing things lead to better results.

Formality bias: an inability to put aside your biases about structure and order and let people create what solves their problems and fills their needs. Overcome formality bias, encourage kanju, unlease the power so many have bubbling within.

 

 

Words affect performance. What you say and how you say it can lead to someone performing at their best or failing to achieve their potential. Performance tends to conform to the expectations you set for it.

Stereotype Threat: when you’re told that expectations for someone like you are low, you tend to perform poorly. Just mention to a young woman about to take a difficult math test that girls are bad with numbers and she is liable to do worse than if you’d said nothing at all.

The name comes from research done on students taking the Graduate Record Exam at Stanford. When the test was represented as measuring intelligence, black students did worse than equally qualified white students. When the test was presented as a way for researchers to observe problem solving, equally qualified black and white students scored the same.

The old and incorrect stereotype that blacks are less intelligent that whites affects results when mentioned even with such subtlety. Merely mentioning stereotypes leads to them being fulfilled. Keeping your prejudices to yourself allows true ability to come through.

Think of the impact on results if you banish such ways of speaking and replace them with words of encouragement. Think about the different result you’ll get if instead of mentioning how girls are bad with numbers you mention how wonderful it is that women are such great mathematicians and are doing so well in fields requiring these skills.

Express your satisfaction at seeing how everyone in the company is exceptional in their skills and able to successful complete the most difficult tasks. Share your expectations of superior performance from everyone. Improve your organization’s performance. Leave everyone you touch better off and confident they will succeed.

Spaces

Spend a very long flight in the front of the plane followed by a much shorter flight in steerage and you can’t help thinking about the way spaces affect you. My recent twelve hour flight to Doha in Business was somehow much shorter than my one hour flight from there to Dubai in Economy.

During my time in Dubai and Sharjah my awareness of the impact of spaces on emotion, energy, and perception continued as I sat at dinner in amazing halls, wandered out into the vast desert, and was packed into a dark and claustrophobic club. I had business meetings in tight quarters barely able to contain the table and a few chairs, in a vast cavern of an industrial building, and in the lobbies, bars, and restaurants of various hotels.

On my return flights I pondered the way these different spaces all were participants in the meetings or meals even though mostly below the consciousness of those within them. In some cases the space enhanced the dialogue while in others it boxed it in. I watched as people entered different spaces. Some spaces led to awe and smiling, energized gazes while others led to hunched shoulders with nary a smile in sight.

Spaces, the place we spend all our time.

All too often office and other business spaces are designed without much thought about the way they impact their inhabitants. Yet, the mental state spaces create often has an immense impact on the quality of the work performed within them.

The space is designed without any input from those who use it. People with no knowledge of the way the work actually gets done design space that turns out to inhibit rather than facilitate exceptional results.

The idea that the form of the spaces should follow the function of the activities that fill them is not considered or perhaps just ignored. Using spaces to exemplify, accentuate and be fully aligned with the values the organization supposedly lives by is never considered. All too often the space has exactly the opposite result, exposing the hypocrisy of the values expressed.

The value of designing the space to  encourage collaboration and involvement across functions and specialties is missed. The latest trend in designing spaces is followed whether it makes sense for the organization or not. The lemming model is followed instead of designing what leads to optimum results irrespective of what others are doing.

Ease of design and construction and minimization of cost is picked for short term gain over increasing shareholder value through building an environment that best fits the needs and sensibilities of those who with the best resources will build an exceptional and successful company.

Visit Dubai. Notice how just walking around looking at the exteriors of the towers leads to your thoughts soaring. With such emotional excitement and openness of mind who knows what creative and innovative ideas might emerge to drive your organization further than you ever imagined possible.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Silence

As I sat down to write this, it occurred to me that my mind was blank. Totally blank. A deafening absence of thought greeted me.

At first I panicked. As regular readers know, this missive comes out every Tuesday unless technical glitches intervene. Not only do I always, or so I thought, have something on my mind that fits into this space, but the regularity of it is good for me. Most of my life is an ever changing series of activities taking place in random places around the world with an often changing collection of people. As you read this, assuming you read it within a day or two after it arrives, I am in Dubai for a few days surrounded by people I have never met before.

On second thought, I realized that without any effort on my part I had arrived at that state reached for by practitioners of mediation: an empty mind. Once I got past the panic, it was quite pleasurable. Vaguely comfortable, somehow relaxing, and very calming. A state completely divergent from the racket normally filling my head.

I savored the experience for a few minutes.

As I got myself moving again several things occurred to me. First, I found Clearing The Mind Meditation since I would like a better way than total randomness to find this place again. It’s some simple directions with a bit of philosophy thrown in.

It starts with a quote from Shunryu Suzuki,

It is mind that deludes Mind,
For there is no other mind.
O Mind, do not let yourself
Be misled by mind.

When I started to write this after my mind got moving again, I was going to mention the clarity of thought I experienced as I began to address issues around me. I was going to mention the value of clarity of thought for executive decision making. Clarity of thought combined with a calm ability to focus on one and only one thing. Clarity of thought and calmness enabling a total focus on the most important thing at hand. Clarity of thought created with a few minutes of ending the clutter of thought distracting your thinking.

Then I read the Suzuki quote and changed my Mind. I decided not to mention clarity of thought and instead to offer you an even more interesting idea for improving your thinking. Think about the meaning of the first line, it is mind that deludes Mind. Your mind is your own worst enemy, leading you astray. Your mind gets stuck, gets caught with old knowledge and plans, blocks new ideas. You have too watch out that your mind doesn’t get set in its ways and lead you astray as it keeps your Mind from creating anew.

Beware the clutter in your head. Beware the ossification of your ideas. Be it mediation or long walks or some time by yourself in the midst of the havoc of a full Starbucks…however you do it take a clarity break and clear your mind so your Mind can roam free.

Everyone is inundated by information, often in excruciating detail. Much of it is marketing materials shouting about how wonderful the sender is. You get videos, texts, tweets, emails, and even a call now and then. Everywhere you go you’re subjected to people who immediately share their expertise…without you asking.

It’s too complicated, too random, too incomprehensible. Luckily our minds are wonderful things. They manage to block most of it out.

Unfortunately, you just happen to be someone who has a message about your company that you’d like others to not only receive but also read or watch. Beyond getting read or watched, it would be nice if your message, in whatever format, quickly defined who you are and encouraged those you’re after to dig deeper. Even better, it would be wonderful if it guided everything you do in your organization.

How simple can you get and still define yourself? How about three words?

Define yourself in three words and cut through the clutter and complexity. Three words that express who you are, what you do, and how you do it. Three words that capture your essence, elicit curiosity in the recipient, engage their minds and encourage them to want to learn more.

Get them asking questions and switch from pushing out unnecessary and often irritating information to responding to requests for more with a specific focus.

My three words? Attention, Value, Fun. Those who either get it right away or ask me to explain are great to work with. Those who don’t have self selected out. It saves everyone a lot of time and energy. My three words have helped so much I’ve even embed them  in my tag line:

Pay Attention · Add Value · Have Fun

Sunk Cost Bias. Do you ever suffer from it? Of course you do. Just about everyone does.

Sunk cost bias is the tendency to continue doing something no matter how poorly it’s going once you’ve invested time and money…the unwillingness to cut your losses and find a better solution. Think about how difficult it is to stop a project that is well over budget and still has no successful end in sight.

Once you invest significant time and effort into something it influences how you think. Essentially, the actions you have already taken bias you towards being stuck in the past and unable to think about the best decision based on the current situation. You’re unable to focus on the present and what now is the right thing to do.

The wasted effort, and the less than optimal results, led Wharton Professor Sigal Barsade and INSEAD Professors Andrew Hafenbrack and Zoe Kinias to wonder if meditation and mindfulness would help lead to better decisions. The result is, “Debiasing the Mind through Meditation: Mindfulness and the Sunk-Cost Bias” published in Psychological Science.

The professors devised experiments using short time focused breathing to engender a mindfulness state. They discovered that a short break to focus the mind through meditation led to more focus on the present and the current situation and thus better decision making.

A brief time out before making a decision leads to less biased decision making and thus better decisions. That comment we’ve all heard, “take a deep breath before saying anything”, in fact turns out to be of real value in all decision making. It actually does lead to better results.

The research shows that a brief break leads to a big result. According to Barsade, “it changes your cognitive state and your mood, both of which change your decision making.”

When you find yourself having to change your thinking, make decisions, or just think in a less biased way for any reason…do a bit of meditation first. Breathing before deciding, the key to better decisions.

 

People look through your words to your actions when they want to know what you really believe. More importantly, their actions are guided by your actions. As we’ve all heard, if you don’t walk the talk, they follow the walk and not the talk.

Two recent events got me thinking about this. Both should be events to celebrate and yet, in both cases a stronger message is coming from what lies beneath the good news for the person. It’s a quite different message. The optics…and walk…aren’t good.

The United Nations has announced that Sam Kutess, Uganda’s Foreign Minister, will be elected President of the UN General Assembly. It seems he’s the only candidate due to some obscure way the UN chooses people for such positions. There’s the first problem. Elected?

Then there is his background. He has been censored by his own government for corruption, the United States government considers him exceptionally corrupt, and has been accused of accepting bribes from foreign oil companies. Local courts have acted to allow him to stay in office in spite of this. What’s with these courts?

Beyond that, he strongly supports the harsh laws against homosexuals recently enacted in Uganda. It is considered one of the most homophobic laws in the world with penalties that include life imprisonment for repeat homosexuality and seven year sentences for helping homosexuals avoid detection.

Quite the fellow to lead the United Nations in its quest to ensure good government, human rights, and fair treatment for all the world’s people.

Bowe Bergdahl, a United States soldier has been released after five years of captivity in Afghanistan. Great news…except he was released in exchange for five once high level Taliban captives held in Guantanamo Bay.

Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel has announced that in spite of what everyone sees, “we did not negotiate with terrorists. Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war.” Good luck making that distinction after years of treating the Taliban as terrorists.

Beyond the terrorist issue, if Sergeant Bergdahl was a prisoner of war, why aren’t those still stuck in Guanatanamo Bay prisoners of war deserving treatment as such? They were captured in the same war as Bergdahl. Now Hagel has essentially dealt with five of them as such.

In both cases seemingly wonderful events for Kutess and Bergdahl have led to outpourings of anger at the actions, direct contradiction of long stated positions, and undercut messages about expected behavior. Actions really do speak louder than words.

 

 

 

In today’s hyperactive, over-informationed, global, 24/7 world…it’s hard for managers to relax and let their minds run free. And yet, there is much neuroimaging research showing that this is exactly what leads to the best decisions and becoming a more motivating manager. It turns out that when it comes to becoming an exceptional manager, less is more.

Dr Pillay, Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard Medical School, has found that when you let your mind wander you activate the creative part of your brain. In contrast, when you get stressed by deadlines approaching the parts of the brain used for problem solving, not creative thought, get activated.

It also turns out that the best leaders use their emotions to guide decisions much more than logic. It seems that neuroscience is proving that in general your gut really is a better way to decide that basing decisions on facts alone.

Better strategic thinkers activate the social and emotional centers of the brain, not the centers for planning and logical reasoning according to research by Dr Gilkey, Professor of Management and Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Emory University.

Then there are many studies showing that doing less without interruption leads to more productive managers. Ongoing interruptions also lead to poorer quality work. Interruptions lead to stress which leads to loss of focus and constantly shifting your attention…hardly the way to perform at your best.

But what to do to keep your brain functioning in ways that lead to more creative and successful results? How can you ensure you spend as much time as possible with a wandering mind, focused uninterrupted effort, the calmness and ability to hear your gut when it speaks?

It’s actually simple. Decide to change how you operate. Take an early morning walk or spend some time by yourself in a Starbucks with nothing in particular to do. Refuse to check your email every few seconds and stay focused on whatever you’re working on until it’s completed, get to know your body better and the signals it’s sending you…and listen.

Simple things to do, difficult to force yourself to do. Take control of your life and improve your results. Those who operate this way all notice an amazing thing. They actually get more done with less effort and better results in less time. Join them.

 

BeanFest

Over the last few years a lot of research has been done on the science of political thought. Recently psychologists Russell Fazio and Natalie Shook had a group of self identified liberals and conservatives play BeanFest. BeanFest is a simple video game where the player sees a variety of cartoon beans in different shapes and sizes. Each bean has different numbers of dots on it. The player must choose whether to accept or not to accept each new type of bean when it is presented…without knowing what will happen.

Some beans give points while others take them away. You don’t know which will occur until you pick one.

Liberals tried out all sorts of beans racking up lots of points…but also losing lots of points. In the process they learned about a lot of different types of beans. Conservatives tried out fewer beans. They lost fewer points but gathered less information about different beans.

In other research using personality tests, liberals tend to score higher on openness…the desire to explore, try new things, meet new people. Conservatives score higher on conscientiousness…the desire for order, structure, stability.

A third collection of research has shown that conservatives have a greater focus on the alarming, things that are threatening. The world is a more dangerous place to them.

All this research has been a search to explain the different and often incompatible worldviews of political differences. People on opposite sides of the political spectrum truly do view the world in completely different ways. They live in different worlds and view problems and possible solutions in totally incompatible ways. This difference seems to occur around the world.

While this research is aimed at the political differences we see demonstrated daily, it has major implications for running a successful business and for those in business management and leadership positions. Except for the smallest businesses, most businesses employ people with both these political worldviews. Beyond that, most businesses have suppliers, customers, and prospects that span this divide.

The good news is that mixing people with these disparate ways of viewing the world and acting on these views can lead to more comprehensive corporate thinking that considers all options. Clever managers can align style of thinking with tasks to be done, create teams that come up solutions that are better than those found by a group composed of those who think alike.

The bad news is…you need to figure out how to communicate and operate in ways that accept and engage difference. You need to understand that this difference in worldview and ways of thinking is not good or bad…it’s just different. And through difference fully respected often comes greater strength.

It’s a difficult balancing act for any manager. Balancing the need to get things done in a coordinated and consistent way with the need to allow input from a diverse collection of people who view things through completely different lenses. Those who figure this out come to be leaders rather than managers.

Leadership is a much overused term these days. Too many think it comes from position, but many in supposed positions of leadership aren’t remotely leaders. They’re just managers with the fanciest title.

True leadership comes from painting a vision that pulls in and values all viewpoints. It comes with a certain humility and willingness to listen and hear while staying true to the values and beliefs that underlie everything. True leadership is being able to communicate in ways that both the liberals and conservatives can hear, understand, believe, and follow. True leadership is a rare thing indeed.

 

 

 

Do you check your business email before you go to bed? Multiple times over weekends and holidays? In the middle of your daughter’s wedding?

Does it make you crazy when you find yourself in a place where there is no signal? So crazy that you check every few minutes just in case a signal has somehow managed to find you?

If so, you’re not alone.

A 2012 survey by the Center for Creative Leadership discovered that 60% of professionals kept in touch with work for  13.5 hours every work day and spent an addition 5 hours dealing with email on weekends.  That adds up to 72 hours of work a week.

The higher you go in an organization, the worse it gets. Pew Research found that people who make over $75,000 a year fret that their phone makes it impossible for them to turn off work…ever.

Some of you are no doubt smiling and thinking how wonderful this is. Such dedicated workers. And without giving anyone a raise.

But there is a cost. Decreased attention span. Loss of focus. Stress.

Boston Consulting Group became so concerned by this that they allowed Harvard professor Leslie Perlow to do some research on this issue on one of their consulting teams. As part of the research they carved out regular time when team members would be left along…totally.

The result? Immediate reduction in stress levels. Job satisfaction increased. Hours worked weekly decreased by 11% without any loss in productivity.  Most amazingly, clients reported either no change in work product or that the consultants’ work had actually improved.

Before you think this study is an outlier, do a Google search and you’ll find there are many studies showing the same thing.

It seems that constant interruptions, the stress of always being connected to work, the disconnect from your family, friends, and non-work life in general…really do decrease your results while increasing the time you work. And more importantly, it does the same thing for your employees.

Burned out, stressed out, exhausted employees are not good for your business. Give Them A Rest.

Start small and see what happens. Tell your people to turn off their business phones at 8 in the evening and not look again until 8 in the morning. Maybe take a look Saturday morning but not again until Monday morning. See what happens. If you get the same results as Boston Consulting Group, expand the free from phone time until you get to a good balance between work and non working.

Remember, it has to come from you. And you have to follow the same rules. No sending emails to employees during phone off time and then being aggravated they didn’t immediately respond. No checking your phone every ten minutes all weekend. Who knows, you might find your own stress reduced and your productivity increased…just like your people’s.

It seems the cold war has been revived. Or, perhaps it’s not exactly the cold war as real fighting is going on and territory is being annexed. The world is watching as the verbal battle between Putin and Obama plays out around the actual ground game taking place.

Just now they announced that a Russian fighter jet made numerous close passes to a US warship. Seems the risk of a conflagration is rising.

As we all watch the ineffective response of those trying to encourage Russia to stop its territorial acquisition, I’m reminded of the what a client who was a master negotiator once shared. Pex Muldoon, among other things CEO of Lavino Shipping Company, often was in negotiations with unions: longshoreman and teamsters. Yet as tough as these unions are in negotiations, Pex would wind up with deal he could live with…and so could the unions.

Without strikes and great animosity.

I once asked him how he managed to keep things running smoothly during contract negotiations. He shared how he always tried to be fair…and the unions knew this. More importantly, the unions knew that when his negotiators came back to the table after conferring with him and said, “Pex said this is the last offer”, the unions knew he meant it.

He then shared the real secret. He was willing to take a strike for as long as it took…and the unions knew this too. He had a red line. When you reached that line, he followed through with his threat. Actually, threat is too strong a word. He merely shared the response that you would get if you crossed the line. The ball was now in your court. You controlled what would happen…good or bad.

He always followed through. And everyone knew it.

Wandering around a wild and remote island clears the mind and leaves it free to ruminate. Throw in some reading ranging from Abraham Lincoln to the Booz & Company journal “strategy + business” to a wonderful crime thriller by the Swedish author Owen Laukkanen…and a few ideas surface.

Amazingly Lincoln, Booz strategy writers, and FBI Agent Windemere agree on the basics of leading others and achieving excellent results in the face of overwhelming odds.

Principles: it is critical to have a few, 4 or 5 at most, core principles that guide everything you do. Principles that are inviolate and are at the core of your being and provide the base on which all of your ideas and actions build.

Simplicity: the simpler you can explain things, the more effective your message. As you add complexity you increase the chances for misunderstanding, confusion, and incomprehension. Take the time to reduce your messages to the simplest way possible to express your idea.

Emotion: humans are both emotional and rational but how we feel about something guides the decision. Ideas expressed simply with emotional triggers grab people and connect them to you and the idea you’re expressing. Facts fill in the details but emotion binds them to you.

Put Yourself Out There: show yourself often, include everyone, listen and learn, do all the things that show people you understand them and their needs and worries. Exhibit your principles, speak simply, and show them you care and want them to be successful.

Humility: as the Ugandan proverb says, “when the moon is not full, the stars shine more brightly.”

 

 

 

…for me! Off clearing my head and thinking deep thoughts while hiking around Whidbey Island. Time for you to do the same?Deception Pass 5

For some time I’ve told people that my theory on punching time clocks is that in companies with an engaged, enthusiastic, passionate workforce you need them to make sure people leave.

At a big meeting recently someone repeated the thought a business owner shared with him: “If you need an alarm clock you shouldn’t work here.”

Make your life easier: build an organization filled with the right people in the right seats doing things they love to do…and everything gets better.

 

Lucchese

Ever since I spent time in Houston consulting to the energy industry I have worn Lucchese boots. After visiting the CEO of a large pipeline company a few times he decided he needed to buy me a pair of boots and took me over to a store that sold Lucchese boots. From the minute I put them on I loved them. Beautiful workmanship, extremely comfortable, and…being of a normal height…they made me 2 inches taller.

I have worn them ever since. Currently I have a couple of newer pairs and a few pairs that are worn out and only usable for non-business occasions. I almost always buy the same kind: Classic goatskin with the most pointed toes in a dark mahogany color. They go great when I have to wear a suit or other formal attire and yet are perfect with jeans.

A few weeks ago I noticed my newest pair, worn so little that they still had the original heal pads, were tearing where the leather met the sole. I don’t know much about making boots so after much perusal realized that I needed to send them to the experts.

I called Lucchese and spoke with the pleasant fellow who answered the phone. He listened for a minute and then sent me right to a wonderful man, Albert Resendez. I shared my story with Albert who without any hemming or hawing immediately asked for my email and told me he would send me information on how to send the boots to Lucchese and would include a UPS label I could print out and put on the box. He told me it would only take a few days after they arrived to decide what to do and then he would let me know.

So calm, so clear, so ready to help.

I send off the boots hoping that perhaps they will fix them for free but expecting to hear the damage was due to something I did or perhaps the salt that has been used so much this ridiculously snowy and icy year in my part of the world and I will have to pay a repair charge.

UPS tells me my boots will take 5 or 6 days to get to the hospital so imagine my surprise when 8 days after sending them I get a note from Albert saying:

“Good News.

Your boots have arrived at our Lucchese warehouse.

They will be sent to our production floor to get repaired.

I have an estimated shipping date of 3/03/14

I will try to get these to you as soon as possible.”

Such responsiveness. But even beyond this, imagine my amazement when I received another email from Albert a week later that reads:

“Great News!

Your new Lucchese’s boots have been shipped.”

You read that correctly. With these few words Albert told me that Lucchese had decided my boots had a defect that was their fault and they were sending me a brand new pair.

I sit here typing this wearing my new Lucchese boots. I have shared this story with quite a few people I have run into since they arrived some days ago…well ahead of the day I was first given. And now I share the story about a great company with the mass of my readers and the readers of those who re-post my missives. I imagine thousands will hear it in talks I give or read it through the passing along of this missive.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit…and spreading the word…about those who lead Lucchese and the culture they set. Highest quality product, highest quality service, and most importantly…highest quality people.

 

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