Thursday, December 6, 2012

Footprints in the Butter

How do you know when there is an elephant in your fridge? There are footprints in the butter of course.

Obviously! Why didn't we notice that?

Whilst this is supposed to be a lame joke, it replicates so much of what goes on in organisations and many personal lives today, it’s actually not funny.

Whilst we might refer to elephants being "in the room" we may actually have put some in our fridge. It’s as if by preserving them in the cold and dark for long enough we think they won't stink or simply people won't be aware that we have this great big creature in residence.

We forget however that like our culture, the fridge is a little thought about, but essential element of our lives we visit every day, and every time we open the door, there staring us straight in the face will be those large "footprints in the butter".

The first thing to take into account about elephants is that they are big and take up a lot of room leaving no space for anything else. Such things as fruitful discussions, meaningful planning and problem solving have no room to progress or breathe whilst discussed in the shadow of suppressed challenges or issues.

As leaders try to motivate and encourage organisations we try to also ignore the issues in our strategies and corporate messages. It’s like trying to add stuff in the fridge when it’s already full and it’s why so many organisations fail to move forward.

How can you expect your organisation to energize itself or your family or colleagues to show enthusiasm, whilst they feel the weight of barriers that block the way?
No amount of positive thinking will get you going if an elephant is standing on your foot.

The second thing about elephants is that they are not naturally aggressive. In most parts of the world they are used as a valuable tool, providing a strength in moving otherwise immovable objects and have assisted in building lasting landmarks. In the same way, ignoring the elephant may mean denying yourself the greatest opportunity for achieving the results you’re looking for.

An idle elephant only gets in the way, but a working one "paves it".

A third thing about releasing an elephant is that to move it, use it or get it out, it will mean moving or removing some of the other items to make sufficient room for the elephant to get out. So who is going to move first? It won't be the elephant. It may need to be you!

Most people don't want to be the one to refer to the elephant as it’s not the elephant they fear but the owner who appears to want to let it remain frozen. These are the leaders who only work on the paradigm of positive thinking and who reject references to challenges and blockages as weakness and suppressive.

By identifying and “naming” the elephant however you will be able to harness its power. Instead of being afraid of its size, see its strength. Leaders who actually engage with the elephant find it not only friendly but very useful. Obstacles also disappear as the tension is released.

A standing agenda item of mine is "the elephant". It actually becomes the most fruitful item as it clears the way forward in any discussion. It engages the people and it engenders trust and collective strength.

Are you denying yourself and your people the greatest opportunity for success?
Are you unable to move?

Are there "footprints in your butter?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Fit For Nothing

It’s not a lack of something that is our problem...
It’s our lack of nothing.

We continually complain about the need for more resources however it is the very lack of something that is our wealth. The very nature of having nothing can provide us with the best opportunity to move ahead or expand our thinking into spaces we would be too lazy to enter.

In the same way we have developed a reliance on technology we have also developed an insatiable desire for money, time, people and all sorts of things to expand or develop ourselves and our organisations. It comes to a point where confronted with something like a power outage many people become disabled, not knowing how to cope, almost as if they themselves were plugged into the power socket.

I see this every day in such examples as the EFTPOS machine going offline with a queue of patrons waiting. People paralysed and stressed when right in front of their faces there are many alternatives. Whilst a 'continuity' plan may go some way to resolving this, it’s the complete numbness in our human processing that pervades when confronted with nothing. Working on the premise of 'continuity' also emphasizes the fact that we don't want to change what we are doing we just want to ‘continue’ and not be interrupted, choking the greatest opportunity for development in us and our people to show initiative, agility and resilience in all environments.

We have been deceived into a place where we are translating doing more with less, into 'less effort', rather than just less, or even nothing.

When was the last time you used a pencil? Do you even have one? If you had no white board what would you do? Could you or your staff give a presentation that did not involve PowerPoint slides? What if the power went out just before that meeting? Could you or your people deliver the message or hold the conversation with nothing?

If we want ourselves, our organisations and our people to really develop flexibility, initiative, innovation and confidence maybe it’s time to put ourselves on a diet. Look around and ask, is my organisation fat? Are my people obese? Are we agile and fit? If I pulled the power switch now would their lights go out or would they transition readily. How would they behave? Would they readily embrace disruption as if it’s a normal day?

In trying to focus on gaining a competitive advantage and maintain our place we may be overlooking the best advantage we could have. Is it time to change from a continuity plan to an adaptive one and throw away the reliance?

The generation that invented and developed what we rely on today, were able to do it with nothing. If we were placed in the same space today could we? Could our people? Have we lost all those skills that made what we have?

Your competitive advantage may be your organisations fitness for nothing. Is it time to cause a famine? It will mean going back to basics and relearning skills that we have forgotten or thrown away. It will invoke new and exciting conversations. It will result in doing more with nothing, and it will allow your people to embrace the future and not be paralysed by nothing.

Can you 'do this without this'?

When you are fit for nothing you may actually have something.

Are you ready?

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Are you there yet

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Any parent of young children has had this question asked of them. We start out on a journey having given our children all the assurances that it will be fun and where we are going will be worth it. We load them up with things to do, goodies to eat and games to play hopefully to distract them from the distance to be travelled.

It’s not long however before they call out "are we there yet, are we there yet?" Because they have no means of identifying what the destination looks like and no means by which to measure the time and distance they start to become restless. They begin to view it in their own terms and measures and it all becomes boring and tiresome.

If we apply this analogy to how individuals or organisations define their vision they often fall into a place where parts of their enterprise will be asking the same thing.

We understand that the starting point for a good plan is the mission or vision; however in many cases these statements have become more about branding and image, than a clear destination. The focus is on making an “inspiring” statement, something that is “attractional” or something that makes us feel good rather than take us to an identified place.

A strategy is essentially a positioning or an approach which you or an organisation is taking, in order to reach an objective or “destination”. It will be impossible to implement however without this being "tangible" and measurable, and you must be able to "identify" it when you get there.

Whilst a plan with a statement "go west" may seem like an exciting one, it’s not until you are somewhat along that journey that you will realise that this statement or "vision" is left wanting. It provides an unclear base for next level planning, resourcing or even risk management. For instance "how far west" are we going, or “do you mean due west”?

If the destination or location is not clear, then appropriate risks and a strategy involving your "positioning" or "approach" cannot be developed or addressed.

This is why many organisations fail to move forward and why the people within those organisations struggle to align any efforts to measure or credibly invest in what needs to be done or even identify what may be a problem.

If your people can't articulate your destination, see that you are going the right way, and be able to recognize when they get there, then two things will happen.

Firstly, they will lose interest and become disengaged from what they are doing and from the leadership and secondly, they will eventually look for somewhere else to go!

Is it time to get off the bus and take a look at the destination label on the front? Where are you going? Is it clear to all who are on-board and anyone who may want to get on?

It’s been well versed that, if you don't know where you’re going, then anywhere will do! This may be fine for drifters but not for leaders.

Will you know when you get there? Are you on the right road? Do you have enough fuel to get there? How long will it take?

So when you hear, "are we there yet", what will be your response?

Friday, June 15, 2012

The problem with solutions

We have all heard the song of the little old woman that swallowed the fly, then swallowed the spider to get the fly, however we probably don't realize how some of our strategies and business approaches are inadvertently based on the same principle.

How much time and energy do we put into resourcing demands that have actually been created by the solutions we put in place from a previous strategy. Many business proposals present the "problem" in the context  of "we need......" and similar dissatisfactions. If you step back from these presentations you will see that what is being put is really a solution not a problem.

A ready example of this is, "we need more money". The problem may actually be, "I spent or committed too much". This of course can be the pains of a growing organization however could be the symptoms of an organization that is destined to accumulate further burdens that will emerge down the track. It’s important therefore to be able to discern the difference.

The first thing to challenge is "what is the problem".  

By saying "we need" something you have already come to the conclusion that this is the "solution" and not having it, is the "problem". This "need" however is not the problem but an indicator of something deeper and if you continue your business planning in this paradigm then the solution will readily become your problem. Whilst we may put things in place such as "investment logic" processes we are still at risk of solving the "solution" rather than the "problem". 

In an environment where "growth" seems to be a key success factor, organizations and individuals can very easily be driven by the elements and structure that they build around them rather than the market forces and requirements that originally gave them birth. The inadvertent problem (solution) solving strategy being applied can eventually drown them.

A test to apply is to ask the "why". Why do we need whatever? Then ask "why" again to the answer you get. Then ask why again and again at each response you get or give to yourself. When you can ask "why" no more, you may have identified the problem. This process isn't anything new, however we often don't dig deep enough or seriously enough. You may know you’ve got there when you get to a statement of fact rather than a request. For instance if you ring for an Ambulance what your request is "I need an ambulance" but the dispatcher will be seeking the fact, "I have a broken leg". This is when appropriate and effective triage and response can take place. Why do we not do this for our own organisation?

In many cases of evaluating corporate or even personal problems we can get to 6 levels of asking the "why". Not so unlike the woman who swallowed the fly then the spider, the bird, the cat, the dog, then the goat. In drilling down from what presented itself initially as the problem (solution) we may actually find the real issue which may direct us to effective triage. The real concern for the old lady was the fly which, if originally left alone, would not have provided the ongoing and pervading dilemma for the woman. It may be a funny song to sing to your kids but not what you want to experience personally or for your organisation.

It's not easy and at first we may even frustrate ourselves and others as the natural tendency to protect our "solutions" will pervade and influence our response to the "why" question. We may even have a personal investment in the solution. We may also be pressured by the sense of urgency which may be applied to gain weight to the problem. The fact is however, if we don't ask we may very well sabotage our own intent.

What happened to the little old lady in the end? She swallowed a cow to catch the goat then swallowed a horse, "she's dead of course".

Don't let your problem be your solution.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Emergent or Manufactured Leadership

A whole industry exists in the delivery of "leadership" seminars, training, workshops and courses. Somehow it seems to be the view that if we consistently bathe in the qualities, quotes and examples of recognized leaders then some of the behaviours and values may rub off. Whilst this will always provide a level of professional development, we are really only developing management to be more effective in what they do and instil a sense of confidence and purpose.

Many organisations have re-labelled "management" to "leadership" as if by simply changing the title it will change the attributes of the role. This is essentially "positional" or "manufactured" leadership. Do we really expect to have an organization full of "leaders" anyway when most of what organizations do is administer and manage? We also see schools promoting themselves on the basis of creating tomorrow’s leaders. Firstly what does that mean, and is this now a preferred career vocation and the only one to aspire to?

A similar example of labelling is where the term "hero" is used to describe actions and people who have essentially done nothing more than their job. Whilst not denouncing the value of the role, is an ambulance officer, doctor or fire-fighter really a "hero" for saving someone’s life, when that's what they do every day for a job? Maybe schools should promote themselves by saying "we create tomorrow’s heroes"?

Have we similarly corrupted over time the reference to "leadership" and "leaders".

We also set the premise that because I have a degree or attended a course in "leadership" then I am one. People now set their career plan to work through the organisation using aspirational "leadership behaviour" which is essentially people or behaviour management.

Are we creating a breed of "positional leaders" who may know the process but may very well lack the attributes that the organisation needs in key roles and then wonder why we fail to move forward and make the step change we need?

Have we lost sight of those who would lead by their pure wiring rather than grooming? Those who "have a vision" rather than invent one? Those who have courage and insight rather than manipulate and manufacture the space around them? Those who by their simple presence invoke calm, confidence and respect?

Many current "positional leaders" might really find it rather challenging if their people started to demonstrate the emergent qualities and behaviours being put forward as leadership traits.

Emergent leaders will have a vision. They may not sell it. They may not even drive it. They won't tell you of their leadership ability nor will they cite their recent qualifications. They will not be self-seeking, but of a cause and drive that is bigger than themselves. These men and women have through history, emerged from some unlikely places and positions and if you are not aware, you may miss them in the noise of the manufactured ones.

Our disappointment with organisational leadership is potentially of our own making. For it is because of our "manufactured" and positional approach that we limit the quality of what we have to our own limitations and what we ourselves allow. We can see examples of this in current politics, where we can readily see "career" leaders unlike those who may have “emerged” and led the world through difficult periods of history.

The qualities we really seek will challenges our own positions and make us uncomfortable. Are we prepared for that? Are we ourselves in "manufactured" or positional leadership and struggling to find a vision. Are we trying maintain our own position and inadvertently stopping the “emergent” leader from moving us to the next level?

Are we able to see them?
Will we let them in?

Sunday, May 20, 2012


A notion of, everything that pleases us is correct and what bothers us is wrong stems from our "gut feel", which we often use to make many of our decisions.

Whilst this can often provide a reasonable warning indicator of danger it can also subtly affect the way we interpret many challenges that are put to us by others. 

This one premise can also be the most debilitating belief for an organisation and for individuals. The belief that an undisturbed state is preferred, and anyone or anything that introduces disturbance amounts to dissension basically makes us unable to hear anything that should "disturb" us. It makes us blind to opportunities. It will limit our innovation. It will affect any motivation to improve, or even stop what we are doing.

Whilst we might have various opinions of the story of the Titanic, do we inadvertently recreate a similar environment  in our workplace or at home. Whilst we may readily criticize the Captain for not taking heed of the warnings that were put to him, do we also prefer an undisturbed state with no challenges? 

Do we want our people to be compliant with our way of thinking? Do we get annoyed when the people around us put a different view which has the potential to cripple our plans or objectives? Are we actually dis-empowering our people to actively engage with improving our state? I wonder what the lookout at the front of the Titanic was thinking when he notified the bridge to his observations. What about the sonar operator. Were they made to feel small, did the Captain "value" their input or concern?

I have often watched employees and members of organisations put forward "unpopular" views or make hard decisions which resulted in "disturbance" only to be shut down or left out in the cold for the sake of a peaceful existence. 

Organisational leaders in fact should encourage their people to confront the norm or challenge decisions. This is the real test to the validity of the proposed action or direction and tests it for endurance and purpose. It will also strengthen the relationship within the team environment. People will feel valued and know that they are able to value add and test decisions. They will have confidence that what is being proposed can be argued, and supported and will have its best chance of producing the desired outcome. Disturbance should not be a threat to you. It should be your greatest asset.

Written on a popular t-shirt are the words 
Do not "disturb" 
I am already "disturbed" 

Why not a sign on your door that says
"Disturb me"

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Empty Wrapper

We have probably all heard the response "same stuff different day" when someone has been asked how things are going. This same response may be applied when we have a look at the marketplace and its effect on us.

Organisations and institutions are continuously trying to differentiate themselves so as to attract, retain or convince the customer that what they have to offer is different or has that secret "element" that will make the difference.

Most of what is achieved or offered however is only incremental change at the best. Very little development or brainstorming ever achieves any fundamental change to the way things operate or services are delivered. That’s because most of us are not prepared to "disturb" the comfort zone. The consequence of this is that buyers and seekers of "things different" are becoming increasingly disillusioned and less inclined to respond to the variations offered which means that any "real" breakthroughs or achievements are lost in the noise.

Now in short supply of any real innovation, have we now shifted our focus to "loyalty" rather than real product development? We spoon feed the market with tantalising tit bits without giving anything of substance. The appearance is that the provider is "leading" the market with continual development when in reality they are just drip feeding the market with average level new options. Options which are actually in themselves nothing new, they were just (deliberately) missing from the original model.

The aspect of branding or "wrapping" is also evident in the car parts industry. The same part will have several different codes depending on what car you are putting it in and essentially this will come with the different price. same factory, same part, same everything but we will pay a different price for it because of the label and some idea that it must be different and therefore warrants the buyers loyalty. What’s occurring is a the propagation of a belief in something with very shallow value.

There are however some examples of doing exactly the opposite and even passionately maintaining the "core purpose" or "original product" at the expense of being "outdated" by other advanced competition, One of these is Harley Davidson. It was a conscious decision on the part of that company to stay with their clear mission and purpose from the start with almost no product change, and it has proved out.

Several things emerge here. Whether we are driving a business or looking at our personal approach, do we really know what our core business or original purpose is, or has it. or us, lost our way in the noise?

In our pursuit of bigger, brighter, fresher, have we lost sight of the true and original product? Do we understand our purpose? Have we missed the real "fundamental" insight, change or innovation that is required or possible and inadvertently settled for mediocrity?

How much do we contribute to the shallow offerings being made? Is our whole kudos or existence built on this? How much is image underpinning who we are?

Whilst it’s important to keep our lives fresh, and maintain and update our environment we need to consciously be aware of not losing sight of the core essentials and purpose. What is our objective and what does it provide? What is the real fundamental or enduring change that will make the difference? That may even be getting back to basics. By continually accepting or promoting cosmetics we may just be encouraging an offering of mediocrity and be left holding a wrapper.

Are we chasing a quick fix that will change with the next fashion offer?

Is it just the same stuff, different label? Or does the wrapper contain any stuff at all?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The importance of getting it wrong

Whilst the credo, "admitting failure is the first sign of weakness" is supposed to encourage perseverance, it also sends a subtle message that "failure is a weakness" and admitting it is worse.

Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers, and countless other very bright people that have been recognized for "getting it right" actually "got it so wrong" so many times, and I am sure were also ridiculed for it at the time. When asked about the basis of their success however they sighted this on the number of failures that directed them to the one that worked.

Getting it wrong is so important. It's not a failure, and understanding this fact will form a critical part of our success.

I assembled some critical components on my car recently and found that although everything looked "right" it just wasn't. Now I had done this sort of thing on countless occasions on my previous cars so what could be so wrong. I had undertaken the job the way I'd always done it and had always "got it right" but this particular car had a subtle difference (and for good reason) that I didn't realise till I had "got it wrong". The designer had incorporated a very specific element which differed from others. 

I could have continued on with the thought that all was well. The car would have continued on for a little while until a critical moment arose that depended on this one aspect. It would have all gone wrong at that point.

Some leaders and managers however inadvertently operate on a similar assumption. They run on the basis of a process that has been handed to them. 

This may be a learned paradigm that they operated with in another environment or one that came with the organisation. The failings in this thinking become quickly apparent though when difficulties arise. What seemed "right" in one circumstance is very "wrong" in another, such as a change in politics, economic down turn, market changes or even natural events. In these circumstances it’s important to know how things do work, what doesn't work, and why.

Organisational leaders that have theoretical knowledge or have inherited success usually do not understand how the first dollar, approach or product was created and why. They fail to have the understanding or experience of what didn't work which would allow them to use that knowledge to work through a solution and match it to a particular issue. 

Furthermore, modelling ourselves on people who seem to "get it right" without including the "getting it wrong" knowledge will eventually leave you quite shallow and wanting when the environment changes. Simply look at the share market and effect of the GFC.

Of course we don't want to get it wrong when our life depends on it or in critical situations. We have all seen the outcomes in those situations. It is probably why people and organisations are actively fearful of getting it wrong or even admitting it, however they probably only get it right themselves because somebody else got it wrong first. 

We need to provide the safe space therefore to "get it wrong". For our children, our employees and ourselves as we will only develop, invent, explore and drive forward when we understand the importance of "getting it wrong".

Have you really tested it? Have you encouraged the people around you to challenge it, break it pull it apart?

Are you prepared to get it wrong?

Sunday, May 6, 2012

When no-one is looking

How many meetings have we been to where there is general agreement in the room to a particular direction or intent however their behavior beyond that signifies otherwise.

The standard response for leaders and organisations in developing their mission is to include a "values & behaviors" statement as part of the Corporate Strategy. Much effort is placed on this aspect to train, encourage and even mandate that members of the organisation conform to the desired behavior thinking this will achieve the desired result or communicate to stakeholders the image they want to portray.

The problem with this is that behaviors are not an input to an outcome. They are an outworking of a "belief" or what we "value". What we believe invokes our behaviour. If we believe that our work colleague is only out for themselves or if we work long hours then I will be highly regarded, then our behavior will reflect this no matter what my corporate strategy statement says. I may comply in public but my general energy will be applied differently in private.

If we expect our organisations to truly thrive and work effectively then we need to address and understand what we ourselves "believe".

CEO's and leaders often enter an organisation with a view to "stamp" their DNA on it, assuming also that the people in the organisation also need "fixing". Much energy is put into a new "Vision" and trying to change behavior because they want people "on-board" with a fresh "strategy" or "mission statement" without first exploring what people "believe" or "value". The first mistake here is that the leaders "belief" assumption is that a fresh "statement" will "fix" the problems.

I often told my teenage children you are what you think, say and behave "when no-one is looking".

What we "value" will be very evident in what we put around us. This includes what we wear, who we wear it around, what we drive and the subconscious behavior we demonstrate. Do we have people come to us or do we go to them. do we want people on our terms or do we enter their environment.
What is the last thing you would throw overboard or cling to if your life depended on it? That's what you value. Even if you would like to think otherwise.

We will often try to manufacture a behavioral facade to achieve an organisations mission. Behavior can't be manufactured however, and if you are a leader it is what you "believe" and "value" that truly will drive or block the organisation. If you want your people to "get on board" take a look at how you "behave" and what you "value" when no-one is looking". Do you really "value" your people or are you using them to drive your own mission. You may not see it, but they do and it may be the core blocker to why you struggle to get them "on-board".

Rather than driving the behaviors, focus on the core "beliefs". Your own may be skewed, so put those on the table first. Be honest with what goes on in your own head "when no-one is looking". Is it the status, the corner office, the promotion, the proof to family or a mentor that you are somebody, or the result of your own struggle?

You might find you don't need a statement or contract for everyone to adhere to because it will be a natural outcome of a healthy core belief.

How do you think, what do you say and how do you behave "when no-one is looking".

If you put those on your mission statement how would they look?
Because that's what you believe.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Leader or Celebrity

Common belief suggests that the test of whether you’re a leader or not is to see if anyone is following you. If no-one is following you then you are not leading anything or anyone.

The problem with this, is that many people consider themselves great leaders because they have a lot of followers. One characteristic does not necesarily follow the other. A rock star or celebrity can have crowds of people swarming after them, crooning, screaming and wanting to emulate them. Whilst some may use their status to further a cause does that status make them leaders?

Our current culture however has subtly sent the message out that to be a good leader you have to be popular. To be popular you have to be engaging, entertaining, make people feel good etc. I am surrounded by people in positions of leadership who have assumed those roles by popularity not by any true vision, passion, purpose or courage but simply by the fact that they have made themselves popular and asume that because they are popular they are a leader.

How many leaders are actually struggling to find passion, direction and purpose because they have focussed their energy in their ability to entertain. Maybe you once had a purpose and passion but are you dancing to the expectations of the audience, keeping the ticket sales up and the auditorium full. Ask yourself then whether you are really leading or performing. 

People through the ages that have lead ideas, nations or even just small enterprises that have changed the course of history have not cared whether there was a crowd that followed. They have been true to what they honestly believed was right and the vision they had, even at their own peril. They have stepped into spaces that have been unpopular and have even disturbed the norm.

Its that courage and sense of purpose that drew people with them. Its not something they engineered.

In an age where social media and political correctness also instills a notion that you have to have lots of friends or “likes” to be recognised, any provocative input is simply to get a response to achieve this.

Many people that have influenced our world have made themselves vulnerable and expressed the loneliness of forging beyond the accepted norm.

To “lead” means your going somewhere. Are you really leading people to a destination? Does your destination exclude your own popularity? Are you basing your "success" on the number of people around you? Are the people following you just fans?

Are you using them or are they using you?

Are you just a celebrity?

Saturday, April 21, 2012

You can't handle the truth

Most of us know the movie where Jack Nicholson glares at Tom Cruise in a military court and yells “you want the truth… can’t handle the truth!!

The fact is that the character played by Jack Nicholson was the one who couldn’t handle the truth! What he couldn’t handle was his own truth being exposed back at him and his reaction was actually defensive even though it was accusatory. How often have we gone down a path, progressed a project or made a choice and not too far down the road we realise that maybe it was a bit flawed. The last thing we want at that stage is someone coming along and pointing that out to us isn’t it.

Continuously I see key leaders and executives pushing on with a program, project or line that is fundamentally flawed however they will pursue it through to its conclusion. Why? Because they live in fear of looking foolish. Is it because we all actually “cant handle the truth”? We all want to be told the truth ..... Don’t we? Yet we continually tell people what we think “they want to hear” rather than the truth? Naaah your not fat you look great!

We sanitise our reports because we need to show our superiors we have it under control and, don’t go to your boss with problems only solutions etc. These subtle messages become implanted in our heads and are further influenced by a culture and training that says success is measured by your achievements and completing projects “on time” and “on budget”. This thinking provides little safe space for team members to be able to identify, shut down or challenge anything. We have been taught to put aside our fears and to move forward in uncertainty however we have not supported the need to also stop!

Do we have the courage to be proactive in stating that we need to change and reverse our decisions or admit that we got it wrong (even if it was so long ago) or are we inadvertently creating fear in those around us in light or our own fear. Jack Nicholson - “You can’t handle the truth”.

What would really happen if you front the Boss, Director, Board or Minister and say “I recommend that we “pause” this project until we can confidently confirm it will deliver what we thought it would before we lose any more money or commit any more resources” OR “given the information and signs that I now observe I would like to change my recommendation on this matter”.

Remember the story about the Emperor with no clothes. Most people can see the truth. But who can really handle it?

Are you running a business, project or program that you know is flawed but are continuing purely out of fear? Are you being driven by politics (internal or external)?

Have a look at the real outcome and be prepared to challenge OR be challenged on what you’re doing.
Interestingly enough the title of the movie was "A few good men". Maybe we need a few more.

Can you handle the truth?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Turning Right

I've spent a fair amount of time driving on the wrong side of the road. This is not because I am a lunatic destined for destruction but simply the fact that driving in the USA is the reverse to Australia.

Whilst I do not find this difficult on the surface it became very evident that my brain was doing some significant gymnastics in the background that often mirrors our behaviour in personal and business life.

Firstly, due to my unfamiliarity to the various regions I was consistently using a GPS to get me to the locations I needed to go. The guidance voice would tell me to turn right but the first reaction that I had was to turn left. Why was this? Because my learned behaviour told me that to do a right hand turn in Australia I needed to move to the centre line and negotiate crossing over the oncoming traffic. This of course was on my left hand side now so my brain was continuing its task of translating the information and reversing it even though it didn't need to. Therefore an instruction to turn right must mean turn left? A learned paradigm!

The instruction was simple and needed no interpretation but because my brain was translating all the other roads aspects in the background it naturally took this instruction and translated it too.

The second thing that was happening was even when I knew I had to head east, my first inclination was to turn west. By now your thinking I have a serious problem but my natural compass was being screwed up because I was now in the northern hemisphere and the sun was now in the wrong part of the sky.

Now if I had all the time in the world and didn't care where I ended up this would not be a problem, (except for the people behind me in the traffic) but sitting here safely off the road sipping my Starbucks coffee I can see a parallel in how we subconsciously do similar when we interpret things in everyday life.

The learned behaviour becomes the norm, and when new advice or instructions are introduced, we translate it into the learned environment that we are used to or currently dealing with. This can often end up with disastrous outcomes or significant conflict (not unlike the drivers behind me).

Our environment is continually changing and unless we make a conscious act of stepping back and looking at what is being shown to us in a literal sense we may be at risk of inadvertently doing the learned paradigm translation into our organisational strategies and missing the essential insight or instruction. Why so many people and organisations miss the essential turns in life is because they are using the same learned translation for everything they come across without clarifying the origin and language of the message.

I recently presented to a group of business managers preparing for their annual planning cycle. When given some advice on a different way of approaching their planning it became obvious that many of the people were translating the instruction into their respective learned paradigms. This of course was totally unnecessary and confused the whole process.
Something very simple (like “turn right”) now became a complex series of unnecessary manoeuvres.

How often do we even actively ignore essential indicators, advice or warnings due to our learned translation or paradigm? Any wonder we don’t achieve our objective or take so long reaching our destination.

Give both yourself and the other drivers on the road a better chance of reaching the desired destination and check whether your "Turning Right".

Friday, March 23, 2012

Sabotaging our own intent

As I sit waiting for my connecting flight at LA International Airport and after going through as many as 8 individual security check points between Melbourne Australia and here at which my identity was checked, re checked, fingerprinted, photographed and x-rayed, it made me think back several years when I was mentoring a new community development student in the field.

The student had asked if she could work with me in a project i was conducting with multiple emergency services as part of a risk management exercise in community self reliance.

This initially involved walking the streets with a view to visit a targeted neighborhood over a series of days to sample the residents on several issues and engage them in our project.

As we walked the streets and knocked on doors over that period the thing that stood out was the level of security that had been applied by nearly every home including gates, intercoms and several levels of locked doors to the extent that we nearly had to create a commotion to let the occupants know there was even someone at the front door.

This was not a low economic neighborhood, in fact quite the opposite, and it seemed appropriate that such homes would have reasonable security... wouldn't it?

Another observation was the fact that no-one seemed to be around in the street and only a few cars went by during the day.

As we continued I asked the student what she observed about the safety of the street. Her reply was that it seemed a very secure neighborhood. I then put to her if we were mugged and robbed right now how long would it take for someone to notice or react.
I suggested maybe up to 2hrs or more.

What was happening here is typical of what we do any many aspects of our lives. With the intent of trying to enhance our safety we actually create an environment that lessens that outcome or even works against it even being achieved. We do it with our family & children to the extent that they now no longer know how to take responsibility for themselves. It is also now widely recognized that because we have been sanitizing our lives to such a degree it has contributed to the heightened incidence of reduced immunity which means we now have a reliance on drugs to keep us well instead of our own in built immune system.

So what are we passing on to our kids really?

I am currently working in the emergency services sector and the key issue is on community self reliance, however what we continually do around the world is provide more and more support to the community to the extent that in the last 10 years it has worked to our detriment.

Instead of making them "self reliant" we have fed them to the extent that they are totally dependant on us to tell them everything they need to know every minute of the day. They have grown fat on the food and their behavior has not changed at all its just become thirstier.

If they knew they would be on their own to look after themselves they would go about their activities totally different and with a totally different level of awareness.

One fire chief remarked that we now have a society that "contracts out" their own well being.
Is it time to be courageous and reconsider what we do?

Step back a little and test the water and really look at whether you are achieving the outcome you really intended. You might be sabotaging it yourself.

Are the methods your employ with good intent a political reaction or responding to someone’s pain rather than addressing the real need?

If those homes we walked through had no screens, no fences and open curtains then every one in the street would by default be watching over the neighborhood and I for one would feel safer knowing that anyone with ill intent wouldn’t bother because they would be seen immediately.

Their privacy and fear had actually made the street unsafe in reality. They wouldn't even know if the house next door was on fire until it was far too late. How many people also die in house fires inside the double deadlocked door.

What was intended for good has enh
anced the negative effect even more so and applies to so much of our lives