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Consider the Spandrels

15 Jan

SpandrelFiguresLibrary of congress

People used to think that computers were going to make instructor-led training (ILT) obsolete, which of course they didn’t. People used to wear Bluetooth headsets, now they don’t. The problem is reductionism. We tend reduce the overall value of something by evaluating it according to a particular element. For example, just think of candles. Ask yourself, why do we still have candles? The light bulb has been around for a long time, so why do we still buy millions of candles each year? If we reduce the value of candles only to their “light-giving” properties, then we completely miss its other uses.

In evolutionary biology they call these unintended uses, “spandrels,” (a word they borrowed from architecture) which often evolve to become far more important than the original intended use. It’s the error that occurs when we make statements like, “Research shows that empathetic leaders generate up to 15% more revenue.” In essence, this reduces the value of empathy to a function of revenue. “You should be good because you’ll make more money.” Or, the example I gave the other day in our book club; imagine if a man said, “Women are valuable because they give birth to more men.” It’s absurd and yet I see it all the time in the learning context. Reductionism to learning, reductionism to measurement and data, reductionism to practical solutions, etc. However, if we simply stop and take a sober look around, we’ll realize that considering the spandrels actually makes us a lot more intelligent than almost everyone else out there. Training and development interventions are actually doing more than just improving learning. For example, we’ll know that….

  • ILTs aren’t going away because they serve MORE than just an individual learning function: 1) they provide an opportunity for people to get together and build trust and rapport, gain new information, and focus on the relationships so important to leadership; 2) it is easy for HR to demonstrate and measure that learning happened; 3) people are familiar with the modality from our schooling and therefore meta-learning is low (learning how to learn in this environment). Mobile learning (mlearning) isn’t going to replace desktop-based elearning because: 1) people actually have an increasing need for structure in our environment (self-discipline is weak); 2) form factors allow for more dynamic interactions on the desktop.
  • Beware gamification. “Just because something has a learning benefit doesn’t mean that people should do it to learn.” So, think about it this way…a Snickers bar has protein and vitamins. It has some nutritional value, but it would be a mistake to think that people eat Snickers bars, or should eat them, because they are nutritious. I think learning games face this same challenge. Just because people learn from playing games doesn’t mean that they play games to learn. We play games because they are intrinsically rewarding. We play games because play is fun. Play is an end to itself, but gamification is quick to reduce “play” to “performance” or “learning.” Now, you can start to engineer taste and nutrition and create some really good tasting protein bars, but again, you’ll need to balance the competing reasons why people eat protein bars versus why people eat a candy bar (they approach the purchase of these somewhat similar foods from completely different angles). Most of the conversations out there about learning games are doing this in the wrong way.
  • People stopped wearing Bluetooth headsets, not because they didn’t need a way to conduct hands-free phone calls, but because they make you look like a douche bag. This is the same reason why I didn’t by a Google Glass. In theory, they are really cool. In reality, you look like a dork…and therefore I would never actually wear it. If you judge a tool, a process, or a technology only upon its “logical usefulness” then you’ll have to explain why my mother buys scented candles. A “logical use” is often just a disguised reduction.

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  • We can also find learning benefits where others haven’t. For example, most of the conversation about virtual leadership or virtual leadership development theory is largely about trying to maintain the learning while reducing costs (in the name of efficiency), without considering that virtual training and leading may actually have some ADVANTAGES over traditional approaches. Some non-learning things have learning benefits; some learning things have non-learning benefits. That means that we could offer a portfolio of services with some real knowledge of what each modality does well.

Without reducing one to the other, we can take a look at the learning benefits and the spandrels and ensure that we are addressing each in the most effective way possible. Without this understanding, we conflate things, reduce them, and often end up right back where we started. In the end, you can talk all day about the learning aspect of something, but in terms of the vibrant reality of an organizational social system, there are a lot of other important things going on in any given “training,”  “program,” or “intervention.”

If we consider those spandrels, then we can develop better products and services that leverage multiple values and multiple perspectives. E-Learning can do what e-learning does best (compliance, technical training, etc.). ILTs can be even more interactive and social among participants. Mobile can focus on access to secure databases rather than simply delivering elearning on a phone. Considering the spandrels ensures that we can help clients maximize their training. They can avoid pitfalls and maximize opportunities. Employees will be happy that we aren’t wasting their time. We don’t feel like we are doing the same old thing. Everyone wins.

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To the Heroes that Never Were

22 Nov

For all of our intelligence we human beings are hugely unfair. Worse still, we actually think that we are fair. Which means that we are also hugely ignorant. When combined these two facts set us up for some horrible injustices. One of our most obvious acts of  injustices is how we glorify the firefighters who rush into an apartment building to put out a fire, but we don’t even mention the landlord who replaced the batteries in the smoke detector – a device that prevented a manageable fire from growing so large that it needed the fire department. In short, we glorify the person who intervenes , but not the person who prevents and the obvious reason we do this is because we are never aware of the things that never happen. Our cultural myths around leaders and heroes are oriented around the person who dramatically saves the day, not the person who simply and cleverly manages the antecedents to the problem.

Waragainstjapan060

This has two effects. First, we are encouraged to create problems to solve so that we can be the hero. After all, if there is no way for me to get credit for preventing something that never happened, then the social incentives are for me to let things go. Let things get bad so that I can put on my cape and mask and come to the rescue. It is a tragic self-fulfilling prophecy that the more we see the world according to the drama triangle (i.e. the hero, the villain, and the victim) the more evidence we find to support it. The impact of this simple and fundamental error in judgement on the overall effectiveness of an organization is profound. If your performance management system and your culture is geared only toward problem-solving and not problem-prevention (or polarity management), then you better believe that your people are unconsciously creating a lot of their own problems. After all, every hero needs a villain. This is a problem for all individual people, but when it comes to thinking about people working together in organizations, it suddenly becomes a much more pernicious and profound issue.

The second issue is that we completely miss the qualities in leaders that are ACTUALLY important. We are so distracted by the dramatic story-telling of the latest and greatest feat of Inc. Magazine’s CEO of the Year that we completely ignore the subtlety of true leadership. Given our fundamental human ignorance that orients us to reward intervention more than prevention, true leadership requires a strong internal compass that is not dependent upon the recognition of others. That is the only way to offset this blatantly unjust system. And this is more than just simply calling something “servant leadership” or “humility;” it gets down to how individuals experience the world. I’d like to suggest that, by definition, if you are striving to be recognized for your accomplishments then you are not just “a realist” or “a good salesperson;” you are also likely to be a bad leader. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t consider others or manage your brand or anything like that. What I am saying is that it is a matter of priority. Those things are important, but the MOST important factor is that a leader is driven clearly and consistently by his or her own values.

In the end, everyone knows that “…a pinch of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” so why do we rarely reward acts of prevention? We don’t reward them because our minds are not set up to understand them. We simply cannot see something that did not happen and therefore, all of the subtle acts of preventative heroism go unnoticed. The philosopher+businessman Nassim Taleb describes the problem in his book The Black Swan

Who gets rewarded , the central banker who avoids a recession or the one who comes to “correct” his predecessors’ faults and happens to be there during some economic recovery? Who is more valuable, the politician who avoids a war or the one who starts a new one (and is lucky enough to win)? (Prologue xxviii).

So today I’d like to publicly recognize (in my own small way) all of the heroes that never were. I can’t give you a medal or a bonus. I can’t put your name in the paper or on the cover of Inc. Magazine, but I can acknowledge that the world has been unfair to you. We have been ignorant and unjust. I can’t know exactly what the world would be like without your small acts of everyday leadership, but I can assume that I’d be worse off without them.

Cookies by Douglas Adams

22 Jan

“This actually did happen to a real person, and the real person was me. I had gone to catch a train. This was April 1976, in Cambridge, U.K. I was a bit early for the train. I’d gotten the time of the train wrong. I went to get myself a newspaper to do the crossword, and a cup of coffee and a packet of cookies. I went and sat at a table. I want you to picture the scene. It’s very important that you get this very clear in your mind.

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Here’s the table, newspaper, cup of coffee, packet of cookies. There’s a guy sitting opposite me, perfectly ordinary-looking guy wearing a business suit, carrying a briefcase. It didn’t look like he was going to do anything weird. What he did was this: he suddenly leaned across, picked up the packet of cookies, tore it open, took one out, and ate it.

Now this, I have to say, is the sort of thing the British are very bad at dealing with. There’s nothing in our background, upbringing, or education that teaches you how to deal with someone who in broad daylight has just stolen your cookies. You know what would happen if this had been South Central Los Angeles. There would have very quickly been gunfire, helicopters coming in, CNN, you know…but in the end, I did what any red-blooded Englishman would do: I ignored it. And I stared at the newspaper, took a sip of coffee, tried to do a clue in the newspaper, couldn’t do anything, and thought, what am I going to do?

In the end I thought, nothing for it, I’ll just have to go for it, and I tried very hard not to notice the fact that the packet was already mysteriously opened. I took out a cookie for myself. I thought, that settled him. But it hadn’t because a moment or two later he did it again. He took another cookie.

Having not mentioned it the first time, it was somehow even harder to raise the subject the second time around. “Excuse me, I couldn’t help but notice…” I mean, it doesn’t really work.

We went through the whole packet like this. When I say the whole packet, I mean there were only about eight cookies, but it felt like a lifetime. He took one, I took one, he took one, I took one. Finally, when we got to the end, he stood up and walked away.

Well, we exchanged meaningful looks, then he walked away, and I breathed a sigh of relief and sat back. A moment or two later the train was coming in, so I tossed back the rest of my coffee, stood up, picked up the newspaper, and underneath the newspaper were my cookies.

The thing I like particularly about this story is the sensation that somewhere in England there has been wandering around for the last quarter-century a perfectly ordinary guy who’s had the same exact story, only he doesn’t have the punch line.” – Douglas Adams

 

Beware thy word “Efficiency”

20 Dec
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“He who chases two rabbits catches neither.” The same is true of efficiency and effectiveness.

I’m going to offer you one million dollars for you to pick one of these words….and only one…. to define your life or business; “effective” or “efficient.” Which one do you pick? The answer is that you should pick effective. Today’s article explains why.

Let me start with what efficiency really means. Being efficient means that you pay attention to the cost/benefit of your actions. It means that you increasingly spend less time, or less money, or less effort than you did to get the same result. It means that you calculate your return-on-investment and came out ahead. Above all else, it means that you make sure that you are not putting in more than you are getting out. Efficiency means that you value fairness, logic, and security. Efficiency means that you are smart and careful.

How is this different than being effective? Well, being effective means that you are willing to take risks. It means that you focus on getting the job done regardless of the cost. It means that come hell or high water (and if you’re trying to achieve anything of significance there will be high water) you are going to achieve what you set out to do. Effectiveness means that you execute even if you waste some resources along the way. Effectiveness means that you value success, learning, and adventure.

So, in a way these two drives complement each other. One is creative (effective) and one is corrective (efficiency). But there is a problem. The default setting of the universe is corrective. You don’t have to do anything to make that part of it happen. Just think about how hard it is to climb a mountain and how easy it is to fall off one. Or how hard it is to build a reputation and how easy it is to lose one. The world’s thermostat is naturally set at “cold, unforgiving, and unimpressed.” So in order to achieve anything you have to be absolutely, obsessively, retardedly committed to the goal (even then there are no guarantees) just to offset this natural downward pull.

Since we were children, we’ve been taught to focus on how much effort we put in. During group projects we were very aware who was putting in more effort (see “social loafing”) because we wanted it to be “fair.” When we got older we were taught to focus on return-on-investment and think in terms of cost/benefit ratios. I’m here to tell you that if you really want to achieve an amazing result, then you need to forget about all that bullshit.

Most people think that efficiency is a good thing and there are certain conditions when it’s appropriate (you’re running a large project or organization). But thinking in terms of how you manage your life, there is far more downside than upside.

Why does focusing on efficiency suck so hard? Well, because when we set out to achieve some awesome goal, we start by focusing on the result. We start by trying to be effective. Then, because results are slow to appear, we slowly start second-guessing their actions. Instead of asking, “is this moving me toward my goal?” we start asking, “is this particular action the BEST use of my time?” “Should I make some cold calls or should I do some more marketing?” “Should I go for a run or lift weights?” Eventually, we become so exhausted with trying to maximize our choices that we forget that the ultimate purpose wasn’t to “spend their time wisely” but to actually accomplish a goal.

This phenomena is so common I call it, “the effectiveness to efficiency flip.” It’s just another one of Resistance’s favorite tricks (read The Power of Resistance). Therefore, since you can only have one primary question, (if you doubt this, read the definition of “primary”) you must choose wisely.

Is this the BEST use of my time?

Is this moving me toward my goal? ✓

So, how do you break this bad habit? Well, awareness is a good start. Understand that efficiency is really only a concern for a fully developed system or organization (I’ll be saying more about this in a future article). So if you are starting, then you must absolutely obsess about being effective. Trying to be efficient is just an excuse to keep yourself from taking action. The second thing you must do is stop trying to be BOTH efficient and effective. I know it seems innocent enough (which is precisely why it’s dangerous), but as I outlined above, efficiency and effectiveness are actually pulling you in two different directions. You must get off the fence and decide.

Second, let go of your ego. The default setting of the world is, “waste is bad.” God forbid you were to spend your time or resources doing something that didn’t pan out. I think it’s a fair estimate to say that for every 100 units of effort you should expect roughly 10 units of result. So, that’s about 90 units of waste right there. And this is being generous. Don’t listen to the 99.9% of the people who have convinced themselves to play it safe. Follow the 1% who are brave enough to break a few eggs and have them land on their face.

“Bang for the buck” it not what you are looking for when it comes to achieving your goals. What you are looking for is BANG. This is because the reality of all noble pursuits is that you will always put in 100 times the effort than you think you’ll need to. That’s exactly why so few people succeed. They’ll spend all of their time looking for a short cut, looking for a way to only put in what they’re getting out. They view their place in the world as a series of transactions. Give and take. Tit for tat. They are always guarded to make sure they don’t end up with the short end of the stick. The reality is that you want to be successful you have to love the short end of the stick.

The true masters will tell you that this ratio is perfectly acceptable and will be more than you ever need to achieve everything that you want.

10 Ways to Change Your Mood…

20 Dec
Different-Mood-Disorders

1.) Moral – Do something nice for someone else. Apologize for doing something wrong. Donate some money. Doing good things make us feel better.

2.) Physical – Stop and take 10 deep breaths. Eat some fruit. Drink some water. Move your body. Work out. Do some jumping jacks. Change your physiology, change your mood.

3.) Theatrical – Watch a comedy movie that you haven’t seen before. Watch cat videos on YouTube (or other things that you find funny).

4.) Literary – Do some free writing about how you feel. Commit to at least 10 minutes (important) and don’t judge as you go (more important).

5.) Emotional (our normal go-to solution) – Do some shopping. Eat some ice cream. Not the best solution in the long run, but hey, sometimes it helps.

6.) Musical – Listen to upbeat music. Sing along. Loudly and badly. Force yourself to do it (you don’t feel like being silly, which is why you should).

7.) Behavioral – Just ignore your bad mood for the moment. Focus on the task at hand and just get it done. You might feel better once it’s over.

8.) Relational – You’ll probably already do this if you need it, but call someone for a quick chat. If it’s serious and you don’t have someone just call, go to http://www.befrienders.org/

9.)  Mathematical – “Pain + resistance = suffering.” You can’t control pain. It just happens. Maybe you should stop resisting it? Acknowledge how you feel and look forward to brighter days.

10.) Teleological – Where is this all going? Your life is a winding path and that means that some days are going to be awesome and some are going to suck. Take a long view and remember, that “this too shall pass.”

Above all, my rule of thumb about emotions is that you don’t want to spend too much time analyzing them. Now, if you have recurring problems, mood swings, negative attitude, then do some self-work or go see a therapist, but in general, the more time you spend thinking about your emotions the more powerful they get. It’s like feeding the fire with fuel. Instead, what you want to do is the exact opposite of what you feel like doing. Your mood is a reflection of something that is bothering you. Something that is making you feel vulnerable. It is a self-protective measure. So, in order to change your mood you need to remind yourself that the world isn’t nearly as scary and dangerous as you feel like it is. In order to do that you need to remind yourself that your mood is valid and then you need to move and act. It’s counter-intuitive for high-achievers, but when it comes to your mood, thinking too much about what’s bothering you often makes it worse.